Tuesday, December 13, 2016

27 Hà Trung

27 Hà Trung. This address marks a very important place in Hanoi. That is where the Công Ty Vàng Bạc Quốc Trinh gold shop is. It's a gold shop/money exchange place where you can probably get the best currency exchange rates in all of Vietnam. And maybe even in all of Southeast Asia, for a lot of currencies. I don't know how they do it, but when you change US dollars to Vietnamese dong, you get a better rate than the official rate. There are a ton of places that advertise “best rates” of exchange, and you can always go to a bank if you want a huge hassle and not that great a deal, but this is the place for the good stuff, when it comes to money exchange. They don't have any signs anywhere, like most currency exchange places do, stating the rates for various different currencies. You just walk in, line up at the counter, and if you are just changing dollars to dong, you do it right there. But if you are changing into or from some other esoteric currency, they might send you somewhere else within the labyrinthian building. Which is what happened to me today. Today I went down there to change some of my excess Vietnamese dong into Lao kip in anticipation of my trip to Laos, and they ushered me to the back of the complex, past some place where people were eating on tiny toddler-like chairs (those tiny plastic chairs are all over the place), to the place where the kip guy was. I didn't change much; just about fifty bucks worth. But that will be enough to get me across the border into Laos and to the next town where I can get more, and probably then some. And it is probably a better deal than I will get in Laos. Shoot, now that I think about it, maybe I should go back in a few days and change some more. Before I leave Vietnam for the last time, or for the semi-last time (because I anticipate that after this foray into Southeast Asia, I will be back), I have to change out all the rest of my dong, because the dong is not considered to be a convertible currency, and it is pretty much worthless outside Vietnam. I have heard stories of people who didn't convert the rest of their Vietnamese money before they left, and then had to settle for about a tenth of what it was worth in some other country where they converted it, if anyone would touch it at all.

Before I left the gold shop, I made sure to ask what the rate was to convert dong back into dollars, in case I need to do that. The rate is a little lower than the official rate, but that's to be expected, and it's probably a better deal than I will get anywhere else. When I go into Cambodia sometime down the line, my understanding is that they have a currency, the Cambodian riel, but almost no foreigner uses it in the cities. The de facto currency most places is the US dollar, but some isolated places in the countryside may just take riel. As a matter of fact, if you have a foreign ATM card, you will probably only be able to withdraw dollars from the ATM machines in Cambodia.

After the currency exchange, I headed into the Old Quarter to try to find a new fanny pack. My old one is getting really ragged, and I didn't have much faith in finding one that was big enough, and that was confirmed, as I didn't find one that suited my purposes. So I guess I will be limping alsong with the one I have for the time being. I can keep sewing it up when it gets holes in it (I've already made several repairs), and just deal with the fact that the waterproof lining has mostly crumbled away. I have the extra one I bought in Thailand, but it is too small for all the stuff I carry in my other one, and at some point I may ditch it or give it to someone who needs one, unless I need to use it for a while as an emergency pack if mine finally becomes completely unuseable. One thing you can find in Vietnam is lots of North Face brand gear, which is pretty high quality, as the factory that makes this stuff is in Vietnam. But you have to watch out for the counterfeit stuff, which, oddly enough, usually costs about the same as the real thing. The real ones have a little hologram tag inside. When I was in Sa Pa, I bought a really nice North Face jacket lined with Gore-Tex, and a pair of pants that have zippers that convert them to shorts, and have that feature whereby if you pour liquid on them, it just beads right off. Those things would have cost me hundreds of bucks in the States, but here, they were about forty bucks for both. And they are the real thing; they have the hologram thingy. The counterfeit ones might be just as good in most cases, as they are probably made by workers from the factories who make them on the side, but sometimes the stiching is crappy.

On the continuing phone saga, though I bought a new phone, I am probably going to have to give up for the time being on trying to get a T-Mobile US SIM card for it. I have ordered one that was sent to my house in Austin, and I can get it sent to me, but all the research I've been doing indicates that getting stuff sent to just about anywhere in Southeast Asia not only takes forever, but might not ever get there. Just about the most reliable way I will get that SIM card is if I find somebody who is flying here who can bring it in their baggage. I thought about having it taped to a piece of paper in a letter, but even letters have a high rate of getting lost. I might chance it at some point if I am sitting in one place for a while, but for now, I just don't know where I'll be for any time period that it would take to get here. Kind of a pain, but I can deal for now. That means I'll have to hang on to my old phone for a bit for when I get to a country that T-Mobile will give me free data and texting in again, but I'll have to strip it down by removing most of the apps and data so I don't encounter this frustrating problem of the internal storage being so full that it won't function. So right now I have three cell phones. My new Xperia XZ (which just updated to Android 7.0 Nougat today), my older Samsung with inadequate ROM, and my Vietnamese cheapo burner phone. And each of them takes a different size SIM card, so whatever country I'm in, I'm pretty much guaranteed that one of the three sizes of SIM cards will fit some phone I have. And I have at least one powerful one that will do the stuff I need to do, and all of them will work with wi-fi. Most of the Vietnamese SIM cards have snap-out inserts. You buy the largest size SIM card, and then if you need a micro or nano size, you snap it out to the smaller size. And then you can get converters if you need to move the smaller one back to a larger size. That is what the tech guy at the place I bought my new phone did; he snapped out my old Vietnamese SIM card down to nano size for my new phone.

I also went grocery shopping for maybe the last time. I mostly just bought produce, since I have probably enough food basics in my apartment to last me until I leave. But I just had to satisfy my curiosity about “barley mint candy”, so I bought some to try it out. Little candies are really big here. What sucks about just about any snack you buy is that each piece is often individually wrapped. You buy crackers or something, and often each one comes in its own wrapper, which seems pretty darn wasteful to me.

I'm going to miss this little apartment. It has been good to me. The landlord is a great guy and super-helpful on just about anything. I really like his huge furry dog too. I've been almost thinking about extending my stay here, but I really need to get moving again. One consideration is I've been working on this huge electronic flash card deck for my phone and laptop between English and Vietnamese, and there is probably no way I am going to finish it before I leave, which, unfortunately, means I will have to bring the textbook that I am partly getting vocabulary from with me. I'm getting the vocabulary mostly from this text (I've had to make some corrections, because some of the translations are just not quite right), and from words that I encounter in my daily wanderings, from Google Translate, and from various other sources on the Internet. When it's done, it will truly be a magnum opus. And it will be totally open source and free and available for anyone to use. And I will have done it from scratch. But I'm probably only about a fifth of the way into adding entries, and then I have to add tags for different categories and parts of speech, and then I have to do some processing in a database program to clean it up, and then it will be ready. If I sat in Hanoi for another month, I could definitely get it done. And, since it is so cheap to live here, it would help me on expenses too. Right now, though, I really am antsy to start moving again. That means my project probably gets slowed down, but maybe I will sit somewhere again for a few months, either here in Vietnam again, or somewhere else. I hear there are outstanding French classes in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, for about the same price as here in Hanoi...

(Update: I've also heard that the gold shop on Hà Trung can also transfer money to bank accounts internationally for the best rate as well.  I haven't personally tried that out, though.  It seems to be one way that people working here can get money transferred if they don't have a proper work permit.  If they do have a proper work permit, they can open a bank account here, and do it that way, but the fee might be higher than the gold shop.  Again, this is hearsay, and I haven't tried any of these methods.)

(Update #2: If you type "27 Hà Trung, Hàng Bông" into Facebook, it translates it into "27 mints, every cotton".  The full address is 27 Hà Trung, Hàng Bông, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội.)

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