Saturday, December 30, 2006

Blogroll - In With The Old

When I first starting thinking about relocating to VN, I read a bunch of blogs on the subject. Some of them seemed so popular that I didn't think about sticking them on the blogroll. But posting about them will help me find the blogs when I become forgetful again.

Dreaming of Hanoi: by Preya, a third culture kid (TCK) who grew up in Hanoi. Currently snowed in around Denver, CO somewhere. Her recent post, The Many Faces of Hanoi Ex-Pats, is a funny read.

Teresa and the Kids: single mother and her two tweenagers packing things up to head to Vietnam on a two month volunteer stint. They just landed in Hanoi. The main site gives you more info nad the chance to donate towards their efforts.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Cut-and-Paste Better

If you often appropriate words off the web, then you've undoubtedly encountered the issue of extra carriage returns in your Word files upon your cut-n-paste-special manuverings.

After a few too many minutes spenting wearing down the lettering on my delete key, The Google was fired up and the results were these: Delete Carriage Returns and its related script, Clear The Find Box. They're courtesy of a great resource, The Word MVP Site.

Incorporating best practice in one's work becomes so much easier after installing these macros.

[backslash-n is the Word:Mac equivalent of ^13 when using Wildcards]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Are You A Communist Sympathizer?

As with a lot of folks in this political town, I volunteer my time and services to non-profit organizations. One position deals intimately with the Vietnamese American community. Upon disclosure that I would head to Vietnam to pursue some business interests, there was quite a blowback, with the main concern being whether my personal, for-profit activites overseas would reflect poorly upon the organization.

In not so many words, the concern was whether working in Vietnam makes me some sort of Communist sympathizer. A uniquely Viet Kieu issue, to be sure, and definitely a generational issue.

Older folks were more adamant in their concerns, or at least their concern that other people in the community would object to my overseas activities. The generational gap is not defined so much by age, as by when one became a Viet Kieu.

Those who settled here recently, if a decade plus can be considered recent, such as immigrants from the HO (Humanitarian Operation) program, have little concern with the politics of the past. This sector of the community, who had lived longer under Communist rule than their earlier VK brethren, are more concerned with bilateral friendship and economic progress.

The Domino Theory generation wants nothing to do with modern day Vietnam on a macro-, organizational level. But they have no qualms in fueling the remittance stream or occupying those jumbo jet seats over the Tet holiday. Irony is lost on the old.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How to Shoot Food Porn

No travel blog would be complete without some pictures of food porn. Here's a general guide on how to shoot food pictures, and more in-depth, but understandable, tips on the iso - aperture - shutter speed triumvirate of photography.

One thing about packing up and leaving is that we won't have the luxury of hanging out in our kitchen and making food. I'm sure we'll still make things on occasion, but as any home cook knows, everything is off when one does not have the knife, pan or heat source one is used to. The product turns out below your standards and the enjoyment of production is greatly diminished. Yeah, that's my (future) rationale for eating out all the time.

These are some pictures taken with a newer, but low-end camera. Minimal post-processing with Picasa, a photo organizational tool from Google that has basic, and easy to use, editing functions.

Easy Ceviche

Spicy flounder someone else made

Butter = flavor

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fly Over of Tam Dao Golf Course

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Flyover vid courtesy of YouTuber FlycamVietnam.

The Tam Dao Golf and Resort is about 45kms from Hanoi. Looks nice enough, and they seem to be really smitten by that large clubhouse, but its kinda flat and open. I'm used to losing balls in the underbrush and woods. It looks like I can attempt an approach from a fairway over at this place. Nice way to lower one's score.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Just The Facts, Ma'am

Prodded by a persistent inquisitor, I went looking for some facts about Vietnam. Lots of resources out there, but whom to trust? Wikis are all nice and good when you're trying to find the front man of Information Society, but for facts, where else better than the CIA World Factbook?

The Vietnam page gives you a nice rundown. If you're curious, the VN GNP-PPP (purchasing power parity) is approximately 235 billion, and as I've read elsewhere, on par with a place like Greece. If instead one looks at GNP-OER (official exchange rate), VN is only 44 billion, while Greece's is still 210 billion. Wha?!

That's PPP for ya - some economists prefer PPP as it allows one to compare living standards across countries. PPP, in part, equalizes the fact that when one is enjoying a cuppa joe in HCMC vs. Athens, one attains comparable lifestyles but pay differing prices at OER. I'm not an economist, but I play one on this blog.

The U.S. checks in at over 12 trillion. Because the dollar is close to being almighty, there isn't much of a difference between PPP and OER numbers.

Another fun fact relates to population density. According to the www.WorldAtlas.com, Vietnam is 30th in density, less so than the Philippines (26th), Israel (24th) or the Netherlands (14th) and just slightly ahead of the UK (32nd). The US is pretty sparse (142nd), but so too are places like the Congo (147th) and Somalia (169th). The density we feel is on a city level however, it's not how many folks a country has, but where they congregate.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blog Designs On Crack

Pittstop Works recently talked about a 'blog war' where a south Vietnamese trash talked about her Hanoi vacation. It apparently caused northern Vietnamese to come to their fair city's defense. Pittstop cited this article which discussed it, and which also demonstrates the low barrier to entry for journalism these days.

How could one write a piece talking about a blog posting and the response it produced without providing information about the source material? What's the blog address, so folks can see what the fuss is all about themselves? That's as useful as writing a book review and failing to tell me the author, much less the title of the book. Ridiculous.

A quick Google suggested that the seminal post (and the comments attached thereto) was removed by the author. HanoiMark, in a comment on Noodlepie, said that he couldn't really find anything of the original text causing the hubbub.

While the original blog may be down, this blog post, on Yahoo 360 in Vietnamese, titled (translated) "An Article about Fucking Ha Loi" seems to quote the original and provides a retort.

Of course, I could be wrong about that because at this point I don't read Vietnamese all that well and the god awful page design does not help. I'm not trying to pick on this girl, because a whole lot of Yahoo 360 blogs are downright unreadable due to design issues.

And this isn't some sort of Yahoo 360, 'dem darn furriners' thing either - Myspace is equally a painful visual experience. What's with these kids and their layout choices? Who sets black text on a black background, or light pastel text on a white background?

Is this the visual equivalent to those high pitched teenaged ring tones - only kids can divine the textual info from that morass? With the advent of click-and-drag layout designs, there seems to be more unusable site out there than when folks coded HTML by hand. Progress, indeed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

You Down With O.P.P. ?

I know I'm getting old 'cause golf now is a sport and I revel in hypocrisy - Chain Hang Low is obnoxious and uncouth while O.P.P. is somehow still fun and light (video here).

Because I'm not in VN yet, you know I'm down with Other Peoples'... Pictures. The first just seems like how a vietnamese sandwich would be interpreted in the Windy City, 'cept they forgot the celery salt. It's from a travel blog by AdamandEva.

This second one is just a great shot - unfortunately, I forgot the source, so no attribution for now.

Got our tickets - Part 2

We recently just bought our tickets to Vietnam, again. Once the tickets are purchased, the official countdown clock can begin in earnest. Approximately 45 days or so, which upon further thought, makes me go 'whoa.'

It's also a bit odd to buy a one-way ticket. If Vietnam has an equivalent DHS, then we would be placed on some watchlist for sure. But they're a practical lot, not likely to waste money on bogus data-mining and profling measures that amount to nothing... but I digress.

