Café Culture

I have two favorite cafés in Ho Chi Minh City, Bui Van Ngo Coffee is larger, fancier and also has some baked goods. Café Thuy Moc is smaller, homier and they make killer smoothies, my favorite being Sinh To Bo, an avocado smoothie.  They are also on a busy street corner that I can watch fascinated how crossing traffic manages to crisscross in a smooth ballet of traffic.

Sunday morning, 08:00, at Bui Van Ngo Coffee in Binh Tan, HCMC, Vietnam

Sunday mornings both places are full, which goes to my observation that about 40% to 50% of the population have Sunday off, at least partially.

I haven’t been to China yet, but having spent time in Korea, Japan and Vietnam, the Vietnamese work the most. Japan and Korea (South Korea of course) being closer to a more western life style with more time off.  My friend Sam, married to Bac, who wrote the book, For Two Cows I Ain’t Half Bad, remarks that when he arrived in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, the Vietnamese had a life style that had hardly changed in the last few thousand years. 90% of the population were agrarian, farmers, and farmers are renown the world over for one thing, they just want the powers to be to leave them alone.

A page from the menu of the popular cafe

I blame the U.S. State Department for most of the post WW2 debacles. Full of ivy league graduates who think they know everything, but, know nothing about the places in which they are supposed to be experts. They lurch from one fiasco to another. Acting when they should sit on their hands and being still when they should act. How is Iraq any different than Vietnam? Ok, basta, enough.

Café Thuy Moc, smaller. The owners, the couple on the left and their one year old daughter, who just learned to walk on the right.

Having been on Dauntless for the last three months, the first week back in Vietnam was a bit strange. Probably jet lag as much as anything, though I did, or I should say, Trinh did, change my apartment for a house.  I like my new neighborhood better, it is less industrial, than the previous one. Even though I had a 10th floor apartment the amount of dust that filtered in every day was astounding. Most probably from the large apartment complexes being constructed nearby. Now, almost no dust.

My German neighbor back in the day said I had an empfindlich stomach. Google does a good job of translating that to mean: sensitive, delicate, touchy. That’s certainly my stomach. But it really likes Vietnamese cuisine. Maybe even more than I do. I was surprised these last months being in the USA and Mexico as to how much I missed the food and as to how much I didn’t like most of the offerings in the U.S.

Coming up, Foods to Die for

Update, I just recently discovered cappuccino in Vietnam. My hard and fast rule is never, ever get  a cappuccino outside of Italy, as it is just awatered down, over milked version fo the real thing.

But coffee in Vietnam is always strong and good, so I thought I’d spend the big bucks, 49,000 VND or about $2.20 US and give it a try.

I’m so glad I did.  As good as in Italy. Perfect in fact.

Thanks Vietnam

cappuccino
Sinh To Bo at Café Thuy Moc
Avocado smoothie

 

 

Rare Cow and the Hot Pot that Wasn’t, then Was

To get this going again, I think I will post more pictures and let them speak for themselves.

Today, we stopped at a restaurant that looked good because it was pretty crowded just at the beginning of lunch (11:30).

Turned out that was a very good indication and in fact, it was certainly the best beef I’ve had in Vietnam.

The pictures speak for themselves.  It’s basically 3 items:

  • thinly sliced pieces of cow from the cow that’s under the plastic in the picture. Rare, it was very good, very tasty. Greatly exceeded my expectations.
  • Grilled beef ribs (?) is what the menu said, but the bone pieces were very small.  Extremely tasty.
  • Hot Pot that wasn’t, but is. This means that when Trinh ordered it, she said it was not hot pot and continued that line even after it arrived at our table.  I really liked it as she did also. I never had a clear understanding of why it wasn’t “hot pot”, but then , what el
    Our plate of grilled beef

    se is new!

    The bill for all of this, including 3 beers, came to $14USD
Our rare beef, hot pot, and a soup of coagulated blood.
our first dish, rare beef

A Little Apartment in Ho Chi Minh City

Looking Out

So, I feel bad that I have neglected both my blogs so badly.

