Farewell to Hanoi – 3 years on

Today marks 3 years since we left Hanoi at the end of our 3.5 year posting. We have been back in Australia for almost as long as we were there.

Our life has changed so much since then. Our little boys who were 3.5 months and 2 years old when we arrived in Hanoi, were still so little when we left – and are now school boys. We’ve had our ups and downs adjusting to a new life in the Barossa. There are days where I do miss the challenge of my public service/diplomatic career and I wonder whether leaving it behind was the right thing to do. But then I think about our wonderful lifestyle, the new friends who have welcomed us into this community and supported us and the opportunities we have been presented. I look at two little boys thriving in this beautiful rural town, playing sport and learning so much and I appreciate the fact I do have the time to spend with them and create my own new career.

The photos below were just a quick sample, uploaded in between the boys Crossfit class and basketball yesterday. It would be lovely to sit and browse through the albums of thousands of photos we took during the years. But how do you sum up 3.5 years of your life in photos or even words. We grew as parents and as a family and made some big decisions. We had the most incredible experiences and we made friends from all around the world. There are so many wonderful people from Vietnam and beyond that really should be in the photos below.

Its been cold and rainy here in the Barossa today and so I can’t help but miss the Hanoi summer. We are so grateful to have had the chance to call another place home and while it was only 3.5 years, it will always be a very special part of our family’s story.

 

From public servant in Hanoi to business owner in the Barossa

Leaving Hanoi, June 2014
Leaving Hanoi, June 2014

For the last week, I have been struggling to come up with a blog post to mark one year back in Australia. What could I say that wasn’t simply a rehash of the last month or so of Timehop photos I’ve posted from our last weeks in Hanoi and our arrival in Australia. I thought of trying to come up with a list – maybe the things I’ve learned, the best bits about being back in Australia, the things I miss most in Hanoi.

My boys on our last morning in Hanoi. Hard to believe they were only 2 years and 3.5 months when we arrived
My boys on our last morning in Hanoi. Hard to believe they were only 2 years and 3.5 months when we arrived
My favourite photo from our Disneyland stop-over
My favourite photo from our Disneyland stop-over

But nothing really flowed, and to be honest, I’ve been fairly busy trying to get my business off the ground and getting organised to head back for our first trip to Canberra, Wollongong and Sydney since we moved to the Barossa.

But as the week has gone on, I felt like I needed to write something about the last year, because when I look back at it, it has been pretty amazing and I am sure a period of our lives we will look back at and wonder how we did it.

The blue skies and open spaces were things we'd really missed in Hanoi. Tanunda, August 2014
The blue skies and open spaces were things we’d really missed in Hanoi. Tanunda, August 2014
  • We packed up 3.5 years of our lives in Hanoi and moved back to Australia
  • I left the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after 15 years – my first (and only) full time job
  • We moved to the Barossa Valley (where we only knew a couple of people)
  • Simon started back in the wine industry and now has a fantastic position at the Artisans of Barossa tasting room
  • Angus started Primary School and Xavier started Kindy (pre-school)
  • I started a blog
  • And probably the biggest of all, at least for me, I decided to launch Angela Pickett Consulting
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa

I am not very good at keeping a diary or journal, but I recently found some entries I made last year about taking a redundancy, deciding to move to the Barossa Valley and restarting our lives back in Australia. There was an entry where I scoffed at the suggestion from my good friend Lisa (who would become my business coach ) that I should start my own business. There was also an entry about crying myself to sleep because Xavier only had a couple of friends coming to his 4th birthday because we’d only been in the Barossa 6 weeks and I’d planned his party for the first day of school holidays and the AFL (football) grand final. Reading that, I really wished I had written more because it was great to look back and see how far we’d come.

He didn't care how many friends turned up - as long as the cake was great
He didn’t care how many friends turned up – as long as the cake was great

I think one of the hardest things for me over the last 12 months, but also one of the most exciting was losing the part of my identity that was so closely tied to my career. It has been refreshing to make new friends who have nothing to do with work and who have no idea of what I have done in the past. Many of my new friends are the Mums of the boys’ friends and I feel very fortunate to have such an amazing support network. I truly feel part of a community where I know there is someone to call if I’m running late for school pick-up or need a last minute babysitter. Not only that, but I know have exercise buddies, ladies to chat and laugh and share the (occasional) glass of bubbles with.

