Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Taxman Cometh

So we're in the final days of this trip back to the States and that means handling some business that cannot be easily taken care of abroad - such as filing our taxes.

I am old school in that I like to do the tax forms by hand, with pen and calculator in tow. This used to be much easier back in the day of qualifying for the 1040-EZ, but these days it's getting a bit wee complex.

Compared to last year, this year's return will include a Schedule E (because we rented out our place while we were in Vietnam), a Form 1116 (for the Foreign Tax Credit), and the Treasury Form TD F 90-22.1 (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts). This is along with the standard alphabet soup of forms - A, B, C, D's - the bane of folks of a certain age.

It took about 5 hours of persistent but relaxed work, including downloading the instructions for the forms that were new to me.

Hopefully, one of these days I'll have a Caymans tax shelter, buy some collectible artwork, have depreciable mineral rights, and have a butler, just so I can enjoy filling out the more esoteric schedules to the 1040.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Authentic Eats

This funny blog, Stuff White People Like, recently posted entry #71 - Being the only white person around. You hear this quite a bit in expat circles in foreign locales, such as Vietnam, generally as it relates to food joints. 

Seems like a lot of food places get raves by the internet (and hence by English writing reviewers...) based on how 'local' or 'authentic' it is - with commendations directly proportional to the chance of one picking up cholera.

I try not to eat Vietnamese food when I'm back in the States, for obvious 'I have the cow back in Hanoi reasons,' but I have to note that the best banh mi sandwich I've had in the past year was here in the DC area.  And a friend took me to a Vietnamese noodle shop in Northern Virginia where I had some mighty fine Bun Bo Hue.  Some of the best Vietnamese food in the world is in Vietnamese American enclaves in the States - of course you're mostly limited to Southern Vietnamese food, but for the most part it's better than the 'real thing.'  As all foodies would attest, it's all 'bout the quality of one's ingredients.

One dish that I've really taken a liking to, and not available in the States, is Bun Cha - the Northern compatriot to the South's Bun Thit Nuong.  Now that's worth the cholera!    

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gifting Dilemma

So we're on a short break from Vietnam for personal reasons - i.e. the kid. Heading back means one thing - pressure to get gifts for local friends and acquaintances (so nothing for ya, Thirsty!).

Even though I've lived there for over a year, I have no idea what a nice (inexpensive) gift would be. Suggestions anyone?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Screaming End to the Year

We met Tet with a scream:

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Year in Pictures

The Tet holiday is upon Vietnam and our staff have taken off already, so any work I accomplish today will not be looked at until, oh, I dunno.. March?

Therefore, I'm about to make it a lazy Sunday and watch the Superbowl live, as opposed to a 6-12 hour tape delay. But the pre-game hype at this noon hour is quite redundant, given the two weeks of build up, so I thought I would clean out the cache of pictures over the past year.

Some of these I've probably posted before, and they are in no particular order:

Living outside of the coasts of the US means you have actual contact with live animals. If you're willing to eat it, then you should be willing to slaughter it. This healthy specimen was more for show in a traditional Korean wedding ceremony though.

In a temple in Korea - prayer notes, perhaps, like lighting votives in a Catholic church? I should pray for a steady hand while composing a shot.

We were eating lunch and the building tower we were in had a heat related incident. As in someone's kitchen was on fire. A bunch of fire trucks showed up. All of the patrons, continued eating, while checking out the commotion. I thought about the structural integrity of the windows and how much damage a 2nd story jump would cause before picking back up my fork.

The most interesting thing about the fire trucks was that they used water pumped from the fire engine itself, and not from street side hydrants. Therefore, they were only able to reach the 6th floor, or thereabouts. These building towers go up to 15 or so floors. Um, good thing I've moved out since.

A typical Northern Tet flower bouquet - or more accurately, half a tree cut down and placed in your living room. Think Christmas tree. In the west, people place aspirin, or Coca-Cola, in the water to help a Christmas tree retain its pines. In Vietnam, folks put in rice rinse water in the base to help these trees flower.

It wouldn't be Vietnam without a picture of lots of stuff carried on a motorbike. I've taken other likewise pictures - massive slaughtered pigs, caged live animals going to the butcher or the pet shop, spit-grilled pigs and dogs, enormous hauls of veggies going to the market, or styrofoam refuse doing to the recyclers.

But this picture above captures a lot of the essence of the current Vietnam. The demonstration of local demand for Red Bull (albeit in its Thai incarnation) shows the economic development and integration of its populace; the late 30s woman doing the work is typical for the country, as you find more women working in all sectors of the economy, except for perhaps the professions of taxi driver/xe om driver/cyclo driver. Some would say local men are lazy, others will realize that an entire generation of males died off due to violence.

Sometimes trees get cut down for progress, sometimes you have to accomodate them. Virtually everything is built by brick and concrete, so oddly clever adjustments to architectural plans abound in the structures of this country.

Frankly, I'm not used to this kind of legroom in a car, much less an airplane. Compared to US carriers, service by Vietnam Airlines' in-air staff, in all classes, is exceptional. It's too bad that with 2008, the airlines upped this ticket to 6 million VND for a HAN-SGN flight. Folks talk about inflation in Vietnam over the last half of 2007 - it hadn't hit me, till now.

This is for a friend who owns Li-Ning shares - they sponsor the Vietnam National Football (soccer) team.

We've been to the Hanoi Opera House quite a bit during our time here, and have managed to sit on every seating level. I would recommend the boxes - cheaper than the floor seats and a better experience to boot. (These are views from the 3rd level)

There isn't a lot of good tv on, but you can get Jezza via a VTC1 feed of the BBC.

Looking out of the Reunification Palace in Saigon. Just think what the view would've been like 35 years ago. And now, I've attended dinners *inside* the Palace. It's almost unreal sometimes.

Ah, golfing. See my ball? (Squint real hard!). Just a few yards away from that longest-drive marker! Ok, it was early in the day, but still! Golf claps, please.