Tuscan Tower in the Heart of Old Saigon!

Tuscany in Saigon?  Doesn’t sound quite right.  Would expect a more Asian home, wouldn’t you?  But no, there is one very sophisticated SIX level European style home right here in the heart of Old Saigon.  It’s new…built in 2011.  It’s a cool Eclectic/Euro home built by one cool guy!  He’s Vietnamese American come back to live in his Home Country.

He has impeccable taste and a casual elegant style himself as well as in his home!

I got the privilege of a Grand Tour of Mr.An’s home about six months ago.  Delicious!  Loved the place!

Recently I asked Mr. An if he’s let me crash his home and take some photos for my Little Blog.  He consented.  So yesterday I took my trusty camera with me and snapped away.

I’m new a Home Blogging.  I need a better camera.  I need more experience to stage my photos just right. But for now I’m just thrilled to be able to take you with me on this tour!  The house staff were busy cleaning.  I think I gave them a novel interruption.  They were great flicking lights on and off for me as I traipsed to the top and made my way down all FIVE flights of stairs taking in the sights of Mr. An’s Tuscan Tower.

Click on a smaller image below to view the full size slideshow.

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PREPARING FOR BROTHER VISIT…THE HOUSE IS NOW READY FOR VIEWING!

Behind the scenes before the Great Brother Visit.

Well…it was just a good excuse to put some extra effort into making the house present itself with a better face!  So…we spent a lot of time tweaking the space to put it’s best foot forward so far!

I have a computer full of photos of the house building process…soon to come! But here are a few shots of the final (for now) arrangement of furnishings, accessories and art that we got all positioned perfectly only hours before Dave’s arrival!  And it was really great fun!

This is what greets you when you open the door.  Granite stairs and some really awesome contemporary art. (mine! Ha!)

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But I’m not the only artist around.  What do you think of my Sidekick Tu’s BUG?  I love it.  It’s not menacing…just a friendly Strange Guy (The Bug I mean, not Tu).  Tu does all kinds of art…Digital.  He draws it all digitally and I think it’s quite incredible.  Graphic for sure.  The other piece here is an Imagination of Psychedelic Proportions straight out of my brushes!

I’ll be giving you lots to see of this apartment…it’s actually the second floor of Tu’s house.  His Mom lives downstairs.  He bought the house several years ago…I mean the old rustic shack that was there.  Last year he tore the house down and built a new one.  It’s now home for me too.  I love it.

You’ll notice our color scheme is a lot of neutrals from black and whites to creams and wheat tones with some rich blues and hits of red.  Here are a few views of the space.  It’s not large.  Only about 500 square feet (50 square meters).

Dave Hunt visits! Brothertime is awesome!

We all love to play host sometimes don’t we?…when we can share our homes and where we live with those we care about.

My brother Dave arrived in Saigon yesterday morning at 9:30am. We have four days of brothertime ahead.  A chance for me to play host in this incredible city…and little time in the country too.

We met at the airport.  Taxi to Dave’s hotel.  Check-in.  Check out the room.  It’s right across the street from My Favorite Little Coffee Shop.  Nice room.  Cool Bathroom. Even a sophisticated toilet.  Hmmm!  And a soaker tub.  Wonder if Dave will have time for that?!

 

SO…welcome to Vietnam!  The Land of the Great Gold Star!

 

Wikipedia speaks:

The flag of Vietnam, also known as the “red flag with yellow star” (c đ sao vàng), was designed in 1940 and used during an uprising against French rule in Cochinchina that year. The flag was used by the Việt Minh, a communist-led organization created in 1941 to oppose Japanese occupation. At the end of World War II, Việt Minh leader Hồ Chí Minh proclaimed Vietnam independent and signed a decree on September 5, 1945 adopting the Việt Minh flag as the flag of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The DRV became the government of North Vietnam in 1954 following the Geneva Accords. The flag was modified on November 30, 1955 to make the edges of the star sharper. The red background was inspired by the flag of the communist party, which in turn honors the red flag of the Paris Commune of 1871. It symbolizes revolution and blood. The five-pointed yellow star represents the unity of workers, peasants, intellectuals, youths and soldiers in building socialism. Until Saigon was captured in 1975, South Vietnam used a yellow flag with three red stripes. The red flag of North Vietnam became the flag of a united Vietnam when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was formed in 1976.

Poem and flag design by Nguyen Huu Tien

… All those of red blood and yellow skin

Together we fight under the nation’s sacred flag

The flag is soaked with our crimson blood, shed for the nation

The yellow star is the colour of our race’s skin

Stand up, quickly! The nation’s soul is calling for us

Intellectuals, peasants, workers, traders and armymen

United as a five-pointed yellow star..

