Monday, October 27, 2008

From Mild to Wild

Dear Friends,

If ever you need reminding how strong our thriving scene is here in Malaysia, you need to get along to Bandar Sunway, where performance car tuners are in abundance. Previously a mining area in the 1960s, land was perceived to be of no value as it was 'mining' and comes with a lease hold tenure. Bandar Sunway is now a premier township with its' tag of "Resort Living within a City". It is also now a regular haunt for Subaru WRX Imprezas, Nissan 350Zs, Mazda RX8s and various other Japanese models. Beemers are also a common sight with the latest being the market for multi purpose vehicles (MPVs).

What is particularly impressive driving in this area are the taste, quality and creativity of the cars and their owners. Performance and exterior tuning shops such as Redzone, Racing Fit, Kakimotor, N 1 Racing, Racecraft; Hup Soon for their rims and tyres; Top Spray for their immaculate spray painting works and much more. This could be seen by most of the cars on 'display' along the main streets of PJS.

If you are into wide body kits with arches or a total modified make over, head on down to Nextlevelcustomz. ( I was driving pass one day and came across this company; I decided to give it a chance to conduct 'constructive surgery' on my Camry. Ask for Aaaron Goh who is the Chief Executive Officer, as his card says.(sounds too corporate for a tuning business :p) Fun, talkative and convincing describes this lad. As I am still waiting for a LEXUS WINDFALL, the best I can do for now is to be a LEXUS WANNABE.

This is definitely an unconventional Camry

A splitter to add profile

When I grow up, I just want to be like a Lexus

It says, TRD Racing Development

Looks like an eyelid

I have managed to maintain the subtleness and classiness of a JDM theme. Amongst the tuning aficionados, there seems to be a real desire to have something that no one else has got, or be sitting on a set of rims that nobody else has seen before and that can only be a good thing. This means that we may be able to start setting the standard, as opposed to our southern and northern neighbours leading the way.

Watch my back

Rear Spoiler

When I grow up, I just want to be like a Lexus.

Lexus IS F - "Intimate,Sexy and Fast"

Dear Friends,

Many who knows me will agree that I have a passion for cars. Speed has always been exhilarating for me. I know of many who envies the European makes but I have always been an exception. To me it was none other than a LEXUS. In particular, the IS F.

The person instrumental for the birth of the LEXUS IS F is Yukihiko Yaguchi. For the 30 years that he has been with Toyota, he had always wanted to build a dream car he would love to own. When he moved to Lexus, he was dreaming of nothing less than an all wheel drive super car with huge horsepower, race track inspired handling and enormous stopping power. In short, a premium sports sedan that would offer comfort, sophistication and performance to equal and beat the best of European class.
The result was an engineering marvel with special aerodynamics, 8 speed sport direct shift transmission with paddle shifters and its own special performance profile, Brembo disc brakes that feature a huge 14.2 inch cross-drilled disc and six pistons per caliper up front, 19 inch wheels and a specially tuned suspension system.

The engine of the IS F is made by Yamaha which has a history of making engine component parts for Toyota and Lexus. It was worked on a Yamaha's Formula One engine program. The end result is a DOHC 5.0L V8, churning out 416 horsepower enough to blast through from 0 - 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds.

The IS F has been tested at renowned race tracks around the world. This includes the legendary Nurburgring in Germany and the Fuji Speedway in Japan. This is indeed a super sedan that has been really inspired.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Are Reds Threats?

Dear Friends,

The colour red is auspicious to the Chinese. Has it been a proven fact that red commands strength and power? The command that we stop at the traffic lights and the power it reflects in the likes of Manchester United and Formula One supreme Ferrari.
As I was reading the newspaper this morning, a full page advertisement in red flashed across me. It read, 'Absolutely comfortable, Absolutely innovative, Absolutely spacious cabins, Absolutely leather seats, Absolutely real 5-star and ABSOLUTE AIRBUS.' This is the carrier that has taken me to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It said, 'AirAsia now operates a truly brand new Airbus fleet from Malaysia.