Anyhow, we purchased our tickets thru GatewayLax.com - they seem to have good deals for international travel to Asia, better than Travelocity or Orbitz and their brethren. The website is not great for online purchases; best bet is to use them for research and call for more definitive info and purchasing.

Because I hate it when folks say they got a 'decent deal' and do not reveal how much they paid, fyi, the one -way ticket cost (including airport, 9/11 and all other surcharges) a bit under $650. We don't fly a bunch and therefore do not comparison shop all that much, but for a flight from the East Coast of the US to Vietnam, arriving a few weeks before Tết 2007 (Feb. 18th), that fee is not so bad.

When I called, I thought they were using an outsourced data center for a second, before I realized the woman was actually sitting in L.A. and just knew Japanese also. It's odd how one's mind works in a "Flat World." ;)

I don't know where I picked up the info of GatewayLAX, but it may have come from VietnamInFocus.info, a travel portal blog by an expat there. I'm not sure if that was the source, but thanks if it was.

[edit: another place to check out for tickets is Himalayan Tours.]

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Clean up with Clouds

Here's a blogger widget to clean up the real estate taken up by labels.

Label Clouds in Beta Blogger.

Typhoons Stink

Maybe that's why it's named "Durian." After crossing the Phillipines (and Luzon island in particular) and causing substantial death and destruction, it's now on track across the South China Sea for Vietnam, possibly. I didn't know that hurricanes (American-speak for typhoons) are so destructive in SE Asia till I started to pay attention to the region these past six months. Xangsane and now this.

Maybe everyone will luck out and the worse that Durian will do henceforth is to sprinkle the VN coast in manna from cargo ships, like these Doritios landing in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. One should be so lucky.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Thinking is Flat.. Wrong

This is why I don't read books. If Thomas Friedman, of The World Is Flat punditry, can be, even at this late hour, so wrong about so much concerning Iraq (.mov link), how much worth is there in the pages of his bestseller?

Parse out the chaff of antedotes and you get the wiki of the book. That's enough for me.

[Edit: ha, I'm not alone.]

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Movin' on up: from the suburbs to the third world


So we're headed from a place that looks like the above to a developing country. The term "third world" is a bit anachronistic, but makes for a nice headline and follows the thoughts of this post: "How to Write Great Headlines."

Anyhow, the fact that my arse is headed to VN is not wholly interesting. After all, if rock stars (see Gates, Bill), baby shoppers and a Connecticut cowboy who was impolite to my Senator-elect have stomped around the joint, it’s not exactly a novel place to be.

(Bill Gates vs. Betel Nut, via Elmoooh’s)

Still, as a temporary visitor who wants to make it there, and not just to bum around and wear a Dạy-cho-Bia t-shirt as a fashion statement without irony, the move is a tad novel. This LA Weekly article,"Santa Monica or Saigon?", highlighted to me by Terry of VKLJ.net, describes another person’s experience with it all.

Being a VK, one invariably deals with the prickly issue of going to a place that you and your parents escaped merely a generation ago. More than that, however, is the issue of moving from what once was your goal in life.

I was not a black kid, growing up in Bed-Sty as the characters in "Everybody Hates Chris," but, as Chris Rock would say, “I understand.” That show is funny and poignant because that’s almost my childhood. Never in my wildest dream as a kid did I imagine living in the ‘burbs with one’s very own lawn to mow. Maybe that’s why I don’t complain about lawn maintenance as much as VA does.

How cool is it to not share a wall with your neighbor, to have rooms you do not use, to always have a parking space when you come home, and to have that proverbial (free range) chicken in your pot? Being middle-class was the brass ring. And now I’m leaving the country paved with gold for the developing world. How crazy is that? Crazy like a fox, I hope.

Monday, November 27, 2006

VA is Mrs. Smith

'cause, you know, I'm Brad Pitt.

There are posts elsewhere about the celeb sightings. Here's a Getty Images search of all the Brad-and-Angelina-in-HCMC press photos to date. Dude should wear a helmet though.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Vina Maps

One has Vietnam on the brain when the word "Vina" makes you think of copycat corporate branding instead of a succulent wine.

Anyhow, I've been trying to find decent maps of Hanoi and Saigon in the past few days to scope out the online real estate rental listings. This resource is the best one so far. These maps, from a hotel site, are a bit cartoony, but usable as well.

[via www.se-asia.com]

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cell Phone Plumage

This little blurb on the Freakonomics blog about men sporting cell phones to attract mates may explain, in part, why luxury phones are such a rage all over the world, including SE Asia. People tell me that Nokia's Vertu phones enjoy a healthy market there.

Moving overseas means a new phone for me (because I'm not on a GSM system here), and a bit of sticker shock when browsing handset prices. I was quoted figures of $350 to start, with a "nice" phone, like a Nokia 8800 at a cool $1k. Whoa.

The prices are a bit high because, unlike the States, Vietnam (and most everywhere else in the world) sells "unlocked" phones. No contracts, no two year committments, no early termination fees. Pop in a prepaid SIM card and go. I've even read that it's illegal to sell locked cells in Belgium, due to issues about coupled sales and lack of consumer freedom. I wonder how Microsoft does in Belgium?

Anyhow, my top choices right now are the Nokia E61 or something from HTC. Or perhaps I'll wait for the next-gen Nokia E61i. Too many choices out there really. However hot or humid Vietnam gets, at least I'll have a cool phone.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Blogroll - Gamers, Doctors, Techies oh my!

Here are a few more bloggers, mostly found through Technorati, giving a wider array of expat experiences:

AznGamerBoi: twentysomething Flipino who's working in the nascent Vina mmorpg industry, at VinaGames, natch. Located in Saigon.

Real Life Online: twentysomething Flipina who was recruited to VinaGames by her friend, above.

Hanjie: a doctor or medical researcher who is (was?) in Saigon on a technical assistance / research basis.

Some Like it Scott: a graphics artist and designer in Saigon who's helping to further the fashion industry.

SaigonNezumi: a Linux head who is involved in, among other things, the financial sector.

Tone Deaf Karaoke

As you would expect, karaoke is popular in Vietnam. It is often the topper to an evening out with the entire staff for businesses (neé enterprises, in the local English vernacular). It is of course popular here in the States too, but to a lesser extent. It seems to be bifurcated here - college kids and hipsters goofing and having fun and pre-AARPs belting tunes in their living rooms.

I'm a very reluctant karaoke artist, and VA is thankful for that. She accuses me of being tone deaf. Today, I have response, with proof, that I'm not tone deaf, I just don't sing well. I took this online Tone Deaf Test, courtesy of the personal site www.JakeMandell.com, who's a med student with a musical background. 69.4% puts me in the upper tier of "good musical ability."

[via LifeHacker]

Loch Ness Turtle

Who says there are no turtles in Hoan Kiem Lake? Check out this video evidence.

[via PeterHanoi]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

PNTR?

It seems people we know are more excited than we are about our impending move to Vietnam. Recently, I was sent this Time article, "Vietnam Trades Up," by some family. It discusses, as you can imagine, the recent WTO accession. The interesting bit is that the U.S. House of Representatives just voted down a measure to give Vietnam permanent normal trade relations status (PNTR) yesterday.

Sure, this vote will come up again, but folks were surprised that it failed initially. There will be some horse trading to be had yet. Perhaps the U.S. textile/garment industry won't be the only one to get trade protection against Vietnam's goods. Long live free trade, as long as it is your market being open for our influx.

