Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Neighborhood

(PICTURE: I started off on Doi Can. Then I moved a little east. Then I was near Dong Da Lake towards the south of this map. Now though, I'm totally off the map.)

As I mentioned the other day, Huyen and I had to move to a new apartment for our last month in Hanoi. For those keeping score at home, this is the SIXTH neighborhood I've lived in in Hanoi. Sure, I've lived in some longer than others (two weeks, three months, one year, one week, one year and one month respectively) but they've all been quite different. This new neighborhood is pretty cool. I've got a small lake right outside my front door which is surrounded by cafe (the drawback of this being a lot of mosquitoes). This area of town is also known for its hair salons. There's literally about twenty in the alleys surrounding my place. There's also a little market and some good food stands to explore in the mornings. It's also right near my gym which means I've got no excuses to not work out my last month here.

It's funny but I'm now living on more or less the edge of Hanoi. My street isn't even on some Hanoi maps. I remember a couple years ago, I met some people who lived basically where I'm living. I remember thinking, "Why the hell would you live so far from the center?" Well, I now get it. It's kind of cool being in a totally random neighborhood. It feels, well, like the real city.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CSCD - Uniform Change?

(PICTURE: CSCD at night.)

I wrote a long time ago about the secret police in Vietnam who generally only come out at night. This branch of the military is called the CSCD. To me they're really freaking scary because they're very hard to see since they wear nearly all black uniforms. I guess if you want to be super-secretive-ninja-like you need to blend in with the darkness. However, there's one drawback of people not being able to see you at night -- it's that PEOPLE CAN'T SEE YOU AT NIGHT!

The other night Huyen and I were driving home from her sister's and I caught a flash of two CSCD officers on the main street near our house. Well, the next day there was a big local news story that two CSCD officers were run over and killed by a car right near our house on that main street. I'm not 100% sure it was the same guys I saw but logically they probably were. The two officers were hit by a guy who was driving home after karaoke. I would 100% bet that this guy was drinking and driving which is sadly the norm here...which is even more of a reason for the CSCD to wear brighter uniforms if they're gonna step out into the street at night to pull over cars.

I'm not trying to be funny here because their deaths were tragic. The point is though that these guys need to strike a balance between being stealth and being visible. Like if your mission that night is to double as a traffic cop, put on a fluorescent yellow uniform. If you're just busting drug dealers, then wear all black. Frankly, I'm surprised more CSCD don't get hit by speeding cars or motorbikes all the time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guessing Game

What are these:

A) Pillows

B) Small animal cages

C) Ethnic instruments

D) Handle-less purses

The answer is....


A) Pillows

These pillows are generally used during warmer months. They are actually quite comfortable and keep your head from getting too hot like a normal pillow can when you don't have AC.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Matrix Tournament

(PICTURE: I should have taken off my Jets hat if I wanted to win.)

(PICTURE: Teams Green, Orange and White.)

About a month ago, an email went out to all the Hanoi Ultimate Club saying we would have a "Matrix Tournament" that weekend. I'm not exactly sure what the tournament had to do with the Matrix but it sure was a lot of fun. We divided all of our players up into three teams. Whenever a team would score two points, the other team would have to leave the field. After about ten games, two teams went to the finals. Sadly, my team was the one that didn't make it to the finals. I put the blame solely on my shoulders.

I actually played really well that day although all my good plays were eradicated when my buddy Dave more or less out-jumped me for a winning score in our last game. I should mention that I probably have about five inches on Dave. It felt sort of like when John Starks dunked over Horace Grant and Michael Jordan. I'd like to say that I'm Jordan in this scenario but hell, I'll take Horace Grant comparisons any day of the week.

I like to think that I'm a very competitive person but know when to turn off the competitive juices. Meaning, I shouldn't care when I lose in a pick-up ultimate frisbee game. Generally I don't care but for some reason on this afternoon I was totally bummed out when my team lost. Is this some sort of aging thing? You know, like I can't make up for the high school championships I never won so it stings even more when I'm 31 and can't win a friendly frisbee match? Dammit, I'm still bitter that my high school soccer team lost to Westfield in 1995! Oh god, 1995?! That was sixteen years ago!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gone Fishing

(PICTURE: Me and my bamboo fishing pole. It was defective.)

