How Fresh is Fresh

In the last 5 years Dauntless has visited almost two dozen countries.  While, I’ve been in couple dozen more in the last 40 years. That’s a lot of different languages and cultures.

Chicken, Rice, a green vegetable, some pickled vegetables

It was 42 years ago, that I first set foot in Italy and it would begin a life of living and experiencing new languages, cultures, foods, etc. Sitting on a bus, passing thru the middle of Milan, in just looking out the window, it was obvious this was not the Italy I had expected, nor was it the Little Italy of New York either or the Italy of Italian-Americans. Not one cannolo was in sight. In fact. It would take me a year to find one and that was further south in Florence.

Passing a billboard advertising skin cream which depicted naked women, I vowed then and there to leave my perceptions behind and reboot my expectations. For effective cross-cultural communications, this can be the only starting point. When in Rome, Do as the Romans.

No phrase probably sums up a successful expatriate experience better. I was/am always amazed at the number of Americans I would meet living overseas like I yet complaining that it wasn’t Kansas.

Living so, accepting the people and cultures I’m immersed in, allows me to enjoy my travels and adventures with Dauntless, or like this month, without her, in Vietnam.

Even when speaking a common language, understanding and accepting cultural differences is crucial for good relationships of any sort.

Trinh speaks pretty much fluent English. When she doesn’t understand a word, it’s usually because of my pronunciation. Our miscommunications center around different understandings of the same word or sometimes, while the words are understood, the background isn’t.

Thus, began our discussion about “fresh” chicken. A little question about fresh chicken, became a bridge to cross cultural communication.

Trinh is the best cook I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. I’ve always prided myself on my own cooking and for most of my life, I’ve done most of the cooking in the household. Over the past year, I tried to analyze what makes her cooking so good, even better than almost any restaurant I’ve eaten here in Vietnam. And should we try something new to her, if we like it, she will recreate it at home. I’ve concluded that it’s her meticulous preparation and wholesome ingredients she uses.

By far my favorite dish is her fried or sautéed chicken.  I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken any place or any time in my entire life. The skin cooked to almost a hard, crunchy shell, with moist, tender chicken underneath and flavors that just melt in your mouth.

Chicken to die for.

I knew she always bought the packages of chicken wings at Co-Op Food. Co-Op is owned by the government of Vietnam. They have two retail stores that are everywhere in Vietnam: Co-Op Mart, which is like a large supermarket, familiar to any westerner and Co-Op Food, a small, convenience store style store. I like both, initially, I had to leave my preconceived ideas at home about Co-Op Food. When I think convenience store, I think packaged snacks, old hot dogs, mystery meat burritos heated up in microwaves and gallons of colored water, chemical based drinks in large plastic cups.

But Co-Op Food is the place for everyday items and fresher foods than Co-Op Mart (the supermarket) offers and why Trinh only buys the chicken at Co-Op Food, not Co-Op Mart.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m skeptical of almost everything I hear and half what I see. So, I pressed Trinh on the difference, why was this package of chicken wings better than that one?

What do you mean the chicken at Co-Op Mart is not fresh? When was it killed in the last week or so?

She looks at me, like I have two heads (because she wouldn’t touch chicken killed last week. Who knew?, not I).

No, she responds, the chicken at Co-Op Food is killed that night.

What do you mean that night? I ask, still not able to get my mind around her expectations of freshness.

She explains: Chicken at Co-Op Food is killed, plucked, packaged at 01:00 a.m. on the morning I buy it. It’s on the shelves around 06:00 a.m.

She doesn’t know how old the chicken is at Co-Op Mart, she guesses a few days at most, but it’s older and she’s not buying it, ever.

For a boy grown up in a supermarket culture, with foods routinely shipped thousands of miles and processed and packed ages ago, it’s fascinating to realize that while the outside package looks the same, the behind the scenes processing is totally different. These supermarkets and smaller food stores are competing with local markets that are everywhere, literally every quarter mile.

Supermarkets do as local markets

Who knew that fresh could be that fresh.

Lotte Supermarket in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City

I can’t fault the results.

How Fresh is Fresh?

In the last 5 years Dauntless has visited almost two dozen countries.  While, I’ve been in couple dozen more in the last 40 years. That’s a lot of different languages and cultures.

Chicken, Rice, a green vegetable, some pickled vegetables

It was 42 years ago, that I first set foot in Italy and it would begin a life of living and experiencing new languages, cultures, foods, etc. Sitting on a bus, passing thru the middle of Milan, in just looking out the window, it was obvious this was not the Italy I had expected, nor was it the Little Italy of New York either or the Italy of Italian-Americans. Not one cannolo was in sight. In fact. It would take me a year to find one and that was further south in Florence.

