Saturday, May 26, 2012

Observations from the other side

I felt like the mere act of crossing a street in Asian deserved it's own blog post.  Because it's really, by far, the most dangerous thing you can do here.

For instance:

Taiwan:   Pedestrians Have Right of  Way.  The first thing you notice in Taiwan are people on scooters.  And, very quickly you learn that they go first, then the pedestrians go at their own risk.  This is not a point up for debate.   So when I saw the sign to right, I thought, "Is this some kind of a joke?"  Now I know that I am usually the last person people call to watch their kids but even I wouldn't attempt to try and take the right of way with a young child (as shown) through the streets of Taiwan.

Hong Kong:  Although everything I did in Hong Kong scared the shit out of me, I think that Hong Kong is a highly advanced city and therefore all forms of transportation are fairly safe.  With that said, driving on the left side of the road, where on one side you are avoiding traffic and on the other side, there is a shear cliff is inappropraite (see scary clift shot from said bus window).  Also double decker buses should not be moving at 60 kpm.  But, I guess even "SLOW" in two languages is relative in Hong Kong.

Vietnam:  Ummm...I am not sure to go with this one.  See below.  There are at least seven motobikes and a car or two in the cross walk.  And, for some reason, the Vietnamese decided stop lights were a bad investment, so the crosswalks in Saigon always like this.  Now at some point, you have to cross a street to get to where you want to go.

So this is what you do:

1. You man up.  This is actually very difficult to do but it's the first step to success.
2. You only look ahead.  Looking both ways will only freak you out because there is always oncoming traffic.
3. You move at one speed.  Never speed up or slow down.  It will only confuse oncoming traffic.
4. Once you make it to the other side mentally prepare to cross the next street.

Same Same but Different

Same, same but different is a phrase often used in Thailand, Vietnam and other parts of Southern Asian.  It is used when either you or a local are trying to explain what something is by comparing it to something similar and familiar to you--so your point of reference is essentially same same but different.

For instance, as taken from the Urban Dictionary:

Q "Is this a real rolex?" 
A " Yes Sir, same same but different"

Meaning you are comparing two watches (both the same type of thing) but a real Rolex and a knockoff are obviously very different.

In my case, I took the bus/ferry both to the island and from the island of Phu Quoc.  Both were the same trip, but also very different.

It all started when a van taking me, two guys from Russia, and a couple from France to the ferry terminal on the other side of the island ran into a little snag.  As we started our journey across the island, this guy on a little motorcycle rides up along our van and yells at the driver to stop.  Apparently, the two Russian guys had rented this guy's bike the day before an had brought it back damaged.  So the van stops, the Russian fight with the guy over the damage to his bike and as time is ticking away, one of the guys manning the van says, "We have motorcycle take you to terminal," obviously while they sort this out.  And, that is where I start to give them the crazy lady deal.  I was like, "No.  I paid for a van.  I am not getting out and riding a motorcycle across the island.  Take me to my ferry."  This goes on for about five minutes and the guys manning the van finally concede and start the van up.  

The ferry that took me back to the mainland wasn't nearly as fancy as the one that brought me there, and it smelled like fish, but I did get to catch the Jackie Chan/Jet Li movie, Forbidden Kingdom.  Much of me wished that the movie had been in Chinese instead of English and that the Vietnamese release was Chinese dubbed in Vietnamese so that it looked like Chan and Li have a good case of Tourettes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The overnight bus and boat ride to Phu Quoc

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, at around six pm last Monday.  My initial plan was to spend three nights on this little island in Southern Vietnam called Phu Quoc and then possibly fly up to Hanoi and go on a two night boat cruise through Halong Bay, which is in Northern Vietnam and a destination that the country of Vietnam is petitioning to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Phu Quoc is a pretty rural island but you can actually take a 50 minute flight there for about $40 or $50 US dollars.  However, since I have been having panic attacks since my flight from SFO to HGK, I decided to veto that idea and take the longer more interesting adventure: the overnight bus/ferry.  My game plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the bus station.  I figured that if the bus station looked too sketchy, I would just get a hotel in Saigon and make the trip in the morning.  But, it looked fine because there wasn't a single non-Vietnamese person there, which leads me to believe that the people looking to rob the tourists wouldn't be there either.  So I bought a six hour but ticket for about $6 US dollars and waited in a waiting room with a bunch of locals, who were going home to their families (see covert picture above taken with my iPhone).  This room was about 1000 degrees, filled with people.  In the corner, they were playing a Kung Fu movie on a flat panel  for everyone's entertainment (see below, left)--including my own actually.

