Sunday, December 30, 2007

Where is the HCMC Apple Store?

So I happen to be down in HCMC and I happen to need to price some hardware - trying to see if I should pay the premium here or hand carry stuff back from the States.  As an aside, it's gosh darn warm here in HCMC.  The city is all strung up with lights (more on that later), but it's still too freakin' hot to fully get into the holiday spirit.  I miss the Hanoi weather, and I never thought I would say that about Hanoi.

Anyhow, I dropped by the big local electronics store in D1, Nguyen Kim.  Relatively impressive - not exactly like Best Buy, more like a Circuit City (oops, that place just went into bankruptcy..), but shockingly their computer department doesn't sell any sort of hubs or routers.  Either that or I failed to communicate with the sales staff.

So I headed to the much ballyhooed FPT owned, Apple Authorized Reseller store.  Got the address and phone number off the web and the local news accounts from earlier this year.  And I walked.. and I walked.. and I can't find the place.  Then I called.  Both numbers, and no one answered.  What the heck is up with that?  Everyone and their mother has an iPhone down here in HCMC, yet the FPT Apple store can't keep a location for 6 months?  Or it moved and failed to forward the phone number?  Short FPT stock already.  Oh yeah, the Vietnam market doesn't allow shorting yet.  Dangnabbit!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Crowds

Here are what the crowds looked like while I was walking around on Christmas Eve, 2007 in Hanoi.  It seemed like there were more people (and police directing traffic) on the street than even when Vietnam succeeded in the AFC Cup this past summer.

Intersection of Trang Tien and Hang Bai, at the base of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Nha Tho Lon, around 7pm, Christmas Eve

Random intersection, Old Quarter.  Duong Thanh Street, I believe.

Nha Tho Lon, around 11pm Christmas Eve.

My Christmas Day dinner.  No turkey and stuffing, just some odd Singaporean interpretation of chow fun.  

Christmas in Vietnam

Just throwing up some pictures of Christmas in Vietnam, and Hanoi in particular, circa 2007.  

Fortuna Hotel

Hanoi Hotel

Outside of the Vincom Towers

Inside the Vincom, in Megastar Cinema

And of course, the Sofitel Metropole

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Power of Government

Walking back from breakfast this morning, I noticed something was odd, then it hit me. Mostly everyone on a moto was wearing a helmet. Then it hit me, it's December 15th.

Even the dude riding next to me.. as I was strolling home. I guess the helmet law even applies when you ride on the sidewalk. The only guy that I saw not wearing a helmet was a dude riding sissy on a bike. He was in full army gear, natch.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Do You Know What Day It Is?

I had no idea today is Pearl Harbor Day - just an odd sensation today, every time I wrote something and typed in the date
, I sensed somehow this date is familiar.

Now it's like 6pm here it finally hit me. I've mentioned before how sporting events, and cultural touchstones like this day of remembrance, help one mark time throughout the year in the States, and how I'm somewhat lost here. Is it December, or September, or March? It is very easy to forget while here in Vietnam.

Next thing you know, it'll be time to return home.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Time to Let Go

So it is time to let go.. of a staff member the other day.

I've had a hand in hiring a number of people - the psychic rewards are nice, but sometimes you have to experience the flip side of it.

It is never easy to fire someone. If it were easy, then that means that you made a horrendous mistake in the hiring process. This person was relatively nice and all, maybe a bit too pushy, using her age and the cultural deference towards such, to bully some of the younger co-workers. But she didn't cut it at her job - didn't learn and didn't improve, so we had to let her go.

I tried to do the professional thing by telling her privately, giving her time to digest and ask questions, and time alone. Also gave her ample time to transfer her work to co-workers before leaving at the end of the week.

I headed off to a meeting and came back to find that she flew the coop, collected all her pay, including pay for the next few days for which she wouldn't show up, and, most egregiously, deleted all the work product that she produced.

I was basically flabbergasted. This person got a job through a recommendation from a current manager - a cousin or in-law or some such - so that manager pretty much screwed the pooch on this one.

The deleted computer files was more of an annoyance than anything, after all, she was let go because her work product was severely deficient, but man, that'll teach me. Next time I fire someone, it'll be with ruthless corporate precision - lockdown of computers, 15 minutes of supervised clean up of their work space, security will escort them out, the whole nine yards. It's a shame really, but as the saying goes, fool me once...

Turning Vietnamese

A Brazilian keeper is renouncing his citizenship to apply for a Vietnamese passport, in order to play on the national team. First the WTO, then the Security Council, now Brazilians want to be Vietnamese. These are interesting times..

