Friday, October 31, 2008

40 Days and 40 Nights, well not really but...

It has been raining here for more than 24 hours and it just won't let up. The flooding has become a real problem on the roads and I am starting to worry about our first floor. Karen shot some video of the condition of our city streets, and we apologize for the quality of the video as she shot it on her cell phone, but she did a great job of catching some of the madness at its worst. So here it is. The state of Hanoi as I am writing this, and it is only getting worse. Awesome.
Happy Halloween

PS. Click the title for some pictures

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hanoi Rocks!! Regurgitator Live

The show went down without a hitch tonight, and I had the best stage experience of my life. There were thousands of people in attendance for My Favorite Uncle's last performance. Yes, that's right, I said our last performance. Paul, our singer, is heading back to Australia and the band as we know it will be no more. It was fun while it lasted and I will remember it always. We brought in a whole new age of rock and roll to Hanoi, as until now, there had never been any shows like this before. I will always be happy to know I played such an important role in the bringing of rock to a place like this. there have only been three major shows in Hanoi this year and I played them all. Your welcome Hanoi, and I hope you keep up the good work. These people are desperate for good live music and I can't be around here much longer to bring it to them. So bring it y'all. Make the scene where there isn't one.
Regurgitator rocked the house and made it abundantly clear why they are professionals and the rest of us are just amateurs. They drove the Viets crazy with song after song of hard rock mayhem. I got caught up in it myself a little bit, I am not ashamed to say. The crowd was hungry, and we served up some prime riffs. I have never in my life, experienced such an enthusiastic and energetic crowd. They were amazing. I have included a video of the goings on this evening and Marty and Mel, I didn't get your autographs but watch the video all the way to the end, I think I got you something almost as good.
Chao for now,

Saturday, October 11, 2008

(My 100th Blog) Last Show at Lo Su

Yes, Ladies and gentlemen, it is my 100th blog and I am using it to display some video from R&R Tavern, our home away from home here in Hanoi. The bar will be moving to a new location and the venue will be changing a little bit. A few of us got together and brought the end out in style as we drunkenly butchered other peoples songs all evening long.
Thank you R&R, and Jay and Huong it's owners, for providing a hell of a nice place for us to forget we are in Hanoi, while we are there at least.
Stay tuned as tomorrow I am playing an outdoor festival with Australian power pop group, Regurgitator.

Keep on, keeping on.


Friday, September 19, 2008


Alright, to be fair, I had no idea who this band was. I can not be blamed for this, however, as I am a North American, and as such I am not privy to this particular band. This is an Australian band. Those who like them, like them a lot. ( Nice right, An Alexander Kieth's reference, from Hanoi, in the middle of Asia. Who rocks? Me, that's who.)
I have heard Australians, and let us remember they are the only country in the world to be their own continent, tell me how awesome Regurgitator is. They are like Canada's Tragically Hip, apparently. So I am excited to announce that your's truly will be opening up for them at an outdoor venue where there are supposed to be 3,000 to 5,000 people in attendance. Yeah, that's not a lot, but I ask you, Have any of you played for that many people? I rest my case. I know some of you have, so shut up!
Regurgitator are being brought in by the Australian Chamber of Commerce, or Auscham, as they are lovingly referred to around here. I say lovingly because they rock! Having attended Canada day here in Hanoi and being bored to tears by the festivities, I must say, Australia knocked it out of the park for the Big Day Out. I am a fan of Australia now.
It will be a true rock-n-roll day, with an outdoor festival followed by a party back at the hotel. C'mon, that is awesome. I apologize if I am coming off as a bit of a braggart, but I am not there with you to passively-aggressively shit-talk my own work in hopes of you telling me how great it is. Ah Hem. Anyway, I am super stoked, and looking forward to a great night. I, of course, will be writing a blog about the evening so I hope you stay tuned.
Word to Big Bird,