The Young and the Breathless taking on the 6000 Adelaide Oval Stair Stomp
The Young and the Breathless taking on the 6000 Adelaide Oval Stair Stomp

At the same time, thanks in part to social media, I’ve also developed my own networks and it is through these networks that I have been able to take opportunities and start my own business.

New hobbies in the Barossa - playing German bowls - Kegel
New hobbies in the Barossa – playing German bowls – Kegel

When we left Hanoi, I knew I needed a break from work, and as I wrote in my last post, my study provided with a bit of a safety net. For me, and I’m sure for friends and family, giving up a career didn’t seem so crazy because I was studying towards something new. I’d always said I just wanted to change the way I worked, and I wanted to be more flexible and yet, I dismissed the idea of having my own business.

While it is still (very) early days, I wouldn’t change this decision for anything. While my initial post-fulltime work idea of going to the gym after school drop-off has been replaced by early morning workouts and I am still doing way more housework than I’d like to do, I am loving being my own boss. I am busy but it is doing the things I want to do and it is exciting. For so many years, my working life was so tied up with the frustrations of working in a very bureaucratic structure, where responsibility and reward were tied to your role and level. Now its just me, and while this can sometimes be a bit daunting after so many years of asking permission, I am actually enjoying being in charge of both my own business and my own choices. There is no-one else to blame if things don’t go the way I had planned and I finally feel like I can make mistakes that I can learn from.

I do miss having colleagues to brainstorm ideas with but thanks again to social media, I have great networks across the globe who can provide advice, support and encouragement as I tackle things I never expected I would be doing – setting up my accounts in MYOB, briefing a graphic designer, setting up a website and writing proposals for clients. I’ve become a huge podcast fan – especially during my morning workout – and have learned so much from podcasts like Being Boss and The Lively Show.

I finally feel confident and in control and while my to do list is never ending, I love being to pick the boys up from school, catch up with my friends for coffee or take some time out to cook. I’m finally getting my fitness and nutrition back under control (which is really hard when you are surrounded by great food and wine) and I’ve even started running and agreed to do an obstacle course event next month.

Of course, there have been moments where I have wondered if it was the right decision and wished I had had the foresight to know I wanted to start a business and put away some money to start, rather than waiting until I worked out that the perfect job didn’t exist because this was what I was meant to be doing. I’ve also realised I’m really impatient. When I feel like the business should be further advanced and I should be doing more, I have to remind myself about how far I have come.

Beautiful views over Tanunda, May 2015
Beautiful views over Tanunda, May 2015

Looking back, it has been a fantastic year. I think the life we have created here is probably even better than we had imagined, and at least for now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

The expat departure – leaving while the others continue the party

West Lake Hanoi - the morning we left in June 2014
West Lake Hanoi – the morning we left in June 2014

Saying goodbye is pretty tough and it can be even tougher when the place you’re moving to is a whole new place.

For some expats, and especially in my former life as a diplomat, the next assignment, apart from those lucky few who get a cross-posting, is heading back to home base usually where you have a house, friends, schools for your kids, family. But even then, things change while you’re away. Kids grow up, people make new friends, things change. And you change too. I don’t think anyone could spend an extended period living overseas without it having some impact on the way you view life and the world around you.

For others, moving on from the place you have spent the last few years means starting from scratch. In our case, it really was a new start – me quitting work, my husband finding a new job, moving to a new town (and a new state) and my eldest starting primary school.

For us we’ve experienced reverse culture shock in many ways, moving from a big bustling overcrowded noisy city to a rural town of about 5000. I can no longer walk out of my lane and walk across the road for a coffee, call the bakery for delivery or walk down to the convenience shop. I can’t walk outside and hail a taxi (although I couldn’t afford it) but at least I can quickly get myself on a nice running track surrounded by vines, which is almost as good (and sometimes just as smelly) as West Lake.

