Sunday, 16 March 2014

Defeatism: Progressives' Greatest Challenge

At March in March there were a number of signs stating that people were so dissatisfied with our conservative government that they couldn't fit all of the reasons onto one sign. They just left it at that.


From #MarchinMarch - @tonesperth Instagram


There’s a reason for this. Prior to the election, the Abbott-led Coalition made broad, non-specific statements about policies they would introduce, or in most cases, repeal, without giving any real guidance on how exactly they were going to do this. Since being elected, the Government has launched a full-scale repeal of progressive policies. Election promises have been broken, the electorate has been betrayed. We don’t hear a lot about this in the main stream media, because it largely suits the needs of those who control it. As a progressive, you need to actively look for different, often independent, media sources to get the full story and to try and keep track.

So many changes on such a broad scale means it’s hard for progressives to make a single, succinct case for their displeasure in the government. For those that are to the political right, or those to the left who see themselves as the ‘reasonable’ pragmatic progressives, this is seen as non-specific Abbott hating/whinging behaviour. It is not. It is a well-justified broad dislike of many Coalition policies. Due to the number of different ways we’re dissatisfied with the government, we’re not able to put them into sound bites for people to understand in the same way that Abbott puts platitudes and rhetoric into three-word slogans. In marketing terms it’s a diluted message, and it’s not ideal.

However we have to let go of the dichotomy of good and bad and embrace complexity and subtlety – we may very well disagree with our own favoured political parties. We need to see it as a complex argument that needs to be sorted on an issue-by-issue basis, not on whose political party is ‘winning’ like a sporting competition that’s played out in the media. It’s not that simple, and the longer we allow this dichotomy of Goodies and Baddies to perpetuate, the poorer we will all be for it. Furthermore, any time you are seen to be disagreeing with your party, you shouldn't be seen as backing a horse that has a weakness, but rather being able to question and challenge even those you support the most.

It’s ok for progressives to differ in their beliefs, but it’s important that we also show solidarity. There’s nothing worse than ‘pragmatist’ progressives who say it can’t be done or it’s democracy, stupid, wait out your 3 years. Progressive issues constantly need to be fought for and represented. Sitting by and waiting for someone else to sort it out isn't good enough.

You may have encountered these people. Firstly, they rubbish the intra-electoral period activists for being ‘clicktivists’ – that clicking a button to sign a petition isn't good enough. Then when people actually take to the streets, they’re mocked for protesting in vain – told to wait until Election Day. Then when people vote for minor parties because the major parties don’t support their views, they’re told they've just thrown their vote away. It’s easy to see how progressives are taught at every turn that they’re not winning. They should give up. This, frankly, is bullshit.


Do not complain about what you permit. Margaret Mead had it right when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. Get out there and tell your friends. Do not be embarrassed – have the strength of your convictions, back your argument and inform others. And when they tell you you’re wasting your time and to wait for Election Day, challenge them to see what they've done to make a difference since the last one. 

Because if we have to wait until every 3 years comes around to try and make a change, change is going to be a very long time coming.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

An open letter to Tanya Plibersek - why I'm not voting Labor

Hi Tanya,

On so many levels, I'm disappointed in the Labor party's stance on gay marriage. I spoke with you about this in person at the Rozelle Markets some years ago. I am incredibly disappointed that Julia Gillard didn't introduce the bill (and I thought that she was our best shot at getting this across the line). Now Kevin Rudd is playing politics by promising a bill, but not stipulating that it won't be a conscience vote that is defeated just like the last 2 bills. It's sneaky and disingenuous. 

I will not be voting for Labor at the upcoming election. I really wanted to vote for you because I think you have been an outstanding minister, a strong performer in the media, and I have followed your progress closely over the years. However Labor's stance on gay marriage, asylum seekers and the environment leaves me cold and I will be voting for the Greens. I also despise Kevin Rudd only slightly less than I despise Tony Abbott, and I can't support a party that supports him.

It saddens me because I think you do a lot for your community, but I cannot support the Labor Party. No matter how much I want Abbott to stay in the political wilderness.

I sincerely hope that Labor starts listening to the left again rather than listing to the right. It's horrible to watch the politics of fear and power dominate the policies of our two major parties. Gillard may have had her faults but at least she had vision and conviction - I respected her so much for that.