Here's an F430 on the streets of HCMC. Dang. This was taken by the blogger 'lilmissmeg' at LiveJournal, the now Russian internet company. Found her blog through SaigonNezumi, who commented on some less than savory things she's written about the local populace. I'm more interested in the car than the commentary. So, if you own this thing, give me a lift going 3 kph, will ya?

Monday, December 03, 2007

On China Time

Lately, with the winter in Hanoi, the pollution in Vietnam has finally gotten to me and is causing a slight tickle in the throat and a cough.

Recently I headed to Beijing, China. The last time I was there, summer of 2006, I didn't notice any pollution. Maybe I was just busy checking out the scenery and thought that the grey skies were normal. I've finally figured out that when the sky is that grey and there is no chance of precipitation, something is wrong.

One of the new things to do is to go around town checking out the progress of buildings, some constructed to coincide with the Beijing 2008 games, some just a reflection of the continued economic boom.

I think this one is supposed to be the next CCTV tower. I'm not too sure. Looks interesting, like some uncompleted Tetris pieces. (speaking of media in China, it seems all blogspot sites are blocked, and news sites, such as or, are really, really slow to load, to the point of being unusable. And there is a great fascination with parading foreigners on CCTV, or KBS for that matter, who can speak Chinese. I don't get it - it would be interesting if it's 1907, but c'mon, so what if there is some white guy or some black guy who can recite nursery rhymes? The writer strike is still on in Hollywood - quick, get some Asian people on TV to read Shakespeare. But I digress.)

So going somewhere new means trying new food. The above is some calf marrow. It was part of a hot pot meal.

This is some braised goose heads. Surprisingly tasty.

Went out on my birthday for some scorpions. They're on the left, along with some stinky tofu, chicken hearts and white chicken meat. No, the scorpions didn't taste like chicken. Just a bit crunchy, not bad.

Before dinner, the hotel brought by some birthday cake gratis. Finally, a benefit from handing over your passport at hotels in foreign countries.

This is the way up to the hotel room. No 13th floor for the Westerners, no 4th and 14th floor for the Easterners (or at least the ones that share some Chinese cultural traditions).

Oh, I also went shopping - at the knockoff places and at Sogo, 'cause I heard a lot about it. People were lining up 15, 20 minutes before the place opened. I got there early 'cause I was uninformed about the store hours. And no, this wasn't some Black Friday deal. Weird, 'cause it's only a (nice) department store.

That's pretty much Beijing, in a 48 hr nutshell.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Breaking The Social Contract

Being in this region means I watch a lot of news via the BBC, CNN International, and the various satellite broadcasts from neighboring countries (NHK, KBS, CCTV). One of the things that gets more coverage in this region is the transformation of China, particularly the preparations for the Beijing games in 08.
Part and parcel of the ongoing construction in China is the government land grab, and the people's protest against the perceived unfairness of it all. People are rioting against the government takings, and the news is starting to filter out. I guess when I head to Beijing in a few months and see the progress since last summer, some of it will be on the backs of those left behind.

People in the investment world say that Vietnam is like China 10 years ago; similarly, China's social problems will visit this country as well.

A few weeks back I was listening in to a conference where an audience member asked one of the big fund managers about the issue of eminent domain in Vietnam. Shockingly, and a bit embarrassingly, the manager had no clue as to what eminent domain even meant. I guess you don't need to understand the terminology behind Kelo v. Connecticut to follow it's conclusions.

I am as commercial as it gets - that's part of the reason for being in Vietnam right now. But sometimes the progress here is heartbreaking. I'm sitting in a coffee shop in HCMC, having a light lunch of western-priced panini, looking out to the Gucci storefront.

A middle schooler walks by, beyond the plate glass that insulates this culture of tourists, expats and local privilege, from the streets. He has a wide grin, showing off youthful, sun-bleached teeth. He's holding what looks like a deck of cards, and carrying a small satchel - perhaps a bit of reading material, perhaps a small stack of DVDs to pitch. It's the middle of District 1, and he's barefoot. And I question my morality.

The light lunch turns heavy and I am consumed by things other than the texture of the bread. I make an effort to purchase yesterday's USA Today when leaving the coffee shop - it is not exactly StreetWise, but then again I was never partial to that concept.

I force a smirk while reading about the ineptitude that is ND football under Charlie Weis. I leave the paper and walk in to another conference session, trailing two Cubans who I overheard talking about buying into a resort in Danang. I hope to find this well of empathy the next time I walk through Hanoi's night market in the Old Quarter, with its street urchins and the old man who canvasses the crowd by scooting along on his rear, his ineffective legs leading the way.

Looking For A Job?

