Sunday, October 31, 2010

International Sports Feed

As a more-than-slightly-obsessive sports fan, I've been delighted recently at the coverage of American sports here in Vietnam. Thus far, every playoff baseball game has been on ESPN. However, even better than that, I found a new channel at the gym called All Sports Network.

The channel has been showing NFL Sunday night and Monday night games. Being able to watch these games while at the gym has been awesome. As I discovered in Japan, I exercise way better to watching sports than to listening to music. I can only assume it's some subconscious thing where I'm trying to convince myself that I've still got it.

Anyway, the point of this blog isn't so much about the sports as it is about the international sports feed. There's clearly something array with the ASN feed because they are constantly cutting away from commercials too early and allowing the viewer to listen/see what the producers are listening/seeing. For example:
1. I keep hearing the commentators discussing what they're going to discuss once they come back from break. This always makes for some entertaining chatter.
2. I can see the bumpers and graphics that are going to come on the screen after the commercial, before the commercial ends.

As thankful as I am for the sports ASN is showing, I'm also doubly thankful for the funny moments it shows between commercials.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Citizen's Arrest

(PICTURE: My favorite google image that came up for "citizens arrest.")

I remember once my family was driving down the highway when some lunatic nearly swerved into us on the highway. The guy was going way over the speed limit and was swerving from one lane to the other. After my mom screamed, "Oh my god" or "Oy ve" or something like that she immediately dialed up 911 on her cell phone to tell the police there was a drunk driver on the highway. A few years later while living in LA, mother-like-son, I called 911 to report a drunk driver on the 405. While neither of these was a citizens arrest, I'd like to think that we helped get someone arrested for clearly violating the law and endangering others.

That's all a long way of asking, does anyone know if one can make a citizens arrest in Vietnam? Four times in the last twenty four hours, I found myself on the verge of taking the law into my own hands. All four times though I wussed out thinking that I'd end up getting into more trouble than the dudes I'd be helping to arrest. Here's the four situations:

Situation 1: While waiting at a traffic light, two speedsters without helmets blew by everyone and made a legal right hand turn in a right-turn-only lane that was separated by a small concrete island. However, their driving was clearly dangerous and they weren't wearing helmets. I smiled to myself as I saw a cop standing in the right-turn-only lane where they turned. The driver hit the brakes about fifteen feet from the cop and then jumped the curb on the traffic island to avoid the cop. While jumping the curb the driver was only about ten feet from me. The lazy cop didn't pursue the guy although he clearly could have caught them as they had to slowly get down from the island which was about a foot off the ground. Every nerve in my body wanted to drive up ten feet and block the path of these guys. However, again, I wussed out. Instead the guys jumped down the curb and sped through an extremely busy four way intersection nearly crashing into a handful of other people.

Situation 2: This was basically the same deal. Two idiots (no more than 17 as they were wearing high school uniforms) again without helmets FLEW through a four way intersection. They actually just barely dodged a nightstick wielding cop and then turned into the flow of traffic that I was in. They just barely avoided nailing a woman on a motorbike and then a fifty year old man. They had to basically come to a short stop right in front of me. Again, every part of me wanted to slam on my brakes and block the road from these two teenage punks. The thing is though, I looked at the cop who was standing about thirty feet away doing nothing. The moment played out in my head that the cop would arrest me for disturbing rush hour traffic rather than patting me on the back for grabbing these guys who were going to kill themselves or worse, somebody else.

Situation 3: I was driving down the road when I heard a high pitched voice yell, "HEEEEELLLLLO." I turned to my left and saw THREE teenagers without helmets on a motorbike. I would two of the three kids were about fifteen or sixteen. The other one was probably thirteen...and yes, he was the driver. I turned to the kids who began riding besides me and said, "You're way too young to be driving a motorbike." Clearly they didn't understand me and just said, "Goodbye" and absolutely flew down the road. I'm not sure how I could have made a citizens arrest on these kids since they were clearly driving at speeds I'm not comfortable driving at. However, I wanted to chase them...but didn't.

Situation 4: Another helmet-less, idiot racer flew by me while darting in and out of traffic. Unlike his fellow moronic racers though, this guy actually stopped at a red light. Whereas in the other three situations I had only a split second or two to make a decision, in this case I had a full minute to debate on taking action. What I wanted to do in this case (and I learned this move from a cop I saw do it a month ago) was walk up to the guy's bike and just pull out his keys. Truthfully though I didn't want to arrest this guy. I just thought about taking out his keys and chucking them over the high fence of the Temple of Literature.

