Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sabi Sabi

(PICTURE: The front gate of Sabi Sabi)

First off, a HUGE thank you goes out to Devin. Devin treated myself, Chris and Dave to an absolutely amazing four days at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. If going on a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I'll never have any doubts that we did it right when we did it. Sabi Sabi was by far the nicest "hotel" I've ever stayed in. From the accommodations to the food to the staff, I've got zero complaints (minus literally gaining six pounds or so).

To get to Sabi Sabi, we took the smallest plane I've ever been on.

(PICTURE: Right after landing on the Sabi Sabi airstrip.)

We were greeted at the airport by our guide, Crimson:

(PICTURE: Crimson...whose name I'm gonna spell wrong but it was pronounced like the color.)

Crimson was basically the fifth amigo for the next four days. He led all of our game drives, ate dinner with us every night and told us everything we needed to know about the animals and the local environment. Crimson couldn't have been a better guide and we could definitely tell he enjoyed having four dudes to drive around for a couple of days rather than his normal guests.

Crimson's side-kick was Million, our tracker:

(PICTURE: Million preparing some hot chocolate in the morning. During the game drives he would sit in that chair in front of the Land Rover.)

After being picked up, we drove about three minutes before we saw our first animal. Immediately I took out my brand new Canon SLR (the same one I had stolen from ninjas when I first moved to Hanoi) and started to shoot away. This was the first picture I took...the first of over 1,600!!!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Picture Preview

To give you a little preview of my future safari blogs (written in my head but not on paper/internet), here's a picture of a lion cub that I took. How cute is this little guy?!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Letters From Management

For the last two weeks, we've been staying at the Hotel Apollo in Ramsburg. Ramsburg isn't exactly the ideal location to stay in Johannesburg but it's done the job. We were originally supposed to stay at another hotel but at the last minute were changed to this one. Apparently the other hotel didn't actually exist. Ole Ole told us that they booked the other hotel four years ago; the hotel then was an office building and supposed to be converted into a new hotel for the World Cup. For whatever reasons the hotel was never finished and hence we ended up in the outskirts of Jo'Burg.

The Hotel Apollo is a nice hotel but seems like it isn't 100% ready for business either. For example, my bathroom is missing a toilet paper ring. Another person's room was missing outlets. Also, all of our sheets and pillow cases seem to be right out of the packaging; they smell and feel like they've never been washed. The staff was also putting more furniture into the common areas the other day and even yesterday they were painting the staircase.

The other indication that this hotel hasn't been up and running for a long time is the unintentionally comedic letters the hotel keeps putting under our doors. Here's the first letter we received, the day after checking in, which lambastes all the hotel guests for apparently eating in the rooms:

The irony of this letter is:
a) Um, don't people always eat food in their rooms? Has this hotel never heard of room service?
b) Upon check-in, the hotel had a welcoming spread of cookies, jerky and drinks in the lobby. People were taking some food, getting their hotel room keys and going to the room.
c) In the room is a hot water heater and coffee/tea packs.
d) There is also a cabinet in the room which is clearly meant for a mini-fridge. I would bet that the lack of a mini-fridge is only because the hotel isn't 100% finished yet.

The second letter wasn't quite as ridiculous. However, the punctuation is embarrassing (says the guy who constantly has grammar/spelling issues on his blog). On top of that, it's sort of strange for a hotel to tell its guests when they should leave their rooms in order for them to be cleaned.

Anyway, after living in hotels for basically three weeks, I'm ready to return to my own apartment where only Huyen can tell me what to do!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

CNN Article: Blogging Behind Vietnam's Bamboo Cyberwall

So you think blogging in Vietnam is easy? Check out this CNN article:

Here's the article:

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (CNN) -- Helmet under her arm, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quyn arrives after traveling 450 kilometers by motorbike, evading the security police, to tell CNN the story of her imprisonment for blogging in Vietnam.

"The first three days I was scared for myself," she said about her 10 days in prison, during which officers repeatedly asked her about her writing and if she received cash from anti-government groups outside the country.

Vietnamese like Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quyn are embracing the internet in full force. There are 24 million internet users right now, nearly a third of the population. A decade ago there were 200,000. Internet cafes have popped up all over Ho Chi Minh City, and social networking sites are increasing in popularity along with mobile internet use.

"Internet life grows so fast," said a popular blogger, who requested anonymity out of concerns for his safety. "Even I, one of the bloggers, could not imagine how fast this could be.

"And nearly everyone, each Vietnamese, has their own blog."

Like elsewhere, most Vietnamese blogs deal with life, work, humor or technology. But a group of bloggers here also focus on a more dangerous territory in this one-party Communist state: They write about local corruption, land seizures and the increasing influence of China. They complain about the lack of multiparty democracy, too.

In a nutshell, they blog about the sort of issues that can get you into deep trouble in today's Vietnam.

This is something that Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quyn -- who blogs under the Vietnamese pen name Me Nam or Mother Mushroom -- knows well.

Her blog includes writings about her daily life and pictures of her young daughter, but she also expresses her outspoken views against China's intervention in her country, including Beijing's financing of a controversial bauxite mine in the Central Highlands.

Those views led to her arrest and imprisonment for ten days in August, for, she said, "abuse of democratic freedoms and infringing on the national benefit."

When I first got in touch with Nguyen nearly a year later, her phone and movements were still being monitored. E-mail, I had been told, was the best way to get in touch.

