Friday, August 22, 2014

Grocery shopping in Vietnam

Some people were curious about what grocery shopping is like here. There are many ways to shop, including Giant supermarket, convenience stores, fruit vendors on motorbikes, and the mall.  I like to go to Citimart, a tiny grocery/department store, a short walk from my house. There are numerous Citimarts throughout District 7, of different sizes; mine is actually one of the bigger ones. They have a pharmacy, a produce section, a butcher, a wine department, clothing, housewares, and even toys. Everything is tiny tiny, but it's all in there.

I always try to limit my purchases to what I can carry home, although they are happy to lend a delivery guy on a motorbike for larger orders. and here's what I bought today:

I got a lot of produce this time. Nobody sells frozen vegetables, so I have to plan ahead and buy small portions of fresh veggies frequently. There are some familiar tomatoes and onions in there, a bag of what I think might be spinach, broccoli, an eggplant that I think might go well with the Korean barbecue sauce, and just for fun, I bought a dragonfruit. It's the bright pink thing with light green trim. It's a very cartoony-looking fruit.

I also bought some rice noodles, some Minute Maid orange soda, some packages of frozen chicken, and some Catsan Kitty Litter. The last two are for the cats.

I'll talk about the cats more in another post.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wildlife of HCMC

 Mynah birds. They are the Vietnamese equivalent of starlings, and although they don't speak in the wild, they do make a lot of very interesting noises.

 This pieridae species has a broken wing, but is still pretty. IDing my butterflies and other organisms takes a while and I still have a lot to do.
 The nearby park where I find most of my butterflies is also very popular with wedding photographers. In fact I have nicknamed the park "Wedding Shoot Park."
 Here is one of my prime wildlife sighting spots. Decorative ponds are extremely popular here.
 After sitting quiet and still for about 20 minutes, I managed to see this fellow show himself. I sure could hear him, though!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

First day of school, first big mistake

Today is the Kiddo's first day of school! They start early here in Vietnam.  Early in the day, too - we set off to catch a 7:20 AM bus. Back home in Massachusetts, we always left the house at 8:45.

Aaaand... we caught the wrong bus.

We'd made arrangements for Kid to ride the faculty bus. Previously when we'd ridden the faculty bus, for pre-school-year faculty-and-family events, we boarded it on the Nguyễn Van Linh side of Sky Garden. This time, the faculty bus was going to be elsewhere, near the Sky Garden Skymart, but I don't know where that is exactly.  And since we had to walk up Nguyễn Van Linh anyhow, we got to the old bus stop first.

At that bus stop were three AIS buses, but they all had students in them. All of a sudden a man started shouting at me. All I understood was, "Nhà bè? Nhà bè?" And all he understood was nod nod nod. So he whisked my son away from me and put him in the bus.

And I let it happen, because in the half-second I had to analyze the situation, it occurred to me that while this bus was the wrong bus, it was going to the right school. And the right bus was still at an unknown location. If I'd refused this bus and kept walking, I might have trouble finding the faculty bus and we might miss it, and we'd miss this one too. It seemed less of a risk to get the kid to the right location via the wrong bus than to possibly not get him there at all.

The problem is that the kid's name is not on the bus list, and we didn't pay for this service.

But somehow, out of the six AIS drivers and attendants present, plus two security guards who were probably employed by Sky Garden but were helping out, not one of them spoke English. So I couldn't explain my problem to them. I tried. I failed. So, with no other recourse, I raised my camera and tried to take the first day of school picture that I missed taking while my child was getting whisked.

He looks pretty distressed! Haha, actually he was grinning ear to ear most of the time he was in there. And chatting happily with any student who would speak English to him. I think he was just straining to see me out the window at that moment.

Here are the other pictures I took this morning:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Aussie TV and cat food disasters

We have cable here, for the first time in years. It's so cheap, though - $10 per month! What a nice change from having to deal with Comcast. We're not big TV watchers, though, so we're giving it a try and if it turns out to be interesting but not disruptive (i.e. if the kid doesn't become obsessed with it) then we may keep it.

It is hypothetically a good language-learning tool.

