Sunday, August 31, 2008


After a few hours walking along the Promenade des Anglais, people watching in the town square Place Massena, we got back on the bus and were on our way back to the ship. While the driver skillfully maneuver the vehicle around narrow, twisting roads and hills, (my husband wished he was driving his T-bird) we enjoyed the magnificent view of the coastline of clustered old castles and colorful houses along the sheer cliffs, the private yatchs dotting the blue sea, the wooden hills and the hidden bays as if trying to maintain the charm of the village from exploitation of outsiders. Nice has a Mediterranean climate which is mild and sunny most of the year. The summer heat is usually lessen by cool and pleasant sea breeze and somewhat windy in the spring. The temperature rarely reaches freezing point in the winter, but hailstorms and cold front could occur without warning.

Of all the ports we visited, Nice was one of my favorites. The beautiful coastline, breath-taking views of the village/town and the sea, almost perfect weather and the illusions of a wonderful life living in such paradise on earth made Nice a dream vacation. No wonder Nice is the second most popular French city among tourists after Paris. Yes Qaptain, it was nice in Nice!

According to the tour guide this is the location where the accident that took the life of Princess Grace Kelly. I was glad that the bus did not stop there. I did not think that it was appropriate to create a tourists spot from such sad event. There is a memorial where people would leave flowers and notes (as if they knew her personally!) and of course taking photos. There were rumors that the daughter, Princess Stephanie who at the time did not have a driver license was the driver. Stephanie felt so guilty for causing the accident that she became destructive thru using alcohol and drugs. There was also report that Princess Grace suffered a stroke, loss control of the car and drove down a mountainside.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


It was Sunday, July 6th when we disembarked after completed the 8-day Western Mediterranean cruise and began a three-day stay in Rome. I took the above photo on the way from our hotel to Fontana di Trevi. I saw "Il Messaggero" on the building and knew it was the Italian daily newspaper. I later learned more about the building from Steven Brooke's book, Views of Rome. The Albergo Select was designed by Arturo Dazzi in 1910, borrowed from the fin de siecle French architecture. It was a hotel and is now used as an office building for Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero (The Messenger).
Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps, inundated with tourists, sitting around the fountains. CP and I walked slowly up the 137 steps and went inside the church of Trinita dei Monti (Trinity of the Mount). The steps were built between 1721 and 1725 by Fr. De Sanctis, as a gift to the Italian people from France, yet known as the Spanish Steps when the Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican resided there in the 17th century. Most of the travel guide books mentioned that Piazza di Spagna is known as the shopping district in Rome. At the foot of the Spanish Steps are gallaxy of boutiques of clothes, accessories (leather handbags, the famous Italian shoes) with glamorous labels such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Bottega, Veneta). There are blocks after blocks of shops, large department stores and upscale restaurants catering to both tourists and Romans. CP said he was thankful that I was not a typical woman who spent hours shopping while the husband sat around waiting. I told CP that it would be a waste of precious vacation time shopping for things that I could get at home. Besides who cares whether the handbag or that pair of shoes I purchased was from Famous Barr in St. Louis or in Rome. Furthermore, I could not afford designer labels with my limited budget!

Great views from half way up the steps and after walked up from the three divided landings, we reached the top of the hill. At the base of the steps is the Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat), designed and built by Pietro Bernini, father of the famous sculptor and architect Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Gianlorenzo famous work included statue of Constantine the Great and Scala Regia, the ceremonial entry to the Vatican Palace.