For the second time in Vietnam, I went fishing. Unlike the first time when nobody caught anything, this time everyone caught something....except for me! The only logical explanation for me not catching anything is that the fish were clearly prejudice against Americans or more likely were anti-Semitic. Seriously, there's no other explanation because we were fishing at a FISH FARM!!! I was told that there about a ton of fish in this pond:

(PICTURE: The fish farm.)

To make matters worse, Huyen caught TWO fish. Yeah, I'm not gonna hear the end of this:

(PICTURE: Huyen's first fish.)

(PICTURE: Huyen's second fish. Braggart.)

As I wrote yesterday, the women were supposed to be home making cake. Huyen got invited along to serve as my translator and ended up catching the two biggest fish on the afternoon. Heck, now I understand why the men usually leave the women at home.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Banh Troi Nuoc

(PICTURE: This is the powder used to make Banh Troi Nuoc.)

(PICTURE: Huyen's aunts and mother starting to make the cake.)

The other weekend we went to visit Huyen's family because her uncle -- the same one that Huyen and her mom missed in HCMC -- was in town. I've had some feasts with Huyen's family before but this one was absolutely gigantic. I think it was the first time that Huyen and I were so full from lunch that we skipped dinner.

After eating, Huyen's uncles invited me to go fishing (tomorrow's blog) while the women were in charge of making Banh Troi Nuoc cake (the previous sentence sort of summarizes sexual equality in Vietnam). Huyen's uncles told me that Banh Troi Nuoc cake is symbolic of women in Vietnam because to make it is really tough and requires a lot of work but at the end the inside is still very sweet...or something like that.

Huyen sent me this poem about the cake written by the famous Vietnamese poet Ho Xuan Huong:

Bánh trôi nước (Hồ Xuân Hương) -
Thân em vừa trắng lại vừa tròn
Bảy nổi ba chìm vói nước non.
Rắn nát mặc dầu tay kẻ nặn
Mà em vẫn giữ tấm lòng son.


- Sweet dumpling -
My dough is white and my lot is round;
Seven times floated, three times sunk.
I swim in the waters and float on the mountains.
Hard or soft it depends on the kneader.
Regradless I determine to preserve my crimson viscus.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Adjusting to New York...

(PICTURE: This came up when I googled "tiny New York apartment." We dream of a place this nice!)

Huyen and I had to leave our apartment at the beginning of March. Our contract had run out and the landlord had found a new tenant who was willing to pay more money than us. As much as I hate our old landlord, it was our fault since we had planned to leave March 1st before Huyen's boss asked her to stay on one more month.

Being an optimist, I see three huge benefits to this move:
1. We save $150 this month on rent which will allow us to travel about an extra 3-5 days on the backpacking budget we're putting together.

2. It helped us to pack up our stuff sooner and start figuring out what we need to bring back to America, give to Huyen's family or trash.

3. It's a good step to adjusting to living in New York City since our place this month is TINY. When Ryan was here, we lived in basically a New York brownstone. It had five floors with more or less five bedrooms and four bathrooms for just two of us. Huyen and I significantly downsized this past year when we moved in together. It was a a small apartment but perfect for just two of us. Now though, we're in a tiny little box that can barely hold the little things we've still got with us. the whole apartment is eighteen square meters which according to the converter on my cell phone is 193 square feet. I'm pretty sure we'll end up with a similar sized apartment in New York City. However, I'm sure the place in New York won't cost $210 a month (utilities included).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

G7 Reunion!

(PICTURE: G7...minus one.)

G7 is the name Huyen's group of friends from university call themselves. I think it stands for Girls Seven...or something like that. Like most group of friends, the girls don't get to see each other that often because they're spread out all over the world. Hang (far left in the picture) has been studying in England the last couple of years and Tu (second from the left) has been studying in Australia. Both of those girls are leaving Vietnam again to get their PhD's.

Besides the future doctors, My (who isn't in the picture) now lives a couple of hours away with her in-laws and baby. Now that Huyen is moving to America, that means four out of seven girls live decently far from Hanoi. All that is to say that it's a special occasion when G7 gets to hang out.

