29 May 2015

When Hippies Roamed the Earth

Found this this morning on Daily Kos...

When Hippies Roamed the Earth

After reading it and watching many of the videos, I'm smiling sadly with tears welling up.

Just ordered my second copy of Concert for George.  I hope whomever I lent my first copy to is enjoying it...

27 May 2015

Scratch it...

Since mid-March I've had an itch. Literally. It started in the only area of my body that's never been photographed and after about 10 days was bad enough for me to go to what I was told is "a good Vietnamese hospital"... Hoan Mỹ. It was partially financed by the U.S., which is why it has Mỹ (United States) in the name. Mỹ is approximately pronounced "may-e"...

The hospital caters to well-off Vietnamese and is nice, beautiful, clean, and virtually EMPTY. Fortunately, I was with a native who also speaks very good English and was therefore able to convey my concerns to the intake nurse and to the doctor. He (doctor) looked at the itchy areas and declared that my choice of underwear was the problem. According to him, briefs do not allow for proper ventilation and drying, so I should change to boxers. I tried to explain to him (through my friend/interpreter) that I just spent over two months in Ho Chi Minh where it's a LOT hotter and more humid and where I had no itching issues. I also told him that the itching started about six weeks after I arrived in Đà Lạt. He did not reconsider his diagnosis, prescribed pills and a cream, and sent me on my way. The good news is that the total hospital charges, including the doctor and the prescriptions, were less than US$15.

I changed styles, took the pills, and used the cream while the itch took the opportunity to intensify... and spread.

Since some of you are wondering... there is nothing crawling around and causing the itch. That's the first thing I checked after it started.

As I wrote the first sentence in the previous paragraph, I remembered what is still, 38 years later, my absolute favorite bathroom graffiti... and, of course, a bit of a story. My first job after university was in Louisville (pronounced Louavul), Kentucky, with Westinghouse Electric. Since I knew no one in town, I took a night job as a bartender at an upscale (for Louavul) discotheque called Harlow's—as in Jean. This was 1976, when disco was very "in" and the place was jammin' every night in spite of, and perhaps because of, the bartenders' uniform—a custom-tailored, black, double-knit jumpsuit. There are no surviving photos of me in that jumpsuit (thank the goddess!), though I can assure you it was a chick magnet! Sorry, those stories I'm saving for the book I keep hearing I should write.

Since there are no photos of me in the Harlow's jumpsuit, I thought I'd share this same-era shot that includes my friend since childhood Steve O...

I'm even wearing my FAVORITE t-shirt of the era! It had a drawing of a wrinkled old wizard with the words "Trust Me!" People would look at the shirt, look up at my face, and say, "Uhhhhh... No." =:-0

Oh yeah, graffiti... the men's room at Harlow's featured small chalk boards above the urinals because some men apparently cannot resist a blank canvas and the chalk boards saved the painted walls. Written on one of the chalkboards one night was the aforementioned graffiti:

"Please do not throw toothpicks into the urinals—crabs can pole vault!"

I'll wait...

As the itching spread, I sought the help of another doctor in Đà Lạt. He also told me that it was heat-related and gave me prescriptions for different pills and cream.

Within 10 days, the itch spread to most of the rest of my body and became more uncomfortable than ever.


I was scratching furiously in HCMC a couple weeks ago, so I asked around and found a dermatological hospital that usually only treats Vietnamese people. Since my friends who speak English were all working, I went solo. Somehow, with a bit of help from Google Translate and a lot of charades-like movements, I got through the admissions process. It looked like, and I'm guessing here, I was put to the front of the queue because it was less than 10 minutes before I was sitting in front of a doctor who spoke passable English.

After looking at the spots on my chest

he declared them the results of a food allergy. Finally, a diagnosis that might have legs!

I immediately asked what "we" could do to determine the food to which I am allergic. His response pretty much sums up my impression of medical care in Việt Nam: "You will have to leave Viet Nam to determine that. Westerners' bodies are different that Vietnamese's bodies and we are not equipped to work with them." He then handed me my third set of prescriptions for pills and cream and dismissed me.

WHAT??? An "educated" medical doctor practicing at a dermatological hospital in the largest city in Viet Nam thinks that allergy determination is different for different races? We're the same fcuking species, Doc!!!

Hoping that maybe there was something to the food allergy diagnosis—probably because I thought of it earlier myself—I decided to stop eating the one thing that I did not eat before moving to VN... chicken.
Making phở at home
I figured I'd give it 10 days to work any toxins out of my system and if the itch persisted, I'd cut out something else.

When I mentioned this to a few Vietnamese friends, the response was always the same: yes, I know many people who cannot eat chicken because it makes them itch. Okay...