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

2 years in Nam

It has been two years since we landed on Vietnamese soil and still I haven't decided what I think about this place. I can tell you that I have never in my life felt more free than I have driving the streets of this Socialist Republic after midnight. I come from Canada, which is considered to be one of the most free countries in the world, and while I agree with that somewhat, I never would have realized how much fear I was carrying around with me while I was there. I would drive my car and feel afraid of speeding or if I had a beer or two that was always on my mind. While I was working, I was always afraid of being caught screwing around, like I always did, by my bosses. I was consciously aware of the fact that I was working for other people in Canada, where here it feels more like I am working for myself. There are so many things to fear in Canada that I was taking for granted until I left.
These people are barbaric, innocent, honest,unique,playful,ambivalent,creative and welcoming. I have complained long and hard about the Vietnamese over drinks at a local Western bar, but there is a sincerity with these people that I would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Vietnam is like a second home to me, and especially now that we are discussing leaving here and going back to Taiwan, for a short time, before finally heading home to end this epic pilgrimage. I want to make the most of this situation and get everything I can out of these people and this place, by finally shaking off my Canadian hang-ups and pre-conceived notions, and just letting myself enjoy this chaotic and complicated country. I love Vietnam and I love the Vietnamese in a way that you love a long losing baseball team or an old beat up car you just can't let go of.
We are leaving. that is a fact and a foregone conclusion. Yet, I am already missing this place before I have even left it. It has ruined me in a lot of ways and I have a lot of changing to do, whereby I can even fit back in to the Canada I have left almost four years ago. It will be interesting, and I guess that is all that matters. we are short-timing now in Asia, and we will see where this road takes us. I can't wait for the trip.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

China Beach, Danang, Vietnam

We decided, at the last minute, to travel with R&R tavern owners Jay and Huong and their two children Ross and Patty, to China Beach in Danang for a week of sun and surf. Some of you may recall China Beach from Apocalypse Now, it is the place where "Charlie Don't Surf". We spent four nights and five days in what may very well be the hottest place on earth. We arrived in Danang at about 5pm on Monday after a short flight from Hanoi. We shared a taxi for the fifteen minute drive to China Beach and were in the South China Sea by five-thirty. The water was a beautiful mix of turquoise and blue, framed by white sandy beaches with powder soft sand. We grudgingly removed ourselves from the water and went back to our hotel to change and shower before dinner. We returned to a little thatched hut restaurant, where we would be eating all our meals for the following week. Karen ordered a plate of king prawn and I ordered a standard Vietnamese dish of stir fried Beef and vegetable with a side of white rice. My food was alright, but Karen's Prawn were awesome. I hate seafood, and never eat it, but upon prompting from Karen I tried one and ended up eating half of the .5 Kg King prawns myself. Delicious. With full stomachs, we ordered a bucket of cold beer and spent the rest of our first evening sitting on the beach sipping cold Tiger beer, allowing our food to digest while listening to the waves crash on one of the worlds most famous beaches. The next day started early for us and we spent most of the day swimming and sitting on the beach. I, of course, got burned as I always do whenever I go to a beach. The heat was more extreme than I expected, with temperatures reaching 40+ and the sun was like a mean snotty nosed kid with a magnifying glass and we were the ants. Even Karen, who never gets sunburned, got burned the following day. Day three was much like day one and two, with the exception of heading up the beach about half a K, to a resort where the six of us ended the evening drinking cocktails and watching the most wonderfully absurd band I have ever seen. We went late so we only caught their final set, but it was amazing. It was a three piece Filipino band who were insanely enthusiastic and had a bit of a hard time with pronunciation of some of the words in the songs. I was truly delighted to hear, in their rendition of Another Brick in the Wall, "All and all we're just another brick"s" on zee wall" It was a great week. Karen tried surfing for the first time, but the waves were a little small that day and her attempts were futile. We did exactly what we wanted to do, be lazy on a beach, and got to experience a few new things. Surfing for Karen and The Final Touch band for both of us. The last thing I want to write about is our trip home. Karen,myself,Huong and little Patty left a full week earlier than Jay and Ross. We shared a taxi to the airport for the flight back to Hanoi. The weather had been perfect for the entire trip but sometime after we checked in and walked in to the departure lounge the weather turned nasty and violent. Our flight was delayed 30 minutes while the hardest downpour I had ever seen erupted from out of nowhere. The sky turned black and thunder began to shake the walls of the small airport and lighting lit up the skies. The worst had past but it was still storming when they called us to board the plane. I looked over at Karen and I said " I don't like this. " I asked her if she wanted to wait and fly out in the morning on another flight. She declined and said it would be fine. I conceded and gritted my teeth as we headed out to the tarmac. It was the first time I was actually afraid to fly. It was a rough take off and an even rougher landing in Hanoi where it was also storming. It was an amazing and frightening experience to be on a Vietnamese budget airline, with lightning arcing all around the plane as we made the roughest landing I have ever felt in my more than 40 flights. Well, we made it and it was a great ending to a memorable week. I have included some video. Peace out, homeys. P.S. Charlie still don't surf!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cholera night boys! I've had enough.