"I am willing to tell my story to you," she wrote to me, saying she would travel from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City to meet us.

Twelve hours later, she sent another e-mail. "Can you sure filming is OK and safe for us?" She feared the security police would prevent her from coming, but she would try.

The next day she arrived, and over the next two hours she told her story.

"I did not know what happened. But the fourth and fifth and the sixth day when they asked me the same questions, I was scared for my mom and my daughter and my husband. I didn't want to think about them when I was put in prison, because if I ever think about them I wanted to give everything to come to my family."

As a condition of her release, she agreed to give up blogging, posting a handwritten letter on her site in which she explained that she loved her country, but that the government felt this was the wrong way. After being denied a passport two months later though, she decided to begin again.

"I write another entry on my blog, that I gave up already, but they didn't leave me alone," she said. "I have to take the right to say what I think."

What does she think the government will do if they see her telling her story on CNN?

"I think that they have to think about this," she said. "Because I just tell the truth ... If they arrest me again because I send a message outside to the world, I am not scared. This means that they show to (the) world that we don't have freedom like they say."

When contacted by CNN about its policy on freedom of expression on the internet, Vietnam's Foreign Ministry provided the following written response.

"In Vietnam, freedom of information and freedom of speech are guaranteed and practiced in accordance with the law. Such concern as 'government threatens free expression online and an open internet' is groundless."

Nguyen and I have been keeping in touch by e-mail since her story aired on CNN International television one week ago.

"Thank you so much for the film ...," she wrote me on Saturday. "Thank you for coming to report about our country."

And at the bottom of her automatic signature, the same as on every e-mail I have received from her, it read: "Who will speak if you don't?"

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Playoff Beards

(PICTURE: The guys and our facial hair after the USA vs. Algeria game.)

You may have noticed some funky facial hair in my recently posted pictures. For the last three weeks, none of us have shaved (although a couple of the guys did some trimming). We all agreed a few weeks ago to grow out our Group C playoff beards for fun. After the itching started, we decided to axe the beard idea and change it into not-so-stylish playoff mustaches. Here's a closer look at our individual styles:

(PICTURE: Me wanting to be Johnny Depp.)

(PICTURE: Devin with his Harley Davidson handlebar look.)

(PICTURE: Dave's imitation of Bull Hurley from the film classic "Over The Top.")

(PICTURE: I like to call this "The Rat".)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

USA vs. Algeria

(PICTURE: Me and Oguchi Onyewu's family at the World Cup in Germany. I also talked with them at this World Cup.)

(PICTURE: Devin and I traded jerseys with two Algerians after the game.)

By now everyone knows that the USA beat Algeria 1-0 on an amazing injury time goal by Landon Donovan. I received about a dozen emails from people (including Masumi in Japan and Kristy in Australia) congratulating the United States on our big win.

I can say that without a doubt, the ending of this game was the best finish to a sporting event I have ever been to (just edging out Donovan McNabb's last second touchdown pass against Virginia Tech at the Carrier Dome). I think I hugged about twenty strangers just because they were wearing USA gear. However, before we scored the winning goal, this could have been one of the most frustrating games I've ever attended. The USA should have put home at least two or three more goals, not including the goal that was mistakenly called back for being offsides. Regardless, all's well that ends well -- the USA won our group, edging out England.

One of the traditions in soccer is that players exchange jerseys after the game. Well, when walking around Pretoria after the game, two Algerians came up to Devin and me and asked to swap jerseys. I've had my "Gooch" jersey for four years but felt no hesitation in exchanging it with the two guys. Now I've got an Algerian jersey to remember our victory forever!

Mexican Americans

Before coming to South Africa, I read a few articles about how Americans bought the most tickets to the World Cup. When I first read this, I assumed I would see American flags and jerseys everywhere I went in South Africa. However, I didn't account for the fact that many Americans weren't coming solely to root for America. Based on nothing but my own observations, I would say that 50% of the Americans who came to the World Cup are rooting for other countries. The most obvious case of this is with Mexican Americans.

There are tons of Mexican Americans here pulling for Mexico. I would say that without a doubt, Mexico has the largest fan base at the tournament. You can't go a block without seeing a Mexican flag, a guy in a wrestler's mask or a sombrero. Our hotel, which is filled with people who bought their tickets from an American travel agent, is packed with Mexican Americans. I've met Mexican Americans ranging from places from Los Angeles to Jackson, Mississippi.

I don't want this blog to sound like the Mexican Americans are being unpatriotic because they're not. Every single Mexican American I've met is also rooting for America to win. Besides the Mexican Americans, I've met Americans rooting for Italy, Argentina and even...Algeria (the team America is playing in our third and final game...which will have already been played by the time this is posted)!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Congratulations to Benjamin August and his Asian Wife!

What's with Benjamin Augusts falling in love with Asian women? Three people sent me this link this week to the New York Times Weddings/Celebrations page:

Penelope Tang, Benjamin August

Penelope Tang, the daughter of Patricia P. Tang and Henry Tang of New York, was married Saturday evening to Benjamin Meyer August, a son of Barbara L. August and William August of Cambridge, Mass. Judge Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit officiated in Sutton Square Park in Manhattan.

The bride and bridegroom, both 28, met at Princeton, from which they both graduated.

