Saturday, October 10, 2015

First Flight Experience on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

1 October 2015

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Having splurged some of my Vietnam Airlines points on a round trip ticket to Saigon to see my sweetie who departed the day prior, I was pleased to find myself on my Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flight.  The first I had heard of the Dreamliner was just a few short months ago when I saw a PR clip of this largely composite airliner taking off into an impressive near-vertical attitude before finally leveling off into normal flight.  You may notice in the clip that the paint scheme is Vietnam Airlines.

I realized I was on the 787 after boarding and seeing how much room it afforded. It is similar in size to the 777 that has been operating in the VN Airlines fleet for some years, but it seems bigger. I haven't had a chance to compare the two aircraft in the in-flight magazine because mine was missing from the front seat pocket.  Saying the aircraft is roomy may sound more complimentary than it should, because for me it just means there are more seats to pack into the plane.  I have no more leg or elbow room on this monstrous aircraft than I do on any other VN flight I take.  Another consideration when talking about the massiveness of the aircraft is that it takes forever to load.  I had a 10:50am boarding time for a 11:30am departure; we didn't actually pull away from the jetway until noon.  And, though I am writing this in-flight, I predict the biggest headache will be waiting for, and getting my luggage in Saigon. My experience is the larger the aircraft the more luggage that comes off the plane, and the more people clustered around the carousel.

The aircraft seems noisy! It might be the composite skin or the larger engines, but when the engines started up, it felt to me like I was inside the cowling when I heard the huge turbines start churning.  There was a myriad of other noises I was more than aware of given the volume of those mysterious noises from inside the cabin. It might be called a Dreamliner, but no one will be dreaming until the aircraft is well underway.

On the plus side, I love the 3D maps displayed prominently at the bulkheads. I only regret that we don't get the in-flight entertainment on the domestic route. I am not sure if that is a licensing issue on the movies and other programs, or just a way for the airline to extend the longevity of their equipment.

The pilot and crew up front are all Vietnamese.  Apparently, they received all of their training and certs before the aircrafts were delivered. I imagine this is a point of pride for the airline and the country, given most of the aircraft in the past almost always had a foreign pilot aboard.

The Dreamliner is a huge leap in technology compared to the TU-134's of old - they were the domestic aircraft of choice when I first arrived in Vietnam in 1991 and continued in service until a series of crashes in the mid-90s. The wet-leased 737s flew well and were suited to the domestic capacities that the airlines generated.  I believe VN Airlines owns all of their 737s and A320s now, and I feel they are definitely a better aircraft for these short domestic flights.  The only real downfall on the smaller aircraft is that the passengers are almost always relegated to busing to and from the aircraft - I love the jetway, especially with the often oppressive weather in Vietnam.

After landing, we actually had to bus to the terminal.  This took longer because of the larger passenger numbers, and it was not convenient at all. And I was right about the baggage offload and carousel.

Later, I got some of the stats on the Vietnamese-owned dreamliner:

4 aircraft in VN Airlines inventory
Max range:  15,700km
Number of seats: 274
Business: 28
Premium economy: 35
Economy: 211

Ends up, the 777 has a slightly larger passenger capacity, but the range of the dreamliner is phenomenal!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Tu Quy Restaurant

I usually don't do Vietnamese restaurant reviews on this blog, mostly because I suspect the few people who read this would ever be in a location that I reviewed to give the restaurant a try. This is especially true for the review I am about to give.

Setting this up, I should say that I travel to central Vietnam quite a bit during the summer months, and when I get into the northern part of central Vietnam it becomes somewhat harder to find a restaurant to my liking.  As a matter of fact, today I am in Dong Hoi City, Quang Binh Province, and that last sentence could not be truer for this place to me.

My first time in Dong Hoi City, it really wasn't a city, but rather a town. A very miserable town with a hotel named the Nhat Le after the river that flows in front of it. We called it the Rat Le for the rats that inhabited it.  My first stay at the Nhat Le Hotel in1991 was quite a surprise to me. I was provided a room with amenities that would have caused riots in a US prison system. The toilet had no seat on it and the bed mattress was disgusting.

Dong Hoi has come a long way since those days, but the restaurant industry hasn't followed suit.  Even the restaurants at the "four star" hotels leave much to be desired. I imagine most tourist who travel here patronize the many shacks that line the road that runs north of the city and sell fresh seafood.  Seafood is easy because I like it grilled and grilled is hard to mess up.  But, I usually travel with others and we eat a lot of seafood when we dine with our counterparts.  My experience is that most of the Americans I work with don't like seafood as much as I do. So when I end up in Dong Hoi uninvited to a team dinner with our counterparts, I head to a restaurant that does traditional Vietnamese dishes that aren't seafood.

