Vietnam 2007 in Pictures

Finally! I've uploaded our pictures from Vietnam and captioned them all (phew!) Enjoy:
Vietnam 2007 Slideshow

note: while the slideshow is playing, you can click on the picture to see info about each image


Huntington Beach Police Blotter

Ok, I'm going to take a short break from reporting on Vietnam because this was quite humorous to me (and I'm getting pretty busy at work as well). I just ran into this weekend police blotter in the OC Register and I thought it was... interesting. Are these the only kinds of calls that Huntington Beach police receive on a daily basis, or is the Register only publishing the entertaining ones? There are a few incidents here that are serious, so I don't mean those. But can you seriously read through this list without chuckling at least once?

Weekend Blotter: Lost taxi customer relieves herself in street

A taxi driver told police at 1:42 a.m. Saturday that a female customer had gotten out of the cab near Heil Avenue and Rhine Drive and defecated in the street.

The woman then got back in the cab and gave directions to her residence but when they arrived, the house wasn't hers.

Police arrived and assisted the woman in finding her home.

Saturday, July 21

Bluefish Lane, 19300 block, disturbance involving juveniles. A group of five drunken youths were toilet-papering a residence at 12:46 a.m.

Rio Vista Drive, 6900 block, suspicious person. A man with one shoe on was sleeping on a resident's front lawn at 6:48 a.m.

Pier, disturbance. A man in a bright orange jacket was making threats to people on the pier at 8:55 a.m.

Norma Drive, 7000 block, hazardous conditions. A caller told police that a portable toilet had been tipped over, 11:37 a.m.

Goldenwest Street, 15700 block, suspicious circumstances. A swap meet shopper told police he thought he had found a saw that had previously been stolen from among items being sold by a vendor, 1:55 p.m.

Beach Boulevard, 17900 block, disturbance. Three transients were yelling at passing customers in front of a store at 2:13 p.m.

Main Street and Garfield Avenue, narcotics activity. A caller reported that three people were smoking out of a "crack pipe" at 4:37 p.m.

Garfield Avenue and Newland Street, traffic collision. A Honda Element had flipped over during a traffic accident and a woman was trapped inside at 6:43 p.m.

Sunday, July 22

Countess Drive and Edinger Avenue, reckless driving. A minivan was seen driving around without headlights on the grass near Mother's Park, 12:05 a.m.

Ellis Avenue, 8100 block, physical fight. Two men were fighting outside with broken beer bottles and one man was cut on the neck, 1:22 a.m.

Alabama Street, 1600 block, traffic hazard. A refrigerator was in the middle of the street, 2:36 a.m.

Billingsgate Lane, 20200 block, disturbance. Someone at a party was urinating off a balcony at 3:35 a.m.

Hillview Circle, 16500 block, disturbance. A caller told police that someone in a neighboring residence was watching a "porn video" and it was "very loud," 8:40 a.m.

Detroit Avenue, 200 block, burglary in progress. A caller told police that one of a group of teenage boys was being physically detained after they were seen attempting to steal something and the other boys had rode off on bicycles, 11:50 a.m.

Newland Street and Hamilton Avenue, traffic collision. A black Nissan Altima and a motorcycle were involved in a collision and the motorcycle was wrecked, 5:23 p.m.

Valley Circle, 18900 block, fireworks. A resident said that a group of guys was lighting off fireworks in the street for about 30 minutes. She yelled at them to "knock it off" and they threw firecrackers at her window, 10:20 p.m.


Driving in Vietnam

Think rush hour in Orange County is bad? Try Vietnam!

This is a little video my wife and I put together of driving through the streets in Vietnam. I was driving (most of the time we used her sister's Honda Future) and she was filming over my shoulder. It's terrifying at first, but it's not too bad once you get used to it. The trick is this: go with the flow. Seriously. There's a flow (or a groove if you will) in the traffic and all it takes is finding yourself in that flow, then driving is fine and actually fun sometimes.


Eating Our Way South - Huế, Hội An

After a great time in Hà Nội, we headed down to the central regions of Vietnam. Central Vietnam is known for its spicy dishes and unique accent - some Vietnamese just say straight out that they don't understand the central dialect.

