26 December 2015


My laptop screen suddenly went BLACK.


Okay, don't panic...

I'm on a laptop and the battery is charged and the cord's plugged in at both ends and I don't think this laptop has a one-touch-make-the-screen-go-black button and the house lights are still on so it's not a power outage and even if it is I'm on a friggin' laptop so what the hell?

Check connections.

All good.

Check connections a second, third, and fourth time.

All good.

Try another power cord just in case the battery's bombed AND the cord's crap.

Nope... nothing.




That was two Tuesdays ago. I was, as I often am, multi-tasking on my laptop: five or six windows open and hopping from one to the next. I need a copy of that appointment slip for next week's trip to the American Consulate in Saigon, so I'll save it as a PDF... Then, when I tried to print a hard copy, my printer suddenly showed "off-line". Strange, I thought, I can see it from here and the blue Wi-Fi light is glowing...

Then, suddenly: BLACK SCREEN.

No fade-to-black; no BSoD (blue screen of death); just BLACK!

Now I'm getting a bit concerned because I really don't want to have to buy another computer... maybe this one is salvageable. What's that phrase? "Whistling past the graveyard"?

Yeah, that's the one.

In the days that followed, I tried:

  • Everything listed on the Windows "Your computer just died and we want to give the impression that we give a shit, so here are five things you can do to feel better once you finally give up trying to fix it" web site
  • "Windows Repair" on boot-up x 3
  • "Windows Recovery Disk" (yes, I actually made one many months ago) x 2
    • The first attempt ended with a message along the lines of: "Sorry, Charlie, no can do"
    • The second one ran about 60 hours before I decided that it must be stuck in a loop and stopped it
  • Removing the hard drive and putting it in a "Hard Drive Enclosure", then plugging that into my backup laptop as an external drive to access the files.
  • Taking it to TWO local computer gurus
All fruitless...

If you read the above and thought, "I'm sure that John, logical person that he is, has a recent backup of his hard drive" because you have one, please read on.

If you read to the previous paragraph without once thinking about a back-up and/or do not have one of your computer, then please finish this paragraph, click on the link at the end, and sign-up to immediately begin backing up your computer to the cloud. Once that is running, please come back and finish reading this post. Click here to go to and start your on-line backup.

Now that you have, or are in the process of creating a back-up, I will tell you that yes, all of my 282GB were continuously backed up in the cloud. The only file I lost was the PDF that I created just prior to the crash... and maybe my IE and Firefox bookmarks; I hope they are in the backup, but I don't know.

Ironically, less than a week prior, I had a conversation with Lorelle at One More Café about computers and back-ups. I told her that I've used Carbonite for about four years and had another cloud-based back-up provider a couple years before that. I also mentioned that I should do a hard back-up because it's been too long since my last and if the system does crash, the cloud-based systems can literally take weeks to restore all of your files—especially with the slower Internet download speeds we have here in VN compared to many Western countries.

I'm now working on my back-up laptop and waiting for Carbonite to re-populate it with my files. I already downloaded the 9.1GB Outlook file (30 hours) and extrapolating out from that, the rest of the files should be complete within... UT-OH...

So far, the backup laptop is holding up. Now I get to buy a new laptop.

Top contender is an iMac 13" with Retina display because I think I'm DONE with Windows. Whatever I buy will probably wait until my trip to Thailand because:
1) I will have a better selection
2) Prices are significantly lower
3) I need time to consider the learning curve

This is one of the few times I'm looking for other people's opinions and so far, everyone says, "DO IT!"

I ask again... are you fully backed up? Click here for Carbonite's backup options.

10 December 2015

Dalat seafood (hai san) restaurant update

For those currently in Dalat or headed there, I withdraw my high praise for the local seafood (hai san) restaurant in my post of 30 October. Two recent consecutive disappointing visits mean that it will be a while, if ever, before I revisit. Since I praised it so highly just six weeks ago, I feel it necessary to post an update.

Patronize this restaurant at your own peril. Last night, for the second consecutive visit, about 60% of the crab claws were "OLD". By that, I mean that they tasted ammonia-ish and were inedible.

I spit the first one out and started sniffing each before eating it. In the west, they would've gone back after the first one but, remember... I live in Việt Nam—the land of no returns or refunds. The second bad one went on the table. When I hit the third bad claw, I called the owner over and told her via Google Translate:

She shot me about two sentences of something I didn't understand and went back to work, leaving the plate of claws in front of me. I'm pretty sure she told me that she didn't care... or similar. I then put on my jacket and helmet, walked to where she was cooking, showed her a second screen:

paid the 65,000 ($3) I owed (it's Việt Nam!), and left.