I'm clearly writing this blog to make myself feel better for being such a wuss. However, I'm just too nervous in Vietnam to try and take the law into my own hands. All this is to say though, watch out Americans! When I come back to the states, I'm gonna be itching to make some citizen's arrests!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dinner Parties in America!

(PICTURE: We hope we're gonna be eating Grape Nuts out of these bowls in '11.)

Whose ready for some dinner parties in America?! We sure are!

Huyen, Su and I headed to the ceramic village last weekend and went dishes/bowls/cups/tea-set buying crazy. Huyen and I had seen some bowls that we loved a couple months ago and decided to hunt for them in the place that all the ceramics are made. Initially we had some trouble finding the types of bowls we wanted. Lots of stores had one or two of everything but nothing really matched and we were told that nobody made the type of stuff we wanted anymore. However, we didn't give up and with the help of Su, we eventually found what we were looking for.

As you know from reading the blog, Huyen and Su grew up in a house that sells ceramics which basically makes them experts in the field. We ended up buying about 35 Kilos of stuff for our future kitchen. From my rough estimates, I would assume all of the stuff we bought would probably sell for at least $500 in America. Here, where it's actually made, it cost about $75. I would have bought more but after lifting the box they were packed in, I not-so-quickly realized that we now need to get 35 Kg of ceramics back to America. Sooooooo family and friends coming to the wedding: Please pack light!

(PICTURE: Su putting together some of the bowls/cups/dishes that we bought.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Corruption Perceptions Index 2010

(PICTURE: This map is from 2006 but it doesn't look too different than the one from 2010.)

I'm sure many of you read or saw this in the news yesterday but in case you didn't, click here for the Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 Rankings.

I've often found myself complaining about corruption the last couple of years. When I do that, I usually add the line, "I'm not saying America is perfect because we have plenty of corruption too." Well, America isn't perfect according to these rankings. However, at least we're still 94 spots higher than Vietnam.

Denmark/New Zealand/Singapore #1
USA #22
Vietnam #116

I must say, I've been to New Zealand and that country is absolutely awesome. I'd like to now think that its serious lack of corruption is one of the contributing factors for how much I liked it. I've also been to Singapore which felt cleaner and safer than almost anywhere I've ever been (except for New Zealand). Clearly there's something to this no corruption stuff.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dinner With My Favorite Students!

(PICTURE: My class -- minus a few people -- enjoying some tasty goat.)

As has become the tradition, after finishing teaching my last class, I took all my students out for goat hot pot. Why goat? Well, the answer is that I love goat hot pot and since I'm paying I get to choose. Okay, that's not actually true. I presented the class with a few options and they chose goat since they rarely, if ever, get to eat it.

My class had a great time out that night and absolutely devoured the food. Compared to last time, well, there was no comparison. One of the girls said to me, "I learned last time that I should have come hungry to the dinner. Tonight I'm really hungry." I swear, these sweet girls turned into scavengers! Every time I thought I was about to get a taste of meat, one of the girls would snatch it with her chopsticks. Lesson learned on my part though: next time I've got to just surprise the class with a dinner and not give them a week's warning!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Congratulations Van and Bien!

(PICTURE: The happy couple on stage with their MC.)

Congratulations to our friend Van and her husband Bien who got married this past weekend!

Technically this was their THIRD wedding since they each already had had a reception in their home towns. Their "Hanoi wedding" was located at a really nice restaurant next to Independence Park.

It was great to celebrate with Van especially because many of my old Vietnamese coworkers from Language Link were in attendance. Many of the girls who used to work at LL have now moved on to other jobs. Everyone is so busy these days that it takes a wedding for us all to get together. Actually, my friend Tam was in attendance too; she was the girl who got married back in January and was the last time the whole crew got together. In pure Vietnamese style, Tam was eating for two at this wedding as she's three months pregnant. The over/under in Vegas is that Van will be joining the motherhood sorority in the next year. You see, that's how things work here in Vietnam. I swear, this is a typical time table for many weddings I've been to:

Step 1: A couple dates for 6 months.
Step 2: A couple gets married.
Step 3: A couple says they'll wait a year to get pregnant...
Step 4: ...but is pregnant within a few months of tying the knot.

Huyen and I have known a lot of couples who have started to date wayyyyyy after us and already have children. Our nearly 2.5 years of dating is considered an anomaly out here.

Anyway, congrats to Van and Bien. Van is by far one of the best people I've met in Vietnam and I wish her nothing but a lifetime of happiness!

(PICTURE: The soon-t0-be married couple with the now-married couple.*)

* The irony of this statement is funny to me. Technically Huyen and I are legally married but haven't had our celebration yet which is in December. Van and Bien have had their celebration (three already) but most likely are not legally married yet as most Vietnamese don't take this step immediately.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Costco

(PICTURE: I'm bananas!)

