Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vinagame on CNBC

Looks like Bryan got a little face time with CNBC. Nice!

I think it was almost exactly a year ago today that we moved to Vietnam. I do miss some things about Saigon. Like the food and the cheap massages. I don't miss the weather though.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Geox Vietnam

Looks like Geox is getting some traction in Vietnam. This clip is pretty funny. My kids started wearing Geox shoes when they received them as birthday presents in Saigon. Now they love them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Gloria Jean's Shuttered

One of my favorite places to hang out in Saigon was the Gloria Jean's
coffee shop on Dong Khoi. It turns out there was one here in San
Mateo at the Hillsdale Mall. Unfortunately it didn't make it. I
remember getting a coffee here years ago. It was more of a store
than a cafe, perhaps that's why it didn't last.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Buddha Burger?

Saw this on the side of a local diner here in California. It kind of
reminds me of Buddhist temples in Vietnam. Technically I believe
this is a Sunshine Burger, though.

Anti-Communist or Anti-Capitalist

This interesting article from the Washington Post brings up the point that the US is now investing heavily in Vietnam and asks how that fits with the fact that many Americans lost their lives fighting against communism in Vietnam. Having recently lived in Vietnam I can honestly say that there are some advantages to communism. I almost always felt safe in Vietnam. I would walk around Saigon late at night and not think much of it. Doing the same in San Francisco can be worrisome. Doing the same in parts of Washington DC could be considered insane.

There are drawbacks to communism as it's practiced in Vietnam as well. While I don't have first hand knowledge of it, cronyism appears to be commonplace. While this is true in the US as well, I think it's less pervasive. In the US you don't need to bribe someone to get your phone installed. You might have to wait a while, but pretty much the queue is served fairly.

My guess is that corruption at high levels is pretty much about the same in both countries. The advantage of the free press is that we hear about Haliburton boondoggles and maybe that keeps them in check. Although that doesn't seem to be the case these days.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kite Board Box

On my last trip back to the US I decided to take back my kite surfing equipment. The kite itself is pretty small so that wasn't a problem. However, my board is 138cm so it's too long to fit into my large suitcase. I could probably have just carried it on the plane, but that would have been a pain.

I asked around and found out that there is a place that specializes in making boxes for things. These guys have a shop places strategically across from the post office at 53D Nguyen Du Street in District 1.

Having learned the Vietnamese Way, I took my board across town on my motorbike. My first problem was how to carry the darn thing on the bike. I tried putting it between my legs and in front of my chest, but it was too tall and I couldn't see very well to drive. I then decided to put it across the seat and just sit on the board with it sticking out on both sides of the bike. To minimize the protrusions, I tried to angle the board so it was at about 45 degrees rather than 90 degrees from the centerline of the bike. This made me a little lopsided but I eventually made it. I'm sure I was quite a sight driving around with a big yellow kite board sticking out from each side of my motorbike.

As I approached the shop, they immediately recognized a potential customer and waved me in. One of the guys grabbed my board and assessed it. He went back and pulled out two different grades of cardboard. I chose the thicker one for 100,000 VND (about $8). I swear it took him less than 5 minutes to fashion a box. When he was finished, the board slipped into the box without a hitch.

Now I had an even bigger problem of getting home with this even bigger and more awkward load. I couldn't sit on it anymore since it was now a few inches thick. I tried to convince one of the guys to come with me. This is the way a real Vietnamese guy would do it. He would have his friend on the back of the bike holding the thing while he drove. Failing that, the guys decided they could make a harness for me. With some red nylon string, they fashioned a nice little harness around the box with loops for my arms. With their help I slung the box onto my back like a backpack and scooted off down the road.

On the way home a storm was starting to blow in and the winds were picking up. I'm lucky a gust of wind didn't catch me the wrong way and toss me onto the road. In the end, I made it home with no problems.

The box held up well. Except for a little skepticism from the US Customs Officer at SFO, it made it to back to my garage unscathed.

This is another great example of things that just work well in Vietnam. In the US this box would probably have cost me three times as much and taken a day. In Saigon, it was done in 5 minutes for $8. Sweet.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Computerized Street Maps, On the Street!

I was surprised to see a computerized street map on CMT8 the other day. It's amazing that they put computers out in these little bus shelter looking structures. I've only seen one. I didn't have time to try it out, but I'm impressed it exists at all.