She knows I'm a good customer because she greets me every time with a warm smile and "Xin Chao" (Hello) and, while I am getting seated, she brings over the bag of kitten food that I bought (third one) for her two kittens that were previously surviving on scraps, and feeds them. Other customers arrive and she might acknowledge them with a nod.

Yet she does nothing to keep me as a customer... like replace the bad claws with good or, what a concept, replace the whole damn plate!

Because it's Việt Nam!

Patronize her at your own peril.

08 December 2015

Recipe for a Cat Lovers' Dessert

This recipe first came to me in 2004 via the Feline Friends mailing list and, although I never got around to preparing it, I think it'd be great fun!

I know a few of my readers will try this... please send photos!

Cat Lovers' Dessert

1 spice or German chocolate cake mix
1 white cake mix
2 large pkg vanilla instant pudding mix, prepared
1 large pkg vanilla sandwich cookies
green food coloring
12 small Tootsie Rolls®

Prepare cake mixes and bake according to directions (any size pans).

Prepare pudding mix and chill until ready to assemble.

Crumble white sandwich cookies in small batches in food processor, scraping often. Set aside all but about 1/4 cup. To the 1/4 cup cookie crumbs, add a few drops green food coloring and mix until completely colored.

When cakes are cooled to room temperature, crumble into a large bowl. Toss with half the remaining white cookie crumbs and the chilled pudding. Important: Mix in just enough of the pudding to moisten it. You don't want it too soggy. Combine gently.

1 new kitty litter pan
1 new plastic kitty litter pan liner
1 new pooper scooper

Line a new, clean kitty litter box. Put the cake/pudding/cookie mixture into the litter box.

Put four unwrapped Tootsie rolls in a microwave safe dish and heat until soft and pliable. Shape ends so they are no longer blunt, curving slightly. Repeat with four more Tootsie rolls and then bury all eight in the mixture.

Sprinkle the other half of cookie crumbs over top. Scatter the green cookie crumbs lightly on top of everything -- this is supposed to look like the chlorophyll in kitty litter. Heat the remaining four Tootsie rolls and partially bury them as seen in the photo below.

The finished dessert:


06 December 2015

Youth is wasted on the young

Over the past thirty years or so, the phrase "Youth is wasted on the young" occasionally rears its head and haunts me for a bit. Fortunately, I feel I did better than most in getting the full value of my pre-30th birthday adventures—skiing; skydiving (at 17); scuba diving (alliteration unintentional); wild oat-sowing; piloting a hot air balloon; self-employment; a bit of international travel; and more.

A young couple who is doing an even better job of spending their youth well than I ever imagined is Kasia and Manu, writers of "The Clueless Abroad" blog. Their style is engaging and the photos are very good. I mentioned them in a previous post and just today started catching up on their blog. I especially like their post on Dalat, for reasons beyond the fact that they contributed to and mentioned the Helmets For Children project.

I finally found their card, too...

If you're still young—in body and/or mind—and find yourself making a bucket list, do yourself a favor... stop making lists! Get out there and DO!

Slightly shifting topics from those who don't wear ties to those who do...

“And that, by the way, is why I think men so often wear ties… because if you are going to embody disembodied Western rationality, you need a signifier. And what could be a better signifier of disembodied Western rationality than a garment that at one end is a noose and the other end points to the genitals?”—Michael Kimmel

Moving on to standardized testing in what passes for "education"...

Finally... I recently found a photo of my 2002 visit to Cincinnati to visit family.

I'm the HUGE guy in the first row... pushing 290 lbs, if I remember correctly.

For the past few years and when I left the U.S. last year, I was down to about 240 or so.

Now, after a year of living in Vietnam, eating mostly local and unprocessed foods and walking frequently, I'm pretty happy at 215 lbs...

though I'd like to get a bit lower.

I show the fat photo because I have a number of friends and acquaintances in the west who are, if photos are to be believed, a LOT heavier than they were just a few years ago. If you are one of them, please stop eating fast and processed foods—they're killing you.


05 December 2015

Undercover cops; Ali Baba photographers; and why I "fired" the Dalat Red Cross

In the post two prior to this one, I wrote about how I foiled two female Ali Babas' attempts to appropriate four of our children's Protec motorbike helmets at the first school's helmet donation event. Even though we (with the help of the Red Cross) had all the proper government paperwork filed with the proper authorities, we suspected someone might try to extort a few helmets or a financial "donation" at the last minute. Such things are all-but standard procedure in Việt Nam, and occasionally make things a little more interesting. My tactics that evening were pretty much seat-of-the-pants, though the basic skills were honed over years of teaching sales and negotiation as well as 60 years as a smart-ass.

