Random Musing: The Beauty of Vietnam

My workplace recently offered me the opportunity to visit Vietnam to be the company rep for a Bestway tour, a company we have partnered with in the past to do group tours.  While Vietnam was on my bucket list, I didn’t really know too much except for some knowledge of a raging war that ended in 1975 (for America but not Vietnam), terrible humid heat, and delicious Pho noodle soup. I  had also never traveled in a group before so I had no idea what to expect.

Now, as a seasoned alumna of a group tour, I can say, “Wow”. There are a few secret ingredients that elevated this to an amazing travel and life experience. The first was the itinerary itself. Was it ambitious? Yes. Did it leave everyone exhilarated and nicely tired at the end of the day? Absolutely. Over the course of ten days we covered a lot of ground starting in the north in Ha Noi.

Crazy, beautiful, wild Ha Noi. We arrived late in the evening and our guide Thanh had us up at the crack of dawn to go to Ba Dinh Square where Ho Chi Minh read the proclamation of Independence in 1945. After watching the flag raising ceremony we went back for breakfast and then visited the Temple of Literature, (Vietnam’s first university) and then we wandered through the Old Quarter streets.

I won’t go into all the details because there are really too many to mention. But we left Ha Noi and went to Ha Long Bay. Being a British Columbian, I have the good luck to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. But Ha Long Bay will make your jaw drop. I ended up just lying on my bed in my room staring out the window thinking, holy smokes, what an extraordinary  place and what a beautiful world we live in.

But people really make a trip and by them time we hit Ha Long Bay the group started to gel and laughter infused our conversations as we got to know one another better. Add in people  making us feel welcomed and acknowledged throughout our journey and the recipe for an amazing experience was well underway.

After Ha Long Bay we went back to Ha Noi and caught a flight to Da Nang and from there took a bus to Hoi An, a beautiful, ancient town, filled with charm, colourful lanterns and a complicated history. We walked the market with Thanh leading us through expertly and hydrating us with fresh fruit just when we thought we might drop dead from the heat!

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Later that afternoon we were taken to basket boats (squid fishing boats) for a ride along the coconut river. This was probably my least favourite activity of the tour and that’s saying something because I loved virtually everything. It felt like a bit of a disconnect being in a boat on a river with loud music playing (I counted three boom boxes, all playing different music) with enthusiastic boat captains singing and dancing wildly. But in spite of my reservations,  I have no regrets joining in the lighthearted fun.

I’m not going to lie…the pools at some of the hotels we stayed in came in handy. Even though I forgot to bring a swimsuit, I fashioned one out of various yoga wear and in I went, cocktail in hand, while others were getting fitted for their hand-tailored shirts and dresses at a local shop. I pruned up like a raisin in the pool for a few hours and felt fully restored and ready for more evening fun.

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We saw endless cool things in Hoi An,  the city of lanterns, not the least of which were some great restaurants with the opportunity to enjoy the fresh, clean, flavours of Vietnamese cuisine which is fantastic.

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Our next stop was Hue, taking us back through Da Nang, and up to a mountain summit which was stunningly beautiful. As I looked at the greenery and the beauty around me, I thought about the men and women both Vietnamese and American, who lost their lives in the beautiful countryside and in the places we had visited. This is now, I heard a voice say in my head.  Indeed, this is now.

Thanh’s knowledge of history and politics is extensive and I learned more than I ever could have hoped on my own. Many times I tried to nap but gave up because I didn’t want to miss one single opportunity to learn something from him. I think the tragedy of what happened there and learning so much more on this trip, was balanced by the company we had on our bus. People wanted to learn but they also wanted to laugh and to lose themselves in the fun of living in the now. And I think most of us truly succeeded in the ten days we had together.

Our next stop in Hue was top notch. I don’t even know where to start, the rickshaw ride through the crazy traffic to  the old citadel city, visiting pagodas and temples, the vegetarian lunch at the pagoda, the dragon boat trip up the Perfume River, or the dinner at Madame Ha’s. Or just siting quietly by myself in the hotel bar, enjoying a drink and taking in the beautiful view of the river.

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I bet you’re wondering if I ‘m done yet. Nope. THERE’S MORE!  Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) is different from Ha Noi.  The influence of Asian and European architecture makes it a very familiar feeling city for visitors from the West.  I loved visiting the presidential palace of south Vietnam, with what looks like 60s architecture which is one of my favourite periods. (I’m probably wrong about the era). You can’t imagine the decisions that were made in the rooms we visited…large maps of the country, sixties and early seventies phones, now looking like relics of a bygone era.

