Monday, July 30, 2007

Times Are A' Changin'

Hmm, this is different. I guess the times are a' changin' for us, in a good way.

AFC Cup Action - Update

So last evening, instead of heading out for a poker game (darn, ex-urban living!), we stayed in and watched the AFC Cup final between Saudi Arabia and Iraq instead. Watched the second half and was entertained, even though I'm a soccer noob.

One of the interesting things about the game was that the Iraqi players all had on new uniforms. So they all spruced up for the final, which they won in exciting fashion. The new threads were sorely needed because at least up to and including the quarterfinals against Vietnam, the Iraq team were wearing mismatched uniforms. Their starting players clearly had on at least two different sets of uni's, which were differentiated by the font used for the numbers and level of sun bleaching the Iraq flag patch endured. It would have been that much cooler if they won the Cup in those quarterfinal uni's.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Free Hug Day

This Saturday morning my office internet was down for a bit (one of the drawbacks to working in a foreign country that has an antiquated infrastructure - still, no exploding transformers under roads though). So I did what everyone else in this country would do - head to a nearby cafe and mooch their wifi.

Being me, I had two criteria: hassle free wifi and air conditioning. Headed to the closest Highlands Coffee, en tete of Ho Guom (aka Hoan Kiem Lake). Unfortunately they only had the overhead fans on, and were pretty empty too. Instead of wondering if one led to the other condition, I just booked and decided to walk down to Ciao Cafe, which is on the other end of the lake.

Power walking along the concrete banks of the lake, I saw the interesting sight above. There were about 50+ kids, probably college students, who all increasingly look younger as I age, a curious development we are all seemingly afflicted with, in a few disparate groups advertising free hugs. They were carrying both English and Vietnamese signs and attracted the tourists wandering around the lake as well as passing moto riders.

For a country that does not have public displays of affection, this was a light and lovely situation to behold. These kids were 'taking advantage' of the unspoken exception to the social opprobrium against PDA - that of the "public parks exception."

Day or night, in any park space, be it large areas like Lenin Park, or small tiled squares serving as a public plaza, you will see locals - teens, twenty-somethings, sometimes folks pushing parenthood - draped on each other, engaged in activities usually left to darkened movie theaters or back staircases in the high schools of one's youth. You witness more action in the local parks than in the Hollywood blockbusters imported here, mainly because the latter are censored a bit.

Anyhow, I refused the free offer but did get a chuckle to start my day. This all happened around 8:30 am on a Saturday morning. Don't these kids know the benefits of a hangover?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Saigon Cooling

For an aside, here is the Nikon 2006-2007 Photo Contest International's Grand Prize winner, "Crossing Waves" by Tung Khanh Le. I'm sure Preya is disappointed she didn't grab the grand prize.

We were down in HCMC last week and noticed yet again how much more comfortable it can be there for an expat. One of the biggest adjustment to the region has to be the unbearable heat. It's basically the middle of the summer already, so (hopefully) this is as hot as it gets in Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular.

HCMC is, surprisingly, noticeably cooler than Hanoi. It cools off much more appreciably in the evenings, due in large part the the ocean's ameliorative effects, and during the day, even though the sun is more oppressive, the humidity is slack in comparison to the capital city.

To be sure, it still is hot like heck, so sitting in air conditioned cafes is still the preferred method of spending one's time, the atmosphere is such that when you are required to sit in an outdoor cafe to conduct a business meeting with some locally acclimated individuals, you don't mind *too* much. You still think they're crazy for suggesting an outdoor location, but you don't think them wholly insane.

The other thing we noticed while down in HCMC was how fat some locals are; well, at least relative to Hanoi folks. The fat locals look like my relatives in the States, corpulence through comfort. As in a lot of developing Asia, everywhere in Vietnam you see overfed children; but in HCMC, you can find a number of adult locals with extra capital around their waists. It was odd really, but it made us fit in more easily :)

The English language Vietnamese paper (that would be Viet Nam News) yesterday had an article about using acupuncture to lose weight. The vignette featured a woman who was 165cm and 65kg - that's about 5'4" and 143lbs for the non-imperial set. That's would be a little under normal in the States. Her 18 year old daughter was 80kgs though. By any measure, that's quite a few stones.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Away From Play

Ahh.. couldn't make the VN-JPN game because I had to catch a flight to Saigon for work. Good thing too, I guess, 'cause the tickets were [in my Austin Powers voice] TWO MILLION VND. Each. Hot dman.

Unfortunately, they got clobbered. But Hanoi and Saigon was out partying because UAE took down Qatar which puts Vietnam in the final eight. They are playing Iraq tonight in Thailand.

