9000 Hours in Saigon. You may not think it’s much, but as someone who’s chronically unable to title his work, I was pretty proud when I hit on the blog title. Now, sixteen months–approximately 11,500 hours–after moving to Saigon, I’m still here, and looking back, I can only surmise that I somehow tapped into some bad juju when I came up with that title. Because this year really has shaped up to be 9000 hours in Saigon. 9000 hours as a prisoner in thanh pho ho chi minh.
The reason I’ve been relatively immobile is the same reason I haven’t blogged in 7 months: work. After a brief tenure as an English teacher, I joined the editorial department of AsiaLIFE HCMC magazine in August 2008. In October, I became the managing editor. November saw the departure of one of our editors. From there, it’s a barrel of monkeys.
Enter December, January and February. The Christmas and Tet holidays. A time when your chances of stumbling upon a snowball fight in Saigon are better than nailing down anything breathing for an interview. An editor’s nightmare. Enter redesign in March. Enter my first cover story in April. Enter a new, considerably smaller budget in June. Enter the Economy issue of July, the production period that nearly broke me.
Thankfully, my will proved sturdier than Vietnam’s export markets.
So now that I’m committed to at least another 6 months in Vietnam and have gotten back on the blog, what’s next? Change the name? Nope. It’s the planned 9000 Hours in Saigon that got me here in the first place (and bad juju aside, I still dig the name). More likely: dispatches from Saigon, un-chronicled travels, future travels (which now seem more manageable).
I should probably get myself a digital camera.
So the trip to Cambodia seemed like the perfect opportunity to start blogging again. It was, after all, the first trip I’d taken since going to Mui Ne way back in March. However, once I got back, we ran into some staffing shortages at AsiaLIFE and I became snowed under for the next two months. With everyone gone for the holidays and no one to interview for February’s issue until after the New Year, I’ve decided to pack my bag and head north into Central Vietnam for some motorbiking.
The idea largely came from my buddy Tayne Ephraims, who chronicled his 9-day, hastily planned motorbike journey with two friends from the Central Highlands back down to Saigon in what is in my mind the best blog title of the year, The Half-Way Down. I’m going to do an abbreviated version of the trip on my own: Hue to Danang and Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass, possibly somewhere else if I have the time over the four days. I’m thinking of calling it the One-Eighth Way Down.
What else? I’ve been doing hours and hours of research into the Vietnamese automotive market for January’s Auto issue. Despite knowing little to nothing about the inner working of engines (I still claim it’s magic), I found myself strangely intrigued by the auto industry in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, in general. I should be handling some more articles within the realm of automotives now that I’ve got a springboard into the subject.
I’ll be looking at importing some articles from AsiaLIFE, if only to prove that I haven’t been whiling away my time with prostitutes and booze.
I never thought it would happen, but it has. I’ve become an absentee blogger.
My hiatus from 9000 Hours has, however, been due to a rather fortuitous development. Having accepted a position as Deputy Editor of AsiaLIFE HCMC Magazine, I’ve been busy splitting my time between frenzied rounds of editing in the lead up to a September deadline, contributing a number of articles to the upcoming issue and teaching my two remaining classes at ILA.
I plan to scale back my teaching responsibilities a bit more in about two weeks, at which point, I hope to become a much more consummate blogger. I’ll also (finally) be doing a spot of traveling. November is AsiaLIFE’s getaways issue, to which I’ll be contributing a to-be-determined feature, so an on-location assignment is imminent. I’ll also be in Cambodia at the end of October.
Yikes! This blog has gone bone dry as of late (I blame the Beginner 1 class I just started teaching). Here’s a quick blast to add some meat to my recently skeletal offerings.
- Just days after I plugged the Vietnamese Vegetarian Restaurant in my Vegetarian Guide to Saigon, the joint assumed a dual identity. This Pham Ngu Lao eatery now sports two signs: Vietnamese Vegetarian Restaurant and Pizza Pasta Lasagna. The latter is meant to advertise its new meat-inclusive menu, courtesy of the new chef. In addition to an array of eponymous dishes, it also features some great meals like the cajun chicken casserole (45K VND), chicken potato paprika burger (32K VND) and pork with cream sauce and mushrooms (45K VND). However, the last two days, the new menu was unavailable at lunch time; either they’re out of ingredients or can’t cut the mustard without the new chef around.