Passing a billboard advertising skin cream which depicted naked women, I vowed then and there to leave my perceptions behind and reboot my expectations. For effective cross-cultural communications, this can be the only starting point. When in Rome, Do as the Romans.

No phrase probably sums up a successful expatriate experience better. I was/am always amazed at the number of Americans I would meet living overseas like I yet complaining that it wasn’t Kansas.

Living so, accepting the people and cultures I’m immersed in, allows me to enjoy my travels and adventures with Dauntless, or like this month, without her, in Vietnam.

Even when speaking a common language, understanding and accepting cultural differences is crucial for good relationships of any sort.

Trinh speaks pretty much fluent English. When she doesn’t understand a word, it’s usually because of my pronunciation. Our miscommunications center around different understandings of the same word or sometimes, while the words are understood, the background isn’t.

Thus, began our discussion about “fresh” chicken. A little question about fresh chicken, became a bridge to cross cultural communication.

Trinh is the best cook I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. I’ve always prided myself on my own cooking and for most of my life, I’ve done most of the cooking in the household. Over the past year, I tried to analyze what makes her cooking so good, even better than almost any restaurant I’ve eaten here in Vietnam. And should we try something new to her, if we like it, she will recreate it at home. I’ve concluded that it’s her meticulous preparation and wholesome ingredients she uses.

By far my favorite dish is her fried or sautéed chicken.  I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken any place or any time in my entire life. The skin cooked to almost a hard, crunchy shell, with moist, tender chicken underneath and flavors that just melt in your mouth.

Chicken to die for.

I knew she always bought the packages of chicken wings at Co-Op Food. Co-Op is owned by the government of Vietnam. They have two retail stores that are everywhere in Vietnam: Co-Op Mart, which is like a large supermarket, familiar to any westerner and Co-Op Food, a small, convenience store style store. I like both, initially, I had to leave my preconceived ideas at home about Co-Op Food. When I think convenience store, I think packaged snacks, old hot dogs, mystery meat burritos heated up in microwaves and gallons of colored water, chemical based drinks in large plastic cups.

But Co-Op Food is the place for everyday items and fresher foods than Co-Op Mart (the supermarket) offers and why Trinh only buys the chicken at Co-Op Food, not Co-Op Mart.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m skeptical of almost everything I hear and half what I see. So, I pressed Trinh on the difference, why was this package of chicken wings better than that one?

What do you mean the chicken at Co-Op Mart is not fresh? When was it killed in the last week or so?

She looks at me, like I have two heads (because she wouldn’t touch chicken killed last week. Who knew?, not I).

No, she responds, the chicken at Co-Op Food is killed that night.

What do you mean that night? I ask, still not able to get my mind around her expectations of freshness.

She explains: Chicken at Co-Op Food is killed, plucked, packaged at 01:00 a.m. on the morning I buy it. It’s on the shelves around 06:00 a.m.

She doesn’t know how old the chicken is at Co-Op Mart, she guesses a few days at most, but it’s older and she’s not buying it, ever.

For a boy grown up in a supermarket culture, with foods routinely shipped thousands of miles and processed and packed ages ago, it’s fascinating to realize that while the outside package looks the same, the behind the scenes processing is totally different. These supermarkets and smaller food stores are competing with local markets that are everywhere, literally every quarter mile.

Supermarkets do as local markets

Who knew that fresh could be that fresh.

Lotte Supermarket in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City

I can’t fault the results.

Some More Foods of Vietnam

Trinh is checking out the rice a the local supermarket by smelling each handful. Smelled like rice to me. Of course, she doesn’t buy it here, because it costs 12 cents a more than the local outdoor market or rice store.
Hot Pot at our “new” Hot Pot Place
Grilled fish (sea fish) at home
A Pho place in our neighborhood
A seafood salad at home
Chicken wings with rice and rot kohl at home
Chicken wings with vegetable and rice at homEvery

Here is a week of food I’ve had. Now, of course, in any category, it’s some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

 

Enjoy

More Traffic from Ho Chi Minh City

A few more interesting observations:

  • People really don’t drive any worse than most places, in fact, driving, riding two wheelers make you drive much better, otherwise you don’t last very long.
  • There is no road rage. None. People will stop in the weirdest places, everyone just goes around, with nary a glance.
  • I’m getting accustomed to the “45° left turn”. We are taught to stop in the intersection and make a sharp 90° turn. 4 wheeled vehicles do that here, but not two wheeled conveyances, no they make a turn which puts them into opposing traffic for a while.  It looks much scarier than it is to actually do.  Doing it, it seems more natural since it’s easier to visualize the clear line.
  • Speeds are slow and the heavier the traffic, the slower the traffic, so the contacts that happen between motorbikes are usually less than 10 mph, more often only 5.
  • Anticipation (Defensive Driving) is the key.  Everyone seems to assume that no one will stop if making a right turn or opposing traffic is just that.
  • Larger vehicles, trucks, buses and cars are very timid and not very aggressive.

