Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Temples and Palaces in Bangkok

Today I decided to try to make my way to the Royal Grand Palace. Actually, yesterday that had been my goal, too, but I got too sidetracked wandering around the city and wouldn't have made it there until just before dark. Yesterday, I ended up walking to the Jim Thompson house first. Jim Thompson was an American guy who moved to Thailand and almost single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry. He is a big deal in Bangkok; there is all sorts of stuff named for him. His house, actually six houses that he connected together, has been turned into a museum, and he collected all kinds of Southeast Asian art and relics. He apparently disappeared in Malaysia in the late 60s, and nobody to this day has any idea what happened to him.

Then, I just ended up wandering around the city, randomly taking a bus for a short distance, and ended up at Lumphini Park. Lumphini Park is a beautiful little green space in the middle of Bangkok with some little lakes in it. I walked all around the park, snapping pictures, then I decided to sit by one of the little lakes in the park. Within minutes, all kinds of events involving random weirdness occurred while I was perched by the lake. First, some guy showed up with a bunch of bread crumbs to feed the critters. He threw some on the ground, and a whole bunch of birds descended on the fodder. Then he threw some in the lake, and a huge number of fish suddenly appeared, jostling each other for the food. After the crowds of animals dissipated, he wandered away. Then, suddenly, this long, dragon-like creature suddenly leaped up from underwater, startling me. I was able to snap several pictures; it hung around for a bit. I was just glad that it didn't run right at me after it leaped out of the lake. It turned out it was a monitor lizard. Right after that, a bird landed right on my leg, which I don't think has ever happened to me before. I managed to take a picture of it perched on my leg (there wasn't much time; I had to react quickly), and then it tried to land on my face, flapping its wings in my face. I flinched and it flew away. Then, right after that, an older Thai guy came up to me, asking me where I was from. When I told him I was from the US, he asked me why the US liked Cuba's dictator Fulgenio Batista, but didn't like Fidel Castro. I didn't really have an answer to that, and just told him that all happened before I was born. He sat down, and we talked a bit, then he asked me if I would buy him a Coke, so I gave him a little money. He then asked me if I wanted a girl; I told him no thanks.

By this time it was way too late to make it to the Royal Palace, because it was almost dark and the palace was about to close. So I blew it off for the day, and ended up heading back to the hostel to find some food in the area. But the next day, I decided to try to get to the Palace, and I decided I would take some local transportation to get there, so I wouldn't just walk around all day and get distracted by every shiny thing that I saw. But bus transportation just hasn't worked out for me in Bangkok. I just haven't grabbed on to the system yet, and every piece of advice that Google Maps has given me about buses in Bangkok has been wrong so far. The strange thing is that Google Maps will tell me where to catch a bus, and I'll go there, and find a bus stop that lists the bus it says will be there, but then that bus will not show up. I've waited forty minutes for buses that are supposed to show up every ten minutes, while seeing other buses show up over and over again. I could work this stuff out if I had time. The worst piece of misinformation I got from Google Maps was a bus that went diagonally agross streets, with the route going through buildings and in places where there were obviously no streets. What the hell? Anyway, that is one reason I ended up walking so much yesterday, and meandering to places where I thought I could catch buses, and then waiting too long in frustration only to continue walking when the bus does not materialize.

So I got a tip from somebody at the hostel that I could walk a few blocks away to the next canal down, and I could catch a water taxi there. And that actually panned out. The water taxis are incredibly cheap, too. I only paid 9 baht for the water taxi, which is a little more than a quarter. I took the boat to near the corner where the Golden Mount Temple was, so I decided to check that out first. The Golden Mount is a temple with a lot of stairs to climb to the top, and on the way, there are a bunch of really ornate decorations, and bells, and gongs. At the top, there is a spectacular view of the city of Bangkok. I took a lot of pictures there, and some videos, but my camera overheated, and sometimes when it overheats, it won't allow me to take videos any more. So I wanted to take a video from the top to show the panoramic view among the many ornaments on the rooftop, but, alas, my camera forbid me from doing so. My phone has been giving me some trouble for some time, and the internal memory is just about completely full. I've had to delete all kinds of data, and now I'm having to delete apps as well...some that I have considered fairly essential, because it won't undertake some functions with the internal memory being full, including getting emails. It is also freezing up more, and getting less responsive to touch sometimes. I foresee phone failure at some point in the future. But getting a new phone from my US carrier is probably going to be an ordeal at best...getting them to ship a phone to Southeast Asia is probably not going to be easy, from the conversations I've had with them (and it's not easy to have those conversations either, believe me...they are set up to do everything through calls, but it's not that easy to call them from here. And the time difference means I have to communicate with them through chat in the middle of the night, while waiting an hour for a response. What I have had to mostly do is send them a chat message, notice it hasn't been answered for an hour, and then log back in the next day to get an incremental answer. This is going to take a while).

