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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?

Control your barf reflex

Avocado smoothies are delicious. Thanks for broadening my horizons, Vietnam!

The Many Poses of Den

I was giving a student visa talk the other day, and my wife, who knows me all too well, was in charge of taking photos. She managed to capture much of my “special” body language. Clearly, I need to get some life coaching, or go to finishing school. Or just stop talking in front of people.

As usual, my humiliation is your entertainment. Enjoy.

Sunrise over Vietnam (and Cambodia)

When I was on a survey trip to the Mekong Delta last week, I stayed one night in a hotel that sits on the bank of the river that separates Vietnam and Cambodia.

The (very) little town of Châu Đốc.

I was awakened at 4:30am by the call to prayer from a nearby mosque (thanks for nothing, guys), and since I was up anyway, I took the opportunity to do a time-lapse video of the sunrise.


We’re 75% through the year, and I’m over 75% through my goal of running 2,017 kilometers this year.

This happens every so often

I work in Asia, and most of the people that I interact with on a daily basis are Asians, with Asian facial features. It gets to the point where the Asian face becomes the “norm” for me. Then when I see a Western face, I get confused.

It’s a strange feeling. I look at myself in the mirror, and my reaction is: what a funny-looking person. His eyes are sunken in, face is pale, and look at the size of that dude’s nose!

How I must appear to my colleagues here in Vietnam

This phenomenon reminds me of the line in the famous Robert Burns poem:

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!

Not really a gift, of course. Especially in my case. Sheesh, the schnoz on that guy…

Not funny, Google Maps