Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Street Crossings

I shot a few videos around Hanoi, and I am thinking that I will do a few more. These are pretty amateur, and I had thought I would be able to edit them. Unfortunately, when my computer crashed I lost my iMovie, so I currently have no movie editing software. But until I do, enjoy some scenes from Hanoi's streets.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vietnam Victorious!

Wow. Talk about excitement. Last night, Vietnam beat Thailand for the Asian Football cup, for the very first time. The entire country seemed to erupt in jubilation, and the streets were mobbed for hours with people playing pots and water jugs, riding around on their motorbikes, and waving flags.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

On Monday I took the day off work and went to Halong Bay again with Annette. We kayaked out - despite the lack of directions that we got from the people with the kayaks. Fortunately Annette knew the way. That night we slept in a tent on Tiger beach (where local climbing company slo pony have their routes). Dinner was some banh my sandwiches (it has taken me 6 months to realize that when pronounced in an American accent that sounds like "bang me" - thanks Tim). We sat around a campfire and somehow it felt like Christmas Eve, so we did a little singing...

The next day (our "Christmas") we did 3 climbs and some more kayaking, then found ourselves a present! Annette and I decided to buy a bike from Andrew, who'd just biked from the Thai-Burma border. We rechristened his steed Bikel (formerly Iguana) and she's road ready for some great cycling trips in Southeast Asia. A merry Christmas indeed!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Vietnam Revises its Personal Income Tax

Vietnam just revised it's personal income tax law. One change is that foreigners and Vietnamese now face the same tax rates. These new tax rates are (by monthly income):

First 5million dong/month ($295) - 5%
5-10m ($295-592)/month - 10%
10-18m ($591-1,065)/month - 15%
18-32m ($1065-1,893)/month - 20%
32-52m (1,893-3,076)/month - 25%
52-80m (3,076-4,773)/month - 30%
over 80m/month (over $4,773 per month, or $56,000 per year) - 35%

So the top tax bracket is an annual salary of $56,000/year. Considering that I will make around $10,000 a year and I have a very highly paying job that means I can live pretty well, that is a truly luxurious salary. Our office estimates only 2% of the population earns that much in income.

I am actually a little bit surprised that in a socialist country the tax rate is so low. The highest marginal tax rate in many European countries hits 50-60%! Moreover, the bulk of the population here would fall into the first 3 tax brackets, meaning that in terms of income redistribution, the government is not doing a whole lot.

Also, the revision of the tax code actually raised the marginal tax rate on the first 5 million up from 0%, and lowered the highest marginal tax rate from 40% to 35%.

Like I said. Doesn't sound like the mom and pop version of socialism I learned about in history class.


In an earlier post, I noted that Vietnam had changed its income tax. What I did not point out at the time was that people earning under $5,000 were being taxed for the first time. The system introduced millions and millions of people into the tax system for the first time.

Insiders say that may be why the Vietnamese government suddenly declared a "no tax" payment period until May. Ostensibly it is supposed to help families in tough economic times; realistically, it may be the result of a completely overwhelmed, un-computerized tax system. Word is that they literally had to close their doors and shut the office, because their system is utterly overwhelmed.

Speaking of good economic news - Vietnam's stock exchange the HOSE has lost about 75% of it's value from a high of around 1100 in August of 2007. It's down to around 244 now.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Operation: Thanksgiving in 'Nam

As you may know, I love Thanksgiving. A holiday of unparalleled excellence, Thanksgiving is a beautiful time to unite family and friends, enjoy sumptous good food (especially Dad's stuffing & Mom's cranberry sauce), and give thanks for the wonderful things and people in our lives. I was quite sad not to be able to share that with my family (& Andy who still made it to my house!) this year.

As we did not get the day off, my Thanksgiving celebrations had to be postponed to Saturday, but I was determined to make it happen. Once I got the idea into my head, I found several others who were interested. And we all seemed to have non-American friends who wanted to join in the fun as well. It didn't seem to be adding up to too many people until suddenly we were having a dinner for 18+ people (it turned out to be 21 at the final count!).

From Operation Thanksgiving in 'Nam

Now, let's begin with the fact that I've never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner or organized one on my own. Then examine the relative availability of traditional Thanksgiving ingredients. Once you've pondered those obstacles, consider the fact that our kitchen equipment included 2 pots & frying pans, a 2 burner stove, 1 rice cooker, an electric kettle, and a fridge. Oh, and did I forget to mention that we only have about 9 chairs in the entire house? Hmmm... Well, the pilgrims certainly seemed to make due, so none of this made any difference, and in fact just steeled our wills further!

From Operation Thanksgiving in 'Nam

That, for example, was the oven we located. It was at Sylvia's house, and fortunately plugs into the wall so it could be carried down several alleys, put in a cab, and then carried down several more alleys to our house for a few days!

From Operation Thanksgiving in 'Nam

Then there was an Excel spreadsheet shopping list, divided into categories according to where we thought the ingredients could be found. We're talking as specific as having to go to one shop for butter, another shop all the way across town for bullion cubes, the market for produce, several different markets all over the city to get the required number of potatoes (we cleaned out a bunch of different women of their produce) - I think we finally had 6 kilos of potatoes, or something mad like that. Raisins, fresh yogurt, different spices, canned cranberry sauce - all of these were like puzzle pieces we searched for.

Fortunately there was great teamwork in the cooking, and several people brought prepared dishes. This included Jen's salad of arugula (who knows where she found that!) and Mel's pumpkin pie. Well, why don't I just share the entire menu?

Cheddar, rosemary & thyme biscuits (Aaron)
Banana Flower Salad (brought by Annette, from the bia hoi under the railroad tracks with the best banana flower salad in town)
Arugula Salad (Jen) with a delicate balsamic dressing, baby mandarin oranges and sesame seeds

Five roasted chickens (a Vietnamese lady)
Stuffing with raisins and pine nuts (Katy)
Vegan main dish of pseudo stuffed peppers (Katy)

Sweet potatoes mashed with bananas (Alison Jones)
Mashed potatoes with yogurt, butter & garlic (Aaron)
Green beans with onions and garlic (Alison and Scott)

Apple crumble (Long)
Pumpkin Pie (Mel)
Pumpkin no-bake cheesecake (Mel)
Vanilla Ice cream (Simon via Fanny's)

Wine & beer!

From Operation Thanksgiving in 'Nam

Now that's what I call a menu! Even better, we had a gaggle of countries represented, with showings from America, France, Holland, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand, and we had several "first" Thanksgivings!

From Operation Thanksgiving in 'Nam

All in all, it was the first Thanksiving where I felt the accomplishment that the pilgrims might have at getting it all together!

The only problem... we also don't have a dishwasher.

From Operation Thanksgiving in 'Nam