My Apartment

Today I finally realized why:  I’m simply overwhelmed with all the new information and I want to write about it, show pictures of it in some coherent manner.

So, I’m waiting for perfection.

Well, that’s a long wait, so I thought it would be better just to write about what’s on my mind now, show what pictures relate and move on.

I’m also conscious of not having people who read this judge it and the people on our standards.  It’s what we know, but we don’t know everything.

Who’d had think that I can live without hot running water?  And I could get an electric on demand water heater for all of $75, but it’s good for me to be a little less “empfindlich”, a good German description of a cross between sensitive and picky (as in too picky).

This is a little video of my little 2-bedroom apartment in HCMC.  It’s in Dam Sen, about 5 miles west of downtown (the main business center).

I love the people, the life, but it’s hot and humid and I do miss Dauntless.

So, let’s leave it for now.

Live & Let Live; The Real Rules of the Road

Yes, there are rules and I for one, find them quite logical.

But then I grew up in New York City riding a bike as soon as I could everyplace. And like real New Yorkers there reason we rode bikes was because there were no rules, beyond the obvious: Don’t hit anything and don’t get hit.

Why would anyone wait for light if there is no traffic?  Going against traffic on a one way or even a two-way street, of course, it’s easier to see traffic, especially for younger kids!

Ride on sidewalks? In NYC that’s where we learned.

So rewind the clock. Before the war 1960’s to 1975, Saigon was a place of bicycles, being so flat, like Holland.  What has evolved is a bicycle culture using bikes that have motors.  Even now, there are many stores that sell both bicycles and motorbikes.

So as soon as you put the context of the traffic in terms of bicycles, then everything that happens makes sense. Even today, watch how cyclists ride in NY and you will see the same behaviors here, only magnified by about a 10 million.

I got my little motorbike last week.  It has transformed by experience in that this is not a walking town.  Walking around this town is as rare as seeing an Ostrich walking down the street.  The sidewalks are full of holes, but worse are the parked motorbikes all over the place.

So I joined in.

Having been a passenger on Trinh’s motorbike for the last month, I was often terrified.

But as soon as I was driving all alone, my bicycle instincts kicked in and it was easier and is even fun.

Now, if this is the last post I ever make because I was killed, then you will get the last laugh.  But don’t mourn for me because I won’t know the difference.

So, as you watch my videos (sorry no GoPro, as I left them on Dauntless), all taken while a passenger by the way (I may die, but I’m not suicidal), try to put what you are seeing in the contact of riding a bicycle.

While traffic laws are seemingly ignored for motorbikes.  There are rules that are enforced.  Helmut’s, fastened, all the time.  Trinh admonished me after I got my bike that I must keep both hand on handle bars at all times.  You cannot ride with kick-stand down. I seem to forget that, but even if Trinh is not around to point it out, someone else always does!

More importantly, cars get the left lane, and they do stay out of the right lane, even to the extent that most will turn right from the left lane. Which is always exciting as motorbikes will be whizzing by constantly.  Buses will sometimes stop with enough room for a motorbike to get by on the right, so exiting passengers must always be cognizant of the motorbikes.

Police are not everywhere, but they are around. Never in cars, always standing on corners or along the edge of the street. They will stop you if they see any of the no-noes mentioned above (helmets, kickstand, driving too fast).

Speaking of speed.  It’s really not a problem.  With little traffic, motorbikes seem to settle in the 35 to 45 km/hr. or 20 to 30 mph. With traffic, everyone is going half of that.  Even more importantly, the few cars, buses, trucks and other things, that are out there, are going the same speeds. So, unlike in USA or Europe, where there are massive speed differentials, here there is very little.  And no matter what you have been told, speed does not kill, speed differential kills.

Which then brings me to the carnage on the roads or lack thereof.