One of the tried and true facts of life is that when you go home to visit your parents, you always end up leaving with more than you came with. Whether it be a few bucks in your pockets (my dad always gives me $20 before I fly back to whichever city/country I'm leaving in), Tupperware full of sweets or a case of ____ that mom bought too much of at Costco.

Well, the same holds true for visiting parents in Vietnam. Every time we go back to Huyen's house in Ha Nam, we end up with motorbiking home with a lot of extra food. This past weekend we got a sack of local rice, a pumpkin, a bottle gourd and a heck of a lot of bananas. Getting the bananas was truly a Costco-esque experience because Huyen's parents had A LOT of bananas. They had chopped down a banana stalk from their "front yard" (really just a sliver of land across the road from their house) and told us to take some bananas back with us. In order to get the bananas, Huyen's father had to basically chip them off the stalk with a machete and a hammer:

(PICTURE: Huyen's dad chopping part of the banana stalk. The original stalk weighed probably 60 lbs.)

After all the chopping was done, we had ourselves a bunch of bunches of bananas:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Articles Sent By Jessica

Jessica sent me two great articles -- one from The New York Times and one from The Economist -- about the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi.

In The New York Times article, I especially like this section about the development of the city:

“I very strongly believe that everything that has happened in the inner area has been good,” said Lawrie Wilson, an Australian urban planner who has worked in Vietnam since the early 1990s.

But it is a rule of thumb, he said, that for a city this size roads should cover 15 percent of land space. In Hanoi, the figure is just 5 percent, and traffic has begun to choke the city.

The buzz of motorbikes and the constant beep-beep-beeping of their horns are a jarring backdrop to life in Hanoi even if, after a while, they fade into white noise.

It is sometimes said that traffic patterns reflect the character of a nation, and on Hanoi’s chaotic streets, no one gives ground, no one compromises. Everyone single-mindedly pursues his or her own route. “The gridlock happens all the time, everywhere, all day and all night,” Mr. Wilson said.

“And if it rains, there is an unwritten law here that you totally ignore traffic laws,” he added. “You drive up on the footpath, you drive through public parks and you just do what you like.” In recent weeks, the gridlock has intensified, and complaints have multiplied during last-minute construction and cleanups for the anniversary.

The reason I like this part of the article is twofold. First, it really helps to explain why the traffic is so bad here at times. Secondly, this city planner got it totally wrong. People don't disobey the traffic laws when it rains -- people disobey the traffic laws all the time. In fact, after reading this article I went to the gym and watched as an Army officer blazed by me while riding on the sidewalk, trying to get his little kid to school on time. If anything, the best time to ride a motorbike in the city is when it rains because nobody is on the street and you actually have room to drive.

The Economist article talks about how Hanoi did a bad job of getting foreigners to come to the city for the big event. My favorite part of this article is about the Vietnam Airlines air promotion which only has discounts for people leaving Vietnam, not entering. I didn't realize this and excitedly sent the Vietnam Airlines promotion to many friends who are coming for the wedding. Here's the beginning of that article:

A BANNER on the back of an electric buggy trolling Hanoi’s old quarter reads “Thanh Long Hanoi International Tourism Festival”. It refers to the celebrations being held in Hanoi from October 1st to 10th, when the capital officially turns 1,000 years old. There are no more international tourists than usual though. Somehow no one got round to inviting them.

This despite the many officials who extol the importance of luring foreign tourists to the capital’s millennial celebrations. In 2007 a campaign with the questionable slogan of “Hidden Charm” ran around the world, airing on several international cable networks. Nothing special for Hanoi’s 1,000th though. The national flag carrier, Vietnam Airlines, did offer a promotion in honour of the occasion. Trouble is, the flights are all out of Vietnam, not into it.

And with that, I conclude this chapter of my blog on the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Food Festival

(PICTURE: Huyen and Su in front of the entrance to the water park/food festival.)

During the week of the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi, there were different events all over the city. One event that Huyen really wanted to go to was the food festival oddly located at the Hanoi water park. On the night before the anniversary, we braved the traffic and checked-out the food festival.

The water park was packed with Vietnamese hoping to get a taste of different types of food from around Vietnam and the world. The festival was divided into three sections: northern Vietnamese food, southern Vietnamese food and International food. Strangely, the center of Vietnam's food wasn't represented; perhaps the Hanoi government was scared for people to realize the center of Vietnam's food is the most delicious.

We bought some tickets to sample the food and quickly realized that: A) the food wasn't as delicious as it usually is when you buy it on the street B) the prices were about quadrupled from their normal price.