Lately I have been looking at a lot of resumes in Vietnam and have been baffled by most of them. I understand that English is not the first language here, but most of these folks are submitting CVs and cover letters created in some sort of word processing program - would it be so difficult to utilize the spell check button?

Worse of all is the internally inconsistent spelling error. It's a bit understandable to say 'I beleive I will be a great asset to the company' on one hand, but it is unacceptable to follow that up later with 'I believe I am qualified for the advertised position.' That just shows that the writer did not proof read and is not remotely detailed oriented.

Perhaps it's the local school system. I remember going to resume writing and job interview workshops prior to graduating. From the looks of things, and from asking around, it sounds like the universities around here do not do any of that.
I have interviewed folks who are completely unprepared, or who do not even show up at their appointed time. It may be harsh, but the latter's resume does not go into a round filing cabinet, it goes into a black-list folder. It's not personal, just business.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New Ride In Town

With Vietnam's WTO accession earlier this year, the protective tariffs on imported goods, such are cars, are tumbling down. These days, tax rates on foreign imported cars are dropping 5-10% a month, which means a 5-10K USD drop in retail prices (in a land where a 2.4 liter Toyota Camry is $48k USD, mind you).

So you're seeing a lot of new cars on the streets. But one thing I haven't seen up here in Hanoi, so far, is Piaggio's cool three wheeled scooter, the MP3.

We walked by a Piaggio store near the Vincom and saw this interesting scoot in the shop. Being a gearhead, I knew about it already, and that it's been selling in Europe since the beginning of this year. Kinda cool to see it here. But you'll have to pay for novelty - $12.8k USD for a 125cc version. I'm sure someone will pick it up soon.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Best Advertisement in Vietnam

Local media buys are sloppy, lazy and derivative. This advert, which runs prior to the opening credits at the movies, is pretty funny.

This was recorded about one month after it started to be shown locally. The first few times the audience saw this, the entire theater laughed. Or at least giggled a bit.

The joke is lost on ya if you don't understand Vietnamese, and never dialed a busy cellphone here. Basically, the adcopy, in the tone and style of a Viettel busy signal announcement, says 'the person you are calling is unavailable because they are sitting in a movie theater, please call back later.'

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Helmets Galore

You can start seeing lots of helmets on the streets of Hanoi these days - it started about a month ago, when the government mandated that all government employees were required to wear helmets. I think it was Sep. 15th or so. The employees obliged (lest they be fined) and helmets popped up all over. The general populace will have to comply by Dec. 15th of this year.

This quick adoption of the rules is an example of how the government here, like everywhere else, can get compliance to its social policies through its employment channels, simply because it is the biggest employer around. Sorta like how the US government ushered in workplace discrimination, sexual harassment, disability accommodation, and other progressive social change by introducing it first in the Civil Service.

Another thing that the local government enforces is child planning. Unlike China's one-child policy (which has led to China becoming an "aging society" more quickly than it's economic development would have indicated), Vietnam's two-child policy is encouraged by fining government employees for having more than that number of children. You can have more kids, you'll just get into trouble at work.

The other thing you may notice in the above picture is that Minsk rider. If you look through that haze of pollution on the right you can catch him. Some white dude polluting a country that is not his. Maybe I should go on a personal crusade to publicly embarrass all the Minsk riders and other visible polluters around town. Sorta like the Hanoi version of the site Fuck You and Your H2.

If you want to buy a motorbike, scrap together some money and get yourself the new Honda Click. It was designed for the developing market, so it's only $1,550 (a new Honda Dream is about $950), and, most importantly, it's the only new motorbike sold in Vietnam that meets the Euro II standard in actual use, in a study conducted by the government earlier this summer, as reported in Vietnam News.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Entrepreneur's Day

Today, October 13th, is Entrepreneur's Day. Yet another holiday that's new to me.

So what does one do to celebrate Entrepreneur's Day (also known as Businessperson's Day)? Well, I'm doing what most entrepreneurs do - I'm off to play golf!

There are a bunch of holidays here that aren't celebrated in the States (obviously), but surprisingly a lot of them match up in terms of being in the same general time of year. Besides giving me a break from work, Federal holidays, like US sporting events, help to mark the time.

You have President's and MLK days to ease you from the post-Xmas/NYE malaise. You have Memorial Day to start summer, July 4th to reflect wistfully that you've wasted the summer indoors, Labor Day to wrap things up, Halloween to motivate you to clean up the leaves in the yard, and Thanksgiving to usher in chill and preparations for the year-end bash.