Mrs. August is a senior designer in the interior design department of Selldorf Architects in New York. Her father retired as a partner in the New York office of the Houston law firm Baker Botts, and now works in private practice. Her mother is an art dealer for E. V. Thaw & Company in New York and a trustee of the China Institute, also in New York. The bride’s parents are also on the board of the American Friends of the Shanghai Museum.

Mr. August is a bond trader at Susquehanna International Group, an institutional sales, research and brokerage firm; he works in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Until 2009, the bridegroom’s mother was the director of the Kids of All Learning Abilities Program at the ARC of Greater Boston, a nonprofit organization serving people with disabilities. His father is a partner in the Boston law firm Epstein & August.

Last Sunday, Mr. August had to have an emergency appendectomy. The bride reports he has rallied, noting in an e-mail message: “He is on his feet and in marriageable condition.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


After the Beijing Olympics, Huyen and I gave a tour of Hanoi to my friend Grahame's friend Jeffrey Marcus who had been covering the Olympics for the New York Times. Jeffrey is a great guy and it was a pleasure showing him around the city (Huyen actually gave him and his now-wife a second tour of the city when I was out of town). Well, Jeffrey is now covering the World Cup for the NY Times and just wrote a great PAGE 1 article on diving at the World Cup:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ole Ole Travel Company

If you read my "Bus Odyssey" blogs last week, you'll know that I'm not a fan of our tour group Ole Ole ( Frankly, this company is disorganized and just moronic (although many of the people working for them are extremely nice). If you recall, it took us six hours to drive to the USA vs. England game; a drive which should have been 2.5 hours. The straw that broke the camel's back that day was when the tour leader had forgotten to bring the parking permit for the bus. This made us have to wait an additional hour+ to get into the stadium. That tour leader has since quit or been fired but that hasn't stopped the constant mistakes by Ole Ole.

For the USA vs. Slovenia game, we were scheduled to leave our hotel at 12:30 for the 4PM game. As soon as we got on the bus, I said to the tour leader, "Do we have a parking permit?" The guy said, "I don't know" and turned to the bus driver and asked him if he had a permit. The bus driver said that the other Ole Ole worker had it. Well, the other Ole Ole worker didn't have it. Nobody had it. Once again, our tour company didn't collect the permit from wherever they were supposed to get it. This meant that our bus wasn't allowed through the road block set up near the stadium. This wouldn't be a problem if they let everyone off at the road block. It was only a fifteen minute walk from there to the stadium. However, the tour leader instead tried over and over to find an alternate way into the stadium which meant aimless driving for thirty or more minutes down roads which are not meant for big buses. Finally we convinced the guy to drop us off on the street and we walked. The point is though, they had four years to prepare for this event and continually are making idiotic mistakes. They say that insanity is when you try to do the same thing over and over and expect different results. That is exactly what Ole Ole is doing; this company is insane. So if you stroll on to my blog looking to book World Cup tickets for 2014, I highly suggest you find a different tour company.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

South African Taxi Cabs

In Johannesburg, the locals usually take taxi cabs that look like this:
On our first day, our travel company told us not to trust these taxis. We took that advice and have since been taking "metered" cabs. I put metered in quotes because I have yet to actually see a meter in a cab. Every taxi driver has offered us a different price to go from the same location to the same location. We have been told that some cabs are government registered cabs and need to charge a certain price based on distance traveled. It seems to me crazy that the World Cup organizers didn't do a better job of legitimizing the taxi industry here in J'burg (in Cape Town the taxis were perfectly legit).

To sum up how ridiculous the taxi situation is, let me tell you a little story. After the USA vs. Slovenia game we decided not to take the Ole Ole Group bus back (see tomorrow's blog). At the stadium were signs for "metered taxis". We followed the signs, asked the volunteers at the stadium, and still ended up on a street with no taxis. There were a few police working the street and we approached two of them. We asked one of the cops where we could find a taxi and he replied, "Where do you want to go?" We told him we wanted to go to Melrose Arch, one of the fan zones near where we're staying. He told us that he would take us. We all looked at each other wondering just how far this guy took his public service duties. He gave his fellow policewoman a nod and told us to follow him. We walked a few blocks with this cop and then go into his personal car. As soon as we sat down inside he said, "How much you gonna pay me?" Devin, Chris, Dave and I all looked at each other as if to say, "Here we go again." The cop wanted 450 Rand, almost $70. We all told him there was no chance. The cop was willing to go down to 350 which was still absurd. We all got out of his cab, and luckily found another cab who charged us just 120 Rand.

The beauty of this is that the cop left his duty to try and extort us. I'm not sure if this makes me question the police as a whole here or whether people just think as taxi drivers they need to rip off tourists.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Father's Day!!!

(PICTURE: My favorite picture of me and my Dad.)

Big Guy!!!!

Happy Father's Day! I'm having a great time in South Africa but every day I've wished that you could be here with me, especially when I was on safari. You're the greatest Dad in the world and not a day goes by that I don't realize that. I love you and miss you!!!

To all the other father's out there (i.e. my brother and the lion I saw on safari): Happy Father's Day to you too!

(PICTURE: My favorite photo of Zev and Lilah.)

(PICTURE: The King of Animals looking after his little cub.)

USA vs. Slovenia

(PICTURE: I took this off of If you look at the top right of the American flag you can see Devin, Chris and Dave. I'm to the left of Devin, underneath the flag!)

