Friday, December 31, 2010

Tour of Hanoi


(PICTURE: Our tour group at the Temple of Literature.)

As a present to our guests, Huyen and I organized a tour of Hanoi on the 17th. We hired a small bus and picked up everyone in the morning at their hotels. We started the day off at the Army Museum where our tour guides (more on them tomorrow) told us about the organization of the museum and showed us the key exhibits. The Army Museum isn't my favorite museum but I like to take guests there because of the old planes, helicopoters and tanks as well as the historical citadel tower.


(PICTURE: Enlarge the picture and you can see my Uncle Barry at the top of the tower.)

One of the highlights of this stop was that there was a local school on a field trip at the museum. As everyone knows, there's few things in life cuter than dozens of children at a museum. Seemingly, every camera soon became pointed at the kids who were more than happy to pose for pictures. However, that wasn't the highlight; the highlight was when the students' teacher came up to Paul, the father of one of my best friends, and asked to take a picture with him. Well, he sort of didn't really ask so much as pull him in front of an old helicopter. And he didn't exactly have a camera of his own; he asked me to take a picture of him with my camera.


(PICTURE: Paul getting up close and personal with a local teacher.)

The next stop on our tour was the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam. I've been to this historic site no less than ten times (and went again a week later with my buddy JR) yet this time was by far the most special. Seeing all of my family and friends walk around the ruins was really an amazing site to see.

(PICTURE: Hannah and me making our frog faces; the exact same picture we took two years ago.)


(PICTURE: My dad in front of a pagoda flag.)


(PICTURE: Mark and Anthony in front of a giant bell.)

After the Temple of Literature, we ate lunch at KOTO. KOTO is not one of my favorite restaurants for food but I decided to take everyone there for two reasons:
Reason 1: It's a nice and clean place which would please some of my non-street-food-eating guests.
Reason 2: More importantly, KOTO is a charitable organization that takes street kids and teaches them skills to work in the service industry.

My parents picked up the tab for lunch for everyone and made me very proud when my father said something like, "Lunch is on us. However, on your way out, please donate whatever you want to the charity." I thought this was pretty awesome of my parents.

Following lunch we went to the Hanoi Hilton, the famous prison where John McCain was imprisoned. Following our brief tour their, we boarded the bus and went to the Water Puppet Theater. If you're a long time reader of my blog, you'll know that I've always been anti water puppets. This hatred stems back to my first weeks in Vietnam when I saw an atrocious show in HCMC. However, I must admit, with the live music and the artistry of the puppets, the show in Hanoi was actually quite entertaining.

After the puppets finished, the tour ended and everyone had a couple of hours to relax before dinner...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Wife's Name



(PICTURE: This picture makes more sense later in the blog entry.)

Before I begin to blog about the wedding, I need to take a step back and address an important issue: my wife's name.

In the past, the issue with Huyen's name was how to pronounce her name. Clearly her name isn't easy to say since most westerners have never known someone named Huyen. We covered this issue on September 18th, 2008 on a video on the blog. Check out that video for a quick refresher on how to say Huyen's name. Many of my family members used to say Huyen's name incorrectly but for the most part everyone has gotten it down by now.

But that's not what this blog is about. This blog is about knowing that her name is HUYEN and NOT NGUYEN. Nguyen is Huyen's last name. It is a very common Vietnamese last name that I'd say roughly 25% of the population has. For some reason though, in the last few months people keep emailing me, "Congrats to you and Nguyen" or "Tell Nguyen congrats" or something like that. Seriously more people have been calling Huyen by her last name than first. Recently one of my friends who spent a WEEK with Huyen emailed me, "Congrats to you and Nguyen." This sort of put me over the edge because my friend had spent considerable time with her so there really wasn't an excuse. I emailed him right back and said, "Dude, her name is Huyen!" My friend then immediately wrote back and apologized. He said, "I was 99% sure her name was Huyen but I looked on Facebook and it said Nguyen Huyen so I thought I had always been calling her by her last name."