Friday, August 29, 2008


My husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in 1999 with a trip to London and Paris. We started our annual July vacation in New York with my family, then onto London, stayed three days at a hotel in Kensington. The High Street station of the Underground was nearby and we even took the double decker bus to get around the city. We were impressed with the EuroStar (bullet train). It was extremely smooth ride and took only four hours from Waterloo, London to get into Nord, Paris. We visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and most memorable moment was when we just sat on the sidewalk outside Notre Dame Cathedral, sharing a large croissant for a quick breakfast as we were hunger but did not want to miss attending Mass. We flew back to New York from Paris. CP went back to St. Louis while I remained in New York for another week. I purchased a bottle of water at the airport in Paris. It was the long gone world prior to September 11, 2001 so I was able to carry the full bottle thru security. I kept it as a silly reminder of our trip. This week I finally decided that it was time to let go and deposited the bottle into the recycle bin.
In December 1988, when I moved to Grand Haven, Michigan from New York City, I learned to enjoy simple country living. Making baskets was part of that experience. For a few weeks I would meet at a home of a member of the Tri-Cities Welcome Wagon. There were about 10 women, most in their late 50's and 60's. Each week, we made different baskets, with seasonal themes such as Valentine, Easter, July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. I made the above basket with the color of the Vietnamese flag, the former South Viet Nam with solid red background and three yellow stripes across representing North, Central and South regions of the country. I must clarify that the current Vietnamese Communist flag also has a solid red background with the yellow star in the center. I gave most of the baskets I made to friends and family, some baskets were well made, enough to be given to charity for fundraising. After we moved to St. Louis I did not make any baskets and no longer interested in arts and crafts projects. For now I will keep this basket, just for old time sake!
As I started to sort thru all the clothes in the three closets in the house, I came across the Vietnamese ao dai (photo above) and the Chinese cheong-san (photo below). Ao dai is traditional Vietnamese costume for women, a full length, high necked tunic slit to the waist, worn over black or white satin wide, long pants covering over the feet. My mother took me to a tailor to have the dress made during a visit to New York. My husband took the photo of me standing in front our little house in Grand Haven after my presentation about Viet Nam at a local school. These photos were taken in 1989, back then I was in my youthful age in the late 20's and only weighed 105 lbs. How did I ever fit into these dresses, able to breath, to sit down comfortably and there was room in the middle section! I decided to keep these dresses for now. Perhaps I could donate to the local Asian American Community Center or a school and the students could wear the dresses during a cultural week.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Our ship was in port in Monte Carlo, Monaco on Tuesday, July 1st. I will post photos taken as the ship approached this miniture principality known as one of the most famous places and most wealthy country in the world. Our bus excursion took us directly from the port to Cannes and then on to Nice. We did not see the famous casino of Monte Carlo which we did not care to visit anyway. After the city centre, we took a leisure tour of the open market as the vendors putting out fresh produce, flowers, freshly made bakeries, snacks, clothes and household items.

