Sunday, February 17, 2008


With a bit of a delay - but it's the time I needed to learn it - I wish you a great Lunar New Year. And as I forgot so many people for the "classic" New Year wishes, here's an opportunity to catch up... Lunar New Year, or Tet, is the most important time of the year in Vietnam, it's altogether Christmas, New Year and many things. Wishing Happy New Year - Chuc Mung Nam Moi (with diacritic accents, but I don't have them) - to everyone you meet during this period is well appreciated.

Speaking of time, as you know I had it tough at the beginning, fortunately my neighbours in the appartment above have a rooster which very gently starts crowing at 5 am to make sure I'll be on time for work. My neighbours below, on the other hand, understand the importance of traditions, and very much enjoy burning papers on their doorsteps - as Ha explained me, the spirit of our ancestor are flying around us, and burning papers that symbolize money - or sometimes money itself - pleases them and brings luck to their poor mortal survivors. I saw many people doing that on the streets, but wasn't aware this was an inside habit as well, until yesterday, when I was alarmed by a strong smoke smell in the appartment. I checked outside, and saw the hall covered with thisk smoke, which made me immediately fear that the buidling was on fire! I quickly packed my important belongings, went down to see the guard - I used the lift, and scary images of a burning lift falling down with me inside very helpfully came to my mind - who didn't seem to realize at all that lives were at stake and who looked at me like I was some kind of stupid westerner (which I actually am - anyway, I have some personal issue with that man, but I'll explain that in another post). I called Ha who explained me what all that was about, and I went back to the appartment, with opposite feelings of relief and embarrassement...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Didn't do much today - I still live in Brno time, so I got up around noon (I see the smiles, but that's 6 AM in Brno, not too bad...) and continued preparing the training. Went for a walk again around Truc Bach lake and took some pics - had an interesting time crossing the 4-lanes road, I tried to record it but I was too busy avoiding the traffic so only my hand could be seen. Bought some mistery fruit yesterday (I liked the color, but didn't try it yet...) It looks a bit like a monstruous creature from a video game - if anyone tells me it's name he'll get a rice hat when I'm back. I found this interesting blog I recommed it's reading. About my blog, I don't like too much blogspot, not enough customize options, pictures take ages to upoad, and I'd like to have the first post appear first... And the English grammar corrector is not available :-)))
Feb 5 2008
Ok, Hanoi, here we go...
Flight was fine, not much to say about, except that flight attendants are nicer on Thai that on Austrian.. but you may have guessed. At the arrival, I go to the passport check - they're all dressed in military uniforms, I guess common in those countries. The guy tells me I have to go to Visa request desk first. There, I need to fill a Visa application form, on which I have to stamp a picture - which of course I don't have as no one told me I had to. I wonder 10 secs if I'm going to try without it, but decide that no, not here, not now. Luckily (as I then think), another soldier tells me he's going to take a picture of me with is digital camera. Off we go, the guy takes his picture and asks me for 2$ - and it's a digital camera! Ok I don't bargain in such a place, so I pay and proceed. After another five min, my Visa is ready and next to it I see my application form without any pic on it - the guy probably doesn't have the printer to go with the camera, and all this pic stuff is a scam. Actually it makes me smile, 2$ is not too much for such a funny trick and my first Vietnamese swindle.
I collect my luggage - all there, and unharmed - and proceed to the customs "nothing to declare" There I wait 10 min in a queue due to some guy who apparently had something to declare but didn't bother to go the the proper customs. I show my passport and get my clearance, and finally leave to the airport exit.
Ha is there waiting for me, after a quick greeting we head for the cab. We try several ones, the one who was meant to wait for us had taken someone else, so we called a next one who also changed his mind, and after the third attempt we were finally on the road to Hanoi.
First feeling of the legendary Hanoi traffic, but as Ha said, pretty quiet compared to usual due to the Tet holiday.
We land at the appartment, I must say pretty impressive, more room that I can handle, and more bathrooms as well - And a room with a view!

After a quick refreshing, we go for some HotPot (English translation, can't recall the Viet name yet), the mix one - octopus, shrimps, meat, clamps, pretty much everything. And pretty good. All that with some very good "wine" (made of rice and quite strong, like most of the "wines" in Asia) which I alternatively change for Coke as I don't want to start my first day with a headache.
BTW, what do you do in Vietnam with your shrimp shells, clamp shells etc.. when you're done? well, just drop them on the floor, no need to worry.

Feb 6 2008

Wednesday morning, we meet with Tung and Ha in the appartment - this is my "office" until the end of Tet holiday - and joined by Mia after a while. These people are great, sense of hospitality is a reality here. They bought me all I needed to survive my first days, and more: European food, dongs (Viet money), slippers etc. We talk for an hour about Vietnam and the job, and leave for a sightseeing tour of the city - on Tung's moped. Great time, driving around like a real Vietnamese, 1 hand on the horn and the other on the break.

Quick break for lunch on a sidewalk restaurant - streets are covered with them - where I have some pig soup with bamboo - real vietnamese stuff, but I preferred the HotPot.
This evening, we're meeting most of the test team for the New Year's fireworks at Hoan Kiem Lake. Firework is great - lasted more than 15 min, Ha owes me a breakfast now ;-) but unfortunately our location could have been better (we were just behind a tree, so missed the big show). After that we go for a beer and home, that is this time I AM driving the moped in the streets of Hanoi (ok, the quiet ones) and am having great fun doing so (I guess Ha had enjoyed it less, but I think I did quite well for a first). The quiet streets quickly become the busy ones, and I have to manage the horn, gas, gears and traffic light simultaneously -no harm, so I guess I'm ready now.
Back at my place, the building wardens offer me a drink (Vodka, Russian import) for chuc mung nam moi (happy new year) and I talk with one of my neighbours, cool guy.

Feb 7 2008

Today meeting with Ha, planning the Halong bay trip this W-E. I get up quite late, because I fell asleep quite late - Didn't manage to sleep before 4.30 AM, I guess time zone difference is to blame (expecting some comments on this one... ). I work in the "morning" then go for a walk around the closest lake (Truc Bach lake), beautiful sightseeing in the early evening. I try my first Bia Ha Noi and enjoy the view. Ha & his girlfiend (who's name is Ha too, good luck) pick me up in the appartment for a dinner in town. We go for some Chinese restaurant (I mean, sidewalk restaurant, but they offer great food).

Food is great, unfortunately the staff has it tough to remember our order, so after 2 crab cakes, 3 bread plates and 1/2 a skewer we decide to move on. On the way, we pick-up Ha's aunt (young aunt) who speaks a bit of French, and try a couple of other places in the center, fanous for their foreigner attendance. There I learn some new Vietnamese expressions, such as "Bia", beer (actually, biere with a Vietnamese accent), "peng mi" (bread, or "pain de mie" with the same accent), jam bon (not sure about the spelling, but the French speakers will get it quickly) and the like.

Feb 8 2008

Today, work. Business as usual, not much to say about... In the evening, Ha picks me up again (Ha, I owe you a breakfast but you too, don't forget!) and we go to visit Tung for dinner. On the way, I bought some flowers for Ha's mother, and we stop at his place. He made me visit his family altar.. I was vey impressed, to say the least, but I can't tell much more about it here.
Then we went to Tung's place for some dinner with his family (by family, here it means mother, father, sibblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grand parents, cousin friends etc.. These people really have a sense of family). Dinner was wonderful, Tung's wife is a great cook and I tried everything I could (including wine and beer ;-)). We ended with an enlighting chat with Tung, this guy has quite an experience already, and I had great time talking with him - more to come... Posted some pictures here