Soon you’ll see where we went and what we did.

I’ll take you on a tour with us.  You can join us in the sights and sounds and tastes of our adventure.  And  I hope you can discover some of the heartbeat of this emerging country.  It’s charm is everywhere.  You will see!

Give me a few days to get my photos downloaded and organized.  Soon!

DAY 1 OF BROTHER VISIT…Saturday, May 26

Here’s a peek at what we did on DAY 1

Our first stop was to check if Dave’s watch could be repaired.  The young watch seller opened up the watch and scratched off a bit of corrosion, wouldn’t take a cent and wished us a Good Day.  (He knows me a bit and hopes I’ll return to BUY one day soon!)  He’s a good marketer!  The watch kept running.  Miracles…good service really does happen here!

THE WATCH SELLER FINDS A FAST FIX FOR FREE FOR DAVE’S WATCH!

Lunchtime!  Restaurant Nha Hang Ngon is famous for it’s huge selection of Vietnamese dishes all cooked in small kiosk-like venues around the perimeter of the place.  The sights and scents are delightful and the food famously delicious!

Inside the huge open courtyard is a lovely cool fountain.

 

 

The Vietnamese Fresh Springs Rolls are famous…and healthy.

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Banh Xeo…or Rice Pancake is a large crepe made from rice flour and stuffed with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts.  It’s eaten with lettuce and herbs rolled around a chunk of the pancake.

Time for Coffee.  A cool (air conditioned!)  trendy-ish cafe nearby – i.d Cafe.  It would be quite in place in downtown San Diego…or Vancouver…or maybe Paris!  (As I’ve mentioned before, there is a huge French influence in Vietnam…left over from French colonial days)

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Note the bare lightbulbs nicely dimmed…hanging from flexible tubing from the ceiling.

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At Home in the late afternoon for Coffee and homemade Cheesecake!

Dinner was spent over Crispy Grilled Fish at the Ben Thanh Market Outdoor Cafe.

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The atmosphere is casual and the air is coolish-ok…as long as the fans keep buzzing around us!

About 9pm we walked a block down the street to one of Vietnam’s premiere jazz clubs…Sax ‘n Art.  Gotta love that New York…or is it New Orleans…vibe!

And that’s the end of Day 1….!

ABOUT MY BROTHER

Maybe I should tell you a bit about my brother.  Well actually I have FIVE brothers.  It would take too long to tell you about ALL of them here…now.  Since Dave is visiting Saigon, I’ll tell you a bit about him.

Here’s the whole clan of us awhile ago…all six of us brothers (no sisters) and our offspring!

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I’m actually proud of ALL my brothers for different reasons.  But Dave is singular in our family because he’s the most educated!  He wouldn’t like me to say that, but it’s true.  I mean who isn’t proud of a sibling who has a PhD….!  And the fact that he worked at it for quite a few years while working at an incredibly busy job and living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia makes it even more of an accomplishment.

Dave and his wife Lynn and three sons moved to California nearly 30 years ago. From Canada.  They’ve since become American citizens.  (Remember…I am Canadian. Lived in Vancouver for 30 years before adopting Vietnam!)

You’ve already met Dave in the past couple of posts, But I want you meet Lynn.  It would have been doubly special if she could have visited Vietnam too.  But someone has to attend graduation exercises of grand children.  Ha.  Here she is with their eldest granddaughter, Katie at her High School graduation just a few days ago…this past Wednesday, May 30.

Dave and Lynn are one of those couples that everyone loves!  They are Dad and Mom to, I think, hundreds of people.  Not many people reach out and take care of people in need and crisis and those asking for help like they do!  Not many people raise three kids and a lot of years later adopt 2 more!  But Dave and Lynn do things most people wouldn’t think of.

Here are the two Sweethearts Dave and Lynn adopted.  Two Ethiopian children who had no viable family able to raise them. They are both incredible Sparks of Life!  Tariku is 6 and Weyitu is 4.  Charming, talkative, assertive, and unbelievably smart…both of them!

Dave has worked for CityTeam Ministries out of San Jose, California for nearly 30 years and has had a huge career of working to make change happen in people’s lives…from substance abuse to families in need to establishing and new way of thinking about faith and spirituality, Dave has always been there.  And always thinking in new ways.  Always promoting honesty and change in the healthiest, most productive ways he can imagine and implement.

