Vietnam in six senses


Maximum loading. Maximum smiles

Taste: Fresh mint slicing into a rich meaty stock, and the mild taste of rice noodles, accentuated by the smell of scooter fumes and salt air from the sea, at roadside stalls every morning.

Sound: The woman’s voice  introducing a water puppet show, speaking formally, accentuating the clean consonants and rolling pitch of Vietnamese, with unexpected sharp dips and rises that captivate me.

Feel. The hot fester of sunburnt thighs, after an unexpected hour-long midday trip on the back of a motorbike into Nha Trang.

Smell:  Petrol – an acrid sloping whine. I’m using it to wash the sticky brown oil residue off my body after swimming at what turned out to be a polluted beach.
Sight: Granite boulders, piled like knucklebones, as large as cars, which I pick my way over, between and under to get back from the secluded coral bay at Jungle Beach.

Emotion: A bittersweet ache, standing outside Ho Chi Minh City Airport, looking over the city. Feeling deep gratitude for a rich and vibrant trip, despite my work commitments, and sadness that it has come to an end (for now) Image


Guangzhou in 5 senses

Smell: fermented chou4 dou4 fu (Stinky tofu) sizzling on the street corner. Like an intoxicating cross between blue cheese, roses and old socks. (Tastes like chicken… well, weird potent spicy chicken)

Feel: Precarious balance as I try to make my way down the edges of flooded alleys of Dong1pu3zhen4 after a rainstorm. Overflowing storm drains has left surfaces disturbingly greasy.

Taste: Buckwheat groats – nutty and wholesome. Pleasant surprise to find them in a bulk bin in a small supermarket here.


Sound: car horns. The “look-out-I’m-coming-through-this-narrow-street-where-people-walk-and-cycle” courtesy beep. Not so jarring as a Western hornblare, but many times more numerous, they are the commas of the city’s story.

Sight. Guang3zhou1 Train Station, on a regular Wednesday. Hundreds (thousands) of people heading out into Guang3dong1 and beyond, stretched over a massive square, and herded into chunks of dense humanity in places by metal security fences and narrow gates.


Guangzhou CBD. Gleaming glass and steel, pushed into novel and bizzare angles by modern architects.

IMG_20130519_164616 Untitled


Life in Singapore has been easy,  in fact Singpore seems designed to eliminate drama. So instead of a story, I’ll make a list.

photo by edwin11 from flickr creative commons

photo by edwin11

Emotion: When I got out of the airconditioned Changi Airport and the warm and humid evening air hit me and I looked around at tropical vegetation thriving even among this somewhat sterile city, I felt a deep sense of ease.

Sight:  A “boat” on top of three skyscrapers (above). Fluorescent streamers adorning a small truck at the chinese funeral at the base of our apartment block.

Touch: Warm and sticky skin in the 33 degree heat, especially with my laptop on my lap for  hours at a time, marking philosophy essays.

Smell: That hot Asian city smell – a pungent blend of chilli, sweat, airconditioning, lightning, durian and incense

Sounds: The clanging cymbals of the chinese funeral at the bottom of the apartment block, the whirr  of a fan

Taste:  Sugar cane juice bought freshly crushed at Boon Lay hawkers market. Sweet, cool, fragant


Time spent as part of Malaysia since independence from Britain: 2 years (1963-65)

Percentage of population Chinese: 75%

Tax rate on 65K USD p/a income: <4%.

Highlight: Visiting the plush and vibrant Nanyang Technical University  (one of the three major universities in Singapore), hearing an experienced western scholar, Roger Aames, give a public talk on Confucian ethics to an engaged room of mainly young Chinese. He was an engaging speaker, pacing the room and quoting Kong3 zi3 (Confucius) in the original with ease. I can’t do justice to his ideas here, but my meagre grasp on wat he was saying is that, for Confucius, ethics rests not on any transcendental principles, but on the primacy of relationships in our life. As opposed to western philosophies that see us as individuals relating to one another, he argued that Confucius emphasised the way self is constructed as we engage with others. Thus sincerity, creativity and flourishing comes not necessarily through independence, but through appropriate functioning within our day to day relationships.

I’m about to travel on my own into Malaysia. I hope I can be open and appropriate to the people that come into my life on the road.