dengue down

January 28, 2010

I’m picking up a fever, there’s no doubt about it. I wake with itchy legs, drenched in sweat, I’m nauseous and confused. I call in sick. I sleep, wake, sleep, wake. My entire body becomes itchy, I’m too dizzy to stand and my fever’s climbing. Sleep, wake, sleep, wake. A trip to the hospital proves useless. I’m injected with a yellowey liquid, which makes me tired and dizzy and helps the itching to disappear, but as I return home it starts up again. I sleep, wake, miss the Halloween festivities, sleep. I wake in desperation, I am home alone. Everyone is celebrating halloween from various parts of Saigon as I lie marooned on my bed in a puddle of sweat, the itching so bad I want to tear my skin from my body. I have to get help. Somehow on the back of a motorbike, I survive the busy streets of Saigon and make it to the hospital in broken Vietnamese. There’s a new doctor, she feels sorry for me, the nurse must have told her he has seen me crying. I finally have a diagnosis: Dengue Fever. Otherwise known as broken bone fever, dengue is comparable to malaria; also contracted through a specific mosquito, it can’t however be prevented nor cured.

I miss work, sleep, watch pirated movies, sleep, snack on coco-pops and milk purchased from the Western store near the hospital. There is nothing they can do to help me but put me on the highest dosage of anti-hystemines and tell me to rest (as if my body will allow me to do anything else). All I can do is lie in bed, sleep, wait, sleep, wait. I take frequent trips to the hospital, as my platelet count drops further and further. Taking a motorbike is not ideal, my head lulls behind the driver as I hold on in a weak attempt to not fall off, but taxis take too long, the traffic is too congested with the hundreds of motorbikes which clog the streets. Friends from South Africa arrive and are ready to explore the city by night; I am up and walking, but climbing a flight of stairs is exhausting which means I’m certainly not ready to take on Saigon’s night life. My best friend is arriving in a week, I need to reserve my non-existent energy. We have plans to adventure into Thailand, but if I don’t rest now, my future holiday plans will dissolve before my eyes.

Unprepared for the dip my life would take, I ‘recover’ from Dengue Fever after two weeks of endless blood tests, a descending platelet count and threats of a blood transfusion. I leave Vietnam with a quiet smile on my face and make my way for a new adventure to Thailand. My body is weak but I don’t care. I’m better now right?

I’ve had a month of hell, I want to enjoy my holiday. On arrival in Thailand, despite almost being flown out of Vietnam for a blood transfusion, we stupidly decide to go trekking in the north. I have been up and about for about two weeks, but the hills of Pai prove to be a painful experience and in desperation I beg the guide to somehow get me out; i am so serious I ask him to call a helicopter. But he can’t, we are deep in the mountains and the only way out is to walk, up. Up one hill, down another; from exhaustion I fall and cut my knee open, but there is nothing I can do, I have to persevere.Surely I will only get better from here?

Only I didn’t really get better. I somehow got worse. Uninformed by the doctors how weak my body would remain, I suffered an endless trail of illnesses: nausea, tiredness, depression, liver problems, ulcers. My life suddenly descended into a whirlpool of never-ending problems. Angry with a weak body and unsure why, I researched the virus and came up with little information on the after-effects, in fact many internet sites state that there are no long-term after effects, which in my experience is completely untrue. The after-effects have been almost just as bad as the actual virus. How could one mosquito be so powerful to steal my health? How could one mosquito destroy my immune system and make me so weak?

Two fifths of the world’s population are at risk from dengue with an estimate of 50 million dengue infections every year. With this virus on the rise in countries in Africa, South America and South East Asia, no preventative medicine and so few of us being informed about it, it’s not easy to protect yourself from it. Found in tropical climates, dengue is transmitted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a female mosquito which feeds during the day however unlike malaria, dengue can be caught in an urban district as well as rural. Although you cannot pass dengue from person to person, if a mosquito bites a sick person and then bites a healthy person, the healthy person has a strong chance of contracting the virus. It has been stated that in Malaysia alone, 8000 people are infected with dengue between January and february after monsoon season every year; 31 people have already died in Jan/Feb of 2010. 