Remittances - Pt. 2

Here's a Washington Post piece, "Losing Its Young to an American Dream," that speaks a bit about remittances. It's a bit of fluff, actually, but it's a 2 minute read.

My question to one of the authors of the economic blog Marginal Revolutions about the previous post on remittances led to a spike in traffic here. Lots of econ-heads in the blogosphere, I guess.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cleaning with water


Here's a new product that was recently featured in Time Magazine's Best Inventions of 2006.

It's called a Lotus Santizing System, made by a Tersano. The concept is that you take plain water, put it through the system to "oxygenate" it and then use the water as a powerful, but safe, disinfectant. I don't know if the science behind it is solid or not, but if it works, it would be something one can use to clean non-peelable fruit, be it in the States or overseas. Sorta like Oxy-Clean wash for your veggies.

With the recent e-coli spinach scare, and more recent salmonella lettuce outbreak, this thing may have a very viable market.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Unikey Help

Here's the text of the Unikey Help post on the blog Down and Out in Saigon. I've copied it here in case that blog is decommissioned and the information is lost.

I recommend that you use a Vietnamese keyboard or keyboard driver for the task. Despite their name, they are not hardware: they are small programs that sit in your OS and convert your keystrokes into nice, lovely Vietnamese. And do I have a particular program in mind? Boy howdy, I do: Unikey. I've used it for about a year and a half without complaint. I like it so much that I've shut off rival keyboard drivers running on the same machine. The advantages of it are:

  • It's free. Nice to know, isn't it?
  • It's just a download away: for NT/2000/XP, for 95/98/MEor for Linux.
  • Installation is simple: just unzip it and it is ready to go.
  • It lacks bloat. It's a small program that does what it is does without any unnecessary feature.
  • It sits on the taskbar. This makes it easy to switch between "English" mode and "Vietnamese" mode: just click on the icon on the taskbar.
  • The user interface actually provides for English speakers, which makes it easier to understand.

(Of course, if you aren't happy with Unikey, you could look for other utilities. Look at the Vietnamese Unicode FAQs for more information. But rather than comparing all the utilities, I want one that works for me.)

Setup

When you start up Unikey, you see the following dialogue:

UniKey at Startup in Vietnamese

What does it all mean? Fortunately, you can find out what is happening by clicking on the "Mở rộng" button. "Mở rộng" means expand, and that's what you need to do.

UniKey in Vietnamese - now expanded

See the checkbox with "Vietnamese interface"? Uncheck it. The whole interface will turn into English:

UniKey now in English

That makes it a lot easier to use, doesn't it? Okay, here's what I recommend you do:

  • I recommend you always set the "Character Set" to Unicode - always. A character set is basically how characters like "ư" and "a" are represented as numbers that computers can handle. The Microsoft Office utilities and Blogger are set to handle Unicode by default. Unicode is an international standard, so you can't go much wrong with it. The only exception to this is if you have the misfortune to use one of the old VNI Fonts from years ago. But Unicode - good.
  • The "Input method" is what keystrokes will form a character like "ư". I prefer TELEX, but I will give instructions for using Unikey with VNI and VIQR as well. See the next section for instructions.
  • Advanced options: uncheck them all. Especially uncheck the "Use oa', uy' (instead of o'a, u'y)". This is an irritating preset that doesn't allow you to write "hoà"; instead it alwayscomes out as "hòa". You don't want that.
  • There's also the "Help" button - which provides you "Help" in Vietnamese. If you understand Vietnamese, it's nice to look at. If you don't, it's not of much assistance. Anyway, that's what this document is here for, isn't it?
  • Finally, there's "Auto-run UniKey at boot time". If it's your machine, I see no problem with it. If it's someone else's, then I advise against it.

Then click on "Close". The program will now sit on the taskbar - unobtrusive, yet available. If you see a big "V":

Sitting on the task bar - waiting for Vietnamese...

That means that it is set up to enter Vietnamese. But if you want to enter pure English, just click on the "V" and you will see:

Now it just outputs English, as it has done a million times before...

It's easy to toggle from one to another: left-click on the letter. And if you want to remove the program altogether: right-click on the letter, and on the resulting menu, click "exit".

Okay, now that it is running: what do I do? Reading the next section is a good way to start...

Input Methods

The idea of a keyboard driver is that it makes it easy to enter desired characters using the keyboard you have. UniKey doesn't even assume you have the "Alt" or "Ctrl" buttons. Instead, you press a combination of letters that tend to follow the following order:

  • If you want characters without diacritics, like "a", "b", or "c", then type them.
  • If you want characters with diacritics but no tone markers, then type the combination. For example "dd" in TELEX will create a "đ", and "ow" will create a "ơ".
  • Always add the tone afterwards.

The following table gives the combinations for all the Vietnamese characters in lower case. If you want upper case, then use upper case letters instead. For example, "DD" in TELEX will create "Đ", and so on. Here are the tables:

Desired letterTELEX VNIVIQR
âType "aa"Type "a6"

Type "a^"

ă

Type "aw"

Type "a8"

Type "a("

đ

Type "dd"

Type "d9"

Type "dd"

ê

Type "ee"

Type "e6"

Type "e^"

ô

Type "oo"

Type "o6"

Type "o^"

ơ

Type "ow"

Type "o7"

Type "o+"

ư

Type "w" or "uw"

Type "u7"

Type "u+"

Add a "dấu Sắc"

Type a "s"

Type "1"

Type single quote "'"

Add a "dấu Huyền"

Type a "f"

Type "2"

Type reverse quote "`"

Add a "dấu Hỏi"

Type a "r"

Type "3"

Type "?"

Add a "dấu Ngã"

Type a "x"

Type "4"

Type tilde "~"

Add a "dấu Nặng"

Type a "j"

Type "5"

Type period "."

Remove tone

Type a "z"

Type "0"

Type "0"

To understand this, I will provide some examples:

To TypeTELEXVNIVIQR
Hai Bà TrưngType "Hai Baf Trwng""Hai Ba1 Tru7ng""Hai Ba` Tru+ng"
Tiếng ViệtType "Tieesng Vieejt"Type "Tie61ng Vie65t"Type "Tie^'ng Vie^.t"
ĐƯỜNGType "DDWOWFNG"Type "D9U7O72NG"Type "DDU+O+`NG"

Yes, it all seems a little tedious to learn. So choose one of the methods, and practice. I admit you may need a good motivation to do this. My motivations were (a) learning Vietnamese, and (b) retyping the names of Vietnamese students that had been provided sans diacritics.

Conclusion

What I've tried to do her is set up a tutorial for those unfamiliar with Vietnamese, and also unfamiliar with computers. Alot of this was learnt from consulting the original Vietnamese documentation, and also a lot of practice. Now if you are interested, practice as well. You may still encounter difficulties. For example:

  • You are trying to enter Vietnamese in a font that does not have Vietnamese characters. For example, fonts like "Georgia" and "Garamond" do not support them. That's a shame. For the time being, stick with "Arial", "Times New Roman" and "Courier New". There are others.
  • You are trying to enter Vietnamese in a pre-UNICODE "Vietnamese" font like VNI-Times. The result looks like poo. One way around it to set the "character set" to "VNI". However, I'd recommend against it, unless (a) you are printing it, or (b) you know the people you are sending the document to also have aVNI-font installed.
  • There's one problem that I've had with Excel. You enter a Vietnamese word in a cell. You try to enter another word in another cell. Then the "Auto-complete" feature tries to guess what you are entering, and make a mess of it. This has happened to me a few times. I suggest you turn "Auto-complete" off.
  • Finally, the program you are using doesn't support UNICODE at all, and cannot even understand what you are typing. For example, the main interface for the popular editor HTML-Kit cannot handle it.

