Singapore – Marina Bay Sands

How time flies when work consumes your life and leisure time. There are so many more pictures I wanted to post, but blogging needs inspirations and my inspirations are non-existence after a long commute from work.

But back to my trip and the next destination is Singapore. This city/state is spectacular in a orchestrated sort of way. Like a Bach piece, it’s beautiful, precise, and touching but lacks a raw roughness for realism. It’s like inside a bubble. Pretty but contained.

For an Asian American tourist in Singapore, I feel like being on the set of the Twilight Zone. Life as you know it, is reversed and the Asians gets to live in a first world country while the whites are relegated somewhere else. I had that feeling years ago when I stepped into an In-N-Out Burger in San Diego where all the staff at this fast food joint (from the person taking orders, to the short order cook, to the prep cook) are white/blond and the customers are Mexicans and Asians. It made my head spin.

From the backwater of Can Tho, we landed in Singapore and whisked out of the airport on a buttery smooth road. I’ve been on the autobahn in Germany and this road is smoother. The freeways in Los Angeles and their cracks are more akin to a bumpy ancient Roman road compared to the highways in Singapore. Their subways are also sparking clean, on-time, and people are courteous. We were there during the week of the Asean Games and a little border between counties makes all the difference in the quality of life.

Singapore

Singaporeans watching the Asean 2015 Games

Like most tourists, we headed to the Maria Bay Sands and sight-seeing this spectacular piece of real-estate. My first thought is why can’t other Asian countries, or even other third-world countries in the world crawl out of their cycle of self-greed/corruption and use the Singapore model to improve the many lives of their countrymen. It probably has something to do with being selfish: many prefer to be worse off but richer than their neighbors than being better off but poorer than their neighbors.

Boat race in front of the Maria Bay Sands hotel and shopping center

Boat race in front of the Maria Bay Sands hotel and shopping center

Singapore - Marina Bay Sands

Helix bridge to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and shopping center

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Cai Rang Market – Vietnam

Can Tho is a small town and the moment we arrived, the sister of my aunt’s friend already asked us for dinner. During meal, she introduced us to one of her distant nephew and he promised a tour of the Cai Rang market the following morning. We were picked up at the hotel by the river early in the morning on a very small boat. Dinky as it was, the motor spurted up and off we went against the current of the Hau river for one hour to Cai Rang market. I’m used to see the trucking industry in the US with their massive warehouses, I thought Cai Rang floating market was for show, but there was quite a bit of haggling going on among the sellers and buyers and the competition was fierce.

Hau River, Cai Rang market in Can Tho, Vietnam.

Hau River, Cai Rang market in Can Tho, Vietnam.

Sellers hoist their fruits on tall poles so people can see the good. Engines are down so people can hear and bargain. I listened to some lively disgruntle banter. It was all good because it wasn’t for tourists ears!

Barges selling watermelon on Cai Bang market in Can Tho, Vietnam

Waterworld. Barges selling watermelon on Cai Rang market in Can Tho, Vietnam

I can have my fill of watermelons in the US, but fresh durian and mit to nu (special small and sweet jackfruit) is the specialty here.

Durian and mit to nu

Durian is expensive to most Vietnamese and this barge is quite valuable.

Durian

My guide, Tho, loves durian and was happy that I was only able to eat one segment and he took home the rest.

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The jackfruit mit to nu is smaller than most. It’s extremely sweet, mushy, and peelable!

We stopped next to a place that still made hu tieu noodle by hand. This noodle soup is a specialty of the delta region, just like Pho is the specialty of the north, and bun bo Hue is the specialty of the central Vietnam. Rice flour mixed with other flours are soaked overnight, briefly steamed over strung fabric, then laid out on a bamboo mats. They dry in the sun for the day then cut into noodle. It was already 90+ degree outside and inside was like a oven. The fuel to heat the stove comes from rice husks so at least the air was clean.

Hu Tieu noodle factory

Hu Tieu noodle factory. The flour mixture is spread thin over tightly strung fabric and steamed.

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Giant Hu tieu “rice cakes” drying on bamboo mats.

Hu tieu noodle

Transparent Hu tieu noodle cut from the “rice cake”.

Hu tieu noodle

A bowl of hu tieu next to the noodle factory. As fresh as it gets.

