Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A millionaire in Vietnam

Hello family,

Well I went to the ATM here today and took out $2 million dollars. I then went shoppping. I know the exhange rate is a 'bit' different but it was a wonderful feeling. $100,000 Vietnamese dong (VND) is about $8 Australian. Goods are very cheap here but it is expensive to cart them home so we have only got some little souvenirs and some clothes. Had a wonderful time getting some jackets made at the tailors. Picked out the silk, then the lining, then the style and then came back four hours later for a fitting and picked them up early next morning. Perfect fit and lovely finish. Jackets about $30.00 Australian for a really good silk.

This evening we had shoes made similarly. Picked out the style, the leather and had a fitting. We then came back four hours later for a fitting and I took mine away - they were perfect. Dymp needed a slight adjustment to hers. They are delivering them to the hotel tonight.

We have enjoyed our sojourn her in Hoi An. Another first class hotel with old French style furniture and fittings and very spacious with large balcony and bathroom. Service is excellent. The rack rate is $100USD a night. Not sure what our rate was but it includes breakfast.

The jouney down from Hue to Hoi An was very spectacular. We went through two mountain passes and saw some wonderful ancient bridges and some relics of the war and some very modern bridge and tunnel structures.

As we cruised along in our airconditioned bus we saw water buffalo being worked, rice paddies in various stages of growth and small and large lakes where simple fishing methodologies were being used. We drove up the great Marble Mountain and some of the more adventurous climbed the 153 concrete steps to see the view from the top - over Hai Van Pass. The remainder spend an hour in the marble museum and art shop. That was very spectacular too!!

We enjoyed seeing the ocean for most of the trip - they call it the East Sea here - Vietnames don't like to call it the South China Sea but that is what it really is!!

Tonight we had a cruise along the river for an hour at twilight. We were promised a great sunset but due to the clouds it did not eventuate. We made up for it with some spontaneous fun and had a great time.

Dympna and I ended the night with a cocktail in the bar under the trees and some Hoi An specialty spring rolls and egg rice. We are having an early night so we can be ready to leave in the morning for our next stop.

Last night was a late night - we went to a cooking class and had a great night learning how to prepare and serve a full course. We had to eat what we cooked and we thought we had done a fairly good job. I am looking forward to giving you the benefit of my new skills.

Missing you all, hope you are appreciating weather a bit cooler and less humid than we have here. We have just reached the mid point of our trip so will be home soon. Ten more days.

Love to all

Vietnam Gem

Friday, September 26, 2008

From Hanoi to Hue

Hello Everyone,

Well we had a quick, comfortable flight from Hanoi to Hue last night. We arrived about 9pm and it was nearly 10pm by the time we got to our hotel. IT is a grand old hotel on the Perfume River and the rooms are spacious and comfortable. Dympna and I are really enjoying ourselves and beginning to relax. We are still both bothered with the high humidity and the warm weather. It is always a comfort to rush back to our hotel room for the airconditioning and a cup of tea.

We are finding the food wonderful. It is always a little different, we are being adventurous and have enjoyed everything so far. Even like the Pho - a sort of chicken noodle soup which is often eaten at breakfast - it is delicious. Last night after the flight we called into a little cafe and had spring rolls and shrimp pancakes. Both hard to describe, not what we expected, but we loved them and wished we had ordered more.

We are getting used to the monetary system and taking care not to exceed our budget!! I have got some little souvenirs and some diningware and shirts. I am already over my luggage allowance as we found out last night (but they did not worry about it!). I will have to carry anything else.

Today we visited the Citadel - a vast array of buildings and temples that used to house the King and his court. It was badly damaged by the bombing raids during the war but is slowly being re-constructed with the suport of UNESCO. The pagoda nearby on the Perfume River was spectacular to look at. Dympna and I are not to bothered with all the history - a brief summary is all we want and then we walk around for a look....or a shop!! We decided not to visit the two tombs that were part of the afternoon tour and had a nap in our room and repacked our bags and organised someone to make us two blouses by 9pm tonight. We were delighted at the opportunity that we found by ourselves. Picked out some nice silk and hope to have a good result. The cost is $15 (American) for the silk and the finished product! As usual I am having slacks made to match for the same price.

Interesting to hear the news from Perth and the issue of the wedding date. Hope all goes well for Tashie and Michael. I will be paying full attention to the readings!!

We have another day here including a half day cruise down the Perfume River and then we head on the Hoi An where we hope to get some shoes made. We understand there is a shop (advice from a friend in Ballina) where we can pick out our own leather and design and have them made to fit in the same day. Wish us luck.