Never mind what one may think of spirituality or religion or God, isn’t it awesome to celebrate people who are committed to make our world a better place!

Dave and Lynn are those kind of people.

So…you can imagine how happy I was that Dave was able to spend four precious days of his schedule with me in Saigon following a conference he was attending in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

If you’d like to know a little more about Dave and his ideology of spirituality…of faith…of church, take a few minutes and read this link.  http://www.davidlwatson.org/2010/07/23/a-revolution-in-church-multiplication-in-east-africa/    It’s all about a happy, meaningful way of making it all happen. Read on.  It might surprise you.

You might never enter a church.  You may have no faith or spirituality.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s always a celebration to celebrate what others think about all this!  And probably you DO have something to celebrate about how you think of “spirituality”.

Well, that’s a bit of background about My Brother Dave.  More to come!

PS

You might like a very interesting read (only about 150 pages!) about some ideas of spirituality.  Here is Dave’s thesis.  It’s fascinating to think about “new” or “different” ways to consider “church”.  You might not agree or even care much, but you might also be intrigued.  I certainly was.  Probably most of us have been disappointed, dismayed or even disillusioned to the point of throwing the whole idea of any kind of “spirituality” out by “stuff” we’ve seen or experienced with established religion.  I’ve been there.

But a lot of people are re-evaluating their ideas of spirituality and finding the path that works for them…or looking for the path anyway.  This thesis is worth a look!

http://www.davidlwatson.org/wp-content/plugins/downloads-manager/upload/2009huntcpmdissertation2.pdf

DAY 2 OF BROTHER VISIT

We woke to a gorgeous Saigon morning.  The weather here is Eternal Summer.  I miss four seasons at times and sometimes it can get a little too muggy for (real) comfort. But Sunday was so lovely.  Almost (but not quite) balmy!  Blue skies when family or friends come to visit is one of those Acts of God that we couldn’t be more grateful for!

Since it was Sunday and we enjoy going to mass on occasion at the Majestic Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, we attended.

Wikipedia explains:

Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, is a cathedral located in the downtown of Saigon, Vietnam. Established by French colonists, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters (190 feet).

All building materials were imported from France. The outside wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Marseille. Although the contractor did not use coated concrete, these bricks have retained their bright red color until today.

Inside it’s hushed like all good cathedrals should be and even a little cool.  The fans hiss and the air is full of music.  The choir echoes in the principal nave .  The organ thunders.  The place could be updated a bit. It’s a tad under the weather in the interiors.  But maybe that is part of the charm.

The mass is in English and the place is full of tourists and expats alike who come to experience a bit of “church” in Vietnam.  Even some who never enter a church usually find it on their to-do list while in Saigon.

An hour later we emerge all blessed and ready for brunch!

Au Parc just down the street is a blissful bistro-retreat with a North Africa French Colonial Vibe.

Everywhere in Vietnam (and many parts of Asia) electrical wires festoon the streets.  Most are “dead” wires left from some disconnected service.  And many are live.  Seems like a kind of Roulette to me when more wires are strung to add some new service.  Recently new bylaws require that the multitude of lines must be strapped together so at least the danger of a loose wire maliciously zapping someone is lessened considerably!

Au Parc invites casual outdoor dining or welcomes diners inside.

There are bistro tables with tile tops.  And vintage French tile floors. Two floors of comfort with air conditioning and lazy fans.

Huge paintings of  souks and scenery seem to whisper Marrakesh. A bit out of place for Saigon one might think.  But from one ex-colony to another maybe it’s not so outlandish. The ambience delights and the Turkish Brunch with Hummus and Pita Bread and Spinach and Feta Omelette is a treat.

The rear of the restaurant is a sun-splashed space with a courtyard ambience.  Comfortable banquettes and cushy pillows invite lounging.  Who wouldn’t relax and smile surrounded by chrome yellow walls, those splendid tiles underfoot and the hum of Sunday afternoon chatter in the brunchtime air?!

Service is attentive.  Some of the staff all look like they’re 14.  Young people in Vietnam can take a long time to appear “all grown up”.  How lucky can they be!

Servers at Au Parc are always terrific at serving with a smile and getting your order as right as possible. Even though English might not be very conversational, the smiles never waver.

