Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Xoi, It's What's For Dinner

I wanted some Chinese steamed buns for dinner, but all the "banh bao" ladies weren't manning their spots tonight.

I checked early in the evening and no one was around in the four spots I visited. Thought maybe I was early so I went home and then returned to wander the streets a few hours later. Still no one was around.

I settled instead for some Xoi from the banh mi vendor. Except for the peanuts, fried onions, and the oiled spring onions, the toppings on this Xoi Thap Cam (xoi combo) is basically the innards of a banh mi. It was surprisingly cheap at 8k.

There was no other food options, so I would've paid at least twice that.

Martini at Lush

Pretty darn good and extra olives as requested. The picture of the bar
staff is for Thirsty.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bun Rieu / Crab Noodle Soup

This is what an order of Bun Rieu in my favorite open air restaurant in HCMC looks like.  That big lump in the middle of the bowl is a 'crabcake patty' - crabs, egg and spices and steamed (I think) to give it a crumbly, airy texture.  

I should eat more crab here.  It seems to be one of the more affordable protein sources, that and cuttlefish.  You'll get more crab meat in a bowl of crab soup than you do beef in a bowl of pho.   

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Level 23 at the Sheraton

So I was at Level 23, the bar/club on the 23rd floor (natch) of the Sheraton Hotel off Dong Khoi in District 1.  It's one of the few places in town where one can grab drinks in mixed company, out on the town discussing work b.s.

Like all hotel bars around here, the house band is an imported lot.  It had been a while since I've been there, so I didn't know that the rather enjoyable American-based cover band, with their Jamaican lead songstress, had finished their 6 month gig.

When I saw the bassist in my local KFC picking up some chicken for lunch, and trying to pick up a fellow customer who was eating with her infant son, I didn't know it was the last time I would see him.  I was paying him some attention because there are very few African-Americans in town on business - they're usually here as tourists, while the black business folks are from the UK and its former colonies, or African blue collar workers.  Another customer, this one a local dude in his 50s or so, hit on the KFC female staff three decades his junior, and got her number!  I didn't know KFC was such a hopping joint.       

Anyhow, the new cover band seemed to have hailed out of Europe.  One of the guitarist is from Sweden, but he wouldn't play ABBA!  They do the same cover songs as the previous band, but they kinda suck at it.  It sounded more like an enthusiastic company karaoke night, than a professional cover band.  Particularly funny was a rendering of the Nelly Furtado/Timbaland hit, Promiscuous Girl, by a duo that looked more like blond Kelly Clarkson and Moby.  The Moby-lookalike doing an Akon song was enjoyable as well.    

Too bad that wasn't the highlight of the night.

I left pretty early because I'm not a big fan of American Idol.  So I got to the elevator and another guy was leaving as well.  As I wait for the elevator, he starts bitching at the Sheraton staff, calling them "dogs" in English and telling them to 'come here like little dogs'.

Alright, I understand that it can be easy for some people to get upset at the local staff, more so at places where they serve you alcohol.  But there is appropriate cursing and there is shit that is out of line.  I'm a New Yorker, cursing is second nature.

You can throw as many f-bombs and motherfuckers around, but you don't call people certain things unless you want your ass beat.  Don't call someone a monkey.  And don't call someone a dog, especially an Asian person.  The signage referenced below in Bruce Lee's flick may be an anachronism, but, if you are of a certain age, then it's part of your understanding of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable.

You don't call someone a dog in this context without intending to attach its most vile meaning - after all, the reason Dottie Pepper's quote is so funny is because (a) it was an on-air gaffe during the Solheim Cup (women's golf version of the Ryder Cup, for you non-golfers out there) and (b) she's such a goody-too-shoes that she didn't use the term she wanted to use, which was "bitch," to refer to the US women golfers.  This dude was not trying to avoid saying bitch.             

So I kindly told him to not use such language, and it escalated to me cursing at him.  Dude was some American (tourist?) who was upset because he was being kicked out of Level 23.  Man, this is Vietnam, it's like 9:30-10pm on a Friday night - what kind of royal asshole must you be to get booted from an expat bar at such time and place?

It was pretty fun cursing at someone on another's behalf.  So a fun night all around.      

