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A traditional Hoian style shophouse in Vietnam

I've been meaning to write this post for the last few months, I just never dedicated time for it. Today, I finally decided to do it. I recently changed jobs, and now, save an hour a day on commute. I reach home before sunset, and I think this has had a significant impact on my energy levels.

We went to Vietnam (Hanoi and Hoi-An) in November of '22. We decided to go back at least one more time, but I think that number will increase every time we go back.

In Hoi-An, we saw a well-preserved town, one that dates back to the 17th century. The town, at least the part of the town that tourists frequented, had a few streets dotted with shophouses, and I got really curious about them. The front part of the shophouse had a shop, facing the street, and through a small back door, the shop owners, typically families, would go back and forth, and every once in a while, when the door opens or the curtains are parted, you can get a glimpse of the life behind.

Hoi An has several shops selling leather goods, dresses, bags - everything a tourist would find appealing. The front of the shops was generally quite narrow (houses tended to be narrow in order to pay lesser tax).

The shop part of the 'shop-house', facing the street.

This was behind the doors/curtains. Compared to the clean attractive shop front, the realness of the house part of the 'shop-house' was incredible. I believe that between the streets where tourists could stroll, cycle and shop, there were parallel smaller lanes, that opened to the back of the shophouses, creating a maze, and sort of like a parallel Hoi-An.

As part of the traditional Hoian homes, there was a central open courtyard, allowing natural light and rain to enter the home.

Just another photo with their poodle.

After coming back, I wanted to learn more about this kind of architecture; I really liked the concept of shop houses, a joint family, children being taken care of by the grandparents, parents out front making a living, but never far from their children, and the general concept of living and working together. I came across this website, Oriental Architecture, which explained the shophouse very well.

An excerpt, "It is a typical Hoian style shophouse with a long, narrow floor plan with a shop in front, a courtyard at center, a workspace in the rear, and living quarters on the upper level. The house may have been built as early as the 17th century."


I found the design resonating with what we had seen. In fact, a similar shophouse, by the name of Duc-An, is open for visitors, and you can get a guided tour of the property. I enjoyed my time in Hoi-An, walking in both the tourist filled and non-tourist filled areas, and hope to visit it again.

Heritage Chettinad Inspired Homes

Chettinad heritage homes, combined with earth tones of traditional Manglorean homes hold a special place for me. Those wooden beams, high ceilings, ceiling fans that seem to go on forever, terracotta or red oxidized tiles, long and narrow hallways, antique wooden furniture, rattan chairs. I would not mind inheriting one such home. Alas, I do not have relatives, not even distant, that are linked to Chettinad or Mangalore.
Chettinad, along with Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, form a very tempting itinerary for someone who likes South Indian architecture, food, culture - i.e., a raw version of a slice of Indian heritage. 
While this is not a traditional Chettinad house, there was something about the antique furniture, the filtered sunlight, the hallway filled with books and vintage photos, that could, in my opinion, be termed a modern twist to a Chettinad house.
Simplicity filters sunlight in the most elegant way possible. Also, can we perhaps talk about the floor fan? 
There is something oddly comforting about a rattan lounge chair. Around 30 years ago, I knew an elderly man who would sit only on his lounge chair, and would watch the evening news daily. He never allowed me to sit there, and it was a serious matter if I would break that rule.
I don't know if there was a point in our modern history if rattan furniture was overshadowed by, I don't know, say wrought iron, but I'm certain that it's making its way back.
Again, this isn't a typical Chettinad home, but I could imagine if elements from this home could be fused into a traditional Chettinad house.
I love these lights; they speak of a rich history, delicate yet minimal chandeliers. The tiles are very common to these regions, they keep the floor cool in the hot summers.
Grilled windows are another common element of these homes, a tradition steeped deep.

Inspired by such beautiful homes, I am now collecting old photos, circa mid 20th century from my family archives and plan to put them up in my hallway, brining small elements into my home.

Valapad beach, Kerala

Kerala is dotted with beaches, most of which unnamed. Locals enjoy these hidden spots, and in some parts that are closer to the coast, it's almost like every neighbourhood has its own beach. We recently a) discovered and b) started frequenting Valapad beach. The drive is half the experience. We drove through the smaller roads, intentionally choosing to be away from the highways. We crossed so many bridges, I tried memorizing the names of the canals, rivers, backwaters, streams but eventually lost count. The smaller almost single lane roads are all lined with traditional houses, each with its own front yard, dogs, manicured bushes and coconut and mango trees. It being April, the mango trees were in abundance.

At some point, we started to smell the sea, this was after traversing through Kodungallur, Panangad, Perinjanam, Kaipamangalam, Koprakalam, Kazhimbaram. Kerala is one of the most densely populated states in India, and this is reflected as you drive through the lush greenery.

