love in the time of grapes


We reached Lungesti on a steely grey morning after a short ride from Barlad on the local train. Alex promised his mum and dad who had stayed over in their weekend farm we would spend the day helping them with grape picking.

Alex’s family on his mother’s side comes from this village. Tincuta, Alex’s mother, was born and raised here until she moved to the city to work and marry. Some of their relatives still lived in this rural settlement of around 3,000 people surrounded by timeless but unspectacular countryside.

This is the part of Romania called Moldavia (culturally and historically similar to Moldova the country on the other side of the Prut – the river that marks the international boundary between the two). It is the region that produces a third of Romania’s wines.

Our pre-planned day of labour turned out to be one of mostly leisure, laughter and home made liqueur.

The gentle but persistent rain kept us away from the vines after our lunch of boiled delta fish dipped in horseradish sauce, soup with herbs, cabbage salad and pig brain omelette eaten with mamaliga.

Instead of picking fruits I walked with Alex to a house of a relative over the hill at the back to help strengthen family bonds and drink more distilled spirits.

S0010037DSCF0155  S0140178DSCF0159DSCF0161S0070088S0080102DSCF0132DSCF0151DSCF0138S0130133DSCF0225DSCF0221DSCF0220S0020053DSCF0358DSCF0337DSCF0343DSCF0385DSCF0347DSCF0371DSCF0417S0190236DSCF0426DSCF0437DSCF0433DSCF0436DSCF0027DSCF0421DSCF0448DSCF0457DSCF0458DSCF0024All images copyright Kerk Boon Leng October 2014






city of ascending dragon


I dodged fried dough sellers, shoeshiners and swarms of scooters before perching myself on a low plastic stool for a tall glass of ca phe da. Hanoi’s old city still gives me a child in a toyshop adrenaline rush like no other urban site in Asia except maybe night time in Tokyo’s Shibuya and Kolkata at any hour.


Hanoi’s ancient mercantile quarter is an evocative place to wander around. It is half Paris meet Canton in the Tropics; half Communist meets Capitalist and wholly mad on a Saturday night with chock-full of humanity pouring into its narrow streets as if fleeing an advancing molten lava after a soccer game.

The old city area of Hanoi is I think the last place remaining in the world to see a classical oriental city that is little changed from the past century and miraculously undamaged by the Vietnam/American War 40 years ago. Its labyrinthine streets of narrow shops are interspersed with temples and sectionalised by guilds and trades. Here one can still see and hear the sights and sounds of street traders, vendors on bicycles and on foot carrying on poles their wares in woven baskets and pavement of people slurping hot rice noodles and drinking coffee dolloped with condensed milk.

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Hanoi is by the standards of emerging Asia a beautiful and atmospheric city. It is situated on the watery banks of the Red River about 100 km from its mouth at the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam’s North.  It is a locality steep in history with records of human settlements in and around the present city going back at least 3,000 years.

In 1010 the first Vietnamese king of the Ly Dynasty moved his base here . He named his new capital city Thang Long or Ascending Dragon. Hanoi is still poetically known by this name to this day.

Although Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam for most of the country’s existence as a political entity, it was for over a thousand years up until the 10 th century, along with most of northern Vietnam, ruled on and off and marginally as part of China.

DSCF2796DSCF2598DSCF2392DSCF1879S0152585DSCF2259DSCF2053DSCF1647 DSCF1458DSCF1463DSCF2279DSCF2765DSCF1451DSCF2516DSCF2402DSCF1805DSCF1469DSCF1713DSCF1995DSCF1936DSCF2090DSCF1685DSCF1904DSCF1821S0512905DSCF2443DSCF1974DSCF2954DSCF1915DSCF2780DSCF1838S0282682DSCF2017DSCF2024DSCF2500DSCF2448DSCF2452All images copyright Kerk Boon Leng November 2014