Our home needs some Thai triangular cushion seats. So, I was planning a short trip to someway nearby for shopping, massage as well as sourcing the Thai cushion. Ho Chi Minh City came into picture just because its airfare is cheap – S$4.99 to S$9.99 – so we spent S$350 for a pair of flight tickets.

My first impression of Ho Chi Minh City is the city not as congested and polluted as I imagine. However, she isn’t a great city to visit. For massage, yes! Cheap and nice.

The latest edition of Lonely Planet travel guide book, published one year ago, no longer provide accurate information due to the rapid changing of this city. In term of shopping, sadly said that we couldn’t get anything we wanted. Personally I feel the prices here are rather high, and most of them in US dollars. So far, Luang Brabang (Laos), Bangkok (Thailand) and Katmandu (Nepal) are still remain on our top list for shopping.

It is amazing to see these huge bunch of cables hanging above the streets and they still work. Furthermore, I wonder how do they fix it when power fails.

Our decision to visit Ho Chi Minh City came in the last minute. As a German, Alex need to apply for a Vietnamese  visa. For the past 2 days I have been calling the Vietnamese Embassy in Singapore, but no one bothers to pick up the phone. It’s official website didn’t provide any useful information either. While searching on the Internet, I came across a few websites that facilitating on-line application for Vietnamese visa. Most of these websites have rather confusing interface, and I felt quite insecure to go through them. However, time was running short and out of desperation, I took a small step and choose one of them. It turns out to be my life saver!

www.visa-vietnam.org

On this website, I filled in an online application form (it is rather straight forward, with instructions on the website.) Since we need a visa in 2 days, so I choose “rush case” and click send. Soon, I received an automatic mail-reply saying:

Thanks for your concerning with us www.visa-vietnam.org.

1. Your reference # :XXXXXXXXXXXX, This is the rush case you have to confirm as soon as possible

2.1. Please settle the payment through www.Xoom.Com ( Credit card)

Details of recipient Mr. Thang (the agent in Vietnam) is stated, with he Vietnamese address, telephone number and ID card number. Again simple but precise instructions were given. I would receive a Pre-approved letter with code for picking up visa upon arriving Vietnam at the airports of Hanoi capital city, Ho Chi Minh or Saigon city and Danang city. On the email, my payment through http://www.xoom.com was US$40 due to “rush case” (normally it is US$25) for processing fee. An additional US$25 + two passport photos are needed to process a 30-days visa. BTW, “rush case” is only eligible for 30-days, single entry travel visa.

After making my payment, I called the Vietnamese Embassy again just to make sure things are right. This time finally, a lady picked up the phone. She told me that the Embassy only process normal visa which takes 5 days to 2 weeks. If I want “rush case”, I need to go through an agent who specifically assigned by the Embassy.

I asked if I can bring along the Pre-approval letter from my agent and get the visa stamp from the Embassy. She said it is impossible, and there is no regulation stated that we can enter the country with the so-called Pre-approved letter.

She gave me the official website of the Vietnamese Embassy in Singapore, apparently it has been revamped and the one that I got from the Internet was the old one. Through this site, I found a local agency who can help me process a Pre-approved letter. It costs me SGD130 (USD89) for “rush case”. “If you do it today, SGD130, before 11am. But tomorrow will be a lot more expansive.” The agent said.

I put down the phone and felt furious. I then called Mr. Thang in Vietnam, questioned him about the regulation, and he reassured that they are the real agency and has been around for a while. He said, “At the airport, go to Landing visa counter, with the printed Pre-approved letter and 2 passport size photos (4x6cm). If I have any problem with the custom, please call my number.”

So, we decided to stick with him…

Updated: 28 Sept 2008

When we arrived Ho Chi Minh City, Alex went to the visa counter. She was asked to fill up a form, paid USD25 and handed in 2 passport size photos. She got her Vietnamese visa stamped on her passport smoothly.

Flipping through tons of home deco magazines and carried back books on “loft” design during Takashimaya sales, home make-over ideas were generated from very minimal to extremely elaborate – re-doing the toilet, tear down wall and create another entrance and build a loft etc. But at the end, due to the recent higher cost of living and inflation, “Only do the essential.” Alex says. I am still unemployed, sure I agree. Since then, we have been cracking our head to build a cosy home with little budget. “There are 2 things in life which we drain our saving away.” David from our favorite David’s Antiques once told me. “Getting married and getting new house. You can’t avoid it.”

Yesterday we visited our friend Thomas’ home – a stylish two bedrooms apartment in the same boutique development. He has furnished it with Barang Barang’s dark teak wood furniture, using few selective color range and make it looks classy and expansive – good model of million dollar home.

Ours? An old clock; 2 colonial arm chairs David’s Antiques; 4 panels of old window frames we salvaged from a construction site; a street sign we picked up in Berlin and of course the rest are mostly Ikea stuff. Not to mention couple of the huge potted plants that the old owner left us with plus Swee Yin’s kind donation of some pots. Well at least, we have very nice elements to start with…

Joerg describes our home, “It is growing organically day by day…” Alex’s vision is creating a paradise in the mist of mismatching.