As a result of that attempt, we had undercover police at our second event. I didn't even know they were there until a week or so later when I was reviewing the photos with one of our volunteers. She is an almost 30-year resident of Dalat and knows many of the local cops, so when she pointed to one of the men I pegged as a parent and said, "He is police" I believed her. I asked why he was there and she said that after the self-proclaimed "government official" tried to steal helmets at the first school, they were assigned to be at the second school in case something similar happened.

Nothing like that did happen and, honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I enjoyed the first encounter and hoped they'd try again so I could have a little more fun. As you can see from the photos like this, one of my favorites,

I had plenty of fun anyway.

The volunteer also told me that the traffic police were there (in plainclothes, probably both to keep a low profile and possibly so that the people didn't freak out) because they are thrilled that I am giving helmets to children and wanted to see it first hand. Will that help me the next time I get stopped for speeding? Doubtful, though who knows?

All-in-all, the second school's event was a huge success.

A few days after the event we met with the husband/wife videographer/photographer team that the Red Cross arranged to video and photograph both events. When the husband called to arrange a meeting for payment and delivery, he told Vy that the price was 5 million for the video and 1.5 million for the photos. She called me to ask if that was okay, and, since almost everything here is open to negotiation, I told her to get them to 4 million and 1 million, which she did. That was 5 million VND (~US$225) for their time at both events and all of the video and photos taken. Or so I thought.

The wife arrived at the coffee shop with only the video DVD. She explained that her husband was still working on the photo DVD and that we would get them the next day. I popped the DVD into my laptop and was very impressed with the quality of the video presentation, though at times the audio would have benefited from a directly connected microphone. I was so impressed, that in addition to the negotiated 4 million, I gave her a 500,000 bonus.

Their primary business is weddings, so the video compilation

he created and she delivered opens with a nice introduction to Dalat before giving a comprehensive record of helmet donations at each of the two schools.

Right after she promised that we would have all of the photos the next day, her husband arrived with the disk. We chatted for a few minutes, I paid the 1 million for the photo disk as we said our goodbyes—without looking at the photos. I forgot for a minute that I am in Vietnam. For my forgetting we paid a great cost.

When I got home, I put the disk in my laptop and opened the photos. There were many good ones; a few were posted in previous entries here. Unfortunately, a LOT of photos were missing. I know this because there were some I specifically requested and remember being taken... and especially because the photos are numbered and there were gaps in the numbering of 12, 17, 41, 59, 62, 73, and 91 photos. I understand that there will be a few soft-focus or bad shots missing, but NOT between 17 and 91 consecutive bad shots! WTF???

I immediately emailed Vy, told her of the missing photos—we had only 129 out of approximately 579 photos—about one in four (exactly 22%) of the photos taken. I asked her to immediately contact the photographer and request the missing ~450 photos. There is no voicemail here, so it took a couple days for her to connect with the photographer on the phone. The photographer told her that they would burn a CD the next day and call her when it was ready.

Wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn?

When Tuyết and the Red Cross got involved in Helmets for Children, they volunteered to assume two responsibilities:
1) Take care of any and all government required paperwork
2) Arrange for the photographer and videographer.
     a) Though I never heard a price, I thought that it was determined up-front.
     b) Silly me.

As we realized that we had a potential disaster in the making, I had My, our volunteer who has a long-term relationship with Tuyết, contact her and fill her in on what was going on. Tuyết said that she would contact the photographer and straighten out any misunderstanding... and, as I found out later, she didn't do a damn thing!

The next day Vy called the photographer and was told, "We are very busy; it will be a few more days." This happened again and on the fourth call, Vy talked to the husband/videographer. He said that it would cost 10,000 VND EACH to burn the missing photos to a DVD. That multiplies out to over four million VND additional—FOUR TIMES times what they originally agreed on to give us ALL of the 500+ photos! Vy called me to relay the information and it's lucky for the fcuking Ali Baba videographer (and probably me) that I don't speak Vietnamese, 'cause I would've immediately ridden over there and it would have gotten very ugly.

When Vy and I talked with Tuyết (Red Cross) and the photographer, we told them that we wanted all of the photos taken at both schools. Nothing was ever said about us getting only 129 photos. That is why I was so surprised when I got the disk home and found only 129 photos and so many missing in-between the first and the last at each school.

The agreement we had was for ALL of the photos, not 22% of them. I understand that there may be some blank or out-of-focus images, but there is no way that 213 of 274 photos at the first school and 217 out of 305 photos at the second school were no good!

What the hell is it with people who won't keep their word or honor a verbal contract? After almost a year here, am I that clueless about the culture? Or is it because I refuse to become cynical and continue to trust people until they show they cannot be trusted?

