Vietnam Communism

Between the Vietnam war  (in Vietnam they call it the American war) and 1995 Vietnam struggled to instill communism in the south and maintain it in the north. A million and a half people in the south starved to death. I am sure many will argue that that there were many reasons but in the former rice bowl of southeast Asia that people should starve for any reason seems unfathomable.

On recent (July 2016) tours within the country, tour guides addressed it in many ways but it happened and in 1995 the government introduced “modifications” that allowed people to keep a portion of their efforts and that concept has blossomed, in my observation, to an example of free-market capitalism that puts most western countries to shame in some respects. One can’t leave their hotel or walk many feet without being accosted by a vendor of something. Often it is a shoe shine ‘boy’ (usually a 20’s or 30’s man) that will try to talk you into a shine or a young lady with a tray of fans, refrigerator magnets, bracelets, beads and whatnot. The shine guy may even bend down to ‘tie your shoe’ or ‘wipe off some goop’ and then quickly shine, soap,  buff, etc. one shoe or part thereof so you will not match unless you let him finish. If you don’t buy from the young lady she may give you a tale of horror on why she must sell something or else. I have seen dozens of pouting faces on young girls even tears if I did not buy. There are spas and massage establishments on every block and lots of people out front and on street corners handing out flyers. If you take one you will endure a hard sell and if you seem interested you will be taken by the arm and led, as the finder will get a small commission for bringing in a customer.

There are impromptu restaurants set up with chairs and tables and a grill on the sidewalk and if there is an actual kitchen in a storefront then there could be a dozen tables each with 3 or 4 chairs on the sidewalk. I never had to step off the sidewalk into the street to get around one, but there were often paths through tables on an 8 foot wide sidewalk. Unlike the Philippines which is less disciplined, there are no vendors walking between the cars trying to sell you a bottle of water or a single cigarette but I attribute that to fast traffic (one could easily get killed) and to the rather strict police presence.

I saw very few beggars and they were really obviously damaged and pitiful people, but I also saw what appeared to be a government aid office and the people going in and out had obvious issues. There are government sponsored businesses where the handicapped work and the items they make are sold to support the programs. The items they make are beautiful and priced rather high, as the sign says, to support the workers.

There were a few side or connecting streets that I walked along during the day which had all lanes full of traffic or cars parked along them.  At night the same streets had popup shelters or booths on both sides filling the street, made entirely of tarps or just sheet plastic selling everything and anything you could imagine.

The entire experience was informative, impressive and enjoyable. If only their money was a little easier to deal with. $100.00 US is 2,250,000 dong and $1.00 therefore is 22,500 dong and unless you are really quick you may end up paying a lot more for something than it is worth. Particularly when they often show you a price with a few zeros missing but the money has all the zeros and as you are trying to figure it out you may be “helped” of course in the vendors favor.


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Walking in Circles

I went for my usual walk today but took a different route. After about 30 minutes I passed the HCMC (Ho Chi Min City) stock exchange. After about 45 more minutes it started to rain lightly. An hour and a half after I passed the stock exchange I passed it again.
I started my military career as an infantryman and map reading was  a very important topic. They stressed taking a compass reading, pick a point on that line and put the compass in your pocket and go to that point. Repeat. Do not just follow the compass needle as it will always point north, even as you walk an arc. Mythbusters did a great show on the same concept and being fully aware of the issue neither Jamie or Adam could avoid the curve off course. The problem here was I wasn’t shooting a bearing, my map was missing many streets and half the time I simply couldn’t even find where I was on the map.
So what did I do, I hailed a cab!  He brought me back to the vicinity of the market but would not take me further, he just waved his arm and then motioned me out of the cab. It was not expensive but I had to walk another 10 blocks in the rain. Quite an experience. I had a map with the hotel marked on it and the hotels address highlighted, which I gave to the driver, but the language barrier is formidable.
The money situation with the dong at 2,250,000 to  $100.00  (a hundred  US dollars) is impossible. It is compounded by some people dropping off the the last three zeros half the time, while others don’t, and of course they always round up. If the person looks OK such as the circle K clerks, I just hold out my wallet and tell them to take what it is, they then show me what they took and usually give me change – and always a receipt. I don’t think I have been cheated since when I get back to the room and can do the math in peace it always works out.

