Karma Cay Tre – A review

Karma Cay Tre is located about 4km from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An old town, where all the buzz catering to tourists is. You can walk, cycle or take a cab there for 60, 000 Dong.

The resort is for members only and Steve, an Australian, runs it.

Our room is huge and unlike other timeshare resort, is cleaned daily, with breakfast provided free. I guess that makes up for the daily room tax of US$7.

There’s full bath amenity of toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoos, conditioner, soap, shower gel and moisturiser. Fitflops are provided in place of bedroom slippers, for use in the pool. I like that the hot water is quick and shower strong.

The resort houses a quaint ancestral temple on its ground, where Buddhist chants recording is played daily.

There’s a small pool where we congregate for Happy Hours at 4pm, chatting and admiring the river next to it, until dusk, when the mosquitoes appear. On Monday, there’s free beer and light refreshments of BBQ chicken wings and vegetables kebab.

We had three dinners at the hotel, which I must say had a higher standard than the restaurants outside. The food here was delicious and i highly recommend the daily specials which are not in the menu (Another blog.) Guests are given a 25% discount which makes dinning in house attractive.

I like the attention to details paid to the comfort of the guests. Beds were turned down daily, and we had a lemongrass essence burner to ward away mosquitoes which also left our room smelling like a spa.

We had pool side massages which although slightly dearer, were so much better than what you pay near the old town. And the other guests could vouch for that too.

While I don’t mind staff lounging around when no one’s around, the restaurant staff lounged about looking at their phones or chatting loudly as if they were at home, even when guests were around, taking up rest space meant for guests.

The reception staff were much better, greeting you and arranging for taxi, tours and transfer with quick efficiency, one even reminded me to dress warm for my tour to Ba Na Hills. (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/in-the-grasp-of-buddhas-hand-ba-na-hills/)

Special mention to gardener Tran Nah, whom I see weeding but never failed to greet us or help us with our luggage.

A delightful place to chill out indeed for a week.

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In the grasp of Buddha’s hand – Ba Na Hills.

Bana Hills was a vacation spot for the French colonists. Built in 1919, at a height of 1487m above sea level, the hill provided a cool respite from the heat for the Europeans. The French built a hotel, a wine cellar and a flower garden, all of which the Vietnamese destroyed when the French left after WWII.

A few years ago, Sun World developed Bana Hills into an amusement park (without the rides).

The only way to go to Ba Na Hills is via a cable car ride.

At the top, there’s a French village, flower garden, wine cellar, giant Buddha statue and a pagoda. A few months ago, they unveiled the Golden Bridge to great fanfare, where a pair of hands is seen supporting the bridge. (see my photo above).

Many people highly recommended Ba Na Hills, praising the beauty of it. Perhaps it was the wet weather, or the throngs of noisy PRC and Korean tourists, but other than enjoying the cold and the mysterious misty environment, everything felt faked.

I wondered how the European tourists felt, especially the French girls, wondering around the supposedly French village with the replica of Notre Dame Church, castles and cobble-stoned paths. Having said that, many Asian tourists had a good time taking selfies in the flower gardens and castles, even in the drizzle.

The Golden Bridge was packed, and I was told today’s a quiet day as only two out of the three lines of cable cars were running. Perhaps if the day was clearer, the scenery might have distracted me from the crowd but unfortunately, it was just heads everywhere.

I much prefer my trip to Kim Bong Carpentry Village yesterday, where everything is genuine and authentic, where you get the real taste of Vietnam. (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/kim-bong-carpentry-village/)

I was once advised, to note the absence but appreciate the presence. So if there is any consolations to my tour today, it was the fabulous buffet lunch provided by the tour company.

(Our tour today cost 1,295,000 Dong ~ US$56 per pax.)

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Kim Bong Carpentry Village

We are here in Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritable Cultural City, in Central Vietnam. We were here four years ago and visited the numerous tourist sites. This time, we decided to forgo the very commercialised Old Town and just chill at our resort. A friendly couple from Perth, Yvonne and Mervyn, highly recommended us to go to Kim Bong, and we took their advice.

Kim Bong is situated in an island across Hoi An. We took a cab which had to make a round 20km coastal road trip, a journey which took 45 minutes and cost 500k Dong. The driver was not familiar with the route and we got lost a few times, venturing into narrow padi field lanes, which the driver got scolded once by a motorcyclist for driving in.

Otherwise, the drive through scenic countryside, with small villages and padi fields, Chinese and Vietnamese cemeteries is quite interesting.

