Monday, 12 December 2011

Hà Giang Landscape

OK, time for some variety. Hà Giang not only has wonderful people, it also boasts a very impressive karst landscape. It's a rugged mountain landscape, characterised by conical mountain tops. The highland close to Dồng Văn is a good example, have a look at the Google Maps satellite image below.

Hà Giang View

Despite all that natural beauty, I did not take many landscape pictures, because it was permanently hazy throughout our trip. Leading to very boring even grey images. There were a few exceptions, where the haze actually lent a beautiful atmosphere itself. The shot above is an example.

It was taken at the green arrow in the satellite image below. It's taken in South East direction, so you'll need to move the map to see the mountains it depicts.


View Larger Map

On the map you can see the strange karst landscape in the highlands. Think Ha Long Bay without the water. Or, as far as I can judge from pictures, from the more famous karst in Yunnan, China. (The border to Yunnan is about 2mi away from this point.)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Picture Sharing 2

The camera is such a great prop. Especially someone else's.

Flattered

We had lunch at this place in Dồng Văn in Hà Giang province in the far north of Vietnam. One of the cooks was very photogenic. With 4 photographers, someone is bound to ask and get a shot. And show it to her, on the back of the camera.

Which is the moment I captured. She's shy but flattered, looking at her fresh portrait.

Technical: The lighting is simple - all natural, from the open shop front on the left. Classic window lighting I guess, but in a fairly dark room.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Picture Sharing

I've been posting a lot of what could have been posted on this blog to Google+. I will catch up and repost and expand some of those posts here.

Digital Photography

One of my favourite images from the Hà Giang trip.

It captures one of the best things about it - the joy of digital photography not just to the photographer but also to the subjects. Whenever we turned around the camera to show our (their) shots, the smiles just beamed. It turned the one-way click of the shutter to real contact. And that usually rubbed off on the rest of the shots.

I tried to capture this many many times, but only this one worked. I simply tried until luck struck, and all faces lined up just right.

I hope to go back one day, and give some of my subjects a print. (No, that is not entirely altruistic:-)

Like the next post, this also shows what a great prop a camera can be - especially the back of someone else's camera. More to come!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Hà Giang Portrait

I spent a week on a phototour in Hà Giang province, in the far north of Vietnam. This area is very remote, very poor, has impressive scenery, and is not at all touristy. The most amazing aspect for me were the people though. So I'll start my Hà Giang series with a portrait.

Hà Giang Portrait

This man waved us in when we walked past his shop and invited us to a cup of green tea. (This turned out to be quite common - we had lots of green tea. And rice wine.) I asked him in my best Vietnamese whether he grew the tea himself. He said so, and then showed us the tea in a big store bought container. I'm still unsure whether he misunderstood me due to my bad (and Southern) pronunciation or simply recycled the container for his own tea.

After we drank the tea, I asked him whether I could take his picture. He smiled and looked into the camera.

Often, the first shot is a stiff unsmiling pose, requiring more attempts before I get a smile or relaxed pose (of which more later). Not so in this case. One shot, and I knew I did not need more.

Edited to add technical info: natural light, short telephoto. He is sitting in the shade, just inside his shop, facing the very sunny street. The shop entrance acts as a huge soft box.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hospitality

OK, I'm seriously behind on this blog... This is from last June, close to Sa Pa in North Vietnam.

Chúc sức khỏe!

Sa Pa (or Sapa) is fairly touristy, known for the rice terraces and colourfully dressed ethnic minorities. But the vast majority of tourists stay a few days only, and never venture far from the town. I stayed longer and one of the things I did was a 'homestay' with a Red Dao family about 30km (20mi) south of Sapa. They are guided hikes (guide mandatory), in this case to a remote village, where you stay at a local family's home. The guide had a hard time finding the place, evidently never having been there before. He also kept moaning about the lack of night life.

The house was a farm of a Red Dao family. Think one big room, mud floor, wooden partitions. Chickens roaming around. One entire extended family (3 generations, including an infant and two toddlers).

Initially, I felt very uncomfortable, thinking I was taking their best bed (I didn't). Matters did not improve when my guide used their kitchen to make a meal just for us, using our own ingredients.