Twice recently the gang got together for some feasts. First we went to Hang's house where her family had prepared a gigantic meal with literally the largest fish I've ever eaten. I'm not sure what the fish was, but it seemed like it could be a baby tuna! A couple of nights later we went to Tu's house where we once again gorged ourselves on a home cooked meal.

At Tu's we watched an amazing video of G7 doing a dance performance at university. I need to get my hands on this video as it was absolutely priceless. Seeing all of the girl dancing was very very very very funny. Even funnier were the pictures of the girls putting on make-up for the show. They clearly had no idea what they were doing and looked like deranged clowns.

Seeing all of the girls together definitely sparked a little jealousy inside of me; it's been a long time since I've gotten to hang out with all my friends at one time. I think it's pretty safe to say that I'm counting down the days till Huyen gets to be a witness to my group rehashing our old memories.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Viet Hoang's Birthday!

(PICTURE: Birthday boy with his friend, father and cousin.)

Every once in a while something happens where I'm like, "Holy cow, I've been here a long time." One of those somethings happened again the other day -- Viet Hoang turned five. Him being five isn't that big of a deal -- it's the fact that I've celebrated his third, fourth and five birthdays at his house. This birthday really felt like deja vu to me since it was at the same place as the past two with nearly the exact same party guests.

I have a video on my blog from three years ago in which I was driving around Viet Hoang on my motorbike. The kid is now three years older than when he was falling asleep on my back in the mean streets of Hanoi. Time sure flies...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cooking Oil Made From Sewage And Trash

(PICTURE: A Vietnamese officer investigating dirty cooking oil -- maybe those canisters is the first sign that the oil ain't so clean.)

I get sent links all the time to crazy news stories. However, Jessica recently sent me the most disgusting news story I've read in a long time. Basically, authorities have cracked down on some illegal production of cooking oil in China and Vietnam. What are they using? Well, shit and trash. So sometimes when I'm eating on the street and I say, "Oh, that tastes like shit," it really might have been shit that I was tasting.

Here's the article: Cooking Oil Made From Sewage And Trash

Monday, March 21, 2011

Looking Into The Future: The U.S. Citizenship Test

A few years from now, Huyen might decide that she wants to be a U.S. Citizen. If this ends up being the case, she'll have to take The U.S. Citizenship Test. My friend Mary Politi sent me a great article from Slate about the test and why so many of the answers on it are wrong. If you have a couple of minutes, this is an entertaining article and a great example of how ridiculous the U.S. immigration process is.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

This Is Why Vietnam Is Covered In Garbage

I love Vietnam but it is by far the dirtiest place I have ever been to in my life. Here's a perfect example of why there is trash everywhere. While waiting for Huyen at a shop, I observed this xe om driver:

(PICTURE: Notice the white piece of trash on the ground to the right of the can.)

I took this picture moments after he threw that piece of white trash on the ground next to the garbage container. The guy made an attempt at getting the trash in the container but made zero attempt at picking up the garbage when he missed. In his defense, the effort he would have to take to walk two feet away sounds excruciating.

I took the above picture because I thought the moment was blog worthy. However, less than a minute later he made it extra blog worthy. The dude took out a piece of paper from his pocket, read it over, crumpled it and dropped it on the ground.
(PICTURE: See the trash in front of the bike. That's the one I'm talking about.)

The guy then got up and walked away, leaving both pieces of trash for someone else to deal with. Am I wrong to say, WHAT THE FUCK!!! The guy was right next to a fucking trash can. Put the garbage in the can you fucking asshole! Sorry had to get that off my chest.

What I don't understand is this: Vietnamese people have so much pride in being Vietnamese. However, where's the pride in keeping their country clean?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Adventures with my mother-in-law!!! PART 3

(PICTURE: My mother-in-law looking at a tiger in Saigon.)

