28 October 2018

So You Want to Come to Vietnam and Ride a Motorbike? Part 2 — Reality

If you haven't read Part 1, it's here.

From yesterday's news:

"Road crashes are a leading cause of deaths in Vietnam, killing almost one person every hour. More than 9,000 traffic accidents occurred in the first half of this year, killing nearly 4,100 people and injuring over 7,000, according to the National Traffic Safety Committee."

Click here: Fatal mishaps prompt Vietnamese province to curb traffic violations by foreigners


They're not all foreigners, of course. The great majority are locals. Do you want to take the chance you're one?

Did you notice that the locals are often more interested in gawking and taking photos than helping?

If you don't have a motorcycle license and a bit of experience, DO NOT ride a motorcycle in Vietnam.


Full stop.

Yes, riding through the country on two wheels is, by far, the BEST way to see Vietnam. It is probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so do it right.

If you want to ride a motorbike here,

1) Take a motorcycle safety class and get your license.
2) Buy a motorcycle and get at least a couple thousand road miles under your belt.
3) Take an off-road riding class.
4) Ride Forest Service roads and a few dirt trails. Get comfortable with your rear wheel sliding out.
5) Bring your helmet, armored jacket, and sturdy ankle-protecting boots, and come ride Vietnam.

Stay safe.

Part 3 is here.

Part 4 is here.
Part 5 is here.
Part 6 is here.

25 October 2018

The Ease of Switching to Medicare — Part 2

If you've not yet read "Part 1", it's here...

Uh, yeah. It wasn't over...

This morning, 8 hours after I posted Part 1, I went to to sign up for an on-line account. They won't let me.

They say they can't match the information I gave them. That's probably because they require a five-digit zip code and mine is six, FFS! Yes, I tried using only the first five—no joy. I also tried 00000 because when I called Medicare to get help, they said they don't have a zip code for me, though they do have the rest of my address.

That didn't work, either.

Now I'm on hold waiting to talk with someone at Social Security. Five minutes after they told me the wait would be "one hour and a half" on hold, the computer said, "We regret you've waited so long..." LMAO

Thinking about the fact that Social Security writes "over 50 million" benefit checks every month to retirees, severely disabled, and others, I'm wondering how many people die each day while waiting on hold to talk with them.

For those who survive, how much productivity is lost while untold hundreds wait 90 minutes to talk to someone who may not even be able to help them? In previous calls, I've been asked if I want someone to call me back when it's my turn. That would allow me to do a bit more sandblasting or pack for my upcoming trip or take a shower. No such courtesy this time.

29 minutes down, 61 to go... give-or-take.


After 1 hour, 31 minutes, 16 seconds, my call was FINALLY picked up. And the person on the other end of the line COULDN'T FUCKING HEAR ME EVEN THOUGH I WAS YELLING after the third time she said she couldn't hear me. The computer at the beginning could hear me just fine, so WTF? It was probably due to my call being via Skype; unfortunately the best way I've found to call outside of Vietnam.

The pain and frustration of this was apparently insufficient, because I called back immediately, jumped through all of the pre-qualifying hoops, and was told my "estimated wait time is 35 minutes." Could be worse, right?

So... the agent could hear me this time and added my proper postal code. The number they were using was the "Consular Code" 962 that identifies me as closest to the Consulate in Saigon. As if that's going to help Vietnam Post find me!

In 24-48 hours, the MyMedicare site should have the changed data and let me register.

Now the bad news... until I turn 66, Social Security claws back $1 for every $2 I make over $17,040 in addition to SSI AND I still get to pay taxes on both the SSI and other incomes. What a crock of shit! How do they expect people to "live" just on SSI? Thank you Congress, you privileged assholes who have no fucking clue what it's like to survive in the real world. Example: The wife of soon to be ex-Senator Ted Cruz (Vampire—Texas) works for Goldman-Sachs (the firm that's directly responsible for EVERY economic crash for over 100 years) and pulls down about $500,000 per annum PLUS bonuses. Ted, the most hated-by-his-peers man in Congress, makes $174,000. She recently complained that at over $700,000 a year they can't afford to buy a second home anytime soon. Boo-fucking-hoo.

What's that say for those of us who make less than $35,000 a year? Note that Vampire Ted and his wife only pay FICA on about 17% of their income, while the rest of us pay it on 100% of our income. They're also at the forefront of the attempts by the Radical Right to either get rid of or privatize Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

QUIT CALLING THESE PROGRAMS "entitlements"! I paid into them for over 45 years and it'll be at least 6 years before I get back the money I lent the government. They are INSURANCE programs. Either learn how insurance works or STFU.

Even living in Vietnam, without SSI checks every month, I'd be hurtin' for certain.

Oh, yeah. I'm also paying for Medicare every month, just like everyone else who is covered.

24 October 2018

The "Ease" of Switching to Medicare

That it's a government-run program under the regime of the Perpetually Lying/ Ignorant/Nationalist/Fake Self-made Billionaire/Hate-Monger/Racist/Misogynist/ Xenophobe/Fake Christian/Born-between-third-base-and-home-plate-and-thinks-he-hit-a-homer President Bone Spurs, should have warned me it was going to be a cluster-fuck... and I guess in some ways it did.

