Vietnam Info

Getting Ready on Gotcha Day!

By Dan | June 19, 2007

Up bright and early to be on time at 7:00a to meet Anna to go to the orphanage. I didn’t sleep much last night, not sure if it was something I ate or nerves or what, but once it passed (about 4:30a) I just couldn’t get comfortable. Shannon slept a little more, but I’m sure it was difficult as restless as I was. Now scrambling to charge camera batteries to make sure we get through the day as well. Mine should be fine, just being safe. Shannon’s was pretty dead tho (not good planning). Hopefully an hour will do, because that’s all we have.

Which brings up power here. It’s kind of interesting, because we are almost positive that it is International 220v/50hz power (although there is really no way to confirm), but the outlets are “universal Edison” style plugs (two blades plus a ground pin like in the US, but with a little pin-like cutout to the outside of each blade I believe for UK style plugs as well). We spent a lot of effort selecting one power converter that was suitable for digital equipment and would work with the plane and another to switch outlet types, just to get on the plane and find out it has 110 American power, and that most of our digital equipment will just plug right in. Ah well, better to be prepared I guess. :) Interestingly enough, Shannon’s CPAP will not just plug into the socket tho. It does require our little converter, even though it’s “converting” Edison to Edison. I can’t see any physical reason for this, but it’s not just a stiff outlet or anything (I’ve tried several). Anyway, the fact that any DC device pretty much accepts any power worldwide and we have universal Edison sockets here is a lifesaver this morning, as it means we can charge both batteries and I can type this morning.

Shannon just got out of the shower and commented on how difficult it is to wash one’s hair and keep water out of one’s mouth. Apparently, this is the first time she has washed her hair since being here. I have to agree, although it’s a different set of challenges for me. (I have short hair with having just gotten a haircut, but have to practically sit on my haunches to get under the shower head, creating a balance problem. She has long hair that needs conditioning.) I have to remember to look for some rinseless facial cleaner or my face is going to look like I have the measles by the time we get back.

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Getting Organized

By Dan | June 18, 2007

Our correct room was ready this afternoon. The desk kept trying to talk us into staying in our original room every time we asked about it, and this afternoon we finally found out that we were in an upgraded room, not waiting for an upgraded room as we thought. They gave us the option to stay, but change to the proper rate, so we looked at the other room, and decided to go with the less expensive room. After being there about 5 minutes, Shannon noticed an odor that was bothering here. (I have a lousy sense of smell normally, but my sinuses are still pretty fried from the plane air.) After trying to adjust to it for about 5 hours, Shannon went down and persuaded them to let us go back to our old room and pay the difference.

We met with Thao to go over tomorrow and give her the necessary currency for exchange and filing and all. We met the other “couple” that will be proceeding with us. The “couple” is actually a single mother with her boy (adopted from Guatemala). They were pretty out of it, as they had just arrived this morning about 10:00a and had not slept yet apparently.

Between meeting Thao, all the room switching and repacking to make the necessities available for tomorrow’s orphanage trip, it killed the entire afternoon and eventing. Hopefully we can get by on the water we have tomorrow, as we did not get out to buy more and I doubt that we will have an opportunity to get more on the way.

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First Action

By Dan | June 18, 2007

Anna called about an hour ago (from Hanoi, she is flying here tonight) to make contact and let us know the plans for the next day. We are meeting Thao (Anna’s assistant) in the lobby shortly to give her the cash necessary for the Vietnam side:
$300 – filing fee
$40 – “official fee”
$200 – translation fee
$200 – caregiver gift
$30 – stroller

The “official fee” is a complete surprise (although at least a small one). The filing fee we aren’t sure if it’s new or just called something else on the disclosure. The translation fee is also more, although I was kind of expecting that with two children.

Tomorrow morning, we are meeting Anna in the lobby at 7:00a to go to the orphanage – two hours to the orphanage, about 30 minutes there, then back to HCMC between 11 and 11:30 for Giving and Receiving already! I’m guessing that Anna couldn’t do the orphanage today between the other couple coming in tomorrow and being in Hanoi, but got a call that the official was available tomorrow morning, so we are trying to fit the official’s schedule. It’s a little disappointing that we will not have more time to spend at the orphanage – depending on how it goes we may request that we can go back another “dead” day while waiting for the Consulate or something. Hopefully, we will be able to feel that we have spent enough time there tho, and it will be nice to at least feel like we made up for today.

Also, we are told that our reserved room will finally be available today. The hotel reservation system is more of a suggestion really, not unlike the major hotels in the US. They had a perfectly comfortable room available at least. (I understand that is sometimes a problem at this hotel based on the reviews online). Starting tomorrow, I think we may want the better space, however. :) Between moving rooms, finally unpacking in the new room, and rearranging for going to the orphanage tomorrow I expect the majority of the time between now and dinner, if not later, will be pretty busy.

Got the lunch buffet at the hotel. We were expecting similar to breakfast – both Asian and Western offerings. It was all Asian. Luckily, Shannon was in heaven, as they had sticky rice (they translate it ‘glutinous rice’ here) and some dim-sum style dumplings. The sticky rice here is much better than home if one can believe that, although it should be since it’s the real thing. The buffet also had some other offerings that deviate a bit further from our comfort zone (like braised pigs feet and snails in shell) that we passed on for today.