Having read the Expat forums before arriving.  I expected to see blood flowing down the streets.  Instead, in the last two months, I have seen three “accidents”. The first was two bikes getting tangled together cause one to drop. But since they were in this big traffic scrum that was moving like at 5 mph, once they got untangled everyone gets underway again.  The second was more serious and it happened right next to me.

I was left of a little box truck and all of a sudden I see this motorbike lock his front brake as the truck slowed. He then hit the truck. Now since we were all initially going only about 20 mph, he probably only hit the truck at 10 and since the truck was going 5, the speed differential was only about 5 mph.

He picked himself and the bike up and drove to the side of the road. His mirror was broken and while he seemed a bit shaken, nothing was seriously wrong.

The third, just a few days again, as I was having my Ca Phi, I looked up to see the motorbike on the ground as a truck had turned right and the motorbike was inside of that.  The truck driver got out immediately to see if she was OK.  He and some bystanders, then helped the lady get her motorbike upright. At that point, I saw the driver ask if everything was OK. She said yes, and they both got on their way again.

This motobike tried to turn at same time as truck;

I must emphasize that the average speeds here are very low, in this case both truck and motorbike were going about 5 mph and moderate traffic pretty much stays in the 15 to 20 range.

That’s it for the carnage.

I will say that if you are a foreigner and expect to come to Vietnam, in the biggest city, and learn how to both navigate a new traffic culture and learn how to drive a two-wheeled motorized vehicle.  Well, good luck with that.  I learned to drive a motorcycle in California with no one around. I can’t imagine doing it in real traffic.

Oh, another observation I made in my first days in trying to understand how everyone could be so willy-nilly and yet not have endless accidents, was that each driver is responsible for not hitting what’s in front of him/her.

Sounds simple and it is.  It means you must be prepared for driver in front to stop, turn or whatever, all with no signals.  Now, many people do signal, but you can NOT count on it.

Speaking of lights.  Motobikes are NOT allowed to have headlight on in day (Italy used to have this rule for all motor vehicles before the advent of Daytime running lights). And at night, as soon as I enter garage, light must be turned off.

Horn honking.   Cars, buses, trucks are expected to do it routinely.  It sorts of means, “hey, look out, I am big not that minerally so don’t do stupid stuff in front of me”.

When I’ve been a passenger in a bus or a few times in Uber car, I thought the honking was a bit excessive.

But now after the first week of driving my own bike, I see some more rationale.  It’s like this.  When a bunch of birds are flying together, as one turns they all turn.  When you are in a pack of two wheeled vehicles, motorbikes and bicycles, there is some synchrony to the movement Everyone must move over one foot to make room for the “thing” near the curb.  We just all do it.

But I realized that cars are more out of touch.  Without the wind in your face, it is a different environment, so they honk more, like saying, “hey, watch out, I’m sort of oblivious here, so beware”

Better words were never said.

Which also get us back to why there is no carnage.  For anybody who has ever driven a motorcycle, it’s quite apparent that in any kid of accident, no matter who is at fault, it will be painful.

So it is here.  And in a city of millions of motorbikes, everyone is keenly aware that it doesn’t matter how stupid the driver is in front of them, they must simply drive like their life depended on it.

And they do.

Meanwhile in the USA, while our cars become safer and safer every day, drivers are losing what little skills they may have once possessed.  Accident, no problem; insurance pays and I go on.

Riding a motorbike in Vietnam that may have cost you a year’s salary to buy and being a vulnerable as you are, you drive with a totally different sense.  It may not seem obvious to a stranger, but it’s as real, as real can be.

Lastly, in all this, I have yet to see any anger.  I have seen some strange things.  I have seen some stupid car drivers here too, but everyone just seems to accept what is.  No significant horn honks in anger, motorcyclists never yell or say anything for that matter.  Certainly, nothing bad.  Though once when I was leaving with my kick-stand down, someone pointed it out to me immediately.

Live and let live.

I like that.