I don't even remember who introduced me to Tu Quy Restaurant, but it was in 2002 or 2003 when I first ate there. They only do about eight dishes, but they do them well.  There are several restaurants on the same street, but you can pick out the Tu Quy fairly quickly because it is the one with all of the patrons.  I like to hit it around 5:30pm before the rush that starts after 6.  The restaurant is located at 17 Co Tam Street, very near the Dong Hoi Market near the Nhat Le River.  If you do ever end up there, make sure you have the shrimp and pork pancake (bánh khoái or bánh bèo), and the grilled pork with lemongrass (thịt nướng xả ớt).  There are other dishes there, but these are my favorites.  Huda and Saigon Beer are both available and those are great beers on ice to wash it all down. I feel certain the ice is safe because it has a hole in the middle indicating it is made using a condenser and isn't drug through the gutter before it gets in your glass like block ice.

If you do end up in Dong Hoi City, I guarantee you there is very little joy here outside of the Tu Quy Restaurant.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Old Age and Intolerance

First of all, I want to apologize for the long time between posts. I have been super busy and really haven't had the time to sit down and write.

Anyway, this is the first weekend I have had in a long time that I could just sort of relax.  I went into the office yesterday, but didn't get much accomplished. I did get on the treadmill before leaving and managed to run over six miles, which is the first time in a VERY long time I have done that distance.

It was precisely because of that six miles that I decided to take today off. I have been lazing around the apartment nearly all day. Diep is in Cambodia - Pnom Penh to be exact - and that leaves me in a very interesting position. The one where I can do whatever I want, or don't want.

So sitting around all day, I posted a couple of photos to facebook and mosied around to some of the friends sites of whom I have unfollowed.  You see, I had this phase that I went through a couple of years ago where I either requested or was requested friendship with those certain peoples whom I don't necessarily share the same values or opinions.  It was a bungled project, I realize now.  The fact is, the older I get, the less tolerant of other's opinions I am. I guess I am just so set in my ways and I have thought things out enough that "new" ideas and opinions just annoy me. Am I wrong? Perhaps.  But, that doesn't mean I should read every idea or opinion someone has and just have to swallow it. In my mind, if I read something so backwards from the way I feel on a news feed, I am tacitly agreeing with it if I don't rebuttal.  This of course, is not reality, just what I am thinking.  So rather than refute everything I disagree with, I just unfollow people. It has worked out generally well, but with the elections coming up, I don't think I will be able to stymie every idiot opinion going through the news feed. Yes, it is likely I will be closing my FB account soon for at least a long little while.  As far as those accounts I mosied to, nothing has changed, I didn't un-unfollow anyone.

If you are a FB friend reading this, I assure you that I haven't unfollowed you;-)

Just so everyone doesn't think I am a bigger a-hole than I really am, I would like to emphasize that I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just don't want that infringing on my right to not know what that opinion is.

On a happier note, my daughter is returning to Hanoi over the Summer break. I love her very much and have missed her equally so. Being able to call her on a regular basis has eased the pain of separation, but I will be most pleased to have her back under the same roof. Even if I will have to wear pants in the house for three months!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Alzheimer's Disease

Today I took a nap after arriving in Danang from Hanoi. I didn't sleep real well last night and I thought a nap would do me good. Quickly, I fell into a deep sleep, but not for long. I don't know why I woke suddenly, but when I did, I had no idea where I was or who I was, and I couldn't make my mind fix itself quick enough before I almost went into a panic.

I don't think there is anything wrong with me. I have been traveling a bit lately, never in one place for more than two weeks before going somewhere else. I think it was just a very brief lapse of orientational awareness brought on by stress and a lack of sleep, but the experience made me care more about those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. I was listening to Glen Campbell's swan song 'I'm not gonna miss you' just the other day and I found it profoundly sad. 

I read that there are ways to keep your mind sharp with games and puzzles, and that staying away from foods with lots of processed sugar will prevent, or delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia. But even doing those things, I can't help but to be afraid of the seemingly arbitrary nature of those illnesses.

Right now, my job entails keeping track of eight teams in as many operational locations throughout the country of Vietnam. Having to know movement and visit schedules, as well as details of the sites these teams are on, is quite a head full of information. I think I do fairly well keeping up, and I think the job is on a par with any of the most challenging puzzles and games out there. I just wonder if it is enough to thwart the insidious mental diseases I will be up against as I age.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

One Week without Sweets

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a sweet tooth. If you see me eating junk food, I am probably binging.  When growing up, I was always rewarded for finishing my plate with a treat. I guess I took that mentality to my adulthood, even though I never found it particularly hard to finish my plate anyway.

