19 January 2015

Notes I've made and other miscellaneous thoughts

Most days I buy and read two newspapers: Việt Nam News and the International NYTimes. On 06 January, there was a very good Op-Ed by David Brooks in the International NY Times, "The problem with meaning".

I also get a daily email from DailyKos with a number of interesting articles from various sources. On 07 January, The Huffington Post printed a list (with photos) of "21 reasons to fall in love with Việt Nam".

All over Saigon, all year-round, you will see women in "Daisy Dukes"... sans fringe, add high heels. They're not on the list. 
Dress is more conservative in Hà Nội and the rest of the country.

As of 01 January 2015, gay marriage is legal in Việt Nam.

One day last week while sitting in my current favorite café drinking trà đá (iced Vietnamese tea), I met three guys from Denmark... Darius, Henrik, and Patryk. They each bought a motorbike and are headed to Cambodia for about 10 days. Then they'll return to VN and head north to Hà Nội and Sa Pa. At some point they'll probably also hit Lao. As they talked about their plans and asked me questions about my trip, I mentioned my blog and handed them each a business card with my phone number and the blog address, suggesting that they may find some information there that would be helpful during their trip. When he saw the URL, Henrik told me that this blog is one that they've been using regularly to learn about Việt Nam. He also told me that when it comes to worthwhile useable information, it's one of the better ones. Thank you, Henrik!

Thank you also for requesting that I join your departure photo

A few days later, I met Rick; an Aussie who, with his mate Monty, will soon embark on a Việt Nam, Lao, Cambodia motorcycle adventure. Terence and I gave him a LOT of advice over a couple beverages on his first evening in-country. He's also keeping a blog: SE Asia Motorbikes. Check it out...

Have you ever had fresh sugarcane?
It's good to chew or squeezed (by machine) into fresh juice called nước mia. It's less sweet than the sugarcane juice I had in Cuba, so you can drink it straight instead of cutting it with orange or other fruit juice.

In the past few days I've been to two vegetarian restaurants within a short walk of my hotel. One is worth a visit and the other one is one to which I'll never return...

Just outside and to the west of Bến Thành Market there is a restaurant called Phượng Mai (07 Phan Chu Trinh). They have an eggplant burger that is a little messy to eat and worth every dropped morsel you'll pick up. I highly recommend it! discontinued the eggplant burger :-( though you may still find something there worth eating.

Worth walking, motoring, and/or driving past WITHOUT STOPPING is Hoa Khai (124-126 Nguyen Cu Trinh). I ordered vegetarian chili with vegetarian meat and spring rolls with fruit. The spring rolls were fried (a vegetarian restaurant that fries fruit?) and this is what they sell as chili:

I'm usually open to new foods that aren't blood-based, but this stuff tasted like crap. The good news is that the restaurant is on a not-so-well-traveled street and definitely a street lacking any significant number of tourists, so chances are, it'll never show up on your radar anyway.

In case you're wondering, I expected something close to this:

probably because a restaurant ~1 km away offers gumbo that's pretty close to what you'll find in Louisiana. As I typed that last bit, I realized it's illogical; further proof that I'm non-Vulcan.

Just before the southern end of Cởng Quỳnh Street there is an alley to the east (there's a print/copy place on the corner) that houses a very good seafood restaurant every night. The tables are set up on one side of the alley and, on busy nights (most nights), tables spread out onto Cởng Quỳnh and across the street onto the opposite sidewalk. Dinner of roasted crab claws, roasted shrimp, and rice with seafood with two drinks will set you back about US$15. We go there at least three nights every week and never tire of it.

The one thing to be cautious of is the traffic going up and down the alley, though it's only an issue until you sit down... and after you get up again. The wait staff, on the other hand, are always dodging motorbikes—some of which are driven by guys who see no problem in opening the throttle while weaving between patrons and staff...

You may want to try one or two of the new menu items...

Last night we ate at another street restaurant and I got to eat something new: cháo thập cẩm, a light porridge-like soup filled with shrimp, baby octopus, and calamari and seasoned with green onions. I pulled out a few of the too-many-for-my-palate onions and it was VERY good! Definitely worth a repeat...

A lot of rules/laws changed here on 01 January. The laws re visas are now so confusing that no one seems to know whether or not we ex-pats will still be able to renew three-month visas without doing a border run. Terence has been here over a year and when he renewed just after the 1st, they would only give him a one-month visa. He and others here are looking at work-arounds. So far, the answers we're getting vary depending on which travel office we visit. My visa expires mid-February and I'm hoping things will be sorted by then.

One of the laws that changed in our favor is that regarding driver's licenses. Việt Nam now recognizes those from 73 countries if they are accompanied by an International Driver's License. This means that there it is no longer necessary to get a Việt Nam driver's license to drive or ride here... so I spent $300 to change my Vietnamese A1 license to an A2—the "big bike" license that was previously virtually unobtainable without inside contacts and is needed to legally ride anything over 175cc.

The advantage to having an A2 is that there is no question when(!) I get stopped that I am licensed to ride the 400cc bike—or a bigger one. All it took was an official translation of my Washington State driver's license, one simple form, and US$285 (including commissions for the two people who helped me). The rules say that the license must be renewed with every visa, though with an additional 500,000 VND to the right bureaucrat, mine is good for a full year.

I'm looking forward to seeing how many kilometers I can ride before I have to show it...

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