These are the pills and creams I didn't get to because the next doctor gave me something different...
After a week of no chicken and a total of about 10 weeks of itching, I was scratching myself raw in a couple places. My friend My (pronounced "Me" and no relation to the country) said she knows a good doctor who could possibly help me. "Why didn't you say something 10 weeks ago?" was the question I did not ask. It was Saturday, so the offices of the doctor she knows and three others we rode to were all closed. Another doctor was open, but his receptionist said he doesn't treat Westerners... cause we have different bodies, remember? (She didn't actually say that and as I wrote it, my tongue was planted firmly in-cheek.)

The next (5th) doctor's office we went to was open and apparently he will treat anyone. He smiled when I walked in, spoke passable English, and took the time to look at all of my itchy places, not just the unphotographed ones. He declared the cause of the itch, et cetera, as dermatitis. While giving me six different pills and a cream, he told me not to eat chicken, beef, pork, ocean seafood, or eggs while taking the 10 day's worth of pills. Fortunately, I'm still allowed fruit and there are at least three decent vegetarian restaurants in town.

At this point, the latest meds seem to be working—the itching is less every day and I'm only five days into the meds. FINALLY!

As you may guess, I'm telling this story to give you a feel for what it's like finding good medical practitioners in much of the third world... many more misses than hits. Every ex-pat I've talked to has a similar story and I've said since day one here that if I ever need "serious" medical care, I'm using my Global Rescue policy and heading for Bangkok.

For those still focused on the chicken head, someone else cut up the chicken and tossed it into the pot for the phở broth. I found it while stirring and HAD to take a picture! =:-0

21 May 2015


Over the past almost two years, I thought and said many times that I never again want to own anything more expensive than my motorcycle(s).

This Ted Talk has me at, least for today, thinking otherwise: Magical Houses

I was also motivated to finally look up the meaning of "bespoke"...

19 May 2015

Many thoughts...

My chosen home, Đà Lạt, is in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, about seven hours (300 km) northeast of Ho Chi Minh City and three-plus hours (130 km) from the Pacific coast at Cam Ranh. This is the beginning of VN's rainy season
and it's an interesting experience.

The two places I lived in the 35 years prior to moving to Đà Lạt both had rainy seasons that were quite different regarding the variables of duration and intensity. Fort Lauderdale had mostly brief (< 30 minutes) and intense thunderstorms, while Olympia's rain was almost always light to medium showers that went on for hours. Many people in the U.S. Pacific Northwest say that they get more annual inches of rainfall than in New York, but that it takes longer to fall. I frequently told my training classes that, like the Inuit people who have 20-something words for snow (it's actually over 50), we have 19 words for drizzle. One of the funniest moments by a participant was when one asked me to list them all.

Here in Đà Lạt, and everywhere I've been in VN that has a rainy season, we have the best of both... if you like rain, which I do. We have hours-long driving thunderstorms during which the streets are virtually empty of motorbikes. Those that are out are colorfully decorated with flowing ponchos. Those rain-soaked headlights of red, green, blue, and yellow are normal headlights are actually just covered with a poncho. I'm looking for photos and will post one soon...

As someone who started following politics in the early 70's I'm amazed that I am still shocked at the myriad of ways my government is constantly to screw its citizens while allowing trillions of dollars (that's at least TWELVE zeros to the left of the decimal point, as in > $2,000,000,000,000) in corporate profits to go untaxed. The U.S. Treasury (which gets its funding from our taxes) also pays millions in corporate welfare to corporations who pay no taxes on their huge profits. WTF???

More than once I've said that my number one problem here in Việt Nam is my inability to accept the fact that a well over 90% of Vietnamese males over 16 I've encountered smoke a LOT of cigarettes. Today I read an article that said Vietnamese Smokers Spend $1 Billion per year on Cigarettes. Since there is no way to count only the cigarettes purchased by Vietnamese, these figures actually include the cigarettes purchased by foreigners... so the per-capita numbers are lower, though still alarming.

To me, the biggest issue here is the huge cost in lives and money that Việt Nam is facing 20 or 30 years from now when tens of thousands of these men develop various smoking related cancers. Even if VN had a decent public health system, which it doesn't, is a hidden and looming huge national tragedy.

The good news is that the powers that be might actually do something about it: Vietnam Moves to Ban Smoking at Weddings and Funerals.

Cigarettes are the only product I know of that, if used EXACTLY as directed, are guaranteed to kill the user. Why do we still allow their sale anywhere?

In wandering around the Internet, I found some very interesting Abandoned America panoramic photographs.

I also found a great review of the 2015 model of my Suzuki DR-Z 400S.

A couple weeks ago I wrote of my frustration with how things are going during my first six months or retirement. I am still thinking along those lines and, if I do leave, the moment I decided to go will very possibly be Thursday, 14 May at 5:43 am when VERY LOUD music playing from goddess-knows-where-but-close-outside-my-hotel-window woke me abruptly and unpleasantly. VN is, almost 24/7, a LOUD country and if I am unable to ignore such volume as I sleep, I am doomed.