Nothing special about the above photo of a display in front of a gift shop. I just wanted to add a little humor to my blog. Perhaps my adoring fans would like to provide some clever captions. Clean and for general audience comments only, please.
The photo above reminded me of when I lived in Viet Nam and saw the typical loads of merchandise and passengers, not counting the driver, being carried around by skillful drivers on scooters. When we were little, my Dad used to drive us around town on his motorcycle. My sister, CH sat behind my Dad, then I would sit behind CH and protect CH by holding on tight to my Dad. My little brother, VL sat in front of Dad, right above the gas tank. When VL started to grow, Dad had to request that VL kept his head down as VL began to block Dad's view. My little brother, aka Qaptain Qwerty, has grown into a tall good looking young man and now a proud father of an eight years old son.
Not much to write about these photos, just a pleasant walk around town. It was two blocks from the Promenade des Anglais, Nice's four mile seafront promenade. It might be Boulevard Jean Jaures.
Here is a funny story about my faux pas while in Nice. I tried to learn Italian prior to the cruise by listening to language cd, just enough to be polite and to get help if necessary. I gained confidence after a few days of speaking Italian to other passengers and staff on the ship. That morning, I was ready to show off my language skills by greeting "Buongiorno" to a street vendor. I then pointed at the items and said, "Vorrei una coca cola e acqua". I was so proud of myself when the lady gave me exactly what I asked for, a coke and a water. The lady would have known by seeing where I pointed at anyway. I handed the lady 5 euros. She gave me back half euro and said, "Merci". I then realized that I tried speaking Italian to a French person. In my attempt to be a sophisticated traveler, I got my languages mixed up and forgot that I was in Nice, France!
But then the lady might have thought that I was knowledgable about Nice being a ward of the Italian court for most of 500 years and that prior to officially became part of France in 1860, the city of Nice had closer ties with Italy. Some Italians feel that Nice remains Italian than French in its character and temperament. At any rate, it was nice to be in Nice!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I found the above patch, "I Saw the Flame" while continued sorting thru my earthly possessions in my quest to be clutter-free. My husband saw the torch relay when it went thru St. Louis on January 8, 2002 for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am glad I found the patch. It is appropriate to post photo of the patch as we are coming to the end of the 2008 Olympics in Bejing.
We watched part of the Opening Ceremony, some competitions such as swimming, track and field and CP specially enjoyed gymnastics. During my school years in Viet Nam, I was active in sports, table tennis (ping pong), running and basketball. One year I was chosen to compete in a 4x400 relay. I must not be a good runner as I was third in line. I don't remember if we won the race. I do remember I came in last when participated in a 100-meter dash.
Here is my report this week - everyday I reached my goal to dispose at least three large paper bags of correspondence. Yesterday I took a large box of stuff to Goodwill store and a pair of brand new boots that CP never wore. I already set aside two plastic bags of books and I plan to add one or two more bags to take to the library next weekend.
I emptied three full banker boxes of original and copies of articles I wrote while working as freelance reporter for the Grand Rapids Press-Lakeshore Edition in 1992-93. The job was in addition to the full time job I had with a manufacturer in Holland, Michigan. I also reported stories about Asian American community for the Holland Sentinel as a guest columnist. After I moved to St. Louis, I wrote a few pieces for the St. Louis Business Journal and the Suburban Journal to promote my translation business in 1995-98.
Almost 10 years later, I finally disposed copies of pages from books I had to read and included as reference in essays I wrote during my graduate school in 1998-99 at Saint Louis University. All the hours I stood at the copy machine in the library, all the hours I spent reading, highlighting sentences, all the hours I spent writing, re-writing and preparing intellengent responses just in case the professors asked for more in-depth analysis. For now, the essays I wrote while at SLU will be kept with those from my early years learning English as a Second Language at LaGuardia Community College (1981-1983). I only kept the A+ papers I wrote in Philosophy and Psychology classes at Hunter College (1984-1988).
At time it was overwhelming going thru all the stuff. Then I began to enjoy the process. It was as if I took the journey back to places in my early life and re-visited with the past of who I once was. I was the young person who had the energy to work full time then attended college in the evening, getting A's and B's while carrying 9 or even 12 credits during each semester. Now I am a middle-age woman going to work, coming home tired and often wonder what the purpose of living should be or about a higher calling to serve others.
Next week I will attempt to respond to the call from Dave Bruno to whittle down to 100 clothing items. You could read more about Bruno on his blog,

Friday, August 22, 2008


Our cruise ship was in port in Monte Carlo, Monaco on Tuesday, July 1st. The excursion started with a bus ride from the port to Cannes. After Cannes, we visited Nice. The French Riviera, by another name, the Cote d'Azur, includes well-known coastal towns such as St-Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Marseille and Menton. Photo above showed the main boulevard that lined with palms, hotels and shops that catered to the rich and famous, particularly during the annual film festival in May.
Cannes and its prestigious Cinema Festival, the 12 days in May when the town turned into a mini-Hollywood with movie stars, producers, deal makers, the wannabes and those who just wanted to be seen. I never paid much attention to the festivals so I don't have anything to write about the event or the building, Palais des Festivals, which was more a large concrete bunker than the glamorous activities inside. Just like a typical tourist, I took the photo to prove that I was there! In future entry, I will post photos of hand prints on the ground in the allee des Stars left by famous movie stars.
We walked along the Boulevard de la Croisette (photo above). It was early in the morning so the vendors were busy setting up their flower stands (photo below).