But, anyway, after the Golden Mount Temple, I walked down a big boulevard with lots of memorials to the king who recently died. The Thai people take their king seriously. I think he had been king since the 1940s. A Thai guy I met at the hostel told me he cried for three days when the king died. He also told me the new king was going to be crowned in a couple of days, but some news sources have made me doubt that. It looks like the new king, for some reason nobody seems to know, wants to wait a year before his coronation, and in the meantime, there is a regent appointed to do king stuff.

A ways down the big boulevard, there is a big expanse of land called the Royal Field. There were all kinds of festivities going on there. The Thai guy from the hostel told me that there were coronation activities going on, but I think they were still mourning the king who just died. Almost everyone was wearing black. But there was an enormous amount of free, delicious Thai food being served in tents by people mostly representing various government entities and ministries. The Thai army had a tent there where they were handing out food. Somebody had a tent that was devoted to vegetarian food. There were what seemed like acres and acres of tents just passing out free food and drink and desserts. I ate a lot of really good food there. I went into a tent where people were gathered to eat, and a guy motioned me to sit down, and he laid down a mat made of coffee labels put together into a big sitting rug-type apparition. Others had similar mats, mostly made of wrappings and labels for commercial products.

Then I finally made it to the Royal Palace. The route to get there was quite convoluted because of all the festivities, and once I got to the Palace doors, the police made us wait for about half an hour to go in. Nobody was quite clear why we had to wait, and several people asked the police why we were waiting (it was sweltering and there was no shade where we had to wait...I felt nearly like I was going to pass out). But they just got told to go back and wait. Finally, a large crowd was allowed in, so we all horded in at once. I guess another group showed up after us and had to wait, but I don't know that for sure. Anyway, the Palace was enormous, and there was so much so see on the grounds. There were huge statues and icons made of tiny little ornate baubles that must have taken an enormous amount of labor to construct, and the whole area was taken up with thes incredible decorative material. There were also gardens that were ornately constructed, with strategically placed statues among the plants. I was in there for hours just walking through the grounds. Then when I got to the exit to leave, it was the same situation as when we went in...everybody had to wait a long time. But this time, they just didn't let us leave through the exit at all, they just sent us back through the crush of the crowd to the entrance to leave. I never quite figured all of this out. But I guess somebody had some sort of plan about all this.

My next stop was Wat Pho Temple, which was a ways down the street from the Palace. Incidentally, I picked a good day to visit the Palace, because it was due to be closed for the next two days due to king-y stuff. So it was my last chance to visit it in the time I was in Bangkok. The Wat Pho Temple was another marvel of ornate craftsmanship. After a while, you just get inured to this stuff. When you spend a whole day looking at some of the most intense and meticulously crafted pieces of art, it just becauses normalized, and it is hard to see it with the same sense of wonder that you have started your day with.

After all these temples and palaces, I ended up strolling through another massive free food zone, and eating yet more incredible and delicious food that was given away to whoever wanted some. I don't think I paid for any food that day. But darkness was descending, so I tried, once again in vain, to catch a bus back to the hostel. I tried two different locations where buses were supposed to come, but no dice. So I just started walking back. But I was walking in the dark, sometimes with very little light at all, through unfamiliar neighborhoods that sometimes looked kind of sketchy, slipping on dubious liquids in the street that I could not see a couple times, and having a difficult time navigating through paths that sometimes dead-ended and I had to turn around and find a different route. So as soon as a tuk-tuk caught my attention, I went for it. I had wanted to take a tuk-tuk at some point anyway, so this was a good opportunity. A tuk-tuk is sort of a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi. And this driver was hauling ass on the street whenever he got out of a place where there was a traffic jam. He ended up dropping me off right near the hostel, so it all worked out.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Visa Run From Hanoi To Bangkok

Yesterday, I flew from Hanoi to Bangkok to make a visa run. For those of you who don't know what a visa run is, a visa run occurs when your visa is about to run out and you can get another one by leaving the country and returning on a new visa. One interesting first for me is that this is the first time I have had a residence in a different country and left that residence, with my stuff in it, behind while I went to a third country. Another interesting first is that part of the time I am gone, I have that residence while I have no authorization to be there (but it's perfectly fine to rent the place and have my stuff there), and then I will return to it, newly authorized to be there.