Tomorrow I am going on a guided city tour, prepaid and including lunch. No money to deal with!

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Packing for Travel

I have made similar trips many times. Two to three months in Southeast Asia. First time with 2 big suitcases, actually one big suitcase and an Army duffel bag full of SCUBA gear. Second time with one big and one small suitcase. Then as a courier with no baggage allowed I started to think about how to travel light. Two trips ago I had one carry on suitcase and a big camera bag. This trip I got a “Cabin Max carry-on backpack at Amazon.”. As I write this I am in a hotel in Saigon. I started the trip with this backpack and a medium camera bag with room for a computer. 6 weeks in I gave away the camera bag and everything is in this backpack. I LOVE IT. (To be honest I had a giant suitcase also but it was to be dropped off, had nothing in it of mine and so it doesn’t count.)

It is strong, it opens like a suitcase so you don’t dig something out from the top. I bought some packing cubes when I bought the Cabin Max and I am still experimenting but this is the ticket. A strong handle to carry like a suitcase, comfortable straps when using on your back. Divided into different areas I am still experimenting on what to put where, but since most is in the packing cubes now that is pretty much decided. I highly recommend this backpack carry-on. One bag is all you need for everything.

One bag you say – 2 months – no way! 1 trouser (multi-pocket), 1 shorts, 2 T shirts, 2 collar shirts, 3 pairs briefs, 3 pairs socks, 1 pair shoes, hat, folding umbrella, folding cane/walking stick, toiletries in a separate plastic cube. You start out wearing the long pants, shoes, 1 of the 3 socks, 1 of the 3 briefs, 1 of the shirts. You have a small computer or tablet (had both, prefer tablet now, easier to use on the plane), folding blue tooth keyboard, pocket storage device for backup if cloud not available. You have a lot of room left over. If in a hotel I can send out laundry for 1 day service or I can wash it myself and let it dry over night in the room. Notepad and pen, medicines, LARGE bottle of anti diarrhea (4 bucks at Sams for 100 tabs), you really really need these if you wish to sample local cuisine. It’s not that people are trying to kill you, according to web MD and many travel sources, by the time you are 100 miles from home you encounter a whole new set of bugs. Add 12,000 miles to that and clean water issues and be careful. Drink nothing but bottled water (or beer), then think – what was that glass or plate washed in?

If you are currently traveling, when you get home and unpack make three piles. The first is for things I absolutely needed and used. The second for things I may have used, but could have done without and the third for things I just never used at all. Then look at the list above. Do you really want to fight that big suitcase everywhere you go?

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For whom do you blog?  I was sitting in Shakey’s Pizza in Makati Philippines and a lady came in wearing a T-shirt with a sequined message covering the entire front. It said  “NOBODY GIVES A S*** ABOUT YOUR F****** BLOG”. I assume someone wounded her or she just got tired of a blogger or bloggers in general. Maybe it was karma directed at me by my guardian angel. It started me thinking. Why do I blog?

During the 2008 election season I wrote 80 some blogs (on another site) about one of the candidates. I had some followers and mostly favorable comments and I did it because I cared. When I started this one I had hopes of keeping up a fairly constant travel blog. It mostly fizzled. Now I do it for me. I am expressing myself in writing and have a few followers but mainly I am doing it for me. It is a way to capture some of my thoughts. It is also a way to let a few friends know what I am up to. There are some really interesting blogs out there, and there are some boring ones (mine) but some of the mundane at first glance give a micro view of life  today.