Living the US and working in an office building made me used to the neutral colors of black, gray, and white. On a good day, I would add a highlight of aqua or a touch of orange. My eyes were not accustomed to the bold geometrics patterns and bright colors everywhere in Vietnam. This lady is a sight to behold.

Lady in red down to her toe nails. She steers with her foot to free her hands.

Fierce lady in red down to her toe nails.

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Can Tho – Vietnam

When I was young during the war, growing up in the the dry dusty port of Da Nang, I dreamed about visiting cool and wet places like Can Tho and Da Lat. Can Tho is as Vietnam as it can get and Da Lat is as French as one can get in Southeast Asia.

Can Tho is where one thinks of verdant rice patties, water buffalo, and tree laden with fruits heavy on the branches. It’s beautiful to look but tough to make a living. Because it’s so close to Saigon, many farmers walked away and find easier living in the city. For the tourists, there isn’t much to do except enjoying the slower pace of life and sampling all sorts of tropical fruits from Vietnam’s fruit basket region.

But getting here from Luang Prabang was an ordeal. We took a flight back to Bangkok (went through custom), then another flight to Ho Chi Minh city (went through custom), stayed over night at our aunt’s house, then boarded a shuttle to the bus depot, then boarded the big bus (sleeping seats!) to Can Tho. By the time we reached the Victoria Can Tho resort, we were exhausted.

Phuong Trang bus depot in HCM city.

Phuong Trang bus depot in HCM city.

The bus has just one rest area stop and it was a feast to the eyes and the stomach. Between the cities, there are very minimal accommodation for the weary travelers.

Rest area from Saigon to Can Tho

Rest area from Saigon to Can Tho

This is nem, or sour raw pork sausages wrapped in banana leaves. My mouth is watering thinking about them but my vacation has just begun and I dare not take my chances. And yes, it’s sour because it’s spoiled.

Nem or Vietnamese sour pork sausages.

Nem or Vietnamese sour pork sausages.

Minimal accommodation along the route from HCM city to Can Tho.

Minimal accommodation along the route from HCM city to Can Tho.

The specialty in Can Tho is banh xeo, or crispy crepe filled with pork and shrimp.

Banh xeo or Vietnamese crispy cake.

Banh xeo or Vietnamese crispy crepe.

We arrived at the Victoria Can Tho at the peak of the slow season and to us, the best time of the year. Since only a few rooms were occupied, we had the place all by ourselves and enjoyed excellent service by the hotel staff.

Victoria Can Tho

Victoria Can Tho

At night, we took the barge across the river, strolled along the shore, and enjoyed the full moon. The best part is that I can talk to anyone, the fish mongrel or the fruit peddler, and haggle!

Victoria Can Tho barge to go across the river.

Victoria Can Tho barge to go across the river.

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Luang Prabang – Around Town

Luang Prabang is one sleepy little town. As a tourist, there isn’t much to do but that’s OK because it isn’t a been-there-done-that destination. We borrowed the hotel bicycles to cruise along the Ankang river, got a Laos massage (very similar to Thai massage, which is quite painful), ate and shop at the night market. We love the food and sticky rice goes well with everything.

Here are some of random shots I took around town. Click on the image to see full size. Enjoy!

Bamboo bridge across the Ankang river.

Bamboo bridge across the Ankang river.

Shopping for handwoven silk scarves in Luang Prabang.

Shopping for handwoven silk scarves in Luang Prabang.

Night food market in Luang Prabang.

Night food market in Luang Prabang.

Stencils for temple gold painting.

A shop to buy stencils for temple gold painting on handmade paper.

Some shots are more difficult than others. I only brought with me a fixed 20mm lens and my legs are my zoom. To capture this shot, I’m practically just 20 feet away from this guy and wading in the mud.

Fishing in Luang Prabang

Fishing in Luang Prabang

But some shots are much easier. I was strolling through town, got tired, and plopped on a bench. Then the monks were streaming back to the temple after receiving alms. I sat on my butt and fired away.

Monks back to temple after receiving alms in the early morning.

Monks back to temple after receiving alms in the early morning.

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Southeast Asia 2015 – Weavers in Luang Prabang

I took a Laos weaving class in Vientiane a few years ago and was completely clueless. The instructor kept shooing my hands and jumped in any moment to save myself from making mistakes. I’m please to say this time in Luang Prabang, the process makes sense to me and I love every moment of it. Thanks to the master weavers at Ock Pop Tok.

