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A visit to Hanoi


Dear Karen,

Have I told you about our visit to Hanoi?

We were living in Hong Kong in 2008, and had no plans for the summer.  Usually we’d fly to Canada or to Europe, but that year, I decided we’d do something different.  “We’ll go to Hanoi and then to Tokyo”, I told the family.

It was our Summer of the Cities ending in Vowels…owels…owels…

We’d booked 2 rooms at the Sofitel Metropole; what a thrill to discover, on arrival, that we’d been upgraded to the top floor, which included free breakfast, afternoon tea, and…wait for it…a butler.  Per room.  This poor woman didn’t know what to do with us.  We didn’t need her to unpack for us, or polish our shoes or check our food for poison.  She tried so desperately to buttle us, and oh, how we wished to be buttled, but I fear we were just too boringly middle class.


Here I am, displaying my boringly middle classness. In a tub.

After unpacking while our butler stood by smiling grimly, we went out to explore the city.  Very near our hotel is a beautiful lake.  We got up early every morning to run round it, hoping to offset the calories we’d eaten and imbibed the day before.


Hồ Hoàn Kiếm. The centre of the lake.


Same lake as above, this was within a 10 minute walk of our hotel.

Our hotel reminded me a lot of other elegant colonial hotels I’ve been in:  The Empress, Raffles, the Peninsula.  Once we set foot outside though, the vibrant street life of downtown Hanoi was buzzing with an energy seen only in crowded Asian cities.  This place was hopping!



Powdered paint for sale.



We need at least one embarrassing tourist photo, otherwise it didn’t happen.

Crossing the street became a game of Vietnamese Roulette:  Lars would lead the way, checking over his right shoulder, seeing a hole in the traffic and boldly taking his first step off the curb.  Michael and I would shuffle behind him, thinking if one of us got hit, the other two would keep the injured one upright until we got to the other side.  With no apparent slowing down or veering, the traffic managed to avoid us.


These motorcyclists are actually stopped for a red light – alert the media!



We had to take a rickshaw ride, just once! Certain family members were embarrassed. Not I.

We walked all round the city.  It was hot, about 30 degrees each day, but with plenty of stops at restaurants for cooling drinks, we were fine.  You soon learn to avoid the hottest hours of day when you’re in the tropics.  We spent most afternoons huddled in the tea room upstairs, swilling back fruit-and-alcohol-laden drinks and eating scones and sandwiches.  And taking dumb pictures.


Mummy got her drinkie!

A visit to Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I was determined we’d spend the night on a purpose-built junk, sailing around the islands.  We set off early one morning and came home late the next evening.  I felt like we were inside a postcard, one that was so beautiful, it just had to be fake.



Ha Long Bay


Lounging on our junk. We were 3 of 5 passengers that weekend.



Boozing it up on the junk.


All the junks come to the beach to drop off passengers.



The people who live here never touch foot on solid ground. They truly live on the water.



Selling us oyster shells and beads. She couldn’t speak English so we bartered in French instead. She totally whipped my ass.


See the look of total panic (and sweat) on my face? That’s because I’m about a million miles underground, in a freaking cave.



Sweet, blessed relief! And hey, doesn’t this look like we’re posing in front of a screen? It’s impossible to take a bad photo in Ha Long Bay.

Meanwhile, back in Hanoi…

Because we had a teenage boy with us, a trip to the Military Museum was in order.  There, we learned about Dien Bien Phu and the American War, as it’s called in Vietnam.  A fascinating visit, and I highly recommend spending the afternoon there.



An exhibit showing the most important thing a soldier had in the war: a bicycle.


There are so many tanks, helicopters, airplanes and cannons (yes, that right) in the museum. People wander about take a close look at them all.

We visited  Maison Centrale.



Such an innocent name for what was a prison and place of torture.  Built by the French in 19th century, it housed Vietnamese prisoners of war:


Models of Vietnamese prisoners in Maison Centrale.

Of course, most Americans would know this as the Hanoi Hilton, the name given by American Prisoners of War during the 1960s and 70s.  Most famously, John McCain spent time there as well.

I get told off by a guard

Lars and Michael played golf one day, leaving me to my own devices.  I spent it wisely, going to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to visit Uncle Ho.  Of course, he’s kind of dead now, but I queued up to get a look at him lying in state, before being herded along by the guards.  It was so cold inside the bowels of the building, that I hugged myself to stay warm.  Immediately a guard began poking me sharply on the arm, telling me with hand gestures:  no hugging!  No!  Apparently it’s disrespectful to hug yourself in the presence of their national hero.  Good to know.



The only photo I was able to take of Uncle Ho’s resting place.  No hugging!