A few years ago I read a blog from a young Persian lady (she emphasized “Persian”)  when she described her life as being in a fishbowl – things were going on around her that she had no control over that effected her life greatly. The political fallout was effecting her but she was not even represented and there was nothing she could do about it. Last year I read a blog from a college freshman that gave me a view of college I could not begin to relate to. My college experience was as a 25 year old, back from the war. I wanted nothing to do with campus life and carried a full load and sporadic part time time jobs. That blog led me to others and they have helped me understand what is going on today on a sort of one on one basis.

So why the blog – just because…


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I am a snap shot person. I was fine with a fixed lens Kodak Brownie, (except for the cost of film and processing). In Vietnam in the 60’s the PX put a Canon FT on sale because someone put the lens on wrong and no one could make it work. I fixed it and bought it. But I was still a snap shot person. That camera served me well for 30 years, although I never did learn to use all its features.

Two years ago I bought a really nice Canon 6000 and I still take snap shots. But really nice ones if they work out. But there is a point to all this.  I am currently touring southeast Asia. There are times that big camera just is in the way. I am afraid to put it down for fear I will forget it or it will be stolen. There are shots I would like to take but if people saw the camera it might be a problem. These are shots I would never make public or sell but would use to emphasize situations people are in that are difficult for first world people to relate to. How do you adequately describe a child sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk in the rain? Even pulling out my phone is obvious and in situations where it might not be, by the time I get it out, turn it on, change to the camera and take the picture, well the snap in snapshot is gone.

There are times for someone like myself where an under a hundred dollar, always ready to go, digital camera fits the bill. The smallest, quality, medium resolution (12 megapixel?) camera will be my tool. Did I mention A A batteries, available everywhere, leaving behind the charger! My wonderful Canon with all its features will have to stay home!

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The Filling Station

The filling station fronts about ten feet. The sign painted on the  glass says “Breakfast Served All Day” I walked by many times wondering what that might be, since, as you look inside you see a four foot counter and some steps to the left. I ignored it.

This morning I slept through the free buffet breakfast in my hotel so I looked inside the Filling Station. The steps turned behind the small counter and led upstairs. WOW! If you are into 50’s and 60’s memorabilia this place is a dream. The actual restaurant is very large and the ceiling does not have an uncovered inch with everything you can imagine hanging from it. There are reconditioned gas pumps, appliances, motorcycles, bicycles and more than one could imagine placed here and there around the floor. The wait staff is dressed like soda jerks or the red checked dresses of the fifties.  There is a large lass wall looking down at the main street and off the the side is a door to an adjoining Italian restaurant.

The menu is extensive and the food was excellent. If you are visiting the “entertainment district” of Makati in the Philippines, don’t pass “The Filling Station” by.

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Whats Up

This is out of order but since I started after the beginning it behooves me to update briefly what I am up to. I have been toying with the idea of making a trip to see more Buddhist temples, but concentrating on Cambodia, in particular Anchor Wat. Recently one of my nephews in the Philippines graduated from Law School and subsequently passed the Bar Exam. I accelerated my trip so I could attend the celebrations, so here I am.

June 15 I left for Southeast Asia, starting in the Philippines. Shortly I will comment on the activities surrounding this event because I (and the rest of the family) am extremely proud and it is a really big deal.

Time flies and I am now 71 years old and not the traveler I once was. One knee replaced, one bad hip, and a deteriorating back. Is this my last trip or just a learning exercise on traveling with a few ‘hindrances’.

Lesson one: My friend Joe told me I  should get a wheel chair at the airport. There is no way I would do that, however, as I got off the plane at my first of three stops I had my cane and as I stepped off the plane an airline employee told me to take a seat on a chair by the door and I said, I can walk, I will be fine. She said sternly, “sit down”. I did. A few minutes later a young lad with a wheelchair showed up and over 20 minutes of pushing me from the domestic terminal to the international terminal and through TSA, I will going forward always get a wheel chair. On my last trip, 2 years ago I had a pretty rough time in the very long TSA lines in Korea and the Philippines so pride aside, wheel me away!

More to follow.

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