Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong

Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, and we’d also planned a 2-day homestay tour in the Mekong Delta (a couple of hours from HCMC). We stayed 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh, which really in hindsight probably wasn’t enough. One site I was really disappointed to miss was the Cu Chi Tunnels, but there are just some things you don’t get time for. The weather was so hot and sticky that the kids tired pretty easily and we couldn’t pack that much into a day. I think too after 3 weeks of full-on travel, they were just a bit tired and unwell. Here are some of the things we did:

 The War Museum

This was an incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching experience. The War Museum does not pull any punches in detailing the graphic nature of the Vietnam War, the atrocities which occurred, and the devastating effects of Agent Orange. The first floor was OK for all the kids, but the second floor was quite disturbing. I didn’t allow Little Miss to go into any of the exhibitions – fortunately, there is a separate kids’ play area for just that reason. Picasso and Bookworm went into a couple of the exhibitions and looked at some of the photos, but were too upset to see much of it, and I made sure they didn’t see any of the really graphic images – pictures of deformed foetuses, for instance. I’m still not sure if we did the right thing in taking them – but I think we did. Outside the museum are big American tanks, a plane and guns – and when we first arrived, the boys thought they were the coolest things ever. After being inside the museum, I asked Bookworm if he wanted to walk by the tanks one last time before we left. He said, “Mum, I don’t even want to look at them, now that I’ve seen those war photos.” I think it’s important to understand the reality of war. I think it was a difficult, but necessary visit.

The Reunification Palace

More of a government house than a palace, but still quite interesting. It’s pretty much remained unchanged since the fall of Saigon in the 1960s and is quite impressive. Unfortunately we were a bit depressed after seeing the War Museum and didn’t stay too long because Bookworm was feeling sick as well that day. The kids liked the Guest of Honour seat in the President’s office, which had an enormous pair of buffalo horns extending out either side.

 The Dam Sen Amusement and Water Park

I don’t think you can beat Asia for cheap, fantastic amusement parks. This was an absolutely enormous place – maybe 5 times the size of Lunar Park – for a fraction of the price. The kids’ tickets were just $6 each! There were stacks of rides, and a big water park inside as well. Unfortunately the day we went was a holiday in Vietnam and I swear every single person in Ho Chi Minh was there was well, so it was very packed. We only saw one other western family though, so if you’re travelling and picked a normal weekday, you’d probably have the place to yourself. The slides were kind of wild and Little Miss wasn’t allowed to go on many, but she really enjoyed the children’s section.

  Saigon Opera House

A last-minute decision saw us buying tickets to the A O show at the Opera House, and we were so glad we did. It was amazing – the kids were transfixed. Created by a former member of Cirque de Soleil, A O tells the history of Vietnam through dance, music and acrobatics, with just bamboo baskets and poles as props. The feats they achieve are quite incredible – human pyramids, flying across the stage doing cartwheels in bamboo baskets, and somersaulting off swinging ropes, to name just a few. Mesmerising.

The Ben Than markets

A huge marketplace with everything your heart could possibly desire. You have to be prepared to haggle though – which personally I found exhausting. Bookworm excelled at it, so I made sure to keep him close by 🙂

The Mekong Delta

We booked a one-night/two-day homestay through Indochina tours and Cruiseabout Travel, and weren’t exactly sure what to expect – but we were absolutely blown away by how fabulous this turned out to be. We had a private guide – Vien – who was amazing. She taught us so much about Vietnamese life, and was so knowledgeable, and kept the kids amused with games in the car and taught them how to make bracelets and rings with coconut leaves.

We drove into the Mekong and then took a boat up the river where we stopped off to see how bricks are made from the river clay, how coconuts are processed into oil, sweets, mats and handcrafts, and we also saw bamboo mat weaving. We visited a gorgeous place right in the mangroves for lunch and stayed overnight in a beautiful French villa and learned how to make spring rolls. We were going to bike into town to see the markets but the kids were pretty exhausted by then so it was nice to just hang out at the villa and enjoy the gardens and the very cute puppy they had living there. We also met a lovely Australian family who were on the homestay as well, and we really hit if off. Travelling is so great for making new friends! All in all, a wonderful way to finish our Vietnam experience. In the way back into Ho Chi Minh, Vien and I talked for hours about the differences between Australia and Vietnam – it turns out the difficulty of balancing work/career and family/children is a universal experience felt by women everywhere 🙂

 