Being a supposedly no frills - budget airline, it has done well for herself. In a span of just six years, she has established herself as the largest budget airline in the Asian region. It has done well domestically and it has also experimented 'going the extra mile' by offering X-TRA long flights to Australia, China and soon to include India, Japan, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
I have special admiration for the founder, Tony Fernandes. ( I have even added him to my blog list - on the left of my blog page). Visionary, risk taker, absurd or however one might call it - he dares to dream. His main belief is to believe the unbelievable, dream the impossible and never take 'no' for an answer. Not that I have met him personally but the articles I have read about him, has reassured me that in life nothing is impossible. It took a lot of guts and b**ls to decide on a million ringgit debt ridden investment. As it is now, history has been carved.

I mentioned in my other blog, 'Time is like a river, you cannot touch the same water twice' that I share in the same beliefs of Tony Fernandes when it comes to work; which is to have fun. He has said that having the right people, focus and discipline will ensure success in a business. I guess having a partner like Sir Richard Branson helps. Tony was an employee of Warner Music and Richard was boss. Looking at it, they both sort of have similar personalities - flamboyance, music and parties of course. Not so sure if he shares same traits with Idris Jala, Managing Director of Malaysia Airlines.:p I have met Idris and I must say he is humble, down to earth and speaks with a wealth of experience. The 'lovers spate' between both cabin captains has just made air travel for us Malaysians more affordable :)
Having spent many years in hotel sales and marketing, I like the way how AirAsia emphasises on branding. The red baseball cap constantly worn, catchy slogans, free seats given away - these are all successful strategies. The link with Manchester United (electronic boards at Old Trafford), Formula One AT&T Williams team (official airline) and referees officiating in the English Premier League (AirAsia's crest on their left sleeves). Another would be how the cabin crew are allowed to 'experiment' with different hairstyles and colours unlike the traditional all black and bunned up imposed by their rivals.

I have travelled many times with AirAsia. I remember the wee hours of the mornings I awake myself for the first flight of the day; the long queues waiting to check -in at the LCCT; the annoying loud conversations of the cabin crew among themselves on board; the long walk along the tarmac to the aircraft and the cockpit crew walking down the cabin aisle to ensure 'presence', to name a few.
One of the most intolerable experience will definitely be their delays(or re-timed as the airlines call it). Most times, they will tell passengers that this is unavoidable as it deals with safety issues. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) classifies a delay to be when a flight exceeds its departing schedule by 15 minutes. However, I must say that it has improved tremendously. Their website indicated that in August, they achieved a 88% on time performance. Will we ever see a further 12% conversion?
One of the most memorable flights would be on board AK 760. I was seated on row 1 (upon paying for express boarding). As the aircraft was approaching Hanoi, a lady was calling for help in despair. Her infant was turning blue and was lacking oxygen. The crew immediately made a distress call over the public address system requesting for a doctor. There was none on board and I realised that they couldn't do much. The oxygen tank was brought down but was not administered. The entire cabin came to a stand still and I was just silently saying a prayer for the infant and the mother. We landed and an ambulance was on hand to assist the situation.

I can only see better days ahead for this home grown Malaysian brand. From the inception on 8 December 2001 for a mere RM 1 (Ringgit Malaysia), coupled that with a RM 40 million debt, it has a lot to be proud about today. Air travel will continue to grow and it will be inevitable to stop this red giant from flourishing.

They have a new destination launching soon called Tiruchirappalli (wherever that is), interested anyone?

As their tag goes, "Now everyone can fly".
And yes, Reds are threats!

Monday, October 6, 2008

You want brains, he's got brains.

Dear Friends,

I have always been an ardent fan of Singapore's MM Lee Kuan Yew. I have read his memoirs a few years ago and have admired his styles and thoughts ever since. Below is an interview conducted with him recently.


SEPTEMBER 21, 2008

ZAKARIA: When I first met Lee Kuan Yew in 1994, I was absolutely struck by him. Richard Nixon once compared him to legendary statesmen like Disraeli, Bismarck and Churchill. But, Nixon said, he occupies a small stage. That stage doesn't look so small anymore.
Lee Kuan Yew took a small spit of land in Southeast Asia, which became independent in 1965 after great struggle and anguish, with no resources and a polyglot population of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian workers, and turned it into one of the economic centers of the world.
To do this, Lee had to have smart economic policies, but also a shrewd foreign policy that, allied with America, kept China happy, kept Russia and Japan at bay.
This week I sat down with Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore. His son now serves as prime minister, but Lee Kuan Yew is called "minister mentor." And he is still indisputably the father of Singapore.
I was struck by the depth of his understanding of the world -- China, Russia and the United States -- all at age 85.
Listen to this.