 

 

 

 

 

Dispatches from the Orient – Vietnam

A Barge on the Song Sai Gon

I have a lot of pictures that things to of Vietnam so far.  I’d like to keep my writings more focused than usual on a particular theme for any given post.

And while many of these writings will be about places new to me and many of you, I will also use this blog to write about all of my travels that are distinctly of a non-nautical nature, whether they be in North America, Asia or Europe.

I find Vietnam incredibly fascinating.

First Impressions:

  • I really admire the people, I have never been in a place where everyone seems to work all the time and still be pleasant doing it. My days are full of smiles and pleasant interactions.
  • The Vietnamese people I’ve run across have been the friendliest I’ve ever met. Much like Ireland, but maybe a better comparison is Latvia. Another place with incredibly friendly people and speaking an incomprehensible language.  Oh, I’ve learned a few words, just a few, but with my non-musical brain, the words I think I am saying and what others hear are pretty much mutually exclusive.
  • My hotel is just 20 minutes south of the airport and about 30 minutes west of “downtown”. A great location. HCMC aka Sai Gon, is much like NYC, a city of neighborhoods. Pretty much everything I need or want can be had within a 15-minute walk. The only disagreeable moment occurred when I was “downtown”, in District 1.  The place where Trip Advisor and that ilk tell everyone they must go and as expected my experience is just the opposite.  The one place I will not return.
  • They actually make things here. In fact, they seem to rebuild everything.  There is remarkedly little trash. And everyone seems to be working literally from dawn to dusk (and later).
  • Nothing is thrown away. The little sacks of garbage that are picked up periodically seem full of inedible things and a little plastic. These people would probably build a whole new civilization with all the crap Americans throw away in a week.
  • IF there are no free seats on the bus, a young person always insists I take their seat.
  • Air Conditioning on the buses works better than in New York City buses and I am sure the buses cost 1/100th
  • Costs are even better than anticipated. Bus costs 20 cents. The three of us has a 6-course dinner for $19 the other day, yesterday it was $15. This is very typical.  My lunch today was $0.90. Yes, less than a US dollar.
  • Foods are as tasty as one would expect.
  • There are a million coffee places and the iced coffee is like the old days in NYC, strong and good. (Not like today where Starbucks gets people to pay $7 for a glass of water with coffee color)
  • HCMC is full of trees and motorcycles.

Upcoming:

  • A city of motos and scooters and I am the only pedestrian.
  • How to cross the street and live to tell about it.
  • A Worker’s Paradise where everyone works

 

 

The Search – the First Two Years – 2009-2011

So, as I said, I was reading everything I could and going on Yachtworld virtually every day.  I checked out all the boats I had read about in PassageMaker.  Boat prices were still relatively high and real estate had already taken its dive, so it was becoming clear to me that we would never have the amount of money needed for the boats I was looking at.

We widened our choice and started looking at one off boats that were built as pleasure boats, but basically on fishing boat platforms.  They seemed cheaper and plentiful.

That search culminated in June 2011, when we decided to make an offer and have a survey done on a 50 foot boat that seemed good for us in Tennessee.  It was older, a 1982 Broadfire and certainly had issues, but the price seemed ok.  We decided to move forward and have the survey done.

Now, a little aside.  Julie and I have a truly remarkable decision-making process and pretty much always make great decisions (and I’m not talking about those kinds of decisions that would find us on a snow mobile trail trying to go over a hill on the Gaspe Peninsula in the middle of winter, Christmas Eve, in fact, in a Jeep).

So, when Julie first saw the boat and remarked that it looked too tall, that was a warning sign. Umm, then the surveyor said the same thing and added that if we proceeded, we needed to have a marine architect look it over.  My boat friends also looked at this choice askance.  But we learned a lot in the process.  The surveyor was great, up front and really took the time to understand what we wanted to do with the boat.  My friends, Jan, Carin and Will were also really helpful and combined with our lack of experience; we had pretty much decided to nix the deal should anyone express any doubts.  Since everyone did! it was easy to walk on that deal.