Here the year ends and begins with the long Tet holiday. Then there's Women's Day to give you a break from those two weeks back to work after Tet. Reunification Day starts the summer season, National Day on Sept. 2 ends the summer and starts the school year, and I'm sure a couple of holidays from now till Christmas, which is increasingly being celebrated in a secular manner here. The improving economy means the rise of the consumer class and the holiday marketing to siphon its money. I wonder when Vietnam will have a Black Friday shopping day.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blogspot Being Blocked?

Hmm.. can't get to view this blog, or any blogspot blog, when heading there directly. Good thing I use a newsreader. Of course I can still log on and post. Strange.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Kid's a Video Star

Pullin' back the curtains a bit on this here sorta anon blog. But the kid's worth it. For those interested, two words: Code Pink.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Chi Linh Star - Golf Tournament

So this past weekend I played in a golf tournament at Chi Linh Star Golf Course, reputedly the toughest course in Vietnam. The tournament was organized by Vietnam Golf Magazine - one of two (that I know of) golf publications in Vietnam. For a country of a few thousand golfers (reportedly 4k local golfers), there is sure a lot of resources catering to this demographic.

Played with some friends that I met on cyberspace, and all in all we all had a good time. Played horribly for many reasons but mainly it was the Indian, not the arrow(s).

Chi Linh itself was a real nice course; not as nice as Tam Dao (which is shiny and new and gets less play), but nearly so. The course didn't seem too difficult - they had smaller greens, a few with multiple tiers, and the superintendent kept the greens firm and no overly receptive to average shots. The design is ok in my book.

The best thing about Chi Linh however is the drive there. It is a similar distance from Hanoi's CBD as the other course, but the drive was on the best highway I've been on in Vietnam. Divided, two lanes, with a shoulder and a medium amount of traffic. And unlike a lot of large roads around here, this highway did not cross into a hamlet every 5km, forcing the traffic to slow and account for four-way intersections. What a revelation, and what a comfortable 1.5 hour drive.

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..

Friday, August 31, 2007

So When Are We Overthrowing the Iraqi Regime (Again)?

The drumbeats are getting louder. See this Op-Ed by David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

The basic allegation is that Iran pumped money and people into Iraq to influence the much touted democratic elections that placed Maliki in power (and removed Allawi), and that the US missed the boat in not covertly funding political propaganda to support Allawi and his political cronies.

Of course this wholly ignores the billions America was already pumping into Iraq - if those billions are doing good, then wouldn't the locals associate pro-US Iraqi politicians with good also? - and the fact that Iraq is mostly Shia (Maliki is in the Shia wing of politics there). But one can't be an op-ed writer by sticking to facts.

Apparently the current BushCo thinking does not include the thought 'that you have to deal with the elected government you have, not the government you want.'

Have we not seen this movie before? And what's the over/under on a coup here? I say 9 months - so summer, 2008.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

BO or Mildew?

One of the things you experience in this country is BO, on other people. And you know how people say that Westerners smell different? They're right - there's a specific pungency with tourists/expats that is difficult to pinpoint. Reminds one of college, when vegetarians on campus would claim the meat eaters were stinking up the joint. They were right too, and most would have agreed with the chubby vegans, if not for the cloud of patchouli that permeated the air.

As mentioned earlier in this blog, one of our wisest purchases since getting here was an electric clothes dryer. Sure, it doesn't help the energy crunch that this country experiences, but, like most people, we're selfish like that. This past week I mistakenly did some laundry and left the house for a half a day prior to sticking it in the dryer.

So the clothes were washed, spun dry and sat around in the laundry tub on the balcony of the apartment for 8 hours. That night I dumped it in the dryer. It came out smelling a tad mildewy, I guess, but I thought I could live with it.

Next day, I wore a pair of pants that were from that load of laundry. Man, it kinda smelled like spilt milk all day. So perhaps there's not so much BO in Hanoi and the wafting scents are caused more by the line drying that most everyone does here. With the humidity, it takes at best a few days to line dry something.

But to be safe, all you Hanoians should wear some deodorant anyhow. The local selection is really weak, unless you like roll-on stuff. I actually loaded up on stick deodorant while visiting Singapore and elsewhere, but found the above stock of aluminum chloride delivery devices in a shop along West Lake.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First Golf Round in Vietnam

So I finally had a chance to head out to a course and get in some golf, and man what a great idea that was. Hanoi doesn't have the availability of courses that Saigon does; heck, the whole country has on the order of 25 or so courses, with another 15-20 under license. But the lack of courses are made up by their quality.

I chose to play at Tam Dao Golf & Resort for two reasons (1) like a few other courses around Hanoi, King's Island and Chi Linh Star being the others, they have special discount days during the week, and I'm all about saving a buck or two and (2) like King's Island, they offered free transport.