It’s taken me over a year to figure out what happened to my body in those few days and come to terms with how the virus would live on inside me; like an unwelcome old aunt. I’ve taken some time to readjust, to listen to my body, to let it rest when it can’t endure a whole day, to reset my pace in life. My energy is up and even though I can’t rid the virus quite yet (I don’t know if I ever will completely) I’ll be grateful for my health; my muscles that need stretching, my body that needs rest and good nutrition and my poor heart that beats out my chest when I climb a flight of stairs. After all, at the end of they day, that’s all we have, so why not be grateful if not for anything else, just for that.


conquering cambodia

January 22, 2010

I was tired of the early morning public school lessons. The torturous three hours of teaching  involved enduring muggy heat, endless standing, sweating and desperately trying to control a class off Vietnamese children as they giggled in Vietnamese and broken English. I was tired of the afternoon lessons too, which were just as bad or maybe worse as they only began after lunch, when the sun was high and the classrooms even hotter. I was tired of teaching, of children, of the sheer hum drum of Saigon which was beginning to turn into my everyday routined life. Even though I was in a far away exotic country, it didn’t feel like it. The only way to fix it was to take a little adventure; remind myself of the reasons I really came to this continent.

Carli and I took the bus up from Saigon to Phnom Penh. An adventure set  to discover a bit of Cambodia; the war torn home of people whose smiles extend from eye to eye, in a country that is so fittingly shaped like a heart. To do this we had to endure an uninspiring bus ride and an exhausting border experience which required me to dish out my hard earned dollars, due to my ‘expired’ visa of half a day. On arrival, we met Mr. John at the bus station, a cheerful young Cambodian chap who spoke good English and wanted to show off his city. He offered us, for a small fee, the use of him and his tuk tuk to guide us through the city. He immediately organised accommodation and  took us to his uncle’s guest house (called something with the word happy in it)  in the tired and typically ‘western’ backpacker district filled with dirty streets and commercial bars (surprisingly no Irish pub.) His uncle put us in a modest room to say the most, (what actually felt somewhat like a wooden stable) where our bed sheets were covered in American states; at least Carli felt at home.

The next day we were off to the S21 museum, an eerie old high school that had been turned into a prison for torture victims during the Khmer Rouge (the Cambodian genocide which frighteningly happened in the late 1970s). Having missed the concentration camps on my visits to Europe, I had never been to a museum quite so horrific and haunting. The old classrooms had been turned into torture rooms, with remnants of the iron beds the victims were tied to, the rusty old torture instruments they used to torture the victims with, and thirty year old blood stains spattered across the floor. The museum was empty, with few visitors roaming the long corridors, which made getting lost among the bare rooms a frightening experience. It was only thirty plus years before, that innocent, well learned Cambodians were tortured to extract information they did not hold. The naked classrooms resembled the ones I taught at so frequently in Vietnam, which were in my mind filled with children, textbooks, colourful posters, and mostly, life. We left the museum at a loss of words, feeling slightly ill and taken aback by just how brutal and horrifying the genocide had been, unaware of Cambodia’s tragic history.

With little time on our hands, our next day was to venture up north to Siem Riep, a more slightly positive place, well-known for its mesmorising Angkor Wat. We sadly said goodbye to Mr. John who had quickly become a friend and ventured off. After an uncomfortably hot bus ride up (where we stopped a long the way to discover ladies selling grilled cockroaches and live spiders- a common sight in Cambodia I hear) we finally arrived. As had been organised by Mr. John, his friend Mr. Ben was awaiting our arrival,  with a plaque that read ‘Merry and Carly’ in hand. He took us to a hotel owned by a friend or relative (obvioiusly), which sadly didn’t have the word ‘happy’ in it, but welcomed us with clean white sheets and even a TV!