So, not for any reason in particular, I decided to try to go without sweets for a while. That while has stretched past the seven day mark as of today, and I really don't have any particular urge to go back to sweets. That being said, sitting alone in the house knowing there is ice cream in the refrigerator does have a certain draw to it.

Anyway, I really don't know that dropping the sweets will lead to wieght loss. As a matter of fact, I doubt that it will. I stopped drinking sodas well over a year ago (though I do drink a can of Coke or Diet Coke from time to time) and I haven't had any weight loss as far as I can see.

I have also tried to avoid processed food recently. Living in Vietnam, there aren't a lot of processed foods to eat in my house anyway and when there are, it isn't too hard to avoid them.

I guess I already knew it wouldn't be that difficult to drop sweets from my diet. The trouble is when I eat something sweet, I have a hard time stopping.  I think I will keep this going for at least a little while longer. I think I feel better, but it could just be a placebo effect.

If I experience anything particularly revolutionary about this new habit, I will be sure to let you know,.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Internet Silent

I know I have been away from this blog for quite some time. I have been internet silent for the most part, but not for a lack of activities.  In December we finished out our last field activity for 2014 and sent the teams home.  Shortly after that, I participated in the semi-annual helicopter inspection with a team from Hawaii, and just a couple of days after that, Diep and I went to the U.S. on home leave.

Upon our arrival in Mobile, AL, Diep and I enjoyed a reumion with Megan. Being the Christmas Season, it should go without saying we did a lot of shopping; but more importantly, we found a car for Megan, and got her insured, trained up and licensed to ease the boredom of living on campus without her own transportation.  I am excited for this upgrade in her life. We also got a chance to check out a local student-oriented apartment complex near the school.  We were sold hook, line and sinker, and it looks like Megan will be moving off campus her sophomore year. The apartment complex is well-kept, secure, modern and looks to be ideal for any college kid going to school.  As a matter of fact, I am a little jealous. While in Mobile, we also had a great new year's celebration with my brother and family in downtown Mobile, watching the band Village People and Evelyn Champagne King as we rang in the New Year 2015.

Three weeks after arriving in Mobile, Diep and I were headed back to Vietnam.  Just a few days in Vietnam, I had work travel to Bangkok and took Diep wtih me. I had a little down time while in Thialand and Diep and I enjoyed the sites and food. She even got to stay a little longer and help out a friend who is there waiting to have her baby. She will be back this week.

On Saturday, I travel to Hawaii for a week, while at the same time, we are gearing up for the next field activity in Vietnam.  Lots to do and think about.  I will try to keep the blog up to date, but it is hard to find the time to sit down and put it on "paper".

Monday, November 3, 2014

Site Visits

Part of my job is to travel to different team locations and participate in Det 2 site visits. This field activity was no different, and last week I headed out with my boss to visit all of the recovery teams that will be operating in this upcoming 117th Joint Field Activity. One of the more famous cities I visited last week was Dien Bien Phu, where the French were routed by General Giap in 1954. While I didn't get to visit the historical museum there this time, I did get to eat one of the more exotic foods on the Vietnamese menu.

We were invited by our host nation counterparts to dinner at a local restaurant that specialized in, among other food animals, water turtle.  Turtles in Vietnamese are differentiated with two different names.  The tortoise or land turtle is referred to as a 'con rùa',  whereas the terrapin or water turtle is referred to as a 'ba ba'.  We were invited to witness the ba ba's execution before the meal and most of the team shoved their way into the kitchen to view the large turtle that had been selected.  Many stayed to watch as he was hooked under the jaw to pull his head out of the shell, and then unceremoniously decapitated. Though I don't have an issue with eating an animal that was raised to be food, I did opt out on watching the butchering of the turtle.

From the turtle, four dishes were produced for the team from various body parts.  The preparation was different for each part and the presentation was varied as well.  The bile and blood of the creature was poured in separate bottles, mixed with locally produced rice wine (Cuốc Lùi).  There were other assorted dishes presented as side dishes, not from the turtle, to include sweet potato fries and chicken.

While I believe the intention was to bestow honor on the visiting guests, the reality of eating nearly every part of the huge terrapin was not as enjoyable.  On the list of least favorite parts of the turtle, I would rank high the testicles, seconded by the bile rice wine, and thirdly, the soup filled with the grissly part of the shell that makes up the hinging areas (I believe I referred to them as gummy worms from Hades).  The turtle was tough in general and not easy to eat at all and the fries and chicken disappeared quickly.

Though there was much to be desired in the food selection, I did enjoy the company.  I think  we become closer friends with those whom we share turtle testicles.  I only regret I wasn't able to find someone more honorable than myself to do that.