Sunday, June 24, 2007

Korean Trip Pictures - Seoul

Some pictures, 'cause we finally got our film 'developed.'

Another view from the hotel. That is Gyeonbokgung Palace. Seoul is surrounded by mountains, which I didn't know about. Very scenic for an urban area.

Cheonggyecheon River going thru downtown Seoul. It's basically man-made and is insanely popular on late weeknights and weekends. Come here and see old and young alike slough off their kicks and soak their feet. Yeah, don't drink the water.

Mini coin-op games for the kids coming back from school. This little residential street juts off from a main business thoroughfare downtown.

The Palace guards.

A building within the Palace grounds. These buildings have been maintained (i.e. rebuilt) more rigorously than say the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. On the one hand, it's nicer and more vivid, on the other hand one doesn't feel the same reverence. There is something to be said for touching objects that are a thousand years old, like the turtle steles at the Temple of Literature.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

American Nonrequired Reading

I don't really read for enjoyment, though I often enjoy what I read. I mainly stick to news and financial accounts and analysis, partly because it's work related, partly because I enjoy digesting information. Because of the move here, however, I've been trying to pick up a book habit.

Only recently did we receive a shipment of books we've mailed to ourselves (note, it takes about 4 months for US Postal Service to get it here via boat); along with visiting family who were packing paperbacks, we are now nicely stocked with passable literature. Had a lot of downtime in the past few weeks (hence the daily posting) and managed to finish The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006.

Reading through that I just thought 'imagine what they didn't put in here.' This book was filled with a lot of short stories that were a waste of time. The only pieces I liked were either news pieces (Lincoln Report's propaganda on the progress in Iraq; excerpts from an American solider's blog in Iraq) or stylized non-fictional accounts that are originally published in magazines (travelogue for Dubai; thoughts on naturalizing during a period when Constitutional rights are being eroded; an SNL alum's letting go of God).

I was disappointed in the book, and it's disappointing to realize that I don't enjoy these books that others do. What to do in those quiet hours after dinner but before bed? Gin rummy, I guess. Rummy is another word for tonic, right?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No Visa For You!

And this is a good thing. As part of the President of Vietnam's historic visit to the US, he announced in NYC that as of September 1, 2007, VKs are no longer required to get visas to enter Vietnam. That's about a $100+ savings per 6 month visa.

So now (or soon, at least), VKs will be treated like citizens of ASEAN countries for visa purposes. Sweet.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cleaner Air in Vietnam Coming Soon

Read in the paper today that starting on July 1, 2007, all vehicles will have to meet the Euro II emissions standard. A cynic would say this is still a decade behind Europe - and they would be right - but it's a good step forward nonetheless.

Some manufacturers are speculating that this will add $500-1200 to the price of a car. Increases to motobike prices may be dampen a bit, as new Hondas and the like are already meeting these regs.

With the new Euro II standards, does that mean I can no longer bitch about the pollution while camped out atop my Minsk, sucking the tar out of a Vinataba? Or am I still allowed some ostentatious hypocrisy?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Making Ice Cream

I normally eat my fair share of ice cream, but with the heat here I eat more than usual. Problem is, with summer comes power cuts. That means my stash in the fridge melts and refreezes. So unopened ice cream pops become freezer burned like the tops of half eaten Haagen Dazs. That was always my excuse for finishing those pints in one sitting.

Instead of storing some freezer burned ice cream, perhaps I could make my own. This is courtesy of Kids Domain, thru the geek webzine Life Hacker. Pasting the info here in case the page gets deleted in the future. (btw, 'freezer burned' ice works fine for the below)

Ice Cream in a BagCopyright © 1999 Dorothy LaFara,

Here is a fun idea for a hot summer day. My kids love it!

Note: As in all recipes, results can vary depending on humidity, conditions, etc. Please try any recipe out before attempting in a group setting.

This project is rated VERY EASY to do.

What You Need

  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Milk or half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons Rock salt
  • 1 pint-size Ziploc plastic bag
  • 1 gallon-size Ziploc plastic bag
  • ice cubes
How To Make It

  1. Fill the large bag half full of ice, and add the rock salt. Seal the bag.
  2. Put milk, vanilla, and sugar into the small bag, and seal it.
  3. Place the small bag inside the large one and seal again carefully.
  4. Shake until mixture is ice cream, about 5 minutes.
  5. Wipe off top of small bag, then open carefully and enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Martini Review: Wild Rice

  • Location: Wild Rice (La Lua)
  • Size: nice and hearty, in a margarita cocktail glass though
  • Olives: extra pitted olives, as requested
  • Taste: nice! maybe strain the ice a bit better, but tasty nonetheless
  • Price: 65k
  • Synopsis: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vietnam Utility Costs

Prior to moving here, we were interested in the cost for household utilities, to plug into a budget to see if we could afford Vietnam and save for retirement at the same time. These days, our Vietnam retirement funds are invested in gin, but that's a different matter...

So what's the tally for an apartment in Hanoi?
  • phone: $2/month for the landline that we don't use
  • internet: $3/month for adsl at home and light surfing; you pay by KBs downloaded (or you can pay $60/m for unlimited), so a month of flouting the MPAA costs $30 or so
  • cell: $10-15 for each postpaid cell
  • cable: $3/m, but the programming is determined by the set channel list for the whole building. About 5 English language stations, 5 VN language ones, 4 CCTVs, and sundry others
  • cooking gas: so marginal that they haven't collected in 4 months
  • electricity: $15 or so earlier this year but it's starting to get hot; $35 last month when we used the AC at least every other day if not full time when we're home. We just cool the bedroom and not the whole place. We also probably do laundry more often than the average expat without kids - cold water washing, as there is no such thing as hot water for the laundry, and an electric tumble dryer. I'm repeating myself here, but: Best. Purchase. Ever.

