Thursday, August 25, 2005

Beauty is truth

Roland Mouret is truly a designer of genius. If only I were no fatter than a stick and could wear his clothes!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Still, I'd leap in front of a flying bullet for you

At Ho Chi Minh City airport I was stopped at the boarding gate for the flight back to Hong Kong and asked to open my bag. After a thorough search nothing was found, but I was asked to put the bag through the x-ray machine again and then the officer searched one more time. Still nothing. I was getting a bit irate by this time, so a woman officer was called over (to handle me with more tact perhaps?) and she said that something which looked like a bullet was hidden in my bag.

My little perfume dispenser (currently containing Allure, as it happens) was a present from my brother-in-law and is a silver bullet-shaped object which has gone undetected in my makeup bag through countless airport security checks – in London Heathrow, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Tokyo – even Singapore which has pretty efficient security.

Afterwards I realised that the Vietnamese are more attuned for people carrying bullets than most, as there is still a lot of ordinance lying around from the war which after all ended only 30 years ago: guidebooks tell you that in rural areas you shouldn’t stray from the path because of UXOs. Presumably you can pick up discarded bullets in a field behind someone’s house and they often catch people trying to smuggle bits of guns, helmets, military insignia, grenades, anti-personnel mines and other crackpot souvenirs.

I sprayed some perfume for them to demonstrate how harmless my “bullet” was – which was quite rude of me in retrospect; the place probably reeked for hours afterwards.

Monday, August 22, 2005

After Saigon

I spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) with my sister. What an incredible place it is: still relatively unspoiled and uncommercialised, as McDonalds and Starbucks are banned, but buildings are springing up everywhere as investment pours in (Vietnam was one of the world's fastest growing economies last year) and everywhere you look tall, extraordinarily narrow houses and shops are being constructed.

Little boys pull at your sleeve, selling flowers or postcards or chewing gum, some followed by shadowy Mr Big figures who obviously scoop up their takings. We knew to avoid giving them money, but we gave two little boys some Chupa Chups lollies and they sat by the roadside enjoying them and waving happily to us. After that, like the do-gooders we are, we bought some notepads and pens to hand out, but then no one followed us and we only managed to give away one, along with a Mars bar and some little sweets from the hotel, to a little boy of about 11 in a dirty blue sweatshirt, shorts and bare feet, who seemed non-plussed by our gift. Later I found out that their "minders" will sell anything the little kids are given, so perhaps he was wondering how to hide his haul from the Fagin character who was with him when we met him, but whom I was hoping we managed to lose in the street.

The day starts extremely early as 5 am, even on a Sunday, with honking horns and the ferry across the Saigon river - just outside our hotel window - endlessly shuttling streams of people on scooters back and forth.

People are friendly but tourists are routinely ripped off - we are fair game. You pay in US$ or the Vietnamese currency, the dong (current exchange rate 30,000 to the £) - if you pay in US$ the price seems to be vastly more than the equivalent in dong (think of a number, double it). There is little or no order on the roads and everyone piles along at top speed, families of four perched on one scooter, children and all, the women with incongruously elegant elbow length satin gloves, swathed in scarves and hats like the mujahideen. There are new colours and sounds and smells everywhere. Women sell food from huge glass containers perched precariously on the back of their bicycles like a mobile cakeshop. It is exhilarating.

We visited the War Remnants Museum - which used to be called, bluntly, the museum of American War Crimes - where the reality of war is clear. Hard to say much about this without sounding trite. It was hot and I sat on the steps next to an old US helicopter - a Huey - unable to look at any more photos of torture and mutilation. I couldn't help thinking of George Santayana's aphorism: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

Friday, August 12, 2005

The first day of the Edinburgh Festival

Long ago and far away in Edinburgh, I was travelling on the number 27 bus with a schoolfriend who was fond of discarding her shoes and walking about barefoot (I think she thought this was the hallmark of a free spirit; to a cynic it's the hallmark of someone who wants to catch hepatitis). It was Festival time and everywhere Edinburgh folk were going about their business deliberately ignoring the cultural delights on offer. We got on at Tollcross and went upstairs. An old dear who sat at the back of the bus stared po-faced at K's feet and after a few moments' reflection remarked sternly to her friend:
"Aye. They all come out the woodwork for the Festival".
I always found it funny that every year Edinburgh would fill with people from London "discovering" the city for the first time - my bar, my shops, and my quaint city. The people who lived there, including me, were largely unmoved by the spectacle, or like the denizens of Leith in Trainspotting, saw it as an opportunity to give a fat tourist a kicking and steal his jacket.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Think locally, act globally

Watching anodyne CNN in my Singapore hotel room this morning, it occurred to me that while the truism is that the prevalence of global news via cable, satellite and the internet has made the world a smaller place and events happening on the other side of it now feel closer to home and therefore (by implication) increase global connectivity to the extent that we start to care, if you watch the news - any news - in the US, this clearly is not the case and the US news channels have thoroughly turned the concept of "think globally, act locally" on its head.

I was there in September 2002 when the rest of the world was focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the continuing fallout of the "War on Terror". Headline news on every US channel? Whether Ricki Lake's new short hairstyle meant she was secretly a lesbian.

CNN, irksomely enough, have a strapline for all news coming from London regarding the apprehension, charging or trial of the terrorist suspects: "LONDON ON ALERT". So every time I switch it on, I think something must be happening again. This is lazy journalism, no?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Giant teapot destroyed by Molotov cocktails

The giant teapot and other items (including a supersize umbrella) worshipped by the Sky Kingdom cult in Malaysia have been destroyed by a mob after followers of the teapot were arrested in a police raid.
In a masterpiece of understatement, local development committee deputy chairman Ramli Noh said "Activities at the commune have raised many questions".
Thank God they stopped them building their massive concrete boat.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

"Stop country going down pan"

Classic scare-mongering from The Sun:,,2-2005350600,00.html
Amongst many risible remarks, a highlight:
"But as the public calls for extra cells to cage the crooks, what does the Government do? Axe the prison ship HMP Weare."
Yep - bring back the prison ship: that'll sort 'em out.