After walking around the park for about an hour and sampling many small eats and drinks, we decided to get some real food and headed to a bia hoi.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Push Ups!

Soooooooo Huyen, Su and I were playing billiards the other night and made a bet. Basically the loser had to do push ups. Well, Huyen lost badly one game and had to do 18 push ups. To put it lightly, Huyen is not good at doing push ups which doesn't make sense to me since she's ridiculously strong (she can easily lift me up and I'm nearly 200 pounds). Well, watching Huyen do push ups is just really entertaining. So, if you're having a bad day enjoy this clip:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mr. Han in the house!!!!

At 9:36 and 57 seconds I received the greatest text message ever: "Ben! U r on tv!!" The message was from my student Kieu Anh who was watching VTV3. Seconds later I was screaming at Su and Huyen to change the channel on the TV. I then quickly grabbed my camera and recorded my totally amazing Vietnam acting debut. Before you watch it, keep in mind:

1. I meant for my tie to be crooked. I'm a method actor and my character was stressed.
2. I meant for my hair to look mullet-ish.
3. I meant for my voice to sound like an Iraqi man. Oh, wait, that is an Iraqi man doing my voice over.
4. I meant for the director to constantly cut away from me while I was talking.
5. I meant for my buddy Nicky to totally out-act me. I mean, he left Vietnam this week so it was the least I could do.
6. I meant to be left out of the credits. I mean, you put yourself out there like that and you're liable to get obsessed fans.

After watching the video -- I'm on at 3:30 -- I'm sure everyone will agree that I just bought myself a one-way ticket back to Hollywood!!!!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Military Branch Is This?

(PICTURE: Overalls? I took this picture while watching the parade on TV.)

On the morning of the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi, there was a huge parade through Hanoi. Marching in the parade were many different branches of the military and police. There was the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Border Guards, the Traffic Police, the super scary police who only come out at night and that I wrote a blog about last year, and even the Ethnic Army (women from every ethnic tribe in Vietnam wearing their traditional outfits while marching with machine guns). However, the most bizarre army group for me were the guys pictured above who were marching in overalls. Huyen and her uncle (who happens to be in the Army) tried explaining to me who these guys were. Her uncle said that we don't have this branch of the army in America but from the description they were giving, it sounded sort of like the national guard or state troopers.

I'm no fashion expert but these uniforms:
a) Are not intimidating at all.
B) Are not camouflaged at all.
C) Make me wonder why a farmer is carrying a gun and not, why a solider is dressed like a farmer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's that on the side of the road?

(PICTURE: Cassava drying on the side of the road.)

During my famous Tet Road Bike Trip of '09, Long, Nicky and I came upon a street lined with a white chips. We tried to ask the farmers what they were laying on the road and they kept repeating "sun". Long, our translator, wasn't sure what "sun" was so I think we all just assumed he meant "The Sun" (as in "The Sun" is drying the chips). Chalking the moment up to a mutual lack of language skills, we just shrugged our shoulders and kept on riding.

A couple of weeks ago, while Huyen and I rode to the water park/hot springs in Hue, we found ourselves driving between two rows of white chips. Huyen explained to me that the chips were "sun for pigs." I asked her what sun was and she told me it was cassava. I must admit that although it was nice to know what the food was, it was nicer knowing that it wasn't for humans to eat. There's just something about food drying out on a highway that isn't appealing to me.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Student Becomes The Master

I cracked. I broke down. I had a moment of weakness. Call it an out-of-body experience. Call it cold feet. Call it whatever you want. The fact is, I'm ashamed of myself ---- I littered.

Here was the situation: Huyen and I were on the street, outside of the most famous ice cream shop in Hanoi. The street was packed with people eating ice cream on a stick. I had just finished my bar and began to look around for a garbage. I didn't see one. But I did see in the corner of my eye, dozens of ice cream sticks at my feet. The ground was covered with them. All of a sudden I found myself throwing my stick on the ground. I watched the stick fall in seemingly slow motion to join its' comrades on the pavement. After the stick settled by my feet I looked up to see Huyen staring at me with a look of utter disbelief. She then said to me, "I can't believe you just did that?" I think I then said, "I don't know why I did that." Huyen then shook her head at me and said, "I'm really disappointed in you." Yeah, those words hurt. They hurt a lot. But as disappointed as she was in me, I was feeling even more disappointment in myself. I then looked at Huyen and said, "I'm gonna pick it up." I then reached down and picked up my ice cream stick and placed it in the plastic bag the ice cream had come in.

It's amazing to me, Huyen has truly become the master of anti-littering. When I first met her, she was prone to throwing garbage on the ground like the majority of her fellow countrymen. However, after a lecture or two from her Sierra Club boyfriend (that's me), Huyen never threw garbage on the ground again.