I thought that American movies dubbed in Chinese were funny, but Chinese Kung Fu Novelas dubbed in Vietnamese are much funnier.  These people look like they have tourette syndrome or something when they speak.  It was awesome.  The officers manning the station only spoke Vietnamese, but after the first bus announcement, they read my ticket and said, "10:15" which was my departure time and once I actually had to board, they made sure that I was on the correct bus.
The bus itself, was pretty comfortable.  They had those seat pillows and a large screen TV in the front, which from what I read int the tour books are used for the bus riders to sing karaoke while the bus moves.  I was actually really hoping for some karaoke that night so that I could have someone take a picture of me singing karaoke with a bunch of Vietnamese locals on an overnight bus.  But, soon after the bus left, the lights were turned down and everyone tried to sleep.  I however, had my head lamp turned on and started reading.  We stopped to take bathroom breaks about every two hours and sometime at around 2 or 3 am we stopped the boat and took the boat onto a ferry over the Mekong Delta (see right) which was cool and then I arrived in Rach Gia at around 4:30am.

As soon as I got off the bus, four guys on little motocycles approached me about ferry tickets and a little motorcycle ride over to the ferry terminal.  Obviously, I was I apprehensive.  One, because you're not sure what to do when four guys on bikes approach you and two, I had no desire to get onto a scooter.  But, I did. Again, I figured, these aren't the guys looking to rob you after the bars because it's 4:30 in the morning and half the town is up and awake.  I also figured that since there weren't a lot of people on the road, driving on the back of a little motorcycle would be ok (DON'T WORRY MOM, I WORE A HELMET).  So after I told all four guys that I was scared to death to ride on the back of a scooter or whatever, the oldest one who spoke the most English told the others that it was best if he took me to the ferry terminal, which was about seven kilometers away from the bus terminal.  And, the ride itself was pretty exciting.  I felt like I had to give the guy my number afterwards because I was gripping his waist like a vice but the ride was successful (see above left) and I spent the next two hours at a lite little outdoor/makeshift restaurant in front of the ferry terminal (see above right).

The ferry was a nice little ferry with leather seats and more big screen TVs.  But, once I got to beach, I made the executive decision to spend the reminder of my trip here in Phu Quoc.  I rented a bungalow about twenty feet from the beach with two hammocks and wireless internet and called it a day.  I figure Halong Bay isn't going anywhere anytime soon, but these makeshift huts are going to be replaced with high rise hotels someday soon, so I might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things you cannot do in a beach bungalow in Vietnam

So I am in Phu Quoc, which is a little island in Southern Vietnam staying in a bungalow on the beach.  Inside of my bungalow are rules:
  1. You do not put drugs (cocaine, heroin), stimulants in the room.
  2. You do not bring fire, not be cooking in the room.
  3. You not be taken prostitutes into room.
  4. You must keep your value belongings (money, jewelry.....).  The hotel has no responsibility to compensate any loss of property and money.
  5. You can consign money at reception but the money must be less 2 million vnd
Many thanks.

I love the fact that heroin is a popular enough drug to make it on the short list.  

After I read this, it reminded me of the same rules posted on the inside of the bathroom stalls at XS, the club inside of the Wynn Casino/Resort.  Their's were more the Cliff Notes version; No drugs use or sex in the stalls.

My Inadvertent Stay at the Intercontinental in Hong Kong

I really had no intention of staying more than a day in Hong Kong, but when I got to the airport, they wouldn’t let me get onto the plane to Vietnam because I did not have a Visa.  Unlike most countries where you get your Visa upon arrival, Vietnam requires a visa prior to departure.  For some reason I missed the memo when I read my Lonely Planet.  I read the part about the Yellow Fever shot required if coming in from a Yellow Fever Country, i.e. Laos or Cambodia, but missed the Visa part.  So I booked one more night in Hong Kong at the Intercontinental and took a shuttle back into the city.  FYI, I didn't stay at the famous Intercontinental, I stayed at the other one.  It was nice, but the Hotel Nikko experience was better.  However, the good part about staying at a nice hotel in a foreign country is that the concierge will call the American Embassy for you, find out what time they open, and help you plan the best strategy to get there a half an hour early.