Free transport was key - you can't navigate outside of the city through maps or GPS around here. You better know your way.

Here is what the course looked like:

In short, this was the nicest place I've ever played. Back in the States, I would play muni and mid-end public courses, so besides the overdressed greens, the conditions here were fabulous. Conditions are helped by the fact that utilizing a caddie is mandatory on this course - and the caddies are diligent in filling in all divots on the fairway.

The whole experience is more akin to a vacation golf round - beautiful course, great clubhouse, excellent service - yet, besides the long drive there (2+ hours for a 70km (42 mile) drive - yeah, the roadways need improvement here), this is a course that you can (sorta) afford weekly. If every course in Vietnam is similar to this, then I'm in for a treat.

I paid for everything - greens fee, caddie, tip, food and beverage for the day - with $100USD and got change back. Nice.

P.S. re the prior question by Blazer, yes the greens fees posted on the local course websites are accurate, so are the (new) membership fees. Memberships can be resold and are significantly discounted on the resale market.

Friday, August 17, 2007

More Golf in Hanoi

Haven't yet hit the links, but recently discovered that King's Island golf course runs a free shuttle bus during the week from the Lang Ha driving range (or just across the street) at 7:30 in the morning, returning at 2pm. And it's free too - great way to manage that 50km trip.

Additionally, the Hanoi Golf Club - which is not to be confused with Hanoi (a golf travel and booking site) or the Hanoi Golf Club golf course - is a local membership organization that post events and tourneys on their site. The tournaments are actually cheaper than greens fees - an oddity from the States - so being the budget golfer that I am, I may just subject my woeful game to tournament pressure.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Environment Protection in Vietnam

A lot of travelers (or expats) complain about the lack of environmental protection demonstrated in Vietnam. Never mind that, like virtually all low or middle income countries, the per capita environmental damage is much lower here than in high income countries (of which these foreigners are from).

Environmental protection is not just about carbon output, I know, but if one measures using this currently favored metric, that flight to Vietnam is worse than what most locals could do in a year. Same for those quick weekend jaunts on Air Asia for some sun and sand.

Or course this does not even touch upon past environmental damage. The industrial revolution was not exactly kind to Mother Earth; a great philosophical debate is underway as to the propriety of those countries that have benefited from unchecked industrial development to turn around and constrain the industrial development of countries (such as India) that are undergoing their own revolution two centuries later.

But enough about that - this post is more about the government's recent policy to ban water skis in Ha Long Bay. What a great idea, and about time. When we were there last year, the water skis out and about were kind of a hassle when we were swimming in the bay.

This policy action was spurred, in part, from the government's desire to keep the Ha Long's UNESCO stamp of approval. Even in a high income country like Japan, lack of environmental care for the area around Mount Fuji has prevented this source of Japanese pride to be granted UNESCO status. I didn't know people care so much about the opinions of the powder blue brigade.

Doesn't really matter why the new policy came into being, just glad to know that it's a step in the right direction.

For those who are interested in reading another opinion on Vietnam's development, check out this post ("The Exit Sign") by Preya from a year ago.

Managed Traffic

These days major urban centers are implementing things such as a "congestion" tax to manage traffic during the work day. Examples include London, which is attempting to expand its current congestion tax to levy higher rates on 'Chelsea Tractors' (aka SUVs), Bloomberg's plan (recently defeated) to impose a congestion tax in NYC, and Beijing banning cars via a lottery, in preparation for the '08 Olympics.

Here in Hanoi the traffic is pretty bad. But just imagine how bad it could be without the current congestion controls. Within the city delivery trucks, sized more like lorries than American delivery vehicles, are prohibited during the morning and evening rush. The morning rush is between 6am and 8:30am and the evening rush is between 4pm and 8pm. These smaller Hyundai Porter and Suzuki Hi-Jet trucks have a a bit easier time than the bigger delivery trucks, which can only travel the streets from 9-4 and then after 9pm or so. Every bit helps, I guess.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bottled Bia Hanoi

My beer of choice these days is Bia Hanoi, well, because we live in Hanoi. It's like if you were to live in St. Louis - if you have any sense of civic pride, you drink Bud. Bia Hanoi is only brewed in one local brewery, which I pass on the commute every day.

I usually drink my Bia Hanoi in a can, as opposed to the draft Hanoi Beer (Bia Hoi Ha Noi) that is very popular. So popular that there is a Vietnamese language wiki on it. Who knew?