I asked Vy to call Tuyết and tell her that the photographer was trying to rob us of an additional four million and to ask her, since she brought the photographer into the fold, to please intercede and get him to release ALL photos per the original agreement. Tuyết later told me (through her friend and our volunteer My, because Tuyết speaks even less English than My) that when she called the photographer, he claimed he never asked for more money and that Vy was trying to get me to give up the 4,000,000 VND which she (Vy) would then pocket.

BULLSHIT! Vy is one of the most honest people I know, and I trust her more than I trust anyone else in Vietnam.

Technically, his phrasing may be accurate. While he told Vy that it will cost 10,000 VND per photo to burn another disk, he did not ask for more money. He just told her that if we want the 400+ photos he was still withholding, we would have to pay over 4,000,000 VND to get them... even though we had already paid the asking price AND a 500,000 VND bonus!

In the three weeks that followed, Vy and I did everything we could to try to kick the photos loose. I even offered to pay the extra ~US$200 he demanded.

Then, suddenly, we were told that the photos had been deleted and were no longer available. We were also told to stop calling them because they would no longer talk to us.


I am very sad and disappointed that such a simple thing could go so wrong. We had a verbal contract and the malicious bastards both broke it AND destroyed the photos!

My mistake was in paying for the photos before verifying that I had all of them. While I will never make that mistake again, it is a lesson that was very painful to learn.

All we ever wanted is what we originally asked and paid for—all of the photographs taken at both schools.

98% of the people who read this will never come to Dalat and maybe 1% of the 2% who do come here will ever need the services of a professional photographer or videographer. If you are one of them, I recommend you stay clear of Pham Phuoc!

As for Tuyết of the Red Cross, I was already unhappy with her because at both helmet presentation events, she got up in front of the students, staff, and parents and took full credit for my work. The gist of what she said was that the Red Cross had conceived of this project and then brought me in. In truth, I invited her and the Red Cross into my project. Her contributions were doing the government paperwork, recommending one of the two schools, and bringing in the Ali Baba photographers. Her role was that of advisor/assistant.

I have zero problems sharing credit where credit is due, BUT when someone publicly presents as if what I spent a year creating was his/her idea, integrity is out the window. She was told, after the first presentation, of my discomfort with her remarks, yet she repeated them at the second presentation—the school chosen prior to her involvement.

She also did everything she could to get me to replace my trusted right-hand Vy with a translator of her choosing, including lying about the quality of Vy's translations (this from someone without a word of English beyond "Hello"), the attack on Vy's integrity mentioned earlier, and her refusal to do anything to help us get the 400+ withheld photos. Any one of these is enough for me to keep Tuyết out of any and all future endeavors. The three together garnered her my contempt.

I know that this post might cause concern to those who have donated toward helmets and those who are considering donating. Please know that I am now even more cautious with who is brought into the program and that ALL donated funds are used to purchase helmets. EVERY single non-helmet expenditure comes out of my personal funds.

Please click here to see (and Like) our Facebook page.

02 December 2015

Dengue Fever

I know I promised that my next post would be about hiccups in the Helmet Project...



Within the past three weeks, two acquaintances of mine were diagnosed with dengue fever, a nasty disease that is carried by mosquitos and currently a concern across Asia.

If you live in or are visiting Asia, please read the following taken from the monthly newsletter of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and take the appropriate precautions.

The first acquaintance, a native Vietnamese, was hospitalized for 10 days and came close to death. The second, an American living in Thailand and currently visiting Vietnam, was just diagnosed in the past 24 hours.

Be aware of mosquitos and DO NOT IGNORE a fever or flu-like symptoms!

Be careful and aware...

09 November 2015

Ali Baba and the four helmets

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you've picked up on my obsession with Vietnam's version of motorbike helmets. Here's a story I call "Ali Baba and the four helmets":

At the first school where we donated helmets,

we finished fitting every student and were, frankly, pretty high on the whole experience. Then I noticed Vy (pronounced "Vee"; my right hand and in the gold blouse above), Tuyết (pronounced "Twee"; of the Red Cross and in the red blouse above), and one of the principals talking rather animatedly with two 30-something women I'd never seen before. They called me over and, as Vy translated, one of the two women told me that they were "from the government" and needed to check to ensure that the helmets were safe for the children to wear.

My brain screamed, "WHAT THE FCUK?" as I said, "These children had NO helmets two hours ago. Are you telling me that you think the top-quality Protec helmets I gave them, the best motorbike helmets for children that you can buy in Vietnam, might be worse than no helmets at all?"

The response was something about they might be counterfeit helmets and that they had to test the helmets to ensure that they are genuine.