Gravestones are sold on the street. This one has a photo of Britney Spears as the recently deceased, for some reason.

We loved our time in Hanoi.  In so many ways, it reminded us how Hong Kong used to feel, before it got all sophisticated and modern.  I’d love to go back again, to see what, if anything, has changed.

Somehow, I bet the motorbikes will still be there.



Awesome Advice Central: Zip it!

Dear Awesome Advice Central,

Big surprise here, but I need your help.  Yeah, I know, I know, everyone who writes to you needs help, so why even bother to tell you in my preface?  Probably because I have a bad case of Can’tShutUp-itis and I feel the need to over-explain every thought in my head.

Which is what I need help about.  My head.  And my unfortunate ability to say stupid things and then be unable to shut up.

I really just cannot seem to zip it when I need to.

Example 1:

I’d recently been hired at a pretty fancy office.  They had drinks parties every Friday and I knew my boss’s boss would be there.

I wanted to make a good impression early, see?  Get in quick, while I was still the New Kid, and wow her with my good looks, astute brain and confident personality.  I saw her across the room (my boss’s boss, right?) and she was having a glass of wine, talking to her friends.

I decided to introduce myself straight away, before I got shy or nervous.  Because when I get that way, bad things happen.

As I got closer to her, I thought, “Haha, how funny, the way the light’s shining on her glass, it looks like she’s got no fingers on her right hand !  Haha, that’s weird!”

I decided to use that thought as my opening gambit.

Turns out she has no fingers. Awkward!

I stayed at that job for 5 days.

Example 2:

I applied for a job at a big bank.  I’d just graduated from school and this was my first ever “real” job.

I was going for a middle-management position and during the interview,the interviewer asked me what I hoped to be doing in 5 years’ time.

Without even taking a breath, I spat out that I hoped to run a sanctuary for older dogs that no one wants to adopt. I swear, I don’t know where this came from.  I don’t even like dogs.

Trying to get the subject back to finance and banking, I kept talking about how I’d open a hotel for mature dogs, and would sell woolen clothes for them to keep warm in winter.  I’d call it Stitches for Bitches.

The whole time I was talking, I could see the stunned look on the interviewer’s face. My brain was shouting at me, “Zip it, ixnay, just stop talking, you tool!

My brain was right. I didn’t get the job.

Example 3:

About 10 years ago, a woman in my choir turned 40.  Everyone was congratulating her and she was lapping up the attention and praise.

I walked up to her, intending to do the same thing:  wish her happy birthday and say I hoped she was having a good day, and such.

Instead, I said, “Happy birthday! Wow, I didn’t realize you were so old!”  Her face fell.  She looked like she was going to hit me.

I had to find a way out so started telling her that she was still hot and that I bet there’d be plenty of guys who’d still be interested in her.

Yeah.  It was bad. Très awkward, in fact.

I walked away from that one with a limp, a black eye, and a warning never to come back.

Can you help?  This disability of mine is preventing me from getting a good job, having an active social life, and finding a husband/boyfriend.  Or boyfriend/husband.  Whatever. 

Anyway, any advice you can toss me, I’d be glad to accept.

Jeane Poole

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Ah, Jeane, Jeane….

We sympathize, really we do.

You see, from time to time certain people have accused us of unwonted verbosity…not that it’s true, of course, we just tell it like it is, but the accusation stings, doesn’t it?

We mean, we say nothing that is not for the ultimate good and benefit of our dear readers, and our advice is always (we firmly believe) temperate and moderate and a whole bunch of other words ending in -ate. We are, you might say, tough but fair. Kindly but plain-spoken. We tell it like it is. We don’t mince words. We are dedicated to the well-being of those who bring us their difficulties, and if that takes us a little over our specified word count, well, so be it. Damn the torpedoes!

Also our editor, who keeps imploring us to cut it short. But no! We will not be silenced!

So, as we say, we sympathize with your plight. To a point.

You see, while our verbal excesses can be justified by the fact that we are, in fact, trained professionals with years of experience and many, many pool boys behind us, you, my dear, are not.

In fact, your running off at the mouth seems to be explained the plain fact that you have little of interest to say, but you feel compelled to say it at length. Also, the filter between your brain and your mouth seems to be missing. Or at least defective.


This post is not sponsored by duct tape. No, seriously.

So, the question remains, what to do? How to solve your unfortunate tendency to ramble, to prevaricate, to fabricate social faux pas where none had existed before?

Of course, we have the answer. We were just waiting for the right point to interject it.

Are you ready? Here goes:

Duct tape.

