Monday, December 17, 2007

The Great X-mas Caper

As a lot of you already know, the Christmas trip to Thailand was nothing but a ruse to trick our unsuspecting parents into believing we had Holiday plans for Christmas, when in fact, we had plans to come home to Nova Scotia and surprise them.

Act One: The Departure

This was the single most hellish spot of traveling I have ever done. We left Vietnam at 6am for a short flight to Bangkok, Thailand. There we were expecting a stopover of 13 and a half hours. We had mentally prepared ourselves for this wait so it wasn’t too bad. Then, the unthinkable, our flight was delayed. We would now be departing at 4am, another 3 and a half hours beyond our 13 and a half, for a total of 17hours. (For those of you who struggle with math.) There were some mechanical problems with our plane and they had to replace it. We settled into our seats on Qantas flight Q801 and flew for thirteen hours to London. OK so that’s not too bad….but then….

Act 2: The Missed Flight.

We arrive at Heathrow airport in London, England at 11am and our flight is scheduled for departure at 11:15. There is no way for us to catch that flight. More stopover time is accrued while we beg and plead with Air Canada to get us on their next available flight to Eastern Canada. A very nice British woman took care of us and found us a flight to Montreal and then after a short three hour stop-over, onward to Halifax. We thanked her and made our way to our departure gate. I will also mention at this point that Karen had an awful head cold and was quite congested. The touchdown in Heathrow proved to be very painful in her ears and we purchased earplugs for 25 USD at a drugstore in the airport. Yes, you read that correctly, 25$! A few short hours later we found ourselves sitting on an Air Canada plane, waiting to begin our 7 and a half hour flight to Montreal, Canada. We were getting closer and closer.

Act 3: Our Home on Patriot Land

We touch down in Montreal and go through customs. Air Canada staff assures us that they have no idea where our bags will turn up as our bags were tagged when we were in Thailand, before we missed our flight, and were probably in Halifax now. Of course, they couldn’t be sure and it was in our best interest to check baggage claim in Montreal just to be on the safe side. Sure enough, Karen’s bright red bag came tumbling down the belt in Montreal but there was no sign of mine. We stood around like goons until the last bag was shat out of the rubber curtain, and then made our way to the lost baggage counter. Once again, we were assured my bag was fine and probably waiting for me in Halifax, as there was no real reason for Karen’s bag to have shown up in Montreal we should just consider ourselves lucky. OK, Fair enough. We push our way on to a little airbus for the one and a half hour flight to Halifax.

I will also note that Raddie Dave, who was still dizzy over the arrival of his first born son Peter Henry “Hank” Chisholm, with his wife Judy, had arrived at the Halifax airport at 2pm, our original arrival time but a full 7 hours too early after our delays.

Act 4: The Arrival

We arrived at YZH, Halifax International Airport at 9pm on Tuesday, Dec 11. We had sent the RDC a message saying that we would be arriving at 9 instead of 2, but being at the hospital all day, he did not get that message. Dave and Judie were the only two people that knew we were coming so we found some Canadian quarters and made a quick call to Dave’s cell phone. He was at the IWK with his wife and his new baby who were just being released. He said he would swing by the airport to pick us up and take us back to their place. With that taken care of, we were free to go and pick up my bag at baggage claim. This, of course, was not to be. The bag was lost. I did a lost baggage report and made my way outside for my first cigarette in almost 40 hours. I was wearing sandals and a pullover “hoodie” sweatshirt while I stood shivering on the sidewalk. I was half done my cigarette when Dave and Judie pulled up in their Volvo and whisked us back to their house where we spent our first evening in Canada in a year and a half.

We had a good nights sleep and took a taxi to downtown Dartmouth from Eastern Passage and prepared to surprise the hell out of my parents. I will end this blog here, as we have video of the surprise and I will post that separately. So, in conclusion, we are back in the Fax and ready for a memorable Christmas and New Years. We look forward to seeing all of our friends and family. If you are not in Nova Scotia this Christmas season, Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Ed & Karen

Sunday, December 02, 2007

1 Week

One week, seven short days, 168 hours or 10080 minutes until take-off. For our third Christmas away from home, we decided to do it right. We are spending a month in Phuket Thialand. "Phuket....Phuket......Why does that sound so familiar?" I can hear some of you pondering. That is because Phuket was the place utterly devastated by the Tsunami four years ago on Boxing day. That is correct, we will be at ground zero on the fourth anniversary of that horrible disaster. Don't worry, however, as the saying goes..Lightning never strikes twice, or some such rubbish. Just to be on the safe side, we will be looking for a room on the fifth or sixth floor. The tsunami hit last time just before 7 am, and we would have slept through that anyway. You can count on the fact that we wouldn't have been up and on the beach that early. We don't know what to expect being there on the anniversary of that awful day, but it should be an experience.
As for those of you in Canada and elsewhere that will be celebrating Christmas and New Year without us once again. We miss you all and we will be thinking about you while digging our toes in the sand and opening our presents on the beach with the yuletide waves crashing on the shore. It will be different this year, that's for sure. It was too depressing the last couple of years hanging around our house on Christmas, so what better way to take our minds off the fact that we will not have our friends and family around us, than loafing on a beach drinking copious amounts of Singha and eating like royalty for the holidays.
God Bless us.....Everyone.
Merry Christmas y'all.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Getting Antsy

I am starting to get very impatient with my wait for Thailand. I shuffle to work everyday and teach classes I have grown to hate, just biding my time until we leave for Thailand. 30 glorious days with no work, I begin shaking all over in anticipation at the mere mention of it. I had a conversation with Karen last night about teaching. I made an offhand remark about how much I hate it. She responded with " See I told you it would get to you after a while" or something like that, and then I clarified my statement a little further. Teaching is the best job I have ever had, I just hate anything I have to do for someone else, regardless of how rewarding or pleasant I may find it. I will only ever be truly satisfied working for myself. It actually physically disturbs me to make money for other people. Maybe I will open my own school and then I would immediately love teaching again.
The only thing getting me through these classes is closing my eyes and thinking about the beaches of Phuket and how much I am going to love spending my days on the beach with a good book, soaking up the sunshine and taking dips in the cool green waters. Ice cold Singha resting on my chest as I sway from the ocean breeze in a ratty old hammock, the only worry on my mind being how long the hammock will actually support my weight, before crashing down into the sand below.
Seventeen more sleeps people. Seventeen more sleeps.
Bye for now,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday afternoon blabberings

