Den's Blog Rotating Header Image

October, 2017:


So this happened:

Apparently, the power plugs supplied by my building aren’t “grounded,” whatever that means. According to the General Services Office at the Consulate, this poses a “fire hazard” or something. If I don’t want to “burn up and die,” they say, I should only use power plugs that aren’t “life-threatening.”

Huh…who knew?


Complaining about your job?

Stand by to get punched in the face.

Coffee honey, anyone?

Honey made from the nectar of coffee blossoms.

I wonder what would happen if you put this in your coffee? Probably vibrate until you fell apart.

Who wants to be a billionaire?

For the low low price of 10,000 Vietnamese Dong, you can buy a lottery ticket with the chance to win 2 billion Dong!

probably worthless, but it sure is pretty!

That’s about 50¢ for the chance to win $88,000.


Just a butterfly on a shrub on the Consulate grounds.

I followed this guy around for five minutes, holding my phone out in front of me like a moron, before I could get this shot. The security guard think I’m insane. They’re probably right.

Big construction project

Be careful what you wish for.

Behind our apartment building is an empty lot. It’s a blighted property. Having a vacant lot in an upscale part of town is clearly a wasted opportunity. Several times since we moved in, we commented that it’s a shame that such an ugly, littered, dirty lot is visible right outside our bedroom window.

But we were not happy to receive notice from our building management that construction was to begin on a new multistory building, and that construction was to last for TWO YEARS.

So we’re going to endure the noise and dust of a construction project that will eventually block our view of the sunset, and the building will be finished just in time for my tour to be over and leave Vietnam.

The view from my bedroom window. The red carpet is for a ground-breaking ceremony. Then it rained hard and the red carpet got all muddy. I did not feel sorry for them.

But wait: it gets worse. Because of local ordinances prohibiting big trucks on the streets during the day, a lot of the excavation has to happen at night.

Vroom vroom! I’m a construction vehicle keeping people up at 2:00 am.

It’s gonna be a long two years…

This is not Chinese

“Traditional” Vietnamese furniture is really beautiful. There are clear Chinese influences, but it’s a distinct style.

Here’s a writing table/desk. I’d love to have one, but I don’t know how practical it would be.

And this is a beautiful side table. I might have one of these made for me while I’m in Vietnam:

What’s funny is that a Vietnamese friend saw these photos, and said: “oh yes, Chinese style furniture.” Um, not exactly. But I guess for him, the Chinese influence came through strongly.

Colonialist Advertisements

On a recent business trip in country, I stayed at a very nice hotel. The decor was French colonial, very tasteful. However, some of the artwork in the hotel was off-putting at best, offensive at worst. The reaction of my Vietnamese coworker was surprising to me, though.

So look at this ad. Do you see what I see?

king of the world

I see a white man (and he’s dressed in white, as if to underscore his race), prominently strutting, as “natives” toil.

Look at the details of the Vietnamese people’s faces. What’s wrong with this picture?

hint: Vietnamese people do not look like this.

It’s as if the illustrator went out of his way to make the Vietnamese people more “other.”

And here’s another one. This one is a little more subtle, but the message is still clear:

All of the servers are Vietnamese, and all of the servees are European.

I showed these to my wife, who was as horrified as I was. She asked what the Vietnamese people though of them. I happened to be traveling with a locally-employed staff member, so when I had the chance later that day, I showed him the photos that I took of the ads. He didn’t seem to have a strong reaction, so I asked if he thought they were racist, or colonialist, or simply offensive. He thought a moment, and told me that he understood the message of the advertisement, and intellectually agreed that it wasn’t appropriate, but he wasn’t offended by it.

I told him that if such an advertisement appeared in China, there would be a very strong reaction by the government. There would possibly be economic sanctions on the hotel that posted them. Why not in Vietnam? I asked. Vietnam has an even more recent history of colonialism than China does, and fought a bitter war to gain its independence. Wouldn’t the country want to put that painful period of humiliation behind it, and certainly not glorify it in advertisements for a hotel?

He seemed bemused, and hinted that I was thinking too much. He said that Vietnamese people have more important things to worry about, implying I was overreacting. He asked how many Vietnamese guests we saw in the hotel. I had to admit that he was the only one. So, he said, maybe the artwork is aimed at foreigners.

But that’s the point! I countered. Why would the Vietnamese people not have a problem with glorifying colonialism to the colonists?

He conceded my point, but maintained that it didn’t bother him. He said that he knows about Vietnam’s colonial past, knows that it was an unpleasant period in his country’s history, but he didn’t think the symbolism of the ad was worth getting upset about.

Maybe he doesn’t want to waste time and energy re-fighting a fight that his people won.

I guess he is OK with us foreigners dwelling in the past. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese people know who won in the end.

My coffee guy

Just down the street from the consulate, a young guy has set up a small coffee shop in an alley. He makes an iced coffee that one of the officers here has named “crack cocaine.” It’s delicious. Of course, if you put sweetened condensed milk in anything, it will taste great. But I’ve had him make me an iced coffee without any milk in it, and it’s still good.

Although Vietnam produces a lot of coffee, most of it isn’t a high quality variety. In order to cover up some of the bitterness, a lot of beans are treated with various flavorings, including cocoa. But the stuff that this guy sells is different. It’s a good variety, and it isn’t doctored up.

liquid deliciousness

On a whim, I asked if he sold beans. He speaks good “coffee shop English:” he can take your order in English without any problems. But my request pushed him out of his comfort zone. So I switched to Vietnamese and asked again. He nodded immediately, and asked how much I wanted to buy. He charges VNĐ200,000 per kilo, which is less than $5 per pound. So I asked for a pound.

out comes the huge bag of beans

measuring out exactly 500 grams

pouring my beans into a to-go bag

He seemed a little surprised when I told him not to grind the beans for me. They grind the beans to a powder here, and brew it with what they call a “phin.” Since I use a French press, I need a coarser grind. I brought the beans home, ground them up and brewed a pot.

Delicious! It isn’t the best blend I’ve ever had, but it’s much better than the sludge that they sell on the street here, and a it’s great way to start my mornings in Vietnam.

But…what kind of fibres?