Let's get some coffee

Mobile cafe, run by a student, outside a campus near the Turtle lake in Saigon. I asked her if her shop is part of some school project. She said that it is her own venture, she runs it when she has no classes.

Later on It turned out that this student was a friend of a friend. Small world indeed. 

差不多 In Vietnam

What is the Vietnamese word for 差不多?I was just commenting yesterday at old Asia hand post that some experiences in Vietnam remind me of time in China in the early 2000s.  Today I walked into a neighboring hair dresser to get a shave. The girl did not have a razor, but that did not dissuade her, she just unpacked a safety razor blade, and wedging the blade in her fingers, made my stubble disappear. 

 差不多 (chau but duo) Is a Chinese phrase used to describe the process of just getting something done via a hack. A bit like jugaad in India. 

In 2002, I was at the Indian consulate in Shanghai, renewing my passport, and I realized that I needed a clean shave for a new photo. I walked into a small saloon in the next building. The ladies there too, made short work of my facial hair with bare fingers and a blade. The girl later told me that I was the first customer who had walked in asking for a shave, and no one says no to an economic opportunity in China.

Rainy day for nostalgia

Rain, for me is a good excuse to find a new hiding places. This cute cafe, at Nguyen Trung Truc street in Saigon, had a 50 year old reel to reel tape machine, playing songs by Khanh Ly, a popular singer from the early 1970s. Back in those days, Khanh Ly used to run a cafe at the the nearby Dong Khai Street. The cafe was a lively gathering place for students, artists and musicians. Bui Vien (the current evil backpacker area) was where they had many local clubs, and singers like Khanh Ly used to sing there. She also performed impromptu concerts on the stairs in front of local universities - singing songs lamenting the war. I hope the tape machine could turn into a time machine and teleport me to those days. Khanh Ly had some following in Japan too, here is a song in Japanese.

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Street tofu in Saigon

Walking into the alley is always wonderful. Fresh tofu with coconut, ginger and tapioca garnish - costs 25 cents.  For the less adventurous, there is always the Doraemon tofu at a supermarket.

The Saury fish festival in Meguro, Tokyo

Just as I land in Japan , NHK shows a documentary about cats in a small town in North Vietnam. Now I miss Vietnam again. I better not turn on the TV today, they may make me miss more of my homes. Today Meguro (my home in Japan) is smokey, but we needn't fear. There is no fire but it is the Sanma Matsuri (saury fish festival), where people come outdoors and grill saury fish. The festival is based on a Edo times story about a lord who got addicted to the taste of grilled saury fish served to him by local farmers, while on a hunting trip over here - Meguro used to be farmland and hunting area for the nobility then. When he got back to his castle - his chefs prepared the best saury fish in the land, but for the lord, the taste could not compare to the one that farmers in Meguro grilled in their humble settings.

Should I draw the strange dark object?

In Singapore, my sometimes lunchtime places are in the Korean enclave. There is a little mischievous kid who darts in and out of a cafe I am at. I try to speak little Korean with her. Though amused (she must wonder what is this large dark object making familiar sounds), she hardly has patience to listen to a full sentence before she darts out to slay another monster. The kid came by and left me this drawing. Now, I am wondering what to draw for her.


The Drunkard's alley in Tokyo

I like cities that have secrets. Not too far from the world famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo is a hidden away place that not many go to - the drunkard's alley. This alley has dozens of small bars - a bit like Golden Gai. It's like you are back in the 1960s.