It was nice to be able to not bring my whole kit and kaboodle of stuff that I lug around with me. Most of the stuff I don't need is winter clothes. It will probably be high twenties to low thirties Centigrade (high eighties to low nineties Fahrenheit) the whole time I am in Bangkok, so I just brought some lightly warm stuff just in case, and a hooded windbreaker in case I need it for rain. But I'm just carrying a small backpack with about four and a half kilos of stuff in it...a welcome break from the 20+ kilos I have altogether, not including the small amount of household appurtenances I bought for my apartment (a trash can, a mop, a pillow and pillowcase, etc.) that I will leave behind for the next person who moves into the furnished apartment after I move out.

So, I got my mini-kit together for light travel, and headed out to catch the #86 bus to the Hanoi airport. Luckily, the #86 stops just a short distance from my apartment. It is a little more expensive than most of the other city buses. Most of the city buses are 7000 or 9000 đồng (my auto-correct just added those accents), which is between 30 and 40 cents in US money. But the #86 to the airport is 30,000 đồng. It's still not much at all, and much cheaper than the hired car I took to the hostel in Hanoi when I first arrived there; I didn't have much of a choice at that time since I arrived after midnight and no buses were running then. Also I got to see the scenery for the first time between Hanoi and the airport, which I couldn't do when I arrived, because it was dark. And I was freaking out at that time because I had just lost my ATM card.

The flight to Bangkok took about two hours. When I arrived, it was very easy to get to the hostel. There was an airport link train that left directly from the terminal, and took me into the city.  There was a stop about six blocks away from the hostel, so it was just a short walk. One thing I have quit doing is nervously constantly consulting an online map to plan my route when I get to a new place. Now I just look at it occasionally two or three times to see if I'm on the right track. I'll walk around a city mostly unconcerned with where I am, and just look at the map to get back to where I need to be.
One thing I have in Thailand, finally, is free data and texting on my phone through my US international plan. Most countries are covered, but some aren't.  Vietnam is not included (I got a Vietnamese phone and SIM card so I'd have coverage there), and neither was Mongolia when I was there. Laos won't be either when I go there. But every other country I've been to has been covered.

The hostel seems nice (that is, for a place that has multiple bunks crammed into small rooms). I don't mind the small space and lack of privacy too much, though some people who are jerks can sometimes make it more difficult. But most people are cooperative and friendly, and that has been the case here so far. I stay in hostels often to keep costs down while I'm traveling for this very long period of time, and it is an absolute necessity when I'm in some of the more expensive countries. But I do appreciate my little Hanoi apartment and the privacy and space it has given me; it has been a welcome respite from the hostel cram.

Yesterday I went on a long walk to explore the city and the area around the hostel. I made another foray at night, and had a major adventure that you'll just have to wait for somebody to offer me a book deal with a sizeable advance to hear about (I've had several adventures on this nine-month odyssey that fall into that category). Or maybe I'll tell you about it someday at a party or something.  But until then, ha, ha, too bad. You think you're getting the whole story? Not even.

Today I was wandering down the street in Bangkok and saw a money exchange place. I decided to exchange some dollars for Thai baht, because the ATM fees here in Thailand are really high, and you can get pretty good exchange rates for changing dollars.  One thing that stood out was that they had different exchange rates for different bills. The best rate was available for $100 bills, then a slightly worse rate for $50 bills, and the most disadvantageous rate was for $10s and $20s. It didn't say what they exchanged ones and fives for; maybe they just don't bother with those at all.

I was talking about auto-correct earlier in this post...the auto-correct on my Android phone has been starting to replace some English words with Vietnamese-accented words, I guess that's because I have typed a lot of Vietnamese words, especially while I was in my Vietnamese class. I wish it would stop doing that, though. A lot of that was to make flash cards for a Vietnamese Anki deck that I made. It's the first Anki deck that I have made from scratch; I've loaded public decks for other languages I've learned and then added words I encountered if they were not already in the deck. I really like Anki as a language learning tool, but it is only good for vocabulary, not for other components of language learning, like oral expression and oral comprehension, which for me, seem to be the most difficult parts of learning a language.