The other day we were at the local grocer to stock up. Bia Hanoi in a can, 6000 VND. Bia Hanoi in a bottle, 7500 VND. Cans are 330ml, bottles are 450ml. As a consumate comparison shopper I see that the bottles are cheaper, so I load some up.

It's a pretty nice discount; drinking out of bottles is better than cans; 'having to finish' 450ml is better than downing 330 and going back for another.. what's the catch?

Curious, I spoke to the checkout woman and she told me that the bottles have a 3k VND deposit on them. She also laughed a bit at me cause she wasn't sure I understood. Am I really gonna lug empties back to the store? How good is the factory really with the sterilization? Do want to think about the latter while trying to enjoy a beer?

Ah, forget the discount, I paying premium to have a clear mind while attempting to cloud it with liquid sustenance.

[edit: on a more recent shopping trip the cans are actually 7k VND and the bottles are 7.5K VND. Darn, I really should go the glass bottle route.]

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dumbass Minsk Rider

Going to work this morning a bit late meant more traffic than usual, so it was a long, hard slog. Yes, Rumsfeldian-speak has infiltrated my beautiful mind.

Near the office, the road widens and clears out a bit, next to Hoan Kiem Lake, which is the heart of city. Ah, finally, a little peace.

Then you hear it, the annoying brappin' of a Minsk. He was speeding up the street, with visible pollution trailing about 10 meters back. Thinking I'm all indie and cool in my army fatigue cap.

What an asshole. It is one thing when a local rides around in a Honda Dream that emits excess fumes due to lack of maintenance. It's another thing when a fucking interloper chooses to buy and ride around in motobikes that are best used as scrap iron. I am sure your hypocritical ass bemoan all the SUVs and their environmental impact back home too.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Construction Methods in Hanoi

One of the things you quickly realize upon getting here is how home and office construction is much different than typical for the East Coast of the States. It's not a big deal until the weather gets either wet or hot, so basically it's not a big deal for about 2 months out of the year in Hanoi.

I'm not in the AEC field like Mel, but this is the internet so my critiques here are imbued with the certainty of the uninformed.

There is a lot of construction going on in town, so it's easy to spy on the construction methods employed here. Most building, be it narrow 3 story in-town villas, or 10 story office towers, are built using concrete rebar pillars:

Every once in a while, you see steel i-beams used as the structural element, but not very often. This is one of the few i-beam buildings going up in Hanoi:

The walls are almost invariably built with bricks:

These brick walls are not structural (or at least I don't think so). Bricks + concrete walls are used because it is cheap and flexible in construction. Rebar and brick construction means you can literally shave floors off the tops of buildings, which was what happened to an apartment tower that was built one floor too high over their permit.

You can also knock holes into walls and patch them up again with ease. Witness the holes in Kevin's house.

The funny thing about brick wall construction is that the local builders can simply 'build around' obstacles, such as these trees. In a flight of fancy, one can imagine nature punching holes through man-made constraints on life. Or not.

On occasion, I do see bicyclists and moto riders transporting gypsum boards (aka drywall) around town, but I have not noticed drywall installed anywhere I've been. Maybe I need to go out more.

So what is the criticism of all this, besides the visual heft of all these concrete buildings?

Well, for one thing, I wonder how sturdy rebar pillars are. They may be strong in compression, but how about under tension? Hanoi does get its share of earthquakes. I kinda don't want to think about it, living a few stories up myself. A steel i-beam backbone seems so much safer.

And the brick walls sorta really suck when it comes to the weather. Unlike say a Stateside house in the 'burbs, covered in Tyvek, there are no vapor barriers to homes or apartment towers in Vietnam. So you get condensation on the interior walls, much like a moldy basement. Except that it happens 5 floors up in an apartment tower in the humidity of Hanoi.

And brick walls sorta really suck when it comes to insulation. You pretty much have none. The dense walls serve as heat sinks during the day, and radiate discomfort all night. It's reverse in the chilly winter, when the walls suck heat from the interior outwards.

How much does the construction methods employed in Vietnam tax its electric grid? At least everyone uses fluorescent bulbs in this country. My pallor is due to the lighting, honest!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Big C and Me

A few weeks ago we suffered from poor groceries planning so I had to head to Big C hypermarket for foodstuff on a weekend. Not exactly a recommended activity one finds in a Lonely Planet for ex-pats, if there were such a thing (NewHanoian sorta comes close though).

For most of the people in Big C, the shopping experience is more like a fun weekend activity rather than a chore. People languidly stroll the aisles hand in hand with three of their friends. Entire extended families peruse the wares while leaving their little ones in shopping carts-cum-baby strollers. Instead of typically ambling about interlocked, young women share the duty of carrying the plastic shopping baskets, each responsible for one of the handles. It doesn't really matter that the basket only contains a 12 oz baguette - it's more about maintaining physical intimacy than shouldering the load.