I’m sitting in a cafĂ© right now writing on my laptop and enjoying the warm mid-November weather in Hanoi. The windows are all open to the busy street noise of Hoan Kiem District’s Cathedral square and a throng of school children are playing noisily in the parking lot of St. Josephs Cathedral. It is Quarter past five and the traffic and constant honking of motorbikes and taxi’s is barely perceptible to me now after fourteen months in Hanoi.
I have never felt about anything the way I feel about Hanoi. I hate it so much some days that I want to explode venom and fury over all who surround me like Chuck Norris in “Braddock- Missing in Action part 1” Then there are days like today, where the simple beauty of this confounded place is almost more than I can stand. Things are very simple here, and I know no matter how I feel about this place on any given day, I will miss it for the rest of my life when I leave.
Taiwan was also a beautiful place full of wonder and excitement, but it didn’t hold a candle to Hanoi for the sheer mystique and comfortable confusion that is offered by Hanoi. It is so loud that it is like a frantic emotion that blankets the whole place. The people scream and yell in to their cell phones and at each other on the street, not out of anger but because that is just how it is here. The constant horn blasting by every vehicle on the road in the maddening irony of the uselessness of the horn, by way of it’s intended purpose, being used in this manner.
The people, so brash, rude and abrasive, yet in a completely innocent way, simply don’t know any better or are incapable of behaving any other way. They are so childlike in their comments and exclaimed noises as a big Westerner walks by, so annoying to me before, simply makes me smile now. Vietnam is their country and I am just a visitor here. These people in the North have sweat, bled, died and suffered for their beloved homeland. They fought off the American invasion in the 60’s and 70’s and claimed somewhat of a victory over the most powerful country in the world. This empty victory left them in a state of such destruction and absolute poverty that they would spend the next thirty years trying to recover. Now that they are just finally starting to stand on their own feet after the American War, as they call it, are submitting of their own free will to the force of the West on what they believe to be their terms.
To be here in Hanoi as they celebrate the 1000 anniversary of this city is truly something to behold and experience. The students that I teach are hungry for education outside of the system in Vietnam that spends the first two years of their university education focusing on Marxist and Leninist philosophy. I can see the change the future holds for Vietnam in their faces and wish I could be here to see it happen. But, I will leave before anything really significant happens here, looking on fondly from wherever I find myself, at this place that I will always consider a second home. I must say that living in Vietnam right now feels like truly living, and not just wiling away the days in the comfort of my Nova Scotia, succumbing to age and indifference. These are truly the days that I will look back upon from behind the cloudy eyes of an old man, and remember the time in my life when I felt the most alive.
I always had a distaste for the people that find religion or spiritual guidance in any form and then try and force it upon other people as though it would be as beneficial for all as it was for them. I would just like to say to anyone still reading this, that if you have not done it yet, get out of your home and move around this planet a little. Stretch your legs and experience something brand new. It will change you to your very core. I miss my friends and family more than I can adequately express here on this blog, but I feel like I belong here, right now. I have my good days and bad days in this country and today is definitely a good day. I will always be grateful to Hanoi for what it has done to change me.

Sorry if I got a little spirited, I am a little drunk. :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My First Vietnamese Wedding

Unfortunately Karen could not get out of work, but I was able to attend my first ever Vietnamese wedding. The lovely Hai Yen was to be married to Ngoc Hoang on Monday, Oct 05 at 9am. Hai Yen was a Student Services employee of Cleverlearn who Karen and I had both worked with over the past year. The location was Thai Binh villiage about 100km's outside of Hanoi city. I left my house at 5:30am and made my way to work where there was a small bus waiting to take us all to the wedding. My small group consisted of Western teachers, Bret, Kate & Andrew and myself along with Beverly our Phillipino Acedemic Head and of course Chi our interpreter and guide. (Also an SS employee)
I will start by saying 100km's in Vietnam is not like 100km's in Canada. The road was so rough and bumpy it was like travelling in a stagecoach. It took us almost three hours to reach the little villiage and my internal organs were shaken not stirred.
The wedding began at an unthinkable 9am with a banquet and copious amounts of beer and Vietnamese rice whiskey bing knocked back by most. As the only westerners in the visinity we were a odd and curious sight to behold for most of the guests. I felt a little guilty about stealing some of the spotlight away from the dashing couple as we were certainly the center of attention frequently throughout the wedding.
With my stomach full and my head spinning from the rice whiskey, we observed a simple ceremony involving the exchange of rings and a few songs provided by guests. The wedding was finished as abruptly as it had started and to my utmost shock and surprise I found myself pushed in to the reception line and spent 10 minutes shaking hands with strangers, directly beside the bride and groom. With that task finished I found myself back in the van to endure the bumpy ride back to Hanoi with a stomach full of food and whiskey, to become upset by the horrific road conditions.
All and all it was a fantastic morning, and I wish Yen and Hoang the best of fortune in all of thier future endeavors.

Stay tuned for a video of the wedding to be posted within the week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We are boring.

I, once again, find myself embarrassed by my lack of interesting posts. I apologise for our uninteresting lives at the moment. It seems Dartmouth is far more exciting and scary right now with reported rapes in gas stations and gangs of crazy girls torturing and attempting murder and whatnot. It sounds like the the Village of the Damned from that classic 1980's martial arts movie Gymkata.
I hope to have something to write about with the upcoming Halloween activities at my school. I have also started playing in a new, as yet unnamed band. Hanoi is as Hanoi does, unfortunately, and after 13 months we have kind of developed a "Been there, done that" Huhum attitude towards the whole thing. We are considering a big move to the big city of Saigon after the Holidays. We shall see where the wind blows us. For now, I will sign off, saying Happy Halloween everyone and keep on rocking in the free world.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Vietnam Run

I have the joy of experiencing something I can only call a live video game every single day I drive to work and back. I call on those of you who remember such games as paperboy and roadrash. If you remember what those games were like, it was a mission to get from point A to point B intact and to avoid all the obsticles that were designed specifically to impede your progress. Welcome to Vietnam.
Each and every day I drive to work I have to weave in and out of the worst drivers on the face of the planet. You must keep in mind that a drivers license is not required to drive a motorcycle in Vietnam, and that children as young as twelve are riding around these streets. I have seen the stupidest manouvres you can imagine unfold directly in front of me. These people have no fear and absolutely no respect for the science of time and space. I have watched as riders on the far right side of the road suddently cut left and make a turn on to a connection street, cutting off five or six people as they do this. I have also seen people slam on thier brakes in the middle of a busy street to throw a cigarette between thier lips and light it, only to tear off again after it is lit. My most favorite thing is the text messagers. These are people doing 30-40k along a busy road with thier cell phone in hand, sending a text message while staring at thier LCD display and driving with one hand.
I have learned to deal with these obstacles and score quite highly in my daily games. I have yet to hit or be hit by anyone, as has Karen. Also, (MOM) We do not drive fast enough to hurt ourselves. We, unlike a lot of the Vietnamese, do not drive at Fatal speeds.
Driving in this environment adds an element of excitement I will miss when I move to a new country where common sense is a widely held attribute. I will miss the madness and mayhem I see on a daily basis. The best way to describe the average Vietamese citizen is to compare them to drunken hillbilly teenagers. They constantly amaze me with the things they attempt to do on the road. I would love to get some video of this natural phenomenon, but it occurs so randomly it will be quite difficult. Keep your fingers crossed and hopefully I will film something spectacularly stupid.
Here's hoping!