At least moving back to Australia the cultural and language barriers don’t really exist – but even then Australia has still prices go up, service offerings are more complex (don’t get me started on setting up internet!) and if like me, you’ve moved from somewhere with help, the washing, cooking and cleaning is never ending.

But all those changes are pretty easy to adjust to and as an expat you get used to making new friends.

So, the hardest thing I’m finding right now is thanks to world of Facebook. Don’t get me wrong I am a huge Facebook fan and I love being able to keep in touch with friends all around the world, many of whom I’d lost touch with for years. And I have loved sharing updates about our life here.

But sometimes, watching groups of friends hanging out in Hanoi, seeing them visiting a favourite restaurant or discovering a new restaurant, seeing snaps of a rare blue sky Hanoi day or any of the sights of street life that kept me enthralled for 3.5 years, I get a little sad and I realise just how much I miss those people and those places. Fortunately for us, we always knew our posting was 3 years (and were lucky to have a short extension) so there is never the question of “should we have stayed”?

Anyway I’m sure I’m not alone seeing those Facebook posts and feeling like I left the party a little too early and everyone else is having fun while I’m hanging out washing, vacuuming and doing the groceries!

But even when that feeling of jealousy starts to creep in, I just have to remind myself about all the positives of our new life and be thankful for all those experiences in the first place.

Spring in the Barossa Valley, September 2014
Spring in the Barossa Valley, September 2014

Retail therapy in Hanoi

Study deadlines of course bring on the urge to bake, clean and shop but rather than head into the dangerous territory of online shopping, I thought I’d take myself on a little virtual shop through my favourite places in Hanoi. I started this post last week, but a malfunction with my photo album and study took over and so it’s been over a week between posts.

When I drafted this post initially, I was going to make the point it is now over three months since we left Hanoi and that like many places in South East Asia, Hanoi is changing fast. As it turns out in the last few days, I have learned about a few new places but I’ll still be sharing this with friends and asking them to add to this – and of course, if you have been to Hanoi and want to add anything, please comment below.

There are also lots of tourist maps around, but I would recommend the Nancy Chandler hand drawn map of Hanoi which you can find at various places including Bookworm. Updates also appear on the Nancy Chandler web page.

Chula

It’s no secret that the vast majority of my Hanoi wardrobe was from Chula. From the first time I set eyes on these amazing designs, rainbow colours and perfect fit I was hooked. Although many of us in Hanoi had similar designs, I don’t think I ever showed up wearing something the same as anyone. I also loved how Laura & Diego and their team would alter things to suit – my last dress which I wore for my 40th being adapted from a poncho.

Mum and I wearing Chula on my 40th birthday. My dress was from Chula's most recent Hanoi collection and was actually adapted from a poncho!
Mum and I wearing Chula on my 40th birthday. My dress was from Chula’s most recent Hanoi collection and was actually adapted from a poncho!
With my birthday twin Elodie wearing Chula - hers is the fabulous Pho (noodle soup) dress
With my birthday twin Elodie wearing Chula – hers is the fabulous Pho (noodle soup) dress

Laura & Diego are passionate about what they do and have really created something special. Once a small studio in their home, they have moved out allowing for the expansion of the shop space which also doubles as a venue for art and music (and includes the family alter of the landlords which is still used daily and is an incredible sight). It’s also on a pretty part of Ho Tay (West Lake) which is worth a visit (just near the pottery covered dragons) and if you can’t make it to Hanoi, best thing is they are now online. So you can shop the collection or even send your measurements in for something custom made and they’ll send it anywhere in the world (just make sure you tell them I sent you)!

Courtyard at Chula
Courtyard at Chula

Hang Gai

Vietnamese for “silk street” it’s probably no surprise that this was one of my favourite shopping streets in Hanoi. I often did a mad dash from the office in the last lunch hour before leaving for Australia to stock up on last minute gifts. I’ll talk about Tan My, Ginko and Hanoi Moment below, but other good shops include Ninh Khuong for embroidered clothes and gifts for babies and children and of course being silk street, lots of shops selling silk. Han Gai is also home to the Hidden Café (great Vietnamese Coffee especially egg coffee with a view over the lake – see my post on the things I miss about Hanoi).