A group of us chose to visit the War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, which was certainly a sobering undertaking, and our usually ebullient and funny group was silent on the ride home. Wars have a millions edges and it doesn’t matter what you see or whose side it is, it’s hard to witness what human beings manage to do to one another.

Our last day was a trip to the Mekong Delta. I had no idea you could pack so much living into one day. It started with a bus ride, then a boat that was laden with wonderful fruit. Along the way we visited micro- economic development projects nestled in the palm fronds and the greenery that borders the river. Freshly made coconut candy, friendly honey-bees (including magical age reversing honey cream for sale!).

My memory is already getting foggy on the details but I’m sure we got on another boat,  got back on land, jumped on tuk tuks, took a ride on the wild side until we came to an outdoor restaurant where we were treated to yet another amazing lunch. After a short walk, we were back on another boat, until we finally reached our final boat where we had to throw ourselves to the floor THREE TIMES, so we  could pass under the various bridges. I’m not sure what was going on by this time but Blue Family (as we called ourselves) was deliriously excitable and with every bridge, we’d throw ourselves to the floor singing and hooting and howling, as grown adults are known to do:)

There is still so much from the itinerary that I’ve left out. But you get the picture. A fabulous trip was planned by a genius at Bestway and their affiliate partner in Ha Noi.  A man, who treated his guests on his bus as though we were guests in his own home, and who took the time to passionately share the history of his “beloved Vietnam” so that we were left with a taste of its history, culture, cuisine and politics, and stories told so passionately,  you felt you were living them yourself. Add in a group of people who were ready for a ride, and opened their arms wide to soak it all in and to connect with everything and everybody and it transformed into a magical experience.

For a short time it felt like we were all on fire. That all the things that divide us, brought us together. It felt a lot like family. And maybe that won’t last forever and I’m okay with that. But I hope little seeds of friendship were planted along the way.

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And thank you Thanh for showing us Vietnam with all of its enormous history and culture, its pride and its kind people.

 

Thanks to my Blue Family members. You made it great.

Thanks to Paul Holden and the Board for letting me have this extraordinary opportunity.

The nicer photographs were taken by Mike Checko and Suzie From and Hermes Salonga.

Want to read more on the Vietnam War ?Here are two books I read ages ago that are worth a read. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Dispatches by Michael Kerr.

 

 

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Random Musing: The Plant Artist

I only know his name through others who have mentioned it in passing. However, in the 12 years I’ve lived here, I have often seen him wandering  the numerous trails surrounding our community (although increasingly less so as the area is developed and green space replaced with housing). His presence is  most often announced through the plume of sweet tobacco smoke that always accompanies him on his walks. Often you see him sitting in amongst the trees and plants, head set on, legs crossed, thin, quiet. He acknowledges you but I rarely got the sense he wanted to chat. So I would nod and move on.   Sometimes I would see him early in the morning  sitting on a log, lost in thought, headset on, taking in the view from the top of the hill that overlooks Indian Arm.  Wherever I found  him, either deep in the forest, often in  the company of a neighbour’s dog, or out front, sitting surrounded by the tall summer weeds, it felt to me that nature was necessary for him. That he needed to be a part of it.

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His property stood out from others for the extraordinary beauty of his garden. Large, wild, exotic, beautiful plants flourished under his care. I imagined that he spoke to them, urging them forward. Be bold, he would say to them. And they were.  His garden was so beautiful it was almost outrageous. How could that much wild beauty exist in one small place.  I often walked by his place feeling as though I was looking at a painting or a piece of art work.  And I imagined that all the time he spent meditating in the forests he was gathering strength and inspiration to images.jpegbreathe life into his own family of plants and flowers, his own creation.

I heard through the grapevine that he was sick. Already thin, he seemed to get thinner, smoke with a bit more fury. Still I would see him in all his favourite places and then I heard he had passed away.

I never really spoke with him, I barely knew him. I only benefited from his unique gifts as I think many of us here did.

I often think about how we all live in these neighbourhoods passing each other every day like ships in the night. And then suddenly you realize someone is gone. They’ve left.  I was inexplicably sad to hear that Randy had died. We had gone through multiple rotations of spring, summer, winter and fall together, cells mutating, bodies changing, anonymously passing each other.images-1.jpeg

I like to shout out the names of people who have died when I’m driving, or walking or thinking. To me it’s the only tangible thing we have of those who leave. Their names, out loud connect me to what they offered in beauty, laughs or love. Randy was an artist. That’s how I think of him. And when I say his name I’ll conjure the natural beauty he ushered forth year after year in the little space that he called home.

Thanks Randy.

