Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chicken Rice in HCMC

So armed with an address culled from the food blog Gastronomy, I
headed off to The Little Red Dot for some Sing food.

The place is big, airconed and relatively nice; it's close to D1 also
- it's a short hop to 21 Tu Xuong in D3.

Food is only ok though - you can find better in Hanoi surprisingly;
perhaps I need to sample their chili crab though.

KFC sides in Vietnam

I have raved about KFC before because they deliver, quickly and for
free to boot. But the portions, like most eateries here, are small.
Look at these sides that come with a two piece meal - why yes, that is
a regular sized tea bag for reference.

Halal Indian Food

Chicken curry with a side of okra. Pretty good and reasonable at 50k,
and this place was in tourist central right across from the Sheraton.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Noodles and Golf

You can get noodle soup (bun bo hue here) and beer served at the golf
driving range here in HCMC. How great is that? Now this is something
the States should copy.

Blogroll: Food Blogger Gastronomy

I was looking to find some Singaporean Chicken Rice (aka Hainanese Chicken Rice - originating from Hai Nan island (PRC) which is like a 2 hour boat ride from Hai Phong).

In Hanoi, we get this from the restaurant Tiffin in the Fortuna Hotel on Lang Ha - I'm sure there are cheaper and better local joints dotted around the Fortuna that serves chicken rice, but there's something to be said about the familiar.  

A google search got me a review of a Singaporean place in HCMC that serves this, and a review to boot, off the food blogger Gastronomy.  So if you bored of the Hanoi pho stall reviews on Sticky Rice, check Gastronomy out.      

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Francophone lunch

This was billed as grilled beef and fries on a French influenced
Vietnamese eatery. It was pretty good even considering the
anachronistic colonial vibe of the setting.

Let's face it, for all that Sarkozy does with intimating a boycott of
Beijing 2008 and his over exposed intimate life, France is a tapering

The local Vietnamese should stop with the translations of menus and
local newscasts into French. Embrace instead the language of a more
ancient colonial power and go with Mandarin Chinese.

New town, new beer

This is some local brew that's been around when Vietnam was still a

Healthy breakfast

Except for the fact that the cornflakes here do not taste like
Kellogg's (I thought cornflakes production technology has already been
passed to the public domain, I guess not) and the milk tastes like
reconstituted powdered milk (which it is), this breakfast is just like

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Set Thai Lunch

Went with a set menu for 50k vnd. The soup was the best part of the

Com at Com Tam Cali

Apparently I eat here a lot.

Lunch in a hotel

Braised pork, one of my faves.

Bun at Com Tam Cali

Top Shelf On JAL

Air travel in and around this region is vastly different than,
especially if one is used to steerage class.

On a recent trip to the US I flew United and got a Japan Airlines
connector. Besides the obvious differences in the breadth of the cabin
crew (not a big issue, and hey, I support unions) the quality of
services and amenities were in stark contrast.

International travel means free liquor on board - I think I mustered a
Miller Light or two on United. On the short JAL hop I got a Bombay
martini. Nice.

Too bad the United flights from HCMC connect thru HK and not Japan.
Bummer for future travels in groggy comfort.

Second best thing about JAL

This is the second best thing about flying from the East Coast to
Hanoi via Narita and JAL - getting to play the old classic Pong for
four hours of the flight.

Ok, I didn't really play for hours on end because of the best thing
about JAL....

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pho Ngheu

A first for me, clam pho. This was supposedly in a spicy broth but it
seemed to be more like a curry. Still pretty good for two bucks in a
sit down eatery.

Vietnam - home to great Indian fare

We eat a lot of Indian food back home because in a lot of ways it is
very similar to Southern Chinese food - lots of carbs and full of spice.

The good Indian places here are better than at home. There is Khazanna
up in Hanoi and now Ali Baba down here in HCMC.

Tasty, white tablecloths, and reasonably priced. What more can you want?

Speaking of India, I was listening to the Indian Consulate the other
day give his impression of Vietnam and her people to some of his

He was praising the Vietnamese for their recognition and appreciation
of India as a culture and now as a economic and military power. He was
also saying how mentally tough the locals are, and what string
fighters they have been throughout their history. This isn't something
you often hear from foreign diplomats, but maybe that's just because
we're Americans.

Making change

One needs a small wad of low denominations because District 1 is very
compact and a cab around town for meetings and such will only trip the
initial entry fee and doesn't tickle the mileage meter.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Korean BBQ in HCMC

You can't really go wrong with grilled meat. At Seoul House up the
street from the Riverside Hotel in D1.

Not exactly Fedex

Had to ship some stuff internally within Vietnam. It's charged by
weight; 35 total kgs went for about 400k VND and arrived from Hanoi to
HCMC in about four business days.