(PICTURE: See, I'm under the flag!)

Wow! What a game last night. After playing horribly in the first half, the US managed to come back from two goals down to tie Slovenia. In fact, we scored a third goal that was controversially disallowed by the referee. When the ball went in on the third goal our half of the stadium erupted. I was in the middle of a group hug with Chris and a few strangers when someone said, "They called offsides!!!" This was literally the definition of a buzz kill. I've never been on such a euphoric high and brought back down so quickly. What made it worse was that I was absolutely drenched in beer that someone had spilled on a bunch of people in celebration.

That's my quick update on the game. Now, I'd like to directly address the guy who was sitting a row in front of me: Hey, Asshole! DO NOT THROW YOUR BEER BOTTLE INTO THE CROWD YOU FUCKING MORON. It's one thing to spray people with beer, it's another to launch a bottle into the air. Sure, the Bud bottles are plastic but that doesn't mean it can't hurt someone. It's people like you that can turn something fun into something scary. You could have hit a kid -- which there were plenty of -- or broken someone's nose/teeth/face with your stupidity.

If anyone at the World Cup is reading this, please continue to have fun but don't act like a total neanderthal.

Friday, June 18, 2010


There are a few songs that are constantly played at the World Cup. There is the K'Naan theme song called "Waving Flag" and then there is the Shakira song which I think is called, "Check Out How Fast I Can Shake My Butt." However, there is another song that I'm not sure people are hearing on TV. It's a song that is constantly played at the stadiums called "Shosholoza." "Shosholoza" is a traditional South African folk song about a train that keeps going forward.

Here's the lyrics according to Wikipedia:

Ku lezontabah
Stimela siphum' eSouth Africa
Ku lezontabah
Stimela siphum' eSouth Africa
Wen' uyabalekah
Wen' uyabalekah
Ku lezontabah
Stimela siphum' eSouth Africa

A rough translation:

Go forward
Go forward
On those mountains
Train from South Africa.
Go forward
Go forward
You are running away
You are running away
On those mountains
Train from South Arica.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Identity Crisis: Am I Paraguayan?

(PICTURE: The flag of my beloved Paraguay.)

On Tuesday night, The guys and I went to the Italy vs. Paraguay game in Cape Town:

(PICTURE: Devin, Chris and Dave outside Cape Town stadium.)

Chris's father was born and raised in Sicily, making Chris the first generation American in his family. Chris was obviously rooting for Italy in the game. Despite Devin's 100% Italian last name, he's actually only 25% Italian. However, this was more than enough for him to passionately root for Italy.

Despite taking two years of Italian classes, I'm 0% Italian and actually hate the Italian football team more than any other team. If you watch football, you'll most likely agree that no team dives/act/complains more than the Italian squad.

On top of that, I had good reason to root for Paraguay in this game -- I'm part Paraguayan. Okay, that's not true. I have zero Pargauyan blood in my body. However, I do have family in least I thought I did. When my family fled Europe, they went all around the world. You may recall that I once wrote on my blog that I'm named after my great grandmother Bella who actually fled to and lived in Shanghai for some time. Well, some of my other family went to South America.

I told the guys that I had family in Paraguay and they thought it was pretty funny. It was even funnier when a group of Paraguayan people saw me the day of the game and singled me out with a wave and a smile. They could sense pseudo Paraguayan blood. That afternoon I wrote an email to my sister and my cousin Greg asking where in Paraguay our family lived. My sister wrote back first and said something like, "Uh, I think our family lives in Uruguay." Paraguay, Uraguay...simple mistake right?

My cousin Greg -- the king of the August family genealogy -- wrote me back later and confirmed my ignorance. However, he did say that "we may have some family in Paraguay." That means there's still a chance I'm sort of part Paraguayan!!!!

Anyway, Paraguay tied Italy 1-1.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


(PICTURE: See anything strange in this picture?)

I'm usually quite a good packer but on this trip I made a big mistake -- I didn't pack enough undies or socks. The other day, I decided to use one of the skills I've learned in Vietnam -- hand washing clothes. I took a pair of boxers and two of my favorite socks and scrubbed and washed them in my hotel sink. After ringing out the now-wonderfully smelling clothes, I hung them on our hotel balcony to dry. The clothes were still damp later in the day so I decided to keep them outside over night. It was a bad move.

Cape Town apparently has hurricane-like winds. When I awoke in the morning, I could hear the wind swirling outside. I got out of bed and went to the porch and discovered that my undies and one sock were gone. This didn't really make sense because the balcony was surrounded by a three foot high wall of glass. Using my best detective skills, I looked over the balcony's edge and saw my boxers sunk at the bottom of a small algae pool on top of a covered electrical unit:

(PICTURE: One of my favorite boxers.)

I decided to give up on the boxers but wanted to rescue my lone lost sock. Dave and I went to the ground floor and looked everywhere for the sock. Alas, we came up empty handed. The sock blew away to, I can only assume, Antarctica.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Bus Odyssey II

Upon arriving at the Cape Town airport, our scheduled ride was not there. This was par for the course with our travel company. We called the office and they told us someone was on their way.

After about twenty minutes our ride showed up. Check it out:

Yes, we had a whole coach bus for just four of us. Good planning! At least this bus driver knew where our hotel was.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Bus Odyssey

(PICTURE: The four of us at the USA vs. England game.)