It took three years but I finally caught cholera! It was so much fun. I spent four days doubled over in pain punctuated by bouts of vomiting and almost constant violent diarrhea. Jealous much? I bet you are. Now that I am better, I miss it so much. I am going to start licking small denominations of currency in a bid to bring my new friend back. I hear 2,000 and 5,000 dong notes are the best for Cholera.
All joking aside, this was a hardcore illness that really messed me up for days. It made food-poisoning look like a silly head cold. I had to send Karen out of the house the first day it was so awful and our one bedroom apartment just wasn't big enough for the both of us. Luckily she has seemed to avoid contracting this nightmare illness,so far, and I hope to God she manages to continue to avoid it.
I had to cancel my classes for most of the week as I would have made for a piss poor teacher in my condition. It was not only debilitating in every way, but it cost me a considerable amount of money in lost wages. All in all, Vietnam bared her teeth and bit me in the ass. I will take every conceivable action to avoid ever contracting cholera again. One down, only Malaria and Dengue fever to go. I can't wait.
Now, moving on to a lighter side...
I have to post this picture of a moth I found on the window in our hallway. I want to mention that it is in no way doctored or photoshopped. This is actually how the thing looked. I tried to take pictures with our good camera but none of them came out. This picture is one that Karen took with her cell phone. It is the only one that does this freakish little creature justice. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you the Vietnamese Insanity Moth AKA Donnie Dark Moth

Monday, June 16, 2008

Short Update

Hey folks.
We are sorry it has been so long since our last post, but to be perfectly honest with you there aint been much happnin. We have been existing in a routine of working and sleeping mixed with evenings at the pub. Nothing even remotely noteworthy since Bangkok.
The summer is fast approaching and a relaxed work schedule making for more free time may give us some new experiences to write about. Until then, We hope everyone has a great summer full of good times and better friends. Talk to you soon.

The Merlins

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

4 Days in Bangkok

I went in to Bangkok with rather low expectations, I just figured that it was a big crowded, dirty city. It is those things, don't get me wrong, but it is so much more than that. We ate awesome food, drank beer on the street watching cars stop in lines so that elephants could walk down the road while their handlers extracted money from foreigners to feed the elephant by hand. It was bizarre ,stimulating, exciting and most importantly it was fun. I can't wait to go back to Bangkok as I already miss it terribly. I am going to spare you the long play by play I usually write after a trip, as I feel the video really speaks for itself.
Enjoy the short film,

4 Days in Bangkok

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Hanoi International Music Festival

(Click the title above for Voice of Vietnam Article with an interview with yours truly)