Yes, we believe it’s the only answer. Since you seem unable to control your verbal diarrhea by dint of clamping your lips shut and putting a lid on it, duct tape is really your only recourse.

Buy a large roll, keep it in your handbag, and when you feel the urge to speak come over you, whip it out and apply it liberally to your labial area.

(No, not that labial area. The one on your face. The other will do you no good at all, since nymphomania does not seem to be among your problems. At least, not that we know of.)

There, now. Go, and speak no more.

Awesome Advice Central






It shouldn’t happen to a dog

Dear Wendy,

Well, I just finished icing the dog’s back. And I don’t mean “covering with delicious chocolate frosting,” which would be not only demented, but extremely messy. Especially for a sheltie.


She thinks I’ve lost it, but she goes along with the gag. Good dog.

No, I mean “icing” as in “icing an injury.”

Maydeleh’s very good about it, really. Even though she clearly thinks I’ve lost my marbles, she sits patiently while I hold the icepack to her spine for the required 5 minutes.

You see, our wee doggie has reached the cusp of her golden years—she’s 9½, which translates to about 66 in human years—and she’s begun to suffer some of the aches and pains that flesh is heir to.

It’s not our dog’s first rodeo

Poor pup. She’s been through her share of health crises in the past few years.

First, there was the 2-inch bony lump that appeared on her front…knee? elbow? Whatever.

It developed seemingly overnight, accompanied by extreme lethargy, both of which had our vet looking deeply concerned. She started using words like “amputate” and “biopsy” and “specialists.” Not words you want to hear about your beloved pet, I can tell you.

At around the same time, we discovered that poor Maydeleh’s thyroid had given up the ghost, and her thyroid hormone levels had dropped to almost nothing. That’s when we started giving her Synthroid, which seemed to perk her right up.

Weirdest thing of all? When we took her back to the vet to get her thyroid levels re-checked, not only were they right back where they belonged, but the Mystery Lump of Doom had completely disappeared. It was gone, as though it had never been there in the first place. If we hadn’t seen it on an xray, we’d have wondered whether we were making the whole thing up.

Our vet actually got choked up with emotion when she told us, “It’s…completely gone! I’ve never seen anything like this!”

We all felt like we’d dodged a particularly nasty bullet.

That was then…

This time around, it started with panting and pacing.

Dogs pant. It’s what they do to cool off in warm weather: they don’t have sweat glands, so they have to rely on releasing their body heat via their tongues.

And our dog, as mentioned, is basically wearing a fur coat 24/7. Great in Ottawa’s ridiculously cold winters; not so wonderful during our brief but hot summers.

So at first I didn’t think much of it when Maydeleh would start panting for no apparent reason. But when she started panting and gasping all night, every night, in our air-conditioned bedroom that’s not even a little bit hot, I started to wonder. She’d also started having a lot of trouble getting up and down stairs, and a couple of times has actually stumbled and fallen backward. Not at all her usual thing.

Then, one night a couple of weeks ago, she was panting so loudly, and getting up to change positions so frequently, that neither she nor I slept at all. (Mitchell snored blissfully through it: advantage deaf guy.)

This is when I knew we needed to get her to the vet again. As the vet poked at her back, Maydeleh winced visibly—a big deal for a sheltie, since these little dogs are deceptively tough and hate to show signs of pain. We left that visit with a bottle of doggy painkillers, and instructions to ice her back three times a day.

For the past couple of weeks, poor Maydeleh hasn’t been allowed to chase her ball (the activity that gives meaning and joy to her life), and has had to submit to thrice-daily icing sessions.

Lately, whenever we sit down with the ice pack, Ralph saunters over and joins us; it’s as if he knows his long-time buddy isn’t happy, and needs his support. Or he’s just bored. Hard to say, with cats.alt="IMAGE-dog-cat-icing-back-after-the-kids-leave"

For her part, Maydeleh sits stoically through her icing. It does seem to give her some relief, but she’s really not back to herself yet, so she’ll be seeing the vet yet again this afternoon.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s another “magic disappearing lump” situation, but I don’t know how realistic that is. I mean, how often does that happen?

I’ll tell you, though: this little dog couldn’t be more loved. I’ll let you know what happens.






Baby Boomers downsizing to help their kids? No thanks!

Dear Karen,

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how Baby Boomers are giving up their beach holidays, downsizing their homes and giving up on the idea of a relaxing retirement, as they attempt to ease their children’s financial burdens.

Apparently, we’re kind of expected to do this now.  To live out our own lives, with savings from our own hard work and grist, to enjoy our twilight years, is considered selfish and a teensy bit passé.