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Nha Trang and Da Lat

After Hoi An, we caught a plane to Nha Trang. This was around the mid-point of our journey and so we thought a few days relaxing near the beach would be a nice rest, and it was, although the weather let us down a little. I’d read a few posts and forums with tourists decrying Nha Trang as a sleazy tourist destination, but while you certainly don’t see “real’ Vietnam, it was a nice spot to relax. It is true however that you can’t walk about 5 metres without falling over a Russian! There are plenty of activities to enjoy in Nha Trang – parasailing, scuba diving, snorkelling and jet skiing to name a few  – but most of these are not really for kids, so we didn’t do too much. Here are some of the things we enjoyed:

Cham temples

Built sometime before 781, the Cham temple is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the goddess of the country, who came to be identified with two Hindu goddesses, and who in Vietnamese is called Thiên Y Thánh Mâu. The temple was interesting, although some of the restoration work has been pretty poorly done, which is a shame.

The beach and Central Park

The main tourist stretch on the beach is called Central Park, and there is a pretty cool set of pools right opposite the beach. You can rent a chair for about $5 for the day and just divide your time between the beach and the pools. The boys enjoyed the beach, although December is not the best season for swimming – its pretty churned up and Little Miss did not like it much – but they all loved the pools. I think we are pretty spoilt with our beaches in Oz 🙂

Vinpearl Amusement and Water Park

Built on an island just off Nha Trang’s coast by a Vietnamese billionaire, Vinpearl is a resort and a huge amusement and water park. It’s not cheap by Asian standards but well worth a visit with kids. We spent a day there and still didn’t do all of the rides and activities. The kids particularly loved the water park, and there were really good water slides for all ages. I even did some! Also, you get there by cable car from the mainland which is heaps of fun.

Da Lat

After Nha Trang, it was a taxi ride up the mountains and into Da Lat. When we were refining our itinerary, we nearly dropped Da Lat – we have packed a LOT of travelling into the Vietnam leg of this trip, and I wondered if Da Lat was an extra stop that would push it a bit too far for the kids. I am SO GLAD we didn’t! We just loved Da Lat. The city was built by the French in the early 1900s in beautiful alpine country, and so the city has quite a European feel. The cooler climate means there are gorgeous flowers and gardens everywhere. There is a lot of interesting cultural history too, with many minority groups in the area. I think though what made Da Lat so awesome was an Easy Rider day-tour we did with local guide Hung. This was probably the best day we’d had, and I think Da Lat was the perfect place to do it. The highlights for me on the day trip were:

Datanla Falls

The Elephant Falls are more impressive, but these smaller falls had an alpine roller coaster you could ride to and from the falls, which is the best thing ever. There was also an archery range which we all thought was pretty cool.

Coffee Plantation and Silk Factory

Da Lat has coffee plantations everywhere, and it was very interesting to learn more about the coffee making process. And even more interesting was visiting a coffee house where the beans are passed through a weasel’s digestive tract before being used! We even tried a cup – I quite liked it 🙂 Seeing the silk factory was awesome as well – I hadn’t realised it takes 8kg of cocoons to make just 1kg of silk. it was fascinating to see the process and how the silk is spun from the cocoon – and I also liked that nothing is wasted. The silkworms inside the cocoons (who are boiled during the silk making process!) are used for cooking, and the silk that is not of good enough quality to use in cloth is used for stuffing pillows.

The Crazy House

I could try and describe the Gaudi-inspired Crazy House, but a picture is worth a thousand words:

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It is truly Alice In Wonderland-esque, a wild mass of wood and wire fashioned into the shape of a giant tree house and smoothed over in concrete, with hundreds of tiny winding staircases and little odd rooms. The eccentric owner/proprietor and chief architect, is Ms. Dang Viet Nga, daughter of aristocracy, with a degree in architecture from university in Moscow. Needless to say this was a total hit with the kids! Truly crazy and wonderful at the same time.

If anyone out there is considering a trip to Vietnam, a highly recommend a stop in Da Lat!

Hue in the rain and Hoi An

Overnight train to Hue

After Hanoi, we decided to take the overnight train to Hue. It was an experience! Two three-bunk beds crammed into a tiny space, one toilet per 7 cabins and paper-thin walls. Still, it was pretty clean and we were so thankful the toilet was a western one. Before we left though, the toilet door wouldn’t open. A Japanese couple and I were highly concerned about this (and managed to have a worried conversation about it despite no shared language) but the Vietnamese train conductor just kept waving us away when we tried to talk to him about it. Luckily the door opened once we were flying along. It was a rattly sleep, and Bookworm has written his thoughts about it at campbellwhale.wordpress.com (I can’t include the link because the internet connection won’t let me!). When we arrived in Hue we were all tired and cranky, and so Souljourneyboy and I decided to splash out on two interconnecting rooms instead of just one room, which was a good idea after a solid week of us all in each other’s company 24/7.

