Friday, December 12, 2008

Adventures in Nam

As usual, I haven’t posted in a while, who woulda thought. Anyway, just so you can a visual, it’s about 11:00 on a Friday night, I’m in a Highlands Coffee (Vietnam’s answer to Starbucks), and I’m planning on staying here until they kick me out (which is probably going to be pretty soon), in fact, I am the only person here and they are starting to shut off the lights like they want me to go. Whatever, I’m staying until they forcibly remove me, good internet is hard to find here.

 We’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City for…. 11 days now and it has been pretty cool. Well, pretty cool for me usually means that I have delicious, cheap food easily at my disposal. Vietnam is the place to go if you love Pho, and boy do I love Pho.

Before I go any further, I have to tell a story about what just happened to me. I got kicked out of Highlands Coffee, which was expected, so I went next door to the Hotel next door (one of the nicest hotels in Ho Chi Minh). They have internet in their lobby but are very particular about who they let use it. Obviously, I try to walk through the door like I belong there, but trying to not let the guard notice me. I’m fine until I sit down and open up the computer, at which point he comes over, brow furrowed and asks: “You stay here?”

“Of course.” I say, hoping that will be the end of it. It’s not.

“What room number?” I don’t miss a beat.

“406.” I pray that this place has a 406. He looks at my Ankor beer T-Shirt and dirty khaki shorts and flip-flops. I also see a “you are now running on a reserve battery power” message come up on my computer at this time. Damn. He starts to walk away but I push my luck. “Umm… do you by any chance have an adaptor that I could use? I’m running low on battery.”

“No, I am sorry.” I see an adaptor on the far side of the lobby and point to it.

“Umm… well… can I use that one maybe?”

“No, engineer needs it.”

“Well, can I use it until the engineer needs it?” I pushed a little too far, he starts to get nosy.

“Why don’t you go up to your room? All the rooms have adaptors.” I expected that one.

“Well you see, I need to do work and my friend cannot sleep while I am typing on the computer.” He looks at me skeptically. I keep talking. “He has to get up very early tomorrow for a flight and the light from the computer keeps him awake, can I just use the adaptor for a bit?”

“Just go up to your room and work.” I stick to my story hard.

“I can’t. I don’t want my friend to be mad at me, right?”

“You can work at the desk in your room.”

“My friend is a very light sleeper and I don’t want to wake him, I will only be about an hour.” He seems to not have a response, I can smell victory. I go for the jugular. “If someone needs the adaptor let me know, I’ll give it back.” He relents, his shoulders slump a bit.

“OK, but you must not move it, the engineer must use it.”

So here I am, sitting in the lobby of an incredibly expensive hotel with a fake identity, stealing their WiFi and charging my computer. God I love Vietnam.

Anyways, I was talking about the food… I sense a theme in my blogs…. Whatever. Pho is unbelievable and at about a dollar a meal it doesn’t hurt the pocket so much. Some people are starting to get tired of the Pho but I just can’t get enough of it. Each Pho Restaurant has their own variety of sauces and such to put in the noodle/soup/meat mixture so you never get bored. Just for example, today I had Pho Bo (Pho with beef) and I had the pleasure of adding a Vietnamese hot sauce, plumb sauce, pieces of garlic, and some sort of leafy flavoring that they put on the table. Doesn’t get much better than broth with that many flavors.

Quick update, the guard guy is eying me pretty hard right now and talking in hushed tones on a phone, so there is a decent chance this will get interrupted by me getting booted from this place.

As for our day-to-day activities we are having a fair amount of lectures from various NGO leaders and professors around Ho Chi Minh and been watching documentaries like “An Inconvenient Truth” (which you have probably seen) and “The Corporation” (which you might not have and should). We have had some really great group discussions out of these topics and I’m pumped for more to come.

Another quick update, they just shut off the AC. I think they are trying to make it as uncomfortable as possible for me, but I’m staying strong. My T-Shirt and shorts can outlast that dude’s dress shirt and horribly patterned green tuxedo vest. SHIT, he just came over and asked for my name and apartment number… I gave him a fake name…

Damn, looks like I picked the wrong number to give him, 406 has been living there for 2 years… they kicked me out, but the dude they sent to remove me from the hotel thought the whole thing was hilarious. I’m around the corner now in front of Highlands Coffee where thankfully they leave the internet on all night and have a very nice security guard who just offered me a cigarette. I declined, but my Vietnamese skills impressed him. I gave him the old “Xin Jiao” (hello) and “Cam un” (Thank you) when he offered me the cigarette.

 A group of us is working for a company called Green Energy in Vietnam, which is run by a guy originally from South Carolina named Stephen Mueller. Green Energy’s big project right now is growing plants that produce oil for clean biodiesel fuel in areas of Vietnam where food crops can’t grow because of the devastation caused by agent orange, but a small part of his project is restaurants for their used cooking oil which he sells in the form of bio-diesel fuel, which works in cars. For the past couple days I have been going around Ho Chi Ming with Van Ahn, one of the Vietnamese students who is staying with us, and visiting various restaurants around a district of the city where people don’t really speak any English. At each restaurant we ask them what they do with their cooking oil and try to raise their awareness about the issues and then offer to buy their cooking oil off them. The responses have been varied to say the least. Everything from an owner not looking us in the eye and telling us to F off before we could get in the door, to a woman inviting us into her restaurant for Iced Tea and asking all sorts of questions about the project.


Tomorrow we leave wicked early for a day trip to the Mekong Delta, so I’m probably going to close this up in a bit, as it is now around midnight and the guard at the guesthouse place we are staying tends to go to sleep around now.


Vietnam is gearing up for Christmas in a surprisingly big way, which basically consists of fake trees and horrible techno remixes of classic Christmas songs, but it’s better than nothing. I’m definitely going to miss snow for Christmas, but we are having Christmas on the beach in Vietnam, which ain’t bad at all.


I’m probably forgetting to write something. Whatever, if I remember later I’ll update this bad boy. Hopefully I’ll update before the holidays, but knowing me, chances are you wont hear from me for another couple weeks. Sorry in advance. If I don’t update before then, have some happy holidays. For those with snow, enjoy it, for those without snow… enjoy it too…? Anyway, it’s late; I probably stopped being funny about 5 paragraphs ago.

One Love



P.S. sorry about any horrible typos or profanity, too tired to edit this at all

1 comment:

Emma MacDonald said...


So jealous about your time in Nam. The annual Christmas-Gingerbread house party is tomorrow, and you'll be missed. I'll make sure we do an extra so you'll be there in spirit, hope all is well and enjoy yourself, there's nothing like Pho in the Viet.

-Emma Mac