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Creamy Curry Lime Cauliflower Soup

I found this recipe on 101 Cooks and it is FANTASTIC. Not only that, it’s every bit as easy as it claims to be. I didn’t have yellow curry paste so I used a good heaping tablespoon of curry powder. It gives you the option of coconut milk or cashew milk. I used coconut and squeezed two limes into after it was done with salt to taste. My topping was crushed raw cashews and finely chopped green onions and it was deeeeeeee-licious. There are some great recipes on 101 Cooks so hurry over and check them out. I’m definitely going to be going back for more!

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101 COOKS PHOTO CREDIT

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons yellow curry paste, or more to taste
3 small new potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large head of cauliflower florets (~1 1/2 lb)
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
, plus more to taste
1/2 – 1 cup cashew milk or coconut milk
1 lime

to serve: croutons, or (as pictured) toasted pine nuts, fried shallots, hemp seeds, and more of the yellow curry paste whisked with a bit of shallot oil

Pour the olive oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, stir in the onion, and garlic. Sauté for a couple minutes, just long enough for things to soften up. Stir in the curry paste, potatoes, cauliflower, and salt, and allow to cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add 4 1/2 cups of water, and bring just to a boil. Dial back the heat and simmer just long enough for the cauliflower and potatoes to get tender throughout, another 5-10 minutes. Immediately remove the soup from heat, and transfer to a high-speed blender (in batches, if necessary). Alternately, you can use a hand blender directly in the pot. Stir in the cashew milk. And here’s the make or break step – add more salt if needed, and a good amount of fresh lime juice. Adjust until the seasoning is balanced and just right. It should taste bright and sharp, and delicious. Serve sprinkled with any/all of the suggested toppings.

Serves 8.

PREP TIME: 10 MIN – COOK TIME: 15 MIN

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Let’s make canada #ivoryfreecanada Minister McKenna

On March 14th Elephanatics sent a letter to Minister McKenna asking the federal government to close the legal trade of ivory in Canada. The letter was signed by members of the BC Legislature, Honourable Mike Farnworth, Jane Thornthwaite) and Parliament of Canada Don Davies, Fin Donnelly and Nathan Erskine-Smith), scientists and environmentalists asking the government for a ban on the import, export, re-export and domestic trade of all elephant ivory.

Some of the signatories include BC SPCA, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, Big Life Foundation, Born Free, World Elephant Day, Stop Ivory and African Wildlife Foundation. Noted elephant research scientists Dr Richard Leakey, Dr Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, Dr Joyce Poole, Ron Orenstein and Dr Cynthia Moss also put their name to the letter.

A petition with the signatures of over 130,000 private citizens was included with the letter.

Elephanatics has asked for a meeting with the Minister to discuss first steps in making Canada a leader in the protection of elephants. The overwhelming response to the petition, the incredible support by national and international wildlife advocacy organizations, including world re-known scientists and conservationists, suggests that Canadians are ready for Canada to do the right thing for the protection of this magnificent keystone species.

Please write your member of parliament or the Minister (Catherine.McKenna@parl.gc.ca ) in support of our efforts to end the legal trade of ivory in Canada.

Please read and share this letter.

Canadian Domestic Ivory Ban Letter – Mar 14 Final Version Sig

Please share and sign this petition.

Change doesn’t happen without the support of remarkable individuals and organizations. Thanks to everyone who has supported our efforts.

Thanks also to Mia Rabson, Evan Solomon and the many outlets who have published this story including the Globe and Mail, The National Post, Vancouver Sun, Metro News, 24 Hours, USA Today.

http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group

https://usa-today-news.com/news/animal-rights-group-says-canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-as-125k-sign-petition

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-animal-rights-organization-says-canada-should-ban-sale-of-elephant/

http://www.news1130.com/2018/03/18/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group/

https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group-1.3847959

https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/life/greenpage/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group-477204103.html

 

http://www.capebretonpost.com/news/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group-194545/

 

https://www.thetelegram.com/news/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group-194545/

 

http://www.battlefordsnow.com/article/599957/canada-should-ban-trade-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group

 

http://meadowlakenow.com/article/595038/canada-should-ban-trade-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group

 

https://24-hours-news.com/2018/03/18/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group/

 

http://www.newslocker.com/en-ca/news/general-news-canada/animal-rights-group-says-canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-as-125k-sign-petition/

 

https://awionline.org/press-releases/awi-joins-95-organizations-urging-canada-close-domestic-elephant-ivory-trade

 

https://www.gpdnmain.com/GPDN2015/en/content/awi-joins-95-organizations-urging-canada-close-domestic-elephant-ivory-trade

 

https://www.nationalnewswatch.com/2017/11/28/elephant-conservationists-call-on-canada-to-step-up-to-protect-iconic-beasts-3/#.Wq65w2rwbcs

 

https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/03/15/help-stop-the-wanton-slaughter-of-elephants-sign-a-petition-to-the-canadian-government-here/

 

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-animal-rights-organization-says-canada-should-ban-sale-of-elephant/

http://toronto.citynews.ca/2018/03/18/canada-should-ban-trade-in-elephant-ivory-says-animal-rights-group/

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Poem of the Week: I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life, by Mary Oliver

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.