If the backpacker district in Phnom Penh seemed westernised then we hadn’t seen anything yet. Siem Riep certainly out did it it’s capital city, with fancy restaurants that could easily be seen on London’s high street. The main street which housed all these restaurants is called ‘Pub Street’ with an array of gourmet restaurants, cafes, a pharmacy that actually sells tampons (you don’t come across these frequently in Asia) and even a slightly pretentious gallery where the curator sits behind an Apple Mac.

Far away from all this western nonsense however (which I must say at the time was a complete breath of fresh air after a few months in dirty Saigon), a couple of kilometers off,  sits the breathtaking and monumental Angkor Wat. Across a peaceful moat, vast lawn of brilliant green grass and monstrous trees, sits the main temple more gigantic and beautiful in real life than any postcard could ever even try depict. We entered the grounds; cameras loaded with new spools and empty memory cards. Unlike the S21 museum we lost each other with glee. With so much to explore and so many temples of architectural triumph to discover, there was no time to waste waiting around for someone. I felt as though I was visiting an ancient and more charming version of the palace of Versailles. We spent the day exploring the various temples in the heat, trying to stay off the track from all the tourists (not an easy task, despite the extensive land). On our final temple it began to rain, that warm tropical rain we were so used to in the evenings in Vietnam. We entered the temple, draped in ponchos and scarves, to find grand, hundred old trees growing out  the soil, roots cascading over the stone walls. I never wanted to leave, but with the rain beginning to pelt down we had to. So we rode back to the city in our little tuk tuk carriage, like new age (slightly peasant) Marie Antoinettes’ leaving our palace.

The next morning I couldn’t wait to explore more of the temples. I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. I spent the morning filling up my memory card, but eventually  (believe it or not), I began to feel ‘templed out’ and with the sight of one more American tourist I was worried I might become barbaric. Leaving the temples behind, we were lucky to have my sister’s friend visiting Siem Riep at the same time. so we spent the afternoon at their fancy hotel where they bought us carafes of red wine and delicious snacks. As the tropical rain fell around us we indulged in a little luxury; a far cry from our usual $4 a night room and cheap beer.

Unfortunately by the next day, our time was up. After an early wake, one last cup of western coffee and a large western muffin, Mr. Ben took us to the bus stop. With literally $2 in my pocket (Carli by this stage was flat broke) we took the long 12 hour bus drive back to Saigon. Despite the heat, the trip back proved to be even more painful due to the fact that we were cursed with a loud American passenger sitting behind us who was only on the bus due to his fear of flying. Somehow he managed to contaminate the entire bus with his super bug spray and whine the whole way about his squashy seat which was too small for his American ass and his leg room which was too small for his American legs.  A desperate ride indeed, we eventually made it back to the hustle and bustle and non-stop going of Saigon; to our humble abode where I couldn’t wait to tell everyone just how breathtaking Cambodia is, and how fitting that it’s shaped like a heart.

empty hallways of the s21


First view of Angkor Wat


trunk growing over the building


carli and a very large tree


A little boy and his pet crab

Sunday, Summer Sunday

January 16, 2010

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and most of the residents of South Africa are beginning to wind down, as the events from their sun-filled weekend start coming to a halt. It’s 5:00 pm in Cape Town and no one is quite ready for their weekend to slip away so easily, as the Kirstenbosch gardens begin to fill up with blankets and picnic baskets, chilled wine and crudites. Friends and family gather on the lawn as the the sun begins to set behind the mountain and the scheduled band bursts to life onstage.

 A weekly highlight in Cape Town, the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts display true South African talent. Every week manages to display fresh or legendary names such as well known Johhny Clegg, Freshly Ground, the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra and internationally acclaimed Gold Fish. Mixed with the sun slowly setting behind the backdrop of table mountain in the world famous gardens and a relaxed and easy going atmosphere, these concerts are an unforgettable experience. Whether your music taste be indie rock, jazz or classical there is bound to be one Sunday which will display your music choice in the most perfect setting; true Cape Town style.

Tickets range from R65- R95 for adults and can be purchased online at at the ticket office in Kirstenbosch.

