Archive for the 'Vietnam' Category

Sunday Salon: The Amazon Kindle Electronic Reader

kindleMy reading life is about to change.* I will soon be the owner of an Amazon Kindle electronic reader!

They came back in stock last week after having sold out in less than six hours after being released last December. When I learned that my sister would be coming to London on a business trip, I immediately ordered one for her to bring for me. Woohoo!!

I will be missing out on the wireless connectivity that’s available only in the U.S. but it’s much more important to me that I have access to books in a timely fashion. When we started our expat life in 1998, books in English weren’t always easy to find.

  • In Taiwan, there was a decent selection at Eslite even though I was at the mercy of whatever was on the shelf.
  • In Japan, Maruzen was ok but it was very expensive. A couple of years after we’d moved there, launched and it was wonderful!!! (Yes, that deserved three exclamation points.)
  • In Vietnam, very few English books could be found in the shops except for classics. Relatively new releases with Vietnam as the main subject were available but only as pirated versions on the street corner. Otherwise, the International Ladies in Vietnam library was actually pretty well stocked but in disarray. So once again at the mercy of whatever was on the shelf.

    I’m not trying to make it sound like I was very deprived, though. We made frequent trips to Singapore where the selection of English books between Borders and Kinokuniya is quite good. My personal stash of not-yet-read books is also consistently worth several months if not a year of reading.

  • Right now, we’re in London, UK which is, of course, fabulous for books but can still be quite pricey esp. compared to the U.S.

In contrast, Amazon Kindle books are $9.99 or less and available immediately for download.

Whether you prefer biographies, classics, investment guides, thrillers, or sci-fi, thousands of your favorite books are available. The Kindle Store offers more than 100 of 112 books currently found on the New York Times® Best Seller list and we’re adding more all the time. New York Times Best Sellers are $9.99, and you’ll find many books for less.

You spoiled lot in the U.S. will get to download sample chapters as well not to mention doing it all wirelessly (assuming you’re in the wireless coverage area). I, on the other hand, will be very satisfied with downloading my content via USB. Three features I’m really looking forward to are the built-in dictionary, search of all materials downloaded onto your Kindle, and clippings and notes which can be uploaded to the computer for other uses.

The first set of books I intend to download includes:

  • Escape by Carolyn Jessop
  • The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee (If you’re wondering why she has a number for her middle name, she added it herself when she was a teenager because “Jennifer” is too common.)
  • Bringing Home the Birkin by Michael Tonello
  • Pretty is What Changes by Jessica Queller

My books wishlist (started using delishlist in March) is, of course, much longer than this. Unfortunately, not all books are available for the Kindle. So while you may still find me at home with traditional paper books in hand, when out and about, I’ll most likely bring my Kindle.

What do you think of the Kindle and of eReaders in general? If you already have a Kindle, what books have you downloaded?

*Although hopefully not in the way of what’s been assumed about pregnant and post-partum women and their reading habits.

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Sidewalk Barbecues in Vietnam

Johns Hopkins University President William Brody spent two weeks in Beijing studying Mandarin in 2006. Here he describes the dining experience:

One of our favorites is a Muslim restaurant, where we get dinner for two for $2 or $3, including a chicken kabob, curried eggplant, rice, and beer. The food is quite tasty, though perhaps not as hygienic as at home — I really liked the barbequed chicken or lamb on a bamboo skewer until Wendy observed that they probably reuse the skewers.

When I read this, I guffawed because it reminded me of the sidewalk barbecues in Vietnam. Marv and I are big fans of the ol’ BBQ and I occasionally asked our helper to buy us a sampling to eat at home with rice vermicelli salad. We often saw that the vendors laid their grills directly on the sidewalks along busy streets but the grilled meat was so delicious that we tried not to see if you know what I mean.

Here’s a photo I’ve nicked from Noodlepie where Graham goes into great detail describing “barbecue boulevard.”

vietnam barbecue

Direct proof that barbecue causes cancer.


Summer in London

Click for larger image.

Summer in London is far different than the gritty grime of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Where we are west of the city, there are trees and flowers and the River Thames flowing by.

Despite the hayfever, I still feel healthier than I ever did in the almost two year we spent in Vietnam. No longer cooped up all day in an air conditioned box, we take daily walks to and from school.

In the morning, the air is fresh especially after a morning rain shower. In the mid-day, it grows warmer but the breeze continues to stir things up (including the pollen). Temps of 30 degrees Celsius and above (86 degrees F) in London feel nothing like the way it would in humid Singapore or even the dry brown hills of Northern California.

Summer in London is a unique experience. Maybe life here isn’t so bad after all.


Missing the Spice of Vietnam

My most recent piece for local tourist and expat rag, Saigon Inside Out, is now available.

Missing the Spice of Vietnam

NB: Their site is undergoing a revamp so it’s not as pretty as it should be.


Saigon Inside Out Cover Story

So here I was complaining about not hearing back about my first real magazine submission and it turns out to be this month’s lead cover story!