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fiat 500 in Vietnam

It's a Fiat 500, and I must declare, it's a very good looking small  car. It doesn't seem to be trying too hard to look chic, like the Mini Cooper does.

According to the security guard / car model, this is being imported by Mekong Autos and will be sold here in 2009 for $40k USD, which is not too bad for this market.

Mekong Auto was one of the first passenger car assemblers here after the Doi Moi era - ten, fifteen years ago the only personal ride in town was their eponymous vehicle, the Mekong, which was sorta like a Jeep Cherokee replica.  I got a lift in once recently, and those Mekongs are rough and ancient, but still running!  

Guess what this is

Not a bad view.


So it has been about two years plus since the equity market runup here in Vietnam (and twelve months since the tumble).

Recently I headed to my brokerage to see the state of the portfolio, and I come to discover that while this place is owned by a major local bank, it does not have a system in place whereby you can check, in Saigon, the balance of an account that was opened in Hanoi.

So they had to print it out up north and fax it down. Crazy, considering how well capitalized this company continues to be.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cheap Internet

I've never really noticed the Internet cafe pricing in Vietnam, because I'm more of an expat than a tourist, but the other day while running some errands I noticed the pricing menu of this joint.

22k for an hour of computer time - that's pretty darn reasonable, and cheaper than AOL's per minute charges back in the day.

The "Internet card" pricing is for an Internet phone calling card, again not too shabby.

I'm sure you can find cheaper access elsewhere, as this was a more 'upscale' joint in a relatively nice ac'ed shopping center in District 1.

Speaking of the Internet, I met this American guy the other day who was here on vacation with his Vietnamese wife of about a year. They met online four years ago, she in HCMC and he in the US. He's of the cohort who would've served here during the war, while she was actually alive on this planet during it, if just barely.

He seemed like a decent enough chap, save for the multiple laments that he had enough of American women's "attitude" - I wish him luck because he obviously doesn't understand Vietnamese women's attitudes!

F'in Mets

I can't believe I can be that disgusted 10,000 miles away.  As the insufferable Dottie Pepper would say, a 'bunch of choking dogs!'  

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Midnight Snack

I hardly ever eat Vietnamese spring rolls in the States - it is too
involved to make at home and it's at least $1 each in restaurants,
which is too much money because they're never as good as homemade.

This was 5k each, so not dirt cheap, like, say, a McD's value menu
double cheeseburger, but its a good value, which makes it tastes
better too.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Free Water

My landlord gave me this bin of water this month for some reason. Now
I don't have to get my water 500ml at a time from the office cooler.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First Dinner Back

Picked this up for dinner at the Chinese noodle place. 88k because it
is the only place open at 11pm, unless you want something made by a
guy that also pees on the street. It is my first few nights back, so,
um, no thanks. Actually, no thanks no matter how iron clad my tummy

O'Hare Flooding (Again) and United's Red Carpet Club

Here's another picture of the flooding at O'Hare the other day.  I'm relatively sure that the loader vehicle there has a set of rear tires obscured by the water.

Saw on the news that evening that Terminal 2 of O'Hare got evacuated due to the rains.  In the terminal I was in (1?), there were lots of water-catching pylons made up of those x-ray trays all over.  Walking around the terminal to stave off boredom reminded me of those Hertz O.J. Simpson commercials, with the dodging and weaving.  Hey, it's football season, and I don't mean EPL.   

This was the scene about an hour before the scheduled departure.  Relatively stress-free compared to the scene a few hours later when the flight got cancelled, due in part to the rain/flooding, in part to maintenance issues on the plane.

This is United's Red Carpet Club (or at least one of them) at O'Hare.  It's mostly empty because I was practically the last person to get a hotel booking voucher from United.  Just imagine a load of passengers on a 747 filling this space.  

I think she *was* the last person to get a hotel.  Eating granola bars and drinking tea gets real old, real fast if one is stuck around for 2 hours.  Especially if there is no free wifi! (Boingo offers 1 free hour of wifi at ORD, but that runs out in a blink of the eye when your flight gets delayed)

This is the bar.  Where you have to pay for a drink.  Wha!?!  What is the point of an airline membership lounge where one has to fork over money for drinks?  And where the drinks cost the same as the bars out in the terminal.  There's no point to this lounge business in the US airports with these dumb cutbacks.  I think this woman got her hotel and flights rearranged already, but she's a college football fan.