We also paid for Internet for a quick email check. It’s available at the hotel, but is pay-by-the-minute, so we hurried a bit. When we got upstairs, I did the math and found out that it cost all of $0.62 for the 12 minutes we were on! Internet is actually fairly available here (although a bit slow when accessing USA sites), but it’s hard to find a place that you can sit down and get comfortable when using it, rather than standing at a kiosk (whether paid or free). There is a (French style?) coffee shop not far away that is advertising free Internet. We may check that out tomorrow, although it may be a pain to lug the laptop and the kids down there, so we may do a quick check at the hotel instead.

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Monday Morning

By Dan | June 18, 2007

Day two of treading water. Tomorrow we go to the orphanage, so today is just a dead day. Since we slept all day yesterday, we were wide awake about 4:30a. Finally gave up on sleeping anymore and went to breakfast right away when it opened at 6. Killed time reading and doing Sudoku, and then went shopping when the shopping area opened at 9. Went back to the same mall where we found the supermarket yesterday. Shops in the mall don’t have walls the way they do in the USA. As a result, it feels like a huge, disorganized department store as you move from area to area. Any hesitation near a shop brings a shop attendant in most places. They are very attentive and very happy to show you whatever they can. Again, lots of imported brands, and some western brands that are made locally, and a good share of locally made craft type stuff (wood inlay, embroidery, etc.). We found some souvenirs, and a few gifts for the boys as they grow up. will probably go back for some other things later when we have a better handle on the trip in general (such as cash status, the boys’ sizes, and luggage space).

It’s hot today. It seems like about 93 already at 11:00a. The commerce areas are air conditioned, but not like home where it’s so cold you instantly cool off (and are shivering after 5 minutes). It takes a while in a shop to cool off (and some you never quite get there), although it is a far cry cooler than on the street. I’m guessing that they probably turn the A/C off at night in the mall, as they are much more concerned about saving resources than we are. I would not equate this necessarily with conservationism however due to the air and water quality.

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Sunday Evening

By Dan | June 17, 2007

Wound up sleeping most of the day. We woke about about 6:45 and went out in search of water. The area we are in feels a lot like a Vietnamese Times Square, with uniformed security guards personnel (not sure if they are police or the equivalent of security guards) frequently visible on the street. Crossing streets is very interesting with the high traffic and lack of traffic controls. Given the drivers awareness that I mentioned last night, you can pretty much just wade right in regardless of the traffic and they will avoid you, but it still takes a lot of nerve to do so! We hesitated during a particularly heavy cluster of traffic, and one of the police / guards came from the corner without a word and waded right in to help us more or less escort us across, even though we would have been happy to wait a few seconds for traffic to clear. This took about 10 seconds, so it’s not like we were even having trouble crossing!

Our hotel was out of currency for exchange (it is Sunday), so we found a currency changer and exchanged $100… At the current exchange rate, minus about a 2.5% exchange fee, we got 1,570,000 VN Dong. Talk about an exchange difference! Still getting used to the math to do the exchange, since it’s about 160 Dong per cent (not exactly even math). The exchanger had free Internet, so took a quick opportunity to email home. Not sure if the etiquette will allow us to use it without doing other business there, so we will see. Also won’t allow us to upload files, so we will have to find other Internet when we want to email photos regardless.

After that, we went in search of water. The hotel provides two bottles a day, which are about 1/3 liter, not nearly enough, and with sleeping today we did not get room service to replace what little we get. It is just understood that the tap water is not drinkable unless boiled. (I suspect it is the same in Korea, as the drinking fountains in the airport had signs saying that it was safe to drink.) Regardless, we have been warned to be careful taking showers, to drink bottled water, and to be careful of fruits and vegetables that may have been washed in tap water. I’m pretty sure the water served at the hotel restaurant would be OK, but we are still being careful even about that.

So we found the shopping area that is about a block from the hotel. It has a “supermarket” which is much more akin to a very small (and crowded) Super Target. Groceries, luggage, hardware, clothing, perfume, you name it! We spent about $3 on 9 liters of bottled water, much cheaper than the US. Plenty of familiar brands and products (such as Pepperidge Farms cookies), but those seem to be about the same price as in the US. (Not really surprising.) Found some bagged candies that are six months out of season in the USA and some other products that are not available to us in the USA anymore, so kind of wonder what route exactly they took to get here. Also walked by a vendor selling movies, including “Ocean’s 13,” which just released to the movie screens last weekend! Needless to say, we will not be buying movies here (not that we planned to).

Just got back from dinner. The restaurant in the hotel is pretty good. We got a complimentary meal upon check in, so we used it tonight. We had:
- Caesar salad (which neither of us ate much of – combination of not yet being in cycle for the travel and a little concern about the water)
- minestrone soup
- fettuccine Alfredo
- fruit plate of pineapple, watermelon, and a local fruit (I think dragon fruit)
Everything was good and the service was very prompt and courteous.

Shannon’s addiction to trash TV is even fulfilled here. She managed to find “Fear Factor” in a local language! (We don’t think it was Vietnamese or Chinese, but couldn’t tell for sure.) TV also has HBO in English. All the “comforts” of home I guess…

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