Here is another advantage of a well behaved society. If you had one of these on the street in New York City or San Francisco, I'm guessing it would be destroyed or ravaged for parts very quickly. Hopefully this will last a while on the street here. I'll have to go by later this week and take another look.

LeFruit Triathlon Raises $600 for Myanmar

The folks at Viet Adventure didn't waste any time passing the funds on to the Myanmar relief effort. The race was just last weekend. It was a great race and a good cause. Thanks to the organizers!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Destination Clubs

Just saw this article in USA Today covering Destination Clubs. We've been members of Quintess for a few years now. (Actually we joined Dreamcatcher Resorts, which merged with Quintesss). We've been extremely happy with DCR/Quintess. The idea here is that for less than the cost of a decent second home you can have access to amazing homes around the world.

I love to be able to pop in on my brother in NYC or take the kids to Maui for October break and have a fantastic place to hang out while there. They don't yet have any place in Vietnam but it seems to be on the list of potential destinations.

Disclaimer: We're investors in DCR and Quintess.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Saigon Centre

Auxillery building of the Museum of HCMC with Saigon Centre in the

Note the 1960. A lot has happened here since then.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blue Ocean Shower

The bungalow rooms at this Mui Ne resort have very cool private outdoor

The resort is called Bienxanh or Blue Ocean. It's on Mui Ne beach in Vietnam.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Triathlon Time

Heading to Mui Ne today for the Le Fuit Triathlon on Sunday. Should be fun! If we're really lucky there will be wind in the afternoons so I can get some kite surfing in.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Priority List from SGN

My fellow travelers. Your privacy is an illusion.

United Priority Baggage

At SGN they put up a list of passengers whose baggage receive special
handling. It's nice to have your own luggage area but I'm not sure
about the privacy issues.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Swiss Homeland

On my flight from Hong Kong to Saigon last night I sat next to a nice gentleman from Switzerland. We got to speaking about Switzerland, which happens to be from where my ancestors came and the reason I learned to speak French.

Just for fun I looked up the town where my Great Grandfather's family lived. I visited the town back in the 80s. The farmhouse is still there and the graveyard is filled with Beguelins.

Here's the map of the town of Courtelary:

View Larger Map

Back in Saigon

Made it back to Saigon. Had a great time in New York and San Francisco. Was lucky enough not to wreck a car on this trip back, bringing my average below 50%. I hope I can get car insurance when we move back to the US.

Highlights from this trip:

Got up a few times
Learned that Sergey Brin is a pretty good at kiting
Got a nice new wetsuit
Met a lot of interesting folks (and more in June/July I hope)
  • Almost got the solar panel installation sorted with Solar City
  • Lots of killer workouts at the PAC
  • Researched getting my Instrument Flight Rating
  • Hung out with Omar and learned about his new startup
Today it's time to get a massage and try not to go to sleep until it gets dark!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

NYC View

From our apartment on Times Square.

Hell's Kitchen Flea Market

Kinda scary.

California Nice

Lovely day here in NorCal. Our new landscaping is growing in well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yahoo Messenger Phone Out to Vietnam

Looks like you can now call Vietnam for $0.099 per minute using the Phone Out feature of Yahoo Messenger! This is much cheaper than Skype at $0.36 per minute. I guess Yahoo! is serious about Vietnam.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New York City

It took me just over 24 hours but I made it to NYC last night. I was able to use my United system wide upgrade all the way from SGN->HKG->SFO->JFK, now that's getting your value out of an upgrade! The old lady sitting next to me on the SFO to JFK commented on the fact that I slept almost the entire way. I think she was a bit disappointed when I didn't converse with her during the flight.

One thing I love about traveling out of Saigon is the fact that I can get from shower to gate in an hour. I got up at 5am, took a shower, grabbed a cab and was at the gate by 6am. When I checked in at SGN I asked about my upgrade status from SFO to JFK. The United rep told me that I was on the list but not confirmed. He then said, "It's just San Francisco to New York, how long is the flight?" He was surprised to find out that it's over five hours, about twice as long as the flight from Saigon to Hong Kong. Yeah, it's a big country.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gratuitous Use of Office Documents

Folks here seem to love to send around Microsoft Office documents. If you're sending a document that is not meant to be edited by the receiver, why not just send it as a PDF? Word and Excel are not great for reading documents!

