The Beard Has Gone!

SCROUNGE ALERT: For those who didn’t notice (how?!) the beard has gone as is evidenced by the wedding photos which will be published shortly. I raised around £275 from the kids at school for doing it and my dad’s rounding it off to £300.

All money, as ever, is going to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.

Now… how’s about you folks help me round it up further? Say, to £500, before I send it on? Also, I’ll be trying to send it via someone in the US or Australia so they can claim tax relief on the donation to increase it even more.

If you want to donate, drop me a message. I’ll happily give you my PayPal or bank details.

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Blue Dragon: House 52 Shelter Appeal

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

Here’s the deal – Blue Dragon need to raise $60,000 by the end of July or they’ll be kicked out of their current location. This is a hell of a shame as they’ve put a lot of work into making it a fantastic place for kids to drop in and be looked after. Also, if they move then it takes time for word to get out so future street children know where they can go to be safe.

Planet Wheeler have been hugely generous in agreeing to match every donation dollar for dollar – so BDCF “only” need to raise $30,000.

Please, please, please go to the following links and donate a little bit. If every friend I have on facebook donated the value of 1 beer we’d have almost $1500 to start with!

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Footie shirt winner!

Front of shirt

Front of shirt

Raffle entries closed yesterday and a huge “thank you” to the entrants, of which there weren’t many but each was very generous indeed. Please, if you missed the competition do consider still making a donation. As happens annually, the east coast of Vietnam has taken a weather-related battering and Blue Dragon needs your funding to help them rebuild their homes, and eat in the meantime.

I snipped up a few bits of paper and dropped them into a hat (actually a Tesco carrier bag, but let’s not be picky). A quick rummage and the winner that came out was…

*drum roll*


Which is good for me as I think she’s the only UK-based entrant so it will keep the postage cost down. I actually met her a few days ago and I could have handed her the football shirt personally. Instead, I will trust it to our increasingly dodgy postal service. Keep an eye open for it in a week or so, Janice.

Again, thank you all for your entries and generosity!

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Exclusive football shirt raffle!

Front of shirt

Front of shirt

OK, folks. Here is a chance to own a very exclusive Real Betis Vietnam football shirt as worn by the amazing kids at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. There were never many of these shirts and BDCF are looking for new sponsors so there simply will not be any more of this particular design.

Featuring the Real Betis badge and name, BDCF logo and Catholic Relief Services on the sleeve, the shirt has a large number 7 on the back along with the charity URL. It’s lightweight material with “breathable” fabric under the arms and down the sides. It is brand new – I’ve worn it once to check it for size and fit.

The size is “XL” and this is a western XL by my judgement, not a Vietnamese one. The V-collar means it hangs off me. I’m an average size for a 35 year-old white guy.

Back of shirt

Back of shirt

So here’s how it works. I will cover all costs involved in this little raffle including postage to wherever the lucky winner resides. Hopefully we’ll raise more than the overheads! “Tickets” are one Australian Dollar each and you “buy” them by making a donation to Blue Dragon via PayPal. When you donate, please leave a comment here and tell me how much you donated and therefore how many times your name will be popped into the hat.

The donation page is here

We’ll say the deadline is October 15th 2009 which gives you the thick end of a month to save up. I’ll pick the winner at random then and get in touch with them via email, so please include a valid mail address on your comment. Don’t worry – nobody can see your email address except me and I promise with hand on heart that I will only use said address to let you know if you’ve won and to get a mailing address from you.

So… what are you waiting for?

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Back at the Dragon… and back home :-(

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

My last day in Vietnam and the last proper day of my trip. A sad day, as ever, more-so due to some events back home over which I had no control, but that is for another blog.

To cheer myself up I hopped on a xe om up to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation to catch up with Mike and the staff. As I blogged last year, they’re in a new building not far from the Red River though this time it was much quieter. When I visited in 2008 it was the summer holidays and there were children everywhere. Today there were maybe a dozen or so making use of the facilities as the rest were attending school.

Over lunch, I got talking to a couple of the staff and a few ideas began to germinate. There are a couple of IT-related questions they’d been pondering over and I managed to throw in a bit more information which will hopefully help them make some decisions. It’s nice to feel useful!

I also sat and talked to two of the Vietnamese staff for over an hour about my travels, predominantly around Vietnam. Both have been around their home country as well as to Thailand and Cambodia. It’s really interesting to compare their experiences with my own, particularly impressions and the way people respond to you.

Overall my experiences with people in Asia have been fantastic. Sure, there’s always someone trying to make a fast buck out of you (or cut to the chase and steal your wallet) but name me a European country where that’s not the case. But for every one of them, there’s a table of seven in a roadside restaurant that insist you share their food and drink. Or a Javanese grandmother on a train proffering doughnuts during Ramadan. Or a Japanese train guard that insists you wait there until he finds someone who speaks better English than him so that you can get the information you require. Or a taxi driver who actually wants to save you money by taking you to a bus stop nearer by so that you don’t miss the coach to Hoi An. Or two men sat on the beach who don’t speak a word of English, but just want to sit with you and share shots of rice wine. Or…

You get my point.

Every time I arrive in Hanoi, I get a little tingle. I feel like I know the place, I know how it works, I know where to go. And yet every time it’s different. There are new shops, new places to get food, a new nightclub to go to, new faces to see and get to know.

One thing that never changes is the hustle and bustle. It’s a city that’s genuinely alive. The only other place I like anywhere near as much is Bangkok and of the two, I’d prefer to stay here than in the Thai capital. It’s a tight decision, I admit, but Hanoi nudges it.

A major factor in this tipping of the scales is the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. If I’m here, I can be useful as well as enjoying myself. If I’m feeling low, as I was today, then the warm greeting from Mike (seriously – is he ever not happy to see someone?) and the smiles and laughter of the children is enough to lift anyone out of a deep blue funk.

Another is the Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel which has – deservedly – gone from strength to strength over the six or so years it’s been open. Near tripling in size last year and now the proud parent of it’s first proper offspring in Hue. Mike and Max really know how to run a great place. Without a doubt there are cheaper places to stay in Hanoi, but there is absolutely none better for the independent traveller.

Fifty-some countries, probably a similar number of hostels and this is still the best one I’ve stayed in. No argument.

So I’m sat in the BDCF office, tapping this up as Mike’s in a meeting. In an hour or so I’ll have to say my goodbyes before I return to the hostel, grab some dinner, then hoik my rucksack onto my back and catch the airport bus.

At 20:55 (delays allowing), I’ll be on an Air Asia flight to Bangkok. At 08:45 tomorrow, I’ll be airborne courtesy of Etihad on the way to Heathrow via Abu Dhabi (the next place I’m likely to get online – Bangkok really needs to get its act together as regards wifi).

All going well, I’ll be back on English soil by 18:30 on Wednesday.

And I’ll be that little sadder for it.

I love my home country (and my adopted one north of the border), but I’ll miss Vietnam and Hanoi in particular.

So until the next time, Vietnam. And there will be a next time. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

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