Tan My

If Chula was my favourite place (and weakness) for dresses, then it was Tan My for everything else. It was my favourite place to take guests and the best place to buy good quality gifts including lacquer, linen, gorgeous Valerie Cordier handbags, art deco lamps from My Way deco, art prints and Vietnamese themed stationery and kids books.

Valerie Cordier bags and beautiful lacquer from Tan My
Valerie Cordier bags and beautiful lacquer from Tan My
My Way Deco lamp from Tan My
My Way Deco lamp from Tan My

Ginko T-shirts

Ginko sell funky t-shirts in kids and adults sizes. My favourite is probably their Vietnam telecom shirt which has sadly been picked up by all the t-shirt copiers and one with various activities on a motorbike (everything from moving house to sleeping). Ginko have a couple of shops in Hanoi, including on Hang Gai, and are also in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi Moment

Another great shop on Hang Gai. I’ve bought silver jewelry and candleholders, great pottery and they also do some really interesting boxes inlaid with rolled paper.

IMG_0322

Future Traditions

Future Traditions beautiful clothes using indigenous textiles sourced from across Vietnam as well as beautiful jewelry. It was Cynthia from Future Traditions that alerted me to the opening of Emporium Hanoi this Thursday 2 October at 172 Xuan Dieu.

Oriberry Coffee and Pottery

This social enterprise has two locations – on Xuan Dieu in the Tay Ho (West Lake area) and one in Au Trieu in the Old Quarter (called Indigenous) has great coffee (both western and Vietnamese versions), and juices as well selling fair trade coffee (ground or beans) from a variety of areas in Vietnam and beautiful pottery from Bat Trang (great if you don’t have time to visit this pottery village just outside Hanoi).

Beautiful pottery from Bat Trang at Oriberry
Beautiful pottery from Bat Trang at Oriberry

Things to consider buying:

  • Vietnamese conical hat – non la – great for gardening I’m told
  • Bird cages – although a little tricky to ship
  • Lacquer and bamboo – with the usual rule of “you get what you pay for”
  • Fabric – depends what you are looking for but a trip to a fabric market like Cho Hom or even the street selling all manner of ribbons, buttons, zips and trims in the old quarter is worth it if you like sewing

Even taking a few days from my first draft on this, I’m sure as soon as I hit publish I will remember some others but these are my favourites that spring to mind as I indulge in a little virtual retail therapy..

Please share your tips and any favourites you have found in Hanoi.

Savouring the time to cook

My plan to reserve Tuesdays as “test kitchen Tuesdays” to try new recipes came unstuck pretty quickly, but mainly because I have been cooking a lot of different things. That’s not to say that there is a tasty, Master Chef worthy, Instagrammable plate on the table every night (in fact tonight, it’s a fairly standard spaghetti bolognaise) but I have been experimenting with a few new recipes.

Apart from having access to great seasonal, local produce, my main reason for cooking differently has really been about having the time – not only to cook, but also to search through recipe books and magazines to start with. Suddenly I don’t feel quite so guilty about our huge collection of cookbooks and magazine subscriptions because we are actually using them.

Here’s just a sample of what I’ve cooked up this past week:

Caramel Brownie with Toffee Macadamias – inspired by a Toffee Pecan Brownie in Donna Hay #59, 10th Birthday edition Oct/Nov 2011.

Toffee macadamia caramel brownie - Donna Hay magazine #59 Oct/Nov 2011
Toffee macadamia caramel brownie – Donna Hay magazine #59 Oct/Nov 2011

I chose this recipe largely because I wanted something to go with my second attempt at vanilla ice cream that I could do in advance as we were having friends to dinner on Saturday night after visiting the Adelaide Show. It was delicious but turned out to be way too much for 4 people (better for say…24 people) and very rich (450 grams of chocolate and about the same amount of butter will do that). The toffee macadamias were good and I was excited to make these and the caramel from scratch.

