Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolution Check-in: 2014 Post-Mortem

The hour is almost here (on my side of the globe, at least): 2014 is slowly making way for the new calendar year. 2015, you ready?

But first, let's cut 2014 up into gloopy pieces and see what it was made of for me. What made it go? What brought it to a halt? What helped, and what hindered. And, most importantly, where am I going next?

Back in January 2014, I made a list of 8 resolutions, plus some Lesser Goals, for the year.

So... how did I do?

I should say that I've never before followed-up my resolutions like this. I've really enjoyed the time spent mulling over and reflecting on what I did and didn't do to make these goals come to life as I sit down to write - there's often a deadline on traveling, which makes it nice for setting practical goals and provides a good incentive to follow through, or at least thinking of following through - there's sometimes no 'next year' to restart and re-evaluate your chosen goals. Do it now, while the doin's good!

In thinking about my goals for 2015, I wanted to quickly review what I accomplished, and didn't, in 2014... and in my creative life! Some of it worked... some of it didn't. Entire projects fell to flooding, rust, and sun, and it was a helluva time finding and using new materials (including bamboo!) All of it was sweaty, dirty fun, and most of it didn't give me minor electrical shocks! But hey, that's how I roll.

Let's see, shall we?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ho Chi Mix City: Soundtrack to a Vietnamese Coffeehouse

Romance is in the air at Cafe Tram.
It's been a looooooong time since I've put up any mixes (the Christmas song posts don't count... neither good nor bad)... too long!

Here's a post that I've been meaning to do for quite a while - over a year, in fact. It's just silly, but consider it a Christmas gift from me to you!

BEHOLD: a Youtube playlist so that YOU, TOO, can pretend that you're spending hours a day in a Vietnamese Coffeeshop!

You read that right.

I sat and Shazaamed (wow, I'm getting a lot of use out of that app lately) songs for 90 minutes, then listed them in a playlist, in order and as I heard them. Naturally some Vietnamese songs were impossible to identify, but, really? You're not missing out on much. Here's the rest...

...and MERRY CHRISTMAS!! Enjoy - I know I did!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Au Parc: Carb-y Morning Glory

Home of the Marvelous Bread Basket Breakfast (French Brunch):
served with marmalade, mulberry jam, honey, salted butter
(and sometimes homemade chocolate sauce instead of the jam).

Having just done a virtual eating tour of the midwest (and Colorado) for several weeks, I’m more than ready to be back in Saigon, including my routines and my exercise. My smooshy Thanksgiving face demands it! But all those (absurdly) generous portions and cheesy variations have me thinking about one restaurant in particular in HCMC - One with one of the the most interesting (Western) brunches in town. To those of you in the D1 brunch loop, I am, of course, referring to Au Parc.

From their ample, varied baskets of homemade bread, to the colorful, healthy salads and sandwiches, this place has carb-y decadence for sale, and I’m in the market.

Let me show you why Au Parc is worthy of a precious meal timeslot on your visit to Ho Chi Minh City…

Friday, December 19, 2014

App Review: (iOS, Android, Web)

Today let's look at Foody, an app/website that strives to be the 'Vietnamese Yelp' and is helping organize this city's wild and ever-changing mix of food and drink offerings.

First of all, let's note that I did not use the word 'restaurant' above. Holy schmoly, yes, people, this is an app that catalogues food stands! The future is here! And not only street food... as you'll see, the app lets you delve deep and get specific in describing your particular craving.

I have been using Foody daily for three weeks now and it's been an interesting, and informative, ride.

The app is packed with functionality, but, in general, it doesn't get in the way of the main tasks: discovering new places to eat and drink, documenting your visit there, and rating them.

Click through for screenshots and a tour, and see how I find new places to eat... or simply identify what's a restaurant, and what's someone's kitchen/living room (this can be tricky, seriously)!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

6 Cringey Vietnamese Christmas Songs

Me in my first grade classrooms last year, playing the Jolly Old Elf himself.
Vietnamese loooooove Christmas. And, while I didn't get/have to dress up this year for my job, I still got my fill of the regional holiday music.

Endless techno Jingle Bell remixes. Cloying, sugary, soaring ballads. Mariah Carey covers every hour, on the hour (...actually not so bad. What is it about that song?? Will we be collectively singing it forever? Is it - gasp - traditional now?? OMG please say it is). Feliz Navidad, inexplicably, and quite a bit of it.

Last year I kept meaning to document this visit to another aural dimension, where a driving synth beat is practically mandatory on the uptempo hits, but things got hectic.

This year, however, I'm on my game. Armed with cafe time, Shazaam, and fair-to-middling doses of ibuprofen to pair with my coffee, I took the plunge.