Getting to the USA game the other night was quite an ordeal. The travel company we're using is -- what's the nicest word -- moronic. They basically have no clue about logistics and seemingly are flying by the seat of their pants despite having basically four years to plan this trip. Let me sum up our misadventure:
Wrong Move #1: We were told we would leave at noon for the game. The bus didn't show up until 12:45.
Wrong Move #2: About ninety people got on the bus. We were then told we'd be picking up a few more people at another hotel. That other hotel was in the wrong direction of the game. We ended up picking up about 7 people. So 90 of us went the wrong direction to pick up 7.
Wrong Move #3: We waited about 45 minutes in a parking lot to pick up the other 7 people.
Wrong Move #4: Despite being just about 10 minutes from a mall near the stadium (we were scheduled to stop there to get something to eat), the bus pulled over on a random street so a few people could pee at a fast food restaurant.
Wrong Move #5: After waiting fifteen minutes for some people to pee, the bus then stopped at a weigh station because the bus driver thought more people wanted to pee. This stop ended up turning into a thirty minute stop.
Wrong Move #6: At this point our trip had taken about four + hours and many people were getting antsy. We took a "vote" and decided to skip the mall and go right to the stadium. We got to the stadium and found out that our Tour Leader forgot to get the special parking permit. We had to wait about another hour for someone to bring us the permit.
We eventually parked and went into the stadium. It took us six hours from door to door for a trip which was scheduled to take 2.5 hours. Luckily we were still two hours early for the game. The only thing the tour company did right was having us leaving 8.5 hours early for the game.

And that was just getting to the stadium....

(PICTURE: The bus from hell.)

On the way home we waited about an hour and fifteen minutes in the parking lot for a couple people who didn't show up. Literally we were the last bus there. Even security was leaving the stadium. It eventually took us four hours to get home because the bus driver went to the wrong hotel and ended up getting lost. The guys and I ended up having about an hour to pack our stuff and catch a ride to the airport to fly to Cape Town.

All of that would have been worth it had the USA won...but as you all know by now, we tied England 1-1.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Happy Birthday, Big Bro!!!

Happy birthday to my big brother!!!!!

Fan Zones

(PICTURE: The fan zone where we watched the France vs. Uraguay game.)

For those of you who were hoping for a blog about the USA vs. England game, I'm sorry to disappoint. Hopefully the USA won the game and I'll have a good blog to write about it soon. However, I'm prewriting this blog because we won't be returning from the game until probably 1 or 2AM. We're then taking off for Cape Town around 6AM to check out that city and to catch the Italy vs. Paraguay game.

Sooooo, this blog is about the Fan Zones. Throughout the country there are "fan zones" set up. As I mentioned yesterday, we watched the opening game at one of these zones. Basically they are public spaces which have resurrected huge TVs.

The cool thing about the zones is that you get to feel the electricity of the games without having to be in the stadium. On top of that, there are musical acts and entertainment between the games.

A funny little anecdote: We wanted to watch the first game at a fan zone so we headed to Melrose Arch, a promenade turned zone about twenty minutes from our hotel. We got to the zone about four hours early and managed to grab a table at a restaurant about thirty feet from the screen. The zone filled up and had probably a few thousand people finagling for a clear view to the screen. The zone was cool but I had expected something much bigger akin to the fan zones in Germany in 2006. Well, there was a zone much bigger and it was a two minute walk from where we were. We inadvertantly set-up shop in the smaller of the two fan zones at Melrose Arch. For the second game we headed over to the other zone which was much livelier.

Okay, I'm gonna grab breakfast, shower and then head out to the USA game. LETS GO USA!!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

South Africa vs. Mexico

Yesterday was the opening game between South Africa and Mexico. Devin, Dave, Chris and I watched the game at one of the fan zones in J'burg. By now everyone who cares knows the score ended in a 1-1 tie. I was pulling for South Africa to win but a draw was a pretty good way for them to start their tournament.

Needless to say, the majority of the people at the fan zone were pulling for South Africa. However, there were a few Mexico fans in the crowd. In fact, the Mexico Tourism Board had a stand at the fan zone and were passing out Mexican flags to anyone who wanted.

To get a little glimpse of World Cup fever, check out the vastly different reactions to the two goals scored in the game:

Friday, June 11, 2010


(PICTURE: South African fans blowing vuvuzelas.)

For those of you who are going to watch the World Cup, you're going to constantly hear a horn sound emanating from thousands of vuvuzelas. A vuvuzela is a long plastic horn and perhaps the most annoying sound in the world at the moment. It seems that every person in South Africa has a vuvuzela and love to blow it everywhere and at every time. During our first dinner last night, some British fans starting blowing their vuvuzela at their table a few feet away from us. There's nothing like a loud horn sound in your ear when trying to enjoy a meal. Then this morning, someone/dozens of people started to blow their vuvuzelas outside of our hotel around 4AM.

Here's a couple of my thoughts about the vuvuzela:
1. What's the point in just making noise? If both teams' fans have vuvuzelas how does one team know who is cheering? To me, it is noise for noise sake.
2. After coming from a safari, this noisemakers make everyone just sound like buffaloes (think cows with horns). Basically the buffaloes on the safari would just walk around and then let out a big moooooooo like sound. It's sort of the same thing with these horns. People basically raise the horns up and for no apparent reason give it a big blow.
3. These horns remind me of high school soccer. Randolph High School -- one of Livingston's rivals -- always had a bunch of fans in the stands who blew vuvuzelas. This was circa 1995 & 1996. I hope those fans invested in the horns because they'd be multi-millionaires after this World Cup.

