Travels through Asia

Miu's Coffee House, Hanoi, Old Quarter
Miu’s Coffee House. Hanoi, Vietnam

At the start of 2017 I said that I wanted to travel to Asia and Asia-Pacific that year. From May I got to work in reporting and public information for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (or, more simply, OCHA) in South Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh).

At the beginning of December and following these busy assignments I decided to make my way around India, Australia and Thailand for the first time visiting Kolkata, Sydney and Bangkok. Three weeks later I was back in London spending a lovely Christmas break with my 84-year-old Mum, my brother and his family.

Sydney breakfast
Sydney breakfast
Sydney Opera House.jpg
No prizes for guessing where this is
Bangkok night market 1
Bangkok night market
Bangkok boat

Then I hit the road again in the first week of 2018, taking in Phu Quoc, Ho Chi Min and Hanoi in Vietnam; Colombo and Galle in Sri Lanka; and Bali, Indonesia where I am now. It’s actually cheaper to be here than expensive London, whilst waiting for my next assignment, plus I get to miss all that city’s tiresome cold winter.

Acoustics bar, Hanoi, Old Quarter
Getting ready to perform at The Acoustics Bar. Hanoi, Vietnam

I like the song that blasts out from the Vietjet flight on landing in Vietnam (the link below will take you to the YouTube video).


Galle, Sri Lanka.jpg
Fishermen. Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle, Sri Lanka snake
Rather him than me. Galle, Sri Lanka


A funeral procession in Zadar, Indonesia
A funeral procession in Sanur, Indonesia



Breakfast in Kuta - tender buttermilk chicken, spinach and poached egg
Breakfast in Kuta, Indonesia – tender buttermilk chicken, spinach and poached egg


Music to my ears


Southwark Cathedral’s moody night exterior wouldn’t be out of keeping in a gothic novel. Tucked away on the south bank of the River Thames in London, it is bathed in an inky, misty blue light, an eeriness surrounding its ghostly hues.

Inside, however, is a different story as music lights it up with the mellifluous tones of Bach, the bright and vibrant rhythms of Bach and elegant sounds of Purcell, all accompanied by gorgeous gleams of candlelight.

First a disclaimer. I’m not a professional musician. Yes, I sang Faure’s ‘Requiem’ and Haydn’s ‘Creation’ with my school choir. However, that was a long, long time ago. But that’s okay, because it’s been scientifically proven that classical music is the only musical genre that develops both sides of the brain simultaneously. That’s what David Gordon claims. He is a lead musician from tonight’s performing ensemble, London Concertante.

So, classical music is good for your health and, presumably, for everyone, not just a few. That, in my books, makes it non-elitist and truly democratic.

In fact, the programme tonight isn’t exactly ultra-highbrow or esoteric. It’s not designed to intimidate non-aficionados like me. Many of us would recognise Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ or Bach’s ‘Violin Concerto in A minor’ within the first few bars of music played, if not by their titles. Being popular doesn’t make a piece of music ‘good’ of course, but I find these delightful. Along the way, David Gordon throws in some interesting stories. For example, the Bach of the above-mentioned concerto, J.S Bach, fathered some 20 children, seven of whom (I later discovered) were with his first wife, the rest with his second.

There’s something special about listening to these works live. Not only because the music harmoniously wafts above and across the crevices and arches of the cathedral, and the skilled musicians play with such expertise. But perhaps there is also a dangerous aspect, like a game of roulette. Will those expert musicians break the attentive and respectful audience silence with a dud note? I expect knowledgeable listeners with musically trained ears would have fun with that one.

For me, the highlight comes at the end of the first half with an impromptu piece not on the printed programme. A delicious and beautifully haunting tango work, smoothly honeyed and cinematic in its quality of sound. Called Oblivion, it was composed by Piazzolla, and exquisitely arranged for the ensemble by David Gordon. I had never heard of Piazzolla before this evening. And that’s another wonderful thing about attending concerts such as these: the special gems that can be uncovered.

I still appreciate my jazz, folk and other types of music, and don’t necessarily think they are worse or better than classical. My moods are served by each at various times for different reasons. But I hope to make classical music even more a part of that repertoire in future.

This piece was written on the 8th Oct 2016