Saturday, September 23, 2017

Vietnam Motorbike Bingo

Hey all, let's follow up my post about murderbike with a nifty little driving game!

Driving in HCMC is an experience. It can get nutty. There are so many people, everywhere, going all different directions, and everyone's doing everything all at once. You've got to look out for oncoming motorbikes, pedestrians, buses and larger vehicles - it's often overwhelming, and usually tiring, even after 4.5 years. You've got to plan for the unpredictable.

Check out a basic day in this gopro video my cousin shot on his trip for a taste of day-to-day street life. (Thanks CuzBro Chris!!)

These days, however, all this activity is pretty humdrum. Staying engaged while you're driving is crucially important - anything less than being 100% present is dangerous. I try to be observant of the world around me while I'm driving in order to stay sharp... and here are a few of the most striking sights you'll see on the roads of Ho Chi Minh City!

And now, a one-note joke for all you SEAsian Motorbike drivers out there...Just for you, with love from me... HCMC MOTORBIKE BINGO!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

I Bought a Motorbike... and I Didn't Do My Research

@&#$ this fake Honda Wave. Looks fun and zippy. Is actually murdercycle.
A genuine Honda Wave is a great motorbike for a lot of reasons. They're cheap to fill up, cheap to repair, last basically forever (with proper care, of course), and are generally pretty good bikes for zipping around on any kind of trip, near or far.

So it's entirely on me when I say that the Honda knock-off I bought has been pretty much a total *$&%ing disaster. It was my own, personal, eternal teachable moment, every day, forever (it seemed) for 7 months. Truly, the gift that kept on giving! It was only when I moved houses and got rid of that disaster deathbike did my daily nightmare end.

First it was the brakes.

Then it was the gears.

Then the turn signals. Then the front lights. Then all the lights. Then the fuel hose. Then an oil leak. Then the engine. Then the ignition.

I thought I could learn to fix it. Mechanics laughed in my face. True story. I am much more shy around mechanics now. For some reason they are as intimidating as barbers and doctors for me (a lot).

Murderscoot Jr. continued to totally suck in new, ever-more impressive ways. I looked forward to learning some new horrible thing about it every time I got on... it was a major stressor in life for me, tbh.

The symptoms were clear: I had bought myself a lemon!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Life In a Shoe Factory, One Year On

Hi from the office! Pardon my sweat and fluffy hair.
Well Hello! It’s been a while. How nice to be back with you again! (Yes, YOU!)

I just passed an anniversary at my job, and it occurs to me that I’ve never really explained what I do at my new place of employment. I haven't posted in so long!

My mother likes to tell people I work in a shoe factory in Vietnam - har har, Mother! What a troll. ;D She’s correct, of course, but I’m firmly in bonafide cubicle-land among the shoe developers, managers, and planners. And, as of September 1st, I’ve been here a year.

It’s a fascinating job and fairly challenging in all the best ways, and a few really not great ways.

Let me give you a little overview...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review: 'The Green Metropolis' and HCMC

David Owen’s amazingly prescient and clear-eyed book from 2009, The Green Metropolis, deconstructs exactly what city planners, environmentalists, and the general population get right about cities… and what they get very, very wrong.

His book offers staggeringly simple reasons to rethink how we approach the twin questions of:

  1. “Are cities good or bad for the environment?” and
  2. “Cars… OMG?”
His answers boil down to:

  1. Very, very, very good, and
  2. Yes, cars, OMG.

His arguments, citing a veritable mountain of statistical evidence laid bare in his clear, concise writing, chronicles the rise, fall, rebirth, and future of human cities since the invention of the automobile. He argues that these high-density urban environments are not only more environmentally green, but actually shift the entire conversation from cars and drivers back to fundamental quality-of-life issues for all humans, from the very young to the elderly, and how best to satisfy them.

Owens’ three basic themes are clear: live smaller, live closer, and drive less.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tib Chay Restaurant: Upscale and Affordable Central Vietnamese Vegetarian

Tib Chay restaurant in Ho Chi Minh’s District 1 is a fine choice for getting your Central Vietnamese vegetarian food fix! Check it out – colorful, flavorful, and reasonably priced.

One of the best things (out of many, many best things!) about eating in Vietnam is the incredible variety. While it may be occasionally difficult to find street food that is truly vegetarian (for example, fish is not considered a meat), a huge chunk of the population is Mahayana Buddhist, and one of the traditions is eating vegetarian on the 1st and 15th days of the lunar month. As a result, there are a fair amount of prominent vegetarian restaurants, from cheap to expensive, that serve exclusively veg food any time of the month. Sometimes you just can’t with the pork again, you know?

Slightly off the beaten path, Tib Chay revels in the royal traditions of Central Vietnamese food. Central Vietnamese cuisine is distinct from the Northern or Southern traditions, and centered around Hue. This ancient city was the home of the last Vietnamese royal dynasty, and the food reflects the court: sophisticated and colorful. Dishes are often defined by their small size and elaborate preparation.

Our main dish (seen above) was the house rice, served with veggies and lotus seeds. I’m not usually a fan of anything culled from the lotus plant, but these seeds are an exception to the rule. The vegetables were juicy and well seasoned.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Musicality of Vietnamese Tones

Daily conversation in Vietnam "resembles the singing of birds", wrote Alexandre de Rhodes.

Vietnamese tones are one of the most complicated aspects of Vietnamese language to understand, hear, and speak for foreigners, especially those not used to singing.

Take it from me! I've actually quit Vietnamese lessons twice before I got to this current point - tones and weird vowels plus a very relaxed dialect in the South have made it exasperating at times to speak and, especially, hear. Fortunately, I've been able to grasp a little more this time around, which I attribute entirely to simply living around and among Vietnamese for almost 4 years.

One of the keys to my (limited) success in the language is that I've changed how I think about tones.

In my mind, there are two components to nailing tones: mental and physical. You need to think in them and feel them (hey, here are my acting class lessons coming back again!).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Introduction: Laos, Top to Bottom (January 2016)

Last January, I went to Laos with my friend Mariana. This is the introduction to a series of posts about my trip (links to the series will follow at the bottom of each post, including this one, as I publish them).

Really, the first thing I have to say is: WOW. It's a beautiful country, and I daydream about being here often! Especially the North... sigh. 🙏

Even here in Vietnam, countries that are neighbors for a loooooong stretch of border, I rarely hear anything about Laos, or see any Laotian people. It was a black hole in my knowledge of the region. I was very interested in comparing my experiences in Laos to experiences in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I wanted the food, the nature, and the culture, and I got all three in spades.

We visited the North and the South (leaving out some of the Center, sadly, due to time), and experienced a country rich with tradition and history, just beginning to bloom on the international ecotourism stage... all while dealing with ghosts of the past and pressing modern concerns.