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!).