I have three keyboards installed on my Android phone. One is the English keyboard that came worth my phone.  Then I installed a Cyrillic keyboard when I was in Russian learning a bit of Russian, and finally the Vietnamese keyboard. I've never installed Polish or French keyboards, as the diacritical marks for those languages are available in the English keyboard.  I was surprised that Vietnamese words come up when I'm typing on the English keyboard, but I guess that has nothing to do with the keyboards, but on the memory for the auto-correct function.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We Have An Offer You Can't Refuse, Or Insurance Blues

Last night I heard it suddenly get really windy around one in the morning.  Now, this morning, it is much colder outside than it has been for the past few days, so a cold front must have blown in.  Not super-cold, but high fifties/low sixties F, which is mid to high teens C.  It has been fairly warm for the last week, so the cooler temps are welcome.  But it means I have to dress a little warmer, especially on my motorbike.

I just renewed my travel health insurance.  Or, rather, I changed my policy to a different company.  I had been with Tokio Marine for that last six months.  Originally, I got a comprehensive policy with American Express for a year which looked really good, but I didn't realize that it said in the fine print that the medical insurance was only good for 60 days.  Don't get American Express travel insurance if you are counting on the medical for a while...they won't tell you that it will only last for a couple of months, and you'll be covered on other stuff, but not medical.  And it is also supremely would have been worth it, maybe, if the medical insurance lasted, because they have really comprehensive coverage of other stuff.  But it sucked that suddenly I had to buy another policy when I thought theirs would last for the next year after I bought it.

So I had to scramble to get new medical insurance, and I found Tokio the time.  But I decided to shop around, and a lot of travel blog posts recommended World Nomads.  I looked on their site, and their insurance was a little more than half the price I had been paying with Tokio Marine, so I jumped on it.  It looks like this is one of the better deals online, so I would probably recommend them for travel medical insurance if you are ever looking for it.

The Abyss, Part 2

The Internet is super-slow here.  I mean, slower than any connection I have ever experienced.  It doesn't matter if I'm on the wi-fi at my apartment or on my Vietnamese phone that supposedly has 3G.  It's slow.  And it keeps disconnecting frequently.  But I hear that in Laos, it is about 10 times slower than Vietnam.  Oh, joy.  I'll probably be going to Laos in about a month.  And it is not one of the countries I get free data in, though Thailand and Cambodia are, I think.  I really miss the super-fast connections I had in South Korea, which is supposed to be the nation with the fastest Internet in the world.  But it's hard to complain much when I'm only paying about five bucks a month here in Vietnam for cell service.

The backup from my phone's SD card to Dropbox that I started on November 4 (and described in this post from November 8) finally finished sometime last night.  Today is the 24th, so it took 20 days of being almost constantly connected to the Internet via my apartment's wi-fi to back up my phone's files, which were mostly pictures and videos. Part of it is Dropbox's crappy and slow interface; I found posts from people online who indicated that they were not getting much faster speeds than I did at the fastest speeds that I got.  Later I also found posts online indicating that backing up is faster through Dropbox's web interface than through their app.  I could have tried that, and I might next time, but I had already started it through the app so I continued it because there was no easy way to tell which of the 12,000 files had and had not uploaded.

I did restart my computer a few times when it would not connect, and of course, there was constant disconnections and slowdowns.  And I don't think I even backed up all of the files I have on the card, but the pics and videos are good enough for now. I'm not going to take another week or more to back up the rest right now.  I had to keep the card out of my phone the whole time, stuffed into a card adapter and plugged into my laptop's SD card slot, so after a while I had to buy a new 128 GB SD card for my phone so it would be functional.  I had to do it through the laptop, because it wouldn't back up at all through my phone...Dropbox would not even acknowledge the directory where my pics and videos are on my card.

I have no space at all in my phone's internal memory, which is becoming a problem, because every once in a while when I am trying to read emails, I'll get a message that says, "Not enough space in memory."  The problem is that some stuff will just not load onto the card...mostly apps and some data for apps.  And there is probably some garbage that builds up too.  So every few days, I'll have to clear cache and wipe out as much trash as I can just so I can continue.  The last few times I did it, I even had to remove some apps because clearing cache is not enough any more.  I don't know why my internal data is filling up more and more because I'm not adding anything to it; I try to put everything on the SD card.  But I guess there are some processes that can only be done in internal memory.

