we dreamed of fairytale as kids, question romance when we’re older then enjoy magic again when we realise life doesn’t have enough of it. maybe that’s why fairytale was created in the first place ~ to soothe our souls

miracle, for a prisoner, is open air and the feel of grass. we need to learn and practise to embrace these seemingly ordinary miracles when we still can. maybe that’s all life is about ~ to breathe the air and play with the grass. and to remember to do that often, to be aware of our each breath and that the grass is green ~ here and now

human and life has an interesting relationship ~ we’re given life, sometimes want more of it, sometimes feel like we’ve had enough ~ loved ones want more of life for each other. more life, more suffering, more love ~ intertwined. maybe the charm of life is that we’re not that free even when we practise to be free ~ we’re attached with life to continue it ~ breathe it in, and out

image from ‘the green mile’ (film, 1999)

saigon, 11 august 2018

no mud no lotus

no cliché, no cool

no mud, no lotus

no right, no left

no east, no west

no classic, no contemporary

no player, no nerd

no judgement, no tolerance

no you, no me

no mess, no zen

no trump, no bernie sender

no conservative, no labour

no capitalism, no communism

no global, no local

no death, no life

no suffering, no happiness

no garbage, no flower

no yes, no no

{Mindfulness & Media Series} Podcast #1. Alina from Norway – Wake Up London

This Mindfulness Practice & Media Usage podcast series features my full talks with mindfulness practitioners in Europe, Africa, Asia, America, Australia  sharing his/ her/ their experiences with their local Wake Up groups (Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh – Plum Village tradition), mindfulness practice in daily life including the difficulties and relationship with media usage, favourite author – book – app – online platforms for mindfulness practice.

Below are semi-structured questions for all the talks:

How long have you been a member with Wake Up? 

What brought you to Wake Up?

How is your experience with Wake Up group so far?

How long have you practised mindfulness?

How often do you practise mindfulness?

How do you describe a typical mindfulness practise session?

Are there any physical items that you use when practise mindfulness? Are you happy for the items to be photographed?

How do you apply mindfulness to daily life?

Any difficulty or achievement you would like to share about practising mindfulness?

Has your life changed in any way and how since you practise mindfulness?

Who are your favourite authors on mindfulness?

What are your favourite books on mindfulness?

Are there any media site/ application/ forum that you have used to help practising mindfulness?

How do you find Wake Up’s social media?

How do you use media in your work or leisure time?  

What kind of media do you use?  

How does mindfulness shape your use of those media?

Is there anything else you would like to share about mindfulness practices?

What would you share with someone who is new to mindfulness?

why ‘breathing & playing – mindfully’


Back in 2008, I started to pay attention tobreathing’ when practising yoga along Master Karmal’s videos. Though I took some yoga classes in early 2007, I guess the teacher was not focusing on breathing or I was not attending enough classes. Master Karmal, however, keeps reminding about breathing, turning off the phone during the lesson and forgetting about everything else.

I then read the first books by Thich Nhat Hanh in summer 2009 thanks to recommendation of a friend back then. I got a set of three of his books: ‘Anger – Wisdom for Cooling the Flames’, ‘The Art of Power’ (for people in business and politics) and ‘Cast a raft of reed – analyse The Tale of Kieu (Vietnamese classic literature) with the eyes of Zen Buddhism’. The first one I read was ‘Anger’. I can easily see why – at that time, with mental and physical violence at home and at the same time I stressed myself out trying to get a full scholarship to study abroad. I was often upset about my dad, my parents, my friends and myself. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me often in his books of breathing in and out to come back to the present moment with myself – here and now.

I have, since then, practised ‘breathing’, more in situations that I want to calm down and gradually, almost all the time now. While doing anything – sitting, driving, eating, socialising etc. I pay attention to any discomfort in my body and mind, come back to my breath, relax to let go of tension. Great thanks to Eye Leo app for PC to prevent eye strain that freezes the computer screen every 30 minutes for 7 minutes (my own setting, you can change up to your preference)

Since August 2013, I practise meditation and yoga everyday. Months of continuous practice until now have eased my long-term emotional, mental and physical discomfort. I continue to read and listen to Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings everyday if possible, also try to apply them into my daily life – at home, at university, at work. Practising yoga, meditation and applied Zen Buddhism does not work all the time, it takes time and practice – it leaves me with stories and experiences to share.

