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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Footie and films

Quick catchup. After several tours of Halong Bay, I’ve had 2 days of to recuperate. And I needed them.

Yesterday I stayed up till 4:00am to watch England be crap, then rose at 8:30am as I can’t sleep for more then 4 hours at present. I collared James, a chap from the US, and we went to see The A-Team at Vincom Towers, which was more enjoyable than it should have been.

The afternoon was spent catching up with you lot, followed by an early night.

Up at 7am today to ensure I could make it to the footie at Long Bien where the Blue Dragon kids have their weekly kickabout. A small turnout of 40 or so didn’t mar proceedings (almost everyone here stays up to watch the World Cup) and the under 14s were presented with a trophy from a local competition.

I took another backpacker, Sean, who was hugely impressed with the turnout and the work being done by BDCF. He chatted to Michael and Tho while I embarrassed myself on the pitch. Hey, I was barefoot. And I suck.

After a drink with the guys, Sean and I headed down to Vincom to catch The Karate Kid which was – like The A Team – far better than it had any right to be. We got back to the hostel in time for free beer then happy hour, followed by me typing this up before I head for bed.

Off to Halong Bay again in the morning and back on Wednesday!

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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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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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Blue Dragon – keep it rolling in!

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

Blue Dragon Children's Foundation

I may possibly be heading to Vietnam again later this year and of course, if I do, one of my priority stops wil be Hanoi to see the kids at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation again. I’ve been chatting to Michael there recently (we’ve had a couple more generous donations via the 1000 Mile Walk page), and he’s currently in Australia doing some much-needed fundraising.

Thing is, as everyone worldwide pretty much has to tighten their belts as the money dries up. People can’t afford to give cash away. Sadly, though, the need for this money doesn’t abate. Children still need help, education… rescuing.

Mike recently posted the following video on the VietnamStreets blog. It shows a young boy who has just been rescued from a sweat shop. He simply didn’t believe that Michael and the team were there to free him from the slave-driving filth who were making him work 16+ hours a day for nothing. They handed him a telephone so his mother could explain herself.

Now you tell me. Isn’t his reaction – the tears, the relief, the knowledge he was once again free – worth a few pounds, dollars, yen, euros or whatever? Please, please, please – spare a few bucks. I know times are tight. But the price of a couple of pints can make a huge difference to these children.

Donations can be made via this page on the Blue Dragon site.


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