An article in the Sunday Times this week hammers home the story of a 52 year old woman who, while not yet retired, has sold her farm so her two children can buy flats in ridiculously expensive London.  Why?  Well, ’cause they want to live there, Mummy!  It’s only one of the world’s hottest housing environments, with rents high enough to scorch the bank accounts of the richest oligarch, but if that’s what Junior and Juniorette want, well, by god, that’s what they shall have.

This woman feels slightly guilty that she “had it all” in her youth, and that somehow she needs to set things right with her children.  It seems they can’t possibly be happy unless they have what she had:  a flat in London, a car, a trip round the world.  She paid for it all on her own, with no help from her parents, she says.  That’s not possible for today’s youth, apparently, so it’s up to her to give them everything she had.  Back then, she “thought it was tough, but…I had it easy compared with them”.

I’m about to say something rude

One wonders if they couldn’t be happy in a cheaper, equally interesting city or town.  This question is considered rude these days.  I’m not supposed to suggest they like it or lump it.  Whoopsie.

A 50 year old woman in the article states,

(My husband) and I haven’t left ourselves anything at all.  I’m still working 68 hours a week and I will be delaying my retirement – we also won’t be having a holiday for several years…our children came first and I wanted to make a financial sacrifice

Well, that’s nice of her.  I’m not without sympathy for people who work hard and can’t seem to get ahead of the game, truly I’m not.  I just feel there has to be another way.

You lived in a shoe box?  Lucky.  We lived in a paper bag!

In my distant youth, we lived in an expensive apartment we could ill afford, so we found a cheaper one.  Sure, it wasn’t as glamorous or spacious, but it was okay.  We realized we couldn’t live a champagne life on a beer budget, so we tightened the fiscal belt.  Now we can have an occasional glass of champagne, it’s delightful and I feel we deserve to enjoy every drop.

Do the children who know their parents have cancelled their retirement plans so they can jump on the housing ladder, feel that same sense of satisfaction?  Hmmm, I’m not sure.

A few weeks ago, a famous singer-songwriter who goes by the name of Sting (or Mr Sting, as I prefer to call him), made public his intention to not leave a single penny of his rather large fortune to his children when he finally dies.  He said  that he has a nice lifestyle and plans on spending everything to make sure it stays that way.  I like his attitude. Strangely enough, this turned out to be a fairly controversial subject.  I can’t understand why.

Mr Sting stated that he’s paid for his kids’ health, educations, holidays, given them splendiferous gifts and perhaps a car or two.  He fully expects, as I do of my own progeny, his children to make the most of their upbringing and use their skills and talents to make their own way in the world.


Sting and His Ratty Old 1955 Bass

Hey, kids, see this guitar?  You’re not getting it!  Mwa ha ha ha!  (Photo credit: Scott Ableman)


Bill Gates has told the Daily Mail that “he’ll pay for education and health issues, but his children are expected to find careers and support themselves while making a contribution to society”.   He hasn’t confirmed a number, but it’s estimated they’ll receive a cool $10 million each, a minuscule portion of his $80 billion+ fortune.  That’s 0.13% of his entire fortune.

Tough, but fair

I don’t know about Messrs Sting and Gates, but I do know about Mr and Mrs Wendy, and that is:  We won’t leave them penniless, nor will we leave them $10mill.  We’re taking a more middle-ground approach.   If our children need help, we’ll be there to pitch in.

If a job is lost, a car stolen or a heart broken, our reaction will be the same:  we’ll do whatever we can.  But we will not live in a hovel in our middle and old age, so that our children can enjoy the fruits of our bank account.

To assume that our children have to be financially taken care sounds like we have zero faith in their ability to cope.  I have confidence that my children will live strong, independent lives – maybe they won’t live in palaces, or have pool boys named Manuel, or holidays to French Polynesia, but hey, neither do I.

And if they want those things, they know they need to work hard to get them.  Luckily, our kids aren’t afraid of hard work.

To para-phrase Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), The first half of our lives is controlled by our parents, and the second half by our children.

Was Clarence thinking that we should give up our money and home for them?

Somehow I doubt it.







Sunday Videos, the Summer Edition

Dear Readers,

Is the summer weather shouting at you to go outside and play?  Is your brain wanting something light and fluffy today?  A bit of a giggle combined with some “ahhh, sweet!”?

We have just what the doctor ordered.  These videos ask that you watch them.  No need to listen, as there are no words to befuddle you or send you rushing off to your dictionary.

This, dear readers, is our Summer Edition.

Some yoga to relax:

Fly like an eagle:

And finally, we can’t help ourselves.  A kitty video:

Go lie down in your garden chair.  Have a cup of coffee.  A beer.  It’s all on us today.


Karen & Wendy

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