Back in the USA many people won't actually have Word or Excel installed on their computers, so sending a newsletter out in Word format just doesn't make sense. MS Office software costs a lot of money, so it's often something that is just never installed on home computers. In Vietnam you can get these programs for a dollar or two on the street, so perhaps this is why everyone assumes you'll have it on your home computer.

Reasons not to send Office Documents:

  • Not everyone has MS Office installed
  • Reading MS Office documents is no fun (PDF is so much better)
  • Office documents carry viruses
  • Office is slow and a memory hog
If you like to create your letters and other docs, try saving them in PDF format before sending them out. On a Mac you can simply print to a PDF. I'm sure there is a simple way to do something similar on a PC. Another alternative is to use Google Docs. Nothing to install, but network access is required.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Running HCMC

For some reason I keep waking up before 5am these days. This morning I decided to go for a run. Saigon is pretty quiet on Sunday mornings so I threw on the running shoes and took off. I decided to head south on Pasteur from Le Loi. I've never been down that direction before.

Looking at the map now, it seems I ran into District 4. It was around 6am and the city was just waking up. I did run into a street market that was just getting underway. It was around the Cho Xom Chieu. I also got to check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum which is just along the banks of the Saigon River.

The temperature at this time of day is great. I might have to make this a regular activity.

You can see my somewhat random walk in the annotated Google Map below.

View Larger Map

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trapped in an Elevator

We live in a high rise building here in Saigon. Even though our building has backup generators, occasionally the power goes out. I've been stuck in the elevator a couple of times, but never for more than a minute or two. I ran across this video and it stuck a cord. It's called "Guy Trapped in an Elevator for 6 Minutes."

I found it hilarious. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beach at the Ritz

Great day here in Half Moon Bay. Note the American style warning sign.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Made it to Emory University, where I'm giving a talk today. This
picture shows Dobbs Hall, where I lived freshman year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Caltrain 4th and King

I took Caltrain into the city today. I was surprised by all the advertising around the station. It's practically covered in Jamba Juice ads. This is not the kind of thing you see in Vietnam. Maybe that's why it struck me as so odd.

Monday, April 14, 2008

California Drivers

We got nailed on 101 South today. I'm not sure why, but all of the sudden another driver slammed into us. Our car did a 180 and came to a stop on the side of the road. Another 10 feet and we would have taken out a road sign. Luckily nobody was hurt.

This is the second time in six months that I've been hit on 101. After living in Saigon I was thinking of getting a motorcycle when we move back. Now I'm thinking that this is a bad idea.

Mountain Biking in Belmont

I'm back in the US for a bit. About 10 minutes on my bike and I can be in Hidden Canyon Park. This is a really amazing collection of mountain biking trails. It's a park in the City of Belmont, California. Living in flat Saigon has really put a dent in my mountain biking skills. I've been twice since we returned but I can't handle the hills nearly as well as last time I went biking here.

They have done a great job improving the trails. Note the buried truck at one of the switch-backs. There is a new footbridge over the creek at that point.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Gossip and 17 Bar

We had a little outing on Saturday night and I have to admit, it was my first experience with Vietnamese clubbing. We started at 17 Bar, which was nice but strange. It's a cowboy themed bar and the live band starts around 9pm. The waitresses tried to push the whiskey, which seems apropos for a cowboy bar. I was hoping for some red wine, but failing that I tried the margarita, which was tiny, even by Vietnamese standards. Sadly I switched to beer after the attempt to be different. On the plus side, the waitresses were quite flirtatious, which amused my wife who was sitting next to me.

One of the best things about 17 is that they have decent free popcorn. This is a good move, as it keeps you drinking the beer. At one point they fired up a grill outside and were giving away grilled sugarcane shrimp. It was quite tasty. Like the popcorn, the shrimp was free.

At around 9pm the band started. The consensus around my table was that the female singers were lipsynching the Alanis songs. The male singer, who was obviously not lipsysncing, mutilated Hotel California. We decided it was time to leave.