Upon returning to Hanoi, I took Huyen, my mother-in-law and Su out to dinner. We had a good meal with about four dishes and some special clay pot rice. The total cost of the bill came out to about 300,000 VND or $15. To me, I'm more than happy to pay for four people if the total cost is under twenty bucks. Hell, you can barely order an appetizer and a drink FOR ONE in America without it costing more than $15. However, to my mother-in-law this cost an arm and a leg. When she saw the bill her eyes lit up as if the waitress was holding me up at gun point. She was so shocked in fact that she kept the receipt to show my father-in-law. In their defense, they could probably eat breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days for 300,000 VND. However, we're talking about a restaurant in the city! I keep giggling to myself, imagining how Huyen's parents would deal with visiting us in America. I'm pretty sure this is what would go through their minds: "$12 for a piece of chicken! Not even the whole chicken? A piece? And it doesn't even have bones!!!"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Adventures with my mother-in-law!!! PART 2

(PICTURE: Huyen and my mother-in-law enter the fourth dimension.)

After going through the haunted house, Huyen and my mother-in-law went to see a 4-D movie. This alone is funny to me since Huyen's mom has never been to the movies. Instead of starting off with a conventional 2-D film or even jumping on the overrated 3-D bandwagon that has hit the world as of late, she went right in for a 4-D movie. If you've never been to a 4-D movie, the fourth dimension is the sense of touch. I saw a 4-D movie about ten years ago when I worked at Disney World in Orlando. The special 4-D element then was that something moved in the seats which felt like we were all sitting on bugs. Well, apparently they haven't figured out more way to add the fourth dimension -- or they boxed up and shipped the Disney theater here -- because that was exactly what happened in the film Huyen and her mom saw. Her mom jumped up when the "bug" in the seat started moving around. She also ducked when objects were shot at her in the movie. At some point she told Huyen that they should move to the side of the theater so everything wouldn't fly at them. Clearly she hadn't quite understood how 3-D works...but then again, I don't really understand how it works either.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Adventures with my mother-in-law!!!

(PICTURE: My mother-in-law in front of the amusement park.)

Full disclosure: I was not actually present for this episode of ADVENTURES WITH MY MOTHER-IN-LAW. However, Huyen borrowed my camera and told me some great blog-worthy stories that I'll recount over the next couple of days.

As you may recall, about a year and a half ago I went to the beach with my now mother-in-law. At the beach my mother-in-law, grandfather-in-law and all my other in-laws freaked out when they saw the crashing waves. Believe it or not new readers, it was their first time seeing the sea. Yes, they all have grown up and never left a country lined with water but never managed to travel to the coast. Sadly, this is the norm here. That's all to say that many people don't get out much so when you put them into a big city, lots of things seem odd to them.

Recently Huyen had to go back to HCMC to pick up her American visa. Huyen's mother expressed interest in visiting her brother in Saigon so we immediately bought her a plane ticket to join Huyen. Unfortunately we didn't check with Huyen's uncle to see if he was going to be in town though and he happened to be away that weekend in Hai Phong. The best laid plans...

Despite not seeing her brother, Huyen and her mom had a great bonding weekend which has entertained me with many stories. Here's the first one:

Huyen and her mother went to an amusement park just outside of Saigon. I've passed this park before but have never gone inside. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure it's no Great Adventure. Well, Huyen called me after going to the park and told me about experiencing the haunted house with her mother. To summarize, they took about two steps into the house of horrors before my mother-in-law was scared out of her mind. She tried to go back through the entrance but was stopped by the woman behind them. The woman told Huyen's mom: "If you are in good standing with Buddha then you have nothing to fear." Yup, there's crazy religious people who follow Buddhism too. Huyen said that her mother grabbed hold of the Buddhist lady and didn't let go until they exited the haunted house. I have been told that this is the last time my mother-in-law will go into a haunted house.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Guessing Game

What do you think this is:

A) Brownies.

B) Shit in a bowl.

C) Congealed blood.

D) One of my father-in-law's favorite foods.

Think it over...

Give it another second....

Okay, the answer is...

C & D. Yeah, it was a trick question. That is congealed blood that my father-in-law loves to eat. I swear I almost popped one into my mouth when I first saw it because I was sure it was brownies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Visiting Graves

(PICTURE: Visiting my father-in-law's family tombstones.)