This brings me to one of the things about Vietnamese culture that is completely baffling to me... the apparent lack of concern for how one's actions affect others. Who the hell plays LOUD music with the windows and doors open in a crowded urban setting at 5:43 a.m.???

In my nine total months here, I have witnessed countless examples and over the last week I photographed a few of them:

The standing woman thinks it is perfectly acceptable to walk up, lean in, and start talking because 'It does not matter that the bank employee is already helping someone else or that there are two people in queue. What matters is that I want/need help NOW.' I see this in banks, stores, and train stations. The only place that a queue seems to hold is at airport security and immigration.

'I can park my motorbike wherever I want—even if it completely blocks the sidewalk.

'Even if there is plenty of space within a few feet where I could park and not impede anyone.'
In most cases, sidewalk-blocking parking forces pedestrians to walk in traffic—an especially dangerous thing to do because, especially in the cities, many motorbikes travel the wrong way down the street along the curb.

These are things that, like the omnipresent smoking, will most likely never change. If I am to continue living in this beautiful country, I must change how I process and react to them. It's that simple... and that difficult.

To that end, I am now thinking about places I want to go and things I want to do prior to leaving Asia for the final time... in case it comes to that.

Ride Thailand's Golden Triangle; tour Myanmar; ride Northern Việt Nam north of Hà Nội; and visit Son Doong cave.

If you're interested in reading and seeing more about beautiful Đà Lạt, here are a few recent articles:

From French villas to slums, Đà Lạt's lost charm

24 Aerial Photos Of Old Đà Lạt

The Sad Story of Đà Lạt’s Disappearing Pine Trees

18 May 2015

Redemption! Of sorts...

Stopped by the repair shop last week to see how he is doing with my DR-Z. Friend and long-time ex-pat Bjorn tells me that the repair is one that probably wouldn't even be attempted in the west. Though, as I've written many times before, it's Việt Nam!

An had the engine back together and was testing is as I arrived on the moto taxi, so I took a couple videos.

The rapid "thack-thack-thack-thack-thanck-thack-thack-thack" of the lifters is gone, though An thinks the oil pressure needs a bit of a boost.

This post is called "Redemption! Of sorts..." because, as it turns out, I did not run the oil level down to almost nothing—the oil pump failed.

An discovered this after he got the engine put back together and the full load of oil wasn't flowing... so he repaired the oil pump.

Total cost, 3.5 million VND (US$165); probably 1/3 to 1/4 of the cost of repairs in the west.

I was getting ready to head to Ho Chi Minh City for a few days, so An asked to keep the bike until my return so that he could make sure everything is good. No problem!

While in HCMC, I stopped in to see Hau, the guy from whom I bought the DR-Z. I called him when I first dropped the bike off with An, so he was familiar with the initial issue. As soon as I told him about the oil pump failure, he expressed concern that someone whose business is 99.9% smaller (≤175cc) motorbikes tends to believe that fixing a larger (400cc) motorcycle is the same, just on a larger scale... and it's not. I called An and he and Hau discussed what An has done and is doing, showing respect for the age difference and An's many years of experience.

The first sign of respect was when, before I called, Hau asked me An's age. Because An is older, Hau addressed him as "Anh" and referred to himself as "Em" in the same way that An refers to me as "Anh" and himself as "Em" because I am three years older. Hau also asked what An did and refrained from judging his work—even when An said he'd enlarged the opening through which the oil flowed into the engine to increase the oil volume. YIKES!

This would work if the engine were not a closed system. The larger opening will actually decrease the oil pressure. This is a BAD thing! Manufacturers design engines to perform to exact specifications. Screwing with the design should be left to the engineers and most mechanics are NOT engineers. Shit!

As soon as he finished speaking with An, Hau told me that he wants to look the DR-Z over before I ride it any appreciable distance. Today I will pick up the bike and immediately take it to the inter-city bus company who will ship it to Hau in Sài Gòn in a truck. When he gives it his approval, I will either have it shipped back to Đà Lạt or fly down and ride it back... depending on my mood at the time ;-)

Hau's findings will also determine whether or not I use An for major repairs again, though I am already leaning away from that. Had I known about the ease of shipping the bike to Sài Gòn before this happened, Hau would've had it initially. Whatever the outcome, I do thank An and his experience for hearing the thack-thack-thack-thack-thanck-thack-thack-thack in the first place. Had he not, the engine would probably be totally fried by the time I noticed it.

"It's always something..."—Rosanne Rosanadana

10 May 2015

Treading water

I feel like I’m stuck in a rut... on hold... treading water...