As some of you have mentioned, our posts have been becoming less and less frequent. I think we may be slightly bored here in Vietnam, and you know what that means....NEW COUNTRY! We will stick it out here for a while and then see about at the very least moving to Saigon, where we are sure to find excitement and mystery once again. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Halloween, Y'all!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Birthday Away

It was my third birthday away from friends and family in Nova Scotia, but it was enjoyable thanks to the effort of a few people. Karen went all out this year setting up a Karaoke birthday party with other teachers and staff at Cleverlearn. It was a good night even though it ended early.
The Karaoke was staged on Saturday evening so that we wouldn't have to concern ourselves with getting up early. There was cake and beer and terrible singing by all involved, but it was fun nontheless.
Monday, being my legitimate birthday, had a smaller, more private celebration with Karen and I having a wonderful meal at LA restaraunt where I had the leg of lamb and Karen enjoyed a grilled pork dish. We shared a bottle of wine and I was presented with my gift of a hand crafted guitar.
Needless to say, I was quite happy and surprised with my thoughtful gift, and now all I have to do is learn how to play the thing. It has been a while, and what little I did know, has been lost along the way.
So thirty-two has come and gone in Vietnam,and I am not as depressed about my advancing years as I would have thought. It is just a number after all and I always have my rediculous imaturity to keep me youthful.
Bye for now,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Same, Same but different

As it is and as it goes, we are drifting along in Vietnam in a steady ho-hum existance of work and home and work and play. We are in a pattern now, much like Taiwan and Canada before that. It doesn't seem to matter what part of the world you find yourself residing in, it always comes back around to the holding pattern. Karen is working at her new job and getting up every morning at 6:30 am, while I am getting up at 8am. This keeps us in most evenings or at least home reletively early. I imagine this will stay fairly constant until Christmas time when Karen and I will both have a month off and we head back to Thailand.
We still try and mix it up a bit on the week-ends, but it is much different here than in Taiwan. Taiwan had very few tourists and most of the people you met were expats who were sticking around for a while. Vietnam is a very transient place with most of the people we meet being tourists staying in Nam for a short time. Also, we seem to be attending exit parties for the few expats we do know every week.
At least we are not here alone. Karen and I are together and that is making all of this possible. If I was single, I would have fled Vietnam long ago.
I would not be exagerating if I said that the North Vietnamese hate us. This is something a tourist does not notice in the short time he or she stays. It is a realization that builds over an extended period. It is in a lot of little ways that accumulate and then become unmistakable. They actually hate us.
Many travellers and expats we meet all say the same thing, "It is better in Saigon." We have yet to visit Saigon and now that we have signed contracts it looks like we are stuck in Hanoi. "People are more laid back in Saigon." and "The people are friendlier" are the most common sentiments we hear from people who have lived in both places. This last one, which struck me the most was delivered in a whispered, conspiritorial manner and was simply... "They don't hate us in Saigon."
I hate to say it, but the feeling is becomming mutual in Hanoi for me. I think Karen and I need to think long and hard about relocating to Saigon. I am beginning to get very irritated here by the behavior of what I know to be only one portion of the population, but they are the biggest portion and that is what makes dealing with it so difficult. There is a huge amount of ignorant, uneducated, hillbilly, rural folk in Hanoi that move here from thier little communes and small towns. They are disgusting individuals who, like our own Canadian trailer trash, are always the loudest and most noticable in any given situation. The educated, more worldly Vietnames are wonderful, welcoming and kind people who are a pleasure to interact with. Unfortuantely, however, they are depressingly outnumbered by the ignorant masses.
Anyway, I am ranting, so thank you for allowing me my ventilation and I hope you enjoyed a little insight to where my mind is right now.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Halong 2 The Return

So after hours of research and many painful attempts to aquire airfare out of Vietnam at the last minute we were stuck with ground or sea transportation as there was nothing in economy left out of Hanoi on Saturday or Sunday. We decided to go back to Halong Bay where beaches and beauty abound. I won't bore you with the details of the scenery as it was all talked about after our first trip. I will, however, talk about some of the differences between the two trips. We did everything the first time around. All of the excursions and treks that left us more tired afterwards than when we left. This time there would be none of that. We were looking for some hardcore R&R and there would be no mountain treks, cave hikes, kayaking or cycleing for us. It was all about the lounging, sipping cocktails and taking in the breathtaking scenery on display in Halong Bay.
We found ourselves alone for an hour or so while the rest of the folks went off to gawk at the largest cave in Vietnam. This was fine, the next stop was Kayaking, and we didn't want to do that either so we were left on the boat. The tour guide said we could take a swim if we wanted, and then took off on a kayak with the rest of the tourists.
We lounged around the boat for a little while and watched the Vietnamese staff preparing the bar-b-cue dinner we were going to have. Then the engine started up and we motored away from the Kayaking place for almost twenty minutes. We arrived at a beautiful little bay where there were a lot of big Junks anchored off the shore. The captain of the boat approached us and utilizing all of his English ability, mimed the action of swimming. Karen and I glanced at each other and shrugged, "Why not? Let's take a quick dip." We changed in to our swimming suits and dove in to the water. The water was emerald green and so warm it was barely refreshing. We waded away from the boat for a few minutes to take in the rest of the little island, when we heard the engine of our Junk roar to life once more as it pulled away from us and floated off in to the distance.
This was a troublesome turn of events as we were alone on a very small island with no money, no water and no sunscreen as we had only planned on jumping in and then getting right back out. "I'm sure they will be right back>" I announced cheerfully as Karen eyed the retreating boat suspiciously. We decided to make the most of it and go for a swim around to the other side. It was about 1 pm and close to 40 degrees with the sun a constant, scorching madman. Fifteen minutes in to this ordeal and we knew we might be in trouble. With the sun directly above us in the sky the small island offered no shade at all, so we figured we would be better off in the water. We tried to stay submerged and not expose too much skin to the blistering fireball in the sky. A solid hour passed before we caught sight of the first kayaker from our group approaching the island. We then saw our Junk returning in the distance. Needless to say, I was burnt to a crisp and would suffer from it for the following two days.
We continued on with our tour and maddeningly boring and personality-less tour guide until Cat Ba island, where we had dinner and bade farewell to most of the people we had spent the last 30 hours with and went out with a small group to an insane nightclub where all the Vietnamese adults were up on the dance floor dancing like they were disabled and they were all stone sober. We took that madness in for one drink and then fled by ourselves to a less psychologically demanding scene.
We found a nice little pub and had a few cocktails listening to much better music and contemplating our next two days. That was when a friend of ours from Hanoi walked in to the bar. Mao, from Mao's Red Lounge strolled in to the bar with some of his friends. He greeted us warmly and we all laughed about how strange it was to see each other in Catba island, many hours outside of Hanoi.
We made it an early evening as the previous two days had been a whirlwind of 6am risings and long periods of travel by bus and by boat. We had our first good night sleep and woke up at noon the next day. We spent our last day and night in Catba on the beach and then a nice dinner in a restaurant.
It was a nice break from Hanoi, but kind of stressful in it's own way. I embark now on a four month stretch 7 days a week working. After that, we will need a proper vacation, probably back to Thailand for a time. So that was our long week-end. Tune in next week when the Beaver gets a C- on his mid-term and is afraid to tell his parents. Wally tells a lie that he wishes he could take back and Ward decided that it's all just too much to bear and runs off to Vegas with a cocktail waitress.
Bye for now.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I must be Crazy!