It probably is common across all beaches, but I always find it beautiful when I see sea weeds growing in the wild, outside the sea. Gorgeous Earth.
Tall trees.
This seemed very routine like, almost like the group met every weekend to play some cards.
Boats in the ready, parked at ease.
The moon shone gingerly, patiently waiting for the sunset.
I hope that when I return, in a few months or years, the beach is the same.
The golden hour. There must've been a hundred or so people at the beach, but at this hour, most were staring at the sunset, some with their phones out, taking photos, like me - capturing the moment.
The government (?), locals or some individual, had put up benches at the edge of the beach. Sitting on the bench and watching the sun go down, slowing down time, seemed like a pure luxury. Also, the rose pink after glow.
I'm not sure if anyone even lived here - just a small house by the sea under the coconut trees; the kind of house I drew as a kid.
Until next time and another beach.

Just Kochi Things - April '23

I stayed in Kerala for 10 days after years. It was nostalgic, humid, chaotic (the traffic was from another planet), warm, summer & rain at the same time, lush green. It was such a long week, and I remember every single day.

Individual houses practice burning waste, and with the whole Brahmapuram issue, this practice has become way too common.

The weather honestly changes in a matter of an hour, the clouds come rolling in.

I've seen this view for decades, just the height of the houses and the number of buildings changes. Houses add tanks, solar panels and roofed terraces over time, changing the landscape a tad.

The rain poured hard.

It's like coconut trees were built for slowly letting the rain drops slide off.

Never have I seen such a gorgeous snail.

Pothos growing wild in such a domestic setting, this is so common!

Kochi I have come to love and miss and get annoyed at - all together. I was lucky to see the rain in April.

Street Photography and Street-Side Dining in Hanoi

It's been 2 months since my Vietnam trip, and I think I intentionally kept off posting all the posts immediately. When you post after a while, you're kind of forcing yourself to reminisce.

Hanoi - atleast the old quarters - is unintentionally built for walking. You could walk the whole day, continuously coming across new lanes, eateries and stores. Pedestrians are aplenty, but scooters and cyclists rule. We saw very few cars, I am certain that it would in fact be hard to navigate the small streets in a car.

There was a particular sight we saw repeated often. Outside eateries, on the street, you could almost always find groups of people, friends, families, young, old - they would be sitting together, chatting, laughing, eating. I don't know if this is something the French left behind, they do seem to have a strong 'eat by the street' culture.
I found this community-style eating very beautiful. 

Loved the community-style eating and chatting we saw frequently.

There was always a table-chair setup outside shops, welcoming locals and tourists to try their food. This street side dining is truly an experience.

We thoroughly enjoyed all the street food, the street-side seating overlooking the bustling city life. I relished the vegetable fried rice - it was cooked a particular manner, just a tad crispy, a tad spicy and with all the amazing flavours. The Vietnam special coffee was great too!

The Books I read in 2022

I used to read a lot as kid - Secret Seven, Harry Potter, Sweet Valley, Famous Five, Nancy Drew. But somewhere between school and hitting 30, I realized I had read all of probably 10 books. Last March, I finally decided to do something about it as it bothered me.

I joined the Dubai bookclub - and tried to be consistent and managed to read 25 books - being inspired by fellow readers.

Apart from the books that I read for the book club, I read science-fiction (Project Hailmary was one of my favourites), multi-geography authors (Iran, Nigeria, Angola, Former Yugoslavia, Japan, Chile and Palestine). Reading about stories from different parts of the world made me realize that there are is so much I don't know.

This year, I'm going to try and read 35 books - and I'm excited about it!

Little Things in Vietnam (Hanoi and Hoi An)

Vietnam is a haven for shopoholics - even for those on a budget. While of course the bigger cities have the Pradas and Chanels, it was the smaller stores that fascinated me. Small art galleries, book shops, souvenir stores, handcrafted leather shops, ceramic stores. All just quietly sitting there - waiting for you to enter and be marvelled. 

If you have watched Korean dramas, you must be familiar with Soju. I liked that they specifically mentioned that the above Soju was imported fom Korea.

Ceramics is big in Hanoi. This store we walked in to had so many cute little things.

I almost picked this up, before realizing my cat would gracefully knock it on the floor.

A tiny ceramic cat.

While walking the inner lanes in the old quarters, I came across this book store. They had some really nice books - a collection that seemed hand picked by someone who loves books.

Some fine books.

2 cute little things - found them inside a temple.

I was not surprised to see such beautiful handcrafted shoes - a lot of global brands outsource their production to Vietnam and this is just an outcome of that.

We saw the seasons transition very explicitly, one day it was hot and sunny, the next, it was rainy with a cool winter breeze. This cute little dog was wrapped in a t-shirt overnight - it wasn't a pet, but someone obviously had done this for several street dogs which was nice to see.

This is an irony - a huge plate in a post titled 'little things'. I loved the jelly fish painted onto it - another ceramic store.

In the spirit of Christmas, a minimalistic cristmas tree at the shop front. This store had so many cute little things.

I would go back to Vietnam solely for a shopping trip, amongst other things.

Some of the stores we shopped from; do keep in mind that their websites are not well designed nor updated properly.

T&N leather in Hoi An

Kana Boutique

Authentic Battrang

The Craft House

Bookstore - close to the Fifi Arts and Crafts Cafe

There are a lot of low profile art galleries - we bought some original art work from a contemporary Vietnamese artist - Song Thu Art Gallary.