ZAKARIA (on camera): You have achieved remarkable success for Singapore in your lifetime. You've seen it go from a tiny, poor, backward, Third World country to one of the richest countries in the world. But lots of people feel that you have been -- you have exercised too tight a control, that you should have opened things up more, that it has been too domineering and coercive a state. What do you say to that?

LEE: I say, ask my people. They are given the vote. It's secret. Nobody has ever alleged any chicanery -- no bribery, no coercion, no nothing. We have never won less than 60, two-thirds of the vote.

ZAKARIA: But it's difficult for opposition parties to form and...

LEE: It is not the business of the government to enable the opposition party to overturn us. Right? Do you expect the Republicans to help the Democrats to overturn them?

ZAKARIA: No, but leave aside even just the issue of political competition. I just mean you have laws, for example, that allow random testing of people for drugs. You have, you know, the famous ban against chewing gum, which exercised people's imagination. Do you feel that you should have let up a little bit?

LEE: No, not at all. Because of that, we are now a safe, secure, fun city. The night scene has been transformed in the last 10, 15 years -- any number of nightclubs, the night life, al fresco
dining by the riverside.

ZAKARIA: And people can even chew gum now.

LEE: You need to have a medical certificate to buy gum for those who want to give up smoking and have got to chew some nicotine. What is it I am trying to do? I am trying to create, in a Third World situation, a First World oasis. I am not following any prescription given me by any theoretician on democracy, or whatever. I work from first principles, what will get me there -- social peace and stability within the country, no fight between the races, between religions, whatever, fair shares for all, everybody is a homeowner. I want investments. I've got nothing except skilled manpower, infrastructure. I build up the infrastructure. I educate the people.
We have the best educated work force anywhere in Asia, and I would say, within another 10 years, anywhere in the world. They're all educated in English, which is our working language, and they keep their mother tongue, whether it's Chinese, Malay or Tamil, Urdu, or whatever. Must I follow your prescription to succeed? Do I want to be like America? Yes, in its inventiveness and its creativeness. But do I want to be with America, like America, with its inability to control the drug problem? No. Or the gun problem? No. These are my choices. I go by what is good governance. What are the things I aim to do? A healthy society that gives everybody a chance to achieve his maximum.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of the American campaign, watching it from Singapore?

LEE: What can I say? It's fascinating. Suddenly, Senator McCain produces this governor from Alaska, Palin, and is leading in the polls, and she's a hit. The first flush, she was a disaster.

ZAKARIA: What do you want from the next president?

LEE: Engagement with the world. Keep trade going. Don't backtrack, or you'll put yourself at a disadvantage and put the world at a disadvantage, and you make conflicts more likely. Try and maintain a balance, so that peace and stability is assured without more conflicts.

ZAKARIA: One thing you've been critical of the United States of in the past has been its efforts to spread democracy around the world. You were critical of it when it was Bill Clinton's America, leave alone the freedom agenda of George Bush. What do you object to in that push?

LEE: No, I don't -- I don't think it's doable. I'm a social Darwinist.

ZAKARIA: Survival of the fittest.

LEE: No. The survival requires you to change. If you don't change, then you are marginalized and you will become extinct.

ZAKARIA: But do you look at the way in which the United States has been trying to push democracy around the world...

LEE: Yes.

ZAKARIA: ... and you say...

LEE: Where have you succeeded? You went to Haiti in nation-building. And I was just listening to a BBC on Haiti recently. I mean, it's just undoable.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: What about Iraq? What do you think?

LEE: I was in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. I did not believe it was possible to reconstitute Iraq as a democracy. I still do not believe that is possible.

ZAKARIA: So, what do you think will happen?