This past Saturday I made reservations to fly back to the Pacific Northwest for a couple weeks in August. The primary focus will be a four-day off-road motorcycle course. I may also take an advanced street skills class, where I’m pretty sure drifting is off the table. There is also an extended tour/course I’m looking at, though it might be a bit over my head… plus I sold all my camping gear in The Great Divesting. Since bike rental for the four-day will come in just under $500 and another $150+ for the street class, I’ll buy a KLR650
as soon as I can after I hit town. The one pictured was my first motorcycle and I’ve long wished I’d kept it. I’ll use it for the class(es) and then I’ll keep it in my friend Liz’s warehouse until my next adventure—or the one after that.

It’s nice here in Việt Nam, and I’m taking, on-average, two road trips each month to Saigon or Mui Ne or Nha Trang or Cam Ranh (all three desert-like yet on the ocean and none is worth a re-visit). Since I’ve already seen most of the country from the seat of a motorcycle, I’m less than excited about retracing my routes; plus it’s hot-as-fcuk in Saigon and all up the coast from April through November and just HOT December through March. Đà Lạt is an oasis, but it’s also hard to find a lot of things. Like good chocolate... or quality engine oil...

The first thing I did when I got home after leaving the Suzuki at the shop was check the oil on the cruiser… it barely registered on the dipstick. There IS an oil light and it is NOT on. Assuming the bulb is good (I checked and it is), I should be able to ride the bike, right?

NOT chancing it!

I went on-line and found that SH oil is recommended for the cruiser, so I headed out to look for SH oil. I walked to a LOT of moto repair shops within 2 km (‘cause both bikes are out of commission and I can use the exercise) and tried to buy SH oil. "No have." Most of them and the Suzuki shop (5 km) have SG, but that’s NOT SH and I am NOT chancing it, even if it means walking or taking taxis for another couple days until the Suzuki is fixed. The Suzuki shop found some SJ oil for me, though I had yet to take the time to learn what the difference is between the SG, SH, and SJ.

Thursday I called Hau at Hein Motors in Saigon, the shop where I bought the bike. He has what he says is V-Twin-specific oil, so I asked him to send me a case via bus (shipping something under 32 kilos from Saigon to Dà Lạt costs US$5). Hau promised I’d have it Friday. On Saturday I called him again and he said, “100%, you will have it tomorrow!” Sunday morning he called to tell me that none of the bus or transport companies will take the oil because "it’s flammable like gasoline." Really??? Shit! Who told you that? Fortunately, a friend and neighbor is in Saigon seeing new friends and he’s agreed to bring the oil back with him Monday night.

As I am writing this I got a message from a friend in Mui Ne. He told me that last week he received two liters of oil that Hau shipped to him. WTF??? I'll see Hau later this week and find out WTF...

A professional driver (race cars) I used to know told me many times, “Slow is fast…” Today I finally slowed down enough to look into the difference in the S_ classifications. SHIT! The SJ would’ve been fine.

The good stuff is very expensive here—US$10-20 per liter is the price marked on the bottle before they see my white face. The SJ cost $18 per liter, so I'm thinking there must be liquid gold in there!!! The huge majority of the market is for motorbikes 100-125cc and I doubt many people know or care what crap they put in as long as the bike runs. In fact, I doubt many people change the oil until the light goes on and even the “good” shops will only change the filter when you tell them to. I had a few K&N filters for each bike in the boxes received last month, and the guy who’s doing the work here was impressed when I dropped one off. He’d heard of K&N, but never seen one before.

Back to my thoughts of moving on... As I said before, although I like it here, I feel like I’m stagnant, like I'm treading water. There are a lot of subtleties to the culture that I am just learning and with which I am uncomfortable. Let's call them 'my interpretations of the culture based on my experiences.’

The biggest and most significant example to me is the language. In the 24 other countries I’ve visited since the mid-1980's, the languages range from at least four flavors of English to numerous varieties of Spanish to Tagalog to French to Dutch to Japanese to Khmer to Korean to Laotian to… In EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY, and almost every instance of communicating with someone who did not speak any English, the people I encountered were flattered, and/or impressed, and sometimes even amused when I tried to communicate with them in their native tongue. Most would do everything they could to understand and communicate back to you. In Việt Nam, not so much.

Hold both hands up at about ear-level, palms facing out, with your upper arms at about 45 degrees to your body and your forearms vertical. Go ahead, no one's watching... Now rotate your wrists rapidly back-and-forth for about one second… one-thousand-one. You just gave the Vietnamese signal for, “I have no fcuking idea what you are saying” or "No way!" The same wrist rotations with forearms parallel to the ground means “We don’t have what you’re asking for" or an emphatic “No” in virtually any situation.