I'd like to publicly thank Huyen for correcting my moment of weakness/stupidity. I'd now like to declare that I'll never litter again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Not All Cats Go To The Market

The day after I wrote yesterday's blog, I went to one of my favorite cafes and saw the biggest cat I've ever seen in my life. This cat had to weight at least 35 pounds:

Because I hate cats, I kept my distance from this small tiger. However, I couldn't help but to marvel at its sheer size. Not surprisingly, the cafe we were at has had more than its fair share of rodents in the past. On this occasion, I didn't see one mouse or rat. I'm assuming this cat has been helping to quell that problem.

Saturday, October 16, 2010



(PICTURE: The bicyclist from cat hell.)

Ever since I had to cat-sit in Middle School for my best friend Brad's cat while his family was on vacation during Christmas Break, I have hated cats. Frankly, I just don't understand why people like cats. I mean, they shit in boxes, don't like to leave the house, and they eat rodents. Compared to a dog...well, there just isn't a comparison.

As I was driving my motorbike the other day, I was suddenly startled when I heard a cacophony of meows ahead of me. The sound of a cat is just not a sound I like to hear. But equally, it is not a sound I'm used to hearing while driving a motorbike. As much as I try to avoid ever making eye contact with cats (they can steal your soul that way), I couldn't resist looking ahead at the source of the meows. Well, straight ahead of me was a guy on a bicycle with a cage full of skinny cats. As much as I despise cats, I still felt a pang of sorrow knowing that these felines were not going to be pets:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nicky Has Left The Building...

(PICTURE: Nicky and me on our epic Tet '09 Road Trip.)

It's a sad day for all of Hanoi -- Nicky has left the country.

Last night, Nicky called Huyen and me from Lao Cai, near Sapa. After over two and a half years in Vietnam, Nicky was about to begin a long journey home. This morning he was gonna catch a train and begin his trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway going through China, Mongolia and Russia. After Russia, he'll be training it all the way west, back to his home in England. It should be an epic trip.

It's hard to imagine Hanoi without Nicky. I literally met Nicky on my first night in Hanoi and have been friends with him since. The two of us have worked at the same school, played on the same ultimate frisbee team, been detained together overnight on our '09 Tet bike trip with our friend Long, vacationed on a beautiful island together in Malaysia and most recently were co-stars together in a Vietnamese drama. No, Hanoi definitely won't be the same without Nicky.

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to meet Nicky knows that he's truly one of a kind. The guy is without a doubt one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever known. Few people I have ever met express as much enthusiasm over everything as Nicky does. The guy is always willing to give someone a hand, flash them a smile or jump on a motorbike beside them and venture off to wherever the wind may blow. Yeah, Hanoi definitely won't be the same without Nicky.

I find that I'm often touting how great people are on my blog. I must say, I've been really lucky to have made some amazing friends out here. Sadly though, with Nicky leaving, all of my original group of friends have now departed Vietnam. I sort of feel like a 5th year senior whose had to watch all his buddies graduate and go out into the real world. It's a sad day having Nicky leave Vietnam but I look forward to seeing him in the future. Heck, the guy's already called shotgun on Huyen's and my couch in New York City in 2013 -- the year he plans on touring the states.

Good luck, Nicky. Travel safe, buddy!

(PICTURE: Good times with Nicky were not hard to find.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Good Grandparenting

As I've written on the blog before, this is what really pisses me off:

You can't see 95% of the kid, but trust me, he's nestled between his grandpa and the handlebars, enjoying a little second hand smoke.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, the grandfather took off his helmet and hung it on the mirror. No, silly, not the child's helmet, the grandpas helmet. The child was never wearing a helmet.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Bad Sign

For me, this sign is the best reminder to drive carefully in Hanoi. Positioned on the corner of Kim Ma and Nguyen Chi Thanh, this sign keeps track of traffic accidents and fatalities "Yesterday", "This Year" and "Last Year." So far this year there have been only 316 fatalities and 335 accidents compared to 492 and 522 last year. I'm pretty sure these numbers are only for Hanoi and not nationwide. However, I could be wrong there.

The reason I took this picture on this night, rather than the first 100 times I stopped near it was because:
1. I had a full minute at the traffic light before it was gonna turn green again.
2. I was shocked that there were no accidents or fatalities "yesterday." The optimist in me says that people are becoming better drivers. However, the realist in me says that the government didn't want to post any bad news that day since I took this during the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A New Nail Record

This left hands wins the longest pinky nail I've seen in Asia. Congratulations!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rick and Walter, Where Are You?!!!