But it can be hard to find something worth watching, nevermind something that specifically has subtitles in Vietnamese, and now I'm watching "Australia TV" which teaches me nothing about my new country or its language. But it's playing biopics of historical figures and thesbians, and it's better than "Gold Diggers" or the local soap operas where they talk too fast.

Today I was trying to boil some chicken to make cat food, and I burned it. This is the third time I've done that. I have a gas range top, and it burns really hot. Ridiculously hot. I can't simmer on it to save my life - everything burns withing 30 minutes.  And I haven't even been cooking our own food on it. I use the rice cooker almost exclusively so far. We bought a 5 lb bag of rice, some fresh vegetables, and some frozen dim sum that, as far as I can read the cooking instructions, needs to be steamed. And besides cookies, that's all the food we have in the house so far.

I've just been advised to buy an induction cooker, though, so I will have to shop around for one. In the meantime, I'm out of dry food - I have about 10 kernels left - and Melody's gotta eat. I saw a bag of Whiskas at the co-op market down the street, so I'll have to buy that tomorrow.

Oh hey, enjoy this mynah bird who lives on my street.

I sure do. Early each morning, the mynahs twitter and sing in a most entertaining way.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

People of Ho Chi Minh City, as viewed from my balcony

The recycling service. Yes, she is a sanitation employee and she is on a bicycle.
A couple enjoying some fresh air across the street.
 Another recycler. This one was not in my neighborhood, but in District 1 outside our hotel.
Selling magazines, also in District 1.

Looks more like a home now

We've been busy setting up the apartment and getting to know the neighborhood. The apartment is furnished in only the most basic sense of the word - sofa, dining room set, washing machine, beds - so we've been looking around for places to buy towels, kitchenware, doormats, etc. And trying to add a little color to this slightly dingy beige and white apartment.

We have some food in the fridge now, and cooked our first full meal last night. Even though eating out here is cheap, and there are tons of restaurants (seriously, 50% of the storefronts are restaurants), we can't afford to eat out for literally every meal. We bought lots of plastic containers to keep out the bugs, and we have a rice cooker and a wok and will buy more cookware later.

The heat tempers our appetites anyway. We're consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, but it's hard to enjoy anything heavier, and Rick has been drinking lots of Coke.  I boil a pot of water every evening and put it in the fridge overnight, because you can't drink it or brush your teeth with it straight out of the faucet. Laundry is another thing that requires pre-planning and multiple steps throughout the day, especially during the rainy season we're in right now. There are no dryers, so everything is about making sure your hanging laundry doesn't get rained on. That'll be better in the dry season, I bet.

I love having two balconies. Balconies make this apartment so much more livable! Even though we live on a quiet side street, there are still endless things to watch from the balcony. The landlord left us four plant pots, but two of them got shattered in a freak wind gust accident. Our street apparently functions as a wind tunnel.

Today is orientation at the school, and AwesomeCloud is invited along to meet the other faculty members' kids, so I have the day to myself. There's still so much to do; I won't be idle. Feels like it's going to be another muggy day. So I'll probably crank the A/C and clean clean clean.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Notes from a new resident of HCM City

Yesterday we went apartment-hunting. We saw eleven apartments, nearly identical in their basic layout, size, and price, and only distinguished by their location or their views. They were all in high-rise apartment complexes, some low, some high, some near the Saigon River, some near construction sites. I intended to piece together a video similar to House Hunters International, but the repetition makes it hardly worth the effort. Also, it's harder than you'd think to capture the essential parts of the HHI formula. Although we did have the initial conversations, the weighing of pros and cons, and the last decisive discussion, they did not neatly occur in little soundbites. And there's the matter of bandwidth - the hotel's wifi doesn't have very much.

Our decision was easy - we chose the one apartment on a quiet side street in District 7. It has trees all around and a swimming pool and garden courtyard and modest little indoor/outdoor gym. Instead of construction sites to look at, it has a lovely neighboring building with a French Colonial facade.

So here's the video clip featuring just the one apartment.

[I'll insert it later. Maybe our ew apartment will have better wifi.]

Rick made a movie, too. It captures the general feel of our first experiences traveling by taxi in HCM City.

Ho Chi Minh in taxis

(It doesn't embed.)