We tried to go to another club (Mayhem?) which was closed. We ended up at Gossip. This place had a constant stream of clubers arriving when we got there. The cover was 120,000 VND which got you a free beer or soda on the inside. The dance music was so loud that it wasn't really possible to talk. Here the waitresses again were pushing the whiskey. About half the tables had a full bottle or two of something. Again, I was disappointed by the wine selection: none. I opted for my free soda: Pepsi, no Coke. After an hour or so of nodding our heads to pounding music we decided that we had had enough excitement for the night. We did sample the fried food selection. The calamari and shrimp wasn't bad, but I shouldn't be eating that crap anyway. I don't know what I was thinking.

One amusing note. I noticed that in the men's room, they have a selection of combs and even a toothbrush in case you want to primp. I couldn't resist taking a picture (see below). I would have to be pretty drunk to use a shared toothbrush.

My advice for going out, eat dinner first. Head out early if you want to actually talk. Don't forget the earplugs.

Friday, April 4, 2008

HCMC Apple Store

When looking for some office furniture along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 3 I ran across this sign saying iPhone Coming Soon. It turns out it was a good advertisement. We later returned to the store to buy a new MacBook for my daughter. I don't know if they are selling iPhones yet, but I think they may carry MacBook Air laptops...

Here's a picture of the storefront. Note all the crazy utility wires running down the street.

KTC Apple Store
384 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
District 3

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Everyone In The Future Eats Dippin' Dots

Ok, here's a professional parody article. I guess I'm not as good as I thought at writing parody. Funny.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Landlord Eats Tenant's Dog

In growing tensions between landlords and tenants due to rising rents in and around HCMC, some landlords are taking intimidation to an entirely new level. In an incident recently reported by VietnamNet Bridge, local landlord Mrs. Quyen admits to killing, cooking, and eating her tenant's dog Fluffy. "I knew it was their pet," claims Mrs. Quyen. "I losing much money, must eat somehow," said Mrs. Quyen in her defense. "Dog have not much meat anyway. I still hungry," she added.

Mrs. Quyen and her tenant Mr. Willard have been at odds for several months now over their rental agreement. Two years ago Mr. Willard signed a five year lease on the District 2 villa owned by Mrs. Quyen, paying $2,000 USD per month for the property. Mrs. Quyen claims the property today would rent for more than $6,000 USD, maybe more. "I not take dollars next time," claims Mrs. Quyen. "American peso no good. I price rent in Euro now," said Mrs. Queyen. Even given the recent rebound in the dollar, many Vietnamese landlords now prefer to price their properties in the more highly valued euro.

Mr. Willard and his family, still mourning the loss of Fluffy, are stunned at this latest tactic designed to scare them out of the house. According to Mr. Willard, Mrs. Quyen is constantly driving by the rented house in her black Mercedes Benz, shouting obscenities in English, Vietnamese, and (strangely) Portuguese.

Mr. Willard claims he and his family will not be intimidated into moving out of the house until the end of 2010 when their lease is up. He says they may even buy a new and more sinewy dog to replace Fluffy.

Happy April Fools' Day!

Vietnamese Mobile Carriers

Who's your favorite mobile carrier here in Vietnam? Here's a list of the ones I know about. Am I missing any?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Tidal Power for Vietnam?

Last Fall I was riding my bike along the San Francisco Bay and I was struck by an idea. If you look across the bay, you can see it's a huge body of water. Between high and low tides, an impressive mass of water is shifted by a meter or so. What if you could harness the movement of that mass? I thought about it and came up with the simple idea for generating electricity from this tidal flow. It turns out that there are a lot of folks who have had this idea. I did some searching around but didn't find any similar inventions, until I ran across these guys at Tidal Electric. It turns out they patented a very similar idea about 10 years ago. At least my idea was worth a patent, if not by me. If you're interested in the topic, they have a very nice history and some good animations of how tidal power generation works. My idea was basically this animation but with a turbine stuck in one of the walls to generate electricity from the flow.

I think that this kind of power generation would work well for Vietnam. The country is pretty much all coast. Building tidal power generation here seems like a good match. The country is growing like crazy, and there are regular power shortages, especially at the end of the rainy season when the hydro power runs out. Anyone know of any tidal power generation projects happening in Vietnam?

I seems the folks at Tidal Electric did some sort of deal with China back in 2004. I wonder how that is working out over three years later...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Madagui Tropy Video

Here is the video from the local TV. I'm in it with my partner Laurent at about 8 minutes in. We're crossing the bridge wearing our life jackets!