Hue

Hue was a city I’m glad I visited, but I probably wouldn’t go to again. It just felt like we were on the point of being rorted all the time, and I haven’t felt like that in other places. Picasso got scammed out of some money by some sweet-looking Vietnamese women who did a currency exchange trick on him, which really pissed me off. He’s a 9-year-old boy for crying out loud. The cyclo peddlers and street hawkers are way too persistent and the prices are jacked up ridiculously high for tourists, which forces you to haggle vehemently, which I don’t like. Also it rained a lot and it was cold to boot, which made sightseeing difficult. Still, these were the highlights:

Imperial City

I think the kids would have enjoyed this more if it hadn’t been raining. Also, it looked close to our hotel on the map but the map was oddly scaled and it was actually quite a long walk away, which Little Miss got over towards the end. But it was pretty amazing seeing where the Emperors had lived.

Cyclo tour

This is one place I would recommend a cyclo tour as there are hidden sights to see that are quite spread out. Our drivers took us to the house where Ho Chi Minh had lived, and a spot looking out high over the city that had been bombed in the war, and a garden house with bonsais that were hundreds of years old.

Dong Ba markets

The haggling is exhausting but the markets are the largest in Central Vietnam and absolutely amazing. The kids loved them and Bookworm learned to bargain like a pro – Picasso and Little Miss are too softhearted 🙂

Hai Van Pass and Marble Mountains  

Three days was enough for Hue, and we had booked a driver to take us to Hoi An and see some of the sights on the way. It was a beautifully scenic trip, although we got a bit car sic”k with the hair pin turns. Hai Van means “Sea Clouds and it is an approximately 21 km long mountain pass. Its name refers to the mists that rise from the South China Sea, reducing visibility. The pass forms an obvious boundary between North and South Vietnam, and you can stop and see the fortifications built by the French and then later used by the South Vietnamese and the Americans. The kids found climbing down into the bullet-ridden bunkers very interesting. The Marble Mountains were also very interesting but we’d run a little late on our taxi ride and didn’t have enough time to explore properly. I’d recommend an overnight stay in Danang to give them enough time.

Hoi An

Then it was onto Hoi An. We just loved this place. We stayed in Rock An Villa which was a little out of town, so quiet and peaceful, and such good value – two big rooms, our own bathroom with 2 showers and a bath, and full breakfast daily for about $90 per night. The villa also had a pool, a yard with swings for the kids to play on and bikes and scooters available for free. The kids enjoyed riding the bikes along the streets around the villa, and we all rode together to the beach. This was slightly hair-raising – after all, you’re sharing your road with cars, motorbikes, bicycles and buffalo) and there are no helmets or road rules in particular. Picasso did accidentally crash into a motorbike at one stage but was OK. You’ve got to take a deep breath ad go with it 😉 Hoi An’s old city was too far away to ride to, so we ordered taxis when we wanted to go in, which was easy enough. I can’t express how beautiful the old city is. It’s Asia’s answer to Venice and I think I enjoyed it even slightly more. I spent a fortune on lanterns, and we also got shoes made – I got knee-high handmade leather boots for $60. The kids loved this – you pick your own style and colours. There were plenty of day trips and things to see in Hoi An but we took it easy, strolling around the old city and taking a boat ride up the river, enjoying the lanterns and the markets at night. We had a rainy day where we chilled in the villa which was nice too. We found a great place called Cargo Club to eat and enjoyed my first good coffee in 2 weeks.

This is what I really loved about Hoi An: IMG_2075

Its definitely a place I would love to visit again 🙂

Things to do in Hanoi the whole family will love

So I’ve decided to do some travel blog type posts to inspire you to visit Vietnam 🙂 We really loved Hanoi and I think it’s a great city to get your feet wet in this very large and complex country. Here are some of the activities and sights we really enjoyed.

The Old Quarter

Definitely stay in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake. Here you get the best atmosphere and streets – crazy traffic, sidewalks cluttered with people selling food, cooking, washing, riding bikes, welding metal – tons of market stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine. Some streets are dedicated solely to one type of item and are aptly named – for example, “shoe” or “toy” street. Lots of fun to look around, although the manic pace will get tiring for young kids after a while. We found a great cafe and sat on a second-storey balcony sipping passionfruit juice just watching it all go by.

