Saturday, November 15, 2008

I'm Audi 5000

One of the last things I did in town before jetting out was to hit the Audi launch event in downtown Saigon.  They were opening the first official Audi showroom in Vietnam, and showing off their A8 and Q7 vehicles.

I had neither the inclination nor the means to purchase a car, so I fit right in with the crowd.  I met the typical Saigon crowd at this thing - the wealthiest folks I met that night was probably the pair who tired of checking out the cars, the models, the cocktail waitresses and instead were closely examining the HVAC controls of this new building.  Just another night in Saigon.  But the champagne was nice though.  

So I'm out.  This is my view these days - it's not an Audi, but it's close.      

For continued interesting tidbits about the expat experience in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, check out those on the blogroll, in particular:
Tam Biet!

Last Walk-About

Recently I was on a final walkabout of Saigon and caught the following sights:

New hanging planters installed along Dong Khoi street outside of the Sheraton Hotel.  

Sorta typifies Vietnam in this time and place - it's great that folks put up some pretty hanging planters, which gets watered from municipal water trucks from time to time, but if you look closely you'll notice that they stripped the tree of its bark in a quite violent manner just to install the mounting brackets.  And no obvious attempts to close up the wound with some physical barrier to prevent insects from getting at the wood.  

Two steps forward, two steps back.  Don't be surprised to see some sickly trees on this stretch of road in the near future.

Roadway medians here are immaculately cultivated, and this is one of the reasons why.  If you drive around in the mornings, you'll see teams of people hand cutting, weeding, and watering all the government owned greenery.  Once in a while, you'll see a gas operated weedwacker, but otherwise everything else is done manually.     

I've finally found the Apple-certified store - Future World, on NTMK in D3.  Of course it was accidental, as I wasn't going around looking for it.  

 Compared to Hanoi, you don't see much in the way of food vendors on the streets of Saigon, other than the Banh Trang ladies that is.  My theory is that it is because of the office lunch delivery business that goes on in Saigon.  

You see stacks and stacks of these trays delivered every mid-day to all sorts of businesses.  Even the xe-om guys in Saigon eat their lunch via these delivered lunch trays.  A complete meal - which in Vietnam means rice, veg, meat, soup and something pickled - for 10-15k delivered drives away a lot of street vendor competition.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Sense of Place

There's been lots of good memories of our time in Vietnam.  One of the best was sitting at this cafe, Givral, right off Lam Son square next to the Opera House in downtown Saigon.

For those who've been there, especially in its current form, the whole place is nothing to write home, or blog, about.  

But we were sitting there with my Mom, back on a visit, having some ice cream, and recollecting about how things were when she was young.  She would have some money in her pockets, come here and eat some ice cream with her sisters and school mates, while watching the traffic, waiting to see which friend would drive up in their Honda.  

I've been back to the little side street on which we had a house.  But nothing gave me a sense of terroir more so in our years here than this short story with my Mom.  

Bookend Meal at Quan An Ngon

One of the first meals we had in Vietnam, all those moons ago when we first visited, was at the Quan An Ngon in Hanoi.  Our first meal was probably at Pho24 - yeah, cliched, I know.  

So it's faintly appropriate that one of my last meals in Vietnam would take place at Quan An Ngon, this time in the HCMC location across from the Reunification Palace.

It's Saigon, so you gotta grab a Saigon Special beer.  And it's Saigon, so it's freaking hot and therefore I needed a side of iced green tea.  And you thought I was drinking my beer with ice.  And a straw.  Dude, I ain't that local.    

First up, you guessed it, banh cuon.

Next up, some grilled shrimp.  Seeing that I was eating alone, the waiter warned me that a single order was 10 skewers and asked if I really wanted it.  Of course!  Gluttony is best when left last.  

The dish came out with 12+ skewers.  This was some of the best grilled seafood I've had in this country, so I did the proper thing and finished it up.  

You can't often order snails, outside of Escargot at Les Halles or someplace like that, in the States, so I had to get some.  Strangely, they tasted like hard boiled eggs.  
To finish things up, I answered a curiosity of mine.  In the evenings till dark, food vendors on bicycles and carts would ply their offerings on the streets of Saigon.  One fare that I often see, and wonder about, is the "Bo Bia" carts.

My limited Vietnamese translates that to 'beef and beer,' which would be an interesting product to sell on the streets.  But I doubt that I was correct, so I never bothered to flag the vendors down and order some.

I saw "Bo Bia" on the menu here and had to finally know.  Turns out it's just a version of some spring rolls.  Then I recalled going to a spring roll dinner party in Hanoi, where the dry rice paper wrappers were in cellophane packaging labelled "Bo Bia."

So I knew it all along, but I forget things.  Coulda used The Google though. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chicago Hot Dog

One of the best things about a layover in ORD - the Chicago Style Hot Dog.

It's better in town, of course, but they still offer Vienna Beef dogs at O'Hare:

WIth all the fixin's:

The result - a hot dog so covered with goodies that you don't even see the frankfurter:

Tan Son Nhat Rose Lounge

The Star Alliance Lounge at the International Terminal of Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport recently changed its name to the Rose C.I.P. Lounge.  I wonder if CIP is some sort of typo.  

Nothing really changed, including the food line layout

It was an early flight, so I grabbed this ham sandwich and some fruit for breakfast.  Don't eat the sandwich!  

The flight was delayed for about an hour - enough time to try, what else, the banh cuon

and some instant noodles
One travel tip: grab breakfast before you hit the international terminal in Saigon.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Business Pods on United Airlines

On a recent flight, I was bumped into business class on United.  It was one of the planes that had been upgraded to the "pods" style seating, which was pretty cool.  Non-pod seating business class on United's international flights are crappier than Vietnam Airlines' business class.

The ample legroom:

The controls:

The other pod people. I think it would suck to fly backwards, but those folks didn't mind.

I managed to crash - um, poor choice of words for a plane post -  I managed to render ineffective the entertainment module for my seat.  After a bit it was smart enough to reboot itself.

All these travel pics are more befitting of Tray Table than a Vietnam-centric blog.  

Falafel, Again

The Pham Ngu Lao Falafel shop that I posted about earlier has a cool little freebie for its customers.  Besides the common to Vietnam free wifi setup, it boasts free international calling.

Ok, so it's free for 5 minutes and 5k/minute thereafter, but that's still kinda cool and the sort of novel marketing idea that is impressive, especially being the first on the block with it.