The last few days of the backup were also horrible and really slow.  There was one day in mid-backup where 1000 files uploaded, and it gave me some hope.  But that was an anomaly; I never got any fast days after that.  And in the last week, it stuck for a couple days on 31 files left to go, then stuck again for another couple days at 15 files left to go.  Aaaauuugghhh.  But yesterday, it was at 15 and not moving, and when I woke up it had finished.  Success.  I hope.

When I got the new SD card, I went to the laptop accessories street here in Hanoi, and stopped at a place that had SD cards.  I asked the guy behind the counter if he had a 128 GB card, and he didn't have one on hand, but he took off on his motorbike to get one, telling me "five minutes."  I waited around the shop; it was probably about twenty minutes before he returned, but it was a high quality, Sandisk SD card.  I popped it into my phone immediately to make sure it worked and it did.  So now at least I have a backup card.  But I don't know what I am going to do about the internal memory being full.  I would have a difficult time upgrading from abroad with T-Mobile, and I can buy an unlocked phone here, but then I won't get some features like wi-fi calling, which I need.  And I'm not going to change carriers from T-Mobile, because it is the only one that offers me free data and texts in most of the countries on Earth.  Unfortunately, Vietnam is not one of them, which is why I had to get a Vietnamese phone and SIM card.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The End Of My Classes

Well, I finished up my French and Vietnamese classes. Unfortunately, I threw my Vietnamese class under the bus for the last week, because the French class had oral and written exams that I had to pass to be certified to get to the next level, and the Vietnamese class didn't. There was a final review in the Vietnamese class that was sort of like a written exam, but it wasn't graded or anything. We just completed it in class, like we would an exam, and then the teacher just went over it with us. But the last couple of sessions, I was just getting farther and farther into the wilderness. In the last session, before the review, I was completely out of it on the stuff that we were supposed to cover and I hadn't done the homework. But it really didn't matter. I have the book, and I took notes on everything the teacher covered that I was able to discern, but there was in the last week sort of a perfect storm of befuddlement for me, as I covered less and less material, and got lost anyway in the barrage of rapid-fire French that the Vietnamese class was taught in. I'll still be able to go over it and absorb it better; I just won't be there to ask questions if I don't understand something. And I hope to go through the textbooks for both classes and see if there is any additional material that I can glean from them to add to my flash cards. I use Anki, which is a great open-source flash card program.

In the French class, there were three exams. There was an oral comprehension exam, an oral expression exam, and a written exam. On the oral comprehension exam, I had a difficult time. Sometimes I tense up when listening to a foreign language and it makes me less receptive to understanding it. It's like an immediate reaction. But sometimes I am more relaxed. I did OK; I passed it, but didn't have a stellar score. On the other two exams I did quite well. I prepared a lot for the oral expression exam, and memorized five actions and five things that I wanted to discuss. And then I memorized three touchstones of my role (I was asked to imagine myself as a volunteer for a charitable organization), and several synonyms for words covered in the text. Though the teacher tried to throw people off by having them talk about themselves first, I was able to throw most of those things out. I felt bad for the two people who didn't pass the class because that was revealed publicly.

I found out recently that if I spend time in Bangkok or Chiang Mai in Thailand, there are Alliance Française organizations in each of those cities that have cheap French lessons, so I could continue studying French in those places for a very cheap price. That is something I might do. The price of living in each of those places is a little higher than Hanoi, but still very low. I read online that you could get by in Chiang Mai for around $650 a month. I will be going to Bangkok for a few days at the end of the week, because I have to leave Vietnam briefly to renew my visa, and a flight to Thailand was the cheapest flight I could find. But I hope to spend more time in Thailand at a later time; this upcoming trip will just be an introduction.

After the last French class, I walked to the Old Quarter of Hanoi because there is a banh mi place I like there. I ordered a couple of banh mi to go, and then I was walking by a bia hoi place (a place that serves cheap beer on tap...the beer can be cheaper than a quarter a glass), when a bunch of hostelers started yelling at me on the street, so I sat down to hang out with them. We all ended up going to their hostel, which was Hanoi Rocks Hostel. There was a tall guy named Louie from England who spoke several languages (we talked in Spanish and French), and some folks from New Zealand, and a guy from Russia there. I ended up leaving before the last bus could take me home; I didn't want to walk home for an hour at night. I don't really know when the last bus is but I think it is around nine pm. I have walked back several times late at night when no buses came to the stop.

