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Everybody loves Mr. Phi.

Mr. Phi is one of the best benefits that my apartment building provides.

I live in a “serviced apartment.” In addition to the facilities like a gym and a swimming pool, there is also a staff of people who are here to help us with minor life issues.  They’re all great, but one guy stands out.  Before we moved to Ho Chi Minh City, we visited this building, and got a tour.  The young man who showed us the building and talked with us introduced himself as “Phi” (pronounced “fee”).  He’s like a young cheerful Buddha: he’s a little overweight, and his round face is always lit up with a smile.  He talks with a cheerful ad charming accent, and always seems upbeat and happy.

When we moved in, we were delighted that Mr. Phi was still working in the building.  He helps us get a taxi when we need to go to the airport, provides insight into the local culture, tells us how to get around, and generally helped us adjust to life in Ho Chi Minh City, all with a smile on his face and a helpful attitude.  When I talk with my coworkers who live in the building, we all agree that Mr. Phi is our favorite member of the staff.

He’s also very cute.  Last Christmas, one of my neighbors got a real Christmas tree.  She said that Mr. Phi timidly knocked on her door one night, and hesitantly asked if she had a real tree.  She became worried that she had unwittingly violated the fire code or a local health ordinance.  No, it was that Mr. Phi had never seen a real Christmas tree, and he was curious.  “Can I see the tree?” he asked shyly.

How cute is Mr. Phi?!

There was a mystery about his age.  None of us were sure how old he was.  We all agreed that he could be 24, and he could also be 45.  He might be just out of college, or he could be married with three kids.  We couldn’t see any clue on his face or in his demeanor that indicated how old he was.  I actually liked not knowing.  Later, when we finally asked him, and learned the truth, I was a little disappointed to know, because the mystery was so much fun.

One of the daily necessities in the modern world is a connection to the internet.  Mr. Phi has a friend who works for a local service provider, so he has some inside information and got us a good deal.  When we moved in to the apartment, he helped us select a suitable package, one that was much less expensive than the package the salesperson wanted us to buy, but which was good enough for our needs.  He also helps us with billing and payment.

Yesterday, the internet stopped working.  This morning, I stopped by the front desk to ask.  Unfortunately, Mr. Phi was not on duty at the time, and the desk clerk (who’s also nice, but hey, he’s no Mr. Phi) said that Mr. Phi was the best person to ask.  He said that Mr. Phi would come on duty later this morning.  I said thanks, I’ll stop down later and ask him.

Ten minutes before his shift was to start, Mr. Phi rang my doorbell.  He said he heard I was having problems with my Internet connection, so he just called his friend and told him to fix it.  It should be working now, he said.  Sure enough, it was back on.  He fixed my problem for me, and made a special trip up to my apartment to tell me in person that the problem was fixed.

How much do we love Mr. Phi?!

After my tour is over and I go on to another post, I’ll miss a lot about Vietnam.  Without a doubt, though, living under the watchful care of Mr. Phi is something that I might miss the most.

Believe it or not, this is downtown.

Ho Chi Minh City is a huge city with millions of residents, but there are still parks with towering old-growth trees.  This makes the city different from many other cities in Asia, and I love it.

I’ve been in Vietnam for almost a year already (holy cow, how did time go by so fast?), and I’m looking for my next assignment.  Wherever I go, it will be amazing and wonderful, but it’s hard to imagine a city as livable as Ho Chi Minh City.

So sleepy

I choose to believe that he is tuckered out after a long early-morning ride, and just stopped in the park to rest.

Any port in a storm

McDonald’s is a perfectly acceptable place to apply one’s makeup, right? Right?

What I was doing in McDonald’s is not relevant, so don’t judge me. 🙂

Happy 128th birthday, Uncle Ho

Ho Chi Minh referred to himself as “Uncle Ho,” which is strange in at least two ways. First, all evidence is that his name was actually Nguyen, not Ho. But more importantly, the way Vietnamese people call their real uncles is not by their last name, but by their first. So if he were my real uncle, I should call him Uncle Minh, not Uncle Ho.

Anyway, it’s his birthday. Big deals of this are being made all over town.

“Chairman Ho Chi Minh Lives forever in our cause” (which cause that is is also forever undefined).


Don’t get comfort until you need it.