Eight hour roast lamb from What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies (who I’m looking forward to meeting when she speaks at a lunch in the Barossa next month)

Spending the day at home on Sunday meant I was inspired to put the roast I had bought for dinner into the oven mid-morning. We have a huge rosemary bush at the front of the house and while I didn’t have as much garlic the recipe suggested, it was still great. I couldn’t believe how easily the lamb shredded.

What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies
What Katie Ate by Katie Quinn Davies

I didn’t have all the ingredients for the suggested dressing so improvised with parsley, mint, lemon juice, olive oil and some of the roasted garlic and served with greens with my favourite Maggie Beer’s vincotto and a Belicious Petersham inspired roasted cauliflower with goats curd.

8 hour roast lamb, roasted cauliflower with goats curd and greens with vincotto
8 hour roast lamb, roasted cauliflower with goats curd and greens with vincotto

Finally, on Tuesday night it was Hoi An chicken rice, probably inspired by thinking about Hoi An for my blog post on Monday. I started off looking at the Morning Glory cookbook from a restaurant we liked in Hoi An and which we had used before, but ended up using my new Real Vietnamese Cooking from our friends Tracey and Andreas from Hanoi Cooking Centre. This cookbook will always have a special place in my heart (and kitchen) because Tracey and Andreas became really good friends during our time in Hanoi and we watched this book come to life with beautiful photos from Michael Fountalakis, who I was lucky to do a photography walking tour of Hanoi with during one of his visits.

IMG_0195

While the recipe would traditionally use a whole chicken, I only had thigh fillets and these worked quite well. Unfortunately the Kikkoman soy sauce seemed a little salty for the soy chilli dipping sauce – so I am starting to think I’ll buy salt reduced from now on, because it’s always easier to add salt. I am also not convinced that Thai fish sauce is the same, but I am yet to find Vietnamese fish sauce. I need to try and work out where the best Vietnamese supermarkets are in Adelaide because there are loads more recipes I would like to try and recreate.

Cơm Gà Hội An - Hoi An Chicken Rice from Real Vietnamese Cooking
Cơm Gà Hội An – Hoi An Chicken Rice from Real Vietnamese Cooking

Unpacking our life

After 2.5 months, and 3 weeks in the house, on Monday we finally received our shipment from Hanoi. About 164 boxes, many of which were full of crockery, ornaments, toys, clothes and photos. No surprise then that this lot of unpacking is taking much, much longer than when we received our (mainly) furniture shipment from Canberra.

On Sunday, I wrote the following list of 11 things I was looking forward to seeing.

  1. my stick blender, colander and assorted kitchen utensils
  2. boys toys – and the boxes, baskets etc to keep them in
  3. the dirty clothes basket
  4. coffee making stuff – plungers, grinder,  machine, reusable cups
  5. paintings and photos
  6. the rest of my wardrobe
  7. the toaster
  8. all the beautiful things that will remind us of our time and our friends in Hanoi
  9. Simon’s tools – let the reconstruction begin
  10. cook books and cake tins – and everything else I need to cook
  11. my step-ladder
The boxes start arriving - this was before every available surface started being covered in stuff!
The boxes start arriving – this was before every available surface started being covered in stuff!

A few days later and I am not sure there is much more to add to the list. However, after living with a fairly basic lot of kitchenware for 3 weeks, it did strike me that we probably have way more plates, glasses and serving platters than we will EVER need. I also realised that in addition to loving a bit of shopping, I tend to hoard keep old things even once I purchase the “replacement” just in case something breaks or gets lost. I am also very sentimental which means I have just about every souvenir I have ever collected and many gifts I no longer want, need or like. Clearly a lot of guilt clutter but the upside of having been without it for so long, is that I have happily parted with a lot of things we don’t need, most of which will be going off to one of the local charities.

Finally - a functioning kitchen - just don't ask to see the cupboard bursting with cake tins and plasticware before I do my cull.
Finally – a functioning kitchen – just don’t ask to see the cupboard bursting with cake tins and plasticware just yet.

The boys were most excited to have the TV back (and it has been good to have news again) and play with their toys. The trampoline is on slowly decreasing list of things that need to be built. But the most excitement was reserved for their new bunk beds. So much joy – but unfortunately I have already realised what a pain they will be to make.