The Hanoi International Music Festival was a celebration of the Minsk Club's 10th anniversary. For those of you who don't know, the Minsk is a soviet motorbike that has a cult status in South East Asia. These durable machines seem to be indestructible and while noisy and smokey, are driven with pride by expats and Vietnamese alike.
My day started off with a 9:30 am sound check in drizzly rain and grey skies. While we were not to see the sun for the entire day, it did stop raining and there was a wonderful breeze that kept the festivities cool and comfortable. After sound check I went back home to drop of the motorbike as I was planning on being in no shape to drive by the end of the festival. I came back at noon to see the first band play to very few people. When we hit the stage at 3:30 there were a few hundred people on hand. The show went well except for some problems with the last song. We had a great reception from those in attendance.
In the hour following our set, I was interviewed by Voice of Vietnam and had my picture taken by photographers from different publications. I was a bit of a Vinastar for the afternoon. I got a lot of great video and will be putting something together for the site. I will have to edit it for length as the file will undoubtedly be too large to post. Stay tuned for that video.
There was much drinking going on with beer stalls all over the place and a store next door providing cheap bottles to be smuggled inside. Everyone was feeling fine when the final bands took to the stage to disturb the entire neighborhood surrounding the American Club. But, considering we were on American soil, the local police did not have a lot to say about it.
This was the first show of its kind in Hanoi, and based on the size of the crowd, was a complete success. I hope that it paved the way for more festivals like it, down the road. Speaking of which, we will be playing another outdoor festival on May 10th called The Big Day Out, which is a bit of an Aussie tradition, we are hoping this years event will be the biggest one yet.
Bye for now,
"In Minsk We Trust."

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Benefit To Our Benefit

Rory Dwyer is a friend and a regular at R&R tavern. He got into an accident early one morning a few weeks back and ended up in a coma with severe head trauma. His time in Vietnam, at least for now, is over. With his medical bills piling up and an emergency medical evacuation from Vietnam looming, some of his friends decided to have a benefit to raise money for Rory and his family who flew over from Ireland to collect him.
My band, Your Other Favorite Uncle, offered to play some music at the benefit. I was looking forward to practicing the set we are going to play on Saturday at the International Hanoi Music Festival, (click on the title of this blog for more info)
However, to my complete surprise, on the evening of the benefit we found out that our drummer,Mel, had been called away to Saigon at the last moment. We played our set without a drummer until when for the last two songs, Thuy, the drummer for Maysons Children, (R&R house band) stepped in and played with us. It was a little rough as far as que's and whatnot as he didn't know our songs, but he kept a solid enough beat for us to rock out a little at the end. All in all it wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be, playing a set with no drummer. At least on Saturday we will be a full band for the large outdoor event that is pulling bands from Australia, the UK, Japan and Ukraine.
There was a raffle at the end of the evening where there were many good prizes raffled off. Karen and I sat as every prize came up and went to someone else. We watched as Zippo's, art, Leg of lamb, bottles of scotch and many more prizes were given other people. It was time for the big draw for the trip for two to Bangkok, Thailand and a two night stay at the Westin. We held our breath as Tim, the MC, wasted time and fumbled about drawing out the anticipation of the crowd. Then suddenly he called the number 137....Ed. I was stunned. I actually won something from a raffle, and not just anything, but the grand prize. Needless to say, Karen and I were overjoyed. We received many "Congratulations ya lucky bastard."'s and other such nods. The only thing left is for us to pick the weekend we want to go.
As for Rory, the evening was also a success, with proceeds hitting almost thirty million by the end of the night. Good on ya, Hanoi expat community. Well done.
Talk to you soon,