Recently I have been digging through books and search engines try to find out various ways to pest control this little creature – Mosquitos! Our new home is invaded by mosquitos as it is surrounded by plants and vegetation. It may be breeding season now too. Checking with my neighbors, apparently they are also recently disturbed by mosquitos, and raising awareness of its hazardous.

There are many different species of mosquitos here. It makes my earlier attempts of using environmental friendly pest control failed. Then I explore other options – anti-mosquito body spray, close doors and windows, incant stick, mosquito coil, mosquito net, UV light trap, mosquito plants etc. There all has its pros and cons. Some methods can only temporarily keep them away (10-15 minutes) and the hassle is back again. There are no one method works for all. A combination of a few ways is essential.

There are a few methods that I use and find it effective:

  1. Mosquito net or screen. It blocks out 100% of mosquitos if it seals properly. I started making screens on windows, it certainly helps maintaining air flow (instead of closing off windows). However, I am suffocated sleeping in mosquito net. Otherwise, it certainly helps a great deal for a peaceful resting night. There are ready-made DIY net for window screen using either velcro or magnetic strips in Home Fix or Self Fix. There are also contractors specialized on making window screen or door screen as well. I opt for lower cost DIY, I bought some screens from Sungai Road’s hardware store, and bought some strong magnetic strips from Art Friends or other hardware store.
  2. Burning 100% pure essential oil of lemon grass and/or citronella. Citronella tends to have stronger smell, so I generally prefer lemon grass. Not all essential oil is effective though, especially the fragranced ones.
  3. Mosquito trap. There are different models and sizes, price ranges from S$99 – S$999 or more. This trap has claimed the most effective mosquito control. However, imagine a piece sitting in your house and it often does not match with your interior design.

Other tips and tricks:

  1. Make sure there is no standing water.
  2. Mosquito is active during sunrise and sunset. Make sure the doors and windows are close (if without screen) during this period of time.

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The mix of old and new is making Kyoto so fascinating. What a beautiful place.

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Rice rice and rice again…

Wow I am in Japan…
My first time traveling to this magnificent place thanks to our Boss and new company I joint.

For our new project an institutional building we are send to Japan to study similar architecture. The country is famous for their architecture with wonderful concepts and design. As I have heard and seen much about it in publication it is especially exciting to have a chance to see it life…

After our trip by 1 for 2 tickets we arrived full of energy in Tokyo….

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The first thing I bought were japanese cream puffs, also the only thing which was available at this moment.

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On 12 April, we declared occupying the apartment at 9am. We had a small breakfast, boiled water (using a pot as we didn’t own a kettle yet) for tea, and a small gathering on the patio. The day followed by unpacking and temporary arranging our stuff. It was tiring but the environment is peaceful…

In the evening, we started creating some privacies by pasting decorative stickers (from WINK) on our front window. Although it will not fully block passing neighboor from looking through the glass but at least it creates an interesting obstruction.

Last Thursday, our two arm chairs and a side table were finally arrived. We at least can sit in the living room comfortably…

Due to shortage of storage, most of our stuff is still lying on the floor of the living room till today…


Actually I didn’t celebrate at all. But my colleges thought otherwise and surprised me.

My colleges were very kind. There was no indication of my birthday age just 1sweet candle.

Of course the chocolate made me feel extremely guilty but once or twice a week is ok I think. Why else should I drag myself to gym during the week if not to eat later a lot of cakes.

Cutting hearts

I had to cut 2 hearts. Slightly a painful process and not successful at all. They just broke like in real life.

I had a HAPPY BIRTHDAY……
All the best Alex.

Since we received the apartment keys on Monday, we hold our breath and can’t wait till Saturday to view the place which is finally ours…

The place was nice and clean. With the black scolling blinds down it looks classy…

Mum immediately check out some auspicious moving dates for me… but the result is sad – due to Ching Min Festival (day of worshiping ancestors), we can only move in nearly a month later…

Our fall back plan is to engage some contractors to do up some storage for us. However, no one seems free at the moment. At the end, we spend $1000 to paint the interior wall instead. After all, it is probably a better idea to first living in before spending money for any renovation…

One of our favorite Hong Kong originated dessert is Ginger milk. I am dying to learn how to make it since the first time I tasted it (many years ago). In Singapore, one famous place for this dessert is located in Chinatown. Remembered once I asked to see the chef making it, but they told me that it is their trade secret, can’t share. Fine!

Thank goodness while we are staying with Chang, his sister visits him and taught us how to make it. “It is very simple… very very simple” She said. The catch for making Ginger Milk is the temperature of the milk, and the proportion between milk and ginger. Proportion: a bowl of milk vs a table spoon of ginger.

Firstly, preparing ginger: We shred a few pieces of ginger and squeeze/filter out the juice in a bowl.

Secondly, preparing milk: Dissolve one spoon full sugar in milk, then use low heat and heat it in a pan and stir. Once it reaches a simmer (first sight of steam raises), turn off the heat immediately.

Finally, pour the heated milk with sugar quickly into the bowl of ginger juice and wait for about two to three minutes. The milk will then solidify like a curd.

Alex is watching to catch the first sight of smoke…

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