But if you have a reason to learn Vietnamese, and if you are determined: go for it. I wish you the joy of discovery!

All mistakes in this document are mine.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Don't Vote

(picture from www.etext.org)

Today is the first Tuesday in November, so it's election day in the States. Unlike the common calls you hear, trumpeted over the t.v., radio and the internet, I would instead like you to heed my call not to vote.

I'm not some disillusioned person who's frustrated with the political process and think every politician indistinguishable and every vote meaningless. No, I woke up this morning earlier than usual and I'm sitting here with my "I Voted" sticker on.

But that doesn't mean that I think you should vote. It doesn't matter if you would vote for my candidate or not. If it takes someone to urge you to vote, and remind you that today the polls are open, then just sit it out. You don't really care all that much about it, so why vote? The fewer people vote, the more my ballot is "worth."

So, if you're swayed by the bleatings you've heard within the past week to show up to the polls today, may I humbly suggest you follow the anti-Nike slogan: Just Don't Do It.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Blogroll - OpenBlogthropology

OpenBlogthropology: an anthropologist of some sort, or maybe that's just his avocation, who reads the daily newspaper in Vietnamese (wish I could do that). And he's not a VK either.

He's based in Hanoi and makes mention of his wife, who goes by VA as well.

Here's a sample (from this post):
It's funny because you can't buy much stuff for the motorbikes in department stores the way you can in the hardware sections of those stores in the US. I guess here it's so cheap that most people have other people do all the maintenance for them, but I like doing the small things myself, it builds the relationship between the person and the machine. Otherwise, you're just an observer.
That can be an allegory on experiencing Vietnam, and of life itself.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dirty dollar

On page one of the Wall Street Journal today (unfortunately, subscription required), is a piece titled "Dollar Isn't Always Good Overseas."

It talks about how older U.S. currency, such as the 1996 Sec. Robert Rubin $100 bill, is worth less in certain parts of the world than the more curent Sec. John Snow bill (is a Sec. Henry Paulson bill out yet?), because both black market money changers and banking institutions have difficulties in turning around and selling older bills. Discounts can be 10-15% of the face value. Some places also didn't like small denominations because all that counting wasn't worth their time.

Those who are hurt by this include cruise ship workers who are sometimes paid in older bills. Former Sec. Rubin is quoted as wanting in on this arbitrage opportunity - unfortunately, the little guy on the street has much fewer options.

The piece also mentioned a U.S. traveler who experienced similar issues when she headed to Thailand with older bills. I haven't heard of anything similar in Vietnam, though Thirsty did mention that the Dollar-Dong exchange rate differed based on the denomination of U.S. currency one submitted.

Finally, in an aside that may only interest me, the piece noted that of the 5.5 million $100 U.S. notes in circulation, about 75% are circulated outside of the United States. Dovetails in with that remittances post earlier. Woohoo, free money for our government!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hmm, beer

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Found this off of YT - an Asahi Beer dispensing machine at the Narita Airport (in the Northwest Lounge).

Speaking of airports, the best airport I've been to is the Beijing Capital International Airport, mainly because you can buy beer out of vending machines. Vending machine beer! And they have a selection too, mainly limited to Yanjing. For 8 or 10 RMBs, which is $1.00-1.25. It was a great way to use up all the coins I accumulated prior to departing the country.

Contrast this with Nội Bài airport in Hanoi. This place kinda sucked 'cause I couldn't find a cold soda anywhere. The gift counters on the main level sold knicknacks and room temperature soda. Only in the sole eatery in the whole joint, on the second floor, can you find a cold drink. $2 for a soda, which isn't bad for an airport, I guess. But Bejing spoiled me. Nội Bài needs to join the communist revolution and get some vending machines.

Speaking of Nội Bài, all this time I thought it was (translated) "Place to Fly" or basically "airport," in third grade speak. Little did I know that airport is "Nơi Bay" and the name of the airport is completely different. Darn diacritical marks!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Expats, via Slate.com

Most of the foreign teachers here aren't permanent people. I've been doing this for almost 10 years, and I've seen so many people come and go. When you aren't permanent, you can be whoever you want, because you know you're going home in the end. I think that's the attraction of coming here in the first place.
- a quote from Dong-ha, an ex-pat bar magnate in Korea, as reported by Rolf Potts in his Expats in Asia series running in Slate.com. Interesting enough to merit a quick read.

And don't forget to check out the comments section. Here's a sample, from MarkEHagg:
I think you've hit on a major reason the whole expat experience holds so much charm for young writers. Living in a hermetically sealed bubble world, ignorant of the language that structures every social event taking place around them, expats become inveterate bullshitters. Who's to know? The folks back home haven't witnessed any of the expat's narrative exploits, and the expat himself hasn't really understood what's happened to him, since he's not even really interested in communicating with the culture that is currently sheltering him from his "real life."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Where do you want to be?

Alfaspider logged in her livejournal a post starting with a question that she is often asked, as an ex-pat: 'if you had to choose, for the rest of your life, would you live in the Vietnam or the US?'

Part of her post, where she states that "Vietnamese people are always looking for a way to get to America" elicited comments and concerns (not to mention rebuke) over at OMIH in the post "Do You Agree?"

Now, while I don't agree with a lot of what is in her post (which I'll get to below), it does seem that her comments flow from a younger lass who's enjoying her freedom to drop it all and move across the world upon a whim, which she contrasts with the limitations others enjoy, whether imposed by governments, or economics or by one's current comfort and self-doubt. Naming oneself after a classic Italian roadster certainly allows for a bit more leeway with me.

What are my problems with her post? Well, complaining that HCMC is "too small" certainly seems a bit hollow. Vietnam is about 1/3 of the size of the U.S. in population and about 3.5% of the U.S. in terms of land mass. Three point five percent! Geographically it is smaller and less diverse, but it's main cities are more of an overcrowded mess than the vast majority of U.S. cities. At ~4.5 million (HCMC) and ~3 million (Hanoi), only NYC and LA are bigger. Chicago is about the population of Hanoi. Also, her wonderment at why folks don't "leave and explore" speaks from a vaunted, privileged position. A lot of Americans can't pick up and go because they don't have resources - money, family, friends - from which they can launch their adventure.

The average American does not have a passport (~25% do); the average American lives within 50 miles from where they grew up; the average American does not have a 4-year college degree. All this and more from Kevin O'Keefe's book "The Average American." [haven't read it, but I don't read books]

Also, the question that is asked of her is a loaded one - like asking if you would prefer to live at home or at your grandmother's, for the rest of your life. As I touched upon a bit in a couple of earlier posts, here and here, you're an ex-pat for a reason; Vietnam is not your home - even as a VK, it may be your homeland, but it's not your home. A couple of weeks, a couple of months, a couple of years will not change that. You have to devote time and energy before you become part of the tapestry of society, not a mere sewn on patch.

It's wholly unfair to ask this question of an ex-pat, especially one who's only been there for a year or two. It's also unwise for that ex-pat, to surmise, based on their answer, that Vietnam is somehow such a bad place that every Vietnamese wants to get out and move to the ex-pat's home country. There are many elderly VKs who I know would like to retire and later be buried in Vietnam. They may not do so for political reasons, but absent that, they would move before their last heartbeat. Why? Because for them, Vietnam is forever their home.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Everywhere you look

Everywhere I look these days, it seems that VN is around me.