Yours in hope,

Lauren 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Chump Bucket



Very few things in life truly make me want to vomit, however yesterday morning’s breakfast interview with Christopher Pyne very nearly inspired such a violent physical reaction.

According to the latest polls, Gillard is preferred PM over Tony Abbott by a long shot. But it’s not her party’s recent policy announcements that have gotten her over the line, nor is it Abbott’s spectacular floundering during Leigh Sales’s spectacular and devastating interview on the ABC 7.30 Program or even on the Today show… no. It’s been Labor’s cheap shots on Abbott’s character that have reduced the public’s faith in him.

Diddy-fucking-widdums.

So, because the party can’t trust him to be on the ABC ever again, Abbott didn’t go on TV to defend himself, the woefully obnoxious Christopher Pyne did.  And how Michael Rowland of Breakfast News managed to keep a straight face throughout the interview is absolutely beyond me.

Let’s have a look at how this played out, blow by blow.
Michael Rowland: The Opposition's education spokesman Christopher Pyne joins us now from Parliament House. Mr Pyne, good morning to you. As you would have already seen, Labor gaining small rises in the primary vote in both polls but in both polls as well Julia Gillard out rates Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister. In the Newspoll she has a 14-point lead, the biggest lead she's had in more than a year. How do you read those polls?
All good so far, but that would be because Christopher Pyne hasn’t opened his mouth. Here he is now:
Christopher Pyne: Good morning Michael. Well what we're seeing is the politics of personal denigration writ large in Australia. The Labor Party has spent the last two weeks and the better part of the last few months demonising Tony Abbott in the same way as they did Campbell Newman before the Queensland State election.
At this point, I know what you’re thinking. Abbott never stood in front of a sign that said ‘Ditch the Witch’, nor did he repeatedly call her a liar/untrustworthy/backstabber etc for the last 2 years? Nor did he and his party lead a campaign of non-questions about her time at Slater and Gordon 17 years ago? Nope – didn’t happen. It’s like history has been completely re-written by a dizzy Poodle. He continues…
Pyne: ...They want to destroy his character and Tony Abbott is being painted by the Labor Party is not the Tony Abbott that I know and in fact just this weekend Tony Abbott, as well as doing interviews and doorstops, spent Saturday doing a controlled burn-off with his local volunteer fire service and yesterday guided a blind runner to the end of their first marathon as their partner so the Tony Abbott I know is a caring, compassionate human individual, a man with a Rhodes scholarship, a man who went to Oxford and the most experienced would-be Prime Minister in Australia's history in terms of being in Government.
I’m really sorry I exposed you to that – but it’s really what he said. Honestly, you couldn’t make this shit up. How he manages to even utter even a single syllable with a mouth so completely full of Abbott’s sphincter in itself is an astonishingly remarkable feat.  Judging by this I’m pretty sure he has a Tony Abbott teddy bear in budgie smugglers on his bed.  The teddy is one of a limited edition of 2 – Greg Sheridan has the other.  If you’re wondering what Abbott did the weekend before, he probably dug that poor bastard’s eyes out so Abbott had something nice to have said about himself. Now that Pyne has concluded his first bout of enthusiastic arse-licking, it’s over to Rowland to try and stop himself from completely pissing himself laughing.
Rowland: Taking into account everything that's gone on in Federal politics, you believe the polls are solely result of from what you see as the denigration of Tony Abbott. No super trawler or off shore processing? Nothing else?
I think he did well there – didn’t laugh AND managed to ask a decent question.
Pyne: I'm sure there are other aspects to it, but I think the primary purpose of the Labor Party's campaign of personal denegation of Tony Abbott in recent weeks has been to drive down his poll numbers. That is working but I don't think at the end of the day the Australian public will buy a campaign of personal denegation, of vilification.
That’s funny – I thought that was the Coalition’s ‘main game’. You know – Gillard and the whole Slater and Gordon thing… and all those ‘questions’? The ones they couldn’t actually articulate, but they should be answered nonetheless? I’d have thought that that was what the Coalition was getting at – denigrating the Prime Minister’s character.  But hey, that’s just my take on it.  Pyne hasn’t finished though…
Pyne: ...Unfortunately with the Labor Party, Michael, when they have their backs to the wall and they've tried everything else, they eventually turn to the chum bucket. That's what we've seen in the last fortnight. Turning to the chum bucket, throwing as much muck as they possibly can and hoping some will stick.
Firstly, I just want to let you know that I had no idea what he was talking about when he said ‘chum bucket’. When I Googled it, apparently it’s a restaurant in SpongeBob Squarepants. However I suspect he means ‘chumbucket’ which is a bucket which houses fishing bait. So now the Labor party are throwing old squid at Tony Abbott. They should probably use something stickier. If they hang around until about 9am tomorrow morning, I may be able to help them out.
Rowland: Tony Abbott hasn't been guilty of negativity?
This is what happens when you can’t state something (because it could be perceived as being biased), so you pose it as a question instead.
Pyne: Tony Abbott points out the deficiencies of a very bad government.
Ok, he didn’t get that one – try again Rowland…
Rowland: He's run a relentless negative campaign, as you know, against the carbon tax. I'll quote you some of the viewer comments we are getting this morning. Ron on Facebook: “The public's growing tired of the opposition's continual negative campaigning”. Helen on Facebook: “People are getting sick to death with Abbott and his attitude.” What do you say to those concerns amongst voters?
 Ok that should do it.