I have also discovered the following:

  • French bakeries are great for picnic lunches in a pinch, and a nice change from pho and spicy noodles. Awesomecloud is a brave eater for his age, but every kid wants bread instead of shrimp sometimes.
  • I'm already pretty competent at crossing HCM streets. It must be thanks to my time in NYC.
  • It's a bad idea to let your child carry anything while in a cab. Anything.
  • Local food is very, very good and very, very cheap. No need to seek out a Burger King or a KFC - just point to something on the local restaurant's menu, and if you don't care for what you get, keep trying. It'll grow on you.
  • No food poisoning or digestive ills, but we all have head colds - probably from the planes.
  • NYC isn't the only city that never sleeps. In the tropics, some of the best weather is at night. Why waste it?
  • Not everyone relies on A/C.
  • It's true what they say that greenery and fresh air are good for the sanity. We chose our home accordingly. No point in living in the crowded neighborhoods when there are neighborhoods with parks!
  • The Vietnamese are not fond of cats, but they're warming up to them. They like dogs a little better. As pets, not as food. Dogs and cats are not commonly on the menu, contrary to many rumors I've heard. They're not utterly taboo, either, though.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

We made it!

Well, here we are getting ready for bed after our first full day in Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived late last night, jet lagged and with a very unhappy cat, and were met by the very cheerful and helpful assistant principal and Mandarin teacher. The trip itself was largely uneventful, aside from a 3-hour delay right at the very beginning.

Here's Melody being all chill in the waiting area in Logan Airport.

We did have to rush through Toronto, though, to make up for lost time. In Tokyo we were actually a little early, thanks in part by an employee who kindly took it upon himself to escort the cat and assist with her paperwork.

And in the plane from Tokyo to HCM City, Awesomecloud totally crashed.

The hotel is awful about cats - they offered to put Melody in her carrier in the basement - but fortunately a teacher at the school offered to keep her in his apartment with his cat. I went for that. He invited us over to check on her tomorrow. No reports of problems so far.

This morning we had pho for breakfast and then set up to explore the neighborhood of the hotel. We saw busy streets and quiet parks.

And just now we had a nice dinner at a makeshift street restaurant in Bến Thành Market.

Here's my coconut with a straw stuck in it and carefully held mini spring roll.

Tomorrow we have an epic house-hunting schedule, starting at 8:30 AM. That's 8:30 PM the previous day for all you East Coasters reading this. That's right - while you settle in for some prime time TV tonight or some internet surfing before bed, we will be in tomorrow morning already, seeing homes with a realtor in the outer neighborhoods of Ho Chi Minh City. 

And while you all start your day this morning, I'm going to turn in. My Thursday has already nearly ended. Good night!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

3 days

Three days till departure! Are we ready? Hell no. Still way too much stuff to do. Rick is now having doubts about fitting our things into storage, and I'm in charge of so many odds and ends I'm tempted to scoop them all up and bring them all to the dump.

Material acquisition is overrated.

But, the rule is, whatever we get done before we leave is what we get done.  Boarding the plane is like hitting a reset button. We leave our worries behind us... and embrace new worries. Like getting the cat through customs.

It's nice and cool today. Good! I'm not dying of heat while I work.  Okay, then, back to work.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Goodbye Ban Lu

It was mostly good timing, I guess. Ban Lu, my cancer-prone cat, finally got diagnosed with the lymphoma we were expecting. We euthanized him last week. We had him for four years - 3.5 years more than we had originally expected.

You were a good man, Ban Lu. We'll miss you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One week

A week till we leave!

Six days, actually, as it's almost midnight as I'm typing this.

Four days to finish getting the house in order and tie up any loose ends we can't do over the internet.

We're bringing one cat, had to euthanize one (cancer) and are leaving the last one with our new tenants.

We haven't been studying the language. Bad, bad, bad. Oh well. I'm sure we'll adapt.

We're not entirely sure what we're getting into. We try to do our research, but it's never quite enough.

One thing I have learned is that the Vietnamese do not ravenously consume dogs. Dogs are a niche cuisine, and there are a lot of ethnic niches in Vietnamese culture. So people can relax a bit and stop trying to shock me with that. I will assume, then, that they are not big on eating cats, either.

Their flagrant disregard for environmental issues is probably true, though.