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.