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.