Were these activities taking place in a local park, I would quietly muse about the low key nature of this society. But I'm shopping, so you people are cutting into my weekend time. Buy something or get out of my way, pretty please.

Before finally leaving the bedlam, I score a small moral victory in maintaining order in the checkout queue.

Big C management makes a mistake in not manning their checkout lines more efficiently - they skimp on one of the cheapest inputs for business around here, unskilled labor. They should have baggers, but they don't - penny wise, pound foolish and all that. Because of this, the lines are pretty long. Invariably this leads to folks trying to jump in line.

In such occasions, I remember what my high school track coach taught us - run with wide, sharp elbows. So I strike a pose not unlike Captain Morgan and thereby thwart all but the most fool hardy. An attempt is made by a twentysomething male. I shoot him a dirty look and ask, in English, what the heck it is he is doing. A feeble reply, in Vietnamese, of 'oh, you are waiting on line?' is made before he slinks away. Of course I am on line, and so are the four people behind me. Two young women slowly creep up, pretending to examine the chewing gum packages offered on the endcaps to the checkout lane before sliding into the queue. I was about to yell at them, but the 50ish man behind me beats me to the punch.

Expat or local, the people in line are not suffering any fools this morning. Even though all the bump and grind of this morning resulted in broken sunglasses - I made a mistake of not leaving them on my head but rather placing them in my front pockets - this little victory leaves me partially happy, as I squint into the equatorial sun on the way home with the spoils of the effort.

Monday, August 06, 2007

No Warrant, No Problem

So the US Government can tap international communications of its citizens freely now. Nice. Living abroad has its privileges. And you thought communist governments monitoring public blog postings is worrisome?

Didn't know that Strict Constructionalism means you can turn a blind eye towards things such as the 4th Amendment. It's a good thing, because the number 4 does not have positive feng shui anyhow.

Work Blues

Nothing much going on here (for me, at least) besides work. Something I've been working on for a long time fell through recently because the other party introduced a functional requirement that completely altered the mechanics of the deal.. after 6 months of negotiations. Nice.. nothing in business is done here until it is signed and sealed, and even then parties have no compunction in coming back the next day to request insertion of additional clauses. I don't get that sort of negotiation style, and it make for very sluggish progress. How does anyone expect to get work done in such a business climate?

I understand why business people here are like this - it's because everyone and their mothers have five things they are juggling at once, and they're willing to come to the brink on five separate deals before evaluating which one to go with. That's just a recipe for deteriorated trust amongst business partners. And lots of frustrations for those who are more forthright.

To knock off negative mojo, I'm going to try and find a ride to a real live golf course around here, and chase a little ball around in this heat. I've walked 18 in the DC summer before, so the Hanoi heat should be somewhat tolerable. Ok, so I wilted by the 14th hole, but still.. too bad we're not in Saigon, where there are courses much, much closer to the central business district.

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.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Korean Trip Pictures - Seoul

Some pictures, 'cause we finally got our film 'developed.'

Another view from the hotel. That is Gyeonbokgung Palace. Seoul is surrounded by mountains, which I didn't know about. Very scenic for an urban area.

Cheonggyecheon River going thru downtown Seoul. It's basically man-made and is insanely popular on late weeknights and weekends. Come here and see old and young alike slough off their kicks and soak their feet. Yeah, don't drink the water.

Mini coin-op games for the kids coming back from school. This little residential street juts off from a main business thoroughfare downtown.

The Palace guards.

A building within the Palace grounds. These buildings have been maintained (i.e. rebuilt) more rigorously than say the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. On the one hand, it's nicer and more vivid, on the other hand one doesn't feel the same reverence. There is something to be said for touching objects that are a thousand years old, like the turtle steles at the Temple of Literature.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

American Nonrequired Reading

I don't really read for enjoyment, though I often enjoy what I read. I mainly stick to news and financial accounts and analysis, partly because it's work related, partly because I enjoy digesting information. Because of the move here, however, I've been trying to pick up a book habit.

Only recently did we receive a shipment of books we've mailed to ourselves (note, it takes about 4 months for US Postal Service to get it here via boat); along with visiting family who were packing paperbacks, we are now nicely stocked with passable literature. Had a lot of downtime in the past few weeks (hence the daily posting) and managed to finish The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006.