Sometimes I will stop by the hostel where I stayed when I first got to Hanoi, Central Backpackers Hostel in the Old Quarter, because they have a nice rooftop cafe with good inexpensive food, and there are always people to hang out with. Also, I made friends with some of the workers there so it is good to see them.

I was kind of taken aback a few days ago to find the dog street near the Old Quarter. I'm not talking about a cute fuzzy street where shops have pets for sale (though I have run across that street too, and it's not all that cute and fuzzy as the dogs are in tiny cages and seem very distressed), but a street where there are disemboweled, headless bodies of dogs on display to be eaten. I know people do eat dog here, as they do in several places in Asia, but seeing something like this really brought it home to me and was kind of jarring.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Movie Stuff and Other Musings

I've been watching a lot of French movies that I check out from the médiathèque at the Institut Français de Hanoi. I'll watch them first with English subtitles just to relax and enjoy the movie, then watch them with French subtitles (if available), and then without any subtitles at all. It is a pretty good method for learning oral comprehension, which seems to be one of the most difficult skills in learning a language. I feel like I've made a lot of progress in my French class, which ends this week. Yesterday I took the final oral exam, and Friday will be a day where we just show up to get the results of the oral and written exams.  I was a little surprised that we took our oral exams individually, one by one, in the classroom.  Everybody else waited outside while the person taking the exam was quizzed. I decided I would be the last one, so I went in last.  It was not too bad, but I have no idea how it was graded.  Everybody tried to pack a bunch of stuff into their heads to take into the exam; there was a lot of last-minute studying from all of us.  But the first questions were all about talking about ourselves...I'm guessing that was to have everybody clear their heads and talk more naturally, rather relying on a template that was hastily memorized.

A couple of the movies have been pretty good. There was one called “Do Not Disturb” (the title was in English despite it being a French movie), which is sort of a buddy movie gone bizarro. I don't want to give out any spoilers, but it's a pretty funny movie. And there is one called “Coers” (Hearts) that is pretty good too. It's sort of an intertwining-relationships movie, where several sub-plots follow the characters throughout. The main plot surrounds a woman who is providing care for a guy's seriously abusive bedridden father.

I'll be in Hanoi for a little over another month, and then I plan to take off on my motorbike, possibly to Laos. I've heard Laos is more basic than Vietnam, but a little more expensive, because they import just about everything. Maybe it's a little bit crazy to take off on a motorbike that has no gas gauge and sometimes has dificulty starting by myself, through who-knows-what road conditions and weather conditions, across territory that contains lions and tigers and shit. Oh well, I'll either survive it, or I won't.

I don't think I will have too much trouble with the gear that I will have packed on my bike. It's not too heavy for a bike, though it might be kinda bulky. I just watched in horror the other day while I was riding my bike down the street, and a bike ahead of me that was carrying about twelve toilets on it had the owner slowly lose control of the balance while stopped at a red light (some people do occasionally stop for the red lights here), and it dumped over sideways, leaving the toilets to spill into the street. But the motorbike winner from the past few days has to be the guy (the knight) who was carrying several pieces of pipe about four meters long (the lance), and a whole panoply of plate glass on both sides of the bike (the glass armor), and as he passed me, I noticed he had a passenger on the back of his bike, standing uncomfortably in a question-mark position around the pipe sticking out (the hostage).

I've got some kind of gruesome rash surrounding one of my eyes that looks and feels like a chemical burn. I'm guessing shingles or something like that. So I applied some of the magical ointment that I got in a pharmacy in Japan for my foot injury. Actually, it's probably not a magical ointment. I really have no idea what it is, since everything on the tube in in Japanese. But I'm choosing to fantasize that it is a magical potion passed down to me by sagacious medical wizards with wisdom from millenia past. Maybe then a placebo effect will be conferred on me despite the horrible misapplication of whatever medication this is. I'm guessing that it is a topical antibiotic and therefore will do no good at all, and possibly even contribute to the formation of some supermicrobe that will envelop the planet in some pandemic that threatens to render the human population extinct, until scientists come up with some kind of nano-muncher that eats all the bad shit. But I digress.