‘Playing’ is about enjoying anything I do: sleeping, cooking and having meals, practising yoga and meditation, writing, working, brushing my teeth, having a shower, decluttering – the list goes on. When we were kids, we used to play toys or in the playground with full concentration and joy; and we mostly still do when it’s a form of playing as in traveling for example – but why not having the ‘playing’ spirit when we do other things in life? When we mindfully remind ourselves each time that all the chores, works and things can be done with joy and focus  – then we will be able to enjoy them better. I will get into details of how-to from my experiences and practice in later posts.

We breathe naturally, we can ‘play’ and have fun for some moments yet we don’t always breathe and play mindfully to bring true joy that lasts to ourselves and people around us. ‘Breathing & Playing’ with more than just a dash ‘mindfully’ is a reminder for this journal where I share my journey to a healthier mind, body and soul – day after day.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s books with customers’ reviews on Amazon can be found here. You can watch and listen to Thich Nhat Hanh’s talks in English, French, Vietnamese on Youtube, Vimeo or audio.

You can download Eye Leo app for PC here.

Videos of yoga teaching by master Kamal (with Vietnamese dub) are here.

(updated in July 2017)

my favourites in saigon

(mostly in central saigon – district 1, district 3 and Thao Dien, district 2 where i hang out and live)


my favourite cafes often have some space to stretch out once in a while, good music and quiet customers : )

She – lane 158D Pasteur, D1 (i’m after the long sofas)

Cục Gạch – 79 Phan Kế Bính (juice, cafe + set menu)

~ by an architect with love for the soul of vietnamese old village house ~ i really enjoy the small details of design, material, texture, smell and feel-like-home spirit here : )

Soma Art Cafe – 6b Le Van Mien, D2 ~ ok drinks, some comfy chairs, friendly staffs with good music taste

will try out different ones at building 42 Nguyễn Huệ, D1 & 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, D1


events/ bookstore

Saigon Swing Cats – social dance on wed & sun evenings

Art House Saigon (film every friday) –  08 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, D1

saturday culture cafe – talks – discussion/ music/ films etc. (mostly in vietnamese)

  monday films curated by An Ordinary City at Yoko cafe – 22A Nguyễn Thị Diệu, D3

Kafka Bookstore – 64/7 Cù Lao, Phú Nhuận



Secret Garden (booking in advance) – rooftop lane 158 Pasteur, D1

cơm Bắc mẹ nấu ~ northern meals mum cooks – 4 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Đa Kao, D1

bún ốc riêu cua Thanh Hải ~ snail & snail/ crab noodle soup northern style ~ 14/ 12 Kỳ Đồng, D3 (so happy to find northern dish in central saigon!!)

Quán Hải Phòng ~ 45 Quốc Hương for bánh đa cua ~ crab noodle soup!!

bánh cuốn Hà Nội ~ steamed rolls ~ 26 Nguyễn Văn Hương, D2


vegetarian/ vegan

thực dưỡng Khai Minh macrobiotic food ~ 157 Điện Biên Phủ, Bình Thạnh District

Tib – Phan Ke Binh – i enjoy their welcome wet towel on a wooden leaf

Hum, Quan Bui – with whole rice options


(to be continued)

p.s. as i’m fond of hanoi taste, for drinks in saigon, i often request no/ less ice – sugar and for food less salty sauce/ oil when possible : )


related posts:

my favourites in hanoi

useful listing sites for Vietnam



‘How much ego do I need’ – Rita Riniker

Jamyang Buddist Center London

filmed by Ewan Phillips

interviewed by me:

Question 1 – Relationship between Buddhism and politics:


Question 2 – Is it possible to meditate and be happy without the basics (food, water)?


Question 3 – Danger of attachment in case of a mother to her child?


Question 4 – How is it to be a Buddhist with a family and emotions like jealousy and attachment?


Question 5 – Is it wise to want to be famous to influence people in a positive way?

my favourite local food and drink in Hanoi

places below are mostly around Hai Ba Trung – Hoan Kiem district where i grew up and Tay Ho – West Lake area where i live recently

noodle soups

  • bún thang – one of Hanoi signature noodle soups – end of Xóm Hạ Hồi lane on Quang Trung street
  • bún ốc – snail noodle soup the traditional way – 16 Đặng Dung (6am – 2pm only)
  • mì vằn thắn – dimsum noodle soup – 86 Phố Huế (near Chợ Hôm market)
  • bún mọc – meatball noodle soup – Nguyễn Chế Nghĩa (a small lane on Hàm Long street, til noon only)
  • miến lươn – eel noodle soup – to be updated
  • bánh đa cua  – crab noodle soup – Tràng Tiền lane
  • phở Huyền ~ 31 Châu Long (finally putting phở in my list, know this place since summer 2019)