The city where I served in my first posting was large, but not very international. Western food (beyond McDonald’s) wasn’t very popular there. After too many disappointments, I gave up looking for decent pizza. Tex-Mex was another scarcity. Chinese people tend not to like it, so it’s pretty rare in China. There was one Mexican food place in town. One of my friends said that it was a good idea not to eat at that place too soon after arriving in China, it was better to wait until you had been in China for several months before going there. This was because although it was pretty good, it wasn’t quite the same as in America.

That point was driven home for me yesterday when a group of us went to eat at an American style diner in Ho Chi Minh City. The decor of the place was really good, it felt like a typical small American restaurant. The menu was also full of very familiar options. We were all very impressed, and look forward to our comfort food. I ordered a breakfast entrée, because what’s more comforting than an American breakfast?

The food was not disappointing. My smoked salmon and Swiss cheese scrambled eggs was just what the doctor ordered. All of us were very happy with our food.

Now, to be honest, it wasn’t exactly, 100% the same as American diner food. I think if I had gone to that restaurant right after leaving America, I would have been disappointed, or at least I would have had a very different opinion of the food. However, after having been away from American food for several months, it was a nice taste of home. I will be back.

But maybe not for a few weeks.

By the way, the place is called “The Diner V.” You can Google it.

You have to wonder about signs like this

There are propaganda posters and banners everywhere in Vietnam, it’s part of the communist culture, I guess.  Some are pretty benign, like telling everybody to celebrate Labor Day.  Occasionally, though, I see a banner that really makes me wonder what’s going on.

Like this one, for example.  This was displayed prominently, on a major street near where I live:

“Don’t make consumer alcohol from industrial alcohol.”

I think that’s generally good advice.  I wouldn’t want to drink alcoholic beverages that were made from industrial alcohol, and I assume that most people would have the same preference as I.  But why exactly does the government feel the need to make banners promulgating this sage advice common sense?

To my pea-sized brain, the government has two reasons to put out these propaganda banners.  One is to spread its message and “educate” the people.  Like the Labor Day message, for example.  The other is to address a problem that has occurred.  Since I don’t think that telling people how not to make alcoholic beverages is high on the need for public education, my conclusion is that some people have been making consumer alcohol from industrial alcohol.  Which is pretty scary.

This should be everywhere

Gotta love the idea of a coffee shop on the back of a scooter.

Adding personal travel to business travel: win

Taking some of my own advice about business travel, I decided to tack on an extra day to a recent trip.  Totally worth it.

I spent a day in the city of Nha Trang, which is on a beautiful stretch of beach.  It’s a popular vacation spot.  People go swimming and watch the sunrise.

Sunrise on the beach. This is what I’m talking about.

I spent the day catching up on reading, took a long walk, ate some local food, and relaxed.

Yes, there is whiskey in that glass.  I think.  The bar was stingy with the portions of liquor, but the presentation was pretty great. 

Talking to high school kids

Instead of a bell or a buzzer to signal the start and end of classes at this school, someone beats this drum. No, really, I swear to God that’s what happens.

On a recent trip to a city in Vietnam, I got to talk with some high school students about studying in America.  The focus of my talk was the wide range of choices that American colleges offer.  I told them that they should really think about what they want out of life, and then decide if studying in America is the best choice for them.

When I talk with high school kids in another country, who don’t really have a strong concept of the American college experience, I like to show the number of majors that a typical college offers.  One of the most popular majors that Vietnamese students choose is business administration.  That isn’t surprising, given the focus on economic development in modern Vietnamese society.  But I like to choose a medium-sized American college, and then list all of the majors that the college offers.  It usually blows their minds.  Which is the point.

I managed to hold the attention of a room full of really smart kids for at least 33% of the time.

During the Q&A, their questions focused on the three topics that people usually ask: safety, cost, and the Trump Administration’s policies. I wore my diplomat hat and answered the questions truthfully and tactfully.

I really like talking with students, especially students at this kind of high school.  This is what they call a “gifted” high school.  Students here are on the fast track to the best universities in Vietnam.  They are smart, advantaged, and are clearly the upper echelon of Vietnamese society.  They will be the leaders of their generation.  I’m proud to have shared with them some American values and what our educational system has to offer.