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Flood Cometh

We arrived home just after midnight and Karen, having to work early the next morning, went straight to bed. I hit the couch to watch some old House MD reruns. I was laying there enjoying the sarcastic wit of Dr. Gregory House, when I was alerted to a most peculiar sound coming from the kitchen. It was kind of like the sound a tire makes when you let the air out of it. I raised my considerable frame to a vertical state and went in to investigate. To my surprise and horror there was a steady stream of high pressure water shooting from the washing machine hook up. There is a bright orange lever attached to the nozzle so I turned it to the left. This action increased the force and the noise of the spray. I turned it back to where it was and called my landlord. It was 1:30 in the morning and I did my best to relay to him the importance of his immediate presence. After speaking for about two minutes I heard him say.. "Who is this?" I took a deep breath and tried again. This time dropping all subtlety. " Apartment 502! Upstairs. Emergency! Come up now!" He still was unable to grasp neither who I was or what I wanted. A few more attempts and I think I got my point across as he said he would be right up. The spray was getting bigger and I felt I could use another set of hands so I rushed to the bedroom and woke Karen. She was as coherent as the landlord for the first few seconds but came around much more quickly. She got up, obviously annoyed, and came with me to the kitchen. Her first instinct, as was mine, was to try the lever. She tried it a little too hard and the entire works came off of the wall effectively creating a fire hose in the middle of our kitchen. We were both instantly drenched with water and we shifted in to full on panic mode. The kitchen was filling up faster than the boiler room in that scene from Titanic, and we both had to fight off our instinct to flee to higher ground. The water had breached the kitchen and was now filling up the living room and making it's way toward the bedroom. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. I ran to let the landlord in, who immediately took control and found the turn off valve hidden behind the sink cabinet. We stood in three inches of water panting like overweight dogs on a hot day, and he had this air about him like I was a complete idiot for not just simply turning off the water as he had done. In my defence I looked for it and only found the one that turned the water on and off for the sink. Also, his delicate little Asian hands may have been able to reach behind the sink cabinet but I certainly would have drowned before squeezing my meatloaf sized fist behind that thing. The emergency was over as quickly as it began and I spent the next hour watching our landlord and his frazzled wife mop up our apartment. I would have much rather watched the ending of House.
Oh Well, at least I have it on DVD.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Your Other Favorite Uncle

And a tour of the new apartment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My day as a Prisoner

