life is good

What an interesting and diverse life we lead right now. For the past week I have been working with law enforcement officers from 10 nations in this region. This is always a challenging experience as these people are educated and have a wealth of real life experience, which makes working them them completely different from teaching teenagers at university. It has been an absolute pleasure and privilege to present to this course again and it has left me feeling supercharged.

The two Vietnamese police officers on the course have been excellent hosts and we have had some great nights out around Ha Noi. Last Thursday evening we visited the Vietnamese National Police Headquarters for a meeting with the Deputy Director of Police, Major General Thao. The heads of police in HCMC were also including via a large video conference setup which is an indication of the importance the the VN police place on this program.

Later were were hosted to dinner by the Deputy Director and it was a very happy evening enhanced by the fact that Viet Nam beat Myanmar 1-0 in the football. Driving around by xe om late in the evening and this city had gone berserk. There were literally thousands of young people out on the streets in large packs of motorbikes waving huge Vietnamese flag, (which had mysteriously appeared for sale on nearly every street corner).

Mimi and Lisa arrived from HCMC on Friday afternoon and we went and booked our two ancient Russian Minsk motorbikes for the upcoming trip west to the Laos border and then north towards the Chinese border. These Minsk bikes can best be described by one word, “ugly”. There is nothing pretentious whatsoever about them but people often have long and lasting relationships with these strange looking machines. I don’t know whether to be comforted or worried by the fact that Mr Hung who rented them to us is providing us a kit with some tools and spare parts but we are told that if we carry a carton of vietnamese cigarettes with us we will always be able to find a repairer who will accept a few as payment.

Yesterday we travelled by bus with most of the ARLEMP crew to Tam Dao mountain which rises approximately 1000 metres northwest of Ha Noi. I love traveling through the countryside out of Ha Noi. For one thing it is far easier to “get to” the countryside in Ha Noi than in HCMC as it blends into the outskirts of this city in a far more friendly fashion than in the south. Other than that I just really enjoy the scenery here and I’m hard pressed to explain why. It’s a feeling as much as anything and I can watch the passing landscape with farmers hard at work and small carts being pulled by oxen or tiny ponies for hours without becoming bored.

Tam Dao mountain was breathtaking. The forests were beautiful and the air was so fresh that it gave me a natural high. Mimi went with the ARLEMP crew for a walk to a waterfall while Lisa and I took a stroll around the steeply inclined streets. After, the fireplace was commissioned (thanks to Tanya) and the 20 of us sat down to a wonderful lunch. There was a great deal of talking and laughing and it is so gratifying to see how close these people form such a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds have become with each other in such a short time. If the ARLEMP concept achieves nothing more than allowing these people to form relationships and strong bonds that transcend borders then it will have been successful, but I know that it is achieving far more than that.

Today we change hotels as our favourite Win Hotel in Hang Hanh St is booked out so we are moving to the Bamboo Hotel in Hang Bac St which is a short walking distance away. Then tomorrow evening we have been invited to an exhibition of the photographs of the Algerian photographer Mekki Salah. This is being hosted by the Algerian Ambassodor to Viet Nam on the 51st anniversary of the Algerain revolution (Mekki is the only Algerian resident in Viet Nam) at the plush Hotel Melia. Mekki’s photos have all been taken in Viet Nam over many years and they are truly wonderful. The exhibition is titled “Scenery and Faces of Viet Nam seen through the eyes of an Algerian” and last night we sat at the bar in Mekki’s Tassili Restaurant in Ma May St helping proof read all of the descriptions. Actually the hotel on Tam Dao where we ate and spent time yesterday was designed, built, owned and operated by Mekki and his former wife. Sadly he now plays no part in the running of the Me Le Hotel but many of his bird photos are still hanging throughout and the design of the hotel is a testament to his creative ability.

Thursday I will be back at the RMIT campus Ha Noi to watch with a highly critical eye as the two ARLEMP teams (team elephant & team buffalo) present their final projects. I’m looking forward to this as in the past I have had to travel back to HCMC before this took place and missed out. The team have a graduation dinner at the Hilton Ha Noi Opera Hotel Thursday night, after which they will all head off in separate directions. We take off for parts unknown next Friday.

So life is full and I don’t quite know when I will get a chance to take a deep breath and reflect on all that has happened and continues to happen, but that’s OK as life is meant for living after all.