So, while this was a misstep (nothing ventured, nothing gained), we also learned a lot about the process and got to eat some great bbq in Tennessee.

The Journey Begins- Nov 2008

And like many great journeys, this one began on a different journey.  Five years ago, at 39,000 feet, coming back from Las Vegas, I saw our future. I had picked up some magazines that looked interesting at the airport kiosk; one of them was Passage Maker.  By the time we landed at JKF, I saw a path for the life that had eluded me for so long.

Ever since I had lived in Europe in the 70’s and 80’s, I had wanted to live there, Italy, Holland, even Germany, but never saw a way to continue my career and make a living. Still I would visit, two, sometimes, three times a year, always a bit wistful when leaving.

A boat that could travel long distances and we could live on, looked like the perfect solution.  Thus began the journey to make it happen.

It started with getting any book or magazine article I could find about trawlers and crossing oceans.  Starting with Beebe’s book, I read all things motors, but sadly, there were not that many and after a while I had to resort to books and magazines about sailing across oceans.  But being well read had the added benefit that the sailors provided a perspective that was missing in the self-admiring Nordhavn articles I had been reading.  They helped me to see that you could travel around the world in less than a million dollar boat with its redundant systems (which always seemed to be breaking) and really opened up my thinking.

The real challenge was not the money, but having an efficient boat that was simple enough that I could fix pretty much anything that failed, yet rugged enough to cross oceans and equipped well enough that I did not have to use a primus stove, a lantern for an anchor light or anything to do with a bucket.

So the hunt began, pretty much on that great boat porn site, Yachtworld,

I also started looking at boats in the Netherlands with my Dutch friends.  They had been sailing pretty much their entire lives and they really helped me to bring perspective to my ideas and search, and brought up many practical issues that I had not considered (such as, wherever you buy a boat, what’s the plan for getting it home?)

Summary of Our First 9 months

What have we been doing the last 9 months?

From April 1, 2014 to today, Dauntless has travelled over 5,500 nn, starting in Stuart, FL, We took it north in May, arriving in N.Y.C. May 23, 2014.  

On July 1st, we set out for New England, and eventually got to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Downeast Maine.  Spent a wonderful two months in Lobsterland.  Guess what we ate?

September 1st, we started south again, eventually landing at a nice marina, just south of Providence, Rhode Island.  There Dauntless sat, waiting in anticipation for the next phase.  The trip south to Miami, Key Largo and then over to the Bahamas by mid-December.  She now is in Nassau. We’ll be a few more weeks in the Bahamas, before we head back to Florida, where we will do a number of projects and upgrades.

Summary of our first 10 months:

  • Traveled over 5,500 nm = 6250 statute miles = 10,000 km
  • 930 hours of running time
  • Furthest North point reached, St. John’s, New Brunswick, 45°17’N, 66°03’W
  • Furthest West, on the Cumberland River, 30°53.1’N, 81°30.9W
  • Furthest South, Norman’s Cay, Exumas, the Bahamas, 24°35.5’N, 76°47.6’W
  • Furthest East, Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, 43°25.3’N, 65°40.6’W
  • Longest passage (without stopping) 230 nm(40 hours) from north of Block Island RI to Cape May NJ

Lessons Learned

Too many to list here, but I have met a lot of wonderful people and new friends in every place I stopped in New England.

Dauntless has been as efficient as hoped and anticipated, with an average of:

  • 1.5 gal/hr. fuel used
  • 4.2 nautical miles/gal

Or looked at it another way, an average overall cost of $1.00/nm for fuel.  Which means it will cost us $3,200 in fuel to get to Europe :–)

My hopes for this Blog

Dauntlessatsea.wordpress.com or at some point it will be just DauntlessAtSea.com

I will have more pictures of Dauntless, inside and out and also hope to have a daily picture of our travels with a bit of explanation, as needed. If there is a more extensive description of the day’s shenanigans, than I will have it on a linked page or tab.