Ladies and gentlemen I am writing this blog as a free man. I found myself held captive at a school called Ocean Language Center for eleven hours. It was my own fault to a degree, as I willingly went along with them at first. But, I think I am moving to fast. I should start at the beginning.
There is a small city about two hours outside Hanoi called Viet Vi and I had an interview to be the DOS (Director of Studies) at a school there. I had my interview and all went well. I even agreed to visit the school and check out the city. We made plans for the following day, I was to be picked up at 1pm by a driver that was going to take me to Viet Vi to visit the Ocean Language School. My first instinct was to call off the visit after I accepted a job at Oxford UK language school, but I was curious and this opportunity may have been more lucrative for me. I felt my first of many reservations when the driver that showed up was a Mai Linh taxi. This is a small hatch back taxi that Karen and I never take because they are so crooked. I said Hello and sat in the backseat. I put my MP3 player on and settled in for a long drive. About 25 minutes in to the trip the driver pulls over to the side of the road and gets out. We were in the middle of farmland and I was a little nervous about this turn of events. I was relieved to see he was just relieving himself on the side of the road. I stepped out and lit a cigarette. Upon his return, and seeing that I was smoking, the driver became very excited and proceeded to pull out his pack of cigarettes to show me that he too was afflicted with the dirty habit. He invited me to sit in the front seat. I obliged and he rolled down both windows and for the next hour and a half he would chain smoke as we made our way over the treacherous roads to Viet Vi.
At this point I will mention that I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, as I knew it would be a long drive and I wanted to be comfortable, also, based ON the conversation of the day before, believed I was only going to view the school and take a tour of the city.
I arrived at Ocean Language School just after 3pm and was met by the entire staff, as if I was some kind of visiting celebrity. Everyone shook my hand and bowed as they smiled from ear to ear. I was taken on a tour of the school, which in all fairness was fairly nice, and then led into a back office where I would spend the next hour fighting to understand what the CEO and Manager were saying to me. There was a lot of pressure and it felt like I had walked into a timeshare presentation. The desperation was dripping off of the both of them as they talked of all the time and money they had invested into this school and how their very futures rested on being able to bring in an experienced foreigner to run the academic side of things. It was just after that when he explained that the students were so excited to have a real English teacher in the classroom tonight. ( This is the point where if this was a movie you would here the sound effect of a needle being scraped across a record as everything came to a stop) "Excuse me?" I asked him. " It sounded like you just said the students were excited about me teaching them this evening?" " Yes. Werry, Werry Happy to see you tonight." Well, this was not good. I was not prepared nor dressed to teach a class. I hadn't stepped one foot inside a classroom for three months. I made it clear I was not happy about this obvious ambush and he backpedalled by saying it would just be a hello, meet and greet sort of thing. It was then that he decided to tell me it was too late to drive me back to Hanoi tonight, so he would put me up in a hotel and drive me back tomorrow evening. That was simply not going to fly. "Absolutely not. Do you understand me? I am going home tonight. I am not prepared to spend an evening here." He seemed visibly disappointed but agreed I would go home this evening. " After you do 5:30 and 7:30 class. We will drive you home." There was a menacing tone to his voice that made it clear my safe passage back to Hanoi depended on my teaching these classes. After a few long moments of silence, his demeanor changed back into a friendly, smiley one and he announced that it was time to go to dinner. I cant say I had any appetite as the entire time he was talking to me he would randomly belch, filling the air with a rotten smoked meat smell that had absolutely turned my stomach. My rising gorge, notwithstanding, I was lead toward the taxi again, stopping only long enough to grab a bottle of French wine from a box behind his desk. We drove a couple of blocks to a decent looking restaurant, where he proceeded, after my admission of an allergy to seafood, to order potato salad and fried dumplings. He uncorked the wine and poured me a glass. We clinked glasses and as I brought the glass toward my face I knew there was something terribly wrong. It tasted like vinegar and I could barely swallow the little bit I had taken into my mouth. The taste must have gone completely unnoticed by my host as he slurped noisily from the glass before swallowing and saying " It's good isn't it?" " Mmm Hmm." I managed blinking away the tears. I pretended to sip my wine as I attempted to eat potato salad with chopsticks. Finally the horrible meal was over and we made our way back to the school. My meet and greet had turned into me doing the first hour and the Vietnamese teacher doing the second. Completely unprepared I walked into that classroom and rocked the house. If he hadn't wanted me with every fibre of his being before that he definitely did now. I had an hour to kill before the next class, so I went for a walk and found an Internet cafe.
At 7:30 I was ushered into an adult class who were on their second English class and could speak no English at all passed Hello and Goodbye. Of course, nobody had told me this and after a ten minute introduction where I outlined my recent history and my origins. There was nothing but blank stares and the distant sounds of frogs and crickets floating in through the open window.
" What level students are these?" I leaned over and whispered to my host.
" This only second class." He beamed.
" So they didn't understand a word I just said, did they?"
" Oh No." still smiling.
" Take me out of here." I demanded.
Out in the hallway he told me that was not the actual class I was teaching, he just wanted them to see me. I then went on to teach forty minutes to adults that were about mid level and could understand the words that were coming out of my mouth.
Finally it was 8:30 and I made a bee line for the taxi. The manager caught me as I was fleeing and started to make many plans for the near future. " We will pick you up same time on Monday. Stay the week and we will drive you home on Friday."
" Yeah, sure. sure. absolutely. 100%" I would have agreed to anything at this point, I was so desperate to escape.
I got in to the taxi and the manager said "Wait, wait one minute." and ran back into the school.
" For the love of God, drive man!" I demanded to my driver, but he just gave me a puzzled look.
The manager returned with a bottle of the same awful wine we had at dinner and offered it to me through the open window. The driver and the manager then spoke at length in Vietnamese about money, and finally we were off. We were driving for about five minutes when the driver shocked me with English as he leaned over and said. "Very bad company. They, all day, no food or drink for me. Very bad company."
" Your preaching to the choir, brother." I responded.
He said he was really hungry and by the time we got back to Hanoi there would be no place open for him to eat. I told him to stop and eat somewhere. So that is how I found myself at a roadside stall after ten pm, drinking Bia Hanoi, and watching my driver slurp Beef Pho noisily as we bonded over the mutual screwing we both received at the hands of Ocean Language School.
It was an experience I shall not soon forget and a very valuable lesson learned.
Till next time, Take 'er easy.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Our New Apartment

