Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nha Trang

Cristina and I took a week off work to meet up with Tessa and Reuben, who made the California to Viet Nam trek. After a brief rendezvous in Ha Noi, we all flew down to Nha Trang, on the southern coast, for some serious R&R.

I'm not sure what "Nha Trang" translates to in English, but if it were to mean something approximating "As close to paradise as you're going to get in these parts" I wouldn't be surprised.

Nha Trang at night.

This blog isn't really up to the task of explaining the rather convoluted history of how Viet Nam arrived at its current state. However, for those of us raised on Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Platoon, it may come as a surprise to find out that there were seriously dramatic political shifts prior to the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon administrations. The Vietnamese have been carving out this corner of the world for centuries. One of the previous inhabitants of southern and central Viet Nam were the Champas. The Champa kingdom was of Indian extraction, and was sanwiched between the Viet in the north and the Khmer in the south, and eventually got crushed by the Vietnamese. Before this, however, they built a whole bunch of cool structures that the tourist books call "Champa Towers." Above is a picture of the Po Nagar Champa tower.

Many of these temples feature "linga" which is a polite term for "sculptures of erect penises with an image of Shiva carved into it" (I'm not making this up). I would have taken a picture of the lingam at Po Nagar but there were people praying, so it didn't seem right.

The most famous pagoda in Nha Trang features a giant Buddha statue. Around the base are tributes to the monks who immolated themselves to protest the anti-Buddhist policies of the Ngô Đình Diệm administration.

The same pagoda features another statue of a reclining Buddha.

Cristina and Tessa on our island hopping boat tour, featuring a snorkelling session complete with several thousand jellyfish and a coral reef. The pain was minimal, the sight was impressive.

A coming storm.

Some dramatic lighting on the taxi ride to the airport as Cristina and I say goodbye to Nha Trang.

Saturday, August 8, 2009



Cristina was given a 100 dong note this week as a gift. The spirit of the gift lay not in its monetary value (.0056 U.S. dollars) but in its relative rarity, as 100 dong notes haven't been printed for some time in Viet Nam.

So I was going to post a blog about how weird it is to have an exchange rate of 17,800 dong to 1 U.S. dollar, and the experience of holding a note that has the number 500,000 printed on it (that's ~30 dollars U.S. for those of you who don't want to do the math).

Even worse, I was going to write about having a 500,000 dong note and it being useless because I wanted to buy a bowl of bahn da cua, which costs 10,000 dong, and not being able to because no bahn da cua stand would be willing to figure out how to make 490,000 in change.

So given the fact that during my life I've proven myself to be an asshole in about 99 different ways (make it an even 100 after writing this blog) and given the current economic climate, I will not whine about having 500,000 when I needed 10,000, or anything to that effect (at least, not any more than I already have, indirectly as it may have been).

Instead I'll geek out for a moment on the Zimbabwean dollar...

This is a 100 trillion dollar note, printed this year by the central bank of Zimbabwe. It is the result of a monthly inflation rate estimated to have topped out around 220 million per cent. That's an annual inflation rate over 89 sextillion percent, meaning that the price of goods doubled every 24 hours. You paid 50 billion for that loaf of bread yesterday? Well, now it's 100 billion.

Mind you, this 100 trillion dollars is only 100 trillion after the government of Zimbabwe revalued their currency several times. Which is to say that they would chop 10 zeros of their denomination and announce that 10 billion dollars would equal 1 dollar. If they hadn't revalued their currency this 100 trillion dollar note would actually be a 10 septillion dollar note, that's 10 with 25 zeros following it.

How the fuck does this happen? The academic answer is that hyperinflation occurs when a government straddled with debt begins printing money at a much faster rate than the growth of its gross national production. Still, a 10 septillion dollar note? This is madness.

But then I've heard the reports that Fannie Mae is requesting another 10 billion dollars from the U.S. taxpayers. Since 850 billion has been spread around, what's 10 more? And even if a huge sector of the global economic interest lies in the strength of the U.S. dollar, everything is O.K., yes?