During Tet we always visit the graves of Huyen's relatives. This was my third time visiting the graves and I've been touched each and every time. A few thoughts about this:
1. We visit each cemetery for five to ten minutes. This might seem like a short time but how many of us are guilty of never visiting our relatives tombs?

2. While at the cemetery, we clean the tombstones and remove weeds. In America, this is usually done by the cemetery where people are buried. In Vietnam it is the family's responsibility.

3. This is the only time I ever see Huyen pray. She isn't religious at all but merely puts her hands together, bows and says a few words to her deceased relatives. I like being there to see this.

4. Huyen's family likes when I take pictures of them at the cemetery. I learned my lesson a long time ago that Vietnamese like to have these moments of showing respect documented.

5. I'm always especially taken back when we go to the military cemetery to visit the empty grave of Huyen's uncle. Huyen's uncle was killed in the war with America and his body has never been recovered. This saddens me deeply.

(PICTURE: Visiting Huyen's uncle's grave at the military cemetery.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan Disaster

The Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster is happening in Fukashima, the prefecture I lived in last year while I was teaching in Japan. I've received a lot of emails from people asking how my friends are, especially Masumi and Kensuke who came to my wedding a few months ago. With all the bad news, I'm happy to report that Masumi and Kensuke are both okay and so are their families. It took two days for them to get in touch with Kensuke's sister in Sendai but she is thankfully okay.

Masumi says that as of today they have water at their house as well as power. The building Masumi and Kensuke work in is damaged and not safe to go to. Today Masumi helped at the evacuation center.

I was quite scared for a couple of days about my coworker Katie who lives by the beach with her husband. I couldn't sign into facebook so I had a few friends send her messages. Today, Katie emailed me and she and her husband are doing okay. They had to evacuate their home though because it is too close to one of the nuclear reactors that is having problems.

We're glued to the TV/internet here and wishing we could do more. Thanks for all the emails about my friends and I'll keep you posted!


Food For The Ancestors

(PICTURE: Huyen's neighbor's midnight dinner.)

At midnight on the lunar new year, everyone puts out food for their deceased ancestors. This food is usually put on the family altar. However, Huyen's neighbor put their food out in the middle of their yard which I've been told is quite common. Once the food sits for a little bit, the family then eats it. I've always found this practice to be a great way to remember the dead. This ritual makes sure that we think of our passed loved ones during happy times and honor them by putting them first.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


(PICTURE: I was a little late for this photo...and for some inexplicable reason I'm sticking out my tongue like Michael Jordan.)

Apparently there are huge firework displays in Hanoi during Tet. I can't confirm this though since I've spent all three of my Tet Holidays in Ha Nam. I can confirm that the fireworks there are not so huge and usually consist of a few random houses launching a single firework or some kids lighting streamers. Unlike the past couple years, this year we partook in the fun. At midnight on the lunar new year, we lit some sparklers on the roof of Huyen's house. The sparklers were absolute crap and sometimes lit up beautifully and other times burnt to a crisp in a flash as if they had been doused in kerosene. Here's a couple of pictures I like from that night:

(PICTURE: Su and his sparkler.)

(PICTURE: Huyen with her sparkler.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Pretend that you didn't look at the title of this post. Great, thanks. Now, look at this picture:

What do you think it is?
A) Random children's drawings on a wall

B) Ancient hieroglyphics left on Earth by visiting aliens

C) The blueprints for Huyen's parents' new house

I know you cheated and look at the title of this post so yes, the answer is C.

Ever time I entered Huyen's parents' house I got a slight chuckle looking at the "blueprints" on the neighbor's side wall. The guys who built the house literally drew up the plans on the side of the neighbor's house!!!! Sure, they've probably built dozens of the same style house but at least you'd hope they would use a ruler when making chalk blue prints!

As I said, I would laugh when entering the house. However, when laying in bed on the second floor I would suddenly have a scary epiphany: "This house was built using blueprints on the side of a wall!!!!".

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chicken - Finger

(PICTURE: Hello chickens!)

On the second day of the holiday, Huyen's sister brought three chickens to the house. I was told that these chickens would be our meals that week and that I would be the one killing them. As you can imagine, I was slightly less excited about that second piece of news.