But after our dinner, the landlord killed a chicken - evidently a party was in order. And I was invited. I could not decline (though my guide stupidly decided to seek out the non-existent local night-life). And I am happy I didn't - I was really made to feel welcome, and had a really great time.

I ate little of the meal (one dinner is generally enough for me). But I could not decline the rượu (rice brandy). Which was served at incredible speed. Fill all glasses. Double handed handshake, say 'chúc sức khỏe' (wishing good health), clink, and bottoms up. Refill and repeat. When I started to try and slow down, they insisted - it'd make me sleep well. I explained in my best Vietnamese that with a little, I'd sleep well, but too much and I wouldn't sleep at all. Which luckily did the trick. I could take the tempo down to a sip per round, rather than bottoms up.

All of this ended at 8, when the entire family watched a Vietnamese soap opera on TV (the fruits of running a home stay?). At 9, everyone was in bed. Except the landlord who decided to repair his motorcycle. Lots of clinking sounds, but I have my doubts as to the results.

The alarm clock (rooster) went off a 4:30, and by 5:15 everyone was in the fields, working. Except for the landlord, who looked a bit worse for wear.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Perfect Camera

More fog

The perfect camera does not exist. There is no camera with the control and quality of a medium format technical camera, the versatility, handling, low light performance and responsiveness of a DSLR, and with the ease of use, size and cost of a point and shoot. So the name of the game is compromise. You will have to sacrifice some less important features to get the ones that are important to you.

My Compromise

I already have a nice DSLR and I love it. But have found it has one big drawback. It is too big and heavy, and too conspicuous to have on me all the time. So I miss shots because it is at home. To fill that gap, I wanted a small truly pocket-able camera, with good quality, decent low light performance, and most of the control that my DSLR gives me. For me, the Canon S95 perfectly fills that gap. (The new S100 which is soon to come would probably be even better.)

Pros:

  • small and light (easily slips in a trouser or shirt pocket)
  • excellent picture quality in most circumstances
  • decent low light performer, helped by image stabilisation and an f/2.0 lens (though only at wide angle)
  • shoots RAW, and has all the controls I need (PASM modes, plus the usual scene modes)
  • clever controls, such as the dial around the lens, partly make up for a shortage of dedicated buttons
  • good 720p HD video

Cons:

  • small (so hard to hold well)
  • short battery life
  • no focusing and only digital zoom during video
  • no viewfinder (which would help better framing)
  • not as fast or responsive as a DSLR
  • not as good in low light as a DSLR

Competitors like the Canon G12 (which has the same sensor), Nikon P7000, Olympus XZ-1 and Panasonic LX5 reduce these drawbacks. But they're bigger, would not fit in a jeans pocket, and would be at home much more often.

The same holds even stronger for the compact system cameras (such as the Olympus PEN, Panasonic G, Nikon 1, and Sony NEX families): they get quite close to a DSLR in quality and versatility, but in a small package. But they're not cheap, and not small enough to have always with me (jeans pockets!).

Which is why the S95 is the best compromise for me as a second camera. Together with a DSLR it does almost all I want, and the overlap (where both work fine) is remarkably big! (The shot above was taken with it.)

Your Compromise

Your best camera will depend on what you want to do with it, on your budget, and on what you already have. Assuming you are serious about photography, here are some suggestions.

If you want one small camera to do it all, but jeans pocket size is not a requirement, and you can afford it, then the Olympus, Panasonic or Sony compact system cameras may be the ticket. I suspect (but may be proven wrong) that the Nikon 1 won't have the image quality for these users.

If you are less concerned about size, go for a DSLR. If it's your first, pick the brand your friends have.

If you are thinking of a Fuji X100, a Leica M, or some other "niche" camera, you should know why they are the best for you and should not need advice like this:-)

For second cameras, think of the S95 and the competitors I mentioned above, but also your iPhone, or a standard point and shoot. Any new smart phone or recent point and shoot will take great pictures in most circumstances. Consider saving the money for lenses for your first camera.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Street Portraits

Shoe Salesman

For street scenes I am quite happy to take candid shots. But for "close" people shots like this one I generally don't like sneaking the shot when they are unaware. Nor do I like just shoving the camera in someone's face and taking their picture. Which leaves me one option: ask for permission.

