Monday, November 26, 2007

New Office Under Way

Originally uploaded by adamb90
It seems we're making headway on the new office. The balcony doors have been ripped out. The drop ceiling is gone. The bathroom is almost bricked off from the rest of the room.

If we're lucky, this will be the week we move in.

Niveau Riche

Nouveau Riche taken to a whole new level.

When I went away to college as a young man, I remember being accused of being nouveau riche. This was startling to me since I came from a small town where there were almost no rich people at all. Sure, we were on the upper end of the scale and I did have some issues growing up and being known as the rich kid in town. Being accused of being nouveau riche was a little confusing. I had never thought about different wealth categories since I had only been exposed to one.

Now I find myself in Vietnam, where the whole nouveau riche thing is taken to another, astronomical, level. I met a Scot recently who was blaming a lot of the local problems on the fact that Vietnam today is the result of what happens when a bunch of peasants suddenly become rich. (Imagine what might happen if the entire trailer park won the lottery!) Presumably there are a large number of multi-millionaires in Vietnam. I've heard of clubs that cater to the local rich, where they can go and show off their new wealth. There are stories of local Vietnamese going to the newly opened Louis Vuitton store and buying 40 handbags or $4,000 jackets. What's most striking is the rapid rise in wealth. It's not so much the level of wealth, but the delta change in wealth over such a short time. On my first trip to Vietnam in 1995 the roads were equally crowded with bicycles and motorbikes, with the odd car here and there. Today bikes are as rare as cars were in 1995. Today motorbikes and cars are about equal in terms of the traffic volume. The overall traffic is just going from bad to worse.

What does this mean for the future of the country? It seems the future is bright, but there will continue to be growing pains. Communism might actually help keep things in balance. In India today you see slums right up against shiny new high tech buildings. The social unrest from a gross economic divide seems to be coming to a head over there. It's possible that in ten years Vietnam could find itself in a similar situation. It's also possible that the communist government here will be able to keep things in balance better than the Indian democracy has done to date. Only time will tell.

Random bag of Nuc Mum outside Saigontoursit

One of the things I love about this place is how industrious it is. Capitalism is thriving. Almost everyone has a business, no matter how small. The street vendors are a great example. You can see any number of Rube Goldberg food carts being pushed, pulled, and ridden all around the city. My favorite are the bicycle squid vendors. The standard seems to be a bike outfitted with a rack of hanging translucent dried squid, lit from above by a battery powered florescent light bulb. Under the squid is usually a hand cranked grinder bolted to a piece of wood and a selection of spices. After dark there is a Burning Man like surreal quality to these bicycles. Apparently you select your squid and the vendor will grind it up for you, seasoning it to your taste. The result looks a bit like light brown snuff or a pile of short strand cotton candy. My kids love this stuff, I'm still undecided.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Jars of French Wine

We ate a a very good local restaurant last weekend. Notice the fancy
way they denote the various sizes of wine servings on the menu. We
decided to go for the big jar of wine.

This is also the place where they cook the rice until it's crispy, break the dish, and toss the disc of rice across the restaurant. It was delicious!

Com Nieu Saigon, 59 Ho Xuan Huong Street, D. #3

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Conchords Get Trippy

HBO's Flight of the Conchords is one of my favorite shows these days. It's about a couple of hipster musicians from New Zealand. The above scene is from the show where the guys drop acid after being pressured by their new fans.

Retirement Advice

I'm reading Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon and ran across this quote that I found inspiring.

Under his regime the springhouse was invisibly but strictly divided into three parts. There was the reading room---the two wing-backed armchairs and pair of lamps, an electric space heater, and a wall lined with bookshelves filled with his metallurgical and music theory texts. In the central portion of the springhouse he had his laboratory---a stationary tub and a pair of workbenches, one cluttered, one spotless, upon which he carried out his mechanical and chemical activities, from toaster repair to the development of a substance that could stick to Teflon coating. On the far side of the room there was an army cot piled with blankets and a refrigerator replete with cans of Iron City Light, one of which---no more or less---he took, medicinally, every afternoon at five. It was an enviable setup; Irv had rediscovered, as surprisingly few men do, that the secret to perfect male happiness is a well equipped clubhouse.
Time to find the clubhouse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

2nd Open Coffee Success

We had a good Open Coffee meeting last Thursday, with eight folks in attendance. Ok, I guess the PM slot wins. We'll try it again next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

The photo above is the Flower Tea drink I had at the Open Coffee. I was feeling under the weather and this was supposed to help me feel better. It didn't seem to make a difference though.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dog Meat: Just not the same

There is currently an epidemic of folks getting sick from eating contaminated shrimp paste. Finally the cases are dropping off. However, the dog meat restaurants are still feeling the effects.

The shrimp paste scare is also the reason why dog-meat restaurant owner Tran Muc in Au Co Street is down in the dumps. "Usually people are piling in to eat in my restaurant but no one wants to eat dog meat without shrimp paste," he complains.
I'm not sure what's worse, eating tainted shrimp paste or eating tainted shrimp paste on your stir fried dog.

Friday, November 9, 2007

ADSL Inappropriately Asymmetric

So normally ADSL is asymmetric but in such a way that the downloads are fast and the uploads are slow. I've noticed that this doesn't seem to be the case in Vietnam. It seems very strange that upload speeds are faster than download speeds. Maybe it's because the net here is just way overloaded on the download side and so the upload side just has extra capacity. To be fair, I'm testing this using the Speakeasy servers in San Francisco. I'm sure there is a lot of weird routing and other strangeness going on between here and there.

Anyone else notice this sort of thing?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Open Coffee Saigon (6pm next week)

We had a great meeting today. Thanks to everyone who attended. We ended up with six folks, five entrepreneurs and one investor.

Mainly the discussion was around interesting startups and how to start a company here in Vietnam. We debated the benefit of options make when hiring Vietnamese workers. We discussed office space styles and universally lamented the lack of bandwidth here in Vietnam. Hey, that gives me an idea for a startup. :-)

Almost everyone hated the time, except me and Pho. We'll try 6pm next week so the late night hackers can wake up at a reasonable hour.

I've created an Upcoming event for this. If you want to add yourself to the guest list, you can find it here. You don't need to sign up but it would be nice to know if we're going to have a big crowd so I can get there early and stake out some space.


Highlands Cafe, Saigon Centre
6pm November 15th, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

CNet Digs Vietnam

Here's a great Vietnam article from our friends at CNet. It covers a lot of stories I've heard about Vietnam since arriving back in August. Our favorite Saigon Blogger, Kevin Miller, is quoted several times. Congrats Kevin!