Monday, November 23, 2009

And The Curtain Falls

I've just learned that my internet problems aren't the cause of a lame ISP but instead a government action. Facebook is banned. As well as other sites that are popular forms of social communication[so not Myspace]. I believe that my blog is also blocked, as I have to use a web proxy to make this post. There are several theories going around as to why the ban, some say the government fears security breaches through the display of private information, others say it has something to do with an upcoming election. Whatever the reason, its rather annoying and hopefully will be temporary, as I can't post photographs using a proxy.
But I can still write. So let me take this rare chance to poke out from under the ISP curtain. On Friday, Daphne and I stopped by our future apartment to sort some stuff out. We found a nearby Chinese restaurant where after having some good soup we decided to make it one of our future regulars[we have so many places in our current neighbourhood to drink and eat, where will we go now?].
I took an alternate, exploratory route back home when something in my bike started making a clicking noise and causing it to jump. Slowly, and with continued auditory threats from the bike, we made our way to my local bike shop where I always go to get work done[2:30pm].
The first mechanic to deal handle it said I needed a new chain for the wheel and also a new brake. Well enough. Though after paying for that and getting on the bike, I had to do a U-turn almost immediately when I realized the problem persisted. So he drove the bike around, came back, tightened some screw and gave me back the keys. Again, another U-turn and I was getting frustrated. So another mechanic, my regular, had a drive and came back telling me the engine and the gears are messed up. They took the entire engine and gear box apart, showing me all the pieces that needed to be replaced and quoting a price to the tune of 900,000 VND[$50][4:30pm]. Now, by Western standards this isn't much for a bike repair, but in fact this is four times more than any other job I've had done on the bike, and this isn't including the 200,000 VND I had just spent on replacing a chain that wasn't the problem. Discount? Not negotiable. So they told us to come back at 7.
We headed home, picking up two cartons of soy milk on the way. When we got to the door of my apartment on the 11th floor, I searched my pocket for the keys, which were still on the key chain in the bike shop. Lamenting our gross error, we decided to not bother with going back but instead to have a drink down at a street bar until 7. I left the soy milk by the door, hoping it would go undisturbed, and we made our way down.
While drinking at the street bar, we were joined by an old drunk who proceeded to joyfully tell his life story to us. In Vietnamese. Completely disregarding that we couldn't understand. As he used his foreign hand gestures and fast talk to tell his stories, Daphne and I took turns using our imagination to translate for eachother what he was saying. "He fell in love with a French girl during the war, and then something about his legs getting blown off by a grenade."Actually, his legs were just fine, but everytime we did this he would rejoice that he was being understood and shake my hand and offer cheers. Behind him, other locals were dictating with their hands that the gentleman was not just drunk, but insane. Still, it was quite amusing and helped the time pass.
At 7 we made our way back to the bike shop, only to find that they weren't finished putting the bike back together. Another hour we waited, as we watched them reassemble the bike, and a new bill was presented to me, with an addition of nearly 300,000 VND for extra parts. This was quite upsetting and pushed me over the edge. I tried explaining to them, even though they didn't understand any English, that they can't add more things without first consulting me. But they just kept pointing at the parts they replaced and treating me like I was stupid and didn't understand. There was a lot of fussing, hand gestures, mechanics arguing with other mechanics, until finally, the bike was back together and the guy took it for a test drive. Only to find out that it was still broken. So they appologize, agree to the 900,000 bill, and ask me to come back the next day for the bike[8:30pm].
We had held out for dinner until the bike was fixed and now were starving, so we grabbed a taxi to the backpacker area for dinner. It was a good meal and helped distract us from the events of the day, until Daphne looks at me and asks,"Did you get the house key?" Twice in one day, I had forgotten the key. Luckily I still have a roommate[for just another week] and he was able to leave the door unlocked for us. I'll be making extra copies of my next apartment key, that's for sure.
Went the next day after work to pick up my bike. It was running like new, but the price was back to where it was the night before. But as they had replaced another part and didn't charge for it, I took it as a consolation, accepted that I'm in a country with different service standards, and consoled myself with the fact that my bike was now running as if it were brand new. Paying for the bike, I went to get Daphne and we went to have Indian for dinner. At dinner, she offered a toast to my bike being fixed, but I dared not accept, fearing to take chances with jinxes.
Still, even though my bike is working well now, I think I'm ready for something new. So I'll be on the lookout for a new moto and selling my old one soon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Here's to Better Internet in December

