Tag Archives: Vietnam

Our World School: An End of Year Report

30 Dec

A living room with chequered tiles set up on the ceiling, at Scienceworks, Melbourne

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For anyone planning longterm travel with kids, anyone who would like to travel and is delaying having kids to do so, or any parents who would love to travel but feel they can’t because of the kids, probably the single biggest concern is what sort of education a child will get on the road.

This is also a major source of anxiety for other family members, particularly grandparents.

Honestly? Education, once you get the hang of it, is one of the easiest things about travelling as a family. I’ve posted before about the wonders of unschooling, a child-led approach to learning. I’ve also posted about the sheer hell of imposing a school-y structure on travelling, AKA death by long division.

Most of Z’s learning is hands-on, supplemented by almost entirely self-directed reading. We spend very little time on more formal learning, though I’ve had to learn a lot myself to keep up with his questions on the places we visit.

Here’s the end of year report card on my now-ten-year-old son’s roadschooling. I’m hoping travelling parents, prospective travelling parents and, for that matter, others considering alternatives to the school system, will find it useful. Continue reading

Heaven and Hell on Wheels…

6 Nov

Bali. One of the most consistently beautiful places on the planet. With (outside the timelessly international package hell of Kuta) a culture that is beyond unique. Landscapes of misty mountains, stepped rice terraces, river gorges fringed with palms and broad banana leaves, stone-carved temples everywhere you look, and pavements littered with offerings lovingly hand-crafted from palm leaves, flowers and coloured rice.

Snacks for the angels, demons, gods and goddesses that are everywhere, even today.

This is a place where you can stop for petrol and find yourself overlooking an ancient royal palace built in brick and stone with views across to dark forest and crater lakes and down a staircase of young rice to a river gorge. So, for the driver, it’s almost exactly equidistant between heaven and hell. Continue reading

Western-Thai Dating: A Driver’s Guide

21 Jun

One of the most consistently entertaining aspects of the courting ritual indulged in by ageing Western men and much younger South-East Asian women is the inaugural motorbike outing.

Now, as any fule who has spent time in South-East Asia kno, these ladies can handle a bike. Dirt roads in the monsoon? No problemo. Hairpins? They shit ’em. Big city traffic, eight vehicles across three “lanes”? Easy as…

So quite how they feel riding pillion — and sidesaddle, at that — to some absolute muppet, one can only imagine. Continue reading

Does the Tooth Fairy Take Lao Kip?

19 Jun

So junior’s molar, which has been threatening to drop for the last few weeks, finally did the deed today. He hasn’t, historically, had the best record with teeth.

Lost one in ice-cream. Swallowed another. And one, I think, fell out of a car window, in circumstances which are blurred, though the ensuing sorrow, of course, is not.

Now, I believe in keeping up traditions while travelling longterm.

On Marinduque, in the Philippines, we may have watched flagellants, crucifixions and centurions in honour of the Resurrection. But I also made damn sure to do the annual Easter Egg hunt, setting cryptic paper clues from one puddle of melting chocolate to the next, and crossing my fingers that the ever-present columns of sugar-loving ants didn’t give the game away completely.

So, naturally, the Tooth Fairy will be visiting us in Laos. And the usual pound will be replaced with…

… Err… Continue reading

On Books

15 Jun

Back in Udomxay, the construction town in northern Laos where our two-day odyssey from Vietnam reached a natural close, we met a crazy Canadian chap with an Irish accent and a Beer Lao can seemingly stapled twixt thumb and forefinger. Not so much met as, perhaps, attracted.

Charming chap. Pushing 70. Thoroughly pickled 24-7. And found in me, yikes, a kindred spirit.

Having travelled extensively with his own nipper, when the boy (now my age) was eight (roughly junior’s age), he had uncharitable things to say about my backpack. Particularly, the size thereof.

Now, to a degree, I second that emotion. Although, in our defense, I will say that I have only one pack, which goes on my back, rather than the “pregnant” two-pack look (one front, one back) so popular among our Nordic friends. Continue reading

A Rainy Season Odyssey

14 Jun

clouds descend over mountain gorge with waterfall visible in distance. Sapa, Vietnam.

View from a bus window #1. Mist, mountains and waterfalls, near Sapa, Vietnam.

The start of the monsoon season in Vietnam’s northern highlands is a beautiful thing.

The rivers turn turbid and golden, rapids smearing the surface like toffee coming to the boil; young rice seedlings and their older siblings stipple paddy terraces in varying greens; waterfalls appear everywhere you look.

Old women from the hill tribes carry leaves for making hats, sporting bright wellies over their leggings. Fireflies switch on their mating lights at night. Dramatic storms with sheet lightning pass over, sky darkening like a giant’s hand cast over the sun and after the rain, the earth has a rich, deep scent of settled soil and teeming life.

The nine-year-old was looking forward to our first proper rainy season journey. As he put it, “We might as well stay up all night. I’ve always wanted to stay up all night, and I’ve never done it. The bus the next day leaves so early we might as well… Plus, we’ll save sooo much money on the hotel room…” Continue reading

Babysitting, Hmong Style

12 Jun

Close-up of Hmong little girl carrying her baby brother on her back.

Babysitting, Hmong style.

It’s not easy being a woman in the Hmong tribal minority of northern Vietnam. Or a girl, for that matter.

This little girl is six, and had been carrying her eighteen-month old little brother in a sling on her back for most of the day.

The forlorn look? Continue reading

Global Time = Quality Time

10 Jun Z holding wildflowers. Sapa, Vietnam.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]My son and I set out to travel the world together in January. I’d imagined many wonderful things about the journey. What I hadn’t imagined is the sheer quality and quantity of time together.

Terraced hillside and paddy fields, Sapa, Vietnam.

This morning's walk. Sapa, Vietnam.

Or, for that matter, the absolute, unalloyed luxury of starting every single day with a complete free rein.

Where shall we go today? What shall we do? What shall we see?

All, as it happens, for less than the rent or mortgage on a one-bedroom London flat. Continue reading

Putting the Graphic into Ethnographic

9 Jun

As you can probably tell from the picture the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnography in Hanoi offers infinitely more fun than the rather cumbersome title would suggest. (It’s slightly shorter in Vietnamese. But not much.)

sexual wood carving of man and woman on tribal tomb, Museum of Ethnography, Hanoi, Vietnam.

'Your wife, you say? No, no, sir, that is definitely not your wife.'

This depicts, believe it or not, a traditional tribal tomb.

Can you imagine what the funeral was like?! I mean, seriously. Continue reading

Making Incense, Vietnam

8 Jun

Joss sticks (incense sticks) ageing in a factory, North Vietnam.

Incense sticks drying in the factory outside Hanoi.


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Incense is part of daily life in Vietnam. Joss sticks are offered at the altars which grace every business and almost every home, sold by the kilo in little stores and even (in some parts) burnt against mosquitos.

Now, there are not many places on this planet where a passing nine-year-old boy would be welcomed into a factory, given the tour, and then provided with his own workstation to get to grips with incense manufacture. But Vietnam is one. And the sheer kindness of all the craftspeople we met yesterday, with nary a hard sell or tour group in sight, was truly wonderful. Continue reading