(Our taxi driver offered to wait for us upon reaching Kim Bong but my husband Michael dismissed him, insisting that we could walk back, as it was only a 30 min’s walk. I was a bit apprehensive. How could a 45 min taxi ride here takes only 30 minutes to walk back to the Old Town?)

The carpentery village of Kim Bong played an important role in the construction and restoration of many of the 17th century architectural buildings at Hoi An Old Town.

There are not many of the trade houses left, and the sleepy village is quiet except for the occasional tourists like us. The lone museum showcasing the carpentery handicraft seems to have shut down. We were lucky to see one lone trade house with carpenters at work.

We walked through the village, which houses a central market, some small cafes (stopped to drink the culi expresso as I needed to use the restroom) and souvenir shops. We were told by the shopkeeper that the souvenirs here are much cheaper than in the Old Town but I can’t verify this. I bought a vase and a pair of earrings for 300k Dong.

Flower seller at the market.

Fresh ground Culi expresso. My husband Michael with the cafe owner.

While there, we were told we could take a boat back to Hoi An for 100k Dong each. It was drizzling but Michael insisted we walk. Hoi An is just across the river.

And so we walked, along the riverside, up two bridges meant only for two wheelers to cross the river over to Hoi An, and arrived within 30 minutes.

The bridge linking Kim Bong Village to Hoi An but only accessible via two wheelers or walking.

‘We could have walked across and saved 500k Dong this morning,’ I complained to Michael. He said he wasn’t sure if we could get GPS over at the village. What a waste of money!

Now you know how to get to Kim Bong in a faster and cheaper way.

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Confidence by Russell Smith

Russell Smith was an invited lecturer at my school during my MA at the beginning of this year. He gave a public reading of a short story from this book which I really like, and so I purchased the book. Unfortunately, the story he had read, Raccoons, was the only one I enjoyed.

A Canadian writer, his stories are universal and could have been set in any large city with immigrants. There are eight stories in this 170-page book. What I like about the book is how he based his story on a single scene, and rarely are we taken to flashbacks or back stories, a difficult task to execute in story telling. But this itself makes his story telling somewhat flat, with nothing much happening.

What made me continue to finish the book is how I admire the way he transfer the actions he observed happening around into words.

Confidence, the title of the book taken from one of the short stories, is about how a bunch of people come to an exclusive club hoping to hook up. He takes us from table to table, eavesdropping on conversations, where we get a sense of the characters and their self-confidence.

Sleeping with the Elf is about how a couple contemplating on an open relationship, go to a club to size up potentials sexual partners for each other in an open-minded way, but ending up home alone.

Raccoons is a story which has the most tension. A man receives a call from his mistress, threatening to jeopardise his happy family unless he brings her their old recorded sex VHS tapes. His young son is demanding his attention while he is talking on the phone in the garage, as his wife is in the house.

Much of the other stories are more on characters than actions.

Still, a good book for new writers to learn about characterization and the technique of show don’t tell through the characters.

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The Inheritance of Love


Can you imagine I bought this book when Borders (you remember, that giant US bookshop to rival Kinokuniya and lost?) was still operating in Singapore? If not for the writer Kiran Desai being in Singapore for Singapore Writers Festival, I wouldn’t have picked up this dusty book from my dusty bookshelf to read. But I am glad I did although I missed the opportunity to meet the author and get her to sign my book.

This book won the Man Booker Prize and thoroughly deserves it. I enjoyed the many characters depicted, which had their own stories to tell. The book breaks many writing rules I was taught, like abruptly changing POVs, with some told in omniscient POV, and I actually found a typo error. But these did not mar my enjoyment of the book although the story, told in comical drama, fills me with despair as I read. Nothing seems to go well with any of the protagonists, that even poor Mutt, the lovable dog, suffers a bad ending.

The story begins during the tumultuous years (1985-86) when GNLF (Gorkha National Liberation Front) was fighting to set up Gorkhaland near Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas, and revolves around five main protagonists – the Judge, his Grandaughter Sai, her Nepali boyfriend Gyan, the cook and his son, Biju. The story flip-flops between the present and past, as we learn how the five come to relate to each other. The characters are all endearing in their flawed, and almost wicked characters.

I learn much about Indian history, as well as how within the same country, the people are so deeply divided and discriminated amongst casts, ethnicities, wealth and social status. The author has no qualm criticizing the way the Indians look down and exploit their own countrymen in India and elsewhere as immigrants, which made me compare to how new Chinese immigrants took care of their fellow ‘brothers’ in a new country by forming clans during the early colonial years in Singapore.