That's the good news. Part of the bad news can be seen in the pic. The
boxes not only got pummeled like a 16th seed in the NCCAs, it got
holes chewed thru it like a box of Cheez-its stored in the cupboards
of a slum tenement.

Good thing I was only shipping some dry ramen.

Last meal in Hanoi

I am leaving Vietnam's capital for a bit, so for a farewell dinner I
went out with some coworkers for a celebratory nosh of dog.

It is typically prepared seven ways but the restaurant was short this
evening so we only got five versions. The braised/stewed one was the
worse while the crispy stir fried one really good, especially with the
flavorful but weak rice wine (ruou nep).

Typical Breakfast at Highlands

This is what I typically eat at for breakfast Highlands - cause it is
the best deal. Also their wifi is more stable than my hotel's.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

iPhone Hates Vietnam

Playing around with an OTB iPhone (that would be an out-of-the-box for the acronym challenged), I discovered that when you enter a contact on the phone, you cannot choose Vietnam as the country location of your contact.

You have Indonesia and Singapore, but not other ASEAN countries, such as Thailand.  I guess the same is true for South America, where you are limited to Mexico (which is in North America), Argentina and Brazil.  

I understand that the phones are not meant to be supported in these omitted countries, but this omission means that Apple doesn't think you should have friends in these countries either.  
There are hacks to fix this, I am sure, but it should be standard.  Good thing for me, I'm a xenophobe.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

vCard to CSV Converter

One of the downsides to migrating to OS X for work is in its handling of contacts, and particularly, using your contacts to create a mail merge.  

To be sure, one can use Entourage (part of the MS Office suite), but I do not like Entourage for my mail mainly because of backup concerns, its integration with my phone, and mail merge doesn't work all that great with the interface anyhow.

Effective mail merge for me means exporting a batch of contacts to an Excel file.  

To do this with Address Book contacts, one builds out a group, export the group's vCard and then find a third party vCard to CSV conversion tool.  Tools such as A-to-G (Address Book to Gmail) and Address Book to CSV Exporter do not work, despite their names, because their CSV format is designed for Gmail imports, and not for an Excel based mail merge.

What works better is this online vCard to LDIF/CSV Converter.  It is by no means perfect, and you will have to manually import the created CSV file into Excel, as the automatic import creates a lot of errors.  

But going through this multi-step tango is still quicker than retyping data in Excel.  Someone should figure out an easier way to skin this cat, but for now this works.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lunch of rice

At Bun Bo Hue, the chain in HCMC.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Return to Vietnormalcy

Less than 12 hours after landing, it's back to 'Vietnormalcy.' In time order, the following occurred:

1. immigration/customs: I knew-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who was going to help grease my way through customs. No, I wasn't bringing any incendiary pamphlets in tow with my overweight luggage.

Rather, I was bring in a suitcase of IT equipment to outfit a small office. I wasn't about to sell the equipment, so I don't think I should be taxed on it, but who knows what the customs guy would think and how would I explain it to them. It would be the same as me bringing cash into the country to start a business - I shouldn't (and don't) get taxed on that. So I was (morally) comfortable with trying to slip through. This was my version of FDI (foreign direct investment), as I am adding capital assets to this country.

Bypassing (or at least quickly being processed) by immigration and customs is definitely a Vietnam thing. I got escorted through the diplomatic line and got out of the airport pretty darn quickly.

2. highway accident: so the off-duty customs guys drove me back into town. On the highway back - the Thang Long bridge - we crossed the scene of a deadly accident. Some person was evacuated 20+ meters from their motorbike. Luckily for me, it was dark and I didn't have good visibility out - it's sad but true, I can't bear to look at the bodies on the ground. In the year or so, I'm up to about half a dozen now. And folks wonder why I don't own a motorbike.

3. ripped off by customs: so I got back to town and the customs guy demands payment. I figure we sorta split the difference or something, but nope. Full payment. For every single computer. Normally, you would get credit for at least one computer as personal use or something (I've brought in two, went through legit channels and no tax or duties).

So, basically I'm getting ripped. It's past midnight, there are two guys, I have 150+ kgs of luggage, I'm a bit hung over from the flight and my local contact is fast asleep. God dammit. So I paid up.

Lesson learned - getting reamed by the government is less painful than getting reamed by crooked government employees on the take.

4. pho breakfast: next morning, jet lagged and pissed as heck for getting separated from my VND, I attended a pho breakfast. Not a big deal, but this was with a group of shareholders of a publicly listed company. We were eating at a local joint that is popular with the local business crowd, enjoying their 20k bowls of noodle. I can't imagine going to a NYSE-listed shareholders' breakfast in a local diner or something back in the States. Certain things are a bit different 'round these parts.

