Hoi An: Ancient City of Lanterns and Moonbeams

Hoi An, Vietnam, is a city known for its beautiful lanterns and at night the shops and streets glow with a multitude of colors.

Lantern Frames

The village, designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, is a superb example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries.   The port was important to many foreign lands.  This structure known as the “Japanese Bridge” was built in the 16th-17th century.

Forty years after the bridge’s completion the Japanese merchants were ordered home and Japan isolated itself for centuries from the rest of the world.  They left a beautiful bridge containing interesting statues at either end which represent the structure being started in the year of the dog and completed in the year of the monkey.

Hoi An is also famous for its tailors.  I loved the colorful shops.

There were also wonderfully preserved temples and museums

The market was fantastic.  I have been to many in different countries but for some reason I found this one more fascinating than most.  It seemed so alive and like a place from a different time.

The produce was extremely diverse.  Here Aidan poses with a durian, also known as the “king of fruits.” It has a distinct aroma described by some as similar to rotting flesh.  Apparently it is an acquired taste.  I love how Aidan tries his best to smile.

It started to rain while we were in the market.  The vendors attempted to cover their wares.

We chose to seek shelter at one of Hoi An’s amazing  restaurants  Mango Mango which has views of the Japanese bridge.  The owner trained in Texas so it is known as Vietnamese food with a Tex/Mex slant.

Aidan was so exhausted he fell asleep in Sydney’s stroller.  This left his sister free to eat all the food she wanted including her choice of desert – Mango and Chocolate ice cream.  She still asks for that flavor when posed with an ice cream choice.

This is what an ice cream "Happy Dance" looks like.

Hoi An was a magical place to spend the evening. The full moon capped off the night perfectly and added a little more magic.

Good Morning Vietnam!

For most Americans, Vietnam is a place associated with loss and tragedy.  For  decades, movies and media related to the conflict were overwhelmingly dark and painful to watch.  POW flags flew everywhere and many believed for years there were still soldiers held there against their will in jungle camps.

America did not remain static in the past four decades and neither has Vietnam.   During the immediate post-war period, the Communist nation was politically isolated and economically backwards.  Growth did not occur, so in 1986 reform was initiated which directed a path away from communism towards world integration.  Tourism is now a significant part of the modern Vietnamese economy.  In 2011 the country received about 6 million international visitors.  Reviews from friends and travel magazines were overwhelmingly glowing, so when my mom was visiting we spent our Easter holiday in Vietnam.

Views from the plane near landing

Lovely women in traditional "ao dai" white dresses give the children Easter treats.

We quickly found how much the country had progressed during the short drive from the brand new  Denang Airport on the south central coast of Vietnam.  The region drew us for its beautiful beaches and historical destinations.  Non Nuoc beach, the most famous,  is known better to Americans as “China Beach” where many US soldiers went for “R and R”.  Today the area is awash with new resort developments many of them currently under construction.  Golf is also apparently quite popular Colin Montgomery and Greg Norman were both advertising new courses!

View from our resort back towards "China Beach"

I spent only four days in Vietnam and I wish I had more time to explore the country.  People were very welcoming and gracious. We never shied away from telling locals we were Americans and I never felt any animosity. The only observation worth mentioning was an English local paper referred to the conflict as the “Anti-American War,” however I suppose that is more politically correct than calling it the apt “Civil War with American support for the South.” Sydney for one American was certainly adored.  I love this photo of her surrounded by the staff at a Hoi An restaurant.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that America is not considered “the evil enemy”.  Communism was ultimately what failed. Probably more importantly Vietnam is a young country, only 6.8% of the population is older than 65 years old, most people do not personally remember the war.   Their economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and they have the 13th largest population with 90.5 million people.  The life expectancy rate is 75 yo and 93% of adults are literate.  Vietnam is primed to quickly become a very formidable country on the world stage.

A bride poses for photos in Hoi An

I know and have met many people who were personally affected by Vietnam in ways I can never fully understand or appreciate.  Hopefully the fact that American children can now form such different memories of this beautiful place is some reward for the efforts their grandparents gave despite their reasons or cause.

Animal Encounters of the Australian Kind

Classic images of Australia include hopping kangaroos, sleeping koalas and laughing kookaburra.

Australia is full of unusual creatures.  To see some up close and personal we headed to the WIld Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbor to meet a new friend Elle.

The zoo runs a special “Breakfast with the Koalas” where the children touched some cuddly marsupials including Miss Elle and we toured the park without crowds.

We started the visit in the butterfly enclave. There were hundreds of lovely creatures fluttering around.

Aidan loved another insect-the Bull Ants in their mound.  He could have spent all day watching them.

This bilby was in the nocturnal exhibit.  Apparently he is in trouble of extinction. There is a movement down under to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby to promote awareness of the poor creatures plight.  He looks like he could fill the part.

Then we encountered more savage beasts. This wombat looks so cute but apparently he is quite mischievous and can bite through the trainers Achilles if not distracted.

This unusual bird is a cassowary.  Again he appears harmless enough but his back claw can gut a man.

I like this snake picture I cannot remember the breed but considering Australia has seven of the ten world’s most poisonous snakes.  Chances are this is one of them.

I am always shocked how so many creatures in Australia can kill you-spider, snakes, jellyfish.  Even a kangaroo can kick you to death!    This saltwater crocodile is obviously intimidating.  Apparently near Darwin he killed so many dogs that he got put in a reserve.  When he ate two potential mates he was condemned to spend time in isolation in Sydney.