Once again I find myself agreeing to work 7 days a week for the next four months. This is some kind of psychological issue or some kind of employment masochism, but whatever it is, it has led me here.
What now? The answer to that is obvious, of course, Long Weekend and a jetplane. We have yet to decide on a destination as we have just decided to go. It is 5:45 pm on a Friday as I write this and we are looking to depart at 5:30 am tomorrow. We have not booked our flight yet.
So, that leaves us flying to any destination that is within our price range and still has seats left to sell us. The only requirement is BEACHES. It is funny how my requirements have changed so much with my advancing years but sound so phonetically similar.
So now I will keep you all balanced precariously on the edge of your seats until my next post, which will be sent from the beach of wherever we land. Keep your collective fingers crossed.
Talk to you soon,

Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer in the City

Karen and I, in our constant search for methods to beat the heat, decided to go to the Hanoi Water Park on Saturday July 14th. It was about thirty-six degrees on Saturday afternoon as we strolled in to the park after surprisingly few wrong turns and language barrier questions with the Vietnamese. There is an amusement park and water park connected just ten minutes away from our old house in West Lake. It is usual Merliano madness for us to do things in this way. We wait until it is three times further away from us to go. Case in point: Karen, after living in West Lake for 10 months and working at Cleverlearn, has taken a job, two weeks after moving out of West Lake due to its relative remoteness, with a Kindergarten walking distance from our old house. This is not intentional of course, it is just how the Merlins roll. Now she has a 25-30 minute commute to her new school from our new flat in the middle of the city.
Back to the water park. We were quite impressed with the presentation of the HWP as there were many slides, pools and other attractions, and most importantly there were canteens every twenty or thirty feet selling cold beer. First and foremost I must explain that Vietnam does not hold itself to the North American standard of safety. There is very much a play at your own risk sentiment in the Nam. I have experienced only two water slides in this country and feared, quite literally, for my life. In Cat Ba island water park I was sure I would be shot right over the side and fall thirty meters to a most certain death on the jagged rocks below. This quite real possibility did not deter Karen who went down the slide repeatedly until injury on one of the more suicidal slides sidelined her for the rest of the day.
The second slide was at the Hanoi Water Park. In Cat Ba on the first slide, we had to go down on foamy "crazy carpet" looking mats that allowed you to hit the speed of light as you shot through the half-tunnel water slide with your stomach residing somewhere behind your eyes, resting agains your sinuses. At the HWP you are actually placed on inflatable raft like things and expected to travel the slide in tandem. Karen and I squeezed and wriggled our way on to the flotation device and prepared for the ride of our lives. ( I just learned that flotation doesn't have an A when spellcheck corrected me)We maintained our positions for no more than three seconds as the raft bucked us off like a deranged bronco leaving us twisted and disoriented as we shot through a jet black water slide like human bullets. With no light and no idea when we would be shat out of this tube, we positioned ourselves for the blow, and with me taking up the rear, just hoping I didn't crush Karen when we hit the water. What seemed like minutes later, after leaving a considerable amount of skin from various body parts behind in the slide. We emerged like hairy cannon balls at the bottom of the slide. I decided abruptly to make that my only attempt, but Karen, never one for learning her lesson, spent the better part of two hours trying out the various slides of death and dismemberment.
I did what I am apt to do in most situations like this, and proceeded to get afternoon bombed on .75 cent beers watching Karen shoot through a series of intestine like plastic amusement.
We left the water park just after five and went to Al Fresco's restaurant to use up a coupon we had for 250,000 Dong in free food. (About 15 bucks)and then went home to wash the pool water off and put cream on our sunburns. All in all, a good Saturday.
Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Aftermath

We are moved and settled in to the new flat. It was not an easy move, and I will explain to you the epic ordeal that ensued after my last blog.
First, The woman who found our new place and promised to help us move by hiring a truck and a team of two sturdy Vietnamese men to move our things, advised us that it is illegal for a moving truck to operate in Hanoi between noon and eight pm. We agreed to wait patiently until 8 O'clock to receive the movers. Eight o'clock came and went and of course there were no movers. We called up Madame Dong, the hilarious name of the woman who had set everything up, and she advised us that the movers had been there and gone after not being able to reach us, and now they were finished for the evening and would not be coming back. We assured her that we had been there the whole time waiting for them and our phones were in front of us. We verified the telephone number with her and it turns out that not only is English difficult for her to understand, but she has a fairly limited grasp of numbers as well, as she managed to get a phone number wrong that was printed clearly and handed to her.
Moving on. We made our way to the Hotel Sheraton where there are usually van taxi's and shiftless drivers lounging about and asked one of them to follow us to our house. Problem the first, our house is on a alley that is too narrow to allow traffic other than motorbikes. The taxi parked about two hundred meters away and waited for us to slowly load up the back. Problem the second, a numerous collection of very large and heavy bags and no trolley to help us carry them the two hundred meters in the dark. Karen and I loaded up the motorbike with luggage and boxes and wheeled it down the alley. Keep in mind the temperature is sitting somewhere around 40 while this is going on. After a half-hour of sweating and balancing bags precariously on a motorbike, we were ready to head off to the new place.
We turned down the alley that, as far as we knew, was big enough to accommodate a moving van, just to see a mountain of dirt taking up half of the street. The closest we could get to our new place was five houses down. I sighed from the very pit of my being, took a deep breath and popped the trunk. We unloaded the bags, carried them down the street and deposited them at the foot of the stairs of our new house.
Almost finished. We paid the useless taxi driver, who didn’t lift a finger to help, and bid him a friendly piss off. We turned to face the pile of belongings taking up the entire entrance of our new digs. Then I looked up the stairs to our front door, where there was just another door leading to another flight of stairs. Wiping away a single tear as it rolled down my sweaty face, I shrugged and went straight at it. Fifteen minutes later, everything we owned was piled into our new living room.
You might think this the end of our tale of woe on our moving day, but you would be mistaken. Now we had to face the wheeling and dealings of our landlord.
We had already agreed on the amount of rent we would pay and what that would include. We had agreed to pay the rent on the premise that it would include a cleaning lady to clean our house and do our laundry. Also, it was promised that the internet would be hooked up and the sheer white curtains of our bedroom would be replaced with a darker more light blocking material. You all know what is coming next.
The curtains were not changed, the internet was not hooked up and the cleaning lady had magically changed from twice a week to once a week and laundry was no longer included.
As of this writing, it is July 10, 2007, and we have been in our new place for 12 days. We are still waiting for the internet to be hooked up and the cleaning lady has been in once and managed to break a window and flood Karen’s bathroom. Any other evidence of her two and a half hours wandering around our house went unnoticed.
As always, fine readers, We wish you all the best,
Viva le Vietnam,