other dishes

  • bánh mỳ pate & sốt vang – bagguette sandwich & beef stew – Đình Ngang street at the counter of Cửa Nam & Hàng Bông str.
  • cháo trai – oyster rice porridge – 26 Trần Xuân Soạn used to be better in my memory, not that good anymore as they use the same porridge base for two different types ~ i’ll try the one on 37 Trần Nhân Tông and update : )
  • xôi – sticky rice with stewed egg, meat, etc. – my mum’s – from around 6-9am, 36 Thịnh Yên (in front of the third house from the outer one)
  • Cửa Hàng Mậu Dịch ~ eating like it’s the 50s ~ vietnamse food during communist time in Northern Vietnam ~ 37 Nam Tràng
  • bánh đúc nóng ~ hot rice pudding with stirfried minced pork and mushroom topping (it tastes better than the description!) ~ inside lane 8 Lê Ngọc Hân
  • chả cá lã vọng ~ pan-fried squares of fish tossed in dill, onion, turmeric and galangal ~ 14 Chả Cá


  • ốc luộc – boiled snails – Đinh Liệt/ Hàm Long/ Tống Duy Tân/ 109 Thụy Khuê – sitting like it’s the 90s!! (you can’t get the Hanoian sophisticated dipping sauce elsewhere!!)
  • nộm – papaya & banana flower salad with jerky beef, bánh bột lọc – central vietnamese clear dumplings with minced pork & shrimp filling, nem cuốn – rolled nem with fermented meat, fresh vege etc. – 16A Ngọc Hà lane
  • nem tai bà Hồng – 35 Hàng Thùng – rolls of fresh herbs and pork sprinkled with rice flour

vegetarian & vegan (restaurants)

  • bún đậu – fried tofu with noodle buns – C5 Trần Huy Liệu close to a smal football field – until early afternoon ( i love the green leafy ‘hoa phượng’ trees there), the chè dessert closeby is alright too
  • An Lac Chay – vegetarian hut – 15 Đặng Thai Mai, lovely food & drinks served by a lovely Vietnamese couple – southern husband & northern wife
  • Sesame – lane 12 Đặng Thai Mai, vegan restaurant – you have to try the green rolls!
  • May – 18C Đặng Thai Mai
  • Sala – 170 Ngọc Hà, lovely menu, nice zen calligraphy on the walls, wooden tables & chair
  • Zenith Yoga – 247 Âu Cơ – delicious non additive vegan food & drinks
  • White Cloud – 299 Âu Cơ – lovely homemade by a warm-hearted buddhist practitioner lady
  • Hoa Đất – mindful family vegan week day lunch (booking in advance)
  • Diệu Tâm vegan buffet – Nguyễn Đình Thi street – 30K each person, wide variety of dishes with whole (red) rice, good value : )
  • atelier vegan to be ordered, made by a sister i trust


  • chè dessert – bobochacha lane 92 Cửa Bắc
  • traditional Hanoi chè dessert – 146 Quán Thánh – open from 2-9pm
  • kem Bodega icecream ~ 57 Tràng Tiền

drinks ~ cafe, tea and more

  • cafe Dinh ~ 13 Dinh Tien Hoang with the tiny balcony hotspot looking to Hoan Kiem lake : )
  • blue birds’ nest book cafe ~ 19 Dang Dung ~ support art, culture, social events and cyclists (10 ~ 15% off bills) with acoustic music and film events, good drinks and some food : )
  • tranquil book cafe ~ western drinks, open mic, vietnamese music nights’, film sometimes ~ a few locations in town, google : )
  • reng reng cafe ~ warm and cosy seating, like a new version of cafe Dinh : ) message them for the address, it’s part of the little journey : )
  • Tan’s tea house ~ attended a cosy introduction about tea and tea brewing and drinking from sister Tan’s heart ~ planning on a personal visit
  • Manzi Art Space & Cafe ~ 14 Phan Huy Ich
  • Phu Specialty Tea & Coffee ~ 2 Hang Bun

(to be continued)

p.s. i haven’t cooked meat at home for a few years, though i still eat seafood and am still flexible with a few meat dishes when eating out – mainly because i miss some vietnamese/ hanoian dishes after 5-6 straight years being away. after almost 2 years in vietnam and 1 year in hanoi, i probably have had enough of what i missed and am planning to eat no meat when eating out aswell; with seafood – it will take some more time i guess. though i do believe in listenning to my body and in moderation : )

related posts:

my favourites in saigon

useful listing sites for Vietnam

enjoy and for more recommendations on events and updated public spaces etc., visit Vietnamese Culture Space