Pyne: Well what I say to them Michael is that running a campaign against the carbon tax which the government promised not to introduce before the election and then introduced it is vastly different from a campaign of personal vilification of an individual which is what's happened to Tony Abbott in the past few months. Running a campaign against the carbon tax, against the government's failed border protection policies, against the government's inability to explain where the $120 billion is coming from for all their unfunded promises, that's politics. That's what people in politics should be doing, holding a government to account, not this campaign of personal denigration of Tony Abbott that we've seen in recent weeks.
What I’ll say here is that Pyne actually has a point – people want political parties to actually address politics, not each other. However he has completely neglected to remember anything about what they’ve dredged up about Gillard over the last few months.
Rowland: What about the campaign of denigration regarding the Prime Minister's past as a lawyer?
Ahh thank you – the question equivalent of a money shot.
Pyne: Well the campaign that has been in the papers or the stories that have been in the papers are based on documents filed in the Federal Court, based on interviews with the Prime Minister when she was a lawyer at Slater and Gordon and her senior partners. They surround why she left Slater and Gordon.
In other words, if someone wants to be terrorised by a political rival, they’d better put pen to paper and make sure it’s documented.
Pyne: …There are many questions left unexplained but that wasn't run by the opposition. That was run by those people involved in that case who were horrified at what's happened so you can't compare a campaign of personal vilification against a campaign of holding someone to account for matters that happened some time ago that are fully documented and you can read ‘The Australian' to get all those stories.
This is bald-faced bullshit, with a sprinkling of a sycophantic promotion for The Oz. Nice touch, Pyne.
Rowland: It wasn't ignored by the opposition. Come on, Christopher Pyne, Tony Abbott did pick it up. He used it to further raise questions about, as he saw it, the Prime Minister's character.
Rowland’s really struggling to contain his incredulousness at this point.
Pyne: Michael, you cannot compare the documented Federal Court documents detailing the involvement of fraud in the Australian Workers Union several decades ago or in fact 20-odd years ago with a personal campaign of denigration. Trying to make them relatively the same is really pretty disgraceful actually. The truth is one is documented fraud in the Australian Workers Union involving the former boyfriend of the Prime Minister. All of that is on the record. The rest is sheer conjecture, sheer hearsay, smear and innuendo and trying to put the two together is really quite wrong.
Has Pyne just said that anything beyond the documented fraud was conjecture? I think he has. Heaven forbid that anyone engage in conjecture… like, I dunno, the Coalition did. A lot. For weeks.
Rowland: By saying this is all about the personal denigration of Tony Abbott, these opinion poll results, are you conceding, Christopher Pyne, that the opposition's campaign against the carbon tax has been a bit of a squib?
You’ve got a nice curve ball there, Rowland.
Pyne: Well, you ask any Labor member that, Michael. I don't think you'll find that they think the carbon tax is very popular amongst voters. Everywhere I go in my electorate voters rail against two things primarily, one, they absolutely hate the carbon tax and the effect it's having on the cost of living, on electricity prices in particular and, two, they think it's extraordinary that the government would have come to power and changed the border protection laws and we've had tens of thousands of illegal arrivals since then, 10,000 alone just this year which is now costing us billions of dollars a year in money we could have been spending on infrastructure or on other things of importance to the Australian public.
Shorter Pyne: We don’t like the carbon tax, and something irrelevant about ‘illegal arrivals’ who aren’t even illegal. When all else fails, sing from the song book.
Rowland: Nielsen has Malcolm Turnbull 63% as preferred leader, Tony Abbott 30%. Are you going to be the one who taps Tony Abbott on the shoulder therefore, Christopher Pyne?
Pyne: Michael, you can try as much as you like to try and create leadership tension in the Liberal Party. It just isn't there.
*Bullshit*
Rowland: Coalition voters support Malcolm Turnbull over Tony Abbott. This isn't just general voters and Labor voters.
Pyne: I'm sure our friends would rather focus on trying to whip up leadership tensions in the Liberal Party than focus on the fact that Kevin Rudd is back and bigger than ever and doing his best to try and put himself back on the agenda. I know the press gallery don't like to write about Labor Party leadership, they much prefer Liberal Party leadership.
Have you ever seen an article on the leadership in the Labor Party? Pyne apparently hasn’t. I mean really – what is it like on Planet Pyne? Don’t you receive The Australian there? You should really put in a word with Tone, Pyne. I’m sure he can make sure they deliver… even to the outer-fringes of our galaxy.
Pyne: …The truth is there isn't any tension in the Coalition at all. Our job is to hold a very bad government to account and on behalf of the Australian people, try and get policies in place that will reduce the cost of living, protect our borders, restore integrity to the government and restore the budget bottom line
Oh yes, “policies”. I’d almost forgotten about them.
Rowland: Do you and Tony Abbott and the rest of the leadership group in the Coalition, Christopher Pyne, see any need to recalibrate your political strategy in the wake of these opinion polls?
Pyne: I think we need to keep doing what we do best which is to put out our own excellent policies like the return of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, maternity leave scheme, talk about the things that we're going to do. I think on the weekend Tony Abbott announced that we would built the Pacific Highway, finish the Pacific Highway at a cost of $5.6 billion, put out our own positive agenda while holding a rotten government to account and that's what we intend to continue to do.
What you do best? You haven’t been doing a lot of it. According to Pyne, you get a commission, a road and an old maternity leave scheme. This is what they’ve come up with in 2 years.
Rowland: Christopher Pyne in Canberra thank you very much for your time this morning.
Pyne: Pleasure Michael, thank you.
Or, has he would have preferred to have said, "Thanks Michael, my time on your planet has been great. I recommend the shrimp".