GPRS on the iPhone in Vietnam

The iPhone is freaking ubiquitous up in here - with here being Vietnam, natch. I can't believe I still get google hits to this blog looking for it. Go to Saigon Nezumi for iPhone stuff, 'cause he knows more than me.

But since you're here, I may as well give you something useful. Such as info on how to set up EDGE (i.e. GPRS) service in Vietnam. If you're half patient (or decent) with Google, you would find this page which tells you how to do it.

Basically navigate to Settings>General>Network>EDGE and change the APN / Username / Password fields thusly:

For Mobifone: m-wap / mms / mms
For Vinaphone: m3-world / mms / mms
For Viettel: v-internet / de trong / de trong

As the info states, to use GPRS, your number must have the GPRS service "turned on" - this means post-paid service, requiring a post-paid contract.

Somehow, after a very short Stateside visit, my post-paid mobile number is now dead, so I cannot test the settings above. As I mentioned previously, competent office help is difficult to find up in here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Skype Tools

Living overseas means lots of Skype time.  I think I've spent over $50 in Skype credit calling to the US in the past three months - that is a lot, considering that computer-to-computer calls are free.  

Recently, what I wanted to do is to call up our home in the US in the middle of the night, get Skype to automatically answer, and get it to automatically transmit video back.

Sorta like the "DIY Home Security System" hack from these 25 Tips to Improve Your Skype Experience from VoIP News.  Of course, it is pretty easy to set up a new Skype user, put yourself in the contact list, set to auto answer and auto video out in the Skype Preferences. 

But the trick really is to have two Skype accounts running concurrently on one computer - that way, on your "normal" account, you do not auto answer with a video out.  

Some Googling led to this Applescript (OS X) called Peek-O-Matic.  This script, by Andreas Schuderer - allows for two concurrent Skype sessions for different users.  One can be the "home security user" and the other the "normal" user.  Handy little tool, it is.  The version on the site, v0.4 is for Leopard.  Ask for v0.3 if you are running OS X 10.4.

Finally, if you have the bandwidth and the hardware, here is how to improve Skype's video quality on OS X.    

Monday, March 03, 2008

No Delegate Lead for Obama

As the adage goes, vote early, vote often, so we snuck the little one into the booth and cast an extra ballot.  Ok, so not really, but the kid, being a DCite, got into the game early.

Our time back here coincided with the presidential primary, so we went out and voted.  Our guy (or should I say, "gal") didn't win, so that was a bummer.  I'm still a supporter till the race is called.

The genesis of this post came as a reflection on Preya's post titled Why Voting For Hillary Now Is Bad For The Democratic Party.  Originally this post was to be titled "Voting on Vacation," but that sounded a bit pedestrian next to Preya's nicely titled thoughts. 

A simple response to Preya is that I do not agree that voting for Hillary now is bad for the party.  But on a wider view, I don't understand the hoopla and lack of analysis that we get from political reporters during this election cycle.  Yeah, Obama has won more states, but there are few who ask "do those states matter?"

For instance, Obama (re)started his momentum with a win in South Carolina, taking a 26 to 14 delegate tally.  But when was the last time the Democratic nominee won South Carolina in the general election?  You have to go back to 1976 when Carter took this neighbor to Georgia over Ford.  

Can we reasonably expect any Democratic nominee to turn this demographic tide?  

Of course, similarly, Hillary won Arizona and took a 35-27 advantage.  But will that mean anything in the general against McCain?  That delegate victory should be discounted when we are sizing up who would be the best candidate in the general election.  After all, as Al Gore showed, it's not about winning the popular vote, but rather, squeeking out wins in places that matter.  

Going by the Red State-Blue State breakdown for the 2004 Presidential Election, and using CNN's numbers on the pledged delegates and superdelegate estimates as of today, we see that, crazily enough, Hillary and Obama are tied (!!!) with 785 delegates in "states that matter."

"States that matter" are the 19 states which were blue in the 2004 Presidential Election.  After all, when viewing things thru the lens of trying to win the general election, is it really important to know how Kansas thinks on Clinton v. Obama?    

Clinton and Obama are tied in states that went Kerry - of course to win in 2008, they would need an additional state (Florida, or Virginia perhaps) while holding onto these states that matter.  Clinton took the 'non-contested' Florida results while Obama took Virginia.

Note also that these tied delegate numbers do not include numbers for Michigan (a blue state), which Hillary won (no delegates were awarded due to the calendaring issue) and for Pennsylvania, which won't hold the primary till April 22nd.

I am not saying that SC Democrats 'do not matter' - I am saying that Democrats in non-blue and non-purple states cannot help a Democratic nominee win in November with their action at the polls.  Given that, their actions at the primary polls should be discounted.  Heavily.