When I attempt to communicate in Vietnamese with a native speaker not previously known to me, 95+% of the native speakers will give me the first gesture, which I have taken to calling the “WTF”. The other ~5% will correct my pronunciation and, most likely, smile at my attempt. All of them give me a pitiful look as if I am a simple-minded dolt. After five months of experiencing this EVERY DAY, I am honestly tired of it. I find myself spending more and more time at home and when I am out, engaging less and less with the locals. If that continues, I will not stay... and I have no idea how to change it other than just stop trying and that's not my style.

You can put your arms back where they were now. Sorry.

When I attempt to communicate in Vietnamese with someone I've known for a while, he or she will make an effort to understand or at least say, "Khong hieu (I don't understand)" and one or both of us will pull out a smartphone and head for Google Translate. The look still creeps in occasionally while they try to figure out what I am saying.

Think about the last time someone whose ability to speak American or Canadian (according to the Brits I know, those who lives across a body of water don’t speak English) bordered on non-existent. Did you try to understand what they were trying to say or did you make a face and refuse to communicate? Chances are you tried to understand. Yes, there are those who will tell him/her to “learn to speak ‘Merican ‘cause this is ‘Merica!” because they didn’t understand (or maybe didn't care) that that’s what the person was trying to do... but few of them will read this far because there are no pretty pictures.

Vietnamese is a tonal language, so changing pronunciation changes meaning. If you say “Ba” with a downward inflection, it means grandmother or older person; if you say it with an even inflection, it means 3. “Tam” with an upward inflection (as we English-speakers would use when asking a question) means shower as in taking one; with an even inflection it means toothpick. If you are in a restaurant and ask for a shower, you might get a toothpick. Your chances increase if you make a gesture like you are picking your teeth. As a side note, public picking of both teeth and nose are socially acceptable here, though I have yet to adopt the latter.

In any of the flavors of English, mispronouncing a word rarely changes the meaning and has fewer consequences than in Vietnamese. A native-speaker who tries can usually discern the intended meaning. For example, “He read the book” could be spoken with ‘read’ pronounced as either ‘red’ or ‘reed’. Say it out loud both ways and you’ll see (hear) that the meaning does not change greatly. Another example is the word “close”… you can close the door or have a close call. If you switch them, the sentence is still one most every native-speaker can easily figure out.

In English, if a sentence ends in an upward inflection, it’s generally thought to be a question. In Vietnamese, a yes-no question begins with “yes” and ends with “no”; for example, “You, yes, are hungry, no.” Many times the “yes” is omitted, though. Other questions are discerned, I’m pretty sure, by context. If you end a question in Vietnamese with an upward inflection instead of adding “no” at the end, you’ve changed the meaning of the last word and made a statement that may be senseless and is almost definitely different than intended.

I think I know the reason for the disconnect here. What I do not know is how to fix it. The following is only my theory, though a number of native-speakers who are fluent in English told me it has merit: In my experience, the Vietnamese people (there's painting with a BROAD brush) are seemingly unable to take a spoken sentence word by word and figure out what the intended meaning is. That might be because the pronunciations sound like complete gibberish ("Telephone couch is eggplant right beef") and it might be how their neurons are connected. It doesn’t really matter, the result is the same. I’m sure that part of the challenge is, as I wrote almost a year ago, when they see a Westerner, they expect English or German or French or anything EXCEPT Vietnamese to come out of the cake hole. Then, when they hear the sounds, they try to figure out what those sounds mean in English—and of course, it’s NOT ENGLISH so I'm toast. Or, in the case of my previous example, sweet tea.

When writing the Vietnamese language, there are marks put over and/or under some of the letters. The marks tell the pronunciation and therefore, the meaning of the word. For example, according to Google Translate, “What do you want to eat?” is written “Bạn muốn ăn gì” If you write “Ban muon an gi” without the marks, it translates to “What do you want to hide?”. “How are you today?” is “Hôm nay bạn thế nào.” Take away the marks and “Hom nay ban the nao” translates to “Today you the nao.” Native speakers can apparently figure out the meaning without the marks because most I know do not use them when writing a text message. Google translate cannot. It took me over a month to convince a friend who speaks minimal English that without the marks the messages were translating into gibberish. Her messages now have the marks on the letters and are usually translatable.

As I said up top, it may be time for and I'm preparing for a change of venue, scenery, and language. A few of the long-term (9+ years here) ex-pats with whom I’ve discussed this say that I should give it a year before throwing in the towel (younger readers, think “tap out”). Each of them says he tried to learn the language enough to communicate in daily encounters and gave up within a year. Each is also married to a Vietnamese who is relatively fluent in English—relatively difficult to find in Dà Lạt—and who makes it much easier to function in day-to-day life. I will need a serious chill pill to last another seven months here; do they still make Quaaludes?

The previous paragraph should NOT be interpreted to mean that I am seriously or even casually looking for a wife… though I may be interested in quality pharmaceuticals.