I showed them the Protec name on the side strap,

on the protective foam,

on the liner,

and on the back of the helmet

—all things that Protec says on their web site prove that it's a genuine Protec helmet.

The holographic seal on the back (see last photo above) is the indication of government approval. It says that the helmet meets May 2011 VN standards. If you look closely, you'll also see Protec's government-issues quality control number "QC0001" saying that they were the first company to get a QC rating.

"We still need to test them."

Really?! Inside my head:
"This is Việt Nam.

"They're probably not really from the government.
"They want a bribe.
"They are NOT leaving here with a single helmet!
"This is going to be fun!!!"

Outside my head, my voice said, "I'll call Protec right now and they will verify the helmets' authenticity for you."

Even after getting Protec's verbal verification, the woman said (no surprise) that she would still need helmets to test AND that they might have to ask me to take the helmets from the children we just gave them to.

At this point I told Vy to make absolutely sure that the women knew that she was only saying MY words and that nothing she translated came from her, It's one thing for a foreigner to mouth off to the government; they will most likely only deport me. If Vy mouths off to her (totalitarian) government, it could have a very negative effect on her immediate and/or distant future. I'm 61 and she's in her early 20's with a LOT more to lose, so make sure they know it's ME talking.

Back to the two women (and out loud): "Really?! There are two ways you can take the children's brand new helmets away, because I will NOT do it.

  • Your first option is that I will go to the podium and make an announcement that the government is here to take your new helmets away from you.
  • Your second option is to stand outside the gate and take every helmet off the kids' heads as they pass through.
Either way, I'll bet you don't make it home tonight without a visit to the hospital (implying that the parents would have a strong issue with two women not in uniform trying to take their child's helmet away. This is VN, where dog thieves often get beaten to death by the citizens unless the police arrive in time).

They looked at each other and the speaking one said, "We'll let them keep them for now."

Ahhhh... the un-offered door number 3... a good and wise choice.

"But we're still going to need to take helmets with us to test."

John: "Okay, no problem. What do you need?"

Vy (whispering) to John: "You said you will never give any bribe, why are you telling them they can have helmets?"

John to Vy: "Trust me. I know what I'm doing."

John to the women: "What do you need?"

Woman: "We need two size medium and two size small. We will bring them back to you within 24 hours."

John (inside): "This is Viet Nam; there are NO RETURNS! If you were really testing them, you would want each size—small, medium, and adult."
John (outside): "No problem... I just need a receipt signed by each of you saying that I am giving you four helmets for testing and that you will return them within 48 hours. I know you said 24 hours, and I want to make sure that you have all the time you need. I also need the receipt to say that if for any reason you do not return ALL FOUR of the helmets, you will pay me 5 million VN dong (~US$225)."

Each woman's jaw dropped a little and they looked at each other. They probably make 5-7 million VND per month.

I continued, "AND I'll need your government ID numbers on the receipt below your signatures."

Vy smiled. She now knew what I was doing.

The women briefly whispered to each other before announcing that they would not need to take any helmets tonight and that if they did need helmets to test, that they would get them directly from Protec. They then left rather quickly.

John, Vy, and everyone watching (this is VN, so there were a LOT of people eavesdropping) smiled.

The best part of the whole encounter was that EVERYONE who witnessed the interchange was in disbelief that I had said "NO!" to the government and was not in handcuffs and on my way to who knows where. I responded that I never said "no"; I said "yes, and..." If you tell someone, especially the government, "no", they are going to feel the need to fight you. If you tell them, "yes, and..." it puts them off their guard.

If the women really needed helmets for testing, they would give me the requested receipt. Since I had a very strong feeling that they were really there to collect four helmets for themselves, my request for a receipt would never be granted. My "yes" to them had a better result than a "no" would have and it kept me from possibly saying "no" to a legitimate government request.

The title of this blog is "Ali Baba and the four helmets" because in VN, thieves, criminals, and bad people are all referred to as "Ali Baba" with the emphasis on the last syllable of each word: Al-E Ba-BA. I don't think these women were really from the government—no one ever asked for or was offered an ID—they were definitely there to steal four helmets and therefore qualify in everyone's mind as Ali Baba. Numerous people even said so... after the women left.

This encounter led to undercover cops attending the event at school 2—the first topic in my next post. I will also tell you why I have no photos of these two women and why I will no longer have anything to do with Tuyết or the Dalat Red Cross.

08 November 2015

The Motorcycle Brotherhood

An interesting take on those of us who ride...

The Motorcycling Brotherhood

I agree with just about all of it... though here in VN, if you waved at every passing bike, you'd need one of these

Yes, riding here is that bumpy sometimes...