I'm a little bit concerned because part of it is right on the corner of my eye. But I haven't lost any sight yet, so that's a good sign. Anyway, I'll either survive it, or I won't. At least I haven't gotten to the “Phantom of the Opera” phase yet, where I'm fashioning masks to hide my deformities.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Backing Up Into An Abyss

I've been trying, in what might be a futile effort, to back up all of my photos on the SD chip from my phone. I have actually been trying for months, but I have given up several times due to technical problems. But it is coming to a head now. The chip is 128 GB, but is approaching capacity. And my phone, which has 16 GB of internal memory, keeps refusing to load any more emails periodically because it says internal memory is full. So I will have to dump stuff every once in a while, and I have dumped so many apps and files that now I am down to bare-bones. As I said, I've tried several times to back up the SD card. Supposedly, Dropbox is supposed to do this automatically, but it doesn't read the files on my card or something, because it does not see the directory at all that the pictures are in on the card. I've tried to manually back up from my phone, and that is no good either. So I've tried on several occasions to take the SD card out, put it in an adapter and slip it into my laptop's SD slot, but that is massively slow. When I was staying in hostels, I didn't ever have enough time. Now I think maybe it is doing it, but it tells me there are 79 days left. I tried to back my card up when I was in Korea, where they have super fast Internet, and it still told me it would take a week, but I didn't have a safe place to leave my computer connected in the hostel for a week. At least I can keep it connected in the apartment, but there are long stretches of time when the connection is not happening.  I've been uploading for four days and it has barely moved the needle. What is on Dropbox now is just a smattering of the files, and they are uploading...and uploading...and uploading. The files might not even be complete and useable.  It may not happen, yet again. Fun with technology.

I went to the Vietnamese Women's Museum today. My friend Paul said it was a good place to check out, so I want and visited it today. I watched a fascinating film that talked about how many of the street vendors in Hanoi come from little villages around Vietnam to sell their wares on the streets, then return to their villages with tiny amounts of money. One woman said she returns every 10 to 12 days with about twenty dollars. One woman says she gets up at 2 am to scour the markets and sell every day until about 7 pm. One woman said she stays is a dormitory packed with other women who sell stuff on the streets, and pays 35 cents a day to stay there. There were also a lot of stories about women who did stuff during the wars with France and the US. It was an interesting experience.

But, I didn't have my SD card in my phone, because it is sitting almost idle in my computer, getting the files to ooze slowly into on online backup, if it ever happens. Luckily, internal memory was enough to take some pics in the museum.

The weather was just delightful walking around Hanoi today. It was nice and cool, probably high 60s, with a strong breeze. It was great walking around weather. I came back to my apartment and left all the windows open so I could feel the wind in the apartment. I get great cross-breezes when it is windy.

Well, the presidential election in the US is today.  Finally, all the noisy bullshit will stop, and all the people who claim the world will collapse on Nov. 9th will finally shut the fuck up. Hopefully.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Various Ramblings About Hanoi

The weather in Hanoi has been phenomenal lately. It gets to high teens C (maybe low 60s F) at night, and low to high 20s (ranging between 70 and 80) during the day. In the last week, it has definitely cooled. It is starting to warm up again, but the trend is cooler. I don't think it gets below 50 F much in Hanoi during the winter, though. It is in the tropics here and there is not a huge temperature swing, though there are definite differences in temperature across the year.

I am taking the bus to school almost every time I go now. I find that if I walk the six kilometers to school, through chaotic traffic all the way, I am too tired and stressed to concentrate on the material as well. So I'll take the bus in, and often I will walk back. There are two buses I can take from Tay Ho to Hoan Kiem. One is the #55, and the other is the #31. It wasn't easy to find out the bus routes. I partially had to do it through trial and error, and some guesswork. But I finally figured out yesterday the way to get back home on the #31. I could have walked home, but I wanted to spend some time figuring out where the damn bus route was. I had had a difficult time with this bus, because apparently they have recently changed the bus route, but many vestigial leftovers of the old route were still left. For example, Google Maps still says that the bus stops are on another street, but they aren't on that street. I had reserved time after my classes on Friday to find a northbound bus stop somewhere, and I had narrowed it down to a few blocks of possibilities. I had tried on several different occasions to take this bus north, but could not find the right stops.