Here a few more videos of traffic:

The Intersection Near My Apartment

A New Motorbike Seat

I kept complaining about my motorbike seat, as I kept sliding forward into an uncomfortable position.

The family rests inside the seat place. Fabrics are on the far right. Foam shells are handing

Trinh constantly reminded me that:

  1. I was bigger than most Vietnamese
  2. It is a 6 million Dong bike (US$ 287) and therefore don’t complain.

But if anything, I don’t have much tolerance for things that don’t work as they should.

So, when I mentioned the possibility of a new seat, I expected push-back, because if Trinh has learned, I do buy a lot of things I really don’t need. But this time, she agreed we’d stop and look.

Oh Boy, it was like Christmas.  Though she had no idea how much a new seat would cost.

She gets right to work on replacing my seat. Some of the completed examples are hanging. But pretty much everything they do is custom.

After our little ice cream stop, we stopped at a seat place.

Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City at least, is full of little shops, store fronts, that specialize in one thing.  In this case motorbike seats.

Thankfully, the lady running the place was dismissive of my current seat as soon as she saw it. That softened up Trinh right away so that it wasn’t just me wasting money.

Turned out the big discussion centered around color.  Everyone assumed I wanted black, the standard color.  But I had two goals in mind:

  • A better, more comfortable seat
  • A more distinctive seat, something different, since in the parking garage in my building, even knowing right where I left the bike, I have walked past it numerous times. So, I wanted something that stood out.  A red bike, I was thinking red seat.

But that was not to be. They had many shades of red in different materials, but Trinh, ever practical, pointed out that if I make

My New Seat

the bike stand out, it will be a target of police.

Now since it is not still not clear to me if I can legally drive a motorbike with my NYS motorcycle license, I figured I better compromise here.

Thus, we ended up mostly black with a red front and back.

And it’s really comfortable.

This operation took about 20 minutes.  They cut the fabric and sewed it to the new form core. Like almost everything I have seen in Vietnam, I was really impressed.  I got a handmade, custom seat for 360,000 dong, (that’s US$15).

Yes, I am really happy.  If only Dauntless was here, but then that’s another story.

 

One little aisle of the parking garage

Vietnam Rules of the Road – Mayhem or Order?

Initially to an Outsider, it certainly looks like mayhem. Motorbikes and bicycles going every which way, against traffic, on the sidewalks and driving right inside buildings!

In any new situation, I try to watch as an observer and withhold judgement until I have some data.

Watching as an observer, not biased by the framework you know, but looking for patterns and understanding of the system in front of you, then the picture will become ever clearer.

“car seat”

My first couple weeks, riding as a passenger on Trinh’s Honda Air Blade, one of the most numerous motorbikes.  (In this blog, I call all these very small engine (50 to150cc) bikes, motorbikes.  This includes was we in USA call scooters).

So, sitting behind Trinh in the first weeks, I was ??Nervous.  I quickly realized in many situations it was best to just close my eyes!  Yes, that was amazingly effective.

Leaving the hotel, if we had to go west, just make a U-turn in the middle of the block. Traffic too heavy for the U-turn, go around the block, are you kidding, go against traffic at a 45° angle until we are on the right side of the road.  Sorry, I have no video of some of the most outrageous hijinks, because I either had my eyes closed or I was awestruck.

In the first days, I derived their first rule of the road, don’t hit what you can see.

Now a simple rule like this can be amazing effective.  It certainly seems to work.  Let me say now that after 6 weeks, I have seen all of two accidents, which were not so much accidents, as unintended touching, causing one or both of the motorbikes to fall down.  And seeing how the traffic is all low speed, between 6 and 25 miles per hour (mph) or 10 to 40 km/hr., these incidents don’t incur significant injuries.   (In fact, now that I think of it, I have only seen an ambulance racing down the street once. Contrast that with NYC where it’s a few times per hour).

When you develop and rule, a theory, you then test it against the data. So, I looked at everything with that in mind, don’t hit what you can see. What I saw was that while less than half the bikes (the roads are 90% motorbikes, 10% human powered bikes) signal their intentions, for turns, the bikes behind seem to anticipate this.

They are the ultimate defensive drivers.