05 November 2015

02 November 2015

Helmets For Children

We're now on Facebook...
Helmets for Children

Please "Like" us and donate if and as much as you can... helmets are about $13 each and we need an order of at least 300 to get the special hi-vis color.

We want every child in Dalat and throughout Vietnam to have a safe motorbike helmet (though for now, we're concentrating on Dalat)...


  • I'm in Dalat. The donate link takes you to PayPal; the site says I'm in Tacoma, Washington, USA because that's where the bank account is.
  • If you are in Vietnam and some other countries, you will not be able to use the donate link. Please go to, click on "Send money to friends or family" and use the email address

Thank you!

30 October 2015

Local hải sản (seafood) restaurant puts others to shame...

Added note, 8 December 2015: Patronize this restaurant at your own peril. Last night, for the second consecutive visit, about 60% of the crab claws were "OLD". By that, I mean that they tasted ammonia-ish and were inedible.

I spit the first one out and started sniffing each before eating it. In the west, they would've gone back after the first one but, remember... I live in Việt Nam—the land of no returns or refunds. The second bad one went on the table. When I hit the third bad claw, I called the owner over and told her via Google Translate:

She shot me about two sentences of something I didn't understand and went back to work, leaving the plate of claws in front of me. I'm pretty sure she told me that she didn't care... or similar. I then put on my jacket and helmet, walked to where she was cooking, showed her a second screen:

paid the 65,000 ($3) I owed (it's Việt Nam!), and left.

She knows I'm a good customer because she greets me every time with a warm smile and "Xin Chao" (Hello) and, while I am getting seated, she brings over the bag of kitten food that I bought (third one) for her two kittens that were previously surviving on scraps, and feeds them. Other customers arrive and she might acknowledge them with a nod.

Yet she does nothing to keep me as a customer... like replace the bad claws with good or, what a concept, replace the whole damn plate!

Patronize her at your own peril.


This little restaurant merits its own post...

When you come to Đà Lạt, you will have many choices of restaurants, some good, some horrendous, and some outstanding. In this way it's like most other places that aren't England.

In previous posts, I wrote about some of my favorites. For most of those listed in TripAdvisor's database, I wrote reviews. Ninety percent of the restaurants that the relatively non-affluent locals frequent are not in TA, and well-behaved foreigners are welcome at all of them—at least that's my experience; less so at some of the even more numerous cafés.

A couple months ago, My (pronounced "me") introduced me (yes, I know) to another place:

  1. In which I'm always the only foreigner
  2. Owned by a friend of hers
A daytime shot so you know what you're looking for at night
Which is this...
And especially this!
We both highly recommend the crab (cua) claws... and the snails (ốc). Especially the cua! It's somehow fresher and more firm than what you get in a similar restaurant in Saigon and HALF the price. The other night we each had a bowl of crab claws (she like them with more spice that I, the guy who used to carry hot sauce everywhere he went, do) and shared a bowl of clams in lemongrass broth, and a few Bò Húc (Red Bull).
At this point, we're already well-into the cua...
The total bill was 200,000 VND (US$9) and we were FULL!

Here's the location on Google maps:

By the time you get to Dalat, you will probably already know about VN's "freeform" street number assignations. It's at the high point on that road and on the right as you come from town... you'll find it.


28 October 2015

Catching up with photos and notes...

It's been a while since my last catch-all post, and I've accumulated a number of photos and experiences that I want to share... non-sequentially...

Some route guidance for approaching Dalat from the south:
You are on QL20. A couple hundred meters after the airport entrance (on your left), you will come to a roundabout with signs showing that the second exit takes you to Dalat—and it does if you are on four wheels. If you take the second exit, a few more hundred meters after the roundabout, on the nicely-paved highway, you will see this sign:

If you are on two wheels, you will then have to turn around, return to the roundabout, and take the second exit—the one I'm going to show you now so you can avoid rounding the roundabout. Follow the map's blue line...

This keeps you on QL20 and you still end up at the bottom of the hill that climbs beautifully into town, just a little later. There is a hard left followed by a right up a ramp (don't go through the underpass) just after the Langfarm/Prenn Waterfall entrance (tour buses abound) that is easy to miss.

No worries if you do miss it, you'll just enter town a bit further east.  If that happens, take a left at the next roundabout (top of the LONG hill)—and you'll see the lake on your right. 
Did you notice how I positioned the camera so the tree branches match the peaks?
Can you guess why the local guides call that "Woman Mountain"? ;-)

The Clueless Abroad came to my attention earlier this month because I started talking with two young travelers who were sitting near me at One More Café in Đà Lạt. Kasia and Manu are traveling a LOT of places (currently in Lao) and seek out whatever interests them. They may've started out clueless (hence the name of their blog), though my guess is that those moments are now fewer and farther between. A few days after meeting and talking at-length, they found me enjoying a bowl of gumbo in Saigon and gifted me with the first of their newly-printed cards.... which, I am ashamed to admit, I misplaced so I am unable to show you a photo of it :(

Check out their blog; I think you'll enjoy their style.