Ten Fun Places for Kids in Saigon

What a happy way to start off a day of rain and sleet.

PS Your comments always cheer me up too but I haven’t got enough time to answer them all right now. I get 30 minute sessions on the computer here at the library. Boo hoo hoo.


10 Fun Places For Kids in Saigon

This is a piece I wrote for a local Vietnam tourist publication. They accepted my query but never replied when I sent in my piece. So I am sharing it here. Hope you find it interesting and/or useful!

On the surface, Saigon might seem like just another city in a developing country with its bustling streets, hole-in-the wall restaurants/cafes, crowded markets, and staid department stores. If you?re with small children, it takes some ingenuity to come up with activities that make everyone happy.

The best places for kids have something new and different to see and explore, wide open spaces to run around and let off steam, toys and knick knacks to buy, and kid-friendly places to eat. Saigon has all of these but you need to know where to look.

1. Zoo and Botanical Gardens (2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, District 1)

Just down the street from the Sofitel Plaza Saigon Hotel (where chocolate lollipops in the shape of teddy bears, rabbits, and hearts are nice treats for a zoo outing), the historical zoo and botanical gardens were built over 100 years ago. Amidst the mossy smelling air, you?ll find endangered animals native to Vietnam along with other zoo favorites, such as the crested argus pheasant, elephants, Malayan sun bears, and Asiatic black bears. Kids can pretend to be monkeys themselves while dangling at the playground.

To be honest, I wouldn’t step foot in the zoo with bird flu in the air. I felt I had to include it for people who don’t think such precautions are necessary.

2. Reunification Palace (106 Nguyen Du, District 1)

Standing in front of the tall gates of Reunification Palace, the wide white fa?ade and flying flags may seem intimidating. But with lots of open space and no cars allowed inside, Reunification Palace is one of the safest places to let kids run free. There are also tanks and fighter jets to gawk at and two brown cows that roam the grounds acting as animal lawn mowers. Mooooo.

3. Ho Chi Minh City Museum (65 Ly Tu Trong St, District 1)

If your kids hyperventilate excitedly over vehicles, the Ho Chi Minh City Museum has both air and land ones for them explore. Displayed on the grounds are antique cars, a tank, two different fighter jets, and a helicopter. The kids can even touch and take a good look inside the cockpit.

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Second Leg of London Move

Vietnam is no longer our home. After some tearful good-byes and a last death-defying* drive through the crowded streets and back alleys, we left Vietnam for the last time. We’re now on the second leg of our move to London; transiting in Singapore for a few days.

Nerves kept me from sleeping for the entire past week. Last night was the first somewhat restful sleep I’ve had and I could probably use at least one more night before my energy levels climb higher than the level of fatigue. But I probably won’t feel completely rested until we’ve made London our home. Boxes arrive on January 28th.

One box was already waiting for us when we got to Singapore. A big one from Dell – our new Inspiron 9300 laptop! We’ll be busy playing and transferring data to the new computer before leaving on Wednesday.

If only unpacking in London could be as much fun as opening a new computer box.

*Not for us, for the motorcyclists, pedestrians, and street vendors.


Boxes Out, People Next

The movers have come and gone. Seeing the four packing guys move in such an efficient way – pop open box, tape bottom zip zip, bundle things in, fold flaps down, tape top zip zip – convinces me that a moving budget should always include packing (unpacking I can do myself).

Stephen came home about two hours after packing started. I had asked that the living room and all his toys be packed first because I knew that if he were here, he’d want to play with all his toys and would have a hard time letting them go. When he walked in, he went straight to his toy cabinets and saw that they were empty. The poor kid never had a more pathetic look on his face when he tearfully asked, “Where’s my plane?”

It was at that moment when it finally hit. We aren’t going to be living here anymore.

No more authentic Vietnamese food, household help, pirated DVD’s, and a mandatory game of chicken when crossing the road. We’re moving back to the land of gigantic supermarkets, parks and museums, and stoplights.

Thank you, Vietnam, for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Coming Down the Final Stretch to London

We’ve started our final week in Vietnam. Things are starting to get hectic.

The guy taking over from Marv has arrived with his family and we are busy showing them the ins-and-outs of Ho Chi Minh City. The movers come on Thursday and we fly out on Saturday. We’ll transit in Singapore for a few days then head onward to London.

So from now until the end of January, I may not post as frequently as I usually do. Please don’t forget about me!


Moving or Not?

Around the apartment, I’ve been taping post-its with the following message on various cabinets and cupboards:

Our belongings basically belong to the following categories:

  • Things we’re taking ourselves.
  • Things the moving company will pack for us.
  • Things that belong to the apartment building.
  • Things I’m giving away.
  • Garbage

“Why didn’t you write ‘Don’t Move’?” Marv asked.

The note actually started out as “NOT MOVING” but I changed it to “NO MOVE” because it seemed like a more straightforward message. Our packers are local Vietnamese who may or may not understand English well. I figure everyone understands “NO” and “MOVE” should be part of a moving company employee’s vocabulary.

Or maybe the notes are a form of silent protest.