I often saw the “Beijing Bikini” when I was working in China. I don’t know if it has spread to Vietnam, or it originated here. Either way, this guy is rocking the look with confidence.
You never know what you’ll see when out and about in Vietnam. This looks like a pretty efficient way to deliver a bicycle, even though it doesn’t look completely safe…
This sign is posted in a bathroom stall at work, encouraging people to sit on the toilet, and not treat it like a “squaty potty.”
I’ve seen it before in Asia; it appears often in China, for example, where many bathrooms have stalls with squat toilets as well as stalls with “foreign” toilets. I guess some “country people” (their words, not mine) have never seen a western style toilet, and so treat it like a squat toilet.
That behavior apparently rubs some people the wrong way here in Vietnam. The sign in the bathroom stall was annotated with some additional information:
That’s the name every Season One finale episode of every Aaron Sorkin television show.
Just now, at the evening “snack” event at my hotel, which was relocated from the lounge level to the first-floor restaurant that seems to have gone out of business, at least temporarily, a hotel employee asked me: “how was your day?”
I really had to think about that question for a minute.
At that point, I was on my third glass of wine. Wine is very expensive in Vietnam, import duties raise the price. So when I get to enjoy a glass of wine that I don’t have to pay for, I take advantage of the chance. In addition, my day had been stressful enough that I really enjoyed taking advantage of the open bottle of wine.
How was my day?
When I was eating breakfast this morning, I was about to leave and go to work. A hotel employee told me that if I didn’t leave right now, I would have to wait another 30 minutes, because of a “security event.” They were going to lock down the restaurant, and prevent anybody from walking into the hotel lobby. The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, happens to be staying in the same hotel as I am. I have been reminded of that fact every time I enter the hotel, when I have to pass through security.
I get a second reminder of that when I return to the hotel every evening, and passed by the armed guards.
I was hoping to surreptitiously film Mr. Kim as he walked through the lobby, so I decided to wait in the restaurant. I even got a nice point of view from the hotel’s restaurant’s entrance. I very stealthily put my cell phone in my suit jacket front pocket, facing out, sort of stealth cam like. I thought I was being pretty clever, but apparently not clever enough for the North Korean security services. I was not stealthy enough. The security guys were on to me, and so they posted a person to stand right in my line of sight, effectively blocking my view. So I got a view of exactly nothing. Oh well.
So after of the drama of waiting around and looking at nothing, I was finally able to leave the hotel, go to the embassy, and start working. During this “VVIP visit,” my job has been to monitor the media coverage of the summit, and compile a daily press summary.
As you can imagine, the press coverage has been pretty chaotic.
How was my day?
I finished my report early this evening, and I emailed it out to people who had already taken off in Air Force One three hours before, meaning that they would not be able to even receive my email until they land in Washington DC in about 12 hours’ time. Nevertheless, it was necessary that I get this report out as soon as possible. To people who will not be able to read that email for 12 hours. If you’re confused by that requirement, welcome to my world.
I was not able to go directly to the hotel after work, because the hotel is still fenced off due to the very special guest who is still checked into the hotel, apparently. All I could say to the taxi driver was: “get as close as you can get.” I walked the rest of the way.
How was my day?
I had to show the guards my hotel room key before they would let me through the gate and into the hotel. Walked past the very heavily armed guards, who looked at me with an expression that told me they would be very happy to shoot me, given half a chance.
So after I had managed to get into the hotel, and was past my second glass of wine, well into my third, when the hotel employee asked me: “how was your day?,” it was hard to encapsulate my feelings into a very simple answer. How was my day, indeed? Good question.
So I answered in what I thought was the most direct and honest way. “Strange,” I replied.
To my surprise, the employee seemed to be on the same page. Our respective days, indeed, the last several days, were probably equally indescribable by him, and by all of the people who work in the hotel as well. I have heard that they have been subjected to a lot of very unreasonable and outrageous demands by my temporary roommate. So he seem to understand exactly what I meant. He half-smiled, nodded knowingly, and simply said:
That guy totally gets me. Here he is:
My wife commented to me the other day that I was getting exactly what I wanted. I’ve always had a fascination with North Korea. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted my prior post: proximity to North Korea. To my surprise, I’m getting a lot more interaction with North Koreans here in Vietnam than I ever did in China. But now, I think I’m over it. I think I’ve had enough. Beam me up Scotty. This place is weird.
Even this kind, I guess…
I think I may have said that to someone once, as I invited them to pull my finger.
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.
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…
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.
Seafood pizza is already a hard sell for me. Seafood pizza-flavored instant noodles is a hard “no.”
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.
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.