Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vinh Long Jan 30

I have no pictures or video of the trip to Vinh Long, mainly because I slept off and on through the trip, and also because my phone had a low battery.

However, I did get a few pics the first evening, when Alex met his Grandma and Grandpa.  Unfortunately, they are mostly out of focus.  I guess my iPhone was jetlagged also.

That's all for now.  I need to upload another batch of pics from my iPhone before the next update.
Oh, and I hate chickens.  They have no decency, and insist on making the most annoying screeching beginning at 4.00 in the morning, and continuing until everyone has given up on further sleep, and is awake and eating breakfast.

I hate chickens.  Except with basil.  Thai basil chickens are good.

Morning in the Market - Jan 30

I didn't mention, and I should have, very much about meeting family at the airport.  In brief, c.Thu (Tu's older sister) and a. Duy (older brother) met us there, with HyHuu (Alex's cousin).  So we had 30 minutes of hugging Alex and HyHuu, and Alex and HyHuu hugging each other, while we were trying to find a. Duy.  So, Alex was well-hugged and carried about between exiting the airport and entering the taxi to the hotel.  Tu was greeted well, and I got good handshakes and hugs also.  It was a very nice reception into the country.  Everyone should be welcomed like that.

So I said I wouldn't talk about the hotel.  I changed my mind.  It was just a brief stay-over, as we intended to travel to Vinh Long the day after arriving.  Tu asked if we should go to Vinh Long directly from the airport, but that is a 3 hour trip, and we landed at 10.30pm, local time.  So, no, we needed a night to rest.

Previously, we'd stayed in the family house in the market.  However, c. Thu and a. Son have upgraded from selling veggies, to being a full service quik-mart.  Since it is almost Tet (New Year), they have stocked up, and every available space in the house is filled with inventory.  There was room for us to sleep, but after lots of confusion, we ended up staying in a nearby hotel for the night, instead.

It was a very small room, the bathroom hadn't been cleaned properly, and it was a smoking room.  Tu couldn't sleep well (this, after a 30+ hour trip), Alex kept moving around on the bed, and as a result, I didn't sleep well either.  An aside: we keep Alex in bed with us, because once in Salt Lake City he actually fell off of the hotel bed.  So, he sleeps between us now.

We checked out at around 5 in the morning, which actually isn't that weird, being in the city.  Ho Chi Minh city starts to wake up around 4.30.  We checked out, and paid our 350,000d (exchange rate is 20,000d per US$) out of money I had left over from the last trip.  That left me with just enough currency to pay the taxi (another 30,000d).

We arrived at the market house just in time to catch a. Son opening up.  Because of space issues, he has actually expanded into the street in front of the house, and hangs a tarp from the awning over night, effectively creating a tent around his merchandise.  Upon asking, we learned that he sleeps there, to prevent mischief and thievery.

The tent was just coming down, so we dragged our carry-on and assorted other stuff through the maze made up of stacks of stuff to be sold, into the actual house itself.  More greetings followed, and we dug out our gifts from the boxes which had been deposited there overnight (and stored on the 3rd floor, where there was a little bit of space available).

For the next few hours, Alex played with HyHuu, and Tu caught up on news with c. Thu, and I wandered between the house and the market stall, taking pictures.

Alex and HyHuu playing in the main bedroom (2nd floor of house), with Tu and c. Thu looking on.

Close-ups of the back half of the market stall.  Top pic is to the left, bottom pic is to the right.  This area used to be a sort of family gathering area / parking for the motorcycles.  Now it's inventory.  If you look closely at the top picture, you can just barely see the metal railings (behind the decorated bags), behind which is the 2nd floor mini-balcony.

This is something of an example of the market.  I am shooting across the street, from in front of the family's stall.  It's still early in the morning, and not every stall is up and running yet, but we are already well into the morning rush.

c. Thu and Alex in front of the market stall.

Mid-morning, I saw a. Son putting on a shirt.  I told him he looked good (I said 'pretty', actually).  He laughed, and told me it was time to take HyHuu to school.  I guess my understanding of Vietnamese is getting better.  Not good enough though; after some confusion, and talking (in Vietnamese), and Alex fussing around, suddenly Alex was on the motorcycle with a. Son and HyHuu, and off they went.  Alex got to see HyHuu's school and meet everyone there.  He isn't in the country 24 hours, and already he's gone to school.

After this, c. Thu and Tu and Alex and I went to the coop-mart to get a few things.  Think of a wal-greens, with a grocery store attached.  Also, a sort of home goods and clothing store on top and (I think) a KFC on the side.  I have some video from the trip - you can find these all over YouTube, but this is useful, I think, to see what the traffic is like.  Unfortunately, my connection is too slow to post it here.  So imagine chaos.

Anyway, we got back to the house, and then I went with a. Son via motorbike to exchange some money and get lunch.  I should have taken video of that trip also - still scary, and this time from a motorcycle.  Maybe later.  We ate lunch, put all our boxes outside for the taxi, found out the taxi wasn't anywhere near, moved the boxes back inside (I managed to knock over several different stacks of merchandise), waited waited waited, then finally moved everything around the block to where the taxi was (finally), and the loading commenced.