After brunch we head to the famous Independence Palace…formerly the Palace of the President of South Vietnam.  When the country was divided at the 17th parallel in 1954 after the hostile eviction of the French.  After America and Russia put their heads together and made a plan for the Poor Indochinese Country of Vietnam.  (or something like that some people say). Who knew how it would happen and at what cost it would be to see the two parts put back together again.  Unlike Humpety Dumpety..”.the horses and the men finally did it get it put together again”.  What a day April 30, 1975 was!  Depending on one’s point of view Saigon “fell” or Saigon was “liberated”.  Nevermind the politics.  Vietnam became one country once more on that day.  It was wonderful and terrible.  The years after suffered under the curse of a repressive government for too long.  But slowly change came along and now in 2012 Vietnam is pretty “free”.  Business is growing by leaps and bounds.  Tourists are trekking to this charming country.  And the President’s Palace is not needed anymore because the capital is in Hanoi.  Nearly 2000km north.

The building is now known as Reunification Palace.  It’s a modernist place.  Doesn’t feel like a  palace.  Not many Presidents’ homes have been built in the past 50 years. Anywhere.  The old palace was damaged by bombs in 1962 and the building razed.  A new structure was designed.  It’s a  beautifully ordered modernist 1960s architectural gem, I think. the interior design is definitely 60s. All with Vietnamese/Asian twist. But with a lot of Western influence too.  The formal public spaces are unusually “human” Dave thought as we were toured through.  I agree. It’s not grand. But it is impressive.  The indoor rooms and outdoor loggias blend seamlessly and restfully. Completed in 1966, it had only 9 years to serve as the public and private residence of the President.  Now it serves as a museum and meeting venue for government and other functions.

From the graceful curving driveway up to the front entrance to the rooftop party place to the underground bunker-like operations center, the Reunification Palace is well worth a visit.

I’ve been there several times in my five years here.  I always enjoy a review of the place.

After the tour we walked back to Dave’s hotel room to chill out for while.

Around 5pm a 15 minute taxi ride took us to Phu My Hung or District 7.  It’s the site of the New Town…a kind of New Saigon.  Wide boulevards and enclaves of townhouses and glass walled apartment buildings are well planned and organized around a kind of town center with modern shops and restaurants.  A large convention center for expositions is a contemporary structure well designed for car shows and food expos and the like.  Upscale car dealerships like Mercedes Benz and Porsche line the avenue.

Progress?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it all has that familiar sensibility to us “foreigners” living here.

The most glamorous of all Vietnam’s shopping centers is the large kidney bean shaped Crescent Mall. Well named.  Befits the architecture but also mimics the street outside bordering a small curved lake.  We wandered the Mall with it’s crisscrossing escalators and LED lighting glowing from indirect soffits in all the neon tones of pink and blue and green and gold.

Outside the street and sidewalk is a lazy quiet change from the unending hum and thrum of old Saigon across the river “over there”!  Strolling down the short crescent we passed through the first real Flea Market in Vietnam!  Mostly young people come on Sunday to hawk their wares.  Maybe 30 or 40 stalls are scattered in a square and since the first Sunday Market only 2 months ago it’s at least doubled in size.  Some interesting crafts and clothes and a variety of junque can be found.  It’s not begun to be outstanding but it’s a start and fun for everyone.  Dave found a little treasure or two for Weyitu at the Market,  In a kids’ shops nearby a treasure for Tariku.

At the tip of The Crescent lies a magnificent Moorish looking building.  All white with graceful quatrefoil topped windows.  Elegant and  cool.  Sculptural.  It’s Cham Charm.  The most expansive of all the Khai Silk chain eateries. The  Cham religion was an ancient belief  system related to Indian Hinduism and Thai Buddhism.  There is no evidence of this religion in practice in Vietnam anymore. But there are some scattered ruins of brick monoliths here and there throughout the country.  It’s an interesting moniker for an Buffet Restaurant. The religion here is haute cuisine buffet style.  It’s no ordinary place.  The gardens just inside the wall through the entrance are calm and green with fountains bubbling out of ordered pots in tiers on each side of the walkway.  A grand long set of stairs climbs to the front door.  The walls on each side are decorated with Apsara relief sculptures. Apsaras are the famous Dancing Musician Lovelies of the courts and temples of the Cham and the old religions of Cambodia and Laos and Thailand.

Enter Cham Charm!  I’m not a buffet fan.  But this buffet is set out in counters and tables and carts and food preparation centers and at least one grill and tiers of desserts to take your breath away.  The walls and columns are decorated in relief motifs.  The table and chairs  and linens….everything is superb.  This is the Big Treat Dinner for us!

As we exit Cham Charm into the heady evening air of District 7’s Crescent Shopping Mecca we leaved truly charmed by the delights of this Eating Establishment of the Khai Silk Dynasty.

Tomorrow we’ll head down South to tour a part of the famous Mekong Delta.

Good-night!