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Vietnam

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.

…then you must be a caveman.

From the hotel’s safety instructions.

Actual Job Title: April 20

“Chief of Child Department”

Finally had a bowl of Pho that I liked

One of the national dishes of Vietnam is “pho.” It’s spelled “phở.” To  pronounce it correctly, start to drop the f-bomb, and leave off the final “k” sound.  Or start to say “full” and leave off the final “ll” sound. It’s a noodle soup, usually with beef or chicken.  It’s very mild.  Vietnamese people see it as comfort food.  I see it as boring.  Usually.

By Codename5281 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23216056

A few days ago, I got a stomach bug that was really debilitating (I was lying in bed all afternoon today with stomach cramps).  This evening I wasn’t really hungry, but I needed to get something in my stomach, so I went out for some pho. It isn’t hard to find pho in Vietnam.  It’s everywhere, from streetside bistros to upscale restaurants.  I chose a middle-of-the-road chain called Pho 24.

Usually I don’t like pho.  It’s so mild that it’s boring.  But this time, it was just what the doctor ordered.  The rice noodles are easy to digest, and the warm broth feels good on an upset tummy. Maybe pho is Vietnam’s answer to chicken soup. If chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, maybe pho is Vietnamese penicillin.

No, you can’t.