I don't know how he did it, but the driver got 3 big boxes, all our carry-on stuff, Alex's car seat, and several more boxes of this and that, into the car with me and Alex and Tu and a. Duy.  We headed out of the city (a different way than usual), and 3 hours later, we were in Vinh Long.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


People are surprised when I tell them I'll be here for 4 weeks.  Granted, that sounds like a long time for a vacation, and it is, I supposed.  But anyone who comes from Asia, and visits occasionally, and they understand.  You do NOT go through what it takes to get here, and then just go back home again after 2 weeks.

So.  Up until 9.45pm packing and taping 5 large boxes (two of them over 40 pounds).  Up at 3.15am to load the truck and head to the airport.  Stop at Enterprise to drop the truck, and load the boxes on the bus.  Over to the terminal, and rent the carts to go to the American counter to check in.  No arguing about the free luggage, which is nice.  United always wanted to charge for baggage, even though international rules are different.

Down to security, which went well, actually, considering we have a backpack (backpack, backpack... backpack, backpack, thanks Dora) with sandwiches and fruits.  We have a computer case with, well, lots of stuff.  A car seat with a roller (which is nice, actually - we can drag Alex through the terminal), and we have our roller carry-on, with liquids.

Anyway, we get through quickly, and then onto the train to concourse A.  Back up to the gate, and getting on a little CRJ, seats A, and B-C, with a car seat in C for Alex.

Up in the air, and some 2.5 hours later, we land at LAX.

What can I say about LAX that isn't cursing?


Yeah, not much.  Tom Bradley International is under construction, sort of.  That means, we have to completely leave the domestic terminal, go outside, walk down the block, into B terminal, and go back through security all over again.  Whoever Tom Bradley is, he should be angry that they named this mess after him.  Security is worse this time - much more crowded, and only 2 lines open for scanning.

Once through, we get to the Korean Air gates.  They're kind of strange, but I guess they had to rework the gates to accommodate the A380.  They reprinted our boarding passes for no good reason, and then gave us permission to board first, which is nice.

Have you seen the A380?  It's huge.  Two stories front-to-back, and a 3-4-3 seating arrangement in coach.  The plane was new, and Korean Air is about 3 levels of service better than American Airlines.  When we boarded, nice calm music was playing.  An attendant personally showed us to our seats, and helped with our carry-ons.  There were pillows and blankets and headphones and slippers in our seats.

Every seat had a personal entertainment system where you could watch movies or TV at your leisure, play games, check flight information, or watch any of 3 plane-mounted cameras.  The tail view from the back to the front was pretty cool during take-off.

Take-off.  This huge thing required almost every foot of runway to get off the ground.  But it did, and the flight was ... horrible.  But only because it was almost 13 hours long.  All other aspects were above and beyond.  This was the first time I've ever had airline food which was actually good.  And they offered wine with the meals.  Also, for cocktails before the first meal.  Free.  I've never had free wine in coach.  Also, the Ginger Ale came in a special Korean version can.

Also, I think the flight attendants are paid in inverse relation to the amount of baby crying that occurs.  Honestly, I have *never* seen this behavior before - as soon as a baby starts crying, an attendant is there with something on-hand to help, and they stick around until the baby is quiet.

But the flight just goes on, and on, and on...... and on.  You try to sleep, but you just can't.  Alex was pretty good, and he tried to sort of slept off and on, as did we.  But there just wasn't any point in time where we really had a good rest.  Also, it never got dark.  Ever.  Having "The Little Engine That Could" and "Dora the Explorer" on the iPad helped.

We overflew Japan for some reason, but looking at the track, it makes sense.  We avoided going into North Korean airspace.  At any rate, the final hour flew by (see what I did there?) and we landed at Incheon in South Korea, and I was so happy, and tired, and we still had another flight to go.

Incheon airport is much more of a mall than an airport.  It may be that it was extra specially decorated due to the holidays; that notwithstanding, Incheon made LAX look like a dump.  No, LAX makes LAX look like a dump.  Incheon is what an airport should look like.  Alex had a fan club - some of the girls at one of the fashion shops waved and called out to him.  I had a very nice latte while waiting for the next flight, and it was the best latte I've had.  And I paid in USDollars - no need for currency exchange.  (Of course, that means I have no Korean currency as a souvenir - oh well).

Final flight was again on Korean Air, on a smaller A330.  We decided to check the car seat, since Alex seemed to do better *not* in it.  I'm glad we did.  It made planing and deplaning easier to endure.  The service to Vietnam was just as good, and those 5 hours weren't so bad, really.  Alex finally slept, and so did we... sort of.  Eventually we got to HoChiMinh city, and we were on the ground for good, at 10.30pm local time, the next day.  30 hours after we took off from Denver.

It's not like being tired or weary.  It's like being wrung through a machine that squeezed juice out of a stick of sugar cane.  You just want to fall over and not wake up for a long long time.  And yet, you're not done.

We gathered our stuff, sailed through customs, claimed our 5 boxes, and headed out into chaos.

 There had to be a thousand people milling around, waiting for people, waiting for taxis, waiting for no good reason at all, and everyone trying to be in the same place at the same time.  It was 80 degrees, with about 150 percent humidity, and we found half our greeting delegation forthwith, and didn't find the other half (with the transportation) for another 30 minutes.

We did finally get our taxi, everything loaded, and on our way.

We won't talk about the hotel.