LEE: I think some compromise must be reached between the Shias and Sunnis and the Kurds to share the oil wealth and to share the country. And that is possible. But whether it is democracy, or whether it's a bargain between tribal chieftains, that's a different matter. You're going to bring democracy to Afghanistan? They have been warring with each other for hundreds of years. They enjoy warring with each other. Thirty-plus years ago they killed a king who was nominally holding the country together, and it's been shattered ever since.
How do you restore the writ of Kabul? By some 30,000 NATO troops, ISAF, and a few more brigades of Marines or special forces? The Russians had 140,000 boots on the ground with tanks, helicopters and the lot. And they left. I think nation-building is not doable. I mean, are you going to do nation-building in Pakistan? If you can't get Pakistan right, you will never get Afghanistan right. That Durand Line was arbitrarily drawn by the British between the Northwest Frontier Provinces and Afghanistan. They are the same tribes, brothers, cousins -- porous borders. They're in and out.
Now you've not only got Talibans, you've got Pakistanis joining the Talibans -- or that's the latest intelligence that I've been reading. It can go on for decades. Do we want to be in Afghanistan for decades?

ZAKARIA: A lot of people look at the Russian attack on Georgia and say this is the return of a kind of dark era of geopolitics. How do you view it?

LEE: The country is booming, has got enormous oil wealth. But the underlying problems are enormous. The system is no longer the Soviet system, where you press a button and things move across the country. The corruption will take quite some time to put right -- maybe a very long time. I don't know. The population is not on the increase, in spite of all kinds of incentives. And the incentives will only work in the cities. So, if you look at the long-term trends, it's 140 million Russians, who will go down to 120, 110 in 2050. How do you become a threat with just nuclear weapons?

ZAKARIA: Has America handled this crisis well?

LEE: It shouldn't have led to this crisis. You are dealing with a very adventurous leader in Georgia, and he acted in a very unwise fashion. It was just too silly for words. What was the point? What was he trying to score? And bad intelligence, because good intelligence -- what I read of the intelligence reports -- the Russian troops were there, ready. And if good intelligence, they would know what the reaction would be, and they would have blocked the tunnel, blown up the tunnel, and prevented the tanks from coming in. This is just bungling. And...

ZAKARIA: By Washington also, because we should have managed this better?

LEE: I do not want to guess why the Americans were so keen to bring Georgia into NATO. But at Bucharest, when the NATO meeting was held, Americans should have known that it wasn't warmly received by the people who would be on the front line, if ever there's a conflict. And the Russians know that.

ZAKARIA: And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: When the world saw the Beijing Olympics, and they saw the opening ceremonies, they saw a kind of birth of a new great power. How should we think about it? Should we be apprehensive?

LEE: What we saw -- and I was there with a lot of other of the VIPs -- was a reflection of their capabilities, their potential. It's not what they have achieved industrially or technologically. This was a show that they had seven years to prepare for. And they were carefully thoughtful about what they wanted to present to the world. They wanted to remind the world that they are an old civilization, 5,000 years. They discovered gun powder, paper, movable type, printing. They built the Great Wall. That's the kind of capabilities for disciplined effort that built the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, and eventually will build them a technological society.

ZAKARIA: So you don't worry about them.

LEE: What do they want? Every year they know they are closing the gap. That gap is a huge one.

ZAKARIA: Technologically between them and the West.

LEE: Technologically and industrially. I mean, what you see along the coastal provinces is just about 20, 30 percent of the population, the advantaged part of China. If you go to the inland parts, you will see a very different China. So they know that to catch up is 30, 40, 50 years. So, let's not quarrel with anybody. That would abort the whole process. Every year they grow stronger economically, industrially, catching up technologically. Any external problems will diminish their growth.
What do they have to worry about? Internal problems, social unrest, disparity in development, wages, farmers against the city dwellers, and so on. The danger comes when you have, say, in 20 years a new generation that didn't go through the Cultural Revolution, never went to the Long March, and who believe that China has arrived. So, this is a new phase they are moving into. And worldwide problems -- the biggest problem of all is climate change, energy.

ZAKARIA: Do you think the Chinese will be willing to reduce their own CO2 emissions, which would involve in some way placing limits on their growth? It doesn't seem that they are willing to do it.