Friday, June 29, 2007

Another New Diggs

We found our new place, and it is awesome. I know we said that about our last place as well but this time we really mean it.
Today is Friday, June 29th and I am sitting in a computer lab listening to one of my students take a TOEFL practice test. So I have decided to use my time wisely and create a blog about my life for the last couple of days and next couple of days.
I went on a day trip with my school yesterday which I haven't yet recovered from completely. I woke up at 5am and got ready. I hopped on my motorcycle at 5:30 and sped to my school where I led 18 students on to a bus that departed for Dam Long park and I have to tell you, it was a damn long day. I got back to school around 4pm and had to get ready for a 6pm class. Yes, that is 14 and a half hours of work on Thurs. I rounded out my evening with Karen at Finnigans Irish Pub for a quiz night where once again, we came in second. I arrived back home at 2am to end a 21 hour day.
I am working from noon until 8:30 today where when finished I must race home to pack up my belongings in preperation for the big move tommorow. Sounds like fun right? I also have to work on Saturday for five hours and be back home by 7pm to receive the moving van that will take our personals to our new home. Karen, doing more than her share of the work, will be home this afternoon washing everything fabric(clothes,bedding etc.)in the house. I swear, it is worth it.
I don't want to spend too much time describing the house as I plan to give a guided video tour that you can watch right here at this blog. So those of you reading this before the video has been added, be patient and check back in a few days. I may add a little more about the problems and difficulties that are sure to surface over the move. As always, pray for us, and I will be in touch.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why Do I Bia Hoi? I Bia Hoi, Cuz I Can.

I have been quite critical of the Vietnamese in the past, I have commented on their driving, eating, bathing, habits, nose picking and so on, but now I would like to talk to you about something that is absolutely brilliant. I have mentioned this to friends in the past but I have yet to blog about it. This needs to be recorded for prosperity. BIA HOI, BIA HOI HANOI and many other similarly named establishments are pure genius in their simplicity. They are beer stands. Almost every street and road in Hanoi has a BIA HOI (beer stand) where for, believe it or not, 15 cents you can purchase yourself a tall glass of ice cold beer. Your 15 cents also works as rent where with your cold draught comes a cheap blue, red or black stool on which to sit and a tiny piece of property out of the sun.
The draught beer that is sold at the BIA HOI's is delivered daily and contains no preservatives. So not only is it quite literally the cheapest beer in the world, but it is healthier than most beer, and contains a mere 2 to 3.5 alcohol percentage, so you can drink it all day and not have to worry about getting too drunk. You can also bring your own containers and fill them up with the draught to take home with you. I have seen people filling up 5 litre water jugs with BIA HOI beer to take home. How awesome is that?
One of the most beautiful aspects of the BIA HOI is the opportunity that it gives even it's most destitute customers, of being able to stand up and say " A round of beers for everybody!" How often can you say that in a drinking establishment with more than twenty customers and still have it cost less than a couple of dollars. Pure genius.
Imagine the popularity of such an establishment in Halifax. Have a tent set up on Spring Garden Road with a stack of plastic stools, and some umbrellas for shade. You could sit on the corner on a hot summer day and watch the ladies walk by, or the men, depending on who is reading this. ( I'm talking about you Larry, wink wink)And most importantly, have an ice cold draught in your hand.
But alas, such a thing would never be allowed in Nova Scotia, or any other part of Canada due to the strict alcohol legislation and enforcement. So, if you want to experience the simple pleasure of sitting on the road drinking 15 cent draught and observing the madness and mayhem going on all around you on a hot afternoon, your only option is coming to Hanoi, where we will have a stool waiting for ya.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Man Strollers and the rolling death machine

There is a means of transportation in Vietnam that I am loathe to take. It is called a cyclo and it is nothing more than a large baby stroller for adults. It is powered by a wiry, smelly, alcohol powered Vietnamese man pedalling furiously on the custom designed bicycle that powers the man stroller. It is a metallic box on two wheels with padded seats and a rooftop for protection from the constant thunder and lightning showers that plaque Hanoi. They are loaded down with swinging bells to attract the attention of the shell shocked backpackers, elderly tourists and the army of banana pancakers roaming the Old Quarter of Vietnam.( Banana Pancakers are called so due to thier all-consuming desire to eat only local fare and live in the nastyest, cheapest guesthouses available. They seem to exist mostly on a diet of banana themed foods, the king of which being the banana pancake) Karen guilted me in to experiencing this obnoxious display of man-powered indignity and I will never do it again. As if I don't stand out enough on the streets of Hanoi as a hairy, six-foot tall, mountainous Western sweat machine. I have to add to my carnival like oddity showcase by riding around town like some kind of petty prince, with some Vietnamese man panting and sweating behind me as he struggles to keep the carriage moving forward with the obsticle of my considerable girth slowing him down. Yes, never again.
The other vehicle I need to mention is the rolling death machine. I have been seeing these more and more as we enter the hottest season Vietnam has to offer. They are modified wheelbarrows with a bicycle style man-engine powering it. Much the same design as the man-stroller, it is used mostly to transport pointed metal rods from place to place. It looks like some kind of medeival torture device as it comes rolling toward you while you are riding your motabike,(I still can not refer to these Honda Waves as motorcycles)down the narrow Hanoian streets. I have seen heartstoppingly close encounters with overzealous motorbike riders coming within mere inches of the deadly spikes before careening out of the way at the last possible micro-second. I will make sure I take pictures of both of these things, once again, just to prove that I am not making this up.
Bye for now,

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

10 Things I've Learned in Vietnam

1. Traffic lights are only suggestions.

2. Seafood in Vietnam is called that because you are guaranteed to "See" it again.

3. Deodorant is for sissies.

4. Nose picking is a public event.

5. If you gotta go, you gotta go. Whenever, wherever and in front of whomever.

6. There is no need for a man to do anything physical if there is a sturdy woman handy.

7. Dog food doesn't come in a can for Rover, it IS rover.

8. Don't complain about an insect in your food, as you may be charged extra for it.

9. Everything is funny to the Vietnamese.

10. Washing your hands after doing anything is for sissies.

These are just the first ten. There is sure to be more to follow.