After all, the Federal Reserve can always print more money.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ghost Park

There's an abandoned amusement park here in Hai Phong. Cristina and I managed to get inside and snap a few pictures before a guy with about three teeth started yelling at us in Vietnamese. I'm not sure what he said exactly, but I'm guessing that it translated roughly to, "Get the fuck out of here before my dog chews a hole in your groin."

There is also an operating amusement park just up the road, but who wants pictures of happy children when you can look at creepy pictures of a ghost park?

This post is in memory of Marshall Scotty's Playland Park (1956-1983),in Lakeside east of San Diego, which currently stands in comparable disrepair, but which also provided more than a few happy memories:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Skin Disease of the Month


There was (is?) a homeopathic movement involving the consumption of colloidal silver. Proponents suggest that colloidal silver provides any number of health benefits, including a significant boost to the immune system which leaves them malady free (except for the fact that the consumption of excessive amounts of silver results in the irreversible condition known as Argyria, in which the victim's skin turns blue).

This is not to be confused with Methemoglobinemia, a genetic condition which interferes with the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the skin, causing it to turn blue. A famous series of cases occurred when two Kentucky clans carrying the recessive Methemoglobinemia gene intermarried and began producing blue offspring. They were known as The Blue Fugates of Kentucky:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bia Hoi

This is bia hoi, "fresh beer," an institution of Vietnamese society. Bia hoi refers to both the drink and the establishment that serves it. As there is a bia hoi directly outside the school, and it costs 3000 dong per glass (that's 17 cents U.S.), I have consumed more than a few.

"Hoi," by the way, is not pronounced "hoy" as one might expect, but "huh-ee" (except you say it as one syllable). "Hoy," in fact, means "smelly." So for the first month or so after our arrival, I would sit down at my favorite bia hoi and order up a glass of smelly beer.

Bia hoi is stored in non-pressurized, insulated kegs. They have to sell all the beer by the end of the day because it goes flat, and there is a noticeable difference between a glass tapped from the bottom of a keg and a glass tapped from a new keg.

Note that these kegs are from the local bia hoi producer in Hai Phong. There are a couple of other brands in town, including one from Hanoi that is slightly more expensive. I prefer the local brew though.

In the late afternoon the bia hois begin to fill up and are packed around 8pm (although it is pretty common to see a few beer enthusiasts knocking back some brews as early as 7 in the morning).

Chilling out at a bia hoi involves (continuously) toasting the good health of your drinking companions and enjoying the fact that the heat has broken for the time being (that is if, in fact, the heat has broken; if not then it is a time for simply toasting the good health of your drinking companions--continuously).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Skin Disease of the Month

Harlequin-type Ichthyosis.

It makes Necrotizing Fasciitis look like a cold sore.

Google image it at your own risk.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

When in Rome...

In Viet Nam there are a number of traditions that are followed within the ebb and flow of the lunar calendar. For example, on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month the landlady will lay out offerings of food, rice wine, cigarettes, scotch, flowers and the like on the altar that sits on the top floor of our house. This is to promote prosperity and good fortune within the household.

Recently Cristina and I took part in a small ritual to rid our body of insects. Last week one of the locals informed us that on the fifth day of the fifth month (of the lunar calendar) we should eat lychees and plums before noon "to get rid of the insects" in our body. We weren't sure what this meant, and several possible interpretations (none of which seemed pleasant) were discussed, but the rather sizable language barrier that we face when talking to the locals prevented any sort of firm understanding of what was supposed to happen or why.

Fortunately, Hang (pronounced "hung") a recent addition to the teachers' house was able to clue us in, as she is both a native of Hai Phong and fluent in English (believe you me when I say this comes in handy at times). The insects referred to actually meant parasitic worms, and Hang suggested that instead of eating lychees and plums we eat sticky rice cooked with wine to rid ourselves of them, a more traditional de-worming dish.

So we did.

(But only after the rice was placed on the altar for about twenty minutes to get its mojo working.)