Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mid-Autumn Festival Washout

Mid-Autumn Festival (Tet Trung Thu) was yesterday. We tried to go and see the festivities, particularly in the Old Quarter, but none was to be had. We even charged up the batteries for the digicam the night before.

Alas, Francisco, the storm, dashed everyone's plans. The damp streets were pretty bare and they even had to cancel the flying kites performance at My Dinh stadium. Oh, well, at least I had some moon cakes the previous weeks.

I've always liked moon cakes, the ones with the nuts the most, since a child. When I got older and realized how much they cost ($5 and up, each), I liked them even more, 'cause they mostly came to me via gifts.

Had a couple of moon cakes here - tasted fine, but I was surprised by the cost. They were $2.50 and up, with the decent ones at least $3. And this is for the supermarket brands, not the proprietary versions sold by the various high end hotels and restaurants.

They are mostly bought as gifts, so perhaps that's why the market can bear such prices.

Monday, September 17, 2007

At The Movies in Hanoi

As mentioned earlier, Hanoi has a pretty nice movie theater that caters to those who are willing to listen to English movie soundtracks, or the odd Korean movie and its soundtrack. The theater, MegaStar, is quite popular and and can help you learn to read Vietnamese, by following along with the subtitles. We go there often because frankly, there is very little to do other than sit around and drink beer for cheap in Hanoi. We're getting too old for that.

Here is a list of the summer movies that we've seen:
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Shrek the Third
  • Transformers
  • Pirates: World's End
  • Bourne
  • 300 (dl)
  • Simpsons (dl)
  • Knocked Up (dl)
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • Blades of Glory (dl)
  • Ocean's 13
  • Ghost Rider
  • Norbit
  • Disturbia
  • Shooter
As you can see, we 'only' used means other than paying for a movie ticket to watch four movies on this list. IP piracy is very accessible in this part of the world, so why aren't we watching dollar DVDs? Well, we would, except that a locally made DVD player that we bought (new) does not work. And unlike the States, you can't return anything, even defective goods. You can only send it back to the manufacturer - as I have no idea how to receive mail, much less send it, this $50 foray into accessing bootlegged films died a quick death. Oh well, the movie experience is better anyhow. You can buy a Heineken for 20k VND at the theater.

MegaStar just this week opened up a location in HCMC, in District 5. It reportedly cost $4.2mm, which sounds pretty darn cheap actually. HCMC has more theaters, but the one we went to, in Diamond Plaza, was not nearly as good as MegaStar.

And the staff there sucks - we went and bought tickets for Die Hard 4.0. Unbeknownst to us, it turns out they had both a Vietnamese dubbed version at 9 and the non-dubbed English soundtrack at 9:30. We got the 9 o'clock show and, after the opening trailers, realized the movie was dubbed. We went outside and tried to get the situation rectified, but they wouldn't do anything for us. Wouldn't let us come back for the later show. That is some horrible customer service.

Being bored cheapskates, we watched it anyhow. Besides being disappointed that the "D.C." scenes were mostly not of D.C., we really enjoyed the movie. Probably the best one of the list, 'cause of the low expectations. Worse movie may have been Transformers.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

First Unlocked IPhone in Vietnam

So who's going to have the first one around these parts and add to this list of unlocked Apple iphones outside the US? A funny blogger dude just came back from the States with a couple, but I couldn't get my hands on it, unfortunately.

Unlock that sucker and sell it, man. Or just give it to me. I'll return it once the novelty wears thin.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pregnancy Costs In Vietnam

So one of the things we checked out prior haphazardly doing some family planning was the medical quality, and medical costs, for having a kid here.

As foreigners, one is able to buy medical insurance through internationals such as AIG or its affiliates, but medical costs are low enough that we chose to pay out of pocket - no need to potentially navigate forms in a foreign language when one needs some care.

The big foreign hospital in Hanoi is the French Hospital (L'Hospital Francais or some such) - in HCMC it is the Franco-Vietnam Hospital (FV Hospital). We checked it out but weren't so enthused by the service, and sometimes it was like playing telephone with the French doctor speaking to the local french speaking nurse, who then retranslates into a English/Vietnamese mix for us.

So instead we chose an upper end medical clinic, Family Medical Practice (how generic!), which has outposts in both Hanoi and HCMC. Here we have a foreign trained local doctor who's English is far superior to the folks at L'H.

The cost for the maternity package, without delivery, at the clinic was $800USD. The cost of the maternity package, inclusive of delivery, at L'H is something on the order of $2,000 and change. Delivery at the hospital is another $800 or so, but we're planning on having the kid qualify to run for president, so doesn't matter.

One thing that frustrated me was that the maternity "package" did not include blood tests to check for chromosomal defects - yeah, it should be an option to check whether your kid has Down's Syndrome. I'm sure plenty of parents-to-be, when presented with that option, decide 'nah.. it's not in the package so it must not be important.' Nickel and dime'ing is constant across cultures in the medical profession, apparently. So add $150USD to the above package price.

So medical costs here are substantially lower than what we would experience (without insurance) in the States. The quality seems fine, but who the heck knows ('what do you call the person with the lowest GPA in the graduating class? doctor.').

I did read in the local paper today that Viet-Duc Hospital (Vietnam-German hospital, another foreign one in Hanoi) got fined by the government for illegally disposing of medical waste. Instead of disposing it per their agreed regulations, the hospital sold the waste (being syringes, medicine bottles, IV tubes, etc.) to recyclers - so basically it gets back out into the marketplace. Now, medical instrument recycling happens in the States too, and it's a very big and profitable business there, but somehow I doubt all the recyclers here adhere to an ascertainable sterilization standard. Just pay and pray.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And We're Back..

Been a bit since the last post, due mainly to work and boredom on this side of the world.

Being pregnant is interesting (probably *more* interesting for VA, because the "being" is not me). We learned a few things, such as VA can predict when it will rain the next day - like a person who can sense barometric changes in their creaky knees, VA gets headaches these days from impending pressure changes. Sucks for her, but at least we can forecast the weather.

Also, we've (unfortunately) recently learned that women can get carpal tunnel syndrome from the water retention and hormonal changes during pregnancy. We learned this after VA had pain and numbness in an entire limb. Having carpal tunnel is slightly better than thinking you're experiencing a stroke, I guess.

More pregnancy stuff later..