Thanks to the folks at Clip.vn for putting it up!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Vietnam Idol Montage

Just ran across this funny clip while searching around on Truveo.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pocket Tweets: Twitter for the iPhone

Just bookmarked this baby on my iPhone. The interface looks sweet in my iPhone. Not sure what the star icon is for, but it looks nice.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

SMS Breaking Down

I've been having some trouble sending text messages lately here in Vietnam. At first I assumed my unlocked iPhone was just on the fritz. I spoke with several other people and they've also been having problems sending text messages.

Texting is very popular here in Vietnam. My guess is that the mobile phone infrastructure, like so many other infrastructures in Vietnam, is having trouble keeping up.

This country is very successful in many ways. Dealing with the growth that comes with success, brings its own challenges. Perhaps it's time to take the infrastructure spending up another notch.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Counterfeit Saigon Beer

When in Mui Ne I often head to Lam Tong for dinner after a long day of kite surfing. They have the big bottles of Saigon Beer for only 8,000 VND or about $0.50 US. I recently learned that these beers are often counterfeit.

The advice I got was to check the bottom rim of the bottle. If the rim is missing the raised lettering, then it's a counterfeit. I'm not sure if the opposite also holds. If the bottle does have raised lettering, does that mean it's legit?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Seuss Bash

During the winter my mother lives in Texas in a retirement community. This week they put together a Seuss Bash to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss. They had a party, fanciful games, and an amazing parade. It was covered in this local news article, complete with a video.

Last month I blogged about the joy of not working. I mentioned the Zelenski's Easy Rule of Life, this is a great example. Rather than sitting around doing nothing in retirement, these folks get busy doing some amazingly creative stuff! I'm new to retirement, not even old enough to live in their community, but I hope I'm this active when I'm 80!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pig Brain Soup

I did a few days of mountain biking in Dalat recently. Mr. Long was my guide. After our first day we had lunch at one of his favorite restaurants. Here's a picture of him enjoying pig brain soup. I wasn't brave enough to give it a try.

Frog to Crab: "Let's be friends"

Recently we've discovered the Saigon night market. When Cho Bến Thành closes around 6pm they bring out the food stalls. They have a lot of interesting and really good food. Coconut snails is a favorite of ours.

In the photo below you can see that they keep the frogs and the crabs in the same tank. It's kind of cute how they wrap up the crab claws with cloth so they don't fight. Can't we all just get along?

We also tried the grilled shrimp, which was delicious. This guy was in charge of the shrimp. They rolled out the tanks before the electricity was hooked up so he was swishing the water around trying to keep it aerated. At one point he pulled off the hose from the air pump and was trying to blow through it. Luckily the electricity came on before too long.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Billboard

I walked past this sign on Hai Ba Trung this week and had to snap a picture. I remember this sign from my first trip to Saigon in 1995. I seriously doubt the sign is going to last much longer, not because Arnold would disapprove, but because it seems so dated and the city is rapidly modernizing.

Huckabee for President

I'm not really following the primaries very closely, but I do hope that we don't end up with another crazy president. This cartoonist, Don Asmussen, cracks me up.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Madagui Adventure Race: March 15 and 16

The Madagui Trophy is a team adventure race, biking, swiming and running through the jungle. It looks like a blast.

I just signed up for the beginner version of this trip. Anyone interested in joining me? I still need a partner. Should be fun.

It's at the Madagui resort 150 km from Saigon. Last fall my Vietnamese class went on a weekend trip there but I wasn't able to make it. Looks like I'm going back with a vengeance.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ho Chi Minh City Maps

Here's a great site for HCMC street maps called DiaDiem. (Thanks Carey for the pointer.) It beats the crap out of Google Maps. It has the best collection actual street addresses that I have found in an online map for Vietnam.

Second runner up is Anan Vietnam, which mainly focuses on restaurants, but has a decent online mapping facility.

If you just want satellite maps, then you can stick with Google Maps or may want to go with Google Earth. But if you're trying to figure out where you're headed before getting into a taxi, Dia Diem is a great place to start.

It has an English version, but you'll still need to understand some Vietnamese if you're going to to search. All the categories are in Vietnamese, even after you switch to English. We all know Khach San means Hotel and Nha Hang means Restaurant right?