LEE: For the time being, I think they are hoping it's not so bad. Per capita, their consumption is so low compared to the Americans. But when the glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau, in the Himalayas melt away, and they are doing it at about four meters per year, and the big rivers that feed off these glaciers become seasonal only with rain, and that affects their crops and their farmers along the river basin, I think they'll have to sit back and ask themselves, do you want this huge upset in your demography? Do you want Shanghai and their coastal cities to be inundated? So, I hope the message – the penny will drop within five to 10 years.
You look at the way the Chinese are spread across the world -- not just in Asia, you know, all over, Arabia -- all Chinese workers construct. What is it you want? New palace? New conference hall? New airport? They've got 1,300 million people. You've only got 300 million. So, they've got four times your number. So, and they are using those numbers. Every mission they have in Southeast Asia, their diplomats speak the language of the country. And in the Gulf, when I went there, I found that every mission, the Chinese mission speaks perfect Arabic.
And I'm sure they do the same in Latin America and in Africa.

ZAKARIA: This is sounding like a power to be feared.

LEE: No, no. This is an ancient power that kept its language skills. This is not a new power. This is an old power revived. That was the lesson I took from the opening of the Olympics.

ZAKARIA: You turn 85 tomorrow. Is there a lesson? What are the secrets to longevity and success?

LEE: Your life span depends on what you've inherited from the two helixes you got from your mother and father. My father lived to 94. My mother died at 74 with some heart problems. I had my first heart problem when I was 74 in 1996. Fortunately, unlike her time, they could do an angioplasty and a stent. So that solved it. The day before yesterday I had atrial flutter, so I don't think I'll reach my father's 94.

ZAKARIA: But you're going strong. I mean, you could...

LEE: But day after tomorrow, something could go wrong with the ticker, and then, that's that.

ZAKARIA: Do you have any regrets?

LEE: No. I've discharged what I had to do. As long as – every day is a bonus. I take every day as it comes. I see the sun rise, I see the sun set. I eat less than I want to. I swim and I cycle. I sleep well of nights, and I enjoy my work. But 70 to 80 percent is what I inherited from my parents.

ZAKARIA: Lee Kuan Yew, a great pleasure to see you.

LEE: Thank you.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Heaven on Earth

Dear Friends,

Since my last post on Hanoi, I was taken on a nostalgic roller coaster. My thoughts were instantly reflected to a picturesque sight of a tranquil piece of 'HEAVEN ON EARTH'. This was 15 September 2007. Destination - HALONG BAY.
Halong Bay is recognised as a world heritage for many years. It is a large area which covers over 1,900 limestone islets coupled with a 120 kilometres coastline. Legend has it that on three occasions in the channels of the islands, the Vietnamese stopped the Chinese from invading. In 1288, they stopped the Mongol ships from sailing up the nearby Bach Dang river by placing steel-tipped wooden stakes at high tide, sinking the Mongol Kublai Khan's fleet. The legend is that a slew of dragons spat out jewels and jade into the sea resulting in the jewels turning into islands and islets that surrounds the bay today.

Our pick up point was from the Melia Hanoi at 7.30am. It was a slightly overcast morning and we were waiting for the tour guide and transport to arrive from Buffalo Tours. It was delayed by almost 45 minutes. The journey to Halong Town took about four hours by a packed Ford Transit. We passed villages, plantations and a view of mainly greenery.
We arrived at Halong Town after a brief 'pee' stop cum session of contributing to the Vietnamese economy at a handicraft centre. The packed vehicle we travelled in quickly dispersed it's passengers to the various tour handlers waiting. I, then realised that the others were not part of our package but were merely travelling together just to the pier. A sigh of relieve as I have always liked holidays that were not too 'busy'.
At the pier, there were many wooden junks, sailboats and bamboo boats all floating around. I was equally excited and yet 'disappointed' as we had paid for an exclusive package but none of the junks resembled exclusivity. We were then ushered into a speed boat and taken on a wind challenging journey for about 15 minutes. Lo and behold - there she was standing; tall, pretty and exclusive. She was none other than, 'INDOCHINA SAILS' - our exclusive junk.