When I first saw the painting without seeing the words "Gare des Autobus", I thought the building (photo above) was a theatre or an art school. Then we saw passengers walking out, carrying luggages instead of art porfolios, we went inside to find out that it was a bus station with an interesting exterior. We finally saw Gare des Autobus on the building after we crossed the street and looked back at the painting. I took the photo below because I like the balconies and all the full length windows. It must be nice to live or stay at this hotel/apartment building and to enjoy the spectacular view of the seafront.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


The past few weeks I was inspired after reading about the Lone Gunman from Qaptain Qwerty and decided to give simple living another try and at the same time trying (again) to clean up the clutter in my house, especially in my home office. This is not the first time I attempted to be clutter-free. It did not last more than 3 months before newspaper articles, purchases from book fairs, folders for community projects, personal correspondence began to pile up on my desk, on the floor and then move into banker boxes that would easily be forgotten for years. I found about a dozen copies of Metro News (photo above) from 1985, back when I was a volunteer with the organization. Why a dozen copies, because I was in the photo ( and it was on the front page) and that was the first year I participated in the New York City Marathon as a volunteer. I kept one copy and the rest went into recycled bin. I also donated six shopping bags of books that I never read. This week nine brown paper bags of "correspondence" I kept since 1985 went into our church's recycled bins!
Among almost 20 boxes of sentimental, maybe meaningful but useless correspondence, I found a certificate of appreciation from the Statue of Liberty Foundation for my contribution of $20. That was in 1986 and it was a centennial celebration. For now I am putting the certificate in a box with other heart-warming items. Once I am gone, no one would care about this certificate or all the anniversary and birthday cards my husband and I gave to each other the last 19 years. A few years ago when I was having martial problems and ready to either move to an apartment or purchase a condo, I found the situation was helpful in cleaning up the clutter as I no longer had any sentimental feelings towards stuff that I had accumulated thru the marriage. I also found feeling depressed would help getting rid of stuff as I no longer care about what I would do next.
Last week I picked up the book "How to Live in Small Spaces" by Terence Conran from the library. I thought a tree tent (photo above) would be a good birthday present for my brother - just kidding Qaptain! According to Conran, these tree tents were designed by Dutch artist Dre Wapenaar for a group of activists called Road Alert Group in England. The activists set up the tents on the trees to prevent construction companies from cutting down the trees to make way for development. Two adults and two children (they got to be small people) could fit in this 9 feet in diameter tree tent. Conran mentioned that a campsite rent these tents but did not mention the location of the campsite.
This bedroom (photo above) is part of small living space of 65 square feet with a rotate kitchen and bathroom using a remote controlled cylinder. Conran wrote about people who enjoyed small space, living to its fullest and found positive aspects to living in tight quarters. I thought of how my family, all six of us, cramped into the tiny hut with one bed while living in the refugee camp (that was in 1979). We had to stuff the only few pieces of clothes into small canvas bags because there were no pillows. From my tiny room in Queens, New York in 1987, after I got married in 1989, moving to the small 100-year home (3-room, small basement) in Grand Haven, Michigan, somehow my husband and I, just two of us, managed to fill every inch of stuff in the current 6-rooms, full basement, 2 car garage home. My brother owns a 3-level home, my sister has a condo and we all filled the space with stuff.
My husband gave me this large stuffed puppy (photo above) as Valentine's present a few years ago. I named him Valentino. This week along with other earthly possessions, Valentino was given to charity, a Goodwill store nearby. I tried not to let all the stuff overwhelmed me as I decided what to let go and what is worthy to keep. I am not suggestion it would work for anyone else but I found the following questions helpful as I decide to trash, recycle, donate or keep.

Would these items matter a year from now, five years, ten years or after I am gone?

