Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Malaysia produces the second largest amount of palm oil in the world. This was pretty clear when crossing from Thailand into Malaysia, where massive palm plantations commenced. Along with plenty of rice fields. Also, the roads were wider, cleaner, more organized, and had much nicer medians, along with more cars and less motorcycles, after entering Malaysia.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Vietnam hacky sack

One day while walking around ho chi minh, we saw some kids kicking around in a group something that seemed like a hacky sack. Though it looked a bit different, as it was long and had feathers attached.

When eating lunch that day, a guy sitting next to us told us it was called Cao, and is one of the favorite sports of the Vietnamese, along with badminton and volleyball. They refer to it as a shuttlecock in english. It has a bit of a spring at the bottom and long feathers attached. According to wiki, the game is officially called Jianzi.

That night, as the sun set, we strolled through a large park and there were tons of groups of kids playing with these things, some of the in uniforms, like it was a league or something. A guy came up to us with a basket of them and tried to sell us some. So we bought three of them for 1 dollar apiece, each complete with a nice plastic tube for protecting it when not in use.

We decided to have some fun and try it out ourselves in our group of 3, a little ways away from the main action, even though we knew we'd look out of place. After only a few minutes, a young boy maybe 12 came over to join our circle and teach us some moves. We were hitting it off our chest (at least attempting to), and off the back of our foot. Then, two girls came over to join, making us 6. Then, two or three more came, and eventually we were a circle of 10 or 12 playing this game.

Its bloody hot and humid in vietnam, so after 45 minutes my shirt was soaked in sweat and I sat down exhausted. One of the girls came up and started to speak to me in basic English. After a few more minutes of playing, Mark and Dennis sat down. Soon, 3 others sat around me, first introducing themselves, and then all were all talking to me in English. And 4 or 5 more seemed to sit around Mark and Dennis. People came and went, joining our English chat circle.

Basically, all these kids, most of them between 17 and 21, really wanted to speak English. Some of them said they come here occasionally to find foreigners to speak with. They said their English teachers aren't the greatest, and that knowing English is one of the most important qualifications for their job prospects when they graduate.

I also got to learn a little bit about them. For example, one guy, who had graduated and started working at a construction company already, explained to me that since his family is from the south, all of his cousins now live in the US. A lot of the south supporters were granted asylum in the US. After the war, they were first sent to Minnesota, and now all live in Los Angeles. He said his cousin left when she was 4. When she came back to Vietnam recently, she was completely surprised, knowing how to speak Vietnamese but not really know how incredibly different of a place it is than the US. He also recently quit his job and took one month to travel to Thailand, which I sensed is a huge huge leap of faith as he elected not to tell his parents. He went for two month to live in a Vietnamese buddhist pagoda north of Bangkok. He also referred to Ho Chi Minh as Saigon, the south vietnamese name prior to the war. Another guy and girl were studying law, in their first year, and another girl studying accounting in her third. Apparently the cost of their education is about 400 dollars. To us, that seems like nothing, but they said for them it is really expensive. Amazing to know that with 400 USD you can get someone who needs it a University level education for a year. Small amount to us, huge to them.

I was very impressed with the serious enthusiasm and desire to learn English from these guys. I've never been to a place where I really felt people wanted to go out of their way to speak with me and learn English so much, and which in the end could be of so much use for their careers. Where only one hour of my time meant a lot to them. They had tons of questions to ask. I wanted to ask them more about their opinions of the war, but I sense it is a touchy subject, as the US pretty much mangled the country for several generations to come. These kids, however, were still enthusiastic that I was from the US, a native speaker that they could practice English with.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ho Chi Minh Motos

At first glance the traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is utter chaos. Looking out the front window of the bus bus as we left the airport, hordes of motorcycles crisscross the two lane road 5 or 6 across, in what looks more like a video game.