Here we are, back again posting about another new domicile. I have lost track of the amount of houses, flats and apartments we have lived in over the past six years. The long wait is over, we moved in to our new place over the weekend. It is a fifth floor walk up and my legs feel like I ran the Boston Marathon. We will take a little video to show off the new diggs, but essentially it is a one bedroom apartment with a bedroom, (shocking eh?) kitchen and living room. The view is worth mentioning as it looks over the community of Tay Ho(West Lake) and the lake itself. It still has that new car smell as the paint was barely dry when we moved in. There are also brand new appliances that make us happy and the couch is not wicker or rosewood, so that is something. A Japanese style bed and huge closet make up the bedroom with a computer desk in the corner. All and all I am very happy with it. The only problem is they are renovating the building right next to us and it is 10 hours of construction daily until completed. Oh well, you can't have everything.
Peace out yo!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

House Hunting in Hanoi

TET is a strange and unusual holiday that all but shuts down Hanoi for almost two weeks. This left it impossible for me to pursue employment or housing for that period of time. Also, the real estate situation is unique as well. How it works here is that you need an agent that is your go-between lessors and lessees. Without an agent there is no way to view or acquire a place to live. Also, owners have to be licensed to rent to foreigners and the agent makes sure everything is on the up and up. In the past month we have gone through 7 different agents and seen a bevy of overpriced, wholly unappealing flats, apartments and houses for rent. The utter rubbish we have been exposed to in potential living arrangements has had a debilitating effect on both myself and Karen. It has been one bitterly disappointing showing after another. The expectations of these lessors are so inflated that we have walked out of showings laughing out loud at prices asked for small one bedroom apartments throughout the city. So discouraging has this effort been, that I am ready to simply pack in the search and continue to live in the hotel. As of this writing we have come close once to paying too much for a decent, but small, apartment that was snatched away from us at the last moment. Right now we are no farther ahead than we were when we walked off of the plane and into the taxi a whole month ago. Pray for us. We need all the help we can get.

