Friday, May 30, 2008

Sing Food - Part Three

And last was this ray fish. This was one of the most interesting and
flavorful fishes I have eaten. It looks sorts like skate - wiki tells
me it is in the same family - but it is different and better.

Unfortunately I didn't eat very much because the tropical heat and
humidity really wilted my appetite. I ended up drinking a few beers in
this Muslim aisle of the hawker center - yes, that is probably frowned
upon... so lash me.

Would You Marrow Me

Next was some spicy goat(?) bones, ordered for its marrow.

Sing Food

In the Singapore stopover I followed Anthony Bourdain's example from
"No Reseverarions" and went to a hawker center to try some Sing Muslim
food. First up was this curry mutton soup.

Singapore - the Green Lion

Stopped by Singapore again recently and, for all it's "Matrix"-like
limitations, it is impressively bucolic for a urban landscape. I
wonder if any F1 cars will course under these canopied expressways in
the night race later this summer.

Atypical Breakfast

I woke up a bit early to head to the office one morn before a quick
flight outta town.

I failed to remember that the office AC doesn't turn on till later so
I had to find something to do. Grabbed this for breakfast as a

It was a bit too light/bland - I am used to being poisoned with MSG.
Paid 20k even though everyone around me probably paid half that. Too
early to argue, 'cause it could be that inflation that all the
international business press yammers on about.

HCMC Spin Class

Monday, May 26, 2008

Banh Cuon Breakfast

For some reason, the locals consider my fav Vietnamese dish, banh
cuon, mostly a breakfast item and therefore it is difficult to find
around town. But pho, a decidely non-morning fare to my palate, can be
found all day, all over.

Here is my mini-hotel's version of the dish. I should wake up early
more often.

Outlook Interview

I've been reading these "On The Stool" features in Timeout magazine, a 40 page or so weekly magazine insert in the local English language weekly business paper, Vietnam Investment Review.

I would never do a real 'interview,' mainly because I am not famous enough to warrant one.  Plus, I don't want my picture in the paper.  But of course, with this power-to-the-people-by-way-of-blog-publishing-even-though-no-one-reads-ya, I can participate.  Here are my HCMC tinged answers:

Name: D.
Age: older than 50% of the local populace, at least
Nationality: USA
Occupation: Middleman
What brought you to Vietnam?
A job.

What is keeping you here?
Said job.

Where do you go to escape?
Any of the local golf courses, which are better than my 'home' courses.

What do you miss about home?
Family, natch.

...what don't you miss?
How the daily news, in all its forms, is so US-centric.

How do you get around town?
Shoes, or taxi.

What's your favorite Vietnamese word or expression?
Du me.. j/k! 

What's your favorite local dish?
Banh cuon.

And what gives you a bellyache?
Baba, definitely baba.  

Favorite street/place to watch traffic?
Because I walk, everywhere.  Though I end up watching lots of traffic in the massive intersection outside Ben Thanh Market.

What was your most embarrassing moment in Vietnam?
I asked a dinner companion "Co la nguoi Saigon, ha?" - she, her husband (whom I earlier called "anh," correctly mind you) and a fourth local cracked up for five minutes before it was explained to me and/or I realized that I should've called her "chi."  Of course said Chi is rumored to be sitting in a Hong Kong jail on money laundering charges these days.  This little story probably summarizes a lot of my Vietnam experience.   

What tickles you pink?
Seeing the local Vietnamese happy. 

What makes you go "Oi gioi oi...?"
Non-native Vietnamese speakers saying "oi gioi oi."  It just sounds... I dunno how to express it.. it's just.. oi gioi oi.

Who would be the first person you'd invite to your birthday party?
Family, natch.  A particular family member.

...and the last?
Family that I don't know, but who knows me.  Or this Vietnamese defense attorney I met who defended Gary Glitter.  Toss up, really.  

What's the quickest way to spend a VND1 million?
Bottle of liquor at a pub/club/whatnot.

What's your hidden talent?
None, because I'm a braggart.

What Vietnamese person do you most admire?
Folks, who toil on the streets for their daily bread, passing the parked Bentley or Rolls or Maybach without giving the same a swift kick in the name of socialism.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Old, retired, with a lower handicap.  Rich would be good too.

What's in your pockets right now?
Phones- this is Vietnam, right?! - a wallet with US credit cards and identification that I never use here, and some VND all folded akimbo. 

Where would we find you at 10pm on a Saturday night?
Probably drinking somewhere.

...and 10am on Sunday morning?
At the Him Lam driving range.

Your favorite nocturnal beverage?
That would be a martini, Bob.

Your show-stopping karaoke song of choice?
Ice, Ice, Baby?

What will you call your memoirs about your time in Vietnam?
Um, VA to VN has a certain ring to it.