Iraq v. Vietnam. As an American, that's a bit eerie. Perhaps in 35 years, Iraq will be one of the AFC Cup hosts.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

AFC Cup Action

Ok, not so much Asia Football Cup (AFC) action as is post-AFC action. This is what the streets of Hanoi looked like after Vietnam, one of the 2007 AFC host countries, surprisingly took down the UAE 2-nil in an opening round game.

This intersection is close to Hoan Kiem lake - there was much more traffic circling the lake, but my phonecam wasn't ready for that action.

We're not soccer fans at all, but I think we'll try to make one of the next two opening round games (versus Qatar and then Japan). Tickets were 40, 60 or 100k but at this point they'll need to be scalped. Lowest prices are about 120k right now, more when it gets closer to game time (at My Dinh Stadium, out in the Western 'burbs from the city).

Vietnam's top rapper, a 16-year old teen girl going by the stage name Kim, recorded a song for Nike (for free! c'mon, embrace the market economy already) to mark the AFC. I would embed it, but dunno how. You can find it at Nike's site, Choi Het Minh, which roughly translated means "play with all your might." She's more bubble-gum rap, and sorta average at that, but she earns an "A" for enthusiasm and marketing.

HmL, don't ya wish ya were here?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What's The Difference Between Me and You

After living here in Hanoi for about half a year, and visiting Saigon for a bit during that time, I've come to the opinion that for most expats, Saigon is the place to be.

Now this is not to rehash the blog war between the north and south of last year - I do not condone those sentiments (mainly 'cause I can't read them), but I understand.

Saigon is so much more like the States in comparison to Hanoi, that adjusting to those living conditions would be markedly easier. The traffic is better. The food is better. The Vietnamese is easier to understand. There is more stuff to buy. More folks speak English.

Because it is a bigger city, because GIs were based there, because most VKs were from there, because of the above, the city has a larger number of foreigners/ex-pats roaming about. That just makes for a softer landing when you're adjusting.

So what's the difference between Saigon and Hanoi? No, not five bank accounts, three ounces and two vehicles. Ultimately, because Saigonese created those Little Saigons all over the world - and not, obviously, Little Hanois - Saigon is much more familiar to expats. And because it is such a bustling commercial hub, the city has incorporated the world into its fabric more readily than Hanoi.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Driving Around Lost

So the company driver quit last week and now there is a new driver. From Saigon. Which means *I'm* the one who's the local, giving directions. It also means I'm more short tempered than normal, 'cause a ride around town now becomes a pain.

Not only is the dude unaware of the roads, he has the amazing quality of being slow and reckless.

Perhaps he's just not used to the traffic here. The traffic in Saigon is almost placid in its order. At least in the central business district (Dist. 1), it's pretty controlled and manageable. Yes, the roads are overwhelmed with volume, but people actually stick to traffic rules, more or less.

Perhaps there is more traffic enforcement in Saigon. Perhaps in Hanoi everyone and their mother thinks they're a big shot. You know, the whole politico feel of the place - I know somebody who's somebody who can get me out of a ticket, so why bother following the rules?

So this guy with a decade of service in Saigon is relatively dangerous on these crazy Hanoi streets. It is true that there is a cultural gap between the North and the South.

And now I'm annoyed a bit every day. Where's the cheap Lifan taxi service when you need it?

Monday, July 09, 2007

IPhone In Vietnam

Apple's Iphone is currently offered on sale in Vietnam, Saigon to be exact.

Of course because the phone is only being sold in the States and locked to an AT&T SIM card, this "overseas version" is just an Iphone without the phone part. Unfortunately one cannot stick any plain old SIM in there and make calls.

So if you want an Iphone that is basically Apple's best Ipod + a wifi internet device, then head off to Saigon. And bring about $1300 USD.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ruse of Law

So Bush commuted a felon's sentence, even before he had served one day of it (which, by the way, goes against the DOJ's guidelines on commutation). The felon, of course, just happen to have worked for him.

Putting aside all issues of political and Constitutional propriety, incidents like this - and there are tons under this Administration - just goes to demonstrate how little difference there are between most governments in the world.

For all the hue and cry about corrupt commercial practices in Vietnam, you see a the same in a place like America. Sons and daughters of Prime Ministers here make money based on their filial relations, but isn't that the case everywhere? The Texas Rangers, the Carlyle Group. Those are but two inheritance generating enterprises.

To be sure, there is a bit less freedom of political speech here, and there is likely less religious freedoms. But the local papers do criticize local and regional politicians and there is a busy corner in Hanoi that I pass everyday where people gather to protest government actions (such as the taking of their home and land without adequate recompense). And the Catholic churches overflow on Easter and other holidays, allowed to operate freely so long as it doesn't interfere with government

On the other hand American politicians have no compunction about removing demonstrators at political events, government takings happen unfairly everywhere (Kelo v. New London, anyone?), and the Evangelical takeover of the US government hasn't exactly gone well.

People in power exert and perpetuate their powers. Sometimes, that just seems a bit more honest here.