Reading through that I just thought 'imagine what they didn't put in here.' This book was filled with a lot of short stories that were a waste of time. The only pieces I liked were either news pieces (Lincoln Report's propaganda on the progress in Iraq; excerpts from an American solider's blog in Iraq) or stylized non-fictional accounts that are originally published in magazines (travelogue for Dubai; thoughts on naturalizing during a period when Constitutional rights are being eroded; an SNL alum's letting go of God).

I was disappointed in the book, and it's disappointing to realize that I don't enjoy these books that others do. What to do in those quiet hours after dinner but before bed? Gin rummy, I guess. Rummy is another word for tonic, right?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No Visa For You!

And this is a good thing. As part of the President of Vietnam's historic visit to the US, he announced in NYC that as of September 1, 2007, VKs are no longer required to get visas to enter Vietnam. That's about a $100+ savings per 6 month visa.

So now (or soon, at least), VKs will be treated like citizens of ASEAN countries for visa purposes. Sweet.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cleaner Air in Vietnam Coming Soon

Read in the paper today that starting on July 1, 2007, all vehicles will have to meet the Euro II emissions standard. A cynic would say this is still a decade behind Europe - and they would be right - but it's a good step forward nonetheless.

Some manufacturers are speculating that this will add $500-1200 to the price of a car. Increases to motobike prices may be dampen a bit, as new Hondas and the like are already meeting these regs.

With the new Euro II standards, does that mean I can no longer bitch about the pollution while camped out atop my Minsk, sucking the tar out of a Vinataba? Or am I still allowed some ostentatious hypocrisy?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Making Ice Cream

I normally eat my fair share of ice cream, but with the heat here I eat more than usual. Problem is, with summer comes power cuts. That means my stash in the fridge melts and refreezes. So unopened ice cream pops become freezer burned like the tops of half eaten Haagen Dazs. That was always my excuse for finishing those pints in one sitting.

Instead of storing some freezer burned ice cream, perhaps I could make my own. This is courtesy of Kids Domain, thru the geek webzine Life Hacker. Pasting the info here in case the page gets deleted in the future. (btw, 'freezer burned' ice works fine for the below)

Ice Cream in a BagCopyright © 1999 Dorothy LaFara,

Here is a fun idea for a hot summer day. My kids love it!

Note: As in all recipes, results can vary depending on humidity, conditions, etc. Please try any recipe out before attempting in a group setting.

This project is rated VERY EASY to do.

What You Need

  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Milk or half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons Rock salt
  • 1 pint-size Ziploc plastic bag
  • 1 gallon-size Ziploc plastic bag
  • ice cubes
How To Make It

  1. Fill the large bag half full of ice, and add the rock salt. Seal the bag.
  2. Put milk, vanilla, and sugar into the small bag, and seal it.
  3. Place the small bag inside the large one and seal again carefully.
  4. Shake until mixture is ice cream, about 5 minutes.
  5. Wipe off top of small bag, then open carefully and enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Martini Review: Wild Rice

  • Location: Wild Rice (La Lua)
  • Size: nice and hearty, in a margarita cocktail glass though
  • Olives: extra pitted olives, as requested
  • Taste: nice! maybe strain the ice a bit better, but tasty nonetheless
  • Price: 65k
  • Synopsis: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vietnam Utility Costs

Prior to moving here, we were interested in the cost for household utilities, to plug into a budget to see if we could afford Vietnam and save for retirement at the same time. These days, our Vietnam retirement funds are invested in gin, but that's a different matter...

So what's the tally for an apartment in Hanoi?
  • phone: $2/month for the landline that we don't use
  • internet: $3/month for adsl at home and light surfing; you pay by KBs downloaded (or you can pay $60/m for unlimited), so a month of flouting the MPAA costs $30 or so
  • cell: $10-15 for each postpaid cell
  • cable: $3/m, but the programming is determined by the set channel list for the whole building. About 5 English language stations, 5 VN language ones, 4 CCTVs, and sundry others
  • cooking gas: so marginal that they haven't collected in 4 months
  • electricity: $15 or so earlier this year but it's starting to get hot; $35 last month when we used the AC at least every other day if not full time when we're home. We just cool the bedroom and not the whole place. We also probably do laundry more often than the average expat without kids - cold water washing, as there is no such thing as hot water for the laundry, and an electric tumble dryer. I'm repeating myself here, but: Best. Purchase. Ever.

Martini: Le Pub

  • Location: Le Pub
  • Size: medium sized cocktail
  • Olives?: lime twist
  • Taste: pretty solid, except I'm not too keen on the lime twist replacing olives. That seems to be the standard in this part of the world.
  • Price: 25k on a cocktail night special (half-off)
  • Synopsis: 3 of 5 stars, because I would order this again.