The Water Puppet Theatre

The kids LOVED this. We went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (located at the Hoan Kiem Lake) which is probably pricey, seeing how you can see it for free at various places including the Museum of Ethnology. But I think it was worth it because the show we saw was inside and they could do more with fireworks and lights and other effects. And anyway the tickets were less than $6 each – so cheap as chips really.

Hoan Kiem Lake

This is a beautiful lake and has the Temple of the Jade Mountain (worth a visit) and the Turtle Tower. Its nice to just walk around as well, especially at night when it’s all lit up.

Museum of Ethnology

It might sound dry as dust but this is a fascinating place as it contains both indoor and outdoor exhibits detailing the history and culture of the 54 ethnic groups which comprise Vietnam. The kids really enjoyed the outdoor exhibits – reconstructions of the types of houses various ethnic groups lived in, like this one:

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Truly fascinating. And right over the road is…

Cong Vien Nghia Do Park

A fantastic park in Hanoi. The kids loved it here. It has a beautiful lake, a clean and huge play area with lots of equipment, including a zipline, and motorised cars for hire for less than $1 each. It was a good way to spend a few hours and let the kids burn off some energy.

Thu Le Park 

We drove by this park on our way elsewhere and hilariously could not find out how to get back there for some time. We initially thought it was Lenin Park and went there (much to the surprise of the taxi driver), but that was pretty disappointing as it was just a square with a statue of Lenin (although it did lead to some fascinating conversations with the kids about Communism). Anyway we finally found the right place and it was great, although I will say I found the zoo a little sub-standard, which I guess is to be expected (it was hard seeing the tigers in such a small cage). Loads of rides, roller coasters, paddle boats etc etc all for about a dollar each. Little Miss was asked to pose for photos with tourists everywhere she went and one Chinese couple asked Souljourneyboy if he would hold their baby for a photograph! Oddly, we saw hardly any western tourists.

Hoa Lo prison

Nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs during the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is called in Vietnam), the prison was initially used by French colonists for Vietnamese political prisoners, and is now a museum.

It details the lives, torture methods and barbaric practices of the French against the Vietnamese and is probably not for young kids. Ours were OK, although I did keep Little Miss out of the room which houses the guillotine used for executions. Picasso and Bookworm were old enough to handle it and again, the visit lead to interesting and important conversations. There is one room dedicated to explaining how the Vietnamese treated their American prisoners which is propaganda at its finest. If you believed the DVD that was playing it would be hard to see why any Americans wanted to go home, as they were treated so well as POWs 🙂

Night Markets

To be honest you can probably get better souvenir type items at the regular day shops but nothing beats the atmosphere of a night market. The kids absolutely loved it and Souljourneyboy even tried some street food.

Halong Bay

Even though this is some hours from Hanoi, most people visit Halong from Hanoi as a two-day one night or two-night side-trip. Absolutely spectacular. The limestone caves were amazing, as was sailing around the floating fishing villages in bamboo boats. The cruise ship we were on also had fun things like a cooking class where the kids learned to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and a spa where I had a massage – winner. We were glad though we just did the one-night trip, I think with the kids that was enough. And we also made some really nice friends – a couple of fellow Aussies who were travelling from Melbourne.

All in all, we really enjoyed Hanoi. I think I really liked that it was a nice way to start – you don’t get hassled so much by people trying to sell you things, so you can ease into it slowly. Souljourneyboy and I would have liked to have seen the The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum but travelling with kids sometimes means you have to choose the park over the museum 🙂

If anyone else has travelled to Hanoi, I’d love to hear your favourite spots!

Why LiterallyICan’t get past Redfoo’s new song

I don’t know if you’ve heard it – probably you have. If not, see this link here. But in a nutshell, the premise of Redfoo’s new song and music clip called Literally I Can’t goes like this: women at frat parties refuse Tequila shots, an invite to the afterparty and a request to watch them engage in some ‘girl on girl’ action, responding “Literally, I can’t” to these offers. The girls are then tackled by boozed-up jocks, and rapper Lil’ Jon shouts his instruction to them, which acts as the chorus for the whole song: an aggressive demand for women to “SHUT THE F**K UP!”

Yes, I know. I had the same reaction. It’s true, the song actually exists and some people actually thought it was a good idea.