Many readers of this blog come to VN and decide, either before or after they arrive, to buy or rent a motorbike and ride from Saigon to Hanoi or Hanoi to Saigon. If you start in Saigon, one of the shops you will probably visit is run by this guy:

He works out of this office at 19 Do Quang Dau
And this lot across the street

Do NOT buy a motorbike from him!!!
He sells repainted and prettied-up bikes that aren't worth half of what you'll pay and, when the bike breaks down—if you're lucky, while you're still in Saigon; if you're unlucky, after you're out in the boonies—he will refuse to fix it or to refund your money. Remember, this is Vietnam and there are no returns. Once the money changes hands, it's yours.

How do I know this? During my many trips to Saigon, I've talked with well over a dozen young men and women who had just this experience and were looking for a way out. There are usually two options, both at added expense:

  • Buy another bike and forget this one
  • Pay another $100 or more to get it repaired properly
Save yourself the aggravation and buy from a reputable shop. My favorite shop, where I've bought three scooters and a motorcycle in 18 months and they're all still running well (I gave or sold them to friends is how I know) is Flamingo Travel at 30A Do Quang Dau—just down the street.

Ask for Cong (that's him in the blue shirt) and he'll set you up at a fair price. Their prices are a little higher than the other shops; money well-spent if you want a well-prepared bike that'll get you all the way to Hanoi and beyond. The shop phone number is +84 (0) 98 675 1020.

Their HQ is in Hanoi, and the web site is pretty much Hanoi-specific. If you go to or call the Hanoi shop (+84 (0) 4 3926 0938), ask for Hung (the owner) or Chris (a Brit) and you'll get the same top-level treatment. It won't hurt if you tell them I sent you, though it won't help much, either... they treat everyone very well, regardless.

On occasion, I write about the traffic here and, most recently, how it is important to ride like you are invisible. The photo below demonstrates why...

A few months ago I was riding the cruiser along a two-lane road when I saw an inter-city minivan coming toward me. He suddenly veered across the center of the road (lanes are fluid here and any lines, even double white, are simply decoration) and headed directly AT me! I moved as far to the right as was possible, though that was restricted by the badly timed obstacle of people walking along the side of the road exactly where I needed to go... so I hit the brakes as strongly and safely as I could just as the minivan driver's side-view mirror SLAMMED into my left-side mirror! Keep in mind here, that the mirror sits about four inches above my left hand.


There was no other traffic on his side of the road and ABSOLUTELY NO REASON for the minivan driver to swerve toward me. Had I done anything other than what I did, my passenger and I would probably be dead. I finished coming to a stop and immediately started shaking. I'm sure that both my pulse and my blood pressure shot sky-high as my passenger quietly swore in Vietnamese.

I turned to look for the minivan and, as is standard here, it didn't even slow down in search of its next kill.

This experience is one of the reasons that I will do whatever I can to avoid ever riding in one of those things. The big buses might be a little scary, but after many months of daily observation, I'm pretty sure the minivan companies hire only psychopaths as drivers.

If you ride outside the cities in VN, you will soon learn that when the trucks and buses coming the other way want to pass, they will take up most of your lane, leaving you about a foot more than the width of your bike—two feet if they're feeling generous. The minivans give no quarter, and even the locals slow down and move as far to the right as they can; sometimes even off onto the shoulder.

This is a similar minivan—the bike is okay 'cause the minivan's stopped ;-)
We were lucky that day. The mirror was a cheap fix. A number of foreigners I've spoken with before and since ended up with broken bones after failing to get completely off the road for an on-coming minivan.

It's Việt Nam!

Nomadasaurus is a blog written by Lesh and Jazza, and it chronicles their overland backpacking journey from Thailand to South Africa. I never met them and am unsure how I first heard/read about their blog... and I welcome every email telling me there's a new post/adventure. Theirs is a very different journey from mine and I hope you will check it out.

Phở Quỳnh at the corner of Pham Ngu Lao and Do Quang Dau is still my favorite phở restaurant and my first stop every time I go to Saigon... before checking into the hotel.

Check out these adventurers having way too much fun: The Adventurists

Back in July, I wrote about tires and tire pressure. This article on motorcycle tires just came to my attention and I'm sharing it for those who would like a little more information (see the end of the article for tire pressure information).

And finally...