Sooooooooo, let me just set the record straight: In many Asian countries, people put their family name first and their first name last. Yes, this can be confusing for us westerners but that's the way it is out here. Think about it this way: Do you know the famous basketball player Yao Ming? On the back of his jersey it says YAO, not Ming. That is because Yao is his family/last name. Ming is his first name.

Anyway, I appreciate the kind words people have emailed me but please in the future call my wife by her first name -- Huyen! Thanks.

For those of you who thought this blog was about Huyen taking my last name, that's not gonna happen. For one, I've always said that I would want my wife to keep her last name. Personally, I wouldn't want to change my last name so why should she unless she had a big desire to. Secondly, I can't imagine the paperwork headache we'd have to go through with immigration for her to change her last name. That's a hurdle I have no interest in jumping over. Thirdly, in Vietnam, women don't take their husband's name. Finally, I love Huyen's name just the way it is.

Okay, now without delay, the wedding posts...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Glowing


(PICTURE: The soon-to-be married couple a few days before tying the knot.)

Huyen and I went back to work on Monday despite being absolutely exhausted from the last couple of weeks. During my first class, my students naturally asked me a lot of questions about the wedding. I began to tell them everything and was absolutely glowing with happiness while recounting some of the stories (which haven't been recounted on the blog yet!). Well, after I finished smiling/talking for a solid 10 minutes, I turned to my student who had gotten married two days before Huyen and me. I said to her, "So ___ how was your wedding." She looked at me, gave a slight smile and then said, "Not good." My heart immediately sank and I felt like a total jerk for glowing about my wedding. I then said, "Why wasn't it good?" She then let out a little exhale and said, "Well, my husband and I were supposed to go to Sapa for our honeymoon but he had --- what's the word in English --- diarrhea and we couldn't go." I couldn't help myself but I let out huge explosive laughter. I thought she was going to say something like, "We called off the wedding" or "He got cold feet." Instead she told me (and her four coworkers in the room) about her husband's three day bout with the runs. After she finished describing his ailment I said to her, "I guess you had a pretty shitty honeymoon."

Over the next week or two (or as long as I can drag out these wedding posts) I'm going to try and recount all of the stories from the wedding and "honeymoon." So many things happened in a week that I'm sure I'll forget some things. However, I'll do my best to blog about all the highs and lows of the August-Nguyen wedding!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Home Cooking!


(PICTURE: Masumi and Kensuke at the army museum.)

A couple of days before they arrived, Masumi emailed me asking if she could bring me anything from Japan. Without hesitation, I emailed back something like, "Anything that you or your mom want to cook!"

While I was in Japan, my blog basically became a food blog thanks to Masumi's amazing cooking. Almost every week I dined at their house and stuffed myself with delicious Japanese food and tasty sake. Well, while waiting for my sister in the lobby of the hotel on the 16th, Kensuke ran upstairs and brought back a bag of goodies. First, there were five delicious rice balls that Masumi had made (two tuna and three apricot). Secondly there was a plastic bag filled with Masumi's mom's carrot and squid salad which was also scrumptious. Besides that though, Masumi and Kensuke gave Huyen and me a HUGE bottle of my favorite sake. This was a very thoughtful gift but it made me a little bit sad because every time I drink the sake, I'm going to be wishing Masumi and Kensuke were there with me to drink! Finally, they gave us a beautiful wedding gift - gorgeous ceramic chopstick holders for our home. Now every time we eat a meal we can always think of them!

