Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Men, Women & Black Chicken

Men and women face a different legal drinking age in Viet Nam. It's 16 for men and 18 for women. I had a completely culturally inappropriate reaction when I learned this. Something like this: "NO WAY!?!"

I found this out the night I had a black chicken for dinner. I didn't have my camera, so I'm stealing this photo from someone else's blog about Vietnam.
From reading Wikipedia I found out these are called "Silkies" and actually have plumage that feels more like fur than feathers. A furry chicken! Who knew? It tasted pretty good. But the black feet did sort of unnerve me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

As an American, I'm often called upon to explain our country's foreign policy, and one thing that I usually struggle to explain is the concept of 'American Exceptionalism.' Inevitably, this is one of fundamental pillars which I want to try to convey to whomever I am speaking with, because without an understanding of how Americans see themselves and our world, I cannot begin to explain why we have acted as we have, and why so many people believe strongly in America's foreign policy choices. I think our national myth (using myth in a rather anthropological sense) of 'American exceptionalism' is crucial to that self-image - and I've finally heard a definition of it that I think captures the essence of this idea:

"The mythic narrative goes like this: a nation, providentially set apart, in the New World, and wanting nothing more than to tend to its own affairs grudgingly responded to calls that it assume the mantel of global leadership in order to preserve the possibility of human freedom."

This is the definition given by Andrew Basovitch speaking on the November 3, 2008 at the Carnegie Council. (He is the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism").

He goes on in that same discussion to claim that this mythic narrative has become detrimental to our ability as Americans to see the world as it truly is and ourselves as we truly are, arguing instead that America "became a great power because it sought power and succeeded spectacularly in acquiring it." The purpose of the distinction is to enable us to see how the expansion of freedom within the US in the latter part of 20th century was the result of a policy of expansionism that led to abundance, which in turn expanded access to freedom.

Anyway, it is an interesting argument, and if I could get my hands on his book, I would read it... Ah deprivation of English language books.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away...

So we've gotten a little bit of rain recently. And by a little bit, I mean we've gotten enough to flood a significant part of the city on and off for 2 days, and the rain's not going to stop. My friend Aaron finally braved the water snakes (fact or fiction?) and floating nastiness to get some food yesterday, and took this photo:

(That's Aaron in the blue shirt). Cars apparently floated away from where they were parked, and actually several people have died - including 3 kids on their way to school. I don't know the details, but I guess they drowned. That's put a damper on what would otherwise have mostly been a fairly odd but mostly inconvenient situation.

The rain's not from a typhoon or anything dramatic - it's just a storm, and it's the kind of more extreme weather that's expected with climate change. Trust me, I'm beginning to see the advantages of living in a city that's ABOVE sea level for the next 50 years. Hanoi lies right along the Red River, and the name actually means "city along the river" or "city over the river." Someone told me that not only is much of the city below the surface of the river, but the parts are below the bottom of the river.

Needless to say, we've got dykes, and actually dykes have been in place for over a thousand years to protect Hanoi. Even in the major recent floods of 1971 and 1996, these haven't failed. They ostensibly protect the city for floods of up to 13.5 meters. Below is a powerpoint slide I stole, but it has a diagram of the dyke that is sort of visible, and some statistics.

Nonetheless, the water levels were the highest that have been since since 1984. Here are some snapshots of other floods in recent history. I was sad to say that so far no one has broken out the boats...

Thinking back to the Gvdv seminar, it's funny to now be living in a place that was just a red "hotspot" for future climate-induced humanitarian trouble. Looking around town, being here has shown me both how both ill prepared Hanoi would be for a flood that broke the dykes, and yet also how unfased people seemed by it. No one panicked, and some people lost furniture, but I think the fact that almost everyone has a 4 story house (because they build tall & narrow), meant that everyone sort of retreated up and waited it out. That's what we did, anyway. People in general seemed pretty resourceful and calm, yet at the same time the extent to which people didn't modify their behavior (like those people who kept driving even though they were up to their windshields in water) also didn't always meet with a successful outcome. It's kind of an odd dichotomy, where no one really treats it like it's a huge deal, but at the same time, by not breaking their routines they don't necessarily demonstrate the ability to adapt if something really drastic occurred... I don't know. I'm curious to know what would happen.

For another interesting look at the water, here's the field where I usually play touch rugby on Saturdays. It's out in "Ciputra", this luxury housing complex about 5 miles away (hence the lovely white villas). The place where the cameraman is standing is up on a small hill that's a solid 1 meter higher than the level of the playing field. This was emailed out to the rugby list to explain why the game was cancelled on Saturday, even though "rugby's more fun in the mud"...