Friday, March 27, 2009

A thought for a Saturday morning on economic productivity

A chicken in the USA produces 350 eggs per year, because it's in a high capital environment (nutrition, medicine etc.). 

A chicken in the developing world pecking around the backyard the way they were in the USA 70 years ago produces 50 eggs a year.

- EconTalk Podcast, 2/5/07

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What did you have for dinner?

I bet you it wasn't sweet potato french fries refried with dough into a patty, followed by spicy beef, followed by tofu dipped in raw shrimp paste, followed by fried morning glory, followed by fried eel with peppers, followed (finally) by hot pot of banana, snail, tofu and herbs.

Oh, and then tea and fruit.

I am SO full.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

office chit chat around the water cooler

This morning I brought one of my coworkers home-made dulce de leche as a thank you for doing some negotiating on my behalf with our landlady (who is also a dear, but needs to pay for a new air conditioning unit...) Anyway, somehow this got her talking about the pre - doi moi period in Vietnam, which it's not always easy to get people to speak about.

When she was growing up, standard meat consumption was 100 g per child per month. Milk was absolutely a luxury, and many of the supplies they got were from the USSR (and sometimes already expired).

As for choosing a husband, always a good idea to go for a driver or someone responsible for selling petrol - if you found out the guy had a PhD he was definitely a bad prospect!

Standing in line for a half-day or day for your rice portion was standard, so you'd use a brick or a bowl to mark your spot. People who distributed goods - purchasing them and then reselling them at a higher price - had a special name in Vietnamese, that roughly translates to 'scum.'

These are women just a bit older than I am, who now rock cute outfits to work that put my fashion sense to shame. They are raising kids in a totally different world, and they just take it all in stride.

These were the days when the few countries that had aid missions here sent staff, but those staff were not permitted to speak to Vietnamese except for things like transactions in the market. (Though I've already heard of one love story of a Danish woman falling in love with a Vietnamese guy, despite government prohibitions against their speaking and the fact that they didn't share a language. They're still married).

The Wildlife

So I realized on my bike ride home (deftly navigating the twists and turns of my unlit alley in the rain on my bicycle), that this guy

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Policing the Internet

The NY Times recently ran a great article on a tongue and cheek movement to push back on China's internet censorship.

An excerpt from the article:
" a mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity. Which is precisely the point.The grass-mud horse is an example of something that, in China’s authoritarian system, passes as subversive behavior. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous, although it has surely done that."

The future of China's internet policy is of real relevance in Vietnam, because currently the country is not developed enough nor does it have enough resources to take measures similar to China - it would like to though. The Government is, of course, concerned with making sure that the people of Vietnam get only the most accurate information.

One measure to ensure this is to ensure that the press does not publish anything that is incorrect (I mean, that would be awful!). As it exists, the Ministry of Ideology has weekly meetings with the Editors in Chief of all major newspapers, and publications all are associated with different ministries at different levels of government that work with them to make sure nothing that isn't factual is published.

Vietnam does not currently have the reach that China does in its policing algorithms, I don't believe, nor does it seemingly have the capacity to shut websites down as quickly. Moreover, to my knowledge, most international news sites are available in full.

A shout-out to Kurt for pointing this article out to me, by the way.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A New Favorite

Thanks to Seth, I have a new favorite tea. Market Spice Tea from Seattle... kind of hard to come by in Hanoi, but I had a big pot of it last night and it made my day. Just wanted to share.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Phat Diem Cathedral

From Phat Diem Cathedral

My recent trip to Nam Dinh for a Helmets for Kids ceremony scored big time because we also got to visit Phat Diem Cathedral. Hands down, it was one of the most startling sights I have experienced to date in Vietnam. It is a Catholic church built in teh style of a buddhist temple or pagoda, the work of Father Tran Luc from 1875-1899. Chinese characters are interspersed with stone relief work depicting the lives of the Jesus and Mary. A series of smaller chapels surround the Cathedral, and the complex in total is several acres.

The ground under the Cathedral was constructed - originally it was on a reed-filled swamp. It has stood for over 100 years now, including surviving  a 1972 bombing that tilted the Cathedral 15-20 degrees (restoration was necessary).  

Catholics represent a significant minority in Vietnam. In this district, they are 53% of the population. Below is a slideshow of my pictures, posted on my picasa site.