Huyen and I were really honored that Masumi and Kensuke came to our wedding. Although they live in Asia, it is still a very long trip for them. In total, between a night bus to Tokyo and their flight, it took them 19 hours to get here. Besides that though, the end of the year is Kensuke's busiest time at work. I remember last year he often was working until 2AM in December. Basically his job all year long is to prepare an event for their city which happens right after the New Year which means December is crunch time. Kensuke put in extra time at work in the weeks prior to the wedding so that they could take five days off and come to Hanoi. I was truly touched by this. I've said it before and I'll say it again, although I was in Japan for only a few months, I made some of the best friends I'll ever have in Masumi and Kensuke.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hannah's Ao Dai: Part II


A couple of months ago I wrote about getting a traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai made for my sister Hannah. I had asked her for about twenty different measurements, which she obliged me with by using a tape-measure and emailing me the numbers. I gave those numbers as well as some nice fabric to a seamstress in Hue and picked up the dress the next day.

Hannah and I were both skeptical that the dress would fit her; Hannah brought a spare outfit to wear to the wedding and I had prepared some time the day after her arrival to go to a tailor for alterations. However, just moments after Hannah arrived at midnight on the 16th, she tried on the Ao Dai and it fit perfectly!! Indeed everything was coming together for the wedding...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dvorak Night


(PICTURE: Back row from left to right: Sebastian, Mark, Huyen, Me, Masumi, Kensuke, Herb, Anthony and Mark. Front/Middle row from left to right: Barry, my mom, Donna, Pat, my dad, Heather, Paul and Urszula.)

By the 16th, fifteen people had already arrived in town. As a present to the early arrivers, Huyen and I took everyone to see the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra at the Hanoi Opera House. As I've written on the blog before, going to the opera house is one of my favorite things to do. You can often see amazing performances for extremely low prices. When the Opera House announced their December schedule, I quickly snatched up tickets for everyone thinking it would be a relaxing way to adjust to the craziness of Vietnam. Well, between jet lag and the calming sounds of Dvorak, it turned out to be too relaxing for some. At some point I turned around and saw no less than half of my guests sleeping! Yeah, I guess listening to classical musical on a few hours sleep isn't the best idea.

In a case of it being a very small world, the conductor of the performance that night was Honna Tetsuji who is the music director and principal conductor of the the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra. When I emailed my guests to see who wanted to go to the symphony, I got a very excited reply from Masumi and Kensuke who told me that Honna Tetsuji was from Koryama, the city they're from and that I lived and worked in last year. Masumi and Kensuke actually emailed Honna Tetsuji and then briefly met up with him backstage after the show.

With just a few days to go before the wedding, everything was really coming together!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

First In Town

Whenever there is an out of town wedding, people always arrive at different times. Our wedding was no different as everyone made their way into town over the course of two weeks. The first person to arrive was my friend Mark from Los Angeles. For those long time blog readers, you may remember Mark from our adventures together at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in China in 2008. Between the enthralling ping pong matches, Mark and I dove head first into Chinese culture. One thing that we quickly became obsessed with were Chinese hot pots which I later learned are exponentially spicier than Vietnamese hot pots.


(PICTURE: Mark figuring out the enigma of Chinese hot pots in 2008. I was across from him sweating my face off do to the hundreds of chilies in the pot.)

It was great that Mark was the first person to arrive because he's extremely self sufficient and always up for absolutely anything in the name of cultural discovery. Mark was in and out of town for the first week but while he was here, we did a whole bunch of eating, a little suit shopping and some overall exploration of the city. At some point, I mentioned to Mark about the traditional massage calling "cupping" that I was eager to try. Well, the next day Mark went to a massage place and got cupped. Cupping basically involves having your skin sucked through a tube, sort of like a putting a high powered vacuum directly on your body. Supposedly it's good for circulation but more famously, it's known for leaving giant red rings on your flesh. Here's a picture of Mark's back three days after getting cupped:



Besides being "DFW" all the time, Mark is also an extremely talented director/shooter/editor/producer who has worked on many awesome projects. While traveling he shot some footage of his Vietnam adventure. You can check out some very cool videos on his website. Mark was quickly appointed by wedding videographer so hopefully in a few weeks or months I'll have some sweet wedding footage to post.