Since my birthday is in November and this is the year I complete my 65th lap around the sun, I theoretically get to partake in Medicare starting 01 November. Like a good German, I called Medicare three months prior to sign up. They told me that since I am already collecting the money I paid over 45 years of working back from Social Security that I would be automatically enrolled in Medicare. They also told me that they would send my Medicare card—necessary to show all providers if you want coverage—months before that 01 November beginning date and that it would be sent to me here at my home in Vietnam, since that's the address Social Security has for me.

They lied.

Go figure...

I am going to the US next week for a couple weeks of facilitation the first two weeks of November. As soon as I knew about the work, I called and made a few doctors' appointments. Since I'm unsure how much I'll have to pay out-of-pocket under Medicare, I did what I could to schedule everything for the week of 29 October. As of now, there is only one scheduled after my Medicare benefits kick in, though that may change.

I called Medicare last week to ask why I'd not yet received my card. Their computers were down, so the woman who answered my call told me to call back.

I just got off the phone with Medicare. They told me:

1) My card has NOT YET BEEN MAILED (so much for "months before").
2) They can NOT give me my Medicare number over the phone.
3) I need my Medicare number to get a provider to talk with or look at me.
4) They can only mail a card to the address (Vietnam) Social Security has for me.
5) If I go to the Social Security office after I arrive in the US, they can probably give me a letter verifying my Medicare coverage.

    a) On a good day, a visit to the Olympia Social Security office will burn only 3 hours.
    b) They can PROBABLY give me the letter, so I might waste 3 hours for nothing.


I took a chance and called Social Security with the hope that MAYBE someone there could give me my Medicare number over the phone.

*The phones open for business at 7 a.m. in each time zone.
*I called FROM VIETNAM at 6:50 a.m PST, hoping they wouldn't put me in the Pacific Time Zone.
*They did.
*I called back at 7:02 a.m. PST and was told that all agents are busy and if I give them a call-back number, I don't have to wait on hold.
*I gave them my US number and was told I'd get a call back in ONE HOUR AND 15 MINUTES!!!
*Only 2 minutes after the phone lines open and they're already backed up 38x that long??? How does that happen?

My penultimate question to the Medicare person was... "Why did they not yet send my Medicare card?"

The answer was that they have to mail out new cards to EVERYONE because they are no longer using Social Security numbers as Medicare numbers.

My last question was, "Why didn't they put new Medicare customers at the front of the queue because we don't have an old card to use?"

The answer was, "I don't know."

I'm thinking no one who's still there under Der Fuehrer is bright enough to figure out a way to do that.

Or maybe they saw my Twitter account?

11 October 2018

So You Want to Come to Vietnam and Ride a Motorbike? Part 1 — The Basics

I just read about a kid (I'm guessing early- to mid-20's from the "before" photo) who had a bad motorbike accident here in Vietnam and his family's trying to raise money on a crowdfunding site to pay for his medical bills.

I'm sorry he had a bad accident, BUT NOT enough to reward his irresponsible stupidity. Anyone who rides a motorbike in Vietnam without proper licensing AND insurance is just asking for trouble.

Anyone who rides a motorbike anywhere outside his/her own country without emergency evacuation insurance is just plain stupid.

Sure, we all think "it won't happen to me" until it does.

DO NOT come to Vietnam or anywhere to ride a motorbike without:
1) Previous motorcycle riding experience (as the operator)
2) Proper medical evacuation insurance (I highly recommend Global Rescue)
3) Valid medical insurance that covers you HERE
4) A valid driver's license AND International Driving Permit
5) A good, solid, full face helmet with DOT or ECE rating
6) Common fucking sense

The last one was added after I read about a guy who crashed while taking a selfie WHILE RIDING FAST.

"What a maroon!"—Bugs Bunny

Re the International Driving Permit (IDP)... Vietnam recognizes ONLY IDPs issued by signers of a 1968 agreement. The IDP from most countries (including the US, the UK, and Australia) is recognized under an 1949 agreement. Vietnam does NOT recognize these.

That said, get one and carry it with you along with your home country driver's license WITH MOTORCYCLE ENDORSEMENT. If you get hurt in an accident, there's a strong chance your insurance will cover your injuries.

If you are injured in an accident and DO NOT have a valid motorcycle license, there's an excellent chance your insurance will NOT cover your medical bills. I've read on social media where people say they just told the insurance company they were walking and got hit by a motorbike, BUT that's fraud and a really, really bad idea.

Re the helmet... the laws of physics are the same in Vietnam as in your home country, though you couldn't tell it by looking at the backpackers I see weekly riding in a wife-beater, flip-flops, and shorts topped off with the standard Vietnamese helmet. As I've written here before, 99+% of the helmets worn by native Vietnamese are designed only to keep the police from stopping and citing them. The idea that it should protect your brain carrier is completely lost. If you ride at home, you probably have a good helmet. Bring it. If you ride without a helmet or with a POS helmet, you deserve whatever happens to you—including having to re-learn the alphabet. Or worse.

Part 2 covers the reality of riding here... and is a MUST READ.

Part 3 offers riding tips.
Part 4 is on the rules of riding in Vietnam.
Part 5 is a meme.
Part 6 is about the worst-case scenario.
Part 7 is a photo that sums it all up.

Until then, be smart and stay safe.