Lounging around a few weekends ago, VA and I happened to catch this travel and cooking show on one of the local PBS stations. It was called Tommy Thai's Let's Get Cooking. Mr. Thai is a regular on PBS cooking shows, according to his site bio, but I had never seen him before.

All I thought was who is this dude and what's he doing in Hanoi? We caught an episode about his search for a crossiant in Hanoi. Checking out the site, it looks like half of this season he'll be in Vietnam (mainly in Hanoi), and then the shooting finished up in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

Unfortunately, I missed some of the earlier episodes, including one featuring Bobby Chinn (of the eponymous Bobby Chinn Restaurant); I met Mr. Chinn briefly when we were at his place - a really fine joint that anyone visitor to Hanoi should check out. He's a pretty personable, hand-on type of restauranteur, so he'll stop by tables all night, cajoling you to sample more of his restaurant's skills.

Check your local listings for the PBS show; for the D.C. area, you can catch this show on MPT (Maryland Public Television), at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

[edit: right now, it looks like Tommy Thai's website is down due to hosting issues]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Remittances

According to the Associated Press, through this post at Chao Vietnam, Wells Fargo recently became the first U.S. bank to provide direct remittances to Vietnam, via their association with Incombank.

The issue of remittances (i.e. folks in America sending money back to relatives in a foreign country) is an oft discussed matter, mainly in the context of America's illegal immigration debate with respect to Mexico. See this cached posting at Free Republic, to get a sense of the U.S. debate. The some in political right in the U.S. advocate, among other things, a penalty tax or even an outright ban on remittances.

Remittances to Vietnam likely will not enter the debate, mainly because (1) of its comparatively limited size and (2) there isn't the spectre of illegal immigration, after all, American VKs came here mostly as in-status refugees. Still, I wonder what the fuss about remittances is all about.

As an American, I endorse remittances, for it helps the U.S. government in minimizing its debts. U.S. greenbacks are essentially an IOU from the government to you - on some level, I value a U.S. dollar because I can use it to pay the government my debts, taxes, fines, etc. Obviously, I also use it to trade for goods with other producers and consumers.

The government prints these IOUs and in turn uses it to buy goods and services. It would be a wonderful, beneficial thing if one can hand out IOUs, in exchange for something of value, with the certain knowledge that the IOU holder will never come back and demand recoupment.

Remittances (nearly) do exactly this. While undoubtedly a portion of remittances are sent back to the U.S. via purchasing power to buy U.S. goods and services, a portion is also kept in-country and used as an alternative monetary system or held by a foreign government as a source of "hard" currency to prop up it's domestic money.

Money that leaves the U.S. and never comes back is great for the U.S. government. Essentially it bought goods and services without ever having to pay up on it's end of the IOU. Therefore, shouldn't Americans support remittances? America doesn't run out of money - we'll just print more. Only when the IOUs start to become due should we worry. So buy American dollars, just don't come back here and redeem them, ok?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Blogroll - Xe Om, Cyclo

Xe-Om, Cyclo, Etc: written by AMadBrownWoman, who's tongue-in-cheek avatar stands in for a Filipina woman living in HCMC aka Saigon. A sample post is this one, reflecting on her clothes shopping experience and the exasperation felt by many expats, and more acutely by women, of being called "mập" by the locals.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rule of Law

Within the past week, a U.S. District Court vacated Ken Lay's convictions for corporate fraud at Enron. In vacating the convictions, the court applied long held precedent that criminal convictions get posthumously vacated when the defendant expires before all of his legal appeals. This is an elegant rule for it supremely recognizes that a person has the right to participate in their defense, and absent this ability, a criminal conviction should not adhere.

While this result has stirred certain calls for "corrective" legislative action, I believe that such calls are short sighted and wrong headed. The Rule of Law should be respected, even when, on occasion its application leave results we may not be wholly satisfied with.

What does this have to do with Vietnam? Recently, a high ranking government official, in issuing a warning about life there, noted that one could be arrested and held indefinitely by the government without charge. While a cynic would note that this only makes Vietnam all that much closer to American jurisprudence (Military Commissions Act of 2006, anyone?), it illustrates the important function that the Rule of Law would help a place, especially a place that is looking for further development.

Knowing that there are defined rules, and that those rules will be applied fairly, will only help VN attract economic development. One of my concerns about VN is that the government will pull the rug from under me - perhaps this is naivete developed through knowing so many older Southern Vietnamese Viet Kieu, but it is something I think about on occasion.

In the corporate world, lots of MBAs walk around thinking that Legal is a cost center that needs to be managed and minimized - they don't realize that deals don't get done without an established legal regime undergirding and backstopping the deals. Even without a written contract, unspoken legal parachutes, like the doctrine of fiduciary duty, protect the parties involved and therefore move the ball forward.

Places like Vietnam are, maybe mistakenly, viewed as the 'wild, wild west' (or is it the 'wild, wild, east?'), where there is little by way of firm rules and regulations. In such a vacuum, hopefully, the country will develop an elegant legal framework, with which to order economic activity (and society, though that may be asking too much given the socialist government); I just hope that as the legal structure further develops, the country resists attempts at carve-outs and exceptions, which invariably weakens the Rule of Law.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Flying car

Found this video off of AutoBlog:



It's a commercial filmed in Chicago at the Marina Towers. It's an iconic building designed by Bertrand Goldberg, who has other structures all over Chicago, such as a building for Northwestern University's Medical School's Prentice Women's Center - a great place to grab a bite to eat at 3 am in the morning. And his designs weren't just for the fat segment of society. He produced the Raymond Hilliard Center, a public housing project on the city's South Side, a few blocks off of the South Side's Chinatown - as an aside, the North Side's Chinatown, around Argyle Street, is more like Little Saigon than Chinatown.

I lived for a bit in the Marina Towers. It's a bit neat to live there 'cause you can find postcards of your home (though I never sent any). As a living space, it was a bit difficult to handle. The pizza slice shape of the apartments made it difficult to arrange furniture; good thing I only had a bed, sofa and some speakers. The full length windows were great for exhibitionists, or those who wanted to live in a solarium. Finally, the two elevators and minuscule stairwells serving each building make for serious concerns in case of emergencies - living on the 50+ floor, I had the pleasure of walking down one morning when the power went out. Suffice to say, if I lived there today, I would look into getting a parachute. And I still have dreams about those herky-jerky elevators.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Let's Go..

(a building in the NYC area recently painted, courtesy of Merry Swankster)

Mets! One thing I'll probably miss is catching live sporting events on the t.v. Although I guess I can find it on YouTube or Mojiti or something. Still, memorex ain't like the real thing. Maybe I'll get into snooker on StarTV, though I doubt it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Blogroll - Hanoi Life

Hanoi Life: here's a blog by an older American couple, Ira and Carol, originially from the Northeast, I think, who are in Hanoi. She's involved with music at UNIS while he's a self-described, or at least described by his wife, as a bon-vivant. They are in year two of their Vietnam experience - year one is at their Hanoi Journal blog.

What makes their experience unique from other expat experiences? Well, let them tell you about it in the post titled "Why is our life different from all other lives?"

Cars and the environment

If you've scanned this blog a bit, you'll quickly realize that I'm a wee bit interested in cars.

