Monday, October 30, 2006

Expats, via

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 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


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, 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

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 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


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

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

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 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.