We only stayed in Huế for two days, but tried to fit as much sight-seeing and eating in as possible. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a lot of pictures (of the food anyway), so here's our report:

Here's a little food stall in the Đông Bạ (sp?) marketplace in Huế. The was pretty good, but the lady kept bringing stuff out and it ended up to be a bit more pricey than we hoped for. Usually food stalls offer less-expensive food. But it was good and we laughed it off.

We also ate at Tịnh Gia Viên, a nice place tucked in a beautiful garden. The head cook is from the family that used to cook for the imperial kings of Vietnam, so the food is intricately presented in the shape of dragons, turtles and other mythic animals. The presentation is great (I hear they will even dress you up in royal garb if you make the appointment!) but unfortunately, the foood seriuosly lacked in taste. Here's our favorite dish of all, nem which is a type of spring roll. Click here to see what it looked like when we were finished with it :).


To be honest, Hội An proved to be much more delightful to our palate than Huế. Here's our report:

Our first day was spent shopping, as Hội An is known for its inexpensive fabrics and countless tailor shops. The reason my wife likes it so much is because unlike the shops in Saigon, they are familiar with making clothing for "foreigners," which means they add a little to your measurements instead of take away. That means the Hội An clothing actually fits and is comfortable whereas most clothing bought from Saigon shops is ridiculously tight. Anyway, we spent longer at the shops than usual because we wanted to stay in that part of town until 8pm, for that is when Mr Noodles starts selling.

They call him Mr Noodles (that's my loose translation of "Ông Mì Quảng") because he is famous for his delicious noodle dish mì quảng which he sells in front of the fabric shops for a few hours after sundown. He has no restaurant, or even tables, but just sits down on the sidewalk with his wife and daughter amid stacks of plastic chairs (if you need a table, just put your plate on a chair!) and starts dishing out some killer mì quảng. Just get in line (which consists of a bunch of people sitting in random places - so basically just sit down somewhere) and he magically keeps track of who's next, as well as what you order and how much you owe when you're done. To me, Mr Noodles is a representation of how many people make a living in Vietnam - find your niche and work it. It probably won't be high paying or have any official position or title (in fact, he operates his business right under a sign that says "No food stalls," but it's night and the food's good so that makes it ok), but it's something.

The next day we started out for Cơm Gà Bà Buội, per recommendation of my wife's sister. It was raining and it took us 30 minutes of asking random people on the street to find it, but it was worth it. Bà Buội was is the founder of the place, which since her passing has been headed by her son. There is no menu - you just walk into the front room of the house, take a seat on the wooden bench (across the room from the dog, please) and say "I'll have what they're getting." while pointing to your neighbors. We were quite pleased. The chicken dishes are very simple - shredded chicken on rice, shredded chicken salad - but are delicious. Definitely recommended.

The locals will tell you that you have to try cao lầu, which is a noodle soup that can only be made in Hội An because they make it with special water from a special well that is only in their city. The dish itself isn't so special, just thick noodles in broth, like most other soup dishes in Vietnam. We actually went to the well and were surprised to see... a well. Tucked between someone's house and someone else's house, there's a circular hole in the ground with water at the bottom. A well. I guess I was expecting cao lầu noodles to magically spew from the well or something, but I was a little disappointed.

What locals might not tell you is to try the hoành thánh chiên (fried wontons), and even less will know where to eat them. There's a lot of places that sell this dish, but many are very disappointing. We went to one place that replaced the wonderfully sweet/sour sauce with ketchup. Probably because I'm white. Finally, on the night before we leave for Saigon, we start on a journey to find the real thing. We walked all the way down Hai Bà Trưng street until we found the place - Bông Hồng Trắng. Look at that picture - there lies the "real thing." It might look like nachos, but it's ten times what nachos could ever be.


Well, we're home. Got home on Sunday, back to work on Monday. I'm off today so I'll be cleaning the house. And blogging. Back to real life!!


Cambodia and Beyond

Well, Cambodia was a blast. We went right in the middle of rain season, but only got hit by a few drops. The rest of the time we just enjoyed the cool breeze of an impending storm. More (much more) on Cambodia later.

We're leaving tomorrow. It's been quite a trip and I'm a bit spent. But here's an interesting part of the story - at first I took pictures of everything I saw and I was constantly thinking about how to analyze each situation I saw. I viewed Vietnam as my subject and I studied it as such. But in just three weeks my perspective has done a 180 and no longer do I try to dissect Vietnam as a subject, but rather I've become the subject, living in Vietnam and becoming part of it.