About a week after Mark arrived, people started to pour in...and many are still here as Huyen and I will more or less have someone in town until the middle of January!...which despite being exhausting, is pretty awesome.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas In Vietnam


(PICTURE: Santa's motorbike helpers.)

I apologize for the extended hiatus but starting today Ahoy Hanoi will be up and running again. I've got about 1,000 potential posts from the wedding but before I begin those, I'll just comment on Christmas in Vietnam.

You might be surprised to hear this but Christmas is a big deal in Vietnam. Sure Christianity is a minority religion but that doesn't stop the majority from feeling Christmas spirit. All over Hanoi, Christmas lights are twinkling from the trees, telephone poles and cafes. There's even a temporary Christmas decoration street in the Old Quarter where you can buy Santa outfits, Styrofoam snowmen and basically anything else you could imagine for the holidays.

Last night, we tried to get a taxi to go to dinner with my parents and were told that all the taxis were busy for Christmas Eve. Eventually Huyen got us a small taxi which meant that Su and I had to ride on our motorbike. From the best of my understanding (and questioning), people here just like to celebrate Christmas as a chance to go out to dinner and drive around. No Vietnamese people I know give each other presents, they just say "Merry Christmas" and leave it at that. Being a Jew, In America I never totally got into the Christmas spirit. Sure I love the decorations and the movies and the parties, but beyond that I always felt like an outsider on the holiday as I ate Chinese food with my family. However, in Vietnam we're almost all outsiders so it's fun to smile at one another, send texts and wish each other a Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two Day Hiatus...

We're off on a quiet honeymoon in the middle of nowhere with about 20 family and friends. Ahoy Hanoi will be back in probably two days. To pass the time I suggest going back and rereading some of the old blogs about Huyen and me. I think it'll be like watching the first few Star Wars movies again before watching the new ones.

Ben

Monday, December 20, 2010

Childhood Obesity


Last week Obama signed the Child Nutrition Bill. No news flash here, but Americans are some of the fattest people in the world. Coming from the US to Vietnam was a slight shock seeing how skinny and seemingly fit everyone was. However, that was three years ago. Recently, I've noticed something around Vietnam -- there's a lot of chubby people here now.

A couple of years ago I had no heavy kids in my classes; now it's irregular not to have a few. I've been noticing this change recently and brought it up to a few friends who have been here for a while. Apparently I'm not the only one noticing the waist lines increasing out here especially on children. Huyen and I live by a high school and every day I see some kids who would definitely be considered obese. I'm not a nutritionist but I don't think it takes one to know that it can't be a coincidence that KFC and other fast food places have been popping up all over the place over the last couple of years. Furthermore, I constantly see kids snacking on packaged foods like chips and candy which clearly are contributing to the problem.

Clearly I don't have a say in Vietnamese governmental policy but if I was was the Vietnamese government, I'd start putting together a child nutrition bill of their own ASAP.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Off getting married...

Here's the first picture Huyen and I ever took together:


And today we're getting married...

It must have been my totally awesome wrist band.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hanoi Citadel


(PICTURE: Huyen at the Citadel gate.)

This year the Hanoi Citadel was named a world UNESCO site. Why? Well, I'm not totally sure since it definitely doesn't seem to be one of the more historic places in the city. That's at least the opinion I came to after scouting it out to add to our "Tour of Hanoi" for wedding guests.

Neither Huyen or I had been to the citadel before and well, we probably won't be going back after we take the wedding guests there. There just seems to be a hole lot of nothing at the citadel. Sure there are a few things that are a pretty old, but in general it felt like a lot of empty space and just a little bit of history.

The cool thing about the citadel though is that:
1. It's free.
2. It's next to the Army Museum so you can just walk over.
3. There's some good picture opportunities to be had there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Belated Thanksgiving Post


(PICTURE: Thanksgiving '10 with Su. Huyen, the chef, took the picture.)