For a day or so, I pondered this song a lot, trying to sort out my thoughts. While hideously offensive, I don’t believe in censorship, so I didn’t feel I could post a tirade about how we should ban the song completely. I also know there are plenty of other songs by rap artists, heavy metal bands – you name it – which are probably worse and just haven’t received much attention at all. Was it fair, I wondered, to hold Redfoo and Lil’ Jon responsible when there is plenty of other trash out there which has gone unnoticed?

And then – I read Redfoo’s response to the complaints the song was receiving: “The women have gone crazy on me,” he said. “We’re just trying to make a fun song, a party song — having fun … I don’t know how ‘rape culture’ and ‘Redfoo’ got into the same headline.”  

“We live in this society where it’s about the blog … all these blogs are designed to get clicks. That’s the economy of these blogs and negativity gets attention and gets clicks.

“Then what happens is, if you’re a blog writer, you have to do 25 articles a day … and you can’t plagiarise so you have to change it and refine it … and then it got to the groups, the feminist groups who came in.”

And then – “he claims Jas Swilks from anti-objectification organisation Collective Shout, who started a petition calling for him to be fired from Channel 7, has “an agenda”.

Needless to say, this got me boiling mad. Firstly fun? FUN? It’s FUN for a girl to be pressed into drunken sexual acts at a party and be told to “Shut the F***k Up” if she refuses? I actually can’t find anymore words to explain what an abhorrent statement that is. Only to say this – let’s find the most recent rape victim from a frat party and ask her how much fun it was.

Secondly – let me play the world’s tiniest violin for Redfoo, who has so wrongfully and surprisingly fallen into the hands of the Big Bad Feminists. Which seemed to happen because blog writers have a job to do. I’m still not sure how those thoughts follow on logically from one another, but let me tell you something Redfoo:

Us feminists? We DO have an agenda. I have an agenda. Here’s mine:

I want my 16-year-old daughter to be able to walk down a street and not have a man shout out “Nice tits!” as she walks past. I want her to not have to giggle nervously, because she doesn’t know what else to do.

I want her to be able to go to the pools and not be grabbed and felt up as she plays in the water with her friends.

I want her never to experience someone in a position of power manipulating her into a situation where she feels safe, and then sexually violating that trust. I want her not to experience sexual jokes told about her to a roomful of men by a colleague.

I want her to make the decisions about who touches her body, when, and how. Not have this taken from her.

I want her to be able to say “No.” Without any further explanation. Without fear. Without shame.

And want my sons to understand that “No” means just that. Again, without any further explanation.

All those experiences I described above happened to me, and the sad thing is I think my experience has been pretty normal. If I start thinking about my wider circle of friends and acquaintances I can add…child molestation. Rape. Other forms of sexual assault. Domestic violence. Indecent exposure. To be honest, it’s depressing that I don’t have to look very far.

So let me enlighten you, Redfoo, about how “Redfoo” and “rape culture” so mysteriously got into the same headline.

You wrote a freaking song promoting rape culture.

No, you are not responsible for all those terrible things that have happened to me, people I know and generally women everywhere – but you are responsible for promoting a culture where women are objectified, disempowered and reduced to nothing more than a sexual plaything for men. You are responsible for actively sustaining the societal power structure that allows rape to be occur. You are responsible for justifying and normalising male predatory behaviour. You are responsible for writing in your song: “Shhh … I said jump on the pole; I didn’t need your opinion … I’m trying to see what you got, not trying to hear what you think.”

So I no longer feel any conflict over urging all of you to head over to Collective Shout here and sign the petition to get Redfoo fired from Channel 7. Because #LiterallyICan’t accept that we should let this one go without making ourselves heard loud and clear. Because Redfoo, we’re simply not going to ‘Shut the f***k up.”

The lives we might have led…

A strange thing happened to me the other week.

There I was, idly reading the various reports of Amal Alamuddin’s marriage to George Clooney, when I suddenly became aware of an odd feeling. A kind of a weird mix of envy and disappointment.

Well of course, I hear you say. What sane heterosexual woman wouldn’t be jealous of whoever finally married George Clooney? What you experienced is an entirely natural response!

Only her marriage wasn’t the reason I felt that slight pricking of envy. Actually, I think George Clooney is just about the least interesting thing about her.

No, as I delved deeper into my strange state of mind, I realised this was all about the fact that in another life, in another version of me, I am Amal Alamuddin – a kick-ass international lawyer who fights for truth in the International Court of Justice and is asked to sit on UN commissions.

