One of the highlights of my visit to Hanoi: a water puppet show. The tradition is about a thousand years old and originated in northern Vietnam’s rice paddies. When the rice fields flooded, farmers staged shows for entertainment. Today’s modern theater stage is a shallow pool of water and the puppets are guided by hidden bamboo rods with such skill you soon forget they’re puppets. There’s a small orchestra on each ‘side’ of the stage where music and vocals take place. The show is under an hour but I didn’t want it to end...
The lock to a cell in Hoa Lò prison in Hanoi, known as the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. Built by the French, it was subsequently used by the North Vietnamese to hold downed US Air Force pilots - including John McCain, who spent five years here. The prison was notorious for brutality under the French but the propaganda films within the museum praise the treatment of US prisoners - one explains they were fortunate to have the Vietnamese as jailers...
Hanoi is full of fruit sellers like this woman. Usually, they ride bicycles, a feat I consider incredibly brave in Hanoi traffic! And the fruit is delicious...
Throughout the poorer sections of Dili, East Timor, you’ll find stacks of firewood for sale - it’s what people use to cook. Yet lift your eyes to the hills and you’ll see occasional trees but mostly, deforested land. If cutting continues unabated, soon there won’t be any trees left. How will people cook? And worse, with no trees to shore up the hillsides, erosion and landslides are bound to occur during the rainy season, threatening the houses perched precariously above. The country doesn’t lack energy - it has healthy quantities of liquid natural gas but it’s used for export and currency. Even if it weren’t, there would have to be a concerted policy to equip homes to receive the gas...
I just took this shot walking along the seafront in Dili, Timor-Leste (East Timor) this morning. I love trees and baobabs are my favourite - this reminds me of that majestic tree. But i’m not sure what it is... if anyone has an idea let me know!
This is the most harrowing place I’ve visited since Auschwitz - the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The museum documents the genocide that took place in this country from 1975 to 1979 under the terror regime of Pol Pot. Once a school filled with laughter and learning, Security Prison S-21 became a well-known torture center, one of dozens in the country. Some 20,000 people were imprisoned here over four years, many of them tortured or killed. When the Vietnamese invaded and ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, they sometimes found mutilated prisoners chained to beds like this one, often killed just before the prison was captured. However difficult to visit, museums like these bear witness to humanity’s folly, in the hopes that by remembering, history will not repeat itself.
Have you ever been to Bangkok Airport? If you have, perhaps you can guess what this is? Hint: it’s a close-up of something much larger!
This is what I call Bangkok street art: look up anywhere and you’ll find the spaghetti swirls of electrical cables dancing overhead. Most of the time this is entertaining, except during the rainy season when some of these can fall into the wet streets below. Then it’s best to stay away. While I love Bangkok’s energy and vibe, I have to remember that this is very much a developing country capital, characterised by rapid growth and a jumble of technologies, a bit like the cracks in the sidewalks that threaten to swallow you if you don’t watch where you’re walking while below ground, a modern subway swishes by. These contrasts are all part of the city’s quirkiness.
How can something so simple taste so extraordinary? A quintessential Thai dessert, mango and sticky rice, easier to make than pie: sticky rice (loosely spelled khao niao), mango, palm sugar and coconut milk (I know, it isn’t quite the season for mango but… it’s Thailand and there are mangoes all year round.) Oh yes, and a dash of salt. It doesn’t surprise me that a beloved dessert would include rice. In Thai households, rice is ever-present. Where I’m staying in Bangkok I searched for the coffee - but instead found a rice cooker filled with hot rice, sitting on the counter overnight. You know, just in case. Speaking of which - if you’ve never had this dessert, don’t be surprised when the rice is served warm, as it should be. The mango, on the other hand, is cool and fresh. The combination is one of warm sweetness, with a shaft of tartness from the salt. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
First stop in Bangkok: pad thai (check!) Second stop: Chatuchak Weekend Market for a bit of emergency (and colourful) shopping. Although it’s called a weekend market, there are some shops open during the week - but I’d stay away and wait for Saturday or Sunday. There isn’t a thing you won’t find here, from goldfish and live snakes (no thank you) to lamps, clothes, antiques and plants. It’s Thailand’s largest (and one of the world’s largest), with thousands of tiny stalls - some say 8,000 and others 15,000 (either way - huge). It’s size and impenetrability - tiny alleys and confusing directions - make it intimidating but only for the first minute or so. Soon, a food stall with coconut ice cream or meat balls will catch your nostrils and you’ll be doing what Thai people do: snacking. It seems unruly at first but there’s a method to all the madness. Its 27 sections are relatively organised - you’ll find home decor in sections 2-4, antiques in sections 7-9 and clothes and other decoration in section 10-24 (beware, this is also the pet section, in case you happen upon a crate of puppies or a reptile or two). That said, you’ll find antiques stalls among the clothes and food in the middle of it all, so the sections are, shall we say, a ‘general guide’. Other than the reasonable prices and abundance of goods of all ranges, Chatuchak is a sensual experience: your eyes simply don’t know where to dart and taking it all in is impossible. The smells of street food carts weave their way through the alleys and up your nostrils, until you forget you’re looking for a bag and follow your nose instead. And it’s loud, as any structure this size would be, with the delightful sound of a dozen languages thrown into the air. In ‘winter’, which I’m in now, the heat is bearable, pleasant even but at the height of summer, beware - it is flattening. It’s the kind of place I want to revisit over and over - but leaving the bulk of my money at home...
One of the glorious interiors of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, the Orthodox Christian monastery which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The exterior is every bit as stunning and it’s easy to get lost here for half a day.
The USSR may no longer rule Moldova but in Chisinau’s crafts market, there’s plenty of Soviet memorabilia for sale in case you’re feeling nostalgic. Under the Soviet regime, rather than a raise, workers received a pin to honor their success. You also got one if you excelled in school, did extra community or somehow deserved recognition. Money was kept at a minimum (at least for the working classes) - it would have been unseemly for you to get extra cash while your proletarian neighbor or colleague did not...