I thought my experience in Vietnam with horn honking would have prepared me better for the noise of the vuvuzelas, but alas it hasn't. That said, I'm sure I'll be picking one up in the next day or so and tooting it to my heart's desire.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day Off

I'm utterly exhausted after an incredible four day safari. I took way over 1,000 pictures and will try and put together a little montage of the best ones soon. However, today I'm treating myself to a day off of blogging...


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Adoption Plane

(PICTURE: A random chart that came up when I googled adoption.)

While waiting in line to check in for my flight on Friday, Huyen and I quickly noticed something -- we were surrounded by newborn babies. Usually being on a plane with lots of infant children is a flying nightmare. However, this plane was the opposite -- it was a dream flight for about 20 families. You see, we were surrounded by European couples all with their newly adopted Vietnamese babies.

Seeing the new families was quite an interesting experience. You could see a range of emotions on all of the parents' faces. I know the process of adopting is a long and frustrating one. However, the end result is obviously priceless for the families. For Huyen, adopting is a strange concept. In Vietnam, people don't usually adopt children...let alone foreign children.

Do any readers know if American can adopt from Vietnam anymore? Last year I received an email from a woman who had adopted a Vietnamese baby in the past and was saddened that the US had stopped allowing Vietnamese adoptions.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Motorbike Injury Hospital

(PICTURE: Just a random picture to get the point across.)

Motorbikes are dangerous. Yes, I know you all know that because I've mentioned it a hundred times on my blog. However, recently I had a chance to see exactly how dangerous bikes can be.

I mentioned the other day that Huyen's grandmother was recently in the hospital because she had foot surgery. You may recall that I've talked in the past about how the hospitals in Hanoi are organized by specialties. There’s the eye hospital, the heart hospital, the nose/ear/throat hospital, etc. Well, Huyen's mother was at the Orthopedics hospital specializing in foot/leg/arm injuries. Upon entering the hospital for the first time (I went three times to see her), I immediately realized that the place should be called the Motorbike Injury Hospital. Nearly everyone in the place had been in some kind of traffic accident.

Frankly, the place was gruesome. Nine out of twelve people in Huyen's grandmother's room were wearing some kind of archaic looking cast on their surgically repaired legs. The worst case in the room -- STOP READING HERE IF YOU GET NAUSOUS EASILY -- was a twenty-something-year-old boy who had his leg run over my an automobile. The car or truck (I'm not sure which) had ripped off all of the skin from the boy's calf area and presumably broken his bones there too. The surgeons had had to take off the skin from the boy's thigh to replace the skin from his calf.

As horrible as that story is, it doesn't compare to a patient in the other room who everyone was whispering about on my second visit to the hospital. In the other room was another twenty-something-year-old boy who had gotten into a motorbike accident with a car. I'm not sure what exactly happened but the boy had to have both his legs amputated.

I think I'm writing this blog because I'm clearly a little spooked out after going to the hospital. I've felt awful for the second boy for a week now. On my third visit to the hospital I saw the boy laying in bed and could literally feel my heart sinking for him. Later that night, Huyen and I had dinner with our friends David and Elissa. David has been trying to work-over Elissa for a few months to allow him to get a motorbike. Elissa, rightfully so, is nervous because David had a minor motorbike accident last summer which resulted in some knee surgery. Having come right from the hospital, I basically shot David's chances of getting a bike to hell by talking about all of the motorbike injuries. Elissa had a brilliant idea upon hearing of the hospital. She said that all high schools should have to take a field trip to the hospital to meet patients and hear/see their stories.

Now, Mom, I'm sure you're gonna be a little worried after reading this post. However, the vast majority of people who drive safely on motorbikes don't get into accidents. That said, I'll be just as happy as you are once I give up motor biking for good...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Experiment Over

(PICTURE: These are the temporary walls the city put up at major intersections.)

Last August I wrote a blog post on how Hanoi had changed many of the traffic intersections during the three months that I was away visiting my family. You can read about the genius city planning efforts in my August 10th, 2009 blog post titled, "Cha Cha Cha Changes." Basically the city had decided to get rid of many major intersections by putting up barriers to force people who wanted to go East/West into turning North/South and then making a u-turn. I thought this solution was, well, not so smart. It did more or less decrease traffic jams but also probably led to a lot more accidents as motorbikes/cars/bikes/buses had to now u-turn into faster traffic.

Well, after a little less than a year, the city has seen the error of its ways and officially re-opened the intersections. However, there's one small problem I've noticed so far with the "new" intersections: they forgot to install traffic lights in some. Yeah, I'm serious.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


(PICTURE: Me with my Level 2 class and a few special guests.)

Last week we finished the first cycle of Apex English. Overall, the past three months were quite a success. I can honestly say that almost every single student improved their English skills. There were a couple of students who vastly improved with their speaking, listening and writing. It feels good to see big results in such a short period of time.