Motiviation for Exercise

When I turned 40 a few years ago (ahem) I decided it was time to get back to my college weight. I committed to working out every weekday, Monday through Friday. I started with 30 minutes of cardio and worked my way up to 60 minutes a day. My normal schedule was to do weight training on Wednesday with my trainer Dan at The Body Studio. The other days I usually spent my hour divided between the ellipitcal, treadmill, stairmaster, or stationary bike.

Since we've moved to Vietnam I've fallen off the wagon, probably averaging workouts only two or three times a week. When I saw this article today on how to stay motived, it struck a chord. The tip I like the best is #4, any workout counts. There have been many days when I just did not want to go, so I told myself I could quit after 15 minutes. This works like a charm. A few times I did do less than 60 minutes of exercise, but most of the time I stuck it out for the whole hour, even when I had given myself permission to stop earlier. This works because it gets you off the couch. Any exercise is better than none, and once you've gone through the overhead of getting to the gym anyway, you might as well just get on with it.

Another trick I've used is just putting on my workout clothes in the morning. This works well on the weekends. When you get up, wear your gym clothes while you enjoy your weekend morning. After a while, you'll realize it's time to go do some exercise and you'll already be dressed for it! I used this one today. I was feeling a bit under the weather but I put on my workout clothes anyway. After a few hours of relaxing, I slipped down to the gym for 30 minutes of cardio, some abs, and stretching.

I must say, having a personal trainer makes a big difference as well. I suppose that goes to #6, throw money at the problem. It's odd that I now live in a place where hiring people is much cheaper than in California, yet I have not hired a personal trainer here. Part of the problem is the language barrier. The other problem is finding someone qualified. Most of the locals I see working out here have really bad form. If I was to follow what they are doing, I'm sure I would throw out my back or pull a muscle.

That being said, I suppose it's possible that I could find a qualified personal trainer in Saigon. Any suggestions folks?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Junk Mail and USPS Change of Address

When we left California we filled out a form at the post office so all our mail would be forwarded to a post office box. It turns out this is a really bad idea. The US Postal service sells this information and your level of junk mail will skyrocket. Some sites recommend simply checking the temporary change of address option on the form. This seems like a great idea.

If you want to get off of the direct mail lists in the US, go to the Direct Marketers Association site and follow the instructions there on how to get off of the lists. I just did this. I'll report back to see if it has any impact on my level of junk mail.

We also get a lot of pre-approved credit card solicitations in the mail. Presumably we can get off of those lists as well by going to the OptOutPrescreen site and filling out the appropriate online form.

If you're wondering how come I still have to deal with junk mail even though I live in Vietnam, it's because we use Earth Class Mail as a way to handle our US Mail. The service is still pretty rough and the user interface stinks; but it's still a great idea and very useful. ECM provides a post office box address for you. When mail arrives, they scan the outside of the envelope and put that on their secure web site so you can see the mail. You can then use their web interface to deal with the mail. Typically you instruct them to shred, recycle, forward or even open and scan the contents of the mail. After they scan a letter, you can then download a PDF of the letter. This is a pretty nice service, especially when it comes to tax documents and the like.

The main drawback of the service is the fact that you get a limited number of document scans per month and a multi-page piece of junk mail can blow your entire scanning budget. There needs to be an option to simply scan one page of the document rather than the entire document itself. Once you see the first page, then you'll have a much better idea of what you want to do with it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Electric Motorcycles

Vietnam is overrun with scooters. This makes a lot of sense since they are much cheaper than cars and you can get around the Saigon traffic much more effectively in a motorbike than you can in a car. The drawbacks to motorbikes are numerous of course. Mainly they are dangerous, loud, and smelly. As for the dangerous part, in Saigon the traffic rarely moves at more than 20 mph so they aren't that dangerous, especially now that Vietnam has a helmet law. My main complaint about motorbike travel in Saigon is the pollution. You can just feel the carcinogens coursing through your body whenever you're stuck in a crowd of these things during rush hour. In Vietnam, the trucks and buses are much worse polluters per vehicle, but the shear volume of motorbikes makes up for it is spades.

