Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Motorbike: Miraculous Transporter of Innumberable Persons & Items

A co-worker of mine emailed me some classic photos of true Vietnamese ingenuity. When combined with the medium of the motorbike, the results are often stupendous.

Here's to hoping he got home with her and all the groceries... and why does HE get the helmet!

Yes, the fact that the motorbike is a small, short vehicle does not mean that very long items can't be carried on it. These pipes are the longest I've seen, but people will regularly sit on the back of one and hold lamps, vases, tall tubing, or construction materials.

So I don't know what happens here if the woman holding the poles with her foot has to brake...

This contraption of two baskets balanced on the end of a long pole is ubiquitous in Vietnam. Most of the time, women carry them on their shoulders and they are filled with fruit to be sold (well, in Hanoi anyway).

While I've seen 3-4 people on a motorbike before, this is the record.

On the other hand, motorbikes aren't the ONLY way of moving things from place to place.

People are good at pushing too...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vietnamese Language

So I haven't written too much about the Vietnamese language yet - Tieng Viet. For starters, it has a romanized alphabet - courtesy of the French colonization and particularly a Jesuit named Alexandre de Rhodes. For someone like me, that's a godsend, because it means that once I get pronunciation down, I'll be able to sound out words. This in comparison to my friends out there learning Thai or Chinese, where the letters/characters are unfamiliar - that's a whole different challenge! So I'm lucky in that regard.

To give you an idea of what it looks like, here's the Blogger menu in Vietnamese:

Sorry if that's really hard to see.

Anyway, what does make life tricky is that the langauge is tonal - with six tones to be exact - not to mention a bunch of extra vowel sounds we don't have in English. Because you can say the exact same set of letters with a different tone and have it be a different word, getting the tones down is really important if you want to be understood and not make massive mistakes. For example, a coworker of mine - the graphic design guy, to be exact - is named Hiep. Well, if you pronounce that with a rising or falling tone, the meaning changes from his very common first name to the word for "to rape." I am positive that on occasion I have accidentally said "Hey Rape, how are you today?"


So my efforts to really break into Vietnamese are stalling while I try to get the tones down. I think I've learned how to say 1 to 10, yoghurt, yes, no, thank you, beef, dog meat (self-defense), reciept (for expense accounting taxis), how much is that?, and...that's about it.

I do have my first official Vietnamese lesson on Monday night, which I'm very excited about. I wanted to upload an .mp3 of how to count in Vietnamese, but I don't see a way to do that easily on blogger. While I try to figure that out (and please post hints if you already know), you'll just have to wait in suspense.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)

I loved HCMC (the short name for Ho Chi Minh City), but I also didn't stray too far from about a 5 block radius that encompassed my hotel, my office, the Reunification Palace, and (coincidentally) Max's apartment (the PiAer in HCMC).

The city is definitely much more Westernized, and there are a lot of foreigners walking around. I saw an upscale shopping center with lots of Gucci, Ferragamo, and other designers that could have been Bloomingdales in NYC. In other words, there is definitely money to be made in HCMC.

Interestingly, a lot of Vietnamese also refer to it as Saigon, and the names seem to be interchangeable. That seems kind of in keeping with the Vietnamese view of the "American War" - it happened, it was pretty awful while it happened, it changed a lot of things, but now it's over. I haven't found much resentment of Americans at all - in fact, I've experienced none - and as far as I can tell, it's something that's in the past and that few people get really touchy about. So it's not a major no-no to call HCMC Saigon, for example.

In HCMC, they've kept the palace which was the southern Vietnamese headquarters almost totally intact, and you can go downstairs and see the rooms with all of the maps, rotary telephones for calling the battlefield, the emergency radios and the President's "war-bedroom" Diem hung out when he needed to be near the phones. It's really interesting - and you can check out my pictures on my Picasa album.

I also got to try some delicious teas - kinds of juices with fruit in them, and these are fruits which have gelatinous textures like nothing I've really experienced before. I can't quite decide how to describe them. I also got to eat a lot of food from the region of Hue, one of the old imperial capitals of Vietnam. It's supposed to be culinary heaven, and certainly the food from there was some of the most unique I've tried yet. They do something with rice - I think whipping it in to a light fluff and then steaming it - which turns it into something that is slick and a bit gooey. It looks like a piece of white fish, actually, but it's rice. And you can eat it plain, or with things stuffed inside, or as the outer layer on a roll with beef and other things in it. Really interesting...

Anyway, it was 3 days of work with a little sightseeing and lots of eating - and quite fun! It was good to get back to Hanoi though, even though I think it is MORE humid here!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Some Photos

Hello there again. Well, I've now been in Hanoi for a full week, and while my plans to play touch rugby got way-laid by a massive downpour, I have managed to get out and go for a couple runs. Today my new housemate and I ran down to a little park near our house, which turned out to have a zoo in it. So we ran past the monkeys and elephants, as well as a carousel. The major attraction for me, if I was about half my height, were these big plastic inflatable globes. A little kid would get in one, and they would seal it and then inflate it. Then the child would roll out onto the lake, and be in a giant clear plastic ball rolling around on the lake. How cool is that!? I have no idea how long the oxygen supply in there lasts, but I guess long enough for a good roll around. Anyway, it seemed pretty sweet.

I head down to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow for 3 days, so I imagine I'll be able to report back a bit on that. I hear that it's quite similar to the Washington DC - NY split. Hanoi is a bit sleepier and less hectic, and the seat of government, while HCMC is all about finance and generally crazier. Should be interesting! In the meantime, here are a few shots of Hanoi to give you a flavor of the place:

Some photos of Hanoi

Sunday, August 3, 2008

First Few Days

It's amazing to me that I have only been in Hanoi for 5 full days. So much has happened! I spent the weekend wandering around the city and getting to know it. It's a confusing place in a lot of ways, with twists and turns, dead ends, streets whose names I really can't pronounce, and lots of tricks. I think I'm slowly getting used to it though. I found a place to live, which was exciting, and it's a 10 minute walk from work. It's down a series of narrow winding alleys, which I took some video of to post, but I took it vertically so on the computer it looks sideways. The video below, though, is of the entrance to my house.

I've gotten to eat a lot of Vietnamese food already, and it's overall pretty delicious. Lots, and lots, and lots of noodles. Yummy cilantro in most everything, morning glory in a lot of stuff (which I had barely ever encountered before), and lots of soups. I even had a breakfast sandwich of pork and egg on a gorgeous french baguette.

One of my favorite things, though, has to be pho cuon. It's a pho noodle wrapped around mint, cilantro, and beef, dipped in sauce. I had these with friends at the restaurant that is, according to my friend Khuong, the birthplace of pho cuon. It's pictured above.

In this photo, you'll see Phuong, Khuong, Aaron (obscured by some dong, the currency), Simon, our waiter giving the peace sign, Casey, Kelsey, and Jeff. I work with Aaron and Khuong at AIPF and the others I know mostly because they live with Aaron.