Rick and Walter,

Vietnam needs you guys out here ASAP! I just played soccer with Su and 15 of his college buddies and these guys don't have a clue about the fundamental strategies. Just a few things that you would have shaken your head at:

1. Nobody likes to pass. Everybody thinks they can dribble through six players.

2. Nobody knows how to receive a pass. Perhaps the reason nobody passes is because 9 out of 10 times the person getting passed to doesn't trap it properly (all those passers were from my foot).

3. There's no such thing as positioning. Like a bunch of 4th graders, everyone goes towards the ball. At some point Su asked me to switch positions with him on the field. I kind of looked at him and said, "What position are you exactly?"

4. Nobody knows how to throw the ball in. Seriously, every throw-in would have been whistled by stringent NJ referees.

5. A serious lack of oranges and donuts at halftime.

In all seriousness, it was a lot of fun playing with Su and his friends. However, it is interesting that a bunch of soccer obsessed guys don't really know how to play the game. I've commented in the past that one of the reasons I want to raise kids in America is because of extra curricular activities. One of my greatest joys growing up was playing organized sports. That's just something that doesn't exist here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

1,000th Anniversary of Hanoi

Congratulations Hanoi on turning 1,000!

For the last ten days, the city has been in celebration mode. However, in this bloggers opinion, ten days of joy isn't worth the ten months of annoying preparation that have gone into it. Hundreds of days of polluted, dusty air due to construction projects isn't justified by ten days of streets being lined by flower pots. But that's just me.

My favorite things so far about the 1,000th anniversary have been:
1. The Giant TV screens randomly set up around the city which nobody seems to be watching.
2. The 1,000 doves that were released at the opening ceremonies. For the first time ever there are actually birds flying around the city. Coincidentally, I seem to be seeing more bird-noodle dishes recently.
3. The volunteer students who are directing police sit on the sidewalk chatting on their phones
4. That some of my students at national universities were given major tests this week which means they have to stay home and study.
5. That blogspot has been blocked for two week in Hanoi. In order to write on my blog or to be able to read my friends' blogs, I've had to sign in through a server in another country.

Those are the first five that come to mind. It seems that nobody here actually cares about the anniversary except for the government which has gone all-out in promoting it. Regardless, 1,000 years is a pretty big milestone. So, Congrats Hanoi! Hopefully the next 1,000 years bring you less war, cleaner air and more freedom.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Week of Celebration

(PICTURE: I remember when the countdown was a heck of a lot higher than 7.)

Tomorrow is the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi. To state the obvious, it's been a long time coming.

All week long there have been celebrations around the city. On Sunday, Huyen and I met up with my friend Van and her fiance. We had a nice quiet walk around Hoam Kiem lake with about 150,000 of our closest Hanoi friends.

(PICTURE: We love headbands!)

The decorations around Hoam Kiem were pretty amazing. Between the lights, array of flowers and various stages set up, the city did a good job making the anniversary feel really momentous.
(PICTURE: A flower pictures made up of flowers.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Goodbye, Hue....Hello, Su!

(PICTURE: Read below to find out why there is a picture of Pink Eye on this blog.)

What is the most common thing people say after a vacation? Well, maybe this isn't the most common thing but I feel like people always say, "I can't wait to sleep in my own bed."

After spending four nights in a bed with Huyen, Huong and Viet Huong the only thing in the world that I wanted was my own not-so-comfortable bed to pass out on. As we flew on Vietnam Airlines I kept thinking to myself, "How good is my inch-thick mattress going to feel?" I could practically feel the wood panels that support my bed, as I sat in the back of a car going back to my apartment.

As I walked up the flights of stairs to my room, I could almost hear my bed calling to me: "Ben, come lay down. Relax. Get a good night's sleep." However, that voice didn't turn out to be my bed's. It turned out to be Su who greeted me with a giant smiling, "Hi, Ben! How was your trip?" After telling Su about the trip I asked Huyen as politely as possible, "Is Su staying here tonight?" Well, it turned out that four boys in his dorm room got pink eye so he was going to crash in our bed for a few nights. Nothing like sleeping in your own bed...with your brother-in-law.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Water Slide

Besides the natural hot springs we went to on our "honeymoon", the resort had a water park. The water park was literally empty. Seriously, there wasn't one person in either the wave pool (which wasn't turned on and seemed to have a nice coat of algae on the top) or going down the water slides.

Those who know me, know there are few things I love more than water parks. I've basically been trying to teach Huyen how to swim not so she can enjoy a pool or the beach, but so she can enjoy New Jersey's pride: the water park formerly known as Action Park.