 

For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here.​

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@alisonmcghee

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Elephanatics’ Letter for an #ivoryfreecanada Goes to the Government Today!

 

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Elephanatics has sent a letter to Minister Catherine McKenna today asking the Canadian government to close the legal domestic trade of elephant ivory in Canada.

We are thrilled to have been supported by 95 distinguished national and international wildlife and animal advocacy organisations, conservationists, scientists, Members of the Parliament of Canada and the BC Legislature. Enclosed with our letter is a link to our online petition for the public to also ask the Canadian government to ban the domestic trade of elephant ivory. The petition has garnered over 118,000+ signatures and is growing every minute.

The astounding groundswell of support for the #ivoryfreecanada campaign is telling. We know that African elephants will be extinct in the wild within 20 years if countries continue to allow the legal domestic trade of elephant ivory. The flow of illegal ivory through legal domestic markets is well documented.

Kenya and 29 other African Elephant Coalition countries petitioned the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2016 to call for the total closure of all remaining ivory markets. Countries such as the United States, France and China have already closed their domestic ivory trade. The United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Taiwan and likely Singapore will also soon follow suit. Due to the US Administration over-turning their ban on elephant trophy imports onMarch 1, 2018, there is additional onus on the rest of the world to increase their efforts to protect elephants.

The astonishing number of signatures on the petition demonstrates the public no longer tolerates inaction by governments, while elephants are being decimated in the hundreds of thousands by greedy poachers. INTERPOL estimates the worldwide illegal wildlife trade at up to US$23 billion a year, making it the fourth most lucrative organized crime after drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting.

Our ask of the Canadian government is an opportunity for real leadership on an important worldwide issue. While Canada may not represent the largest market for elephant ivory, by banning the domestic trade it signals to the international community that Canada is committed to leading the fight to save the world’s most iconic keystone species.

Julie MacInnes, Wildlife Campaign Manager of Humane Society International/Canada, a signatory on Elephantics’ letter says, “CITES has recommended that all nations with ivory markets that contribute to poaching and illegal trade close these markets. Multiple seizures of illegal ivory in Canada in recent years clearly indicate that an elephant ivory market closure is warranted, particularly given the items seized likely represent only a small fraction of the problem. It is time Canada respect the CITES recommendation and protect elephants by prohibiting ivory trade.”

Elephants don’t have to go extinct. It’s a choice that is made by people and by governments. We are asking the Canadian government to take a lead role, as other international countries have done  As a country we not only have a responsibility but a moral obligation to be part of saving one of Earth’s most precious animals – the elephant.

Thanks,

The Elephanatics Team
Canadian Domestic Ivory Ban Letter 
Petition

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Glory Bowl

Last summer we visited our friends in Calgary and they made a version of the Glory Bowl for dinner. The beauty of this recipe is that you can add different proteins and veggies as you see fit. The sauce is so darn good that you could put it on a turd (as my lovely mother used to say) and it would taste good.

I often add feta, avocado and green onions. When I had it last summer my friend served it with fish. Either way it’s a great base for a yummy, easy meal.

This recipe comes from the Whitewater Cookbook which you can find here.

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The Bowl

8 cups cooked brown rice – I made enough for the two of us and measure a cup per person.

2 cups beets, grated

2 cups carrots, grated

2 cups almonds, toasted

2 cups spinach leaves

2 cups tofu, cubed – I add tempeh cooked in a little oil and cubed.

Glory Bowl Dressing

1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes*

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil – I just used 1/3 and it was fantastic

2 tbsp tahini paste – I used 1/3 of a cup. I have also used peanut butter.

Prepare your favorite brown rice and set aside.

Saute tofu cubes in a skillet.

Combine nutritional yeast flakes, water, tamari or soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, tahini and crushed garlic in blender to prepare the dressing.

Add oil in a steady stream. You will have leftover dressing to use again.

Assemble the bowls by placing cooked brown rice into 8 bowls, top with beets, carrots, spinach leaves, almonds and sauteed tofu cubes.

Drizzle bowls with dressing.

*Nutritional yeast flakes can be found at the Kootenay Co-op, or most natural food stores.

So good on any kind of salad greens, spinach, rice, or grains.

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