Wednesday, 15 August 2012

What's News?



Since I've been back after 12 months away, I've been having a great time catching up with my friends. After dinner with a friend the other night, a friend emailed me:


So it was great to catch up with you last week. I have a follow up question: My brother thinks that because all news that is broadcast is "bad" that he doesn't bother watching, therefore is not informed. Is ignorance bliss? Is the outcome the same or similar if you are not in a position to change anything you observe on the 24 hr news cycle if you watch or don't watch? Thoughts?

I went on to reply...


...To be honest I don't know if I can really answer your question because it's been one I've been struggling with since I came back. Before I left Australia I was a total news junkie. Probably almost in the true sense of the word... I used to have "drug" seeking behaviour, I had total withdrawals and terrible FOMO (fear of missing out). It wouldn't be unusual for me to be working with ABC 24 news on the TV, Twitter in front of me and maybe streaming something else online. I was hooked.

But then I went overseas and while I tried to maintain my habit, it was much harder work. Less time to be spent watching endless (and frankly, repetitive) news coverage, Twitter feeds, reading blogs and overseas news websites... it's a lot to maintain. And when you are in a tropical paradise, somewhat less of a priority. And was my life any poorer during those 12 months? No.

Having said that though, the life I was living was without bounds, responsibility, time limits and was relatively stress free. I didn't give a shit about what Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard had said to/about each other that day, and I didn't even know that Bob Carr had been made Foreign Minister until just before I came back... All stuff I would have normally been on top of. 