Well, Huyen and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go down some water slides despite the slides looking like they might give us tetanus and/or crumble to pieces as we slid down them. Check out Huyen mastering the raft slide:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our Honeymoon!!!

Huyen's sister Hoai and her husband spent their honeymoon at some natural hot springs near Hue. Having already seen all of the major attractions in Hue, Huyen and I decided to go to the hot springs on our one free morning. The hot springs were located about an hour outside of Hue in a very rural area. As we drove down a small road, passing farmland and being surrounded by mountains, I began to envision hot springs in the style of the Japanese onsens that I so dearly love.

That dream was shattered when we rode up to this sign:
I'm not sure if you can tell, but that picture is of a giant wave pool with lots of people sitting in inner-tubes. Huyen's helmet is actually blocking a picture of a cartoon blond-haired foreigner going down a water slide. As soon as I saw the sign, I said to Huyen, "This isn't exactly what I was picturing."

Luckily the natural hot springs weren't as bad as I then began to picture. It turned out that there was a man-made stream that was filled with the natural hot water. Each section of the stream had a different temperature. Huyen and I managed to take a soak in 40 degree Celsius water (104F). Considering it was probably 39 degrees outside, the water felt really really hot. There's definitely something to soaking in hot springs in the winter over the summer (although technically it's Fall here now).

(PICTURE: A Hot Water Sign.)

The hottest water was 68 degrees Celsius (154F). Yeah, that's pretty hot...which this snake found out:

Throughout the morning I kept saying to Huyen, "Happy Honeymoon!" Technically we had been married a couple of days before and this was our first trip together. Plus, Huyen's sister came to this place for her honeymoon so clearly it's a honeymoon destination. Sounds like a honeymoon to me!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hannah's Ao Dai

(PICTURE: Huyen and the tailor who sewed Hannah's dress.)

For those who read the comments on my blog, you'll have noticed that my sister really wants to wear an ao dai to the wedding in December. Well, her wish has come true -- I had an ao dai made for her in Hue.

In Hue, wearing an ao dai is much more common than in Hanoi. It seemed like everywhere I looked in Hue, there was a girl riding a bicycle with an ao dai on (I think this had to do with ao dais being a school uniform at some school). Because of the demand for ao dais, it meant there were more shops and cheaper prices.

I had told Huyen she should buy a second ao dai for our wedding while we were in Hue. While we were shopping for her, I saw an ao dai that I thought my sister would really like. Well, I emailed Hannah who said her first choice would be a maroon ao dai. Do I know my sister well or what because the one I picked out was indeed maroon-ish. So Hannah sent me her measurements and Huyen and I had her an ao dai made! I can't wait to see Hannah in this in December:

(PICTURE: Huyen modeling the ao dai fabric for Hannah's dress. She'll be wearing white pants with this.)

Monday, October 4, 2010


(PICTURE: Candles containing wishes float down the river in Hue.)

Considering this week is the 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi, what I'm about to say is totally blasphemous: I wish I could spend my last months/year/however-long-the-USA-makes-me-stay in Hue.

This was my third trip to Hue and I think the first time I truly appreciated the city. Here's a list of advantages Hue has over Hanoi:

Advantage 1: Fresh Air.

Advantage 2: Stars at night.

Advantage 3: Very few cars. The small roads aren't nearly as scary when there's not an SUV speeding towards you at a ridiculous KPH.

Advantage 4: Different food. I love Hanoi food but recently my favorite places have started to seem less interesting to me.

Advantage 5: No construction. Okay, yeah, there's construction but in Hue the tallest a house can be (in the old city at least) is 2 stories. Right now in Hanoi they are erecting skyscrapers like it's going out of style.

Advantage 6: Hue is uber-cheap. Believe it or not, I'm complaining about Hanoi prices. However, everything was 50% or less in Hue. A cup of coffee recently has been 20,000 VND at all the cafes near my house. In Hue the most I paid for coffee was 6,000 VND!

Advantage 7: The beach! There is a beach under ten miles away from the center of Hue. Besides that one, there are some great beaches within an hours drive.

The fact is, I'm getting a little fed-up with Hanoi. For my first two years here, I used to drive around every day and think, "I love this place!" Recently though, those moments have been farther and farther apart. That said, I'm going to give myself a big pep talk to really soak up all the time I've got left in Hanoi. I know that as soon as I get stateside I'm gonna be saying, "I wish ___ could be a little more like Hanoi."

NOTE: Friends and family who have asked me about visiting Hue -- I still think you only need a day or two maximum to see everything in the city. This post is more about living there than visiting it as a tourist.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Swapping in Vietnam!