This post is long overdue. I just wanted to say how awesome my soon-to-be wife was during Thanksgiving. She made some amazing mashed potatoes, eggplant french fries, stir fried pumpkin, a delicious beef dish as a substitute for turkey and apples and cinnamon for dessert. I can't wait for Thanksgiving '11 when Huyen can help prepare her first ever American Thanksgiving!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WTF? Falcon? Really?

After living out here for nearly three years, I don't have too many "WTF" moments anymore. However, the other day I sure had one.

Huyen and I were scouting the hotel my family and friends will stay at when I looked out the window and saw this:


I'm pretty sure that's a falcon but I can't be sure. What I am sure of though is that it is a HUGE bird and it is living in a cage on someone's balcony. This bird brings to mind a lot of questions:
1. Why a falcon?
2. Do they let it free at night to fly around Hanoi and eat the millions of rats roaming the street?
3. Where does one get a falcon?
4. Do the owners hang laundry on their balcony too?
5. Do the owners have to wear one of those huge falcon gloves?
6. Again, why a falcon? What's the fun in having a giant bird who can't actually fly.

I've always said that the worst pet to have is a bird. To me there's something completely strange about having an animal that flies, not be able to fly. It just seems wrong. And sure size shouldn't matter but having a giant bird in a cage just seems a little bit wronger.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shed To Wed

Like all brides-to-be, I've been putting in a little extra at the gym recently.

Despite my personal theory that one should look their absolute worst at their wedding so that years later their kids can say, "Wow, Dad/Mom, you look way better now than at your wedding," I've been trying to shed a few pounds before I wed.

Although I'm clearly not in high school shape (or early/mid twenties) the machine at the gym thinks otherwise. Check out this print-out about my stats. There's one really awesome figure on there that I want everyone to pay attention to:


In case you missed it, my "Metabolic Age" is 16! I don't even know what that means but I like it! Sure I'm still 7 pounds away from 200 but that's besides the point. As far as those other numbers, who knows what the hell they mean. I'm 16, I don't need to worry about fat rating or bone mass!!!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Awesome Wedding Gift!

Thank you Hien, Linh and Leanne for a totally awesome wedding gift!

The other night, a packing tube was delivered to Huyen's office. Huyen wasn't at work and her coworkers opened the box* and ruined the surprise by telling Huyen there was a giant picture of her and me. Well, turns out the surprise wasn't ruined at all because when we opened it up there was a giant PAINTING of us. Check it out:


(PICTURE/PAINTING: This is a portrait of Huyen and me from our trip to Babe Lake.)

I can't wait to frame this back in America!

* Clearly opening others mail in Vietnam is not an offense.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hello New Friends



If people are trying to make me feel loved right before my wedding, it is definitely working! Since last Wednesday, Ahoy Hanoi has been blowing up! I'm not sure if it was my 1,000th post or just a sudden interest in Vietnam, but people have been flocking to the blog.

Last Wednesday 551 people read the blog. Then on Thursday 836 people read the blog. On Friday, Ahoy Hanoi reached its all time daily high of 932 people! Then on the weekend -- generally a slower time for the blog -- 699 people read it on Saturday and 721 on Sunday.

In five days, people from 92 different countries read the blog (including all 50 US states and 2 US provinces). As much as I'd like to think that these people came to read what I was writing, my guess is that they stumbled on to my blog by typing some holiday season related words like snowman. So in hopes of catching more readers with holiday spirit, let me say five things:
1. There are Christmas Trees in Hanoi
2. I didn't see anyone celebrating Hanukkah
3. Santa Clause apparently stops in Vietnam
4. There probably won't be a white Christmas in Hanoi this year. That's just a guess.
5. I think I saw a snowman in the Old Quarter.

Welcome new readers! Ahoy Hanoi!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Code of Conduct?


The other day I got a text message from a number I didn't know: "please help me fill in the blank! 'Sum of money owed by customers for goods or servicer purchared on credit is...'"