During or soon after my trip back to ‘Merica, I hope to find clarity. Right now, I’m leaning strongly toward an extended adventure from Seattle down Hwys 101 & 1 to San Diego and then through Mexico, Central America, and western South America. No timetable, just go. It might take six months and it might take a few years. I’ve read a LOT about retiring in Central and South America and the only planned stops would be in the places that look like they have potential for my next extended stay. Another option might be to join my Canadian friend who lives in Mui Ne (same guy mentioned above) and is an experienced motorcyclist and off-road rider. He is talking about an extended trip to Spain this fall/winter and asked me to think about joining him. It's on the table—at least my Español is understood most of the time.

At this point, I’m thinking my next move is to stay on the road most of the time, traveling by motorcycle until I am unable to continue. By then, I might have a place to land. If not, I'll keep traveling. I don’t think anyone would pick up a grizzled old hitchhiker, though most places have buses.

If you have an idea or any thoughts on any of the above, I'd love to hear them.

07 May 2015

Idiot... lights

"Idiot lights" are those little warning lights on your dashboard that tell you when something is either about to go bad (most of them) or has already gone bad (e.g. the "Engine" light in most cars; not the "Check Engine" light). The lights are there mostly for idiots people who forget to check things that can fcuk up a vehicle... like the light that looks like an oil can and tells you when you're engine oil is too low to offer the protection for which it is designed.
I'm having so much fun riding my idiot light-less DR-Z that I DID NOT CHECK THE OIL LEVEL.


Fortunately, almost immediately after moving here, I found wonderful Suzuki repair shop!
Son Tin and Father An—Smart Mechanics
I've been meaning to write about owner An and his wonderful staff—I finally am.

An's shop is at 2/4 Nguyễn Văn Cừ in Đà Lạt. Look for the blue awning across and a couple doors down from the bridge...

I would be LOST without him.

An first worked on motorbikes at 13 and stopped going to school soon after. Today, at 58, he is a true wizard with a wrench. Now is when those of you who noticed that my Honda Steed is in the photo with Tin and An are wondering why it's in a Suzuki repair shop... it's there because An and I hit it off immediately. When I had a problem with the Steed's throttle cables I asked An where I could take it that it would be fixed properly and he said, "Ở đây (Here)!" and he fixed it right with the right parts!!!

Soon after that, when I told him I'd tell everyone who reads my blog to come here for motorcycle repair work, he told me that he only works on Suzukis—he'll work on my non-Suzuki bikes because we're friends. Thank you, An!

If you own a two-wheeled Suzuki and are anywhere near Đà Lạt, stop in and say hello to An; 2/4 Nguyễn Văn Cừ.

The other thing I love about An is that, unlike most Vietnamese wrench-turners I've met who will only work on scooters and bikes 150cc or smaller, he welcomes real motorcycles. Thank you, Universe!

Back to the new Village Idiot...

As a spoiled American (redundant, I know), I have always had cars and motorcycles with idiot lights—including one that, when the oil level is low, a light goes on. Only my Honda Steed has such a light. I was so caught up in living life with few responsibilities that I neglected one that I still have... checking the flipping oil level every 500 km or so on both motorcycles. Now my DR-Z and I will pay for that neglect.

Fortunately, I took my DR-Z yesterday because it sometimes stalled on cold-starting. As they ran the engine a few times, An and his son noticed the faint and always ominous clicking sound. They drained the oil and when  the volume was a LOT less than it should've been, they called me and asked me to come straight back in. Upon my return, they showed me the pitifully small volume in the catch basin and asked why I didn't check the oil.

Ummmmmmmmmm... because I'm an idiot?

They replaced the drain plug, re-filled the tank, and started it up again. Even I could hear the clicking this time. I also heard them again asking me, "Why didn't you check the oil level?"

Because I'm an idiot!

They told me they'd take the engine apart, assess the damage, and let me know...

Today I stopped by and got to see what an insufficient volume of oil does to a 400cc single cylinder engine, and it's NOT pretty!

Here is what the bottom of the camshaft cradle should (and, fortunately, what one of two still does) look like:

Here is what the bottom of the damaged one looks like:
Here is the top:
Keep in mind that these are very hard metal, not flimsy plastic. It takes a LOT to mess them up like this... and only a small amount of oil to prevent it.


Now I get to wait. An already checked, and there is not a single replacement part available in all of Việt Nam. Getting a replacement means waiting weeks for one from either Japan or the U.S., so An is working on rebuilding the damaged one. If anyone can do it, I think he can.

Either way, the bike is down for at least 7-10 days and it's going to cost. If there's any good news out of this, it's that it'll cost a LOT less here than if I'd pulled the same stunt in the U.S.—and I will from here on out check the oil level every other time I fill up with gas.