Thursday, May 31, 2007


In the Western world we are no strangers to those wee invaders in our homes. We have all had spiders, ants, earwigs and heaven forbid a mouse in our house. It is near impossible to keep them out. It doesn't matter if you live in a house, apartment or Condo, you will have something unwanted crawling, slithering or running around in your home. This is to be expected, and we deal with it the best we can.
We have given our 30 days notice to our landlord. You have all heard me talk of spiders. Anyone and everyone who has ever met me is aware that I am terrified of spiders. We have found and killed if possible, many spiders in our house since we arrived in Vietnam. This is not the reason for our leaving. We have found ants, centipedes, crickets, Gekko's by the dozen and not to mention the myriad of unidentified flying irritation that we encounter. Again, it is to be expected. So what, you may be asking yourselves, what is it that has pushed you from the home you have made together for the past eight months in Vietnam? What can be so bad that you will go through the stress and effort of finding a new house or apartment to live in? Well, as the title says...Toads.
Now hear this! I am not now nor have I ever been afraid of any reptiles. The toads don't scare me at all, they repulse me. Toads are just wrong. And, by the way, that is toadssss, plural. I can not accept that toads are coming in to my home. Karen agrees with me that we can accept many things in Vietnam as just "Comes with the territory" so to speak, but we cannot, however, deal with toads in our house.
What's the difference? Some of you may be asking, between a toad and a gekko, is a reptile while the other is an amphibian, and Gekkos can climb walls while toads just hop around drunkenly. Why do the toads bother you so much more than the gekko's? To that question I have to answer...I don't know, but they just do! There is something so utterly repugnant about finding toads in your kitchen that I don't think I can adequately describe the feeling of revulsion that comes over me.
Hell, I used to catch frogs, toads, snakes and salamanders when I was a child, but this is my home and I will have it no longer. We are hitting the road and looking for a new place to set up shop. We know what we are doing now and we will keep our eyes open for the loudspeakers as well. Here's hoping that the new place will be toad, loudspeaker and frog free.
Bye for now,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Work, Work, Work, Happy Birthday & Goodbye

With the end in sight, it is all about the hours for Karen and I. I am working almost 40 hours a week. ( Big deal, you are thinking) I know, it doesn't sound like much, but that is 40 teaching hours. If you were to add up the unpaid preperation time, the hours would be much more impressive. Also, keep in mind that full-time in Asia for Foreigners is 20 hours a week. Karen, for her part, is working two jobs, Her kindergarten gig through the week and still teaching at Cleverlearn with me. We only have one night a week were we allow ourselves to go out and have some fun. That is Thursday Night Quiz Night at a local Irish Pub called Finnigans.( I hear the echoes of the word " GAY " floating over the land and sea between me and my friends at home who may be reading this) That's right, Quiz Night! I guess Karen and I are becomming more mature in our leisurely persuits, considering our idea of a fun evening out is answering trivia questions.
There was one other evening we allowed ourselves. It was a mighty combo celabration that had Karens birthday, Marty's birthday and Marty&Mel's farewell all rolled in to one night on the town. Karen and I joined Marty and Mel at a local restaurant for dinner before meeting up at Cleverlearn with the individuals stuck working on a Friday evening. From there we all made our way to a local Karaoke bar, where for the following two hours sang our fool heads off, stopping only long enough to enjoy some cake supplied by the lovely Mai Linh, and an occasional sip of beer.
We were thrown out of the Karaoke bar promply at midnight due to some upcoming elections, and a newfound pengant for the rules and regulations. It was at this point that some of the less enthusiastic members of our group left us for home. Those of us with stronger constitutions continued on, going to Half-Man, Half-Noodle and finally The Spotted Cow.
All and all it was a wonderful evening, quite possibly one of our best in Vietnam. So Happy Birthday Karen, Happy Birthday Marty and Marty and Mel, We wish you all the best on your continued travells through the wilds of Canada.

The Last Supper (l-r Fergus, Marty, Mel & Karen )

The Birthday Cake ( Mai Linh & Beverly )

Full House in the Karaoke Room

Toward the end of a long night ( Ed, Karen & Mel )

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I Thrive Upon The Misery

Viet'friggin'Nam,you wretchid, misbegotten country. It all piles up, so thoroughly obnoxious in its endless harrassment of the Merlins. Each day brings forth new trials and tribulations for us to endure and overcome.
Let me begin with our home. We loved it at first, with it's many balconies and outdoor areas. We had a lovely view of a lake that was mere meters from our front door, and the blissful respite of the awful calamity that is the streets of Hanoi. Peaceful, tranquil and pleasant, it was to be our haven from the din and our temporary escape from Vietnam. Unfortunately that was not to last.
The lake was drained a few short weeks past our arrival, and has yet to be refilled. There is a resort that is being built on the lake and the construction goes in to the wee hours of the morning. In the place of the lake there is now a grassy, swampy, stagnant little field that has become over run with bullfrogs.
What started off as a puzzleing noise shortly after the lake was dammed, leaving us scratching our heads and pondering the strange sound that was echoing off of the lake. It kind of sounded like a cross between a small barking dog and a duck, except it was maddeningly loud. Night after night this strange noise was growing exponentially until there was no relief from the endless wall of noise flowing from the swamp. Bullfrogs! They were provided with a perfect wetland breeding ground that has seen a bumper crop. There are so many baby frogs hopping out of the swamp, accross the road and in to everyones yards that I kill a dozen or so every evening while I am driving toward the house. It is not my intention to kill these baby frogs and toads, but after a few nights of pointless swerving I just gave up, as there is no way to avoid them. So after my 400 meter dash down the narrow road to our house where I am popping frogs like plastic bubble wrap, the entire way, I find myself parking my bike. Then as I shut off my engine, the roar of the frogs hits me.
This is bad enough in itself. But, add to that a loudspeaker posted on a power pole directly in front of our house that begins a Vietnamese rant at 8am that lasts long in to the morning. I have no idea what it is stating but I am sure it is some kind of Socialist propaganda. Every once and a while some awful warbleing Vietnamese music will blast out of the speakers as well. The longest run was just last Sunday. YES, Sunday! Where it started at 8am and didn't stop until mid afternoon. It is so loud that in our bedroom with the doors and windows shut and the AC rattleing it is still as clear and loud as if it were playing in our own room.
Karen and I have already talked about aquiring a shotgun to end this awful annoyance once and for all. We are at the end of our rope. Due to it's location, throwing rocks or bricks at it is not an option as there are houses directly across the street from us and we would hit the houses if we missed the speaker.
So now, as we count the days until we are finally rid of this awful country, seemingly designed to frustrate and annoy the Western visitor, we can only hope that we will find some peace and quiet in these last remaining months.
Pray for us,

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

It's looking like a Year.