What I'm trying to figure out now is whether or not news actually enriches my life now that I'm back, or whether it actually just stresses me out because I can't control any of it and often it doesn't directly affect my day-to-day life (yet... I don't have a house/kids/mortgage).  Have I really just surrounded myself with enablers? People with whom I need to be studying the news endlessly in order to be able to have a conversation? The answer to that is definitely yes. Now I just need to figure out whether or not that bothers me.

What probably bothers me more is that people don't do anything with their outrage... myself included. I get on Twitter and make clever remarks but I don't actually go out and picket parliament, start an action group to try and inform public policy or encourage others to do the same. One of my favourite quotes I found while I was viewing the Magna Carta in Salisbury was "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So rather than just sit around on my arse being oh-so-informed, I need to get out there and actually do something.

So I guess in answer to your question, sitting around being informed is one thing, getting out there and doing something about it is better and probably more noble. But not knowing in the first place forfeits your right to be disgruntled. One of my other favourite sayings is "Do not complain about what you permit". 

Since then, the other factor I've been thinking about is the media's bias and need for sensationalism. As you can see from the headline I snapped in Cambodia last year, a child being held for services rendered while a woman returns home to tend to her husband's funeral would be HUGE news in Australia, because things like this just never happen here. Because we're lucky, because we live in a politically stable country with enforced laws and relatively low corruption. Yet if you read the headlines here you'd think this country was going to the dogs. Well it's not, but that's not newsworthy... "Actually things are going pretty well, in fact better than in a lot of other places, even places comparable to here" doesn't really seem like it would sell advertising space.

So I think a further thing to take into account with your news habit is to be discerning with your dealer and know where they get their stuff from. Which is not really news, but it adds to the complexity of 'do I really need this to survive?' I think the answer is like with all drugs - consider the drug, the dose, the toxicity and the therapeutic need.

Thoughts?



Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Yes, we can? No, we won't.

I'm at a complete loss, with only the bitter taste of incredulousness and rage left in my mouth. My mouth with a clenched jaw and pursed lips. I'm fucking pissed off.

I remember in 2007 when I partied so hard I got kicked out of the pub because that bastard Howard had been voted out. I remember thinking that at LONG LAST we could celebrate and finally move on as a nation.

When Rudd was ousted I was actually happy that Gillard was in and that snivelling jerk was out. Him with his overtly Christian values (I was even a little sad for him during his goodbye speech until he went all Godly and thanked his 'creator'. Fuck him, good riddance). Now we had an atheist, female prime minister who was living with her partner. I felt proud of Australia when we voted her back in, even if it was by the slimmest of margins.

And I know that the odds are stacked against a female prime minister on the 'left' side of politics. I know that much of the mainstream media and industry will do everything they can to de-stabilise this government by calling it illegitimate, running smear campaigns, or otherwise leaving it to its own ridiculous in-fighting that it simply self-destructs while they cover every minute detail.

So what could Gillard do? What about, I dunno, support gay marriage? It enjoys massive support in the community - surely this is a no-brainer? There is no apparent reason as to why she shouldn't support gay marriage personally - she's not religious. It's not like she's in with the God Squad anyway.

And yet she doesn't.

Now we hear the news that even BARACK OBAMA has stated he supports gay marriage. You know him, right? The President of the United States. He presides over one of the most religious places on Earth with some of the most vocal and politically influential Christian lobby groups. And he just backed gay marriage. Not even a half-way vote with the usual 'civil unions' compromise; marriage.

And yet she says she will maintain her position.

So why does this make me so angry? Because I don't believe her. I don't believe that there's any reason why she personally doesn't support marriage equality, particularly in a country where church and state are meant to be separate. This is about politics, and I can't believe that even on such a popularly supported issue such as this, she can still manage to fuck it up.

So much promise, so little delivery. Thanks for nothing, Gillard.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Not so bonkers in Honkers

I'm in Hong Kong. I honestly can't tell you how I've spent the last week or so. It's been brilliant. Very little site seeing. Walk up the hill to the reservoir with Mike, met up with Kat and Craig for dinner at Oohlaa in Soho - mojitos a-plenty. Dinner and dancing last Saturday night with Mike and Phyllis's friends. True Blood. Coffee. Ferries. Doctors. Fucking opthalmologists who won't remove fucking cysts. Trying to avoid the shops. Cooking pasta or Vietnamese salmon. A holiday from a holiday. A blur of conversations about What it All Means punctuated by Steve Jobs's death. Wifi. Tours. Emails and Skype. Missing people. Talking to Pfizer folks. Wishing I felt more grateful and less sad and scared. Two little girls with one pair of skates in the plaza laughing and showing off for their parents. I have two skates but only one of me.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Above is my only diary entry for Honkers, and as you can see it was very low-key. My uncle Mike is an air traffic controller in Hong Kong and it was great to see him and his wife Phyllis. I stayed at their place in Discovery Bay, an expat oasis on Lantau Island.