I often get emails from people asking me for English help. However, I really didn't have an idea for this answer and wrote: "I'm not sure. It might be purchase order. Who is this?"

The person than wrote back: "thank you very much for your help. It's very kind of you. I am XXX - the second year student of (a major university). I am taking my test."

I just rolled my eyes at this. Some girl I didn't know was cheating on her university English test by texting me for answers. I mean, isn't there a code of conduct at universities? Later the person texted me again and said: "Money owed to shareholders is...Payable." Well, at least her cheating didn't get her the right answer!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Walking Bridges

Walking bridges are springing up all over Hanoi. Seemingly on every major street now are these silver bridges. In theory these are a great idea since there's nothing quite as dangerous as people crossing busy streets wherever the hell they want to. However, in reality, I've only seen a few people actually use the bridges. Here's a typical empty walking bridge:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

1,000th BLOG!!!!

If you had told me on February 2, 2008 -- while I was typing my first blog at JFK airport, waiting to fly to Syndey -- that I would eventually type 999 more entries, there's no chance I would have believed you. No, I definitely wouldn't have believed that over the course of nearly three years I would write 1,000 blogs. I also wouldn't have believed a heck of a lot of other things that have happened to me over the last 1,043 days.

I surely wouldn't have believed that I'd be robbed by ninjas during my first week in Hanoi. It also would have seemed unbelievable that I'd get detained overnight with two friends for accidentally going into the "frontier zone" near Laos. I also wouldn't have believed that my friends and family would have donated enough money to Habitat for Humanity to build two families' houses. I might have believed that I'd make some good friends but I would have doubted that I'd make as many as I have in not only Vietnam, but also amazing friends in Japan. I surely wouldn't have believed that I'd open my own school which would seem just about as likely as being evicted from a house (both which happened). I also wouldn't have believed that through the blog I was typing I would meet so many people and keep such a detailed account of my adventures. I definitely would not have believed that my parents would come to visit me in Vietnam twice, especially considering my mother's aversion to flying. Also, there's no way I would have believed that I'd end up spending nearly triple the amount of time in Asia that I had originally planned. But clearly, the most unbelievable thing someone could have told me while waiting for my flight to Australia over thirty months ago, was that I was going to be marrying the love of my life in a small village in the Vietnamese countryside. Yeah, I definitely would not have seen that one coming.

I guess if there is a lesson to be learned through my first 1,000 blogs it's this: Always keep an open mind because everything is possible -- and that's a truly amazing thing.

video

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

1st is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the hairy chest!

Remember that poem we used to say as children:

First is the worst,
Second is the best,
Third is the one with the hairy chest.

Well, apparently this coffee shop think it's true:


Every time I drive by this shop I find myself smiling. I'm assuming the address of the shop is #2 something (it's on the corner of two streets so I'm not sure what the actual address is). However, in Vietnam you never know. Perhaps the owner once heard this childhood poem and took it a little too seriously.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Life Resolution: Eat Slower


(PICTURE: My new role model.)

I feel like I don't have too many vices. I don't smoke, do drugs, drink in excess (0-4 beers a week), or gamble (minus the occasional fantasy football league). However, one vice that I do have is that I eat really really fast. Yes, I admit it -- I'm a super fast eater.

My whole life I feel like people have been telling me to slow down when I eat. Whether it is my mother, grandmother or friends, I've been told to take my foot off the accelerator when I eat. I could blame my dad for this bad life habit (it's his only vice too) but I'm old enough now to shoulder the responsibility myself. Recently Huyen has been getting on my case a lot about slowing down when I eat (it's a wife's job to get on her husband's case about something, right? I mean, I should have seen this coming as soon as I proposed). Every time I have any sort of ailment, Huyen tells me it is because I eat too fast. Well, I'm sure my tennis elbow isn't from eating too fast but perhaps my lifelong history of a volatile stomach could be attributed to my speed eating.