Who will play you in the film adaptation?
School yard friends have said, alternately, that I look like Christian Slater, Keanu Reeves or Emilio Estevez.  So one of them.  Did I tell you I went to a school for the blind?

...and your dying words?

That'll Buff Right Out

So I just got off a 747 and suffering a bit of the jet lag and I see this:

Golly geez.  Good thing it was only a cargo plane.  I should put up a "Yikes!" tag.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Onwards to the Nomination.. and Defeat

Hilary won the regular folks (Kentucky) and Obama won the latte/blogger crowd (or should that be the ca phe sua da/blogger crowd :) in Oregon and the nomination fight is about to wind down.

A good show for all and lots of fun fodder to discuss.  But unless Obama picks Clinton as his running mate, or picks up either Mark Warner or Tim Kaine (ex- and current Dem governors of Virginia, respectively), my prediction of a McCain victory still stands.  For all the naive Obamabot rhetoric of a 50-state strategy, last I checked we still use the Electoral College in this country.

This in-depth Electoral College analysis piece by Paul Maslin, titled"How Will Barack Get to 270/" on, sets the likely scenarios that Obama needs for EC victory.  To wit:
Clearly, and I'm being cautious, I think it's going to be a close race. If Obama wins the 255 votes in the states where he's favored, then to get to 270 he needs to choose from the following menu: 1) Win Ohio, which takes him to 275; 2) win in the West -- Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, for 274; 3) win the three N's (Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire) for 269, plus one other state; or 4) win two of the three N's and either Colorado or Virginia.
I do not think that Obama will win any of the following: Ohio (see Clinton blowout); New Mexico (Arizona's neighbor and the Hispanic problem); or Virginia (unless Warner or Kaine.. and more Warner than Kaine, because Warner is much, much more popular here).  Webb, the freshman Virginia Senator is cool and all, but he squeaked in via Maccaca and his wife is Vietnamese-American.  I am realistic enough to know that, unfortunately, in 2008 in America, your presidential ticket cannot be "too" diverse.  Sucks, but that's the truth.

Putting this up here to see if I am right in 6 months.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Wifi in HK

I'm writing this on a free wifi connection in the Hong Kong airport.
The signal isn't robust enough to handle a Skype video chat session,
but simple emailing works.

Cool. And wish more US airports would follow suit. The HK airport
(and Tan Son Nhat's new international terminal for that matter)
reminds me a lot of the wide open O'Hare and Dulles terminals.

Burma Aftermath

See Orangwutang for some interesting first hand pictures and text of the Burma cyclone (nee hurricane) disaster over the past few days.

Currently, I am watching US coverage of the Burma events and cannot help but be incredulous at the projected death numbers - as of today, the Western press is saying that 100,000 people may have died in the storm.  That just sounds sensationalistic and totally wrong.  

It's a storm, a huge storm mind you, but a storm.  It's not a tsunami with its instant flooding nor the Katrina-style broken levees phenomena.

I am sure the winds and the rains caused deathly flying debris, and collapsed housing that befelled victims, but not 100,000 of them.  And many, many will die from the food and sanitation conditions in the aftermath, but again, not totaling 100,000 people.

Every death is tragic, but overstating claims is a disservice to the people in harm's way.  It makes people scoff at the entire situation and tune it all out, all because the press, international aid agencies, the UN, et al., need big numbers to sell their agendas.  

Look at Katrina, where the death toll is approximately 1,800 people.  Initially it was projected to be 10,000.          

Burma is run by a military junta, which is not currently loved by the international community.  Its government is reportedly slow to accept aid workers and reluctant to allow US military planes to land within its borders.  Now why would a government not invite the US military in?

Incredibly, I saw a CNN reporter ask Ban Ki-Moon, the UN head, whether the UN would unilaterally fly in relief supplies, make aid drops, etc., if it does not receive approval from Burma to conduct such activities within Burma's borders.  I didn't catch the response, but the question was galling - apparently, respecting another country's sovereignty is not a concept that CNN is familiar with.  Overhyping death figures just allows them to slough off such concerns.    

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Modish HK Airport

Hong Kong Airport Snack

The problem with connecting through places like HK on ones
international flights is that, with the new 100ml restrictions on
fluids, you cannot take advantage of the duty free purchases. You
can't buy DF in HK because they re-check your bags upon departure.

Atleast I was able to grab this bowl of noodle soup - 30HKD - and the
tea for 24HKD. That's a bit less than 8USD.

Not too bad. When compared to United Airlines' onboard food it was

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Oh Burn!

An External Flame, To My Leg!

So I finished lunch at a local stainless steel tabled eatery and got my change.  It's a very popular spot that draws crowds, which in turns draws the destitute and damaged who are looking for some financial assistance.  