Eating Our Way South - Hà Nội

It's raining outside so I'm going to blog again.

My wife once told me that she travels to eat. This is not completely true - she actually travels for family and leisure and a love of the seeing far away places - but she has shown me the satisfaction that comes from going out of one's way to ask the locals about where the regional specialty tastes best. And I have shown her how to put aside one's fears and dive into a narrow alley to eat the food many locals won't touch. We make quite the dynamic team when it comes to eating. Here's our report for Hà Nội.

The specialty in Hà Nội is bún. All kinds of bún. Bún is a vermicelli noodle dish served with different kinds of meat and lots of rau (leafy greens and herbs). It can be served dry or as soup. Everything is brought out separately to the table, then each customer gets their own little bowl to do the mixing in. Their bún is cooked and drained but not tossed so it sticks together, then it is cut into squares so you don't have to slurp it. In addition to the noodles, rau and meat, there's always a tasty mắm to go with it. Nước mắm (fish sauce) seems to be the thing in the South, but most of the bún we had in the North was served with mắm nem, which my wife always tells newcomers to eat first and smell later. Bún is one of my favorite dishes because it digests quickly and doesn't leave me feeling heavy after a big bowl. That's in addition to the delicious taste of fresh herbs, rice noodles and bbq-ed meat mixed with mắm. Yum!

For soupy bún, there's several different kinds. Bún thang, bún bung... but our favorite is bún mọc. Our favorite place by far is called, well, Bún Mọc Số 1 - Number 1 Bun Moc (see above picture). "Number 1" just so happens to be its address, but makes a nice name, too. This type of bún must be pretty regional because I haven't been able to find it anywhere other than the North, including in Orange County.

Another type of bún that we stumbled upon is bún đậu, meaning noodles with tofu. It was in a little alley at the corner of Hàng Bạc and Hàng Bè, and is not for the faint of heart. Entering the alley leads you through a mess of people sitting on little plastic chairs at little plastic tables (very typical of road-side stands). You have to find your own seat, which usually means sitting on the empty side of a table that is already occupied. Then they start bringing stuff out, and you basically look at what other people and point to order. This little dive turned out to be our favorite surprise in Hà Nội, and this dish is probably very tough to find outside of the North.

For those of you who love the classic Vietnamese eggroll - chả giò - then the North might leave you empty handed and empty stomached. The Northern version of eggroll, called nem rán, is filled with cabbage and bean sprouts, with a little ground pork and shrimp if you're lucky. Of course, I love them both. :) This is a picture of some homemade stuff we had while visiting the relatives in the countryside.

Is your mouth watering yet? If it is, we'll tell you a secret. Ok, it's not a secret, but it is a buffet - a Vietnamese buffet - that offers all of the above dishes in one location, all you can eat. It's like 7 dollars to eat to your heart's content, and the atmosphere is "exotic," too. I'll post the address (somewhere in Hồ Tây) when I find the business card.

Phew, that's enough for now! Later I'll post our report on Central Food, from Huế and Hội An. Oh, sorry Triết, we didn't get your extensive restaurant list until we got back South. I guess we'll just have to go back to Huế again!!

The Changing Landscape of Vietnam

I'm trying not to make this trip a petri dish for blog posts. It's not working. But I don't have a lot of time to think and analyze and come to a useful conclusion with many of my thoughts so I'm just going to blog some simple stuff here and hopefully tie up all the frayed posts I've started to make something "good."

The one thing I don't want to do is paint Vietnam as something it isn't. I've only been here twice, but it's enough to see that the idea of Vietnam as a land of nón lá (conical hats) and áo dài (flowing Vietnamese dresses) and phở (noodle soup) is just that: an idea. But I don't want my conclusions of Vietnam to solely reflect positive economic growth and government policy either, which is just as shallow as the previous perspective. Vietnam is a country, consisting of endless peoples, places and things that all contribute to its meaning. I will never be able to capture the whole of Vietnam, let alone articulate it, but I hope that I can contribute a bit to redefining Vietnam as a country, not a war or a tradition or a monetary sum.

And hopefully by doing so I will learn for myself what Vietnam means to me.

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)