She was 40 metres long and 9 metres wide and was indeed a beauty to behold. We were ushered into the junk immediately by the staff who spoke good English. There were a total of 12 cabins and we were impressed with what we saw thus far. There was a dining area next to our cabin where meals were served. Walking upstairs we found an open deck with sun loungers and seats to chill out at. We were lucky as we were told that on board was just another Caucasian couple. He works in a town close to Hue and she was visiting him from South Africa. This was fantastic, just them and us. A tour to a nearby fishing village was arranged as soon as lunch was completed. We spend the evening swimming in the bay with others from the nearby junks.
Meals served were delicious, mainly Vietnamese. We had lunch upon arrival and dinner was served at about 7.30pm. What was amazing was, with the handful of crew on board - all multi tasked. While waiting for dinner; at the deck, the sun was setting behind the surrounding islands as we sit in the dwindling twilight. After dinner, two of the crew put up a performance with musical instruments and singing. The lights in the dining area were dimmed to reflect a stage and though it was not really entertaining, it was a nice touch.
We later adjourned to the deck for some chill out drinks beneath the dark illuminated starry skies. You could literally hear a pin drop in the surroundings. The entire area was just so serene and peaceful, this was really heaven on earth. Sentimental Vietnamese melodies hung in the air as the junk went to 'sleep'.
The next day, tours were arranged to visit some caves. The walk up the caves was tiring. Not much to ramble about, we quickly made our way back to the boat after the obligatory visit. The Indochina Sails, slowly made its' way back to Halong Town. From peace and quiet, the hustle and bustle could be felt as we approached the pier.

The idea of travelling another four hours back to Hanoi was not even intimidating. The time spent relaxing in Halong Bay was just too magical. This was indeed 'HEAVEN ON EARTH', a destination so mysterious that one can just pass through in time.
If you ask me, I don't really care because this is like being cast in a spell right out of a Harry Potter series. I think this is called the spell of Halong Bay.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam

Dear Friends,

I have been a frequent traveller both professionaly and also leisurely for many years. My travels have spanned continents and I must say that my horizons widened tremendously. I have spent both short and long periods in countries that I have visited as a student, a tourist and also as an expatriate.

Vietnam is one country that I have visited frequently these past two years. In particular; Hanoi the capital. This is a heavily populated city with close to about six million people. I remember arriving for the first time at Noi Bai International Airport, I was surprised to be taken back the clock by almost twenty years. I found the people to be traditional in their dressing, bad haircuts, bad set of teeth and most of all unfriendly. The immigration officials as the first point of contact were undesirable.

Noi Bai International Airport, is situated approximately 40 kilometres north of Hanoi. As I was travelling in the Noi Bai taxi, polluted honking noises are shared by cars, scooters (love the Vespas though) and motorcycles. The journey to the hotel in the taxi is normally 'serene' with no efforts of conversation as most of the taxi drivers are not English conversant.

My residence is located in the 'Ho Tay' area better known as the West Lake. I have stayed here so often that I have learnt to say, 'Hai Nam Ter' or '254', Thue Khue - which is where the Somerset Residence, managed by Ascott International is situated. I have always thought that the staff manning this residence under a Singaporean manager, was a different breed from the ones I encountered upon arrival at the airport. 'Ho Tay' is about a 20 minutes taxi ride to town. I like this area because it has the largest lake in Hanoi (West Lake) and the scenery from my studio exudes a feeling of peace and tranquility. Hanoi is known as the city of lakes and has many scenic lakes which are mostly big. The most famous of them all is known as 'Hoan Kiem' lake.

This lake may not be as large as the West Lake but due to its' location in the city, it is busily frequented by the locals. I remember strolling by the lake one evening and I noticed that the locals just lazed around and did nothing. The older folks chat away while the younger couples are openly expressing themselves intimately. French kissing and petting among the younger couples in the visibility of the public is not taboo.

Near the 'Hoan Kiem' lake area is where the Old Quarters are, it has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city consisted of only 36 streets, most of which are now part of the Old Quarters. Each street then had merchants and households specializing in a particular trade such as silk, jewelery and etc. The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations. An example would be that all shops trading and selling silks are all located in 'Hang Gai'.(This is the most famous street in the Old Quarters). You will never go wrong by telling a taxi driver (in your little Vietnamese) 'Hang Gai' and he will almost understand you immediately.