This post by Our Man In Hanoi, titled "Four Wheels Bad" piqued my interest. It is also, in part, wrong. Here is the bit:
Well the bikes are the lesser of the evils as far as I can see compared to cars.
While we probably 'agree to disagree' with respect to other parts of the post (industry is the engine of the future and tourism is a nice diversion; a full belly and rubbish on the road is better than hungry cleanliness), and while passenger vehicles may overwhelm the roads, they certainly stress the environment less in comparison to the teeming motos.

How clean are car emissions these days? Well, as one would typically answer a complicated question: "It depends."

Assuming that you chose one of the cleanest (non-hybrid) new passenger vehicle, the emissions output is roughly 1.04 grams* per mile, per this source from Clean Car Campaign. That asterisk is important - it denotes that I am not well versed on this issue. Emissions is a complicated matter, because what's coming out of the tailpipe is a stream of complicated gases. The four general categories are Hydro Carbons (HC), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrous Oxides (NOx), and Particulate Matters (PM). From my limited research, there seems to be genuine debate on which category is the "worse" for the environment - an important debate to resolve because certain current engine technology can reduce one type of emissions while increasing another. Suffice to say, I don't know enough, so my emissions output metric combines all four categories.

So what exactly is one of the cleanest new passenger vehicle? For the more car-minded folks, it would be a SULEV certified car. Or in other words, something as radical as a Toyota Camry 4-cylinder sedan, with an automatic. See EPA numbers here. No need for vehicles with 80 lbs of batteries (which, incidentally, like a Toyota Prius, would be cleaner still).

So how do motorbikes do? Again, the short answer is: "It depends (but it's worse than the Toyota)."

As this 2000 World Bank study of South Asia (nee India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka) (.pdf file) demonstrates, two stroke engines pollute (~ 20 grams/km) much more than four stroke moto engines (~ 15 grams/km), but both would pollute more than SULEV cars. Note also that if one were to convert to grams/mile, the numbers would be ~ 33 grams/mile and ~24 grams/mile respectively. The study also points out that emissions performance would be severely negatively impacted due to poor quality fuels and lack of engine maintenance.

Even with more advanced engine designs, such as those offered in Europe or the U.S., motorcycles and motorbikes pollute more than cars. Here is the text of the new, more stringent EPA standards (.pdf file) for motorcyles and motorbikes, issued Dec. 2003. These new standards are more lax than SULEV passenger vehicles, and there are difficulties experienced by manufacturers in meeting these lower standards.

So in short, how do motorbikes do? 4 strokes are better than 2; 125cc's are better than 50 cc's. The Toyota is much better than all the above.

For those who are shopping, here is a list, offered by DriveClean.ca.gov, from which you can pick out cleaner passenger vehicles - note also that PZEV (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) is cleaner than SULEVs, and that there are a bunch of PZEV cars out there.

Top down, chrome spinnin'


When we made the decision a few months back to move clear across the globe in 2007, it was substantial, but it didn't really hit us. It really hasn't hit us; only occasionally do we think that 'hey, we're really gonna do this' in our daily activities, even though we're slowly trying to get things in order. Like the other weekend, we're shopping at Costco and thought, 'should we really buy this big box of foodstuff / case of paper goods / etc.' given our time horizon? I think about the move everyday with respect to work, because I am already handling some bits via correspondence, but overall, the idea of moving doesn't seem real yet.

That is, until I look in the garage.

After a bit of debate, we decided to sell my car. After advertising on Craigslist and showing it over a weekend, the car found a new owner. My car means a lot to me because it's my first car, it's the car I met VA in. Growing up, and going to schools in big cities, meant I didn't have a need for private transportation until I moved to D.C. I liked miata(s) for a good five years prior to buying my own. I didn't even know how to drive a manual, and had to get the dealer to drive me home after buying it!

Pretty soon afterwards, I was doing autocrossing (which turned out to be a bore) and taking it for HPDE events at VIR and Summit Point. It was a great source of enjoyment and amusement for me - it's an easy platform to learn how to wrench - and it provided easy fodder for ridicule amongst family. It may be viewed as a hairdresser's car, but man, what a easy going sports car. I hope the next owner treats you well.

Gettin' Ready for Time Attack!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Skype on a stick

(photo from HoboTraveler.com)

Skype on a stick - no, it isn't something one gets from a place like Beijing's Night Market off of Wang Fu Jing (it's actually on Dong Hua Men). Rather, it is setting up Skype (or is it called SkypEbay now?) on a USB flash drive so that one can use it in internet cafes and have access to one's contacts. Furthermore, once you're done, you log off Skype, pull your flash drive and (most) of your tracks are erased. Importantly, the next computer user should not be able to log onto your account and use up your SkypeOut minutes. Pair up the Skype-on-a-Stick with a USB bluetooth dongle and a bluetooth headset and you're golden.

So how does one do this? Follow these instructions, courtesy of www.VoltNincs.be. It is reproduced here, with minor edits, for posterity, or until this blog is deleted.
How to make Skype run from a flash drive. Make sure Skype isn’t running!!!

1.) Copy Skype to the flash drive:

1.1) Copy c:\Program Files\Skype (only the Phone subdir is needed, but it has to be inside the Skype Directory on the flash. e.g. x:\Skype\Phone) to the flash drive.

2.) Make a new folder called Data on the flash drive inside the Phone subdir (x:\Skype\Phone\Data)

3.) Copy your Skype data:

3.1) You can find your Skype profile data in c:\documents and settings\[YourUserName]\Application Data\Skype. From here you need to copy that folder which has the same name as your skype user id to the flash drive in the Data folder that you made (e.g. x:\Skype\Phone\Data).

3.2) (optional) I also copied the shared.xml on to my flash drive aswell, but this is usually generated by itself.

4.) Now create a Shortcut to the Skype executable which is on the flash drive. Do this by clicking on the Skype.exe icon and creating a shortcut via the right mouse button. Copy this new Shortcut to the root of the flash drive (x:\).

4.1) Edit the Shortcut. Click on the Shortcut and right click to bring up its Properties. Change the following values to these:
!!! Target: x:\Skype\Phone\Skype.exe /removable/datapath:”Skype\Phone\Data”
!!! Start In: x:\

5.) Make sure no Skype is running and double click on the link to make Skype start from flash drive.

5.1) Your firewall software may prompt you to allow Skype to function as a server - click OK/Yes.

6.) Before removing the flash drive make sure you close Skype!!!

7.) Have fun with Skype-on-a-flash as I call it.

The two steps with (!!! 's) are very important because they tell Skype where to run and where to search for the profiles.

Note also the "x:\" drive is the drive letter of your flash drive. For instance, on my office computer, it is "f:\" and not "x:\." Also, when editing the Properties of the Shortcut, don’t worry about the drive letter because Windows will automatically change the drive letter the flash drive is assigned to on whichever computer you are currently using.



Monday, October 09, 2006

Google Education

Recently I was sent this news article about Google's efforts, along with University of California - Berkeley, to offer college lectures via their video service. Basically, anyone who can access Google Video can view actual, full length lectures by Berkeley professors (for select courses). All the learnin' without the tuition. Yes, this is "just" an extension of distance learning, but it's a novel extension. Distance learning for free. The development of things like this may allow, in NGO lingo, lower cost capacity building and technical assistance amongst the developed and developing world.