While preparing lunch that day, I moronically cut my left thumb while slicing vegetables. The cut was pretty deep and very bloody. It was by far the deepest cut I've ever had and resulted in me screaming, "OWWWWW" and instinctively tossing the knife into the air. Thank god the knife didn't hit Huyen who was making spring rolls next to me. As much as it sucked to have a large, painful cut on my hand and to be made fun of for a week by neighbors and family members, it did have the added benefit of getting me out of killing chickens. However, instead of being the butcher that week, I became the farmer. It was my job to feed the chickens every morning and to give them water. Naturally this meant I bonded a little bit with the birds...which made it that much harder to watch Huyen and Su kill the chickens. I swear, I shed a tear when I ate those delicious chicken legs.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Unlike my two prior Tets in Ha Nam, this year we spent the holiday at the Nguyen's new house (where we had the wedding). Huyen's family doesn't live in this house so it required some preparation on our part. This involved a few things:
1. Getting drinkable water. Su and I went to a neighbor's house and got water from her well and placed it in this large clay pot:

(PICTURE: All of the water we cooked with during the week came from this pot.)

2. We had to clean the house. This involved sweeping, mopping, dusting...and eventually burning the trash and leaves in the front courtyard

(PICTURE: This is the garbage collector in the village.)

3. We had to bring the TV from the house they live in and set it up in this house. It's very important for Su and my father-in-law to watch TV during the New Year. Yup, sounds just like America.

(PICTURE: Su rigged the antenna to that bamboo pole on their roof.)

During the course of the week, we also had to transport the refrigerator from the old house to the new house. Then on the actual New Year, I had to clean everything again. I washed and scrubbed windows and also -- this was my least favorite job -- scrapped the sap off the front steps which had fallen off the sapodilla tree.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Heading out...

(PICTURE: That bag weighs more than Huyen.)

In preparation for our week at Huyen's house, we had a lot to pack. Besides a week's worth of clothing, we had a ton of food and gifts to bring home. In no particle order, we had: wine, liquor, ten grapefruits (I had eaten more than a few the week before), candy and Sri Lankan tea. The total weight of the bag ended up being just about the same as Huyen.

On the morning that we left, about 75% of Hanoi was migrating out of town and back towards their family's hometown -- or as Vietnamese always say, "My countryside." Huyen and I took to the traffic very slowly since our bike was completed weighed down. I had offered to sit on the back with the bag on my shoulders but Huyen preferred being the passenger. However at some point Huyen started to yell at me on the highway. Between my sweater hood, helmet and traffic noise, I couldn't hear her. Finally I got the message (I couldn't ignore her hitting my shoulder) that her shoulder blades were about to break. We pulled off the highway into the shoulder and readjusted the bag. I ended up driving with my knees basically touching my chin so that the bag could rest on the space behind Huyen. The trip home took us about two hours which is nearly double the usual time it takes. But we got there safe and sound -- with the grapefruits in tact -- which is the most important thing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Year Of The Cat

(PICTURE: My worst nightmare.)

Happy year of the cat. There's no exclamation mark at the end of that first sentence for a reason -- I hate cats. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not like cats. I'm sure this anti-feline attitude comes from when I was a teenager and often cat-sat my best friend Brad's cat when his family went off on winter holiday vacations. While his family was in Florida enjoying the sun, I was changing putrid cat litters and gagging at the smell of cat food. I've often made enemies with people after going into anti-cat rants so I'll stop the hating here.

According to the lunar calendar, this is the year of the cat. I'm hoping that despite that this will still be a great year for Huyen and me since we've got a lot of big things on our upcoming calendar. Over the next few days I'll recant some stories from my Tet spent at Huyen's house. Now though you should watch this fantastic youtube video about facts about cats that my sister sent me. Enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2011


(PICTURE: We bought grapefruit from this lady a couple of times during the week.)