I'd been to HK twice before and both times I shopped until I dropped (it's almost possible to walk around the entirety of the city without ever leaving the air-conditioned comfort of a shopping centre). This time I felt as though I was living a completely different life, knowing full well that I would have to carry anything I bought. How things had changed!

It was funny to come to a more westernised part of Asia after travelling through other parts of the South East. I took this first photo which is almost the complete opposite of one I had taken a couple of weeks before in Vietnam (below).

There's a little something in that for all of us, don't you think??

In any case, the most important development was that I got my Chinese visa with little difficulty courtesy of an agent that Mike and Phyllis put me on to in town. Booked a tour with Gap Adventures, and soon, I was on my way to Beijing. Stay tuned :)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Ha Long is a piece of string? 10 days in Vietnam.

Coming out of Cambodia, I felt a great sense of relief in many ways. In retrospect, I don't think I was ready for the poverty I saw there, as well as the challenges it would present to me personally. I was really looking forward to Vietnam. Firstly, I love Vietnamese food, which is an excellent reason to go to any country in my opinion! Secondly, I'd heard so many fantastic things about Vietnam - that it was like Thailand was before the tourists got to it 15 years ago. But mostly, I was looking forward to seeing Mum, who had booked this trip before I took my redundancy. What better opportunity to travel with your Mum?? Best of all, Mum's friend Jodi is a travel agent who booked the whole trip, posh hotels, transfers and guides included. Bloody brilliant. Better still, she came too!

After a few nervous moments with my visa, I managed to get a flight in the night before Mum and Jodi arrived. I'd heard so many things about the taxi drivers in Hanoi - that they'll rip you off, possibly hold you in the car until you pay a certain amount of money etc etc. I was suitably prepared though - asked for a quote from the hotel on how much it should cost and then agreed to that cost with the (albeit reluctant) taxi driver. In the end he hit the nail on the head with the fare and I tipped him out of gratitude to the universe that I hadn't been ripped off. Try figuring that one out.

I cannot tell you how freaking excited I was to sleep in a proper bed, have fluffy towels and TOILETRIES! Oh the little soaps! The body moisturisers! Joy! Rapture! And also complete contrast to when I was working when I thought they were there for the schmucks who forgot their stuff. Not this greedy little traveller, I left nothing behind!

After a brief walk around Hanoi, I met Mum and Jodi back at the hotel for a long-overdue hug. They'd been picked up from the airport by Nam, our tour guide for this area. Looking a bit rough after their flight (sorry guys, but you weren't looking your best), they were keen to see what Hanoi had to offer.

And after going through Thailand and Cambodia, there are a few obvious differences. Hanoi was much cleaner, and I wasn't the only one with a smart phone. I was also aware that the people were much better dressed, the stores shinier and more expensive, and the pace was much much faster. I recognised more brands, but this may have been simply because I could read the letters. By adopting Arabic letters, the Vietnamese may have done themselves a huge favour in this era of globalisation. Compare this with Thailand which has 44 characters in its alphabet with 6 different tones, or Cambodia where they may not leave a space between their words, and you start getting a taste for the complexities of these languages.

Walking around the lake that evening was fantastic. In cities as crowded as Hanoi, the people really make the most of public spaces. Old people in a line massaging each others' backs then switching over in synchronicity, all the while chattering away, laughing and chiding each other. Tai Chi and other forms of calisthenics, people walking their dogs, children playing ... it's all happening.

But if you think this is a relatively serene environment, think again. The lake is surrounded by roads, which in Hanoi means it is surrounded by about a million scooters. All of them swerving in and out of traffic, beeping their horns incessantly, and dodging petrified pedestrians. This is in stark contrast with the Hanoi of even 5 or 10 years ago, where I'm told people predominantly rode bicycles. I'm certain things would have been a hell of a lot more peaceful then.