Yes, I've already checked the oil in the Steed... and it was a bit low so I'm headed out later today to buy some oil. From now on, I will always have a liter or two stashed away.

04 May 2015

Customer Service

As many of you know, I spent most of my career working with companies to improve their sales, client retention, product knowledge, and customer satisfaction. Throughout both my personal and professional life I was always on the lookout for outstanding examples of customer service, both positive and negative. I want to share with you one of the BEST examples of customer service I've ever experienced.

I ride one of my two motorcycles locally at least six days out of seven. I always wear a DOT helmet, an armored jacket, and motorcycle gloves, even for a short ride to town and back. My gloves of choice for 95% of my seat time are my Olympia 750 Ventor gloves. They are comfortable, well-ventilated, and offer some protection should I go down.

The fact that they share a name with my favorite place to live in the U.S. is a coincidence.

A couple weeks ago I noticed that the inside fabric on the palm of the right glove is wearing though.

Since it takes a while to receive packages here, I decided to order another pair while I was thinking about it. Having them prior to needing them would also allow me to alternate wearing the old pair and the new pair, probably extending the life of both by allowing them to have time to dry out and rest every other day.

The Olympia web site offers a varied selection of gloves and after weighing the pros and cons of a few, I decided to switch to the 715 Extreme Gel gloves due to their increased levels of protection and comfort.

They arrived in about 10 days and I put them on immediately.

Ut-oh... they're TOO TIGHT and the seams rub my fingertips, especially the right index finger.

Since they are the same size (XL) and same manufacturer, I was surprised at the difference in fit. I double-checked the size chart on the Olympia site to make sure I'd read it right before ordering and I had. I'm an XL.

After a couple days of trying to wear them for 30 minutes or so, I gave up and wrote to Customer Service:

"I just received the XL Olympia 715 Extreme Gel Gloves I ordered on your order number 2172.

"Unfortunately, they are too small—even though your sizing chart says I should wear an XL and the XL Olympia 750 Ventor gloves I’ve had for two years fit 'like a glove'. The seams of the new gloves rub the ends of my fingers and are very uncomfortable.

"I live in Đà Lạt, Việt Nam and paid $10 for shipping. Now I have to pay $20 to ship them back (Vietnam Post really sticks it to us) to get credit or have you ship me a pair of the 750 Ventor gloves.

"In my world, these gloves are too small to be called XL and I should not have to pay for return shipping or shipping on a pair that is true-to-size.

"I look forward to your reply,


The next day I received their reply:

"We are sorry that you had the problem with the #715- Extreme Gel. We usually ask our customers to return the gloves and then we would exchange/credit them but we will make an exception in this case because you are out of the country and you would be paying for almost the same amount for the gloves just in shipping charges, I am going to send to you today at no charge the #750-Ventor- X-Large as you have requested.

"With the 715’s maybe you can wear them a little each day because they should stretch or maybe you can give them to a friend. Since you will not be returning them it’s hard to say if they were defective or the sizing was made incorrectly.

"The tracking number for your new package is XXX.

"Once again we are sorry for this inconvenience.

"Thank you,

"Mary Vasta
Customer Service"


Thank you Mary Vasta and Olympia Gloves!

I loved my Olympia gloves before this. Now I love the company, too! While revisiting their site to create the links here, I noticed that they also have a blog with interesting and informative information about riding and, of course, gloves.

If you ride, check them out before you buy your next pair of gloves. Any company who treats customers like this deserves a LOT more.

02 May 2015

If you're only reading the email updates...

I just realized that if you are subscribed to the email updates and only reading them, you're missing out on the videos.

There are two videos in yesterday's post that are worth going to the web site to watch and one from a previous post.

If, in a future email notification, you see a blank space, click on the blue title at the top and it will take you to the web site blog where you can watch the video.

I'll work on how the videos might make it into the email notifications.

01 May 2015

You asked for photos...

First, I'd like to correct something that I wrote very early-on during my trip from HCMC to Hà Nội in December 2013. At some point, I'll go back and find and correct the original post, though for now, this will have to suffice.

I remember writing that I planned my travel days so that I would be in a larger town or even a city because the smaller towns and villages don't have hotels.

Technically correct and WRONG!!!

There are many sleeping establishments that are not called "hotel" (khách sạn, pronounced heck-sa). Instead, they are Nhà Nghỉ or, as they are known here, love hotels.

Google Translate gives the translation as "hostel", though the literal translation is "his house". This interesting article tells of a more basic side. You could, and I did, ride right past hundreds of them without seeing the rare sign that also says, "Hotel" and never have a clue. If you're planning a road trip in Việt Nam, I can assure you that since reading the article I've stayed in a few of them and all were as clean as a comparably-priced khách sạn. My trip would've been a bit more relaxed had I known of them then.