The Re-Arrival

We have been back in Hanoi for exactly one month today. We arrived late at night on Jan 21st and within minutes encountered our first example of ineptitude by the Vietnamese. We went to a booking agent in the lobby of the airport to obtain transportation and lodging. We dickered over prices until finally settling on a price for a hotel (18$) and a taxi to Hanoi Centre (10$). We had discussed a couple of different hotels before settling for the one we did. She wrote the name of the hotel on our receipt and the address for the driver. We loaded our luggage into the taxi and settled in for the 30 minute drive to the Old Quarter. After thirty minutes of non-stop honking from our driver we found ourselves in front of the hotel. We showed the receipt to the girl at the front desk and she nodded that this was the place. We unloaded our baggage into their foyer and walked up to the front desk, passport and receipt in hand. Upon closer inspection by the staff they noticed the name of the hotel was different and we were in fact, not at the right hotel. After thirteen hours of traveling we were not impressed with this revelation. They apologized for the misunderstanding and asked us to come back and stay with them some other time. They also advised us their rate was 15$. We assured them we would be back the next day. We called another taxi and waited about ten minutes for it to show up. We loaded our bags into the back and gave him the proper address which turned out to be exactly a block and a half away. Once again we unloaded our baggage and checked in to the proper hotel. The room, of course, was on the top floor of a five floor building that lacked an elevator. We lugged our luggage up the five floors, took showers and immediately went to sleep.
The next day Karen went off to work at 7:30 am and I checked out of the hotel, packed our luggage into a taxi and drove the block and a half back to the first hotel to save a few bucks a day in rate. Once again I found myself on the fifth floor, but with nobody to help me lug the luggage. After settling in to the hotel, I called Danny, our Motorbike lessor, and set up a time for him to drop off the bikes. He advised he would drop mine off that very day but we had to wait for Karen's automatic as he didn't have any on hand. He dropped off the bike and the Hotel manager informed me he would have to charge a dollar a day for parking for the bike. The hotel was now 16$ per night. The rest of that day and evening went by without any major problems. The next day I got a call from Danny saying he had a MIO for Karen. He dropped it off at the hotel and the manager announced it was a dollar per bike(17$). Another day went by and we had a late dinner keeping us out until almost ten O'clock. When we arrived back at the hotel the owner was there and asked to talk to us. He informed us that he would have to ask us to leave the hotel because the staff quoted a price that was too low. He also said they didn't have room for two bikes. This turned out to be utter crap, as he was just offered more money for the room from other tourists. Once again, Karen went to work in the morning and I went out looking for Hotel Rooms. Four hours and many viewings(always on the top floor), I was exhausted and finally decided on the Sunflower Hotel, where we had stayed for ten days before we left. Their price (20$) per night. I went back to the other hotel and packed up all of our stuff once again and carried it alone down five flights of stairs. I called a taxi and headed over to the Sunflower. Upon arrival there, the staff came out and grabbed my bags and brought them up to the fourth floor, room 401 where we have been ever since.
Welcome back Merlins.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Strange and Wonderful Trip

Oh Canada, how I miss you already. It was a wonderful month surrounded by family and friends. We got to meet little “Hank” Henry Chisholm and share his first ride in a car. I’d like to thank Ratty Dave and his wonderful wife Judie for putting us up at a most inconvenient time for them. My parents who fed and housed us for a full month and Karen’s parents as well for taking us in and feeding us well. Most of all, I have to mention the few weeks I got to spend with my beautiful little girl, Emma. I miss you so much already.
Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, Boxing day with the family and New Years at Raddie’s. We love you all and thank everyone for making it such a memorable holiday for us. We have had to say goodbye three times over the last few years but this one was definitely the hardest.
We left Canada on January 13th and prepared ourselves for another arduous two day journey across the globe. I must say, however, that the trip back went a lot more smoothly than the trip to Canada. The 13 hours in Heathrow airport was a little rough, but no more that what was expected.
So, enough about the trip, it is the destination that I want to talk about. We landed in Phuket at 8 O’ Clock PM on Jan 15th. It was wonderfully warm after a month in Canada and we couldn’t wait to get started on our 5 days on the beach. After two hours in a mini van with a lot of European tourists we were the last to be dropped off on Kata Beach. The hotel was nice and comfortable but after the trip we were so tired we could have slept at Heathrow again and gotten a proper eight hours. The next five days were awesome. Kata Beach in Phuket may have just replace Playa Del Carmen, Mexico as the answer to the “What is your favorite vacation destination?” that so many websites ask as a security question. Muay Thai boxing, Snorkeling and lots of sunshine filled the small but mighty vacation that rounded out our Holiday Excursion.
Now we are back in Hanoi where I am colder than I ever was in Nova Scotia, and there is no escape from the awful chill that finds it’s way in to your bones and sinks it’s fingers into the marrow. We are currently living in the Sunflower Hotel on 34 Hang Ga Street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam. We have tried to find an apartment but apparently “Charlie” just shuts down the weeks leading up to TET and we have not been able to get any help from agents who have already switched to TET mode and do not want to work. So it looks like we may be spending the month here in the hotel. I have tried tentatively to find work but as with the real estate situation there is not much going on now. It looks like I will be unemployed until after TET.
So, loyal readers, I will sign out saying we are digging in for a long wet, cold winter in Hanoi, and I will keep you posted if anything interesting happens.
Happy New Year.
P.S. The video has finally posted below.