Karen and I have talked tentatively about leaving Vietnam. It is getting quite old at this point and we are not enjoying it nearly as much as we did in the beginning. Vietnam has an oppressive quality that gets under your skin after a while. We have decided to stick it out for a few months and make as much money as we can, so we can leave and find a new place to live. It is unfortunate that it has to be this way, as Vietnam is a beautiful country and has many great things to offer. The downside is the people. I have seen things, dear friends and readers, things that I can never unsee. If only there was an enema for the memory. I expected a different culture and different ideals from the Vietnamese people, but what I got is so much more than I bargained for.
Karen, poor Karen, she has seen the dirtiest part of Vietnam, and I mean that quite litterally. To her utmost dismay, Karen was unfortunate enough to be stuck at a red light in the backseat of a taxi, on her way to work, when she noticed a grown man directly beside her, defacating in to the gutter. Yep. I love her with all of my heart, and I can say quite honestly, I am glad it was her and not me.
Don't get me wrong, I have seen my share of truly disgusting behavior, just nothing as extreme as that. I feel that I have changed in Vietnam, I have become desensitized to things that no man or woman should be desinsitized to. There are things I just can't bring myself to write about. Yet.
After all is said and done, it will be a year in Nam, and I am happy we did it but will not be back for a visit anytime soon. I left Taiwan saying we would be back as soon as we could,and I still plan on returning there, But I've had my fun in Vietnam and now it's time to move along. It was an experience I will not soon forget, in the way that you always remember the truly traumatic experiences in your life.
Bye for now,

Monday, April 23, 2007

Forrest Gumping

Koh Samui was an absolute blast. Karen and I have two very different opinions on the best way to travel, and this time we did it my way, which I like to refer to as Forrest Gumping. Karen would rather plan every detail of our trip before hand so we can spend maximum time relaxing and not have to worry about the many aspects of travelling that consume so much time. Transportation, lodging and activities are the three main things that Karen would like to have planned before hand. This makes perfect sense and I respect that kind of thinking, but I have never been all that good at it. I prefer to just land somewhere randomly and find a place I like, stay there and meet people and ask them what the best things to do are. There are pros and cons to both of these practices. The problem with planning is that you are usually choosing everything from online, and often what you see online is not what you get in person. Also, to have everything bought and paid for is dangerous in case there is something terribly wrong with the place you have chosen to stay online, and you have to fight to get your money back. Forrest Gumping gives you the option to pay for as many or as few days as desired, and move around trying out different things.
The downside to Forrest Gumping, is that it is often more expensive and time consuming than pre-planning. During our Koh Samui trip we spent many hours on the island walking around in the heat looking at dingy rooms until we found a place that we liked. Time that would have been better spent on the beach, after 24 hours of travel time. Also, we were there during thier new year celebrations and it was nearly impossible to find last minute transportation around Thialand. This would have been an area we would have been much better off pre-planning for.
There is something to be said for the free-wheeling, devil may care, let the chips fall where they may, gonzo style of travelling that I enjoy so much, but just to even things out a bit, maybe we will go with Karens way the next time. After this trip, I think it might be a nice change to have everything taken care of beforehand.
Bye for now,

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Koh Samui Video

We had an absolute blast! Here is a little video we made of our time there.
P.S.- It was just flavored tobacco in that pipe! Oh, and check out the Thai women boxing!

Koh Samui

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Thailand trip

So today is April 5th, and after 2 days of travelling, we are finally settled into a hotel in Koh Samui, Thailand. What a trip! In the course of 24 hours we have single handedly managed to utilize every major mode of transportation possible. After getting off our motorbike in Hanoi on April 3rd, we took a 45 min. taxi to the airport where we boarded a plane for Bangkok, immediately getting off the plane after 1hr/45 min and onto an airport transfer bus to the terminal, from there onto a bus that took us through Bangkok rush hour traffic, where it proceeded to linger for 2 hrs at an almost dead standstill, forcing us to get off at the first available oppertunity (which was some good advice we heeded from a complete stranger on the bus who lived there) if we wanted to catch a connecting train or bus to Koh Samui that night. From here we crossed the street and climbed the stairs to the Sky Train, which took us to the Subway, where we could quickly reach the Railway Station. From here we tried to catch an overnight train, but the last train was sold out. So, on the advice from a friendly tout, we followed him to his travel agency upstairs and bought a ticket on the overnight VIP bus instead. 10 hrs later, we arrived at the Ferry Terminal, where we boarded a boat for the 4 hour journey. Once arriving, we found ourselves on the island of Koh Samui without a transfer to the beach we were staying at, so we hopped in a taxi, where upon our request, he drove us first to a phone shop to purchase a SIM card for our phone, and then to an internet cafe where he waited outside while we went online and got the number of our friend who is also staying here. Unfortunately, he wasn't answering, so we decided to have him drop us off on the main street where we could find a hotel. Once this was accomplished, we immediately headed for McDonalds (they don't have them in 'Nam!) for a Big Mac meal, then straight to the beach on the motorbike we rented from our hotel. All in all, a great, albeit long, but fun journey. After sleeping for the last 12 hours, we are looking forward to the next 10 days in breathtaking Thailand.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thailand, here we come!

We are quickly approaching the second anniversary of the holy union of myself and Mrs. Karen Merlin, formerly known as Karen Hudson, and we are going to bring in our "Cotton Anniversary" in style, soaking up the sun in Thailand. We have taken 12 days off of work for our trip to the "Big Mango" and we plan on filling every one of them up with rest, relaxation, scuba diving, sun-tanning, swimming, trekking and other such vacationesque activities.
Two of our friends from Taiwan, Phil (Philly-poo) Lawrence and Aussie Jim, co-owner of the best bar in Tainan, are currently kicking it in Thailand too. We are looking forward to catching up with them and enjoying an evening or two of the world famous Thai nightlife. I can hardly wait to get going.
We leave on April 3rd, a mere four days away, and we will spend the first night in Bangkok and then it is off to Koh Samui for a couple of days with quick trips over to Ko Tao for some Diving, (click the title of this blog to check out the details and some pics) After that we may head to Pataya for a day or two and finally round it all out in Phuket. ( These plans are subject to change without notice)
Immediately on our return to Nam I will be updating my Facebook albums with another country. I will do my best to take some decent video to post as well. All in all I think this is going to be one hell of an anniversary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Third Trimester

**Warning*** this post is music related and written mainly for those I have played with and played along side of, and especially those who know the difference between the two.****

Music has been a huge part of my life for the last sixteen years. It has kept me out of trouble all through my late teens. While most of the people I grew up with were committing armed robberies and other such madness, I was jamming with Dave and Jay in the old shed on Albro Lake Rd. I have considered the past sixteen years and have come up with three distinct phases to my musical experience. There was the initial phase which was being taught Guns-n-Roses, Black Crowes, Lynard Skynard, Led Zepplin and LA Guns covers by Jay. This went on for a long time. It encompasses a period in my life from the age of sixteen to about eighteen. Then the second phase kicks in where I was actually playing in a working rock and roll band. Mr. Moneymaker and Lost Cause notwithstanding, Rainmaker was the first real band I was a part of. We were in the right place at the right time and we could have done a lot better than we actually did. What can you expect from a bunch of idiots that didn't even know what they were doing? I took a break from that for a while and started a family. That fell apart a lot sooner than Rainmaker had, and then I was back at it with a whole new bunch of people. Larry, Kelly and I started playing songs together and before we knew it we were a full band with the help of Ross Chapman and Jonathan "Twig" Taylor. Crooked North was born and was raised to be a fairly decent "bar" band that boasted a pretty impressive per show haul at it's peak. I call this the second phase. I discovered a lot about the business end of this particular trade and found myself thoroughly enjoying that aspect of it. Rainmaker was about having fun and giving it a shot, while Crooked North was about having fun and being conscious of the business end of things and working toward a specific goal. There were, unfortunately, too many roadbumps to even discuss in that hardworking band. The truly awful part is the fact that the biggest roadbump was a human beat machine that tore us apart like a rabid timber wolf. Oh well, past is past.
Finally on to the third phase, where I currently find myself wading through. I have fallen in love with music again, in a way I haven't experienced since those early days in the shed, when I mastered that elusive bassline to Paradise City. I initially approached playing again with the delicate and guarded way one might attempt to remove a fishhook from a cheek. What has happened to me, to my complete surprise, is a total revival of the pure joy I felt many years ago simply from playing a song well. No agenda, no ulterior motives, just the pure and simple pleasure of playing music. The name of the band is Morgan's Crossing, and we are a Grateful Dead cover band. We play every Friday evening at R&R Tavern to the delight of a very few, but that doesn't matter. Saturday is even better, with an open jam where anyone who plays anything can step up and play a tune. I absolutely love it. Anyone who is still playing in Halifax or Taiwan or wherever, play for the hell of it, and play the hell out of it.
Thanks for reading my rant.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Same old Same old