I learned a lot over the last three months and I can hopefully apply my new knowledge during the next cycle of the school. Most of the students have expressed interest in taking another class with Apex and ideally we'll be able to recruit more students. I've already decided to lower the cost of classes almost a $1 per class. Apex was already the cheapest language school with a native speaker and will be even more so with the new price tag.

To celebrate the end of our semester, I took both of my classes out to dinner. Here's some pictures from our farewell parties:

(PICTURE: Me with my Level 1 class and freeloading Huyen!)

(PICTURE: I dressed down while everyone else dressed up.)

(Picture: The girls in pink. Huyen and Jamie...who will be doing a guest blog soon!)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

World Cup

(PICTURE: Two things I packed -- my safari shirt and USA jersey!)

Four years ago I went to the World Cup in Germany with my buddy Devin. The World Cup was such an amazing experience that we promised each other that we'd make it a tradition to go to every World Cup. Well, four years have passed and today I'm flying to South Africa!!!

I have always wanted to go to Africa and what better opportunity than this? However, as excited as I am, I feel terrible that I can't bring Huyen along. The price tag on the World Cup is ridiculous and frankly I can't afford it myself. If it wasn't for my very generous sugar daddy (Devin) this trip would never have happened. To rationalize going solo, I've decided that this is going to be my three week bachelor party. What could be a better bachelor party than watching sports for a month?

Here I come South Africa!!!

(PICTURE: My buddy Nicky bought me an inflatable giraffe to prepare me for the real thing.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Things That Really Piss Me Off: PART 2

Here is the second installment of "Things That Really Piss Me Off."

I get it: People run red lights in Vietnam. This happens at every single intersection every single time a light goes from yellow to red. I came to grips with this a long time ago and am now as guilty as millions of other for speeding up at a yellow despite knowing I have no chance of being through the intersection until after the light has turned red. I blame my law breaking on the realization that I had a much better chance of getting into an accident by stopping at a red light than by going through it. When I used to be a good law abiding citizen I had a few close calls of people nearly slamming into me because the last thing they expected was for someone to stop at a red light. I call this type of infraction a LEVEL 1 RED RUN.

A LEVEL 2 RED RUN is much more dangerous and frankly idiotic. A Level 2 Red Run is when people just grow impatient while waiting at a red light and randomly take off into the sea of criss-crossing traffic. I would say that a Level 2 Red Run happens probably 50% of the time at every major intersection in Hanoi. Guys (rarely ever girls) will just dart into oncoming traffic because they're in such a rush to get wherever they are going. Usually the red-light-runner will get across the intersection just a few seconds before everyone else who waited for the light to turn green. It's insane. It's obnoxious. It's dangerous and frankly it frustrates me. However, only the LEVEL 3 RED RUNNERS really piss me off.

A LEVEL 3 RED RUNNER is someone who goes through a red light with a baby on board their bike. The other day I was going home and nearly slammed into a guy and his baby who were running a red light. I slowed down and gave the guy a hard confused stare. I was hoping the guy would be able to interpret my body language which was meant to convey this message: "Hey you fucking idiot! It's one thing to do something stupid to kill yourself and maybe me. It's another thing to kill your few month old baby."

Okay, I feel much better. I'm glad I got these two things off my chest. I promise no more angry ramblings for at least a couple of months.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Things That Really Piss Me Off: PART 1

Every once in a while I need to use the blog as a way to vent. Well, today and tomorrow seem like a good time to let off some steam since I don't have my computer to upload pictures with.

There are plenty of things in Hanoi that piss me off but recently two things have taken the cake. Today I want to ramble about smoking.

One of my claims to fame in life is that I've never smoked a cigarette. I'm pretty damn proud of this; admittedly probably more so than I should be. When I moved to California I couldn't have been happier when the state changed the public smoking laws. No longer did I need to come home from a bar and shower because I smelled like an ashtray. No longer did I need to excuse myself from a group conversation because one of the people was blowing smoke in my face. No longer did I need to break close friends' cigarettes and obnoxiously tell them that "smoking isn't good for your health."

In Vietnam you can smoke everywhere. Seriously everywhere. That's a fact. Think of a place that you think you can't smoke in...go ahead, think of the one place you would think nobody in their right mind would smoke in...go on...keep thinking...

...Okay, hopefully you said, "A HOSPITAL!". Nobody would smoke in a hospital, right? Well, in Vietnam they do. Last week I went to a hospital two times to see Huyen's grandmother who just had foot surgery. In her room -- which had eleven total patients -- there was one fifty something year old guy and his friends who kept on smoking cigarettes. The first time they lit up I think I said out loud, "Are you fucking kidding me?!" But no, they weren't kidding. They were smoking away despite a few "No Smoking" signs in the room.

The only thing that makes me madder than people smoking in a communal hospital room is when I see fathers smoking while holding their babies. This is a regular sight around Hanoi and always makes me shake my head. I mean, sure, you smoke. But can't you put down your baby first and then enjoy a cigarette?

On a final smoking note, I am always a little surprised when I see the personal trainers at my gym standing outside puffing away on cigarettes.

So this blog goes out to all the men in Vietnam: Stop Smoking!...especially around elderly women in hospitals and while holding your babies.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why do something right the first time?

I'm currently in the midst of my annual computer crisis. Two years ago I had my laptop stolen. Last year I spilled water on my computer while I was home in NJ. This year, well, the computer just decided to go on hiatus. Basically I was typing an email last Thursday when the screen zapped off. Despite my best efforts at resucitation, the computer wouldn't turn back on. I had a moment of panic and called Huyen who told me to relax. She said she would take the computer in to the ishop after she was done with work (I was on my way to teach).