Example of discrimination: ‘and while the shopping was converted into dollars, tips to the servants could be calculated in local currency: “Fifteen hundred rupees, is he mad? Give him one hundred, even that’s too much.’

Another example: ‘American, British, and Indian passports were all navy-blue, and the NRIs tried to make sure the right sides were turned up, so airline officials could see the name of the country and know right away whom to treat with respect.’

Jarringly obvious too is how the author writes about the civil unrest; ‘Instead of foreign enemies, instead of the Chinese they had been preparing for, building their hatred against, they must fight their own people…’

Her proses are lyrical. She writes of Calcultta night, warm, mammalian, and Biju stood there in that dusty tepid soft, sari night.

Go read.

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On Chesil Beach – Movie Review

Based on Ian McEwan’s novel.

It’s the 1960s. A young graduate with a first class in History meets a violinist with a first class in music. They fall in love, get married and is now on honeymoon in a hotel by the sea.

There is tension in the honeymoon suite as Edward wants to get on with things, but there’s the room service dinner to get over. The audience is kept waiting as the movie goes into flashbacks into the couple’s family’s background. It’s as if the movie wants the audience to be in the same sexual tension as Edward as we are told how Edward’s mother becomes mentally ill, and how snobbish Florence’s parents are.

We are back in the suite as Edward tries again but Florence is stalling. And this is very much how their courtship went. Every time Edward moves forward, Florence retreats.

Finally, she tells him in a moment of anguish that she is not into sex but she loves him and would be perfectly fine for him to satisfy his urges elsewhere. He’s bewildered and angry.

The marriage is annulled after 6 hours. We have a hint that she has been molested by her father.

1975. A young child, Chloe, walks in to Edward’s record shop to buy her mother a Chuck Barry’s record. He suspects that she’s Florence’s daughter.

2007. Edward attends Florence’s quintet concert and their eyes meet.

It’s difficult to sit through this very slow movie, although both the leads, unknown to me, give a credible performance. Perhaps the book is better but really, I find the plot predictable and lack the draw which makes the audience curious. The characters are also not particularly interesting.

The screenplay is also written by Ian McEwan.

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Promise at Dawn (La promesse de l’aube) – French Movie Review

This is the autobiography of French writer Romain Kacew, known also as Romain Gary, who wrote 34 novels. He won the Goncourt Prize for French Literature two times. He took his own life at age 66.

The movie starts with young Romain and his single Polish mother, Nina. She places all her hope on her son, and wants him to promise her that he’d be a writer who would win the Goncourt prize, a French Ambassador and an air force officer for France. A strong woman in the early nineteen thirties who is determined to destroy her enemies, she succeeds to pretend she is endorsed by a famous Paris designer and has a couturier shop. With the money, she sends Romain to violin, dancing, shooting lessons and other classes which would make him a gentleman. Nina harbours the hope of him being a violinist and he wants to satisfy all her desires but he’s bad at it. He wants to be a painter but his mother disapproves. She brings out the tragic life of Van Goth and Gauguin, who died young and only become famous after their death. ‘I want you to be famous when you’re alive,’ she tells him. They decides he has a talent with writing.

One day when he is nine, Romain gets into a fight with some boys over a girl. Nina tells him that there are three things worth fighting over – woman, honour and France. Was it one of the three? He nods and Nina approves, until she finds out who the girl and gets angry. When you’re an ambassador, beautiful girls will fall over your feet and you will make them suffer. So forget that tramp, she tells him.

In another incident, he runs away from a group of boys who has insulted Nina instead of fighting them. She tells him, ‘the next time anyone insults your mother, I want you to come home in a stretcher. From now on, you will stand up for me, you will die for me.’

And so Romain grows up under her mother’s thumb and is conflicted between his love for her and to be free of her.

His first four manuscripts were rejected by publishers for being too literally. When his first short story gets published in a newspapers, Nina’s expectation is raised and she chases after him when she doesn’t see anymore stories of his in the papers.

He’s so pressured that he dreams about her urging him to continue writing even in the midst of war and when he is sick with typhoid.

‘You must finish the book. Trust me. The whole world will read it.’

‘I am sick.’

‘So what? Did Maupassant stop writing because he had syphilis? Did Napoleon stop conquering because he had malaria?’

And so from his death bed in Libya when he is being given the last rite, Romain recovers and writes greatest book which is published in England under Romain Gary. But he learns Nina has died three years ago. A few days before her death, she wrote him 250 letters to he sent to him regularly, for she was sure he would not survive if he learns of her death.

In the end, Romain fulfils all his mother’s desires of him but she’s not around to celebrate it.

A touching story of a mother’s love which is both funny and tragic.

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