Well - I hope all is well back in Australia. I have a little tinge of homesickness now and then and I am really looking forward to being back at the Shutters with Billy and looking forward to our visitors. I know the Bennets are in the vicintiy and I hear Francis and Jess might make the trip as well. Sha and Murray are on the way home and Christmas is very close.

Love to all from Dympna and Gemma in Hue

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vietnam and Hanoi

Hello Everyone,

I had trouble trying to log into my email, go locked out in the end trying to manage a language other than english to get in! However, I was able to get into the blogs - so this is the message to all my family and friends.

Dympna and I are very comfortable ensconced here at the Hanoi Hilton. It is a five star hotel and we do agree with the rating. Yesterday we went to visit that other Hilton Hanoi - where the American pilots were locked up during the Vietnam War. It was a dark and gruesome place and I much preferred ours!!

Our trip across was very comfortable. After a little late start out of Sydney we arrived on time. We had several spare seats on the plane so Dympna and I had a row of three with one spare in the middle. It made for a very relaxing trip and the time flew past. I was still trying to finish a chapter in my book as we landed. Food was great, wine was great and Dympna and I and the other travellers walked and talked to pass the time.

Hanoi is interesting. Very hot and humid, quite different in architecture and rather 'seedy' in most parts. However the people are lovely and warm and friendly and we have had some interesting chats with those we have been able to converse. Our travel guide, Hau is young, handsome and smart. He is well suited to the job of trying to take eleven senior ladies of quite different interests and backgrounds around Vietnam. We are are enjoying each others company and Hau and ourdriver (we have our own airconditioned bus which is larger than required so we all have one two seat seat to ourselves. It is nice not to be crowded or hot. We are all struggling with the humidity.

Today (Wednesday) we were meant to go to Halong Bay for a tour and a cruise and a seafood lunch on board. However there is a typhoon hitting the area at the moment so rather reluctantly we decided to have some time around Hanoi shopping. Some of our group went on a bus tour out to a minority village to see how the rural locals lived. They enjoyed the trip but were quiet shocked at the traffic in Hanoi as they approached the busy end of day on their return.

Last night after a long day of hot touring to the key sites, HO CHI MIN temple, museum and mausoleum and then on to the first ever Vietnamese university (from 1108CE) we had a nice lunch in an airconditioned restaurant and had some really delicious food. Light, spicy and fresh. Later we had cocktails on a five storey building rooftop overlooking the Lake of the Restored Sword. A sort of story like King Arthur and Lancelot's sword!

After that - Dympna and I had Pina Coladas for a starter - we attended the Water Puppet Show. VEry clever and quiet different. I found the music rather discordant but the instruments were interesting and it was nice to see all the local costumes and theatrics. The puppetry managed from under a swimming pool was very clever. It was all performed in a type of Opera Building.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the French Quarter and some markets before we fly our for Hue and points further south.

So far we are having a wonderful time and feeling quiet relaxed after our full body massage this afternoon. Dympna and I had a quite dinner in one of the Hilton restaurants. Very nice.

Love to all. Don't know when I will get close to another computer but I am missing you all.

Love and God BLess,

Saturday, September 20, 2008


The new car for Rosie and Mark
Hello Readers

I am getting so many calls asking what happened to Rosie and her car accident.

I decided that seeing as she hasn't got her Blog up and running yet I should do some work for her! Rosie had a car accident last week. Her car was badly damaged and as you can see she now has a shiny new replacement. I understand her insurance is covering most of the costs. She was not hurt and apart from the nuisance of being without a vehicle for two weeks she has come through unscathed. Mark is on the way to Melbourne to pick the new car up from there.
Georgia looking very composed for her book fair - can you guess who she is?

Georgia and Bailey sometimes present on LJ's blog - but not often enough. So please allow a very proud Grandma the joy of showing these photos. They were in dress up mode and looking quite beautiful. They are growing up so quickly.
Bailey in a very Bo Peep pose??

Rosie and Mark have been working hard settling into their new home and getting the airconditioning in for my arrival!! I think!! In their spare time they still find time to keep fit.
Rosie and Mark with their team

I am looking forward to my trip to Darwin in November. Not so far away....


Dante and I inspecting the Canberra spring blossoms

I keep looking at a fridge magnet that Rose sent me last month. It reads “RETIREMENT – When you stop living at work and start working at living.” That’s my new definition for retirement!! Thanks Rose. So now I can say – Yes I am working – I’m working at living!