Japanese Rube Goldberg Machine Becomes An Epic Adventure Story

26 October 2015

"Because we don't want the police to stop us"

That is the answer I get EVERY TIME I ask a native Vietnamese, no matter what age, when I ask why he/she wears a motorbike helmet...

"Because we don't want the police to stop us."


"Because the police will make us pay a fine (i.e. 'gift')."

Nothing about safety or protecting their brain case or that it will protect their intelligence.


Which is, in part, why you see many Vietnamese wearing bicycle "helmets";
1) Std. bicycle helmet; 2) Worse really cheap foam cup "helmet"; 3) The average VN helmet
riding with chin straps are either unfastened;

so loose that can be slipped over their chin for easy removal—especially as they fall off the bike;

Or on top of a hat so that it, again, may come off just after the rider does.

I included this photo mainly so you could see the other guy's wheelbarrow
Note the "protective" footwear favored by many

Part of my self-assigned work here is ensuring as many kids as possible have a chance at a future in which they are NOT constantly drooling as their head lolls around uncontrollably. Part of it is helping as many adults as possible understand that the helmets are for their protection and keeping the policeman's hand out of their pocket is a bonus.

One of the reasons there are so many poor quality helmets is that the shops that sell VN government-approved helmets also sell the crap. According to published reports of interviews with shop owners, their defense (remember that there are no personal injury attorneys and few enforced liability laws here) is that:

  1. People want to buy them
  2. It's not my fault if someone wears it in place of an approved helmet
  3. If I don't sell them, other shops will get my profit
That same mentality allows this shop owner in Saigon to use a heavy metal rod to pre-deform the helmet lining so that it fits a customer a little better.
He is also pretty much guaranteeing that the little protection the helmet provided when new is now zero protection—and knows he's doing wrong because he refused to allow me to take a photo of him doing it. I waited 'til he wasn't watching me before snapping the above shot.

There may also be pluggable holes in the helmet laws, though I think it's more likely an enforcement problem—the police don't stop the bicycle/inferior helmet wearers because they figure, "if the rider can't afford a proper helmet, I'm wasting my time looking for a 'gift'."

EVERY ride, whether it's on the 125cc scooter or one of my 400cc motorcycles, I wear a full-face helmet. Yesterday afternoon I carried one of my three as I walked the 100 meters to the shop where I get them (the bikes) washed. After paying the recently increased price of 40,000VND (~US$1.80) for a thorough cleaning, I donned my protection (we're talking HELMETS here ;-) and rode 100 meters home.

Yes, I get looks from the locals. So?

Hell, I've even had a couple pinhead ex-pats ask since I'm in Vietnam, why don't I wear a Vietnamese-style helmet? They always add, "I do." My internal voice quotes friend Mike W, "If you have a $10 brain, wear a $10 helmet" while my external voice says, "Because when I go off the bike at a given speed, it's the same impact on the tarmac whether I'm in VN or America or Australia and (to quote another rider whose name I forget) "I don't want to have to re-learn the alphabet." In taking the conversation further, I get that they think that because the speeds are lower here, a "good" helmet is not needed... proving Mike W's words true.

There's at least one Brit ex-pat here, close to my age, whom I see regularly at my favorite Western-food restaurant. He rides a very powerful bike that, according to everyone who knows him who's brought it up, is WAY over his riding ability. Guess what kind of helmet he wears? Close... he sports a slightly improved, open face version of the standard VN helmet. When he goes off hard onto his head, I just hope he doesn't suffer and that it's a quick death.

My and I rode the 300km to Saigon last week on my cruiser. Before we left, we had a lengthy discussion about why I wanted her to wear a full-face helmet in place of one of the Protec helmets I bought her. I reminded her that the roads are a LOT rougher and the traffic is a LOT scarier between here and Saigon than it is in-town AND that I would ideally like here to wear a full-face helmet all of the time... and which, though I won't tell her this, I know is NOT going to happen.

Since she's never gone off a bike at any appreciable speed, she chooses to not acknowledge what can happen to one's face in an open-face helmet. She's seen the photo of the helmet I was wearing in August when I slid on my chin on the gravel:

I think she also understands that had I been wearing an open-face helmet, my jaw would still be wired shut, and I'd be drinking my nourishment through a straw and scheduling serious reconstructive surgery.

She's heard me say many times that, if she falls off the bike onto her face, she will be "không đẹp" (not pretty) any more... and she still resists strenuously. It finally came down to a compromise: she wore the full-face helmet and got to ride with me to Saigon. We also agreed that any trip to another town/city merits the full-face helmet. It's the best I can do for now, though I'm far from giving up.

While riding on the bike with me, you're my responsibility and I get to decide if your helmet offers an acceptable level of protection. If that's a problem, there are plenty of other transportation options from any Point A to any Point B...