At one point he swam right up to the glass.  It was an amazing sight.

We had a great morning at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo. Elle looks like she could be part of the family and I think she is actually harmless.  Unfortunately she only eats eucalyptus which is hard to come by in Singapore so we had to say goodbye.

My Favorite Walk: Bondi to Coogie

One of the most absolutely stunning walks in Sydney if not the world is a 6 km stretch between Bondi and Coogie Beaches.  

The “uni” where I studied abroad is located a short distance from Coogie so I made this trek often.   Andy and I enjoyed exploring the beaches and rocky shore with the children.  We started the day at Bondi which is Sydney’s most famous  beach.

Surfing is very popular on Bondi.

Aidan however preferred to stack seaweed.

We headed south by the Bondi Iceberg Swim Club.

The walk is easy and well marked.  However, it is not stroller friendly.  I burned extra calories lugging Sydney up stairs.  The kids preferred to jump around on the structures meant for adults to exercise.

The walk passes several beaches.  Bronte Beach has lovely cafes.  We stopped for lunch and afterwards the children played in the shallow tide pools. We did not bring swim suits so the kids improvised as usual.

Waverley cemetery just passed Bronte is a fantastically beautiful and peaceful resting place.

We then were tired and needed rest ourselves so we sat for a bit and watched some Lawn Bowling in Clovelly.

The day was getting late so we never made it to Coogie on this trip.  During our visit in 2005, Andy and I explored the entire distance.  Every November for the past 15 years the city has done a ‘Sculpture By the Sea” exhibit along the stretch from Bondi to Tamarama Beach.   We were lucky enough to see it last time.  Here are a few photos from that year.

Sydney is an expensive city to tour.  However this walk is free but the views are priceless. I cannot wait return again.

Singapore’s World Famous Chicken Rice

Hainanese Chicken Rice holds the title as Singapore’s “national dish.”  If not officially declared it is certainly the most popular food with tourists and my two-year old daughter.   Last year, CNN even ranked it as number 45 on its list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods.

I have ordered Chicken Rice several times at the food markets.  The chicken either roasted or braised is served with rice, chili sauce, ginger paste, soy sauce and a bowl of broth.  I have never been completely certain how to mix the ingredients together.   My mom is visiting from Chicago so with the guidance of Ruqxana from Cookery Magic we attempted to unravel the secrets of Chicken Rice.

For a tender chicken Ruqxana stressed the importance of using a fresh bird that simmers but never boils in a homemade broth.  The chicken is stuffed with aromatics, rubbed with salt and chinese wine then stirred in the broth by its feet for ten minutes. We brought the liquid to a quick boil and removed from the heat to simmer for a few ten minute cycles until done.

My mom demonstrates the proper technique for stirring a chicken by its feet 🙂

While the chicken cooked, we prepared several sauces.  The ginger dipping sauce is a lovely mixture of ginger, garlic, chicken stock, lime juice, sugar and salt.  The chili mixture had similar ingredients but with the addition of two types of red chilies.  We added extra small spicy ones to take it up a notch.

The rice was stir-fried before steaming in a garlic infused oil.  Some chicken fat was also rendered and added to the mix.  After the chicken was completely cooked we submerged it in an ice-cold bath.

The bird did not look very happy about its predicament.  However, there was a much happier creature nearby, a cat kept batting at my feet for attention as I chopped.  She had recently decided to have her kittens near the cooking school.  Smart kitty indeed!

After the soup was prepared from the broth and garnished with cilantro, chinese cabbage and spring onions, we enjoyed the product of our labor.  It was a wonderful afternoon I am hoping to recreate this dish when I return home in a few months.

If you want to try it yourself there is a recipe on Saveur magazine’s website which approximates what we made today or you can hop on a plane and book a lovely afternoon at Cookery Magic.


If you could once again experience a six month period in your life what would it be?  For me the answer is July to December 1993.  It was then that I first applied for a passport and headed far from home for a semester in Australia.  During this brief time I young with no responsibilities in a beautiful foreign land .  I fell in love both with the city and my husband.   Sydney for me still is the most magical place on earth.

Andy and I returned to Sydney in 2005.  At that time I was afraid that the city would not live  up to all my expectations.  Fortunately the trip was fantastic and everything I could have hoped for and more.  We revisited many of our favorite locations and created new memories.  Here we are at the Lord Nelson Bar where we shared many beers including one at the end of our first date.

A few months ago, Andy’s work offered him the opportunity to take part in a week of meetings in Sydney.  It is only an eight-hour flight and three-hour time difference from Singapore so the children and I decided to go along for the ride.   This trip was a very different experience the last with two kids and Andy actually having to work, but still we all enjoyed our time.

The city is so beautiful it is hard not to continually be amazed.

The image below is a view taken from Sydney tower towards Randwick where the University of New South Wales is located.  Baxter College which is the dorm where we lived is just past the racecourse. 

This is from 2005. We never made it back to the dorm on our recent trip.

My life has come a long way from that carefree time in Australia.  However, I would never change a moment because I now have the opportunity to experience things again through even younger eyes.

My two-year old Sydney especially basked in the attention her name brought.  She loved her Opera house and is now ready to visit “Mommy”, Australia.  Maybe she did because I will always feel that a little piece of me will always remain there.