So I headed down to Hoan Kiem Lake and started walking south on the road that is one-way southbound that borders it. After walking a couple of blocks, I finally found a purported bus stop for the #31. So I waited about half an hour, watching other buses come up to the stop, some twice. But no #31. Finally, I see the #31 approaching from the south. I'm finally gonna figure out the northbound route, But, crap, it turns right on the block right before me. So the stop I am at is bogus, they just haven't changed the sign yet. So now I have to find the next (real) stop to the south. I walked a few more blocks down the street (hoping that the bus was continuous on this street, because it could have turned in from any other street) and found another stop for the #31. This one ended up being a real bus stop. The bus picked me up, and took me north. The route going north was completely different from the route going south; it would have been difficult to find this route just trying to walk the streets in the area. When I take the #55, it just goes straight down the Hell Highway (that's just what I call it, due to the prodigious street-crossing skills one needs to cross is actually called Au Co street for the length of my neighborhood; it has several other names as it winds through different parts of the city) both ways, so it was pretty easy to figure out. But the #31 winds through the city down little busy streets. It is a lot slower, but if I take it back, I don't have to make the treacherous street crossing.

In my French class the other day, the teacher was going around asking everybody how long they had been learning French, or from when they started.  The teachers are constantly going around asking people about little bits of info about their lives to engage them in speaking the language.  Everybody was going around saying a few months, maybe one of two said a year.  Geez, I was thinking, I started learning French over 50 years ago (I didn't end up saying that in class, because she stopped asking before she got to me).  For having studied that long, I sure don't have much to show for it.  I mean, I can understand a good amount of it, but I have to get people to speak slowly and/or repeat themselves before I get it.  But, of course, I wasn't studying continuously that time.  I started speaking French with my mother when I was a small child; she spoke French because she was half Quebecoise.  I had a French class in my elementary school in Mexico, and then I studied it for two years in high school.  I placed out of a year for college, and then took another year.  And that was the bulk of my studies, though I have spoken some when I have gone to France and Quebec. But when I went to school in Mexico, my Spanish, which was the third language I had learned, eclipsed my French, which was originally my second language.  I became fluent in Spanish, but not quite so in French.  I finally wanted to take some more classes because I wanted to if I could burst through to relative fluency by studying some more of this language that I hadn't studied in thirty years. At first I spent a few months studying online at Lawless French (which is a great resource for vocabulary and grammar, but I needed more conversational practice).  But then I found out when I was on my way to Vietnam that there were courses I could take in Hanoi at L'Institut Français, so I jumped on that opportunity.  It also gave me the chance to sit for a while in a relatively cheap and interesting place.

Now let me tell you something about Vietnam, this place I am settling in for a short time.  There are a lot of places in the world where everybody will tell you the time has passed to visit such-and-such place.  The place has gotten overdeveloped, it has gotten too touristy and commercial, too expensive, and so on.  That is not the case for Vietnam.  The time to visit Vietnam is NOW. This place is happening, and it is seriously affordable. Of course, some promoters have come in in the last few years and fouled a few pristine spots with commercial trash.  But, for the most part, Vietnam is still a place that hasn't been completely taken over by mega-corporations, and a place where you will have amazingly authentic experiences.

English-speaking travelers can easily find jobs in Vietnam teaching English.  I see tons of listings where they are trying to fill openings for either regular teachers, or subs to take their places, and the credentials required for many teaching jobs are not as stringent as other places, though you will still find many that are strict about credentials, especially in elementary schools or middle/secondary schools.  Usually the jobs start at about $20 an hour and might pay more if you are more credentialed or experienced.  And $20 an hour goes a long way in Vietnam. That is the biggest and easiest-to-find source of jobs for English-speakers, though there are others.  They are constantly looking for foreign-looking models here, or people to be on television or in films. Also there are a few Western bartenders and waiters.  Another source of jobs are the many hostels here; you could probably get a job fairly quickly, but don't expect it to pay anything close to what you would make in the West, though you could live decently in Hanoi (especially with the free lodging that comes with it).  But a lot of under-30s (you have to be under 30 to do this) go to Australia and/or New Zealand to do their year-long working holiday, where they can make very high wages and save a lot of money, and then go traveling through Asia.

My friend Paul came to visit a couple of days ago.  He has been living in Sa Pa, and I met up with him when I went up there, but now it is getting cold in the mountains there so he is heading south.  We met up near the lake and I took him to a secret little speakeasy bar tucked behind another business; one where you have to know someone to even know where the place is.  It's a little place with a secret stone stairwell tucked into the wall leading up to it.  I don't even know that it has a name. There are always a bunch of bohemian/hippie folks that hang out there, both local and tourist, and sometimes there are folks in there painting murals on the walls, or playing acoustic guitar. We met up with some folks from the UK and ended up hanging out with them for a good portion of the night.  We had a good time hanging out there, and then Paul moved on to the next stage of his journey.