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Vietnam

I’m not falling for that one

I think I may have said that to someone once, as I invited them to pull my finger.

Staying Fully Charged

I demand perfect performance from my technology.

I’ll never forget the time my cell phone died while on a trip. I was traveling with a friend in China. My friend didn’t speak Chinese, and was depending on me to navigate. About half an hour before our train was to depart for the trip back, I glanced at my phone’s battery indicator, and was shocked to see it was at 6%. In China, if you don’t have a cell phone, you are severely handicapped. You can’t order tickets online, you can’t call a car, you can’t check on the status of your train. It’s a big problem.

Now, there are many possible reasons why my cell phone battery suddenly developed a charge problem. Maybe it was just old (it wasn’t). Or it could have been because earlier in the day, we happened to visit a park that overlooks a military base, and I happened to have seen some stuff that the Chinese military probably wouldn’t want a foreigner to see, especially a foreigner with my job. I promise that I’m not a spy, but that’s a hard sell to certain governments that have trust issues. China is (in)famous for electronic eavesdropping, and they’re really, really good at it. So I’m fairly convinced that my phone was infected with some malware, and even wiping the phone and reinstalling everything couldn’t disinfect it.

Anyway.

The experience of being electronically cut off from the world was pretty annoying, and I vowed never to be stuck in that situation again. Now, every time I travel, I carry my phone charger and a battery, which the Chinese call a “fill electricity treasure.” I’m love my Anker fill-electricity-treasure: it’s cheap, small, light, and can charge my phone at least twice. Because of that experience, I have never been caught without a fully-charged phone…

…except for that time last year when I was in the press van on a mountain in Vietnam, waiting for a certain cabinet member to visit a certain world leader, and I realized that I forgot my battery back at the hotel, and my phone battery was down to 12%, and the reporter in the van needed to file a story and needed my phone’s Internet connection. After a stressful 20 minutes, he managed to file his story, and my phone still had 2% charge, so all was well.

I really need to remember to bring my battery with me at ALL times.

I love my current phone, it’s a real workhorse, and 100% reliable. But it’s more than two years old, and I use it a LOT. A few weeks ago, the battery started draining quickly. The diagnostics showed that it was only holding 84% of its original charge. Since I demand perfection (from everything but myself, apparently), it was clear that it was time for a new phone or a new battery.

I got a recommendation for a cell phone store in town that replaces iPhone batteries. I contacted them, and they offered to come to my place and replace the battery. Said it would take five minutes, and cost about $30.

Gotta love Vietnamese customer service. Sign me up!

The guy arrived an hour late, and had to go back to his shop because he brought the screwdriver for the iPhone 6, and I have an iPhone 7, and apparently the screws are a different size. But within two hours (not five minutes), I had a new phone battery. I waited for a few weeks before I declared the operation a success. But indeed the battery is holding a charge, everything seems to work just fine, and if I am ever again caught without a fully-charged phone, it will be my own fault, not my phone’s.

And no sign of spyware. Yet…

I baked and lost

Keeping morale up during the shutdown, my boss organized a baked-goods contest for Consulate personnel. My gluten-free pumpkin muffins didn’t win, but the sarcastic certificate of participation was pretty funny.

No thanks

Seafood pizza is already a hard sell for me. Seafood pizza-flavored instant noodles is a hard “no.”

Freelance diplomatting

Chinese tourists in Vietnam generally speak neither English nor Vietnamese. Which is fine, until they go off script.

I’m traveling today for business, and I’m staying in a pretty nice hotel in Da Nang. During breakfast, a middle-aged Chinese couple just wandered into my hotel’s restaurant. The greeter asked them for their room number, which is how they keep track of who has eaten breakfast from which room. Unfortunately, she was asking in English, and the Chinese couple clearly did not understand her.

It was a complete communication breakdown. I happened to be getting a glass of orange juice at the time, and saw the whole interaction. It was getting increasingly uncomfortable, so I decided I should help out.

I jumped in and helped translate between the two. Turns out, they weren’t staying here, but they wanted just to look around and see the food. (That’s a typically cute Chinese thing to do, my lovely wife loves a good buffet).

The tourism and hospitality industry in Vietnam is facing a new challenge. They invested a lot of effort in aiming their training programs to an international clientele that speaks English. Unfortunately, they are now dealing with a kind of tourist that they didn’t prepare for. As China gets richer, international travel has become more accessible to more people in China, including a large segment that does not speak English at all. Most Chinese tourists travel in groups for that very reason. If they follow the tacit rules, to stick with the group, no problem. But if they try to do something that wasn’t part of the plan, they hit a wall.

The food display was like artwork. I liked to look at it, too!

It was the first time I translated between two foreign languages, which was a challenge for my old and withering brain cells After just a short interaction, my brain was like scrambled eggs. But I managed to pull it off, barely.

And the funniest part was a few minutes later. I returned to my seat and resumed breakfast. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the couple finishing their tour and prepare to leave. Before they walked out of the restaurant, one of them turned around and surreptitiously took a photo of me. I suppose that our interaction was as interesting for them as it was for me, and now I will be one of their funny vacation stories for their friends back home: the weird white guy who spoke Chinese and Vietnamese.

The secret to a successful garage sale

Is to make it catchy!

So much truth here

Just another Sunday morning in Vietnam

A Buddhist monk chilling on his motorcycle in the park, while talking on his cell phone.

To say that Vietnamese culture is diverse and complex is to understate how incomprehensible it can be to a foreigner. I’ve been in country a year and a half, and I still feel like a newcomer. Will I ever understand this country? Possibly not, but I doubt that I will ever stop wanting to.

Just another morning

At the impromptu coffee shop that some lady sets up on the sidewalk every morning.

Moonset over Saigon

My spellcheck doesn’t think that’s a word. But I don’t know what else to call it. Early this morning, the moon was going down while the sun was coming up. The moon was setting while the sun was rising. So it’s a moonset, right?

5:46 am today.