Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gratuitous Video Scene #7: The Mekong Delta

Here is a video of driving through the Mekong Delta. This is one of the most important river systems in Asia. Covered in jungle but densely packed with people and rice fields this is a beautiful corner of Vietnam.

If you find this video somewhat dizzying, imagine 10 hours in a car that is swerving back and forth into oncoming traffic at speeds you doubt are suitable for the poorly maintained and potholed road.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Oh Rainy Days!

The glistening surface of my flooded alley. Maybe about 30 cm.

Ok so, I never knew what monsoon weather meant. Even after learning about it in climatology class, I never really understood what made that different from our May Showers in Canada.

Well. Now I know that monsoon means a shitload of rain, wind, lightning and thunder in a short period of time. And this is usually followed by about 20 minutes of cooler weather, until the hot blazing sun comes back as well as the hazy humidity.

The night before last, there was a crazy storm that kept waking me up all night. Flashes of non-stop paparazzi lightning and jack-hammer rain pattering kept me tossing and turning from about 2am until maybe 6am. I kept waking up to open up my balcony door, expecting to see a witch on a motorbike cackle at me à la Wizard of Oz.

No witch. But my alleyway was flooded. My house is more elevated than the neighbours, and I could see they had sandbagged their living room and were using buckets to drain the knee-high water out of their house.

I decided that rather than risk getting an electric shock by driving my electric scooter to work (I ask: Can that happen?), Diep would drive me to work on his real motorbike. Bad choice. The larger boulevard, Kim Ma, was completely jam packed because it is about the only street in the area that doesn't flood (not something I call good engineering, but slightly better engineering). I sat there on the motorbike for about 10 minutes. Enough time to breathe in about 100 different toxic compounds and snap a few photos.

Kim Ma street grid lock. This is about the only street that doesn't periodically flood

We turned around to go back through my alley and out the other street, Doi Can. It seemed to have less traffic. We quickly realised it was seemingly traffic-free because two giant lakes at each side of my alleyway prevented any vehicles from passing. It was a real riot, people just idling and watching other motorbikes try and make the devilish feat across the lake, one-eye closed hoping water won't enter the exhaust pipe. We were not about to try that.

Doi Can street. Looks like some people decided to make the leap.

So. I went back home. Flood day!

Here's a video of when we decided to go back through the main alleyway. You'll notice a little bit of flooding.... but you soon realise that flood water came from the overloaded open-sewage canal! Just put your feet up.

(Once you hit the 35 second mark, you pass the alleyway to head to my house)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cheap Eats: Breakfast in Vietnam

This morning I popped out of bed and decided I wanted to go and try bun bo Hue for breakfast. I had seen it on the breakfast menu of my favourite vegetarian restaurant, and and though it was twice as expensive as the usual breakfast item, pho, at only about 1.15 USD a bowl it was still a steal.

The vegetarian version of this soup from Hue has vegetarian beef and rice noodles and is flavoured with chilies and lemongrass. The main difference between pho noodles and bun noodles is that bun noodles are thin and round, and made fresh as I don't think they can be found dry. The soup also came with wedges of lime, more chilies (as if at the start of a 35+ degree day you really want to load up on the chilies), and a plate of fresh herbs and leafy greens.

It was different than what I am used to eating for breakfast: toast or cereal. No real Vietnamese would ever toast up some bread and spread it with peanut butter. It's still pretty rare to find a toaster or even an oven in the typical Vietnamese household.

The other day I introduced Diep to cereal. He didn't know what it was, but when I described it to him, he instantly knew what I was talking about. He had seen it on TV and in movies. Eager to try this new food, he followed me in the kitchen where I filled up a bowl with granola. He wasn't sure what to do next, so I instructed him to pour milk in the bowl. I had to do it for him, as he wasn't sure how much to put in.

In the end, he didn't really like it. It was cold and sweet. Something he just wasn't used to eating in the morning. I thought maybe we could alternate breakfasts between eating sticky rice and tofu (which is what he's been making) and cereal.

Oh well. I guess I'll just have to get used to eating more Vietnamese breakfasts, or risk him leaving so early in the morning.... trying to escape my dry toast and cold wet cereal!

Maybe tomorrow I'll get the 60-cent pho bo chay.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hot Wheels: Electric Scooter

On my motorbike in front of my house

So I splurged. With the financial help of my parents, I bought a brand new electric scooter!

The Yamaha Metis was a little bit expensive, but still dirt cheap compared to the price one of these would cost in Canada. I just still have to ride my bicycle to the market, or else the market vendors will overcharge me for sure!

Gone are the days of biking in 38 degree weather, or else having to take a motorbike taxi or wait for my friend to come and pick me up. Gone are the days where I arrive at a dinner in the old quarter, panting in front of my dinner friends with dark patches of sweat slowly expanding in size over my chest and back.

And those days have been more and more often. Except for a couple odd days this past week where the temperature felt a chilly 28 degrees, I don't think ithas dropped below 35 for months.

Now I can zoom around in my exhaust-free scooter, planting trees and flowers in my wake. Seriously. Instead of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds spewing from the bike, hearts, stars and little princesses come out to tell you happy stories that smell like raspberry sorbet and vanilla.

You'd think this was true by some of the looks I get riding around! Sometimes I notice in my peripheral vision, a motorbike that seems to be riding at exactly the same speed as me. I only need to turn my head slightly to see a motorbike with three Vietnamese construction workers squeezed onto the tiny seat, all squinting at me with a puzzled look on their face. In those cases just nod and smile.

It's a pretty sweet bike. It goes about 40 km on one charge, takes about 4-6 hours to charge, and can reach up to 30-40 km/h. Traffic is often slow enough that I pass cars, motorbikes and bicycles easily!

Here's your chance: I haven't named my bike yet, so I need your help. I want to you help think of a name for it! Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Asian Realisation #2 - I am Cool

As if some sort of force out there is correcting an imbalance, I am now officially cool.

9-year old Jonathan would never believe that 24-year old Jonathan would be walking around the streets with complete strangers waving and saying Hello! Yeah. If kids said Hello to 9-year old Jonathan, it was probably to distract him while another kid would run over to trip him. They would then steal his package of Jolly Ranchers and run off.

No, not even 13-year old Jonathan would believe that people would want to be his friend, let alone talk to him. If someone would have told me 12 years ago, that 15-year olds would see me in the street and yell YO! How are you!, and give me a thumbs up I would have told them they had one too many blue-razz Slurpees.

There is justice in the world.
Welcome to Vietnam.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gratuitous Video Scene #6: Can Tho Street Spying

On my recent business trip to Vietnam's south, I had to unexpectedly return back to Hanoi early. Because of bad planning logistics, I spent an entire day in the city of Can Tho. At the centre of the Mekong Delta, Can Tho is not a particularly interesting city.

I sat for many hours on a bench at the riverside, staring at people walking by and judging whether not a foreigner napping on a bench would be too strange a sight. It seemed already strange enough that I was sitting there watching what looked like ordinary children shovelling a pile of sand casually left on the sidewalk into used linen bags. In 30+ degree afternoon weather, what else is someone in Vietnam supposed to do? Everyone else of the benches were napping!

That, and the lady who makes mia da, an iced drink made out of crushed sugarcane. I watched her for hours in between reading Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, methodically shoving fresh sugarcane into her mill. After this video was taken, she moved to my side of the street and I quickly signalled to her that I wanted one. It cost me about 30 cents.