There’s Everything Grand about ‘The Grand’

 There’s something glorious in popping a bottle champagne and tucking into an indulgent dinner of steak bearnaise over a candelit table. There’s something even more glorious in doing this at ‘The Grand Cafe’ which has recently opened in Granger Bay, sister restaurant to the ever-popular ‘The Grand Cafe’ in Camps Bay. 

 The building which once served as a warehouse on the sea,  is behind a wire fence over pile of rubble, which now serves as an oasis of style, glamour and haute cuisine. Like Pandora is to Avatar, so The Grand is to the ultimate foodie. The menu is short and simple, offering dishes such as crayfish pasta and the unforgettable steak bearnaise with frites. Set on a beach overlooking the entire Granger Bay, if you’re not up for an indulgent meal, a drink on the far end of the beach where you feel as though you’re the only person there, is just as indulgent. 

 Every corner exudes luxury and style, from the Parisien style chairs, to the old-style champagne glasses Grace Kelly drank out of and the period piece chandelier which suspends above the massive 24-seater table; it may leave you wondering if Audrey Hepburn will crawl out from under one of the velvet couches.

Yes, The Grand is truly grand. 

Bookings are essential and can be made at The Grand Cafe on 021-425-0551

three of the things I like

December 21, 2009

I like traveling because it makes me feel real and alive; and if I simply don’t want to be me for the day, nobody knows me and no one will care.

I like art because it’s often expressive just as words, only it sometimes takes slightly longer to figure out.

I like my friends and family because they know me and love me dearly for exactly who I am; because we laugh together and talk together and subconsciously make each other feel immeasurably significant.

how to teach english abroad

November 4, 2009

It’s not easy travelling and making money at the same time. Whether it be itchy feet, a longing to discover a new culture, a desire to spread the knowledge of English or sudden unemployment due to the recession; now might be the best opportunity to explore a new culture or possibly find a new love for your own.

Why should this be an option?

‘The demand for English teachers around the world today is very high,’ says Nicola Harding of the ESL base. More and more people around the world are finding a need to learn English, whether it’s to travel to an English-speaking country, have the opportunity to go to an English speaking University, use it for business or even surf the internet; ‘English continues to be the preferred language in many areas of life,’ says Nicola. There are many reasons one could consider teaching English abroad. ‘I got into teaching after doing a gap year in Indonesia, I absolutely loved it,’ says Jackie Shore who is now teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Think about what you want from teaching English, be it to wait out the recession or explore a new country; then weigh up whether this would be a good option for you or not.

Finding the right course:

‘Qualifications required to teach abroad vary from country to country, but normally include a degree and a teaching qualification such as TEFL, Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL – both these are normally 4 week intensive courses,’ says Nicola. Once the one month course is taken, it’s a passport to teach in almost any country in the world. ‘You can find work in some countries with no formal qualification or experience, and, at the other end of the scale, in some countries you’ll need a higher level qualification and several years experience (some countries in the Middle East for example),’ says Jackie. It is however, always better to have a qualification rather than winging it, it immediately makes you more marketable and the chances of finding a job will be higher. The courses can be taken in almost any country in the world, so there’s no excuse!

How is the pay?

‘Teaching has been good to me and a little restraint has meant that I’ve been able to live a great lifestyle and save money,’ says Jackie, ‘but there’s a big difference between surviving on a TEFL/CELTA salary in Jakarta (with which you can live very comfortably) and surviving on a TEFL/CELTA salary in London.’ Many people find that if they work for a certain period of time they are able to save part of their salary, and take travel breaks with that saved money. ‘If you enjoy the teaching then you may find other ways to supplement the salary like writing course material or starting your own agency alongside general teaching,’ says Samantha Jordaan, an ex- English teacher who is now living back in SA and working for ‘Teaching Abroad’.

Should I organise a job beforehand or shop around when I’m there?

It’s entirely up to you. Many people find that having a secure job on arrival, helps with settling in. Often the school that has hired you will collect you from the airport and show you where to stay. Once they’ve settled you in, you can look into finding an apartment or deciding where to live. Shopping around for a job isn’t a bad option either, but be careful when choosing a school. ‘The best thing would be the bigger, international language schools. They offer secure contracts and are usually in larger cities, where the money is,’ says Nicola.