Huyen has one uncle who lives outside of HCMC. During the week we drove about an hour to go see him and to have lunch with him. On the afternoon before we departed HCMC, he drove into the city to meet us and to give Tet gifts for their family. There were basically two gifts: 1) a few million VND in freshly printed money. This is the traditional gift for elderly family members and little children during Tet. 2) 19kgs of grapefruits. For those who are metric-moronic like me, that's 42lbs. Yes, he gave us 42lbs of grapefruits to fly back to Hanoi with!!!!

Due to the last minute interview warning from the US government, we had to buy tickets that were twice the price of normal tickets. The one advantage of this is that we were allowed to check baggage (on our flight down we couldn't check baggage). We took full advantage of this and checked our 42lbs of grapefruits.

Now you might be saying to yourself, "Don't you have grapefruits in Hanoi?" Well, yes we do. However, the southern grapefruits are unarguably juicier and more delicious. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining at all about carrying 42lbs of grapefruits because a) I ended up eating about 20lbs of them b) It makes for a no brainer blog entry.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

American War Atrocities Museum

(PICTURE: A quote from McNamara.)

While in HCMC, Huyen and I went to the American War Atrocities Museum. This was my second time at the museum. The first time I went I felt deeply ashamed to be an American. After having lived here for three years and being taken in by the graciousness and kindness of the people, that shame has reached new heights; I feel absolute disgust at what our country did in Vietnam.

In school, we don't really learn about the horrific things we did in Vietnam. Why is that? I would say that the vast majority of Americans have complete apathy when it comes to the mass murder and war crimes our country has been responsible for in Vietnam and in other places around the world. Personally, I think that America should build our own war crimes museum in Washington as acknowledgment of the evils we've done and as a reminder to never do them again.

Here's a few exhibits that struck me at the museum:

(PICTURE: Huyen's uncle is part of that three million and part of the 300,000 missing.)

(PICTURE: A good senator who was sadly in the minority.)

(PICTURE: Kerrey WON a bronze star for this massacre.)

(PICTURE: The city by Huyen's house. This is where my family and friends stayed the night before our wedding.)

(PICTURE: Why weren't members of our government charged with war crimes?)

(PICTURE: Does this look familiar? Did we learn any lessons from Vietnam?)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Smoking On Government Property?

I don't know if I pee when I'm nervous or I just drank a lot of the free bottled water our taxes go to, but I couldn't stop peeing on the morning of our final visa interview. As soon as I entered the bathroom for the first time, I was struck by the unmistakably disgusting stench of cigarettes.

I hate the smell of cigarettes all the time but especially in non smoking area. Like all US government buildings, the consulate was a smoke free zone. Clearly someone/many people were jonesing for a cigarette and found their refuge in the men's bathroom. Each time I went in there, I held my nose and peed as fast as I could. It was during my fifth pee that I discovered the smoking culprit -- A US CONSULATE SECURITY GUARD!!! There were probably five hundred potential suspects that morning and of course the only one not caring about the no smoking sign was the guy employed by the consulate to protect the rules.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Final Visa Interview

(PICTURE: Huyen with her medical bag. The consulate is across the street.)

To prepare for the final interview, Huyen and I had to collect over 500 pages of documents. Yes, over 500 pages. This doesn't include the emails, phone records, blog entries, photos, etc. that I printed to prove that our relationship was legitimate. Putting together this many documents naturally made me nervous that we were missing something. Huyen started to fear that we didn't have enough pictures and TWICE went to a photoshop in HCMC to print more. Then the night before our interview she went threw all 100 pictures and put post-it notes on them to help her remember where and when we took them (they were already in chronological order based on the governments requirement). Furthermore, the day before the interview, we spent the whole afternoon practicing about 100 potential questions we found on a website about immigration interviews. In short, we were very very prepared.

(PICTURE: Our notebook.)

We arrived at the consulate two hours before our scheduled time on the morning of the interview. When we arrived, there were already about forty people waiting by the entrance of the consulate. Huyen thought this was a lot of people but I was surprised it wasn't more. After parking our motorbike across the street, we walked over to the consulate. As soon as we got on the sidewalk, a guard waved us to come towards him. He was standing at a side entrance and told us that we had to go through there. We both got really excited thinking that we had gotten the red carpet treatment and got to go through a special entrance. Well it turns out we had to join a huge line inside a waiting area. Once we were at the front of this line, we went back outside to join the short line we had passed earlier that morning.