Lucky you. Oh, lucky, lucky you!

Click on, brave souls with a few minutes to spare... I dug out the youtube recordz for you, and I've got a few tracks to spin! Listen and marvel as Vietnam attempts to give you diabetes over the internet...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Banh Mi Ha Noi: The Art of the Local Deli


C’mere kid, I’ve got something for you.

You like crispy, fresh-baked baguette? …Yeahhhh you do.

Fatty, crispy pork? …Drool, baby. You know you want it.

Sautéed onions and peppers? A couple slices of white cheese? A bit of lettuce? All topped off with chili sauce and some kind of sweet-soy-whatever (it's hoisin, I'm an idiot) sauce?

Come around the corner with me, and let’s get some Banh mi thit nuong, or BBQ Pork Sandwich!

This is the most delicious, craveable piece of food art in my neighborhood, and a dangerous distraction after a long day at work - it’s all I can do to stick to only ordering one most days.

Feast your eyes on this specimen...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

General Observations on Saigonese Architecture

[NOTE: This post goes out to my friend Jenny, who asked me about architecture in July 2013. Excitingly, it's a much more interesting topic than I assumed! So here's the first post!]

I find myself often looking down out my window, which is located on the 3rd (4th, American-style counting) floor of my house, and find myself succumbing to the question that must be difficult for any Vietnamese architect to resist: why isn't the entire lot filled... the entire vertical distance??

There's about half a meter of a small awning over the entrance to the garage... that would give me (or my poor roomies on the other side of the building, in their small, glass closet-rooms) just a liiiiiitle bit more breathing room.

But this is a form of thinking that I had never encountered as a designer. Form really SHOULD follow function, but it's difficult to resist the idea that an object's aesthetic should be at least equally important.

On one level, though, this extreme interpretation of Form v. Function just makes common sense - people are more important than the building, so stretch the building to the farthest corners of the available land, all the way up, and you'll have slightly more comfortable humans.

Not to mention the fact that in the average Vietnamese home, there are many family members, and, all of a sudden, this doesn't just seem like A way to do it, it becomes THE way to do it. Even in parcels of city land that are surrounded by unsold/unimproved lots, the tube house reigns supreme... because the expectation is that this neighborhood will, in time, be just like every other well-developed neighborhood in the city - packed, walkable, vital, and very, very local.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Resolution Check-in: Mistakes and How to Make Them

Wow, well in retrospect, I probably never needed to put this on my resolution list again. Because I'm SUPER, SUPER GOOD at making mistakes!

Here's the text of my resolution:

5. Make more mistakes... and learn from them 
The time for trepidation is over. I've got to be bold and confident. This extends past learning and communicating in the language, but it's a good place to start. I'm a fairly strong introvert, but being here has exercised my extrovert skills. Every day presents me with magical, unique opportunities and I'm here to say Yes to them, even if I'd rather putter around with my plants or write some postcards by myself. I will go new places and make new mistakes there.

Now, let's be clear... I was not talking about the same KIND of mistakes. I've learned that variety is the spice of life, and that - deities help me - extends to mistakes of all kinds, stripes, colors, and pearly, iridescent hues.

Also, double clear... my stipulation was that I had to LEARN FROM THEM. I guess that's what (spoilers?) I'm still working on. To be fair, though, I assume that'll be a rather permanent resolution for the rest of my life.

Oh, ok. So there's where we start to go off the rails. But it's good to have a jumping off point, even if that point goes right over a shark into a boiling vat of turkey gravy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

No-Plan Vacation: Cần Giờ by Bike

New Dream Job:
Step 1: Open a hammock cafe. 2: ... 3: profit.
My roommates and I recently took a random bike ride to the southern coast, traveling south through the country. We stopped for hammocks and coffee, took many ferries, biked through the vast mangrove forest in Cần Giờ district, and explored the area around Cần Thạnh, a small, beautiful town on the southern tip of this peninsula.

The Cần Giờ District is the poorest in Saigon, where most of the locals make their money from fishing and the spotty tourism that comes through. The area is sometimes known as the "Green Lungs of Saigon" because, although it's far outside the hustle of the city, this nationally and internationally protected biosphere reserve helps buffer storms from the south seas and provide ample oxygen to cleanse what it can of the heavy pollution coming out of the city.

It's about 80,000 ha of mangroves, and, although much of it was destroyed in the American War, the natural flora and fauna have been slowly recovering and making their beneficial presence felt. As everywhere in the South, folks we encountered were kind and helpful, and dealt with our poor grasp of the language in a heroic fashion.

It was relaxing and refreshing. And here's the proof.

Click through for a map and photos!