In the US, Tesla Motors has started shipping very cool all electric sports cars. I was thinking that someone should do the same for the motorbike industry, especially in Vietnam. If Tesla did a motorbike, what would it look like? It would have to be very cool, electric, and sporty. I started doing some research and ran across three companies that are essentially the Tesla Motors of the motorcycle space. Vectrix is focused on scooters. This is more like what you would see on the streets in Vietnam. Brammo (Enertia Bike) and Zero Motorcycles are more like motorcycles than scooters. Zero seems to be a dirt bike, while Inertia more of a street legal bike. They all look very cool. I might just have to try them all out and see if I can start importing them to Vietnam.


Enertia Bike:

Zero Motorcycles:

I should mention, Vietnam does have a thriving electric bicycle industry. The rules of the road here exclude students from driving motorbikes. I'm not sure if the law actually says students or it's limited by age. For some reason, it is always described to me as students. I think student in this context means a pre-university student, but I could be wrong.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Đong Khoi Casino

I walked past this little group of very excited gamblers right on Đong Khoi street today. Đong Khoi is one of the main tourist streets in Saigon. People were betting, the money and cards were flying. At one point a guy started yelling at an old lady who it appears was walking around checking out the cards of the competing gamblers. The woman sitting on the curb appeared to be acting as the house. She was wearing a fanny pack with cards and cash. After a hand, she would either pull out more cash to play, or tuck away the proceeds.

This is the second street gambling group I've seen in the last two days. It appears folks are having fun with their Tết money!

The Joy of Not Working

I went on a field trip with my daughter's middle school class yesterday. We took a bus to Đồng Nai where the kids had fun repelling (abseiling if you're an Aussie), riding the zip line, and doing team building exercises. It turns out I was the only parent along on this trip. Of course this made me a bit of an oddity. It's unusual for middle school parents to come along on field trips it seems. Once the kids are this old, the parents aren't really needed. If parents do come along, they are more likely to be the mother than the father. I did have fun hanging around with the kids and the teachers though. I've been retired for about six months now, and I'm still not used to the what do you do? question. When I say I'm retired, it confuses people. If I leave it at that, they often think I need help finding a job. Often, they kindly try to think of job leads for me. This is cute and nice, however misguided.

I recently ran across this article where Philip Greenspun has dead on observations on the challenges of early retirement. I particularly resonate with the part about time management. It's true that when you have a job, it keeps you in line. The structure of a regular job gives lets you focus on something (work in this case) for at least eight hours a day or so. When you're retired, the lack of schedule can really lead to sloth.

Before retiring I read The Joy of Not Working, which stylistically is a bit painful to read, but does have some great insights. One point I remember is Zelenski's Easy Rule of Life:

The Easy Rule of Life tells us that when we always do the easy and comfortable, life turns out to be difficult and uncomfortable. When we do the difficult and uncomfortable, however, life turns out to be easy and comfortable.
I think there is a lot of truth in this. If you've retired and solved the money problem by learning to live within your means, you need some other challenge to make yourself happy. When I moved to Vietnam, I tried taking up tennis and spent a couple hours a day learning Vietnamese. I didn't find this very interesting so I've mostly given up. I know enough Vietnamese go get by and my wife has found other expat wives who love tennis, so I'm off the hook there.

However, I'm still searching for ways to challenge myself. My latest are kite surfing and coding. I'm at the stage with kite surfing that I can almost stay upwind, assuming I don't fall off the board too often. In terms of coding, I have at least ten ideas I'm working on. Here the challenge is time management. This is where I need to tighten things up a bit. With coding projects you really need to spend some concentrated time on them to make progress. The typical multitasking way of working won't do. Time management with kite surfing is pretty easy. In Mũi Né, the wind starts getting good around noon, so you just wait for the wind and go until you're exhausted. When you're exhausted from kite surfing, the Easy Rule of Life is on your side, it's time for a beer and a smile.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wedding Singer Japan

My Tony Award Nominated bookwriter and lyricist brother Chad Beguelin now has his play showing in Japan. Check out the above video for some rehearsal moments!

It's cute how the dancer in the opening number is wearing 'Abercrombie' sweats.

Monday, February 11, 2008

What? No Pants?

This morning I realized that it has been over two weeks since I wore pants or socks. OK, I've been wearing shorts and sandals, so it's not like I'm running around naked and barefoot or anything. It is kind of odd though. The last two weeks have been unusual in that we've been at the beach, so the no pants or socks thing isn't normal for me when I'm in Saigon. Here I usually work out at the gym, where I get my hour or so of sock wearing each day. However, I have noticed guys at the gym who wear flip flops (aka slippers in Vietnam). It's all fun and games, until someone smashes a toe!