Useful (listing) sites for newcomers/ travellers in Vietnam


City Pass Guide – Vietnam Travel & Living Guide

Community-Produced Local Reviews and Answers Guide



SOFF Find Safe & Organic Vegetables

Happy Cow – Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurant Finder


Cooking Vietnamese food

Helen’s recipes (in English)

Savoury Days (in Vietnamese)

Khai Tam (in Vietnamese)



Wake Up International – Young Buddhists and non-Buddhistsfor a Healthy and Compassionate Society

Weekly Vipassana Meditation Hanoi

Hanoi Nerd Night

Philosophy Club: HanoiSaigon

Swing dance: Hanoi Da NangSaigon



Hanoi Hideaway  (tea & cafe house listing)


Events & Radio

Art & Culture Events in Vietnam

Vietnamese Culture Spacethe beauties & stories of Humans of Vietnam ~ their journeys in life with Family, Study, Relationship, Work, Society and more with Radio 18+

Friends of Vietnamese Heritage


Walking tours:




www.facebook.com/pg/Hanoi.Bohanh (in Vietnamese)


Da Nang:





(to be continued)

related posts:

my favourites in hanoi ~ saigon

Lessons from budget travelling & attending mindfulness retreat with my mum

It was the first time I travelled with my mum and it was her first time travelling for such a long time (3 weeks in total) with a budget to some extent.

I booked for Airbnb well in advance in Saigon for me and my mum. A few days before my mum arrived, the Airbnb host informed they will be away for a few days in Thailand. I did ask for the key before they left Vietnam but they said their cleaner would need it, gave me her number and wrote to me where to get the key. Two hours before my mum arrived, I came to the place but could not open the front door, couldn’t call the host or their cleaner, text sent but no reply. The neighbours couldn’t help either and showed me to the actual landlord.

It turns out the landlord doesn’t allow the Airbnb host to sublet and he did not let me in despite how much I explained about how Airbnb worked and that my mum was going to be here in one hour and he can talk with the Airbnb host when they are back in 2 days. He insisted on a ‘no’ and kept coming back a few times to check…After an hour, just before my mum arrived from the airport, I managed to get us to stay at my Couchsurfing host when I first came to Saigon who has become a good friend. I reported to Airbnb and asked for urgent help but they called for further information after a few hours…and offered me a coupon for next booking.

I then booked for accommodation from Agoda, with my mum complaining about cost, I changed the booking from a room with windows to one without – which was not a good idea…I used to share a room with my mum for more than 20 years when I was living at home in Hanoi and thought it would be nice to share the room with her again. I didn’t realise I have been living away from her for five years and she still thinks of me as her baby so that was quite a problem… I was lucky to be able to come to another friend’s at night and left the room for my mum so we can have a break from each other each day.

Airbnb in Bangkok was not a good experience as well when the host (not Thai…) came over the next morning with anger and after an abrupt conversation, asked me and my mum to move, only because I informed him that my mum found the toilet dirty. I tried to make peace with him because I don’t want my 50+ year old mum to have to move just after arriving the night before. I gave an honest review on Airbnb about this host to then get his review on my profile with made up accuses. After such two experiences with Airbnb in two weeks, I am not sure I will choose Airbnb again in Asia though my experience with it was generally ok in Europe.

My mum had stomache after eating the sticky rice with durian bought from Big C supermarket that we kept in our bag while walking in Bangkok. It could be the durian or the heat of the day that spoiled it…I appreciate that my mum managed to take the metro and tried tuk tuk, together with taxi sometimes.

It was good that I booked on Agoda for Koh Samet after Bangkok – even budget hostels manage to be more professional when you need help compared to some Airbnb hosts. Koh Samet, recommended by a friend who lives in Thailand, was quite relaxing with a few not crowded nice beaches because it’s less popular. My mum had a good rest there before we went to Plum Village Thailand for a retreat for Vietnamese.