Eventually it was our turn to go into the consulate. We had to check all of our belongings and then get a ticket from a window. The ticket had a number on it -- like at the butcher's section of a grocery store -- indicating when it was our turn. I would estimate that there were three hundred people at the consulate that morning. It took us about an hour to have our number called. We then went to a glass window where the person told us to take everything out of our notebook and to pass it under the glass. If this sounds familiar, it's because I already wrote about this nonsensical process a few months ago. We did as we were told and passed about three hundred pages of stuff under the window. The girl quickly through the stuff into a brown folder and instructed us to pay the visa fee ($404) and to wait for our number to be called again.

While waiting for the actual interview, we got to observe dozens of people have their interviews. It was such a strange process. A few of the more notable things I saw were:
1. A family of seven people having their interview at the same time. A relative of theirs in America is sponsoring all of them which is a pretty hefty endeavor considering what it takes to sponsor just one person.
2. A white guy from Ohio was trying to get a visa for his Vietnamese son. The guy's wife wasn't there and weirdly the kid did not look the least bit mixed. My guess was that the kid was from his wife's first marriage but who knows. The funny part was that the kid ran away during the interview, eventually causing the man to run away to find him.
3. A Vietnamese-American, pregnant southern girl was trying to get her Vietnamese husband/boyfriend into the states. After the interview didn't result in a green light, the girl all of a sudden became extra pregnant, practically going into labor in front of the window. Eventually I think he passed his interview but watching this girl act more pregnant was quite enjoyable.
4. A girl who came with a giant suitcase full of evidence. Her interview lasted about 25 minutes.
5. There were three other white American guys at the consulate trying to get their wives into the states. I was the only one whose wife though was probably within twenty years of his age. There was this one guy who I felt quite bad for as I'm pretty sure he couldn't speak Vietnamese and his wife couldn't speak English. The guy was also clearly in not so great health. Their interview lasted about twenty minutes and resulted in a passing grade. It was after this guy that Huyen and I got the call...

Huyen and I got up to the window and I asked the officer if I could participate in the interview. His answer was, "Hey why not? The more the merrier." Immediately I liked this guy. He then asked us some very basic questions including where we would live in America. Huyen answered that we would live with my parents and proceeded to show him a letter my parents had written stating this. The guy looked at the letter and jokingly said, "Do you think it would be cool to call your parents right now and wake them up to ask them about this?" I told him that I thought my parents would love to be included in the interview. The guy then asked to see some pictures. Huyen took out three piles of pictures and was about to pass them under the window when he said, "Yeah, that's good. Those three are enough." Huyen and I both sort of laughed and I said, "Really? Can't we show you more? She worked really hard preparing them." The guy laughed and then said, "Okay, congratulations!" And that was it. Huyen and I immediately gave each other a big hug and collected all of our stuff. In total, our interview lasted about three minutes. I would say this was fifteen minutes shorter than the next shortest interview that day.

So why was our interview so short? I've got a few theories:
1. I had applied from within Vietnam whereas everyone else I think had someone apply for them from America.
2. We had been sitting in view of the officer who interviewed us. I'm pretty sure he had seen us clowning around with each other for two + hours.
3. Huyen speaks English and did all of the answering.
4. The guy wanted to go to lunch since it was nearly noon by that point and we were at the end of the line.

Overall the whole process took us about five months from start to finish (not including getting legally married in Vietnam first which was another 2-3 months). The process was a pain in the butt but heck, HUYEN CAN NOW COME TO AMERICA!!!!!!

Just a couple more things:
1. Thank you mom and dad for cosponsoring Huyen. We couldn't have done this without you.
2. As I wrote the other day, Huyen will have to fly back to HCMC to pick up her visa and to get her second round of vaccinations.
3. Thank you Steve for all the help along the way. We were the only people who did this without a lawyer. We owe you a big dinner for the help!
4. Although we're now legally allowed to come to America, we're still a few months away from that. We've still got to finish out our jobs, pack up our stuff, travel the country and backpack our way to New Jersey. It's gonna be a fun few months before the big arrival!