How Grandparents babysit!


Well the National Capital is always billed as an exciting place to visit and this trip lived up to that reputation. Sadly though, across the road from Ally one of her neigbours was murdered in a bizarre series of events that are still being investigated. Two bodies were eventually found and it seemed Struan and a young woman he was protecting were both murdered and then the house set on fire. You can read the story in Ally’s blog which also has a news clip. http://www.duffypaolino.blogspot.com/
Joe noticed smoke coming from the house and he and Bill went over to see if Struan was in there and needed help. They banged on the door and called out loudly but although they heard noises from inside they couldn’t get in. Ally rang the fire brigade which arrived in minutes. They kicked in the front door and soon there were three fire brigades, two police cars and an emergency service ambulance all with flashing lights in our little cul-de-sac. The neigbours gathered around in various forms of nightwear – it was after ten o’clock when Joe raised the alarm. Most of us were in bed and some asleep.

It was very sad when we realised that the occupants had both died. It took many days before we found out more details about the incident and learnt that it was a murder. The next morning the police had arrested someone who they seem to think is the murderer.
What was nice was how the neighbors rallied around each other and had supported Struan who had been through some hard times but was getting his life back on track after some serious misadventures with drugs. They were all so sad at his untimely death. He seemed to be a warm, intelligent person who had strong loyalties to his friends.

Ally and Mel heading off for a girls night out.

Canberra weather was magnificent and the spring blossoms were spectacular. The indigenous trees with golden wattle and the imported cherry and plum blossoms were everywhere. Ally, Dante and I walked to the shops, the park and anywhere where we could have some fun in the natural environment. Of course we did spend a lot of time in the great shopping centres that Canberra has. Ally is a Mystery Shopper so we HAD to go shopping.
Checking out the Aldi store

Bill and I having a dinner out!

Inspecting the boat - Yes I have been aboard!

Aside from that - Bill and I had a lovely time this visit. We dined out alone, we shopped with the family, we drove out into the country and up onto the mountains, we cooked and watched TV and we caught up with friends and family, we even did a spot of babysitting. We also inspected the new unit that Bill is going to rent for the next 12 months in line with his new contract. It is very close to his work at Woden and he will be able to walk to work and not have the long drive morning and evening which he is beginning to dislike. He will miss the companionship he enjoys at Ally and Joes and I am sure he and Dante will wonder where their best mate has gone! It has been wonderful to see the special relationship between Bill and Dante. They are very close.

Bill and I on a visit to a local farm to inspect an open garden

We had a lovely day meeting up with Christie Maskell and her family. Christie is now living at Swan Hill in Victoria and came to Canberra to visit an old school friend from Alice. They all came to a BBQ at Ally’s and we had fun wining and dining and watching the little ones play together. Christie has let her hair grow to its natural colour - grey! and it looks wonderful! Bill took the opportunity to show off his as yet dry boat! It reminded us all of many wonderful days around the pool at Maskells in Alice or in the back yard at the Duffy’s place.

Christie, Matt and family heading home.

Soon it was time to fly home again. Bill and I had breakfast at the airport and he went to work and I fly on to Sydney and Ballina. When I called him the next morning to ask how he was he said “I woke up feeling very sad this morning…” I was concerned as he did sound quiet and I said “Why?” He replied – “My wife left me yesterday.” I really enjoy being loved so much!
The good news is Bill’s test results from his recent procedure were all very positive and he is quite excited about his new job and his new abode. He has a busy few weekends to fill in while I am in Vietnam. This weekend he is moving into his new unit. Next weekend he and Joe are taking the boat down to Bateman’s Bay for its christening and the weekend after that he is going with Ally and Joe and some neigbours for a camping trip down the coast. He flies up to Ballina on the day we arrive back from Vietnam. We will have such exciting stories to share that weekend!


Having fun at Dympna's with Ruby and Christine

It was wonderful to walk back into The Shutters – my quiet, comfortable and relaxing home. Dympna met me at the airport and filled me in on all the gossip and news as we drove home. We had dinner that night and laughed and chatted till late. Then I had to get to work on my study assignment.

I am really enjoying my Theology study. My group members are interesting and stimulating and while I feel the pressure of competition I am finding it a very comfortable pace and really learning a lot I didn’t know about things that are so central to my being! This month I was working on a paper about the Monastic movement and its impact on the Church. Such wonderful stories there – disasters and atrocities but throughout the ages good people were always able to rise above the corruption and demonstrate that there is a way through and things can be great again.