Our next day was action-packed. A trip to see Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum (he wasn't in - possibly having a tea with Mao whilst getting patched up in Russia) and house where he lived during the war. Incredibly, it was here under his house where he held his war council. Next to the house was a bomb shelter, and that was about as high-tech as it got. Mentally I compared this to where the Americans and their allies may have made their plans and in my mind they couldn't have been more different.

We crammed in several more sites - a temple or two, the Lotus Pagoda (famous for being on a single pole), a rickshaw ride around old Hanoi, a water puppet show (which was just flat-out strange) and the relatively new Ethnology Museum. This was a real eye-opener for me. Vietnam is filled with dozens of different ethnic minorities, many of whom still observe their traditions in their every-day lives. Our guide Nam belonged to the Viet people who make up about 80% of the population, and he and his family observe the tradition whereby they exhume family members 3 years after their death to wash their bones and re-bury them in a smaller coffin. Bear in mind this is in Hanoi, not in some country backwater. Apparently the first time it's pretty full-on but then you get used to it. At times like this I'm glad for our Western ways!

While the museum details many of the different minorities' dress and traditions inside, outside it has full-scale recreations of their different housing. It's very cool to be able to walk around in these buildings - some of which were being frequented by pre-weds getting their wedding photos taken before the day in rented western-style dresses. On the big day apparently it's a relatively small affair with the family in traditional dress. We saw this couple during our rickshaw ride... Somehow I can't imagine us doing this in front of Myer...

The next day we had free in Hanoi, and we took the opportunity to meet up with my cousin in the Old Quarter and took some time out for pampering (it must have been about 5 days since my last massage at this point...).

That night we headed to the train station and caught the overnight Fanxipan train to Lao Cai. I'd never caught a sleeper train, but this one was pretty cool! You had your own compartments, clean-ish linen (at my cousin's suggestion, we brought along our silk sleeping bags) and air conditioning. We played Uno in the cabin, and while Jodi may have beaten us, her victory dance was truly retarded...

The next morning we met our tour guide for the north at the station and then embarked on the 2-hour drive to Sapa in the northern ranges of Vietnam. Despite the disgustingly early nature of this journey, it was absolutely beautiful winding up through the mountains with some of the most incredible scenery. I think we drove our driver nuts with requests to stop and take photos, but it was just so breathtakingly beautiful that we couldn't help ourselves! It will never cease to amaze me what tiny and remote places people will cultivate rice paddies on...

That day we saw the Ethnology Museum come to life. Right from when we arrived in Sapa, the local ladies were onto us, flocking to our minivan with shrieks of "she's mine, I saw her first" in their native tongue, translated by our guide. They followed us in their ornate traditional outfits with conversations of "What's your name? Where are you from?" trying to get us to go to their shops or buy from them in the street. Even if you were in a restaurant, they would talk to you through the windows. While relentless, everyone was very friendly.

We took our time walking down from town through some villages to Cat Cat falls. The main reason for taking our time was that it was bloody slippery and we were going down hill - a recipe for an Australia's Funniest Home Video if ever I saw one. We walked past rice paddies and local shops, bargaining along the way. We had the pleasure of seeing inside their houses - their massive stockpiles of dried corn and the huge vats of indigo dye used to make their local clothes. The local women's hands were the same colour as their clothes. It was such a privilege to see them in their homes and their traditional dress.

The falls were beautiful, and thanks to the rain, flowing rapidly. Once I put my camera away, it was great to sit there and be hypnotised by the falls. Every office should have one.

The next day we set off in a deluge to Cocly which has a small market not far away. It was times like these I was glad that I'd bought some decent footwear, which were nearly perfect for these muddy conditions in that they didn't come off. Unfortunately they had so little grip it was like trying to walk on mud on plastic ice-cream container lids. Let the games begin...

We bargained again with the locals, tried the local 50% alcohol corn wine (at 10am), watched our tour guide go from friend to friend trying out their tobacco pipes and refused some of the local animals' entrails for breakfast. The best thing about this market was the Flower Hmong Women were dressed in their traditional clothes, very different from their not-so-distant neighbours, but much more colourful.