As a photographer, one must blend in the crow to take candid shots. Good thing, I look very Laotian and after a few days hanging out with the women, I was on all over the shop, trying to be as conspicuous as possible.

Weaver at Ock Pop Tok. Notice the open shed and different colors inserted for just one pick.

This weaver is winding the silk on the bobbin

This weaver is winding the silk on to the bobbin

Weaver at Ock Pop Tok

Each loom has a pre-design pattern in front of the weaver. She slides the pattern up or down, one string at a time, to find the shed. Then she weave one pick, using many different weft colors, through the shed.

The work is painstakingly slow because of different colors in each section. The silk thread is extremely fine and require good eye sight and deft fingers.

Laos silk weaving. Each pick requires hand manipulation of different colors in each section.

Laos silk weaving. Each pick requires hand manipulation of different colors in each section.

As for me, I wrote this scarf using just one color for the warp and another color for the weft. The silk for the weft was hand dyed by yours truly from the previous day.

Students learn weaving using a pre-designed Naga pattern. The wrong side of the fabric is up facing the weaver.

Students learn weaving using a pre-designed Naga pattern. The wrong side of the fabric is up facing the weaver.

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Southeast Asia 2015 – Dyeing in Luang Prabang

I took a two-day silk dyeing and weaving class at Ock Pop Tok (East Meets West). The dyers are very proud they can create most of colors naturally from local plants.  Below is their recipe. Everything except black.

I had a wonderful time at the school. The teachers are gracious, patience, and knowledgeable. We worked on a veranda perched over the Mekong river. The view is spectacular and the food (included with the class) is delicious.

Natural dye recipe

Natural dye recipe

This gorgeous pink/red silk skein was dyed from Saipan wood and a bunch of rusty nails.

Color pink/red from dyed from saipan wood.

Orange from annatto seeds.

Orange from annatto seeds.

Orange from annatto seeds produces the bright orange color from the background.

Natural dye colors

Colors from natural plants 

Ikat dyeing is done by wrapping the silk threads on a wooden frame, plastics are wrapped around the undyed section to resist the dye, and the rest of the skein is dyed in various colors.

This weaver is wrapping the silk around the frame for resist dye.

This weaver is wrapping the silk around the frame for resist dye.

Plastic ties are wrapped around to resist the dye penetrating the silk.

Plastic ties are wrapped around to resist the dye penetrating the silk.

Ikat dye. Notice the wrapped end where the silk will remain undyed.

Ikat dye. Notice the wrapped end where the silk will remain undyed.

The yarn with different colors weaves itself into Ikat pattern.

All that work is then woven on a loom and the painted color band weaves itself into a pattern.

All that work is then woven on a loom and the painted color band weaves itself into a pattern.

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Southeast Asia 2015 – Luang Prabang

For most of the month of May, we were hopping through Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, and Taiwan. Since I was born in Vietnam and husband in France, we alternate our vacations between Europe and Asia. Last year was Spain and this year, Southeast Asia. I brought my trusty Olympus PEN-PL1 with the Panasonic pancake lens and took a bunch of photos. Enjoy.

Our first stop was in Luang Prabang, which is the old capital of Laos, and a UNESCO heritage site. This is our second time in this forgotten city in the highland next to the Mekong river. We love this city with its slow pace, beautiful temples, and home to the Laos master silk weavers.

Tuk Tuk in Luang Prabang

Tuk Tuk in Luang Prabang

There are dozen of temples scattered throughout the city. But this one is most historic and beautiful. Wat Xieng Thong (Golden Tree) temple.

Watt Xieng Thong

Wat Xieng Thong

Each the morning, Buddhist monks walk barefoot for alms. Sticky rice and sweets are offered by laypeople while sitting or kneeling. This is a quiet and solemn ritual. The months walk quickly through the streets then return to the temples for their only meal of the day.

Morning alms in Luang Prabang

Morning alms in Luang Prabang

I asked the hotel to cook some sticky rice and we woke up early to give alms. I was sitting on the ground and took this shot. I love this image because it looks like the monk was walking on air.

Buddhist monk walking for alms in Luang Prabang.

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