Haven't been able to post in a while. There are certain sites that my server just won't do at times. Facebook has been a 'no go' for a week now. Next month my lease with Anh ends and Daphne and I will be moving in to our new place. I'll still be on the eleventh floor, but in District 5 instead of 4. There's no riverside view, but its still good and the place is better furnished, as well as $100 cheaper a month. Hopefully the internet will be better there too.
Bought new flip flops. After searching through several high-end shoe boutiques in posh crackerland, Geox, Clarks, Aldo, Timberland, I couldn't find any pair that could serve as a fitting replacement for my wrecked Tevas. Not to mention the high price tags. But on a drive through District 3 we found a street full of local shoe shops. In the first stall I checked, I found a great pair, and got the price down to only 130,00VND[<$8USD].
In other news, I've learned to play Chinese chess and Daphne's teaching yoga now at a couple places in town. My parents are coming for the holidays, so I'll have a special 'tips for travelers' blog up in a couple weeks. Also, house warming/Christmas party, tba.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Chicken Rice Full Moon

Halloween and a full moon, what good luck. Back in Ohio, I remember that the commute between my university and Cincinnati would go through a forest rich in autumn colours. While there the weather cools and the green browns, in Saigon what trees there are haven't changed their hue and won't. The dry season will be starting soon, however, so that'll be a first for me.
My school goes crazy for Halloween, kids go from room to room asking for candy, and then throwing paper at each other. They prefer tricks over treats. After my class got raided by a neighbouring room, we dropped in on them to exact revenge. The other class held the door fast to prevent our entry as my students struggled to get the door opened. In the push and pull the door actually broke off the dry wall. Oops.
Also, the younger kids got to pay a visit to the ILA haunted 'house', a converted classroom on the fifth floor across from the bathrooms.

My students were so scared to go in, only three in a class of eighteen even tried, of those only two made it through. And there were many tears. My favorite part of Halloween? I got to wear flip flops instead of dress shoes to work as part of my pirate 'costume'. First time my feet didn't hurt at the end of a weekend.
Halloween night Daphne and I joined our friends and former CELTA colleagues, Rob and Sylven, at Muntaz for some Indian food and then went to the club up in the Sheraton for their Halloween party to meet up with my roommate, Anh. It was a good time, but having to wake up at 5am the next morning for work, I couldn't stay out that long.
Today, my real weekend[Monday], we had several errands to run through out the day. Taking lunch at a chicken rice place, we got into a bit of a disagreement with the proprietor. First, never ask for chicken, or you end up getting fish. The words are very similar but the inflection is opposite. So 'asking' chicken yields fish. But we do get our chicken,regretting we didn't get the fish instead, which was cold and chewy. Finishing the meal, we got the bill and it was for 134,000 VND[$7USD]. Ok, so this probably doesn't seem like much, but this is Vietnam. It shouldn't have been half that price. The chicken rice was 90,000 and should've been more like 45-50,000. I had a word with the owner and called foul. Put 105 on the table[still more than I should] and she got angry. She blocked the entrance, threatening to call the cops. Daphne and I told her to go ahead, we weren't going to pay the other 30, not because its expensive, but for the principle. She fiddled with her phone but kept putting it away and instead yelling at passing locals to bare witness. But I could tell by their faces that she wasn't winning favour with them. Especially after I showed them another customer's receipt I had found there, showing that they were charged only 40,000 for the chicken rice. In the end, both Daphne and I had reached our time limit for how long our principles would hold out against a dispute over $1.50. So I paid up and we left. Outside, one of the women watching walked with us and motioned that the place was bad and not worth coming back to. For Anh's two cents, he said, 'so basically what happened was, you were white in Vietnam.' But usually when a merchant gets caught gauging they correct themselves. This woman just went berserk, not willing to lose face in front of me, but instead losing face in front of her neighbours. My two cents? People go crazy when the moon is full.