The result can be seen here. There is a nice selections of offerings right now, and Cal is promising additional uploads of course lectures in the coming months.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Blogroll - ThirstyThong

Here's another one:

thirstythong: not exactly NSFW, this blog is written by three two SF Bay area Viet Kieu - two guys one girl - who are in HCMC. An example of their writing is this post titled Nước Ngon (literally: tasty water), delving a bit into the concept and meaning behind the term mất nước (literal: losing water; conceptually: losing one's roots).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Illiterate


Currently, I'm pretty much illiterate in Vietnamese. It would be a great help if one of these Web 2.0 ventures puts together a Text-To-Speech application; I can use something like that to cut-and-paste things for translations, or it can read along with me to help me pick up the language more quickly. One of the minor goals of mine is to be literate, say at a 6th grade level (i.e. reading Vietnam's version of the NYT), in 12 months.

I'm bemoaning my skill deficit because I really want to understand this piece in the Vietnamese language VN Express webzine. I can make out like 15%, which is not nearly enough. The picture above is from that piece, which also illustrates the concerns Katherine has about teenage traffic safety in Vietnam.

I came across the article from iCambo's post about, in his terms, "Hanoi Playaz." Love that old-skool "z." Anyhow, I am curious about what this article says regarding the Dân Chơi Hà Thành - dân chơi = folks who play and Hà Thành = another name for Ha Noi; so, loosely translated it means Hanoi Playboys (and gals). Apparently this issue of young kids flaunting cash is the current rage, as it is also covered here by Người Việt Online.

One thing it does demonstrate is that there is a entire community out there that I am unable to access (right now). As Mel pointed out, there are a bunch of Vietnamese language bloggers, including this white Canadian dude. English may be king in the world, but the kid who's Yahoo 360* blog started the entire Hanoi Playboy phenomena in the press, Cuong Oz, has nearly 1.5 Million page views. And that's after the conversion from VND ;). Language courses, here I come.

Blogroll - Part 2

Instead of just adding folks to my blogroll on the right, I thought I should give a short (on occasion, perhaps inaccurate) synopsis of the blogs I've added. Here are two three for today:

iCambo: written by a male Cambodian university student who's studying in Hanoi. Vietnam through the eyes of a non-western expat.

My Vietnam Experience
: written by a midwestern (?) American female, who's over in Hanoi doing some work that is related to her Mennonite church, I think.

Mejuju: written by a Californian Viet Kieu female in Hanoi. Hosted on the very popular-among-Asian-Americans Xanga.com.

Some of the older Hanoi (english-language) bloggers are putting down their digital pens as they're leaving town. Hopefully these, and other, blogs will fill the void.

US Ambassador

So the other day I went to a little social gathering that featured the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Marine. I can't really tell you what he said because he started things by informing the limited assembled media that his comments were "off the record." Overall, it was interesting to be in a room with a bunch of folks interested in Vietnam, and in particular, interested in the economics of Vietnam, and how it relates to their own pocketbooks.

I am sure there are rooms of folks like this all across the States (and the world) - people getting together, trading and collaborating on ideas of how to exploit (in the economic sense) Vietnam. In a week or so there will be yet another round of investment conferences for foreigners in Hanoi and HCMC.

One thing that was mentioned by a friend of mine at the gathering was 'the moral basis for U.S. involvement in countries such as Vietnam is that economic development and freedom will lead to social freedoms.' He wonders what we (the U.S.) will do when future experience turns that aphorism into a falsehood. Afterall, the growing economic might China has allowed it to dictate certain terms to U.S. multinationals looking to engage in that market. See Yahoo.com.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Amazing Race - Hanoi

The cult CBS television show, "The Amazing Race," made a stop in Hanoi that was broadcasted last night. It's neat to see parts of the world one has been to represented on TV - I guess that's part of the cult appeal.

For those who are fans, you know what this show is about; for those who are not (yet) fans, it's a race between two-person teams around the world, where along the way the teams have to complete various tasks and the slowest team on each leg of the race gets eliminated (or Philiminated as the lingo goes). The final team standing wins a million USD.

Here's a clip posted on Youtube.com by the user GoncheyRM. You can click on his/her name for the other clips of last evening's episode.

[clip removed because embedding it here causes browser errors - just go to the foregoing link]

The funniest lines of the night has to be:

"It's like Frogger, dude." - spoken by a competitor trying to cross a street in Hanoi; and

'For safety reasons, racers are not allowed to operate or ride a motorbike while in Vietnam' - a voiceover describing the limits on the racers.

Note that in a prior episode the producers had no difficulties with allowing racers to ride, and fall off, horses.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Adidas Saigon



I need some color on this blog, so here is something kinda neat that I read about on another VN blog (citation omitted 'cause I lost the link for now). They're from Adidas and called, appropriately, Saigon. Its part of their "Materials of the World" series and attempts, successfully, to use local fabrics in producing something cool and unique. I gather they're also of limited release.

VN work visa

To get a work permit in Vietnam, one should be prepared with certain documentation from one's home country. This forum post (on Dave's ESL Cafe) outlines the information required for English Teachers in Vietnam. Here's the actual governmental decree, of September 17, 2003, in English, if you're inclined.

I find it a bit funny that folks on the forum complain about the steps one must take, and hoops one must invariably jump thru, to get a work permit in Vietnam. Compared to the States, it's a piece of cake.

Tourists who come here to the US and work are given one hoop to jump thru if they are found out - the one straight towards the docks and deportation. It's pretty difficult to come to the States on a temporary workers' visa; you would have to fit yourself into one of the H-class visas, the bulk of which are given to those with degrees and advanced skills. A college degree and the ability to speak a foreign language means nothing with respect to improving your chances. Furthermore, American work visas require a sponsoring entity. You can't just drop in, find a job and then get a visa. For all the hassles that you go through, just realize that, in the majority of the cases, your home country would not allow anyone to do what you're attempting to do.

Anyhow, back to us - the main piece of documentation that we would need is the criminal background check. That means getting an FBI rap sheet. The procedures are outlined here if you're interested, or in need of one. Also check out the FAQ section concerning the authentication of the rap sheet. It'll take a few weeks, so I guess we should start the process now; it's a bit odd in beginning our preparations already.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hey, be us!

One thing that Americans believe should be exported around the whole, besides Coca-Cola and blue jeans, is democracy. I'm not talking about Iraq here - that's another topic for another site - but rather, the general feeling within us that American freedoms are a wonderful and powerful thing, and we wish more of the world can be like us in that respect.

Expats, no matter how well integrated into the local society, have one thing that always separates them - for me, that would be a little blue booklet that is my U.S. Passport. No matter how bad things may get, we have that parachute that, more often than not, will deploy and save us. Going overseas makes us reflect more often on what it means to be an American, and how great it is.

All this brings us back to the title of this post, a play on words for the title I originally typed - Habeas Corpus.

Today, as I am writing this the U.S. Senate may pass a bill, which would surely be signed by the current President, to eviscerate the U.S. Constitution, in particular Article I, Section 9, providing habeas corpus relief to governmental action. What is often known as "The Great Writ," handed down from English Common Law, is being excised from American jurisprudence.

Besides amassing student loan debt, one thing that I did gain through my schooling is the appreciation of the Constitution; I am not a Constitutional scholar or theorist in any shape or form, but I do instinctively get uneasy whenever there is an attempt to legislate away our rights and protections. The current administration wants the world to be like us, but they have forgotten what U.S. means it seems.

No matter your political stripe, the mid-term elections are 40 days away. Register and vote, even if you're overseas.

