Cyclo Story

Since one of my first forays to Vietnam, I have never trusted cyclo drivers.  On one of those first trips, our group leader warned us: “Be careful of cyclo drivers.  Make sure you settle on a price first and don’t let them persuade you to pay any more than that.”  First impressions are strong.  Since then, I’ve avoided using cyclos at all costs.  I’ve always opted for xe ôms (motorbike taxis) instead of cyclos, even though xe ôms can be quite cutthroat about prices themselves.

Then, a couple weeks ago, Ngân and I were a position where we needed a vehicle to transport the last large belonging of ours to the new apartment.  It was a desk, and there was no way we could get it on the Honda Wave.  We also needed someone to help us get it down two floors in the old house.

I immediately headed for a place where I’d seen not cyclos, but xe ba gács (motorized cyclos) parked at all hours.

They were interested in making money, but not particularly helpful.  “150,000,” one of them said when Ngân described our situation.  “Or 100,000 if we don’t help you move anything.”  For such a short distance, we couldn’t say yes to a price like that, and headed to our old house with the intention of asking the landlord if she knew any way to transport my desk at a reasonable price.

As it would happen, Ngân spotted a cyclo pedaling along the street in the midst of our short ride.

We pulled alongside and she quickly outlined our situation and what we needed to move.  “30,000,” he told us.  His skin was weathered and he was wearing old clothes and the basic plastic sandals typical of many in his trade.  “We’ll pay you 50,000 if you help us move the desk out,” Ngân told him.  I drove slowly back to our old house and he followed me, puffing on his Hero cigarette.

Once he was off the cyclo, I realized that he was slightly disabled.  It seemed like one of his legs was shorter than the other, and he moved with a limp.  However, he was true to his word and helped me move the desk down two floors of stairs.  In addition to the desk, we had some other odds and ends still in the old house, and when the cyclo driver saw this, he told us to bring everything down and he’d pile it on his vehicle and take it along with him.

He tied everything on his cyclo with rope and straps that he procured from under the seat.  All the while he spoke to me and Ngân in Vietnamese and never even seemed to acknowledge that I was a big foreigner with blue eyes and curly hair.  When everything was secure, he started pedaling to our new house.  Ngân told him where it was and he knew the way.

He arrived at our building only a few minutes after we did on the motorbike.  I helped him unload his cyclo while Ngân held the elevator for us.  I was so impressed with his work ethic, honestly and polite demeanor that I gave him 70,000 for his hard work.  Still peanuts relatively speaking, but much more than he asked for.

After we’d said our thanks to each other and he was climbing back on his cyclo, he looked at me and said: “You speak Vietnamese really well.”

“Thanks uncle,” I said.


The Impossible: Migrating (formerly) Haloscan comments to

Is this impossible? Are there things that seem this simple that are just not possible even in our age of technological wizardry?  Some time ago I brought my blog over here to WordPress after using Blogspot for years.  I felt like the layout had just gotten too cluttered after all my years of adding to it and wanted a fresh start.  Migrating the posts went fine.  The Blogspot comments, they were fine too.  However, for most of the life of that blog, I used what was formerly known as Haloscan for my comments.  Haloscan died and was reborn as Echo.

From my old Haloscan user ID, I was able to obtain an .xml file of all the comments on my blog that had used Haloscan.  However, Echo is now a pay service, and other than providing the .xml file, they were useless, unless I pay (which I absolutely refuse to do).

Of course I tried adding the .xml file with the WordPress importer, but that did nothing.  I checked if I could put the comments back to normal Blogspot comments, but that didn’t work either.

Unfortunately, at this point, it looks like I’m stuck.  I can’t get these comments from my old blog which I ran for years to the new blog.  I don’t want to simply delete all of these comments either.  So for the sake of posterity, I guess I just have to leave things as they are for now.

I hope that I can find some website that will give me some advice on how to do this, or that someone who has successfully done this will contact me somehow, but for the moment, if someone wants to check out all the old comments, you have to go check out the old blog which is still there: As I See It, Blogspot version.

Update: I sent a message to support and they actually got back with me!  They were just asking for more info, but at least it’s a start…

Update 2: The support guy couldn’t help me or even give me any helpful suggestions.  Still stuck like I was before.

