Saturday, June 4, 2016

Setbacks, Confusion, Reevaluation... Life Goes On.

I have been gone for a while. Not because I lost my urge to write or because I have fallen into some deep, dark depression that I can't climb my way out of, but because there are times that I feel it is better to keep my thoughts to myself.

In the last six months or so, I have suffered - or rather, experienced - some setbacks. In the interest of full disclosure, I had begun the process of becoming a Foreign Service Officer - a diplomat - for the Department of State.  I made it all the way through the process, to the very last step, but didn't pass the Foreign Service Officer Assessment (the interview stage).  The fact is, I didn't prepare well enough and I wasn't ready for the all day, intensive process. Lesson learned.  I was a little bummed about the outcome, though it was no surprise to me in retrospect. I let life get in the way of preparation and the natural order of events just took over.  Since the setback, I have spent some time re-evaluating what will happen to me at the end of my tour here in Vietnam, scheduled for the latter part of this year.  I have some plans in the hopper, and I am not placing all of my hopes in any one position or location. I will keep it close hold for now, so as not to jinx myself, but I have faith that things will work out.

I recently returned from a work related trip in the border areas of central Vietnam. I took my Olympus with me and captured some photos that I was pleased with. I had lost interest in taking photos for a while, whether for lack of opportunity of being otherwise engaged, so it was good to feel interested in the hobby again.
Asking Blessings from Heaven and Earth

I particularly liked this photo I took in Tan Trach Village, Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province. The local ethnic minority of this region is the Van Kieu (Bru).  I like to think they are named "People of the Clouds" because of the morning fog common in this mountainous area. They slash and burn in their cultivation methods, meaning they will clear a piece of land, plant it for a couple of seasons and leave the land to renourish itself.  This "altar" was placed to ask blessings from Heaven and Earth (Cung Troi Dat).  It is a simple and understandable concept that they would look to God, Fortune, Fate, or a Higher Power to find favor with them considering the hand to mouth existance they live. A bad storm or arid year could mean the difference between life and death for these people.  This primitive fact of life for these locals puts my life in perspective for me and is a reminder of how blessed I am to be in this position that I sit.

I am not sure how much I will be posting on this blog at this point in my life. I may be enjoying my last days here in Vietnam too much to sit down and gather my thoughts.  We'll see.

Friday, January 8, 2016

I'll Stay for a Box of Dental Floss

What in the hell does that mean?! I will stay for a box of dental floss?  This is going to be a little embarrassing because I like to think of myself as fairly hygienic, dentally.  I brush my teeth twice a day, every day, at least. And, I try to floss my teeth every night, though there are things that get in the way of that from time to time. I know I am supposed to floss every night, but it was never anything that Mom stressed when I was growing up, so it didn't become much of  a habit then. I now figure if I can get a floss in at night just before I go to bed, there won't be much of a reason to floss in the morning as long as I brush my teeth and use mouthwash. I am sure I could be wrong, but we all make our own choices.

Just before I got to Vietnam over 13 years ago, I bought a box of J&J waxed, mint dental floss. I liked the type of floss... it wasn't tape and it wasn't the floss that is lots of little strands "roped" together. It was the type of floss I remembered as a kid, but for whatever reason seems so hard to find these days.  I have since purchased several other boxes of dental tape and floss in the search for that perfect floss, to no avail. The other flosses I use in my on-the-road bag, and at work; I even have another box near the bathroom sink, and a box under the sink just in case I run out.  But, my go to dental floss is that box that I bought over 13 years ago.
My 13 year old dental floss

I believed this dental floss was magical. That it was a never ending spool of floss.  It amazed me that year after year it never ran out.  The box isn't one of the square boxes, but rather a somewhat elongated box. I have had it so long that the writing on it has faded or even rubbed completely off in places, and I have even had to rescue it from falling apart when I pulled too hard on the floss. It wasn't easy getting the spool back in just right (you may know what I mean if you have ever had the top come off of one of those things).

Anyway, I thought the floss would last forever, and that I would stay here forever in Vietnam, as well. It amazes me that at the same time I have decided my work here in Vietnam is enough that I ran out of floss.  It is like the floss knew it was time for me to go and finally gave out its last measure. I still won't be leaving real soon because the process isn't fast, but I have made the decision. It is inevitable.  It isn't so sad as it is scary. Even in my imperfect world where I seem to be over anxious to complain about, I am scared of leaving because at least I know what to expect here.  I am comfortable. Actually, being comfortable for me is worse than being scared. I like to be challenged, and I really am not so much anymore.

I knew the dental floss was about to spool out for the last few days, but I couldn't rush it. I couldn't pull out more than I really needed to make it happen. I guess my stay here in Vietnam was the same way. I knew I was about ready to go.  Once my daughter returned to the U.S. to attend university over a year ago, there was no real incentive for staying.  I just didn't want to pull more than I really needed.

So, I have a plan.  Actually, I have a plan A, B, and C. A lot can happen between now and September (the end of my extension here), but I have to have faith that I will leave and that there is something better for me where I am going.

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,.