Morning Sun

This is yet another green, hand-me-down dress from my sister. I don’t understand why she keeps buying these green dresses and foisting them on me – surely, after the first or at least the second one, she would’ve realized that she doesn’t like green and stops buying them? (Actually, the fact that they’re all green is just a coincidence.) I’m not complaining though, especially because this dress is perfect for this week’s SIA, which is inspired by Cuno Amiet’s “Sunspots“. I really leaned into the green theme with my green shoes and owl brooch, not because there is a hidden owl in the painting, but because my owl brooch has green eyes. The early morning sun as I took these photos was a nice addition as well 🙂

Remember to check back on Wednesday to see how everybody interpreted this challenge!

SIA Inspiration: Cuno Amiet

It’s my turn to host SIA, and here is my pick:

This is “Sunspots” by Swiss artist Cuno Amiet, who is considered a pioneer of modern art in Switzerland. I was just browsing on WikiArt when it caught my eyes, due to the impressionistic, graphic way the dappled sunlight is depicted, and the strong shades of green throughout the painting. I know it’s mid-September, but it’s still quite warm over here, and green still has a welcomed cooling effect to me. So put together an outfit and send it to me by next Tuesday, September 20th. Have fun!

Book Reviews: August 2022

It’s been an interesting month of reading (as I say every month). I’m definitely sticking to the theme of “woman having an adventure” this month, maybe because it’s my birth month and I’m feeling the need to have some sort of adventure of my own… Anyway, here are the books:

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley:

I don’t remember how I came across this little book, but I picked it up because the title reminds me of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which gives the book an air of quirky magical realism (it’s not actually magical realism though), and the story sounds right up my alley – a spinster gets fed up with keeping house for her brother, a famous author, and impulsively decides to join a bookseller on his traveling wagon for an unlikely adventure. It’s a fun, quick read, and traveling around in a portable bookstore is exactly my kind of retirement plan, so of course I can relate. I don’t buy the central love story and the ending so much – I wish the main character could continue on her way without getting married (this is not a spoiler, by the way, because the opening of the book pretty much gives the ending away) – but the book was first published in 1917 and written by a man, so I guess that’s as progressive as it gets. 4/5

Winter Pasture by Li Juan:

After a fiction book about a single woman joining a nomadic bookseller, here’s a non-fiction book about a single woman joining a nomadic family of Kazakh herders as they move their cattle to pasture for the winter. It has all the themes that I’m interested in (adventure, nature/animals, and everyday life), but I’ve never read about the Kazakhs or nomadic herders before, so I expected to enjoy this. However, while the descriptions of the herders’ life are interesting, something must have gotten lost in translation (it was translated from Chinese), because I find the prose rather stilted and clunky. Plus, I think it’s badly organized – the first part is about the nomadic life in general, then the second part describes the people she stayed with, and the third part is the author’s emotions and reflections about her experience. Wouldn’t it be much better if these three are organically woven together? There are some beautiful stories and moving observations, but because the book is divided like this, the whole thing feels repetitive and disjointed. 3/5

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James:

I enjoyed Simone St. James’s “The Sun Down Motel” enough when I read it last year, so this year I got another supernatural mystery by her, thinking I’ll save it for Halloween, but I got impatient, so here it is. This one shares the same formula as “The Sun Down Motel” – two interweaving stories, one involving a missing/murdered girl in the past, and one involving a woman in the present trying to uncover the mystery, with a supernatural element – except it’s set at a boarding school for girls that is supposedly haunted instead of a motel that is supposedly haunted. But that doesn’t mean that it’s formulaic or predictable. The characters are well written and relatable (much more so than “The Sun Down Motel”), the mystery is absorbing, and the story is atmospherically spooky but not scary. The resolution feels a little easy, but overall I enjoyed it. 4/5

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs. Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico:

Continuing my theme of “woman going on an adventure”, I finished this month with these two short and sweet novels about a London charwoman who goes to Paris to buy a Dior dress and later, goes to New York to help an abandoned boy find his father. I recently saw the trailer of the movie adaptation of the first book and found it very charming, so I decided to check it out. I prefer the “Paris” book, not just because it’s fashion-adjacent, but also because the “New York” one is a bit more predictable. Still, the stories are very lighthearted and amusing (though not exactly funny), and there are some great descriptions of Paris and New York. 4/5

Hue Diary #2: The City & The Beach

As I said in my previous post, my sister and I only had 3 days in Hue, and since we were traveling with my niece and nephew, we couldn’t possibly drag them to all the historical places without boring them to tears, so we added in some kids-friendly activities as well. After a full day of sightseeing, we went on a boat ride on the Perfume River and enjoyed live performances of traditional Hue music. The kids didn’t care much about the music, but they were greatly tickled by the idea of riding on a dragon boat.