Great news!!! Swapping in Vietnam is totally cool!!!!! Whoah, whoah, whoah...not that type of swapping you pervs! I'm talking about babies swapping different mothers' breasts. Okay, so it's not that far off from the type of swapping you were thinking.

Long story short: Hoai's sister-in-law gave birth eight months ago which meant there was also an adorable little girl baby in the house at times. At some point, I walked into a bedroom and saw the sister-in-law breastfeeding. I quickly said, "Whoahhhh. Sorry!" and exited the room (yes, Mom, I know there is no reason to be embarrassed). A moment later, I walked outside and saw the sister-in-law's baby with the brother-in-law. I immediately said to Huyen, "Uhhhh, if this baby is here, who was the sister-in-law breastfeeding?" The answer was Hoai's baby. Apparently new mother's help each other out by breastfeeding if one is low on breast milk. I had never heard of such a thing before however Huyen told me it is very common in Vietnam. In fact, she said that women used to sit in a circle breastfeeding each others' babies. She said that Vietnamese believe that when a baby drinks from another mother, it will increase milk production from that mother.

I told this to my mother who validated the theory behind this. My mother said that the more a woman breastfeeds, the more milk a woman will produce. My mother, a breast feeding advocate, told me that her pet peeve is when doctors tell women who are struggling to produce milk, that they should both breastfeed and give formula. She said that by giving formula to a baby it'll make the baby breastfeed less and thus in turn make the mother produce even less milk.

The more I thought about it, the less weird it seemed to have a different mother breastfeed a baby. I mean, that's what wet nurses do, right? That said, it's still a little weird to me! Mothers in America, how would you feel having another woman breastfeed your baby?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pressure Cooker

(PICTURE: The pressure cooker we bought Hoai.)

At some point in Hue, Huyen and I were sent out to buy a pressure cooker. While shopping for one, Huyen informed me that the purpose of the cooker was to be able to cook pigs' feet for Hoai. I had heard of cravings while pregnant, but a craving for pigs' feet post-birth seemed just weird. Well, it turned out that Vietnamese think that eating pigs' feet will help a mother produce more breast milk.

Producing breast milk and breast feeding became a big topic of conversation throughout our stay in Hue. My mother is a big advocate of breast feeding and that mothers shouldn't feel like they need to breast feed in private. Well, my mother would have loved to been in Hue because boobies were out 22/7. I swear, Nhat Minh was the thirstiest infant I've ever been around.

One of the questions that arose was how long Vietnamese mothers usually breast feed for. The answer I got was usually around 6 months to 3 years (or even up to 5 years!). I asked my mom how long Americans usually breastfeed for and should told me it varies. Specifically she told me that I breastfed for 16 months which was 4 months longer than my brother. However it wasn't even close to the embarrassingly long amount of time my sister breast fed for. Lets just say the number is bigger than 23 and small than 48!

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm an uncle!!!!....again!

(PICTURE: Say hello to my nephew Nhat Minh.)

Huyen's sister Hoai had a baby boy a couple of weeks ago which means I'm an uncle...again! Now that Huyen and I are officially married, I'm an Uncle three times over. I'm not afraid to play favorites either -- I've got Lilah, my nearest (but farthest) and dearest. Then there is Viet Huong, the four-year-old menace and now Nhat Minh, the most handsome boy in Hue.

Being the good aunt and uncle that we are, Huyen and I flew down to Hue to visit Hoai and her baby. Besides being great to catch up with Hoai, her husband Tan and his family, it was an overall extremely education experience for me. I constantly found myself emailing my mother asking, "In America do new mothers do ______."

The thing that I found most surprising is that mew mothers can not shower or brush their teeth for a considerable amount of time after giving birth. Hoai had given birth ten days earlier yet still hadn't showered when we got there. I was initially told that women in Vietnam can't shower for about a month after birth. However, Hoai broke down and showered on day #12 (albeit she didn't brush her teeth). I'm not an expert on why this is but everyone kept saying that it had to do with keeping a woman's blood warm.

Post-birth, there is a lot of focus given to the mothers in Vietnam. I think this is quite different than in America where the majority of the attention after giving birth is given to the baby. Sure, us American care about new mothers but we sort of assume they're in fine health after leaving the hospital. In Vietnam, they are very concerned about the woman not having to do anything for a long time after birth. Basically Hoai wasn't allowed to leave the house at all...and wouldn't be leaving the house for at least a couple of months.

I read an interesting article about how different cultures treat mothers postpartum. Check it out if you have time: Here's an interesting story. It was really interesting to talk with Huyen and her family about giving birth in America. Huyen definitely expressed some nervousness about what it would be like to give birth in America. So family, lets revisit this article around 2012, shall we?