The cancelled flight meant a hotel voucher, a taxi voucher (that only covered about 60% of the taxi ride to West Bumfuck), and a $15 food voucher for use in the airport, all courtesy of the airline.  The final poke in the eye by United is that the food voucher cannot be credited towards drinks.  In my estimation, a low-fat, carbonated drink filled with carbohydrates counts as food to me.  

Whatever.  Screw the voucher, it's been a long day.  Order some tasty dishes and finish it off with a Goose Island brew.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

O'Hare Flooding

So the gate for my connection in Chicago is flooded, presumably from
the front edge of Hurricane Ike. Wonder how Houston held up.

Flooded gate means that they can't fuel up the plane - kinda important.

The traffic control tower also got flooded, according to the pilot of
my previous flight. And the entire airport is grounded to a halt
because a lot if runways are closed due to the flooding.

Time to hit up the airport's McDonalds.

Sundae in the States

Last snack before heading off to Vietnam again. I forgot how good
Breyer's taste.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Seven Years On

 Posting from EST, so it's not the day after, unlike Vietnam.  

There are remembrances all over, but here is one touching an online golfing community that I sometimes read.

Greg's Gang. 

Friday, September 05, 2008

Red Carpet Club in Hong Kong Airport

HKG is another airport that I often go thru - downside, their power plugs are of a unconventional kind (that is, if you're traveling with US and Vietnam adapters) - upside, the free wifi is relatively quick and stable.

Here is United's Red Carpet Club Lounge, which sits on top of the Gucci store in this terminal. Much more lively than SGN's lounge.
I stocked up on some candy and a gin & tonic or two, after I learned on the SGN-HKG leg that the free-booze-on-international-flights-service was canceled. It seems like I harp on that a lot, but man, it sucks to fly on long-haul routes without having a drink, especially when you don't like flying in the first place.

The number on the glass is the United Wifi network's security key. With a number like that, I don't think they change it often. A reference, just in case you can't access the free wifi service thru PCCW that is available.

Star Alliance at Tan Son Nhat, part 3

The food:
Some more food
Looking around
There's my plane
And here's the national carrier on an early morning flight 

It's Asia, gotta have some fish for Feng Shui purposes

My preflight meal.. I didn't know United stopped liquor service onboard, otherwise I would've found something to add to that Diet Coke (nee Coke Light)

As you can see, this facility is hardly utilized.  I was the only one there for a 747 leaving the country.  As I was about to leave, one dude entered the lounge.  The Vietnam Airlines business class lounge, in particular the location at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport, is better, mainly due to the better service.  There was no service here, because there were no customers here.  It felt really strange sitting there by myself.  

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Star Alliance at Tan Son Nhat, part 2

Here is how to get to the Star Alliance (i.e. United and other affliated airlines.. but mostly United, as it flies regularly out of HCMC) lounge at Tan Son Nhat airport in HCMC / Saigon:

Walk down this corridor

Past the United gate
Keep on truckin'
To this unmarked door

Dong Nai Noodles

After an average round at the Dong Nai Golf Resort - a bit distant from Saigon and the course had too many unnecessary white stakes along the edges of the fairway - I had this bowl of beef noodles in the clubhouse.

A lot of golf places sell you instant noodles, so this hearty fare was well appreciated by my tummy. I was glad another session of après round goat hot pot was voted down.

Song Be Golf Course

Went to Song Be GC, which is just about an hour and change from D1, at least if you have a 630am tee time.

First time there for me and I managed to shoot a Vietnam PB. The course is pretty solid and it has probably the nicest clubhouse in the south.

This picture is the walk off 18 into the clubhouse.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

'Peake Blue Crabs

Went home and had some blue crabs from the Chesapeake recently. They're orange when you cook them up obviously; the Old Bay seasoning hits the right spot.

As one can tell from the plate, this was off a buffet line, so it was good but not the best example of the species. If you're a foreigner (or a candidate for office) and want ro meet a cross section of America in whatever town or city you visit, head to the local Chinese buffet and talk to the customers.