Just before the shipment arrived, I mentioned to friends that I was feeling a little sad at the realisation that this delivery really closed the chapter on our Hanoi posting. We are definitely all very happy to be back in Australia (and I’m certainly enjoy the change from working) but seeing all the things we had surrounding us in Hanoi and that we acquired over the 3.5 years brought back lots of great memories. So many reminders about great times shared with friends, many of whom I hope will visit us from various parts of the world. But, I’m also excited about really settling into our new home and creating a space to welcome new friends and create new memories – just as soon as we unbury ourselves from under the pile of packing boxes!

10 things I miss about Hanoi – and 10 things I love about the Barossa

When one of our friends declared late last year, shortly before leaving Hanoi that “the only thing she would miss about Hanoi was passion fruit juice”, she was set a challenge to come up with a list of 10 things she would miss. I think she actually got to 15 – but the idea of the “Top 10 things I will miss about Hanoi” list was born. I can’t remember if I did an actual list when we left– although I did tag quite a few Instagram posts #thingsiwillmissabouthanoi. So I thought I would put together a list of things I am missing two months after leaving and then add the things I’ve found to love about the Barossa so far.

My top 10 things I miss about Hanoi:

  1. Food – especially street food like Bun cha (pork rissoles and noodles), Pho Bo (Beef noodle soup), banh tom Ho Tay (West Lake prawn cakes), Pho Tieu (cold noodle dish) from Dong Xuan market, Cha Ca (fish in turmeric with noodles)

    Pho Bo - Beef noodle soup
    Pho Bo – Beef noodle soup
  2. Vietnamese Coffee – especially over ice, the yoghurt coffee at Café Duy Tri and Iced egg coffee (like Tiramisu in a drink) from Hidden café

    Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe
    Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe
  3. Lakes around Hanoi especially morning runs around west lake and the Lotus ponds

    Dragon on West Lake, Hanoi
    Dragon on West Lake, Hanoi
  4. Cheap fresh flowers
  5. Cheap fruit and vegetables, especially amazing tropical fruit – pomelo (like grapefruit), mangosteen, limes, pineapples
  6. The kaleidoscope of life in the streets – things stacked on motorbikes, street side cafes, and festivals in the street

    Heavily laden motorbikes in front of Hanoi's mural wall
    Heavily laden motorbikes in front of Hanoi’s mural wall
  7. Living amongst the varied cultures in an expat populations
  8. Opportunities to travel around Vietnam and to neighbouring countries
  9. Shopping – beautiful clothes especially from Chula, gorgeous home wares from Tan My, crazy t-shirts from Gingko and all the other lovely shops especially on Hang Gai and through the old quarter
  10. Amazing friends and colleagues and great support staff

Of course there are also a few things I don’t miss:

– Crappy weather – grey skies, humidity, too hot or too cold

– Pollution

– Rubbish on the streets

– Crazy traffic and trying to cross the road

– Rats – especially those that insisted on sharing our home (and eating favourite pieces of clothing)!

Now, having been in the Barossa 3.5 weeks, here are the things I have found that I love so far:

  1. Barossa Farmer’s Market – buying beautiful seasonal local fresh produce from the people that raised, grew or made it, great coffee, flowers and a fantastic atmosphere
  2. Loads of great food and wine – of course
  3. Great parks for the boys – including one a few minutes walk from home
  4. Being 5-10 minutes to school, gym, shops etc
  5. Having at least two cellar doors walking distance from home – one of which also happens to be Simon’s place of work
  6. Fresh air, (mostly) blue skies and beautiful scenery – especially all the vineyards and beautiful old buildings, Mengler’s Hill Lookout and the sculpture park
  7. Sense of community, history and place
  8. Proximity to everything we need and great roads to drive on plus parking on the main street with no restrictions
  9. Lovely school/childcare for the boys who have been welcomed by teachers and friends alike
  10. Friendly welcoming people who love where they live and are excited about sharing that place with visitors and newcomers
Around Tanunda, Barossa Valley, August 2014
Around Tanunda, Barossa Valley, August 2014