Taxes in Vietnam for automobiles are about 200 percent. Therefore, nearly all the vehicles in the city are motos (scooters and motorcycles). Motos are also fairly cheap, between one and two thousand dollars for a new one. In some ways, this lack of automobiles is a great thing. Traffic is always moving with the motorcycles, so there are few Los Angeles style traffic jams. They also move in and out of traffic and crevices with ease. The motorcycles take up less space, and thus can normally just park on the sidewalk. If the emissions of the motorcycles were controlled, this could also be better for controlling pollution. However, judging from the quantity of people wearing face masks, I doubt the emissions are controlled so much.

The first day as a pedestrian in Saigon was intimidating, but we adjusted quickly. Crossing the street initially seems scary or as if it will take forever to find a long enough gap. Rule number one is to be relaxed and steady. Don't run or dash. Step out onto the street. When there is a gap for a few seconds, begin your walk. Traffic sometimes comes from everywhere (on the street and sidewalk), so you need to keep your head scanning in both directions. Keep walking at a steady pace, and miraculously, all the motorcycles know exactly what to do and they will navigate around you, like a game of frogger except you win every time. The only trick is with cars...when they come, you may need to stop in the middle of the street until it passes, then proceed into the next gap. When you pass the double line in the middle of the road, you must quickly change your view to new oncoming traffic, whilst keeping your steady pace so they can accordingly adjust their driving path.

While it all seems utterly chaotic and dangerous, it isn't as bad as it looks. One of the big reasons it all works is that driver go slow everywhere. They have time to react, adjust, and change directions to drive around stopped vehicles or crossing pedestrians. One guy we met said that motorcycles bumping into each other is normal but accidents are few, and when they occur, not too bad.

You can also see nearly everything on a moto or being carried on a moto. Ladders, massive bags of miscellaneous crap, cabinets. And since the moto is a family vehicle, it is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 on one motorcycle. Five if you include the mom with the infant attached to her.

All in all, crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh is quite a fun experience :)

Motorcyle ponchos! Some of them even have two heads for two people and cover the handle bars.

Here we have 3 on one moto.

And this isn't even that impressive for the crap they manage to carry.
Bus driver view. I wonder how often the buses cream the motorcyclists

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


After a few weeks in Hong Kong and Thailand, I think I've seen more buddhas than in the rest of my life combined. In Hong Kong (like in a few places in Thailand), there is a Big Buddha at the top of a peak with a magnificent view and temple nearby.

The temple near the buddha.

Buddha flag

Typical to light 3 incenses

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


In Hong Kong Bonnie took us to a local place for breakfast porridge, which they call congee. Supposedly one of the best in HK. Small joint, very packed inside. Like a typical HK restaurant, chock full of people with not enough space to sit, so we sat down at the table across from a few other people already eating.

Dennis & I had Bonnie order for us.Out came the congee. This porridge is actually made of rice, and cooked for 10 hours or so. Inside the porridge was 'organs'. Specifically, that I could tell, were small sections of intestines, and livers that really looked exactly like a liver. Also, balls of fish and balls of mystery meat.

Needless to say, I wasn't a fan of the organs. Not exactly the jump-starting complement to your coffee (Nescafe blows HK coffee out of the water by the way, if that is even possible). In addition, the texture of the congee was very soup like and viscous. I'll pass on seconds.

The congee place on HK island

Monday, June 4, 2012


In Jordan I met a German guy at the hostel I stay ed at in Petra, and then went with him and two Dutch girls to Wadi Rum for a night in a Bedouin camp. He told me he was traveling for 4 or 5 months, with stops in Thailand and San Francisco. Never managed to get his contact information so I forgot about it.

Today Dennis & I arrived by boat from Ko Phi Phi island to the town of Krabi. While in Phuket, a Canadian girl recommended a hostel to us she stayed at in Krabi, so we went there after arriving at the Krabi pier. We checked in, and when we went into our dorm room, the germany guy was there! What odds of that!