So, as of today, I'm going to make a concerted effort to eat slower. I won't be turtle slow but I will be much much slower. I'm not sure I'll hit the 30 chews per bite level (which a woman at a restaurant suggested to us recently) but I will bite my food more.

For extra motivated I just googled "eat slowly" and the first entry listed five reasons to eat slower:
1. Lose weight (yeah, I could lose a few pounds).
2. Enjoy your food (I do enjoy my food but hopefully I could learn to enjoy it for a longer period of time).
3. Better digestion (This is the one I could really use the help with).
4. Less Stress (So chewing slower will help us get through immigration faster?).
5. Rebel against fast food and fast life (I don't like fast food so this isn't a problem...although I could go for a McFlurry every once in a while).

Eating slower for now on,

Ben

Monday, December 6, 2010

T-Shirt Of The Month


(PICTURE: Your typical teenager riding recklessly.)

In what seems to be a daily occurrence, today a teenager, with his helmet loose on his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, flew by me on a motorbike. As usual I found myself rolling my eyes at this jackass as he swerved in and out of traffic, nearly causing a half dozen accidents around him. However, the photo gods quickly brought a smile to my face as the kid slowed down his bike just enough for me to read his t-shirt and to get a photo:


(PICTURE: "This is what a little princess looks like.")

Hey, Little Princess, if you're gonna try and act tough by speeding and smoking on your motorbike, you might want to consider buying a new t-shirt.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blue License Plates


(PICTURE: Typical blue plates on a nice-ish car.)

In Hanoi, there's thousands of cars -- almost always luxury cars -- that have blue license plates. These blue plates are supposed to be for diplomats but, in reality, everyone and their mother has one. In a culture of corruption, it's surprisingly not that hard to get your hands on a special plate. In fact, the other day I was looking at online classifieds and saw a posting for a motorbike with blue license plates that promised, "If you have these plates, you'll never get pulled over again."

Today though I had a good chuckle as I was driving my motorbike and saw a piece-of-crap car (which are rare here) with white United Nations decal stickers on the side of it. Clearly this was not a United Nations car but rather an ingenious attempt by the cars owner to try and get the benefits of blue license plates without actually having the plates.

Another thing I've seen twice recently are people who put blue-tinted laminate paper over their license plates. On first glance the plates look like diplomatic plates but on second glance they're clearly not. Again, a genius attempt to get the benefits of blue license plates.

Huyen and I are planning on taking a big motorbike trip before going back to the states; I'm gonna need to get blue plates or at least a UN decal or blue laminated paper before we set off.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Spit or Swallow



Everyone's done it. Sometimes when you're driving, you hock-up a big loogie and you don't have a cup or a tissue to spit it into. Instead you roll down your window, spit it out and inevitably watch it splat on a back window of your car. Sure it's disgusting but it's equally as disgusting to swallow it.

I don't mind someone spitting out their window when the only thing they're likely to hit is their own car or, worse case scenario, the car behind them. Okay, okay, occasional it'll spray the person in the backseat if their window is down too. However, it's not that common. Anyway, I do have a BIG PROBLEM with someone on a motorbike spitting since they're most likely going to hit the person driving behind them...which is exactly what happened to me today. Some douche bag sped up in front of me today, hocked a loogie, and spit it towards the grass barrier in the middle of the road we were on. However, a significant spray headed my way and landed right on my bare knuckles. Yes, vile.

You know how every week it seems like an NFL player spits on another NFL player and the victim claims it is the worse thing in the world. Well, it is the worst thing in the world. Being spit on awakens some animal force inside of people. As soon as my knuckles got rained on, I felt this incredible urge to kick the guy's ass who had just sprayed me. For about five seconds I started to speed up my bike with the genius plan of passing him and spitting in the air...however, I quickly heard my mother's voice inside my head: "Two wrongs don't make a right." Why does my mom always have to be right?!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

WikiLeaks

With WikiLeaks dominating the news, I thought the most interesting thing I've read this week is this NY Times Op-Ed by Thomas L. Friedman:

While secrets from WikiLeaks were splashed all over the American newspapers, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if China had a WikiLeaker and we could see what its embassy in Washington was reporting about America? I suspect the cable would read like this:
(PICTURE: Thomas L. Friedman)

Washington Embassy, People’s Republic of China, to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Beijing, TOP SECRET/Subject: America today.

Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy and nation. But we’re particularly optimistic because the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things.

There is a willful self-destructiveness in the air here as if America has all the time and money in the world for petty politics. They fight over things like — we are not making this up — how and where an airport security officer can touch them. They are fighting — we are happy to report — over the latest nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. It seems as if the Republicans are so interested in weakening President Obama that they are going to scuttle a treaty that would have fostered closer U.S.-Russian cooperation on issues like Iran. And since anything that brings Russia and America closer could end up isolating us, we are grateful to Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona for putting our interests ahead of America’s and blocking Senate ratification of the treaty. The ambassador has invited Senator Kyl and his wife for dinner at Mr. Kao’s Chinese restaurant to praise him for his steadfastness in protecting America’s (read: our) interests.

Americans just had what they call an “election.” Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him. This leaves us relieved. It means America will do nothing serious to fix its structural problems: a ballooning deficit, declining educational performance, crumbling infrastructure and diminished immigration of new talent.

The ambassador recently took what the Americans call a fast train — the Acela — from Washington to New York City. Our bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin would have made the trip in 90 minutes. His took three hours — and it was on time! Along the way the ambassador used his cellphone to call his embassy office, and in one hour he experienced 12 dropped calls — again, we are not making this up. We have a joke in the embassy: “When someone calls you from China today it sounds like they are next door. And when someone calls you from next door in America, it sounds like they are calling from China!” Those of us who worked in China’s embassy in Zambia often note that Africa’s cellphone service was better than America’s.

But the Americans are oblivious. They travel abroad so rarely that they don’t see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how “exceptional” they are. Once again, we are not making this up. On the front page of The Washington Post on Monday there was an article noting that Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are denouncing Obama for denying “American exceptionalism.” The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are. They don’t seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself “exceptional,” only others can bestow that adjective upon you.

In foreign policy, we see no chance of Obama extricating U.S. forces from Afghanistan. He knows the Republicans will call him a wimp if he does, so America will keep hemorrhaging $190 million a day there. Therefore, America will lack the military means to challenge us anywhere else, particularly on North Korea, where our lunatic friends continue to yank America’s chain every six months so that the Americans have to come and beg us to calm things down. By the time the Americans do get out of Afghanistan, the Afghans will surely hate them so much that China’s mining companies already operating there should be able to buy up the rest of Afghanistan’s rare minerals.

Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America.

Finally, record numbers of U.S. high school students are now studying Chinese, which should guarantee us a steady supply of cheap labor that speaks our language here, as we use our $2.3 trillion in reserves to quietly buy up U.S. factories. In sum, things are going well for China in America.

Thank goodness the Americans can’t read our diplomatic cables.

Embassy Washington.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Terrible Wedding News -- There Will Be No Hora Dance


(PICTURE: Sadly, this won't be Huyen and me at our wedding.)

I'm very saddened to report that there will be no hora dance at our wedding. As much as I want to have the dance be part of the celebration, there just won't be any room at Huyen's parents' house. I keep talking about Huyen's parents' new home, but I don't think I've really explained well how big it is. Well, it's just not that big especially when you consider that there will be basically two shifts of two hundred people coming to the house. That's right, we're expecting about four hundred people at the wedding. In order to accommodate everyone, there will be tables covering 99% of the space at Huyen's house. With that many people and tables, there's just no space for a dance floor.

That said, we will definitely try and get a hora dance going on the second night of our post-wedding trip with friends and family at the bonfire we have planned!