What should I prepare myself for?

It all really depends on where you’re going. Prepare yourself for new experiences, especially a possible culture-shock in many countries. Buy a small guide book before you leave and try learn a bit about the cultures of your chosen country. ‘Teachers themselves should make an earnest attempt to learn something about cultural adjustment and training that will lead to successful experiences abroad’ says Samantha, ‘learning the language is a key step to adjustment, so you are able to become an active participant in everyday life.’ Expect the unexpected; you can’t foresee what your future will bring. ‘Too often, teachers who go to another country soon return home disenchanted because things did not turn out the way they expected, so get online and chat to people who have done it before,’ says Nicola.

review: the boat that rocked

September 21, 2009

If you’re looking for a bohemic high, or rock-studded soundtrack combined with a collection of legendary actors at their best, or even just a tribute to the fabulous rebellion of the 60’s and journey into pop-rock, Richard Curtis’s ‘The Boat That Rocked’ is a must-see.
Set in 1966, this epic film encapsulates the story of a pirate radio that broadcasts pop-rock for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a boat in the north sea, due to the BBC’s allowance for only two hours of rock-and-roll a week.
We are met with the crew who live aboard the ‘radio rock’ boat: Quentin played by the uber-cool Bill Nighy, Captain on the boat and godfather to the new-comer teen and virgin, Carl (Tom Sturridge) who has ironically been sent by his mother (Emma Thompson) to stay aboard the rock boat to get away from drugs and alcohol she believes he’s been dabbling with back on land. Carl is met with a diverse group of DJs who each run a specific shift.
The ‘main’ DJ is ‘The Count,’ (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman) a loud and passionate American DJ, who likes to think he rules the roost. This is until he receives a rude awakening when ex-much-loved-leader DJ Gavin (Rhys Ifan) possibly AKA ‘the sex-god’, returns to his rightful position in the studio. Naturally tension arises especially when Gavin manages to mess up morning DJ ‘Simple Simon’s’ (Chris O’Dowd) short lived marriage to gorgeous and heartless Eleanor (January Jones). This event proves tragic, as no woman (except for the lesbian chef) live aboard the boat; their perfumed and hairsprayed bods are only allowed on every second Saturday where the shananigans really begin.
In contrast, on the mailand, government-minister (Kenneth Brannagh) (who would likely be compared to a Nazi soldier) and his cronies, attempt to shut down the radio station, despite it’s millions of listeners. What appears to begin as a government task, ends up in a personal mission for this minister as he finds every opportunity to destroy ‘radio rock’ and its crew.
During this film you are swept into a bohemic and liberated world of a group of talented and passionate DJs whose religion is simply rock-n-roll. Sometimes slightly surreal and unbelievable, this film transcends into an extravaganza of top-class acting from top-class actors, with a soundtrack that will blow any music-fundi away. Although at times, the story-line begins to waver and you often wonder if there really is a point, from beginning to end this film promises surprises, colour and costumes like no other. By the end of it you simply want to strip off your clothes and run naked out the cinema singing aloud to ‘Let’s Dance’ by the ever-popular rock star David Bowie. All in all it’s simply a film that shouldn’t and couldn’t be missed.

ha long bay

September 18, 2009

We’re on the bus. Pain, sheer pain. I sit with a hangover, sun beating down on me through the window on my cramped pull-out seat. The smell of sweat and vodka. Rave music blares from the blown speakers as some German tourist wearing white reflective sunglasses blasts the volume button. In desperation I want to get off this bus. Our guide, an overly tanned British chap with a skew nose, named Casey, is talking incessantly while pouring vodka down everyone’s throats and getting himself more drunk than the most of us. It appears to be comparable to a school leavers holiday in Ibiza. We stop at a petrol station and I consider, with my travel mate Carli, a walk back to the city of Hanoi. When I  am suddenly met with Caroline, a lone back packer who has bought herself an around-world-ticket, ‘Please look after me,’ she says in desperation, ‘I have no friends and our guide is freaking me out.’