A few weeks ago I ran into a guy who seemed to think it was OK to work out on the Stair Master without a shirt. I must say, it was quite disturbing. I noticed that he took off his t-shirt and folded it carefully before getting on the machine. Perhaps he just didn't want to get his shirt all sweaty. Back in the states we have signs in the gym with rules like "shirts must be worn while exercising". I always thought this was amusing. Would people really workout shirtless? Now I'm thinking of requesting such a sign from the management.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My New REV

After spending hundreds of dollars renting kites and boards, I decided that it was time to buy my own equipment. When I arrived in Mui Ne last week I was walking down the beach and saw a couple of kite boards sticking up in the sand advertising used kites for sale. I spoke with Marcus, a Chinese guy from Hong Kong. He was selling his Ocean Rodeo kite and board. I told him I was interested and arranged to meet him the next day to try it out.

The next morning I went to have breakfast at the hotel. The waitress asked me if I had a breakfast ticket. I said I didn't. She told me I could get them at reception. Of course, my room didn't include breakfast. Arguing with the hotel reception over breakfast coupons was futile. Luckily, not wanting to give the hotel my breakfast business led me to another local place, Lam Ton, for breakfast. There I ran into my friend Darek, who I met back in November. Darek brought me luck. I told him I was interested in buying a kite. Unfortunately he had just sold his, but he said he would help me evaluate a used one that I was planning on checking out after breakfast. He said he had never heard of Ocean Rodeo, not a good sign.

We went down to meet Marcus, but he wasn't around. The other kite board was still there advertising a 9 meter Slingshot REV kite for sale. Darek said this was a good kite, in fact, the same kite he had bought a few months before. The ad said to go to room 18 if you're interested. It turns out they had a few kites for sale. The guys owned a kite shop in Belgium called ETIKKITE. He was asking 850 Euros but was willing to sell it to me for 750. The kite seemed to be in pretty good shape. The depower line was a bit frayed but everything else seemed to be in good shape.

After agreeing on the price, the difficulty then became how to pay for it. Of course I didn't have 750 Euros on me. We tried to use Google Checkout but for some reason the internet was down at both Wax and Jibes so we gave up on that. Eventually I gave him 4 million VND as a deposit and I would get the rest of the cash from the ATM. It turns out 750 Euros is about 17 million VND. That's a pretty big stack of 100,000 VND bills! Luckily the ATM let me take out the cash, 2 million VND at a time. I felt a bit like a criminal repeatably taking withdrawals from the ATM one after the next. Some Canadians were waiting for me at the ATM. After a few consecutive withdrawals I let them have a go at the machine. I didn't want to empty it and leave them dong-less. :-)

[The above video was shot by Dirk, who sold me the kite. ]

After getting the kite from Dirk Leten, the Belgian, buying a board from Derak, and buying a new harness, I was ready to go. I took all of my newly acquired equipment down to Windchimes and was ready to hit the water. On my third run, I had the kite up at about 11 O'clock and I heard a loud pop. The leading edge of the kite immediately deflated and the entire kite fell into the water. Luckily I was near the shore. One of the beach boys from Windchimes helped me drag the kite out of the water. We brought it back to Windchimes where the repair expert came out to take a look. It turns out the zipper on the leading edge was slightly damaged and this probably wore a hole in the bladder. He was able to fix it for me and I was back on the water the next day.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

King of Mũi Né

Yesterday, Wind Chimes Kite Surfing School held the third annual King of Mũi Né kiting contest. This is a kite surfing contest where only locals are allowed to compete. The judges are made up from the top surfers from a number of schools along the beach and were from a variety of European countries.

Part way through the competition the silver surfer showed up for some photo opportunities. Kin, who is always a kidder, tried to get him to drink a beer. His alien superskin rejected the inferior beverage. Apparently he only feeds off of light.

The competition came down to Phong and Kin. Both did some amazing stunts, including behind the back handle passes and flips at about 10 meters above the water. In the end Kin won the competition. Pretty impressive, especially after drinking a few Saigon Beers. Maybe they should sponsor him.