Martini: Le Pub

  • Location: Le Pub
  • Size: medium sized cocktail
  • Olives?: lime twist
  • Taste: pretty solid, except I'm not too keen on the lime twist replacing olives. That seems to be the standard in this part of the world.
  • Price: 25k on a cocktail night special (half-off)
  • Synopsis: 3 of 5 stars, because I would order this again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Blogroll - Innocents Abroad

It's been a while since I've updated the blogroll - mostly because I just stuck interesting blogs into Google Reader and ignored the right hand side of this blog.

Stomping around Kevin's (SaigonNezumi) blogroll, I visited Innocents Abroad, a couple of expats in Hanoi that I've emailed, but never met or read their postings.

Here's a funny posting about their nice to look at but unlivable former digs. I have a theory on the stinky bathroom phenomena in Vietnam, but I'll write about that later.

Idiotic Fop

Judge Sues for $65 Million Over Lost Pants.

When I first heard about this on CNN World, where they mentioned that the guy was from Washington, I though, man, someone who's licensed in Washington should file a complaint and get the guy disbarred.

Of course CNN World was wrong - this wannabe fop (um, cuffs are your friends when you need to have "pants let out") is from Washington, DC. So, could someone back home do me a favor and mail a letter to the DC Bar?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Choco Pie, Part II

Here are the "real" Choco Pies. Or at least the ones I'm familiar with back in the States. I'm biased though, since I did most of our shopping in a Korean hypermarket around DC.

(It's NOW!)

Choco Pie, Part I

A post by Teresa and the kids spurred me to put my collection of Choco Pie pix up. Who said Vietnam doesn't have variety for the consumer?

Here are the "fake" Choco Pies.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Land of the Rising Samsung

Walking, and cabbing, around Seoul felt like some big American city. Well, not really, as it is cleaner here. Seoul is more like Singapore, without the greenery. Replace the trees with massive 10 lane thoroughfares circling every downtown block and you get Seoul.

Visually, it is a very pretty city, with the surrounding mountains visible everywhere. And it seems quite livable for the locals - while there are huge condo complexes that are along the Han river away from the business district, within downtown there are some older single family residential housing areas off on the side streets to the main avenues.

One thing you quickly notice here is how dominant the Chaebols are in the business life of this country. Everywhere you go, you see Hyundais, Kias and Samsungs - and I'm not just talking about cars on the road. (Yes, Samsung makes cars - they're actually rebaged Nissan/Renault Teanas, the equivalent to a Nissan Maxima Stateside). These companies do everything, from financial services to give you that mortgage, to building your condo, to outfitting your home with electronics, to filling in your parking space, to selling the gas to run that car. Frankly, it's pretty astounding. I wonder if America looked the same in the early part of the 20th century with those business trusts.

As a car guy I was shocked at how few non-Korean cars were on the road. I wondered whether this was due to high import taxes or just homer buying habits. South Korea is definitely a WTO member, so the import tariffs cannot be a Vietnam-esque 90% or something equally ridiculous.

Turns out that it's only about 8% (but recently eliminated for US car companies), and that only 4% of the car market is non-Korean and that this is mainly due to buying habits.

It's interesting how in the US the whole "buy American" campaign smacked of ignorance, parochialism and possibly xenophobia in some quarters yet in Korea the buy local mentality has allowed it to develop a world class automotive industry. A Hyundai Excel was a joke 20 years ago, a Hyundai Sonata is a solid alternative to an Accord or Camry today.

Besides the cars, I noticed a few other things about RoK - it's hella expensive, probably a bit more expensive than Singapore and right on par with NYC. The only thing that's cheap in town is the cab fare. Food everywhere was mostly pricey, and beers are $2-2.50 in a 7-11 and 3x more in any establishment. Even fried squid balls on the street was $2+; compare that to a hotdog in NYC for $1-1.50, or even less at Gray's Papaya. It was vacation though, so we mostly ate at places that were about $30 a head without drinks. After a few months in Hanoi, that's a mild shock to the system. Ok, maybe a bit more than mild.

The women here are tall. Or at least some of them. They're taller than Korean American women. And a lot of them share a common look and dress - long hair with straight bangs framing the face like an anime character and flouncy (yeah, that's a word) t-shirts or short dresses coming in mid-thigh over jeans. Thirsty would have a field day.

No one speaks English. Not even a little. Ok, not completely true as the hotel staff spoke pretty solid English, but it was a hotel catering to foreign business travelers. On the street it seems hardly anyone spoke any English. The best English speaker we met was this old guy in his 60s manning his convenience shop late at night. He shocked me by telling me the price in English (after he realized I didn't know a lick of Korean) and then asked if I needed a bottle opener with that. Otherwise, it was pretty difficult to figure out things. Also, there were very little romanized translations of street signs and such.

We went to a 5-star hotel on Jeju Island, probably the most touristy site in Korea besides the DMZ, and the language barrier was present even there. Of course, my Korean is limited to saying "Thank You" and ordering some food, but my Chinese is not much better but Beijing was much easier to navigate than Seoul and Korea in general.

Korea was interesting and I had a good time with the vacation, but I don't know if I would choose it as a vacation spot again unless a gaggle of friends were coming along.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

We're in Korea

View from the hotel

Asiana Air, going to Seoul.

Seoul sunrise.

Blogging while in Korea is a bit tough. Blogger is a bit jacked up as the interface language is in Korean (ok) with no way to easily change it back (not ok).

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