We walked and slipped our way through a Trung Do village after a boat ride along the Chad River whose shores glisten with actual silver. I have to admit, I lost my sense of humour after coming a cropper in the mud at this point. Funniest Home Videos are funny because you get to laugh at others. While I was walking through the village I could smell something strangely familiar. We walked past ducks, geese, cats and houses, and all the while I was trying to remember what that smell was...


We had tea and a tour of a local family's house. We saw where they honour their ancestors, their bedrooms that open up to the family room. We also met her father and heard of how she was courted by her husband on the back steps of the house.

Our guide sampled some more of the local tobacco with the strange, whistling pipe, and we were off.

On the way back to the boat, I remembered what that smell was. It was the smell of the colonics in Thailand. I'm glad I remembered this on the way back to the boat.

After another trip on the Fanxipan, we headed back to Hanoi to be picked up and taken to Halong Bay. The boat we stayed on here was better than any of the hotels we had stayed in thus far - so luxurious and exciting to be on a huge wooden boat in the middle of some of the most picturesque scenery in the world.

We climbed all 440-odd stairs to the top of Titop Island and it was worth the trip. I'm just glad there wasn't a swear jar.

After a quick boat around the floating village, along with the enormous contingent of Australians on the boat, we enjoyed a cocktail on the top of the boat watching the sunset. Just magic.

The next day we headed into the Surprise Caves, and they were magnificent. I particularly liked their use of coloured lighting to perk the place up a bit.

A quick flight later and we were in Hue on the central Vietnamese coast. On the way from the airport we drove past the infamous 'China Beach' where the Americans spent their downtime during the war. Their hangars are still at the airport. More American troops lost their lives in this provence than in any other area of Vietnam. Hue is also home to the Forbidden City, a place where thousands of Vietnamese people died during the war after the are was bombed. There are large sections still under construction, and the enormity of the destruction is still evident. .

Hue is also dotted with beautiful Chinese style temples, some of which we'd had enough of by that point, however the boat ride down the Perfume River was intriguing, watching people in traditional Vietnamese hats trading goods from their boats as we bought knick knacks from our gracious hosts... their small boat was their entire house after all.

The next day we made the short journey to Hoi An. We stayed in the best hotel of the trip so far - the Life Heritage Resort, right next to the river. With enormous rooms and the best coffee of the trip so far, this place was a perfect end to our tour.

Hoi An is a charming place. Old bright yellow houses line the streets which are packed with tourists taking in the old-world atmosphere. Hoi An was left untouched by the war as the Americans were based here, and it retains its character beautifully. It also maintains its links to French colonialism in its cuisine, resulting in the most mouth-watering meals of the trip. These Hoi An wantons were my favourite - I didn't realise how much tomato the Vietnamese used in their food, so this semi-spicy blend was a delightful surprise.

We also had the opportunity to try our hand at the local fare with a cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School. We started with a tour through the local markets which were packed with vendors, odours, herbs, spices and still-squirming meat.

Next we boarded a boat to travel down the swollen Hoi An River to the cooking school. We cooked several dishes, but the most exciting with Hoi An Pancakes - a steamed rice flour pancake wrapped in soft rice paper and filled with prawns, coriander and greens. These were so absolutely delicious, I have vowed to try and make them again when I get home!

Sadly our tour was coming to an end, and Mum and I were going to go our separate ways for an unknown period of time. Trying not to dwell on this, we made the most of the fact the sun had come out for our last day in town, before heading off to Ho Chi Minh City to catch our connecting flights; hers to Singapore and then home to Brisbane, mine to Hong Kong. Anyone who knows me knows I'm particularly shitty at goodbyes, and this one was never going to be easy. We survived, and I got to keep a friend. Pepe lives with me now - keeping me company around the world. Turns out he's a great drinking buddy too.

Vietnam is a great country. It seems to have the right balance of tradition and modernism tempered by communism. The people are incredibly proud. Interestingly the Vietnamese call the "Vietnam War" the "American War". This is to distinguish it from the other wars with Cambodia, China, Mongolia and France. A people who can continue to overcome such adversity while retaining their own character have every right to be proud.

Vietnam reminds me of a hornet's nest; they don't play. If you mess with Vietnam you will probably come off second best. If you're lucky enough to take the time to appreciate it, you'll uncover levels of complexity and beauty that are unlike anywhere else in the world.