The Perfume River at sunset

Truong Tien bridge, seen from our boat

We then ended the evening with some chè (Vietnamese sweet soups/puddings). Hue is famous for its chè, with the roadside stalls that line the river banks boasting over 20 different flavors. It’s impossible to choose just one, so we had a sample of everything, tapas-style, before having another round of our favorites.

The next day, we headed to Lang Co, a beach resort town some 70km south of Hue. The beach here is so calm and clean, and again, quite empty of people, that even a hydrophobic like me had to go for a dip.

The beach is postcard-perfect

And the sunsets and sunrises are the best!

Finally, it was time to return to Hue and the airport to go home. I managed to snatch some time before our flight to wander around our hotel to snatch some photos of the city – I love how all the houses here are nestled amongst gardens and plants, even though they’re in the middle of a city. It’s little details like that that give Hue its dreamy, idyllic air and bring people back – I know I will have to return some day for a proper tour that does the city justice!

The river is so clean

Cute local houses

Hue Diary #1: Imperial City, Royal Palace & Mausoleum

Last weekend, my sister and I took a trip to Hue, a city in Central Vietnam and our former capital from 1802 to 1945. It was partly to celebrate our birthdays (our birthdays are close to each other so we tend to combine the celebration) and partly to give my niece and nephew a much-needed vacation. My sister and I have been to Hue before, but that was ages ago, and this was our first big trip since the pandemic, so naturally we were all excited. However, there was a recent spike in the number of COVID cases, so we could only get away for 3 days. Still, that was definitely enough to check out all the important sites of this lovely little city (if you love history and city exploration though, I’d recommend a week.)

Our first stop was the Imperial City, home to the Nguyen dynasty, the last feudal dynasty of Vietnam. Our hotel is within walking distance of the citadel, and there are so many trees that despite the hot sun, it was quite a nice walk. The citadel was neglected after 1945 and heavily damaged during the two wars, so there are still many empty/ruined places, but it gives the place a melancholic feel that I quite like. Another big plus is that there weren’t many people around. The main attraction – Thai Hoa palace, where the Emperor held court – being under renovation may account for the lack of tourists. We went to Dien Tho palace and Truong Sanh palace (residences of the Empress and Dowager Empress) and hardly saw anybody.

The main gate of the Imperial City

The temple dedicated to all 13 Nguyen Emperors

Inside the temple

A typical traditional outfit for Hue women (this particular shade is known as “Hue purple”)

The gallery surrounding Can Chanh Court, where the Emperor worked

The court itself was sadly destroyed in 1947 – this is all that remains

Later that day, we went outside the city to visit the Mausoleum of Emperor Tu Duc – there are four noteworthy mausoleums in Hue (those of Emperors Gia Long, Minh Mang, Tu Duc, and Khai Dinh) but Tu Duc’s is the best both in terms of style and scope. Set on a hillside and surrounded by pine trees, it is not just a place of burial but also a place of rest and relaxation for the Emperor while he was alive.

The mausoleum’s grounds

The main entrance

The entrance to the Emperor’s tomb (but not where he was actually buried. For superstitious reasons, most of the Nguyen emperors were buried in secret places)

If you have the time, the Mausoleum of Emperor Khai Dinh is also worth a visit for its wild mix of French and traditional Vietnamese styles, but since my sister and I have both been there before, we decided to check out a lesser-known site – An Dinh Palace. It was built by Khai Dinh in 1917 while he was the Crown Prince, and later became the residence of his son, Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam. It has the same mix of architectural styles, and there is still some original furniture to give you an idea of how they used to live back then, which I always enjoy. Also, it’s inside the city and doesn’t require a lot of time, and when you’re traveling with kids, that is always a plus.

Exterior of the palace

And the very Westernized interior

I thought the walls were papered – but they are actually painted by hand!

A totally-not-creepy room I found on the second floor (the palace is still being renovated, so there are many locked rooms)

More to come in the next post!