That night, Huyen had good news for me -- there was nothing wrong with my computer. The shop had apparently just hit the power button and it turned right on. Clearly I had tried this but it hadn't worked for me. I then hit the power button on my own and magically my computer turned back on...only to fizz out again one minute later.

The next day Huyen and I went back to the ishop with the computer. We showed it to the same "tech" guys who once again hit the button. This time it didn't turn on. We asked them if they could take a look at the computer and they said, "Oh no, you have to go to to the other ishop across town." It was too late to go to the other ishop so Huyen and I went the next day (this past Saturday).

On Saturday we went to the other ishop and met with the "tech" guy there. The guy hit the on button and stated the obvious, "It won't turn on." We thanked him for his genius observation and asked if he could fix it. He told us that the man who fixes hardware only works Monday-Friday.

During my first moment of free time on Monday morning, I headed to the ishop. I went up to the same tech guy who looked confused to see me. I handed him my laptop and once again he stated that it wouldn't turn on. He then told me that hardware issues could only be fixed at another shop. Yes, this is not what he had told me 48 hours earlier. Luckily the other shop was only a ten minute ride away. I hopped back on my motorbike and shot over to the Mac repair shop.

As soon as I walked into the shop I realized it was the right place. There were a whole bunch of macs on shelves with repair labels on them. I talked to the supervisor who took a look at my mac and gave me a run down on the possible issues and how much each would cost. He told me it would probably take two days to fix which seemed about normal to me. Well, a few hours later he called me and said they fixed the problem and it would be $100. I was more than happy to pay $100 since I know repairs can cost up to $500 or more if there is a major motherboard issue. Upon picking up the computer the man told me that it was now under warranty for three months with his shop. He even placed a sticker on the bottom of my computer to help guide me back to the appropriate place the next time I had an issue.

Well, I have no short term memory problems because the next day I remembered exactly where the shop was. I had to remember because my computer once again had the same problem. The computer isn't getting any power from the power chord and is thus draining the battery. The power chord works and so does the battery so it is something inside the computer that is messed up.

The computer is presently at the shop being repaired again. It has already taken longer than the first time I left it. My fingers are crossed that they don't find any additional problem and that this time, they can fix it correctly.

The point is: 1. I hate computers. 2. There might not be any pictures on my blog for a few days.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Wedding: Step #1

(PICTURE: Huyen's childhood home)

Last weekend Huyen and I took Step #1 in planning our wedding -- choosing the location.

Huyen has told me for a long time that she has always wanted to get married in her childhood home. Her sister Huong got married in this home and the house has very special meaning for Huyen. The one problem with the house is that it is in total disarray since nobody has lived there in almost ten years. Huyen's parents' plan is to eventually build a new house on the land and spend their retirement there.

When we discussed the wedding with her parents they seemed a little bit skeptical about having the wedding at the old house. For one, having it at the house means that all of her family and neighbors need to participate in the wedding festivities whether it be cooking, cleaning or using their houses for toilets (Huyen's old house has no toilet). Like in any small town in the world, there is a lot of politics involved with something like this. Do you ask your Aunt to cook the chicken or do you ask your cousin? Do you use the neighbor on the lefts toilet or will this offend the neighbor on the right? The prospect of juggling all their relatives and neighbors definitely had Huyen's parents a little stressed. Her mother suggested to us to check out a nearby restaurant that often serves as a catering hall for weddings. Huyen and I agreed to have an open mind and went to look at the restaurant. Well, it took us two seconds to decide upon seeing the restaurant which was located about fifty feet off the busiest highway in Vietnam -- we were sticking with the old house.

In the afternoon we went to the house with Huyen's father, sister and brother-in-law. We tried to imagine how we could fit everyone in the limited space (Vietnamese weddings often have up to 400 guests...just for one of the wedding party). The chief issue though quickly became whether or not the roof of Huyen's old house would cave in during the party. Huyen's father showed us that it was riddled with termites and he felt that if a lot of people were walking around it could be disastrous. I mean, I haven't exactly been planning my wedding in my head since I was a little boy but I'm pretty sure having the roof cave in at my wedding would definitely be considered a wedding nightmare. Am I wrong?

(PICTURE: The family in front of the house during Tet 2009.)

I told Huyen's father that we should test the roof and I then launched a couple of bricks up top. The roof didn't flinch at all. Despite my tried-and-true method of testing a structure's sturdiness, Huyen's father wasn't convinced. Just when I thought this was a ploy to make us have the wedding at a highway rest stop, he announced that he would simply knock down the old house. As he told us this I felt a huge wave of guilt come over me. I told Huyen to tell her father that that wasn't necessary and we could have the wedding somewhere else. However, Huyen insisted it wasn't a big deal since they would have to knock down the house eventually to build the retirement home. I asked when they were planning to build that home and Huyen said in about twenty years. My huge wave of guilt suddenly became a tsunami.

Soooooo, the plan is to have the wedding at Huyen's old house...sans the actual house. We will have to built a tiny little house on the location which is important for Buddhist worship. Now we just have to figure out which neighbor's toilet we're gonna use and which relative is gonna cook the chicken.