So I hung out in Hong Kong for one more night, which wasn't so bad, and the next morning I headed to the US Embassy.

Ironically, no one working at the door of the US Embassy speaks English.  But, it all worked out.  One of the officers working in the front let me use his personal cell phone to call the US Embassy Hotline so I could find out how to get a Vietnamese Visa.  That person told me that I had to go to the Vietnamese Embassy.  Once I was at the correct Embassy, the sweet people of Vietnam issued me a visa in 15 minutes and I was allowed to fly out and spend the next 30 days there.

Communists H8 Facebook

I know, I know, “Where the hell is Rosie?”  I think I am in a Communist Country called Vietnam—or rather, I know I am in Vietnam but I thought they were Socialists, since that is what it says on the stupid Visa they made me get prior to entering into their country.  But, apparently they are a single party system, Communism being that single party (or again, I think this, but I was too lazy to really read into the wiki).  Therefore, all internet sites that might influence independent thoughts and opinions are blocked—including but not excluding FACEBOOK.COM and me being able to purchase books for my Nook--God knows Young Adult Vampire novels will lead to the next Commy Revolution.  Although holding me back from reading the last two books in my six book vampire series will lead the following conversation with my roommate Wil:

2:54PM my time; 11:54PM Wil's time:

2:54 PM me: hey
  can you do me a favor?
2:55 PM Wilfred: i'll try...what's up
 me: can you login to B&
2:56 PM username:
  password: XXXXXXX
 Wilfred: ok, i'm in
 Wilfred: lol
  can you search for "Last sacrafice"
  it is book 6 in my vampire academy book series
 Wilfred: BWAHAHAH
2:58 PM me: bitch
  I know you are laughing
 Wilfred: ui just drooled on the keyboard
 me: know that this might hinder your ability to score some awesome fish sauce
 Wilfred: lol u want book 6?
 me: ok, once you are there, can you buy the nook book?
  not the hardback version but the nook one
2:59 PM I think it detects that I am making purchases from vietnam
 Wilfred: ok, just bought it
3:00 PM me: yes
  I got it
  you are awsome
 Wilfred: your welcome
3:01 PM enjoy your vampire diary lol

Fast Forward an hour later:

me: wil
  are you still up
 Wilfred: yup yup
 me: can you buy me one more book?
3:49 PM Spirit Bound
 Wilfred: ok, logged in
 me: vampire academy part 5
  I wanted six too
  I just didn't realize I just read 4
 Wilfred: lol
 me: so I started reading 5 and got really confused :)
3:50 PM shut up
 Wilfred: just hit buy
3:51 PM me: I am so glad it is 1 in the morning and you are still not asleep
 Wilfred: haha, i am your tween fiction savior
 me: you are
3:52 PM I might bite you when I get back
 Wilfred: lol

So of course since I am both a Capitalist and a Computer Engineer, I felt that it was my duty to find a work-around to this issue.  Once others in my little hippy commune saw that I could access Facebook, I started helping others change their DNS IP addresses (which is easy enough to do unless your friend is from Sweden and she is using Windows 7 in Swedish, like Windows 7 couldn't get any more hellacious to navigate) and now I am the computer Guru of Vietnam.  This is almost as bad as me turning small children onto Angry Birds.

Monday, December 13, 2010

There are three ways to get to the Big Buddha; None of which are awesome

Right after I got off the plane into Hong Kong, I went to go see the biggest Buddha in all of Asia so I could thank him for giving me a safe journey.  Buddhists have a habit of making life difficult and getting to the “Big Buddha” was no exception.  The Buddha lies on a very high mountain on an island call Lantau and you can get to the top one of three ways or a combination of two:
  • A gondola with a glass floor that swings because the wind is pretty bad on the top of the mountain.  
  • An hour long bus ride going 60 miles an hour and driving on the left side of a curvy road surrounded by shear cliffs
  • Or, you can walk up 4200 feet worth of manmade stairs for four hours to the top and then walk up another 270 steps to see the Buddha up close. 

Now obviously I would have opted for the 4/5 hours worth of stairs but it was already 4pm and they make everyone leave the mountain at 6:30pm because of wind and bad weather conditions.  So I took the glass floor gondola up and the bus down.  In the first picture to the right, you can see how long and steep that gondola was.  There were four/five sections of about the same distance before we got to Buddha base camp.The gondola didn't cure my fear of flying but it get me up the mountain and the Buddha was well worth it..