Archive for Saigon Diary – Page 2

Another Global Encounter

The emblem, flag, and mascot on the left belong to Gamba Osaka an Asian Football League team from Japan. I’d never heard of Gamba until Tuesday morning. It looks like pretty good team from what I can tell, but that’s not where this is going.

On Wednesday morning Marilynn and I were working on our laptops in the airline lounge at the Incheon airport in Korea when a striking looking Japanese businessman approached us. I say striking because, although normal in all other respects this man was wearing a bizarre, royal blue, plastic, stovepipe hat with Gamba Osaka written in large letters above the logo. I can’t do justice to the experience. Here is a nice looking middle aged businessman in a goofy looking hat approaching two American strangers. I only wish I had a picture of Mr. Gamba Osaka. read more

Gordon Gekko Nguyen?

Remember Gordon Gekko, the Michael Douglas character in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street? He’s the one who proclaimed that “greed is good” at a shareholder meeting. Wall Street hasn’t changed much since the 1987 film. Those nice folks who brought you the sub-prime housing crisis, the Great Recession, the too big to fail bailouts, and the obscene bonuses are still bilking all of us. America is still run by the fat cats and special interests. So is Vietnam and cynically “greed is good” could also be the national tagline in Vietnam. The cynical view doesn’t take into account the incredible industry of the people, their positive outlook on life, or their willingness to sacrifice their own welfare for the welfare and education of their children. But, greed and corruption are huge problems in the country and in some ways seem to be driving the culture. It used to be unmentionable but recently it’s more and more a topic of concern and conversation along with the Bo Xilai corruption scandal in China. read more

Like Bali or Goa 30 Years Ago

I’ve missed a few chances over the years to be in the first wave of travelers to “discover” a place before the hordes arrive. In the 70’s I had a ticket to Bali but decided to trek in Nepal instead.

Nepal was amazing but I felt I had missed its “undiscovered” phase. Others had been there when it was even less civilized. As it turns out I’m glad I chose Nepal. For 23 days a friend and I walked from Pokhara to the Tibetan border, from Mansalu and Dhaulagiri to the Mustang area. It was unspoiled and the only other Westerner we saw in those 23 days was a German woman I knew from Berlin. But, I’m a beach rat and I always regretted not seeing Bali, Goa, and the Seychelles in those days. read more

Living Vertically

In 2007 I learned that 60% of Vietnam’s population was born after 1975. That’s when the “American” war ended and Vietnam’s reproductive juices got going again. Five years later my guess is that the number is closer to 70%. There are kids and young adults everywhere. Tu Du Pediatric Hospital in Saigon sees 50,000 new babies every year. One hospital – 50,000 babies every year. So, what am I thinking? Well, sooner or later all those babies will get old and when they do they will find out that life is difficult when they can’t climb stairs, step over curbs or get their wheelchairs in and out of a bathroom or restaurant. I’m not there but I know what the future looks like. America has the(ADA) Americans with Disabilities Act to help make life easier for disabled people. Vietnam has nothing like it. read more

Risk Management

Howard Hughes was afraid of germs (and so is my wife). His fear drove him to extremes. Sometimes I think it’s doing the same to her. Living in Saigon, I think she has better reasons but he wouldn’t touch doorknobs and eventually he removed himself, as much as possible, from all human contact. He was managing risk. He was a nut case, but we all do it to one degree or another.

For a Western expatriate, Saigon can be a challenge in risk management. Yesterday, a friend told Marilynn that she was surprised and appalled to find out that her house cleaner was “cleaning” all the surfaces in her bathroom with water from the toilet. A less extreme case was our discovery that our household help was washing all the dishes with cold water. That is more understandable when you know that most Vietnamese houses don’t have hot water. Cold water is the only kind available so naturally everything, clothes, dishes, and bodies are washed with cold water. Even when we told her to use hot water for the dishes she had a hard time complying because she said it burned her hands. She didn’t perceive any risk from bacteria and she thought it was too expensive to use hot water. Sidewalk food vendors have a bucket of water that they use to wash dishes and utensils. They use the same water for hours. It may not be the food that gives you stomach cramps. It could be the dish it’s served on. read more