Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vietnam Taxicab Confessions

On a good day, riding in the back of a taxi gives me a chance to practice my Vietnamese.  I am all about the benjamins, so I usually end up asking them about the economics of driving a cab.

A summary of what I've learned:
  • cabbies pay for their gas usage (we'll get back to this in a moment)
  • damage to the cab is paid out of pocket, unless the driver can prove the other vehicle is at fault - then the taxi company's insurance will pay
  • for Mai Linh, one of the bigger operators, the 7-pax (i.e. the Toyota Innova) are driven solely by those with 1 or more years experience with the company - so the small the smaller the cab, the less experienced the driver
  • drivers get 12-hour shifts, and can stake out their own territory
  • like most jobs here, it's a 6-day a week gig
  • pay is a % of the shift take, depending on the taxi company - it is roughly 45% of the till, but some companies institute a sliding scale, from low 40s to low 50s depending on the total per shift, while others require a minimum take per shift
  • I've heard minimums ranging from 250k VND to 400k VND per shift
  • I guess if you don't make the minimum, they fire you
  • pretty much all the cabs have sensors in them to recognize an empty backseat - so you can't just jump into a cab when the previous fare exits.  You have to close the door, have the sensors recognize it is empty, and then open up and get it.  Not a big deal until one is hailing a cab in a torrential downpour
  • more than 90+% of the cabs have accurate meters; one is more likely to find the 5% of drivers who do not know directions than the small percentage with rigged meters
Recently, in Danang, I grabbed a taxi heading from the resort to the airport.  For a tourist city, it's surprisingly an interminable wait for cabs there.  I was on the phone while trying to load up the luggage, and some dude in French-inflected English walked out of the resort trying to take my cab.

"It's my cab." (back on the phone)
"I called for a cab."
"I called for it first." (close the door and I'm off)

It was funny as heck, moreso because this dude probably gets waited on hand-and-foot throughout his stay in Vietnam.  He seemed flabbergasted that I wouldn't defer to his arse.  Hey, if you were nicer I would've split the airport ride wit' ya.  Whaddaya expect from a New Yorker in Danang?  I ain't giving up my cab, dude.

Back to the gas situation.  With the recent cut in gas subsidies to fight inflation, gas prices have gone up roughly by 1/3rd.  Fares now have gone up by 2k VND per km, so yesterday I ended up paying about 25% more than usual for a 10km roundtrip. 

Some taxi companies haven't instituted price increases as of yet.  Drivers at two taxi companies in the north, Hanoi Taxi and Saigon Star Taxi, within the past week, have gone on strike to protest the lack of fare increases.

I'll probably end up walking a bit more than usual now, which is all together a good thing.      

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Martini: Sheraton (Saigon)

The best bet(s) for a martini in Vietnam is from an internationally managed hotel.  Here is the Sheraton's version - it's pretty good and the extra olive comes without having to ask.  However, it is kinda small for my taste.  As you can see, there is PLENTY of space in the glass for me.  C'mon Sheraton dudes!

I think it's $8 USD or so, ++.  "++" for those who are unfamiliar means the abomination of +10% tax and +5% service charge. 

Speaking of local hotels, two have swapped their branded management - the Omni Saigon now goes by the unfortunate name of Movenpick - I thought it was a typo when I saw the signage in the papers.  

What a god-awful name.  Yes, I know it's Swiss or something like that, but...  it sounds like some sorta combo betwixt a Costco and Public Storage.  The former M Hotel (nee Guoman Hotel) in Hanoi will also become a Movenpick.  And the Amara Saigon has been taken over by local hotel management and renamed the Ramana - sounds pretty much the same if you say it in Vinglish.  

I wonder if their martinis will change.          

Taking the Bloom Off the iPhone

Lately, the pictures on this blog, which are mainly from an iPhone, has gotten slightly better because I figured out that the "bloom" that I got from photos, such as this one, was due to the UV coating flaking off the plastic iPhone's lens.

One solution is to completely remove the UV coating, using this method discussed on the Macrumors forum.

I haven't been able to remove all of the coating, so the picture quality hasn't gone back to its initial stage, but it definitely has improved a bit.    

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lasagna at Illy Cafe

This is more like meat pie than lasagna.

Golf in Danang

Sunrise over the bay in Danang.

Huda on the beach.  

Playing the new Montgomerie Links.  

It's a nice course in great condition (because it's new and all), but it's hardly a "links" course.  A bit disappointing if you're pulled into going due to the way it's being advertised.  

Golf Ball Meets Thigh

Went golfing recently - too bad my playing partners hit me instead of
the flag.

It's not the same as breaking an ankle or an ACL playing basketball,
but that's why I gave up that for the country club sports.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flight Time

Recently stopped by Hong Kong's airport again. Those mountain views are still impressive. This being HK, even the sky is branded by a luxury retailer!

One thing about being on a frequent flyer card program is that on emptier flights, you get things like a whole row to yourself. It made up for the fact that about 30 members of an extended Vietnamese family was sitting in the rows around me. Yeah, it was kinda of a loud way to cap off a 24 hours of travel.

Hot Pot for One

Recently I found a place that serves hot pot for one - it's been a
long while since I've had - ok, maybe not that long as I did have that
nasty goat bit - but it's been a while. I really like hot pot because
it is not something readily available in the States. Here, even your
local Pho24 joint serves it (umm.. shouldn't it be Pho&Lau24 now?).

Downside to hot pot is that you sweat like a pig and you have to
gather a crew of people before ordering it. That's what makes this
new discovery kinda cool.

This was served in the air conditioned food court at Eden Mall in D1.
Pretty good, but the serving size is a teensy small. Perhaps what I
needed was hot pot for two.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Nuk in VN

Can't find it at Target in the States, but you can find it in Vietnam.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Miss Universe on NBC

So we just finished watching Miss Universe, on NBC in the States.  Dunno how it looked on the local TV there, but the production was pretty darn good and the little side stories showing off the tourism side of Vietnam was pretty cool and a little bit surreal, being that we've been to a lot of places they showed.  

It was oddly weird to see it on TV here, and to think that in a week we'll be walking around the same streets.  It's a small world, especially with frequent flyer miles.  

Now I gotta go and find the youtube clip of that contestant who fell on her butt.