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, 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.


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, 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


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.)


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^"


Type "aw"

Type "a8"

Type "a("


Type "dd"

Type "d9"

Type "dd"


Type "ee"

Type "e6"

Type "e^"


Type "oo"

Type "o6"

Type "o^"


Type "ow"

Type "o7"

Type "o+"


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:

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"

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.


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

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


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!