We arrive in the bay and are given colourful sombreros to wear onto the boat, last time I checked we were in Vietnam, not Mexico. I look at Caroline as a hat is thrust onto her head, it appears she isn’t in the mood for this either. As we arrive on the boat the sound of rave music is once again blaring from the speakers. There isn’t even a moment to take in the beauty of the bay ahead, thanks to the dreadful music and hundreds of tourist boats starting up their engines for a tour of the ever-famous Ha long Bay. Eventually someone complains about the dreadful music and the faint and calming sound of Thievery Corporation begins to drift through our ears. I walk to the top deck of the boat and realise why this place is such a huge tourist destination. Huge karsts of limestone rock, erect from the turquoise-blue ocean in various shapes and sizes. It has taken 20 million years under the impact of this tropical wet climate for the evolution of these karsts. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination, Ha Long Bay, meaning ‘descending dragon bay’ in Vietnamese, according to historical research surveys, shows the presence of prehistorical human beings from ten hundred thousand years ago. Now with 1600 inhabitants who live in fishing villages on floating houses, it is also recognised as one of the 33 most beautiful bays of the world, and I am not surprised why. As the other tourist boats begin to head into various directions, through different isles, and past different karsts, I take a seat on a chair on the upper deck and notice how everyone begins to settle into their own way. They open a beer or find a spot of sun to lounge in, as we set off to discover the mesmerising and natural beauty of this unforgettable space.

a piece of almost untouched beach we discovered

a piece of almost untouched beach we discovered

Our boat slowly pulls to a stop and Casey gives instructions for us to get into the water; we’re going kayaking. We dive off the boat into the deep water below and are told to grab hold of a kayak and settle into a male/female team. ‘I’m going for him,’ whispers Carli as she dives in toward the strapping young guy everyone’s been eyeing out. I scramble onto a kayak as quick as I can, to avoid being paired up with either Casey or my German friend who has managed to keep his fingers away from the volume knob for the past few hours. I notice Caroline has found a partner too. It’s time to set off to discover some of the islands’ hollow caves. We paddle our way down a few isles and arrive in a semi-enclosed island. We have to get our kayaks into single-file as we make our way through a cave which is so low, you have to lie your back flat on the kayak in order to not hit your head. The water descends into a bright turquoise and then into darkness as you push your vessel through the cave to the light on the other side. We enter the opposite side of the cave and are met with an enclosed lake inside one of the islands, which rises spectacularly from the ocean. It feels as though we are in a movie, as though we have been shipwrecked and suddenly discovered a hidden land where if we call for help, we will only hear the echoes of our own voices. Every single one of us is in absolute awe and almost speechless, even Casey has managed to shut up.

watching the sun go down

On return from our unforgettable adventure we climb back onto the boat. Moods are high and everyone is feeling some unexpected endearment toward one another. As though we have just discovered some sort of secret; a secret so beautiful and so rare that no one else in the world could possibly know about it. I find myself back on the upper deck, opening a beer, despite my previous hangover and watching the sun set. We all settle into little groups of cheerful conversation and I find myself chatting to my German friend, ‘I could see you were annoyed with me earlier’ he says. I laugh awkwardly with no defense. He is somehow the opposite of what I thought, quite charming in fact and someone I am still friends with today. Casey doesn’t have any changing impact on me however, rather someone we all can’t stand; our dislike for Casey and our ‘secret’ discovery becomes a silent bond between all of us, despite our different personalities and nationalities. It’s getting late, the sun has gone down, we have all showered and eaten a good dinner of authentic Vietnamese food. Some begin to settle into drinking games and partying on the top of the boat in amongst thousands of spectacular limestone karsts. I am however, tired, the beer is beginning to go down like nails, and so I retire to my room where I can’t wait to wake up amongst this beauty and share another day and hopefully discover a new secret with my new found friends. Casey can talk, and rave music can blare, but I’ve discovered something no one can ever take away from me, something beyond the tourists and guzzling boats, and that’s the pure beauty of Ha Long Bay.

Hello world!

September 17, 2009

I have arrived.