One thing that is different between Hanoi and Saigon, as I've noted in past posts, is that there are more panhandlers on the street here, by a few orders of magnitude by my reckoning.  I would hazard the reasons range from the fact that Saigon is at least twice the size of Hanoi, to more persistent central government efforts to sweep away the issue in the capitol city, to the climate in Saigon, which allows for outdoor living year round (as long as you have a poncho).  

These days I give to panhandlers more than I did while living in Hanoi, probably because I walk around much more and see many more people.  

Anyhow, back to today.  I got my change and headed to the old woman who had been loitering outside the restaurant for most of my meal.  She was on the street, and I on the sidewalk, separated by a row of parked motorbikes, which, being Vietnam, were naturally also on the sidewalk.  I squeezed into a crevice between two parked bikes to reach the woman and was about to hand over my change when I yelped like a Pomeranian.

Gosh darn it, I burned myself on a bike.  And I don't even ride a bike!  That fateful bike's exhaust had one of those heat dissipating covers to the exposed muffler that I burned my leg on.  I guess they don't work too well.  

After making myself feel better by donating some money, I walked off cursing and wincing every few steps.  I'm sure that provided a modicum of entertainment to the midday lunch crowd.  

The picture shows that the burn isn't very bad, or perhaps it hasn't shown its true effects yet, as it was snapped moments after the above incident.  As you can tell from the leg hairs, I'm not a typical motobike burn victim in Vietnam; they tend to shave their legs and wear skirts.  If you look hard enough, you'll see a bunch of women walking around town with welts or scars strategically placed on their calves.

It hurt enough that I went looking for some medical care.  A tip for all travelers - if you don't know where something is, and you're not too confident with asking the random taxi driver hanging around looking for a fare, head to any big hotel.  With the accident occurring in District 1, I went into the next hotel that I saw and asked the front desk for directions to the closest pharmacy.

The pharmacist was nicer than expected when she suggested the essentials to treat my mild burn.  Perhaps she's had occasion to meet up with a muffler or two.  The burn cream, "Made With Assurance in India," and bandages cost a little less than $2 USD.  Offsets the pain just a little bit.        

An Eternal Flame, Redux

Here are some more pictures of the Olympic Torch as it passed through HCMC last week.

The torch was carried by folks surrounded by the Beijing Olympics security personnel, who were dressed in blue and white colorblock polo shirts.  In the picture you can sorta make out the torch next to the person in said polo shirt, with the khaki baseball cap on.  Or it could be a remnant of some flash photography picked up by my camera phone.  Cursory editing in iPhoto does not give a conclusive answer.  When I took this shot, I didn't see anything and just lifted the phone over the tops of the crowd.  When I did see the torch later, as posted earlier, a woman standing on a motorbike blocked the camera.  

The other pictures are of the crowd that night - a long line of folks bracketing the torch route, and a bigger mass waiting for the police to open up the roads to they can finish their evening commute.

Overall the atmosphere in the street that night was really festive, like it was Tet or something.  While the local papers said that Vietnam beefed up its security to prevent the Olympic protests seen elsewhere, I didn't really notice it.  One could get really darn close to the torch as it passed, and if armed with a powerful enough fire extinguisher, I'm sure I could've snuffed the flame. What the cops and army guys would do to me after, well..

There were also a lot of Mandarin speaking folks lining the route and waving Chinese flags.  I don't know if they flew in for the occasion or not, but they didn't seem like they lived here when I tried to speak to them.  

Events like these make me realize how odd it is to live in Saigon.  The Olympic Torch went through the city I was living in in 1988, but I hardly noticed it.  This time around, I left my abode to go searching for dinner and I stumble across the thing.  

Another Holiday

This past week saw another holiday season here in Vietnam, with the April 30th (Reunification Day) and May 1st (May Day - e.g. equivalent to the US Labor Day, but for the rest of the world) holidays falling mid-week.  That basically meant that everyone was off of work.  

The ex-pats professionals mostly took off and hitched flights out to visit home and family in their distant lands.  Locals took this time to hit the beaches, or to return to their provinces in case they missed it during the last Tet season.  I took this time to work a bit, and to, naturally, hit the golf course.

Went to Vung Tau's Paradise Golf Course with a group of friends.  We drove, so I didn't get a chance to take the hydrofoil to Vung Tau, which is probably the highlight of any Vung Tau trip.  It was a rainy, semi-miserable day, so I kinda felt bad for the Saigonese who made the trek to Vung Tau for their miniscule, but proximate, beaches.  As for us, we would golf in torrential downpours, so the weather wasn't much of a bother.

The Vung Tau golf course is reputedly the oldest course in Southern Vietnam - the oldest is supposedly Dalat G.C., which is in the central.  This course is the junkiest course I've played in Vietnam, and is on par, conditions-wise, with average municipal courses in the States.  I wouldn't come back, but it was neat to play right next to the ocean.