Things to do in Hanoi

I found this list at the APEC Conference website, giving conference attendees the low-down on what to do while in town. Obviously, it's geared towards business visitors and polticos, but I thought it would be informative and valuable nonetheless. Because I expect to lose my bookmarks when transitioning overseas, I'm throwing it up here so I can find it again later on.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Everyone's an Expert, Part 2

Mel (Antidote to Burnout) in this post titled Looking for Expat Bloggers who Pose at Experts [sic] references the inquiry by CHarvey (CHarvey In Vietnam) seeking examples of what spurred me to write the Everyone's an Expert post below.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, I direct them to this Dealing with Negatives post by Jon Hoff (The Final Word).

On Mel's post, OMIH (Our Man in Hanoi) made, in part, these comments:
Blogs are not 100% fact. They are opinions. That is the whole point of a blog. For VA to VN to complain about people having opinions on their blog is ludicrous. We all have opinions.
...
Okay so we have shouldn't be too arrogant about what we present as fact. Especially when it's overly negative.
...
Blog are blogs. They are not guide books or reference books.
To suggest that I am complaining about folks having an opinion is a straw man argument; to implicitly suggest that each and every point of view is equally valid stems from a juvenile canard that everyone, from their own perspective, is right.

No, everyone is not right and not every opinion is valid and deserving of equal stature. One's opinion is formed from one's ability to observe (along, with other things, the knowledge with which to reflect upon such observations). But the ability to observe by the average expat is limited in many respects by the fact that that person cannot easily integrate and blend into the fabric of the world in which he is observing.

This reminds me of the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle and its application in the social sciences. The observer, by virtue of observation, changes the observed. Within social sciences, observers seek to disappear into the background, to obtain a more valid observation.

How easily can a person who cannot converse in the local language, disappear and observe things as they are? It is not about self-censorship or omitting negative facts about Vietnam from one's opinions, it's about recognizing that writings which summarizes one's experience into the boilerplate of "Vietnam is ________" is a disservice to one's own experiences.

It's true that "blogs are blogs," but in this day and age, material on the internet serves as the authoritative guides and reference books for the world. How many people read books when such things are out-dated by the time they leave the printers?

As a group, expat writers who (mostly) write in English wield a not unsubstantial power to adjust the prism with which the English reading world views Vietnam, and other countries for that matter. As expats, the country is viewed thru the filter of the bubble that one luxuriates in. Expand the bubble in which one lives in, to expand the experiential basis for, and the validity of, one's comments.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Women in Vietnam

In this post by Mike Weston of the VN news aggregator blog Chao Vietnam (which means "Hello, Viet-Nam" fwiw), he posts an article by Tiền Phong that says Vietnam has one of the highest percentage of female legislators in Asia. It notes that "up to" 27.3 percent of "employees in legislative agencies" are females in Vietnam.

If taken at face value then there is a logical gap between the two sentences in the news article, after all "employees" are not exactly the same thing as legislators - for instance, there is a distinct difference between political staff and interns versus the elected or appointed legislator herself. Perhaps I'm reading the article too closely, so let me just assume that the article was loose with its language and indeed 27.3 percent of legislators in Vietnam are women.

27.3 percent is pretty stout and promising. In the U.S., according to information from this Rutgers link, women hold about 15% of the seats in Congress (and 14% in the Senate specifically), about 23% in state legislatures and 25% in statewide elective executive offices (attorney generals, comptrollers and the like).

So based on these raw numbers, it looks like women have similar, if not greater, poltical clout in Vietnam as compared to the U.S., a result one would not casually imagine based upon assumptions about Asian countries and societies. I guess that's the problem with casually assuming.

Within the private sector, the article notes that more than 22 percent of executives are women. The article is brief, or rather, lacking, in describing its survey methods and definitions, so it is difficult to compare it to U.S. statistics. Even so, comparing that number to the percent of women holding positions on the board of Fortune 500 companies (14.7 percent in 2005, an improvement from 9.6 percent in 1995 - according to this press release, summarizing a report conducted by Catalyst, a leading research and advisory company focusing on women in the workplace issues), shows that Vietnam is far from trailing.

Indeed, in our visit there, we met with a Vietnamese female executive that heads one of the biggest enterprises in the entire country.

So what does all this have to do with us? Well, to move there, VA will need to resign from her job and postpone her career - she loves the sector in which she currently works and is on a nice, upwardly mobile track at her organization. To give it all up is asking a lot (by me). To give it all up to move somewhere as a trailing spouse and be treated a bit like a second class citizen because she's a women would be a whole lot to take.

Maybe Vietnamese society is more egalitarian than we westerners give it credit for. The above stats help allay our concerns but our future experience will, in the end, determine how we perceive Vietnam on this metric.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Film Festival

Here's a shout out to my friends George and Gene at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, which is coming up in October. I met VA through Gene, so I'll always be in his debt.

Clickthru on this banner for the festival's site.

San Diego Asian Film Festival

Feed me

Nah, this isn't about food - though VA and I did go and grab some Vietnamese food with some friends the other day; we're trying to avoid Vietnamese food for the limited time we have left before heading overseas, but our friends won out.

This post is about that newly installed little orange icon on the right side of this page:

- it's courtesy of Feedburner and allows you, the avid gazer of this ditty, to add this to your feedroll.

I'm personally trying out the whole feed reader thing for the first time, because it's getting a bit tiresome to click on all the info blogs I attempt to read daily. I'm using a beta Google feed reader; probably there are better widgets for this function out there, but Google's services are rather integrated and sticky.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Granular pricing

Vietnam is ostensibly a communist country adopting a socialist market economy. I submit that - at least on the street level - it is neo-capitalist in my sense of the term. I know others have defined neo-capitalism for their own usage (see here and here); my definition of neo-capitalism is a market system that implements granular pricing.

Granular pricing is the ability to charge different consumers different prices for the same item. Here in the western world we have businessess and industries that exploit granular pricing. Ebay is a great example; so too is the auto industry, with price differentials for the same make and model across different dealerships. The consumer street scene in Vietnam and other less developed countries takes granular pricing to a whole next level - the ability to charge the same consumer different prices for the same item.

When I read bloggers and posters lamenting about being "ripped off" in their latest transaction I think, 'aha,' that's just neo-capitalism. As we all learned in Econ 101, for each product there is a supply-demand matrix. Vendors should assess this (macro-level) matrix in pricing their product. But what if the vendor has access to the supply-demand matrix on the micro-, individual level? With such information, wouldn't the transaction proceed more rationally and efficiently? After all, under the utilitarian view that undergirds the supply-demand curves, shouldn't a bottle of water be worth more to a thirsty person than a sufficiently sated one?

The street vendor (and you) suss out each other's curves through the act of bargaining. It's not an ideal method, but it works. So one day you may pay X for an item, the next X+ and the following X-. It doesn't mean that on some days you got taken and on others you did the taking; rather, the parties had different supply-demand matrices on the respective days and the item was priced accordingly. After all, in a fairly bargained transaction, neither party is ever "ripped off" - each should have extracted the maximal value from the other.

The only time that you are ripped off is when the cab driver drops you off across the street, just so that you cross an extra "zone" and therefore have to pay more. Oh wait, that's a D.C. phenomena.

So stop talking about being ripped off - if you don't like the price, then don't pay it and don't buy it. If someone tries to guilt or coerce you into paying for services not rendered, then stand up for yourself and don't pay them. If you paid more than you thought you should have, then that just means you're hungrier than you thought you were. And then marvel at getting a lesson in economics on the street.