- Prices have shot up at Falafellim by about a 7000 VND per dish. The falafel pita that used to cost you a cool 32,000 will now set you back 39,000. On the up side, I’ve learned that chowing down on one during a bad hangover produces a sensation relative to your previous condition that I can only describe as taking a massive dose of ecstasy while riding a Unicorn through Candyland.
- Bobby Brewers on Bui Vien has begun distributing movie leaflets again, although its all-day new movie bootleg fests haven’t yet come off suspension. Recent screenings have offered films in the 2-5-years-old range. Meet the Fockers, anyone?
Okay, so things aren’t THAT dire. But heading into my third month living on savings, I’m definitely feeling the crunch in the lead up to that sign-on bonus at ILA. Here’s how I’m staying cheap in Vietnam.
- Bia Hoi. Paying $5000 VND (about 33 cents) for a beer sure alleviates (if not obliterates) morning-after guilt. There’re a few bia hoi joints in the backpacker district on Bui Vien, the best of which is right around the corner from Do Quang Dau (I’d give a name, but I don’t think it has one).
- Free movies at Bobby Brewers. This western-style coffee shop screens movies back-to-back all day long on its top floor, which features stadium seating couches. Best of all, they don’t even get miffed if you only order a coffee (20,000 VND).
- Pho. Because my girlfriend is a vegetarian, I haven’t had much opportunity to get acquainted with Vietnam’s signature beef soup. However, with the misses occupied getting certified to teach English, I’m slowly working my way through the many variations of pho, which go for about 16 – 20,000 VND. Note: Avoid the franchised Pho 24. It’s overpriced and serves weak portions.
- Trà Dá. Literally iced green tea. This is consistently the cheapest beverage on the menu: from about $1000 – 6000 VND. It’s amazing how much you save when you’re not forking over 12-20K VND for lunchtime beer.
- Pirated Movies Everywhere in Saigon. There are no copyright laws in Vietnam, so DVD shops are ubiquitous and dirt cheap. A good price is 10 – 12,000 VND, and don’t be shy about returning DVDS that skip.
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I’m in the last stretch of my CELTA course, and all signs indicate I’ll be a certified ESL teacher within the week (and consequently, a more diligent blogger). In the meantime, here’s what’s happening in Saigon:
1. The Economist recently reported that Ho Chi Minh City’s stock market bubble has burst. What will this mean for intrepid ex-pat teachers banking on a pool of middle managers and miscellaneous suits in need of English instruction? Only time will tell.
2. I’m no believer in the viability of the economic stimulus package, but a sliver of that $600 sure will come in handy for a long weekend in Phnom Penh. Here’s hoping I don’t fall through some IRS loophole.
3. Sarah and I joined a caravan of kids from Thao Dan out to District 2 for a Sunday afternoon painting session at the studio of local artist and Armed with a Paintbrush instructor Binh. The kids created a large-scale mural depicting their feeling about an upcoming Vesak Buddhist festival. We’ll be heading back out this Sunday so the kids can complete their latest masterpiece. Watch for pictures and a brief dispatch.
4. A spot of graffiti near our apartment reads, “Hip Hop is a state of mine.” We’re not sure whether to chalk this up to poor phonetic awareness or simple indecisiveness. Is polka a state of the perp’s, as well?
It’s been about a week without posts. Currently, I’m feuding with our Internet connection at the new apartment, and the Internet connection is winning. Moreover, I’m one week into my (quite intensive) four-week CELTA course, heading steadfast towards English Language-teaching credentials. Blogging don’t pay the bills. Now that I’ve got my first two lessons under my belt, I’ll be making a more concerted effort to stay on a regular posting schedule. Stay tuned for overdue dispatches from Mui Ne beach. It appears that a few people accessed the first of them, but some sort of error in my database caused “Nam, the Would-be Dune Guide” to be lost in the ether. A subsequent battle with our connection sent me down a spiral of despair that I’ve since recovered from.