My next section focuses on the current crisis in the Church and how they have arisen and how they might be resolved. It is a bit unsettling to read some of the issues but I continue with my optimism that good things happen if good people just do something!
I am still working on my final project paper for this unit. I was so inspired with the input from my children who all responded to my call for help. Ally has given my first draft the “once over” and suggested some changes. When it is complete I will share it with anyone who wants? It is about the importance of “knowing God” as opposed to “Knowing about” God. It has been interesting and inspiring to research.

Christine enjoying my balcony in the morning

During the week we had visitors from Queensland. Ruby Parker (nee Ryall) and her daughter Christine who is about Sha’s age came to visit. Ruby stayed at Dympna’s and Christine stayed with me. We had such a good time together. We sat up late talking and resumed again in the morning – I think we are soul mates. Soon we will know how we are related! They are heading out to Glenn Innes where someone is researching their side of the Ryall family tree.

Never miss a chance for a game of crib


When I first arrived in Ballina Dympna said – “Oh, by the way, I’ve booked us a ticket on a trip to Vietnam”. At that time I was too excited about my new home and the sudden change in my environment to think about it much. Suddenly it is time to depart Australia and fly to Saigon, Hanoi and all points in between!
Dympna and I and the several other ladies who are part of our little tour group that originated from the U3A have been meeting and planning our trip. We have been having little walking groups to test our fitness and getting to know each other. Our knowledge of Vietnam and our interest in the country has grown over this time. Last night we watched Michael Caine in “The Quiet American” an old movie from the past but which gave a good background on the last century for this quiet county which has suffered such atrocities.

On Sunday we fly out mid afternoon for Sydney where we will spend the night prior to a mid morning flight to Saigon – now called Ho Chi Minh City. We will spend a few hours there prior to flying on to Hanoi where our touring begins. We will then gradually travel down with two or three night stopovers in some of the regional towns. I am looking forward to learning more about this country and having it associated with things other than the Vietnam War.
Dympna and I couldn’t resist a final relaxing walk along one of the best beaches in Australia. We do live in a wonderful country – Vietnam here we come!

Love to all

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Between Flights

Learning how to take photos when I am alone!

My little bubble of time at the Shutters between one trip to Canberra and the next is coming to a close again. I really enjoy my periods of seclusion and quietness and look forward to Billy’s arrival for a weekend to add to the excitement or my trips to Canberra or Brisbane. I am living the best of both worlds and loving it. On Friday I fly back to Canberra for ten days to celebrate Father’s Day with Bill and the Paolino’s and to catch up with my friends in Canberra.

My study course is going well and I am ahead of the timetable at present. I am really enjoying the reading I am required to do, love having the discussions with Dympna and other friends that my study encourages, and even enjoying the discipline of trying to put my thoughts to paper when I have to complete an assessment paper.
However the best part of all has been the interest and input from my children. They responded to a question I put to them and I am still working my way through their wonderful insight to faith and theology. I was inspired by them, in some ways I think they could write my paper much better than I could.

My other study methodology is to have long and interesting discussions with Bill. Our trips to and from the airport have been very useful for this exercise. I am looking forward to being in Canberra and having similar discussions with Ally. I am a communal student!!
The dinner setting at Dympna's last night.

During my time at home I have managed to get through a good lot of my study course so I can relax in Canberra and have wined and dined with family and friends. Family life for us has always revolved around the dinner table. Since coming to Ballina I miss the immediate family that was always near to share our food and laughter with.
Sunday lunch with family - Dympna, Ret, Pete and Billy.

Dympna and I often have our evening meal together, at her place or at mine so there is pleasant company but I do miss the noise of a gathering of different generations. I hear there is some research happening around the need for retirement villages to ensure a broad range of ages in the retirees in order to remain happy and healthy. I am protected to a large extend by my frequent family visitors and hope to encourage more!
Dympna and I displaying our fridge magnets from Rose.

Here at the Shutters I am gradually developing a great group of new friends so dinner parties and lunches are still high on my weekly agenda. In between times I have helped Dympna redecorate her unit; kept my garden growing nicely; and read another enthralling book from Sara Douglas.
My little cumquat tree is a joy to behold and inspire.

Oh Dear, I forgot to mention that we have had a family session on the Wii machine and I am now totally committed to the competition of getting healthier!! I hope the feedback from the little machine is more positive when I return from Canberra. But I am enjoying it!