Nấu Nước

As everyone in Vietnam knows, you can’t drink water out of the tap.  There is no treatment system kill all the bacteria in city water systems.  As far as I know, the city systems just make the water clear, not clean.  And I’ve been to a few high class hotels in the country, and even at these four and five star properties, they don’t treat the water to make it safe to drink.

So how can you drink water here?  Well, there are two options:  You can call up a water delivery service and they’ll bring you  a 21 liter jug; when you’re finished with that, you call them for another one and the cycle continues.  The other option is simply to boil your water.  This option is embraced by Tyler and by my in-laws, but I’d never bought into it.

Then recently I moved up to the 9th floor of an apartment building.  There’s an elevator of course, but the thought of getting the water delivered, lugging it into the elevator, waiting, lugging it over to the apartment, etc. was unnerving and sounded very time consuming.  Then Ngân suggested that we nấu nước.  It literally means “cook water,” but it describes the process quite nicely.  In the same way that you cook meat so that it’s safe to eat, you also cook water to make it safe to drink.

So since we’ve moved in I’ve been boiling, or cooking water, like a fiend.  I was using cooking pots, but then went out and purchased a large kettle with a whistle on it.  Presently the fridge is packed full of bottles of clean water, and I’ve held on to a 21 liter jug from a water delivery company and filled that up as well.  It certainly is easier than having water delivered, and I hope it will actually save a little money in the long run.

That Chill in the Air

It sounds weird to say this, but for the past couple weeks or so, Vietnam hasn’t been hot.  Strange eh?  Up in the northernmost parts of the country it has fallen below freezing.  People in Hanoi are suffering from no heating in the buildings and riding motorbikes, and I’ve taken to sleeping with no fan or AC and using two blankets.  Yesterday I wore an undershirt and long sleeves driving around town because of the cool air.

Of all the years I’ve lived in Vietnam, it is always cooler around this time of year, but this year is getting extreme for the north.  People are being hospitalized, livestock is dying and crops are failing.  However, as I see it, it’s all part of the cycle.  It’s cold before Tet (February 3rd this year), then it warms up and gets almost unbearably hot before the rainy season starts.  And when the rains come and cool everyone down, they end up contributing to the humidity, making it feel even hotter at times.  Ironically, summers seem hotter in the northern part of the country as well.

The only times which this coolness bothers me is when I’m driving and feel cold, or when I wake up and found that I’ve kicked off the covers.  For the most part though, it’s kinda nice.  When I taught at An Giang University with no AC in the classrooms, this was my favorite time of the year.  I could teach enthusiastically and still leave the classroom without being covered in sweat!  Once I even wore a sweater to class (but had to take it off after I started jumping around the room).

Sometimes I see articles about snowstorms back in the states or Europe, and I think fondly of the snow and cold weather.  But then I remember the reality of cold fingers, toes and noses.  I remember all the fun I have playing in the snow, but then I remember dealing with the snow: driving through it while trying to stay on the road, shoveling it to get out of the driveway, etc.

Perhaps the coolness that is throughout Saigon is ideal for me.  Refreshing without being uncomfortable.  Brisk without being freezing.  Just cool enough to snuggle under a blanket with a good book.

I’m Back

Wow.  Talk about writer’s block.  I haven’t posted here since September last year.  Incredible.  I did get busy starting grad school, and then my parents came to visit me and attend my wedding.  I got married in December, and then the holidays were upon me, and now in about two more weeks the biggest holiday in Vietnam, Tet, will be upon us.

I tend to go through phases with blogs.  Phases of writing tons and then stopping.  And all this past time must just be one of those valleys in my writing cycles.

So many things are new for me right now.  Just yesterday, Ngân and I finished moving out of our old place and into a new apartment.  It’s quite a nice place, nicer than any other place that I’ve lived in Vietnam.  Private yet airy, enough room for me to study, and there’s no TV to suck time away.  Ngân has already taken up the guitar.  I have to say that so far I love not having a TV around.  Maybe I can get more writing done too.

So, no real theme for this post.  Just need to break the ol’ writer’s block.