I also imagine moving into the tree tent and allow myself only one container of stuff - what would be the most meaningful items I want to keep? So check back later as I will provide update of my quest, slow but steady, I promise, on my progress to a clutter-free living space and clutter-free mind.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Congratulations to Oussama Mellouli, the first Tunisian to win an Olympic swimming gold medal in the 1,500 meter freestyle.
Our cruise ship arrived in Tunis, Tunisia on Saturday, July 5th. From the port of La Goulette, which means "the mouth" in French, the 2nd language of Tunis, the tour bus took us thru the modern part of Tunis as shown in the above photo of high rise buildings and the round-about to accomodate the growing traffic demands. Here is my transportation report - Tunisians drive on the right, that was so much better for my nerve! Our tour included a visit to Carthage to see the archaeological site of El-Jem, the Bardo National Museum and Tunis Medina, a typical Arabic market.

I learned that El-Jem, this ancient colosseum (photo above), was built between 230 and 238 AD, as big as the Colosseo in Rome, rated as one of the most impressive Roman monuments in Africa. The colosseum was once a thriving market town of the ancient Thysdrus and the main trade routes during the 1st century AD. It also served as an arena with seatings that accomodated up to 30,000 people.

Similar to Malta, Tunisia was conquered by foreigners for over 2,000 years. The Phoenicians founded Carthage, then the Romans (photo above and photos below showed the ruins of structures that were built by the Romans), the Normads from Central Europe, Byzantines from Constantinople, Arabs, Turks and Normans from Scandinavia. Tunisia (Viet Nam shares similar history) became a French colony from 1881-1956 and the French influence still is evident in Tunisian life, particularly in cuisine.
This is the site of the 2nd century Roman temple. Photo below showed the temple sunk below the road and the broken white Italian marble columns are what were left.
Without knowing, you might think the photo below was taken at Roman Forum in Rome. In my limited knowledge of the world, I never heard or knew anything about Tunisia. Now I am very interested in reading more about the country and about its rich history, about the Second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage between 264 and 146 BC. I did not even know about the First Punic War!

The above photo shows one of the underground passageways at El-Jem that were used to hold the animals, gladiators and slaves before they were forced to fight against each other as entertainment for the crowds, just like the colosseo in Rome.
A shop in the village of Sidi-Bou-Said with display of typical local products of hand-painted ceramic, souvenirs that are made of wood, copper and fine leather, brass and clay containers, handbags, paintings, mosaics, precious essences of oils and spice extracts. Some shops carried thick, hand woven carpets of soft wool and cashmere with price tags in the thousands. US dollars and Euros were widely accepted in Tunis.
The above photo showed a typical house with blue doors and white window frames, as in harmony with the sea and heaven. Photo below showed the market with mostly pleasant and a few less than honest merchants. A person in our group made a purchase that was 7 Euros. The merchant gave her back only 3 Euros and the tour guide had to intervene as the woman claimed that she presented a bill of 20 Euros while the merchant insisted that it was only 10 Euros. Lesson of the day - when making purchases in foreign market, it is best to pay with exact change or close to the amount.

Friday, August 08, 2008


I saw the above printed shirt at a gift shop while visiting Grand Haven last April. Whoever thought of the expression, Don't leave me aloon, was pretty clever playing with the word "loon" a ducklike bird, with a drawing of a goose. I dedicated this entry specially to my brother, Qaptain Qwerty.

When VL was about six years old (in Viet Nam), being such a cute little boy that he already had a few adoring fans even at such young age. One day as Mom and I watched from the balcony as VL turned around the corner on his way home from school, suddenly he found out that he was being followed by three little baby ducks. At first VL was delighted at the little creatures and enjoyed the groupies. Then as VL started to walk faster, the little duckies continued to keep up the pace. VL started to run, the little duckies were right on his heels. At this point, VL was terrified and began to yell out (I don't remember what he said). A neighbor chased the little duckies away and VL never give the little duckies the same loving looks again. Too bad that VL first experience with groupies did not turn out as good.

Back in Grand Haven, after the gift shop, at the boardwalk, we saw the lonely goose (photo below) all by himself on the sidewalk. After I took the photo, I said to my husband that we should leave the goose aloon!


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