My mum taking the 5 mindfulness trainings with her dharma sharing family teacher

We were arranged to stay in a tent together at the retreat because there were too many people. It was a nice big tent but after around 8 hours of bus altogether, my mum did not want to stay in the tent thinking she would not be able to breathe. Together with the fear that I might want to become a nun, she wanted to leave. I was not prepared for this – in the retreat I went just the month before, no tent was needed. I was tired too and couldn’t keep calm, told her she could do what she wanted then. The returned ticket was booked and my mum probably can’t go by herself…I left her sitting at a rock to decide…

A helpful nun saw what happened and went to comfort my mum, brought her to me afterwards saying she could stay at another area. It was good to stay separately so my mum would make new friends and practise (mindfulness) properly without talking to me. Throughout the retreat, I tried to not spend much time with my mum so she would be more independent and make the best out of the retreat. She was cynical about the practice in the first day. The first dhamar talk the second day touched her and she started to ask about how to practise sitting meditation properly to keep calm and improve health & well-being – I was so surprised and happy. At the end of the retreat, my mum attended a private consultation session with a nun and even registered to practise the fourth mindfulness training ‘Deep listening and loving speech’. Home practice is important after the retreat, I will try to find some Plum Village practitioner who can take my mum to practise with a sangha (group) in Hanoi.

Lessons learned:

  • Cancel Airbnb if the host is not going to be there when you arrive
  • Some doors are opened by sliding to the side…
  • Agoda is probably a better option when travelling with elders because there might be accidents with Airbnb…
  • Try to accept your mum as she is, though she might act or say things to you that are not easy to hear, it’s mostly because she cares about you but just doesn’t know the best way to show it. This is easier said than done though…Having breaks from eachother during travels helps. Taking my mum to massages was a good way to have a break from eachother while still being together.
  • When taking parents to a retreat, ask for a normal accommodation in registration form, staying in a tent is properly too ‘hippy’ for them…It’s ok that they don’t stay so quiet or follow the retreat’s reminders. While I have been practising for around 7 years, it was my mum’s first time. I tried to be more relaxed about her after a few days…
  • Taking parents to Plum Village retreat becomes very fruitful. I hope to take my dad there next retreat 🙂


My mum practising walking meditation at Plum Village Thailand


Plum Village retreats in Thailand

 Plum Village retreats in France (for other countries visit Monasteries list at the bottom of page)

Lessons from travelling with friends

While I often inform friends about my travels and invite them to join me if they can, most of the times I travelled alone. A few moments I felt like having a companion but most of the time, I figure I enjoy travelling alone – I go with my pace, I stop where, when and for as long as I want, I don’t get lost in conversations but truly experience new places.

I am always happy to plan travelling with good friends, especially those I haven’t seen for a while. In reality, unexpected things happened and I would like to share the lessons I learned from travelling with friends.


  • Health

While we exchange a number of emails to plan our trips together, I was not informed if a friend has been ill in a way or other. This led to unexpected emotional breakouts from them that I didn’t prepare myself for – I might want to do more things than their health permits, I might talk about topics that are sensitive to them emotionally.

From now on, before deciding to travel together, I would check with my friends if they are in good health or should I know about any discomfort or difficulty they are having. Is it ok to sleep early and wake up early to make the most of our experiences? Does anyone snore and is that ok for everyone else?

I need to remember to not visit hot places during the summer as well – the heat takes a lot out of me and my friends and we tend to be more grumpy when we are tired.

  • Budget

I often travel with a restriction on visa (the UK is not in Schengen – borderless countries in Europe) and with a budget and I would like to make the most out of my experiences. I assume friends know about my travel style but some might not and I should let them know about this in advance.

I should ask them if it’s ok to buy food from the supermarkets and eat out only once in a while; if it’s ok walk to places to see the local scenes and people on the way, to take public transportations instead of taxies, if it’s ok to couchsurf or stay in shared dorms or affordable AirBnb etc.

  • Interests

We’re often friends because we share some interests but it’s not always the case with travelling. I prefer local experiences while some friends might prefer visiting touristic places, I prefer out-door nature while some might prefer indoor city visiting, I prefer tea houses while some might prefer nights-out etc. I would like to practise walking meditation, eating meditation when we can while some friends might want to walk or eat faster.

And of course it’s ok to spend time apart while travelling together, knowing this in advance prevents any disappointment though.


If hanging out with friends is like dating – it’s often fun, travelling together is like moving in – you should know the person well enough in advance and still, you will learn a lot more about each other to know whether or not you just want to hang out sometimes, or are suitable to travel together.

At the end of the day, we are there for each other and as long as we understand where ourselves and our friends come from, we can act with compassion and help each other during our travelling together – emotionally, physically, mentally, financially – when one forgets their bank card at the ATM in a crowded touristic area…ATMs in Thailand give you money before the card by the way!