A night market (near the'Dong Xuan' market) in the Old Quarters is open for business every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening selling a variety of clothing, souvenir and food. This market will remain with me for the rest of my life because I was given a real Vietnamese 'baptism of fire' during one of my visits. It is a very busy market with both locals and tourists flocking. The more 'entrepreneurial' locals would target tourist like me, prospering quickly and effortlessly by pickpocketing. There were a group of ladies (easily five of them) - three would act as they were being pushed from behind by the crowd against me and simultaneously slit my sling bag. They then walk ahead of me to deter suspicion and the other two accomplice would then walk towards me, pushing amongst the crowd and removing my belongings from the slit bag. A Playstation portable (PSP) and an I-Pod Touch has made its' way to the black market streets of Hanoi, I am sure. I was devastated and hated Hanoi the entire trip.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach as the saying goes. Restaurants and bars could be found in the Old Quarters and it's vicinity too. Hanoi has rich food traditions and many of Vietnam's most famous dishes such as 'Pho', 'Cha Ca' and 'Com' are thought to come from Hanoi. Perhaps most widely known is 'Pho' pronounced as 'fur', a simple rice noodle soup (equivalent to Malaysia's 'Kway Teow Soup) is often eaten as a breakfast dish in the home or street walk stalls. 'Pho Bo' contains beef and 'Pho Ga' contains chicken.

One of my most frequented cafes during every trip (non- Vietnamese) is an Australian cafe called Kangaroo. There is a 'duplicate' Kangaroo Cafe which the original owners despise. The original cafe often refer themselves as the 'REAL' Kangaroo Cafe. It is located at 18, Bao Khanh Street and is operated by a 'fair dinkum' with his Vietnamese wife. They also operate a travel agency out of this cafe and is popular amongst the foreigners. A must try here is the Aussie Bangers. (assortment of sausages and potato) and not forgetting the beer :)

These are the cafes and restaurants that I will never fail to visit on my trips:

LITTLE HANOI, 23 Hang Gai Street - Good chill out place for food and drinks.

AL FRESCO CAFE AND GRILL - 98 Xuan Dieu Street - Speciality are ribs and pizzas

QUAN AN NGON - Phan Boi Chau Street - Vietnamese cuisine in a open air square environment

FANNY'S - Le Thai To Street (facing Hoan Kiem Lake) - Ice Cream

BOBBY CHINN'S - Ba Trieu Street - Continental restaurant (Owned by Discovery channel's food personality Bobby Chinn)

HAPRO COFFEE - Le Thai To Street - Coffee sidewalk by Hoan Kiem lake

Pho 24 - Various locations - Vietnamese Pho

SEASONS OF HANOI - Quan Thanh Street - Fine dining Vietnamese restaurant (Pictured below)

CLUB DE L'ORIENTAL - Ton Dan Street - Fine dining Vietnamese restaurant

LE CLUB - Sofitel Metropole Hotel - Champagne Bar

MALAYSIA IN HANOI - 136E, Tran Vu, Truc Bach Lake, Ba Dinh - Malaysian cuisine

I have visited Hanoi during the hot summer months which can be very humid. I nearly 'suffocated' due to the thin air and it caused me shortness of breath. The winter months are nice, relatively cool and dry. Summer can get as hot as 38 - 40 degrees Celsius (May - September) and winter can dip to as low as 6 - 7 degrees Celsius. (November - March). I enjoyed the winters better as I have a perpetual sinus problem which erupted during the hot summer months.

Another must to do when in Hanoi is to experience a Cyclo ride in the Old Quarters. It is a three wheel bicycle paddled by a 'man machine'. Remember to initially negotiate the price before embarking as it could cost to be pretty hefty, sometimes more than the taxis. (BTW, for taxis I would recommend hailing the CP Taxis which are more reliable)

The magic word to use against touts in Vietnam is: 'TOI KHONG MUON' which is translated as 'I DON'T WANT'. Whatever is offered, just say those words and end it with 'XIN MOI DI CHO' meaning 'PLEASE GO AWAY'.

Hanoi has touched me in more ways than another. Wonderful memories were created here and it will remain with me for a very long time.