We’re the same age, Amal and I. She has the kind of career I imagined myself as having at certain stages in my life. She has achieved goals and dreams that I myself once had.

And yet, I am not her. I don’t work in London or New York, and didn’t become an international activist. I made different choices. I chose to stay in Australia instead of travelling and working overseas. I chose to have a family young, at 25. I own all of these decisions; at each step of the way I chose this path and this life, and I love it. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with incredulity over how blessed I am. I married my first love. I have three amazing, healthy, smart, creative children. I have a wonderful family and extended family, and more friends than I know what to do with.

And yet, even in all of that, there’s still a small, sad sense of knowing that in making these choices, I’ve cut myself off from other choices I might have made. In choosing one kind of life, you inevitably cut short the other life you might have had.

I used to wish I had a couple of concurrent lives. In one, I’m doing exactly what I’m doing now. In another, I’m working for the UN in Africa and I probably don’t have children. In another, I’m living a subsistence lifestyle on a farm and writing the Great Australian Novel. And in another, I’ve chucked it all in and I’m travelling the world.

I’m not sure how to reconcile all these different parts of who I am in the one life. It seems like such a short space of time. I was talking to a very dear friend today and we both agreed that reaching the ages we are now means, in part, coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t really work out the way you thought it would. I’m not going to be able to give life to all of those people who lurk inside me; I’m not going to do all the things I thought I would or could, when I was a teenager. I’m OK with that, mostly; it’s just sometimes you see the life that might have been, and wonder about it.

And who knows? Maybe there are a few versions of me out there – living different lives, kind of like Sliding Doors. I’d quite like to think so.

Watching, reading and playing

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been doing lately.

I’ve been watching HBO drama Oz. While it’s over a decade old now, really good scripting doesn’t age, and Oz is a testament to brilliant writing.

 If I could describe this show in a word, it would be “relentless”. Relentlessly good. Relentlessly violent and confronting. Relentlessly bleak and tragic and uplifting and astonishing. It was the first of the HBO dramas that broke the traditional television mold – paving the way for shows like Game of Thrones – and I think it remains the best.

If there’s any setting which truly allows for a deep exploration of themes like love, hate, redemption, forgiveness and punishment, it’s prison – here we see life at its most raw, stripped of all civility. There were times throughout the 6-season show that I wondered if the portrayal of sex, gangs and violence was over-fictionalised – and then I watched a Louis Theroux documentary about life in a maximum security prison. I was disturbed to see that there was actually not very much creative license taken at all in Oz.

Probably the most astounding aspect of the show is its brilliant characterization. In Oz there are no grabs for audience sympathy – these prisoners are guilty, some of heinous crimes. They are violent and murderous and manipulative – we are fully aware of who these men really are; and yet, we are dared to see the humanity as well as the crime. It’s disturbing and unsettling as we are forced past our mental attempts to categorize and stereotype.

I read an article where Dean Winters, who plays scheming manipulator Ryan O’Reilly (incidentally my favourite character) said that once an actor begins to play a character to win audience sympathy, they fail to be true to that character. None of the characters in Oz are played sympathetically – they are brutal and violent and at times sociopathic. And yet we are drawn into their lives and care about what happens to them.

Oz isn’t easy to stomach – but if you can, its well worth it.

I’ve also been reading Gone Girl.

I seem to have this habit of buying popular books in the bookstore just before they become popular. I did it with Twilight, then Hunger Games, and now Gone Girl, which I purchased being blissfully unaware it was about to become a bestseller and a Ben Affleck movie. I’m actually glad, because it gave me a chance to read the book without any preconceived ideas. And I really enjoyed Gone Girl. The writing is so taught– incredibly descriptive and yet not an unnecessary word throughout the whole novel. The plot thrummed along at a cracking pace and I found myself wanting to skip ahead several times to “see what happens” because I couldn’t stand the tension. I also found myself reflecting in quiet moments on the novel’s central theme – the idea of whether you can truly every really know anyone. I highly recommend you read the book before the movie comes out.

And, finally, I have been playing a lot of chess. Bookworm is obsessed with this game at the moment, and I’m sad to say I’m not able to beat him anymore. He recently went to a chess tournament and won the bronze medal. And now he says things like “I’ve got you in a pin and a fork” and I have no idea what that means, only that I am about to lose. I really have to brush up on my skills, otherwise he’s going to get cocky 🙂

I’d love to hear what others have been reading and watching – any good books or shows or games to share?