Thanks to Neil Robinson for recommending my blog and for his compliments. Neil is a Brit I met during one of my trips to HCMC. He's done and written about a couple tours of VN, most recently an interesting adventure north of Hà Nội. Check out his blog, Nambusters, especially his Useful Links page. If you're still reading me, Neil, my apologies for my tardiness in passing your writings on...

As I typed that last bit, I briefly reverted to my eighth grade typing teacher's admonition to put two spaces after a period (and a colon) before I remembered what fellow writer Dan R. told me a year or so ago—in the age of computers only one space is given after either a period or a colon. I mention this for you fellow old farts because a couple weeks ago I read an article that quoted a Gen-X (or maybe Gen-Y, who can keep them straight?) HR person as saying that any application received with two spaces after was immediately rejected as submitted by "an old person" who learned to type on a typewriter and was, therefore, someone in whom they would not be interested. So... if you're using two, you can stop now.

As reported earlier, I've been to a few Vietnamese birthday parties... in mid-April I was invited to my first Vietnamese wedding! No, not MY first wedding... that's still in the "Never Happen" column. I mean the first VN wedding to which I was invited as a friend of a guest. I was, again, the only Westerner and the guy with whom everyone wants to shake hands and/or have a beer. I doubt they believed "I'd love to have a beer, but I'm on prescription drugs (true) and the alcohol kills the little guys (also true)" or whatever my friend really told them, but they didn't push too hard, so it was okay.

The entire event is at what we would call "the reception hall"; there is a beautiful female professional MC; light show; rear-screen projection presentation; choreographed dancers; a professional band; and a karaoke DJ for the amateur entertainers, a.k.a. the wedding guests.

Yes, she's holding one of the table centerpieces...

A good number of photos run through my iPhone (my real camera is among the things I left in the U.S. in care of good friend Liz until I'm sure this is my new forever home) and most of them just sit there or on my laptop.

For those readers who ask for more photos, here are a few that've been gathering dust on my hard drive...

From last December:
A crane? What's that and why would we want one?

There are many other examples of how the Vietnamese people make due with what they have to get the job done:

The food delivery scooter is obvious; can you find all three elevated workers and their supporters?

The photo immediately above is the air filter from my cruiser. During one of my visits to the mechanic I no longer use, he determined that the factory air filter was dirty. Without saying anything to me he ripped out the paper filter and put in a thin piece of open-cell foam that didn't even cover the entire opening. WTF??? By the time I realized what he was doing, it was too late. Fortunately, on my next trip to HCMC, friend/mechanic Cong at Flamingo Travel Motorbike Vietnam Tours was able to procure a factory replacement.

The shop that did the highway bars, rear seat back, luggage rack, headlight, and handlebars on my cruiser also does some amazing from-scratch metal work. If you can describe it or show him a photo or drawing, he and his people will build it.

I want this bike when it's finished!
During one of my visits, the owner was doing some preliminary work on custom metal saddle bags for a big Kawasaki. I arrived after he started the left side, so the last couple shots are of the beginning of the right side. He cut out and then hammered a flat piece into a beautiful curve that fit quite nicely and most of what he did was by feel and sight.

It reminded me of watching the Memphis Mission Of Mercy surgeons cut and re-work a cancerous lip into a normal lip:

The doctors said that without this surgery (the lip was only part of the procedure), he would be dead in three to six months. When we returned to the village 18 months later for another visit, the patient came back to thank the doctors who saved his life. I didn't recognize him as the same man...
Although the result was obviously less dramatic, I wish I could've stuck around to see the finished saddlebags.

Click HERE for some very cool 360º panoramas of Ho Chi Minh City. It might be more interesting to me because I am familiar with many of the areas, though they're beautiful art in their own right.

A couple months ago I went to an "Arts & Crafts Festival" in HCMC's District 2. The festival was too small to call miniscule, though it was worth the ride to see the area in which it was held. They had some interesting shipping containers that'd been turned into workspaces...

During my 10-day trip to Lao a few months ago (I'm already renewing my visa again), I didn't have any photos, so I didn't tell you about the BIG rocks I would occasionally encounter on the road 30-50 cm from the edge—right where people are driving, or in my case, riding. Is someone just making sure we're paying attention?
Photo Illustration
It took me a while to figure out what they were, and since my return, I've noticed a few similar rocks growing out of the road surface here... all about the same distance from the edge... so I thought I'd share my discovery with you. When a truck breaks down, there is often no place to pull off the road—so they leave it in the road. In the driving lane. On an incline you want to ensure that the truck will stay where it collapsed, so you get a big-ass rock to put behind the tire.

No problem. Then, when your truck is running again, you drive away... and the big-ass rock is left to crawl back off the road on its own. Apparently, they move very, very slowly.

Almost as slowly as I write new posts...