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.

Friday, August 22, 2014

35 Day Vacation

I just returned to Hanoi last night after 35 days of vacation. It is hard to believe everything I crammed into that 35 days, and there is no way I can go into detail about each event in this one blog today, but I would like to run down the big ticket items I enjoyed while home.  

In the past month, I rented a Nissan Xterra that I drove over 4,000 miles from New Orleans to Mobile, Al, to Jacksonville, FL, back to Mobile, and then out to Austin, TX.  We took a four day cruise to the Bahamas, joined my brother and other family members beachside in Pensacola, visited my sister in Austin, visited and chatted with other old friends in the Texas area, and spent a little time in Louisiana.  To top it all off, we had a BBQ with my nephew and brother, and other family members just before returning to Hanoi.

All of that and more, but most importantly, I re-seeded my daughter in Mobile, Alabama where she will attend the University of South Alabama for - hopefully - the next four years. The amount of effort involved in getting resettled back in the U.S., just for my daughter, was not a small feat.  It gave me great insight as to what I will have to do when I finally go back. The costs that we as Americans incur on a daily basis in the form of services - communications, transportation, insurance, etc - is overwhelming to me. 

Leaving my daughter in Mobile as Diep and I headed back to Hanoi was profoundly sad. As excited as I was for her and her future, I had no idea until the day we left how much I would miss her. I felt like I had a hole in my stomach... a feeling I haven't had since Mom passed away.

I have three days at home before I have to go back to work. Things will get frantic then. This is the calm before the storm.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Happy Independence Day

So this is my first day back to work after an honest-to-God three day break.  I know that I should have spent the weekend reflecting on how great it is to be an American, but I really focused more on relaxing since I had been so focused on work for the past couple of months.
U.S. Embassy's 4th of July Celebration at the JW Marriott in Hanoi

The weekend started for me on Thursday night at a business-attire event thrown by the US Embassy.  Though it was a 4th of July celebration, the majority of guests were from the host nation and other nations' officials.  I have never been to this annual event because I am usually on vacation in the U.S. at this time; Megan's late departure for university had me in the pocket this time, though.  I must admit I enjoyed the event much more than I thought I would in part because my suit fit me. I had two suits tailor made about six or eight years ago that I quickly grew out of, but with my recent weight loss I fit in one of them fairly cofortably, resulting in a more comfortable evening. Great food, good conversation and adult beverages rounded out the feel-good event.  Regrettably, Diep couldn't come... I know she would have had a better time than I!

On Friday, I had a couple of the geographic batchelors from the office over to finish off some beer we had left over from a recent office BBQ.  I think we had a good time just sitting by the pool all day and doing nothing. Diep felt sorry for them being away from their families and made us all some spring rolls. That definitely upped the quality of the afternoon.

Saturday and Sunday were unremarkable.  I spent more time by the pool with Diep, but not much else.  Fortunately, on Sunday we got our pool time in early because shortly after we got out and went upstairs one of the kids puked in the pool. Who does that?

Anyway, I thought I would update my long-neglected blog.  That lack of real activity, as you can see, is the biggest indicator of why I haven't been updating.

Happy Birthday America!

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Love You Amazon

When living overseas, you begin to appreciate the most those people who send you care packages and gifts - those things you want the most in a material sense.  With that in mind, one of my best friends here in Vietnam is Amazon, Amazon Dot Com.  Amazon sends me stuff I want all the time, from dried fruit and nuts, to electronics and books.  As a matter of fact, I receive more from Amazon than anyone else in the U.S.  This isn't an indictment of friends and family, however, because we all know I am really the one sending these things to myself - I am sort of my Not-So-Secret Santa.  Nevertheless, of all the services I appreciate on the internet, I would rank Amazon WAY up on the list.

But even with the great service that is Amazon, we have restrictions on what we can send through post to my location.  Those restriction are related to lithium batteries and the restrictions are related directly to the way the batteries are packed.  The guidelines are lengthy and sometimes hard to understand in intent.  I am getting somewhere with this, so hang on.  So, anyway, I wanted an expensive piece of electronic equipment that I felt fell somewhere in the middle on the guidelines and decided to give it a try.  My shipment never made it to my location, and I got an email from the courier service stating the package was returned to sender.  I was disappointed but figured I would get the refund to my CC in a few days and would just wait until my next trip to the U.S. to get the item I wanted.  Anyway, time passed and the order was never refunded.  I began to fret about the hassle of tracking down the returned package and getting my money back. I imagined in my mind the phone calls and lengthy emails... the waking up early to go to work and call during stateside business hours.  Well, none of that happened.

Through the account section of Amazon, I sent a message explaining briefly the situation. In less than 24 hours I got an email stating I would be refunded in the next 2 - 3 days.  While this may sound matter-of-course to anyone in the U.S., for me it is a small miracle exercised by Jesus Christ Himself.  Nowhere in Vietnam would this ever happen.  It is a matter of course to exhaust every ounce of energy to create difficulties for the customer in returning an item and getting a full refund.  Not sure why that is, but in my time here I have learned to accept the statement, "It just is."

But this post isn't about bashing a society or business practice; rather it is about giving a big shout out to Amazon Dot Com: My best friend. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Don't Rip Your Dong!

For Americans, and probably most people outside of Vietnam, you usually don't think twice about the condition of the currency you use in your daily transactions.  I am not sure of the specific guidelines, but I know that if you have around two-thirds of a bill the bank will change it for a new one in the U.S.  It seems that these days it helps to have an account with the bank you are trying to exchange the bill from, but in genereal, it is not something we often fret over.

In Vietnam, most currency, and all currency of any real value, is made of polymer or plastic.  The State Bank of Vietnam made the conversion about five years ago, though I don't remember the exact year.  The first problems I read about the polymer dealt with people in rural / farming areas trying to dry out their plastic currency by ironing it. Needless to say,a hot iron and plastic don't mix well together, and people learned quickly not to do that.

Something an expatriate learns quickly, that all Vietnamese people already know, is don't accept Vietnamese money - the Vietnamese Dong - that has been ripped, or torn, even if it has been taped back together.  It is nearly impossible to pass these along after you come into possession of one.  As a matter of fact, you might as well just pocket it and take it back with you to your homeland as a souvenir.

It is almost a game here.  People take every opportunity to pass these off to some other person, like a hot potato.  It seems the easiest way to get rid of one is to pass it off to a taxi driver at night when getting out of the vehicle.  But you better do it fast, because you don't want to get called back on it.  Beware, that taxi driver is playing the same game with you, trying to pass you ripped bills in change in the same manner.  The manner and method of passing on these cursed bills is endless, but one thing is for sure:  It can't be easy to get the bank to trade them in for new bills. If it was, there wouldn't be this "game" going on.

Just another example of TIV - This is Vietnam.