There has been a lull, so to speak, in our blogging as of late. Unfortunately, there is not much to mention. Things have been kind of ho-hum around here. The weather is unseasonably cool and keeps us indoors most days. Everyone is kind of taking it easy after the madness that was TET. We may be getting a visit from a friend in Taiwan in the next little while, but the details have yet to be worked out.
I have created something that is a little exciting. (if you are excited by mundane, geeky things) It is an on-line classroom, where all of my students are linked together in a community blog. They update journals and can view their classmates entries as well. It is fairly new and I havn't heard of anyone doing anything like this before, so it may be interesting to see how it turns out. I will have all of my students do it from this point on and will eventually build quite a large community with it. If you are at all interested in checking out this little start-up project, you can find it at Or, as always, you can just click the title of this blog to take you there instantly.
Hopefully, as the weather gets warmer we will have more interesting things to blog about. Until next time, play nice and keep your sticks on the ice.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Crosstown Traffic (Click me to go to movie)

We took a ride around the madness that is the day before TET. Click the link above to see a short movie. Also, leave a comment on the blog below and tell me what you think of the dog issue.

Crosstown Traffic

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

In Vietnam, Man's best friend is best fried....and then smothered in onions.

This is a call to all people still reading up on us from time to time. I am running a poll to find out whether or not I should eat Dog while I am in Vietnam. Karen has simply refused to even entertain the idea of dawg eatin, but I am still on the fence. I want to experience different cultural things while I am here, however, I have been licked in the face by dogs and have had dogs excited to see me come home from work/school. I know meat is meat and all that, and it is just a western hangup, but it is one that is deeply rooted psychologically. I fear that at the time, if or when I decide to take that step and sit down at a table in a dog restaurant and the plate is put before me, with a sizzling shelty, el dante doberman, baked lassie, steamed beagle, spicey sheppard or marinated mutt. I may just spear a piece with my fork and embark on a battle with my own conscience, mouth gaping awaiting the morsel, but unable to deliver the cargo to it's destination.
So I leave it up to you fine people, our family, friends or even the complete strangers who have taken to reading our blog from time to time. Leave a comment and say your piece.... To eat dog or not to eat dog....that is the question.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Show us your TET!! The Vietnam Show part 2

As we are heading into TET, there are many changes taking place in the city that we are observing. The first and most noticeable is traffic. It is like Charlie is all hopped up on caffeine pills and Ritalin. They are riding around banging in to each other, oblivious to all time and space, most of them hanging on to small orange trees or some other kind of plant life obscuring their vision. It is truly amazing to watch a Hanoi Sandwich( three people on a scooter) driving down the street with the person in the middle cradling a six foot tree in his arms. Unfortunately there are no pictures of this just yet.
The streets have turned in to one large market with every single person selling the same things. They are all selling pots,carvings and orange trees. I am sure there is some significance to this that I am both unaware of, and uninterested in.
TET is like Christmas, New Years, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled in to one two week holiday. Charlie spends a week hammered drunk and celebrating the new year. We were told it is best to stay off the streets during this time of the year, if at all possible. One good aspect is that the city dwellers, for the most part, all come from rural areas and leave to go back to those rural areas for a few days, essentially turning Hanoi in to a ghost town. We are eagerly anticipating the peace and quiet such a mass departure will bring.
I mentioned the "Lifters" in an earlier blog, and now I have some more to introduce. The "Squatter" is a person who can squat on the side of the road for hours at a time, seemingly unaffected by discomfort or cramping. Squatting is done alone or in groups and can take place anywhere and at anytime. There is also no age or gender discrimination with squatters as I have seen squatting by infants as well as men and woman older than dirt. The position is the same for all squatters. It is like sitting only the bottom or bum, if you will, is not actually touching the ground it merely hovers a few inches above. The thighs and knees are pressed against the chest and the arms are wrapped around the legs. If it is at all possible, it is even more uncomfortable looking than it sounds. Many activities are enjoyed by the "squatters" while in this position, such as smoking, playing board games, eating or drinking tea.
Another humorous discover is, as mentioned above, the "Hanoi Sandwich" and the "Hanoi Clubhouse". These I have named specifically for the amount of dangly little bastards able to fit on to one scooter seat. The sandwich is three and the clubhouse is four. Only full grown adults count for the sandwich and the clubhouse,as children are generally stuffed in any available free space. I have seen as many as six people on a single scooter, but that included three children clinging to the sandwich. I refer to them as fries. It is my new mission to acquire photos of this phenomenon for those of you still reading this from time to time, as it should be seen to be believed.
Signing off,

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Were an American/Canadian/Vietnamese Band!!

After a hiatus of almost two years, I am back behind a bass again, playing in a band called Jerry Garcia. It is an interesting mix of two Americans, three Vietnamese and little ol’ me. I was a little rusty starting out, but after our second practice I am feeling more comfortable. The singer owns a bar called R&R bar ( here is his website ) and it is our second home here in Hanoi. Great greasy western food and lots of character. There is a Friday night jam at the bar on Fridays (obviously) and an open mic on Saturday that allows anyone to come up and play a tune. It isn’t Raddie Dave or Scary Larry, but any port in a storm, as they say.
For the tunes it is originals and old 70’s rock covers. Quite fun to play.
In other news, the massive holiday of TET is coming up and we have a week off of work to do with what we will. We are considering Na Trang to sit on the beach for a week. If we do not do that we have also received some nice offers from some students to eat with them at their homes in celebration of the mighty TET holiday.
Sorry for the long time between posts, but we are kind of settling in to a routine now and until we do something new, there is not a whole lot to write about.
Until next time,

Friday, January 05, 2007

Last days in Taiwan and first New Year in Nam

This is a goofy little film we put together of pics of our last days in Taiwan and our first Christmas and New Years Eve in Vietnam. It is only 4 minutes long. Just click on the "New Movie on Myspace" title to get there.
Nam Years Eve

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