Asking a stranger may sound like a daunting prospect. Until recently, I was a bit apprehensive too. But a trip to a market here got me over that.

First of all - just do it, it truly isn't that hard. Hardly anybody minds being asked, and you will be surprised at how many people are fine with being photographed.

It is easier if you go with a few other photographers. And it is a lot easier in a place like District 4 in Ho Chi Minh City. Formerly notorious as the 'mafia' area in the city, it is still poor. But the people are amazing. Hospitable, friendly, and many are even eager to be photographed. Nice combo with a rich crop in characters and photogenic faces.

Vietnam is a good place in general for people photography for these same reasons, especially outside touristy areas. People like being photographed, and they make for good subjects. And they easily engage with you, making for quite natural portraits. I've had very little trouble with badly posed and stiff pictures here. The only sometimes annoying habit is the V sign. But some people pull that off too:-)

Hi! More Later!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Creative Driving

Fully Loaded

Just got into a horrific traffic jam in a taxi here. 10 minutes, no movement. The driver had gotten out pretty quickly, and as it turned out, not just to chat. He was negotiating with the two lines of parked trucks that locked us in to make some space, so he could move two lanes over. The next barrier was a 1-foot high curb, but nothing a few wood blocks could not overcome. With some directions from other drivers he got over that too, onto the clear slip road. What do you mean, traffic jam, and locked in by trucks?

Sunday, 28 August 2011

More Hoi An

Looong overdue post... So let's catch up. Hội An first.

Hoi An Lanterns

It's a UN Heritage site, and totally overrun by tourists and tourism. But I think it still retains a lot of its charm. Yes, there are about 15,000 shops selling lanterns (at about $2) or making shoes or clothing to order (avoid the cheapest ones - you get what you pay for). But those lantern shops are really pretty at night. The town somehow still has something magical.

River sunset

And great food - probably the best we've found in Vietnam so far. Avoid the waterfront though. We really liked 'Morning Glory'.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Hoi An

From a recent trip to Hoi An (which we loved):

In the lap of luxury

Maybe the great hotel had something to do with it.

But the town itself was very nice too. It somehow survives the deluge of tourists and the multitude of souvenir shops and keeps some character. And the food was amazing (the Cao Lau here is a must).

Highly recommended.

(I think the above shot works because of the low position - inches above the water. That way the pool runs all the way to the horizon.)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Lost in Translation II

Bananas!

Fancier places in Vietnam (like pretty much anywhere I have been) will play piped music. And like elsewhere, the music is sourced from a small number of services. So you'll hear the same music in several places.

In the past week I heard the same play list in two different places, played by electronic piano and synthesizer orchestra. These are a few typical songs, in no particular order: Yesterday, Woman in Love, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Bridge over Troubled Water, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Yes, this post is written in May.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Lost in Translation

Maitre d' in an expensive resort: "Will you be having diner with us tonight?"
My wife: "Yes, could we make a reservation for 7 on the terrace?"
M: "Yes. There is also space inside."
W: "We'd like to dine on the terrace."
M: "Or we could set a table at the fireplace."
W: "No, we'd like to eat outside."
M: "We can also arrange a private room for you."
W: "No, thank you, we prefer eating outside."
M: "Where would you like to eat?"

The attentive reader may be able to guess the response.

Another one, another night, same place:
Me, walking in around dinner time: "Could I see a menu please?"
Waiter: "Excuse me, what is your room number?"

Or this one:
My wife: "Is there a special menu tonight?"
Waiter: "Excuse me, what is your room number?"
Me: "1301"
Waiter: "let me check." [Disappears and returns a little later] "No, tonight is only à la carte."
My wife: "Ah, so no menu tonight".
Waiter: "No, only à la carte. Or you can order a set menu."

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Paying Bills

A much delayed blog post, but what do you want with this subject. Also, the picture is only tenuously related to bill payment (I think she is doing inventory, or maybe invoices:-) but this post needed some colour.

Keeping count

Paying bills involves - of course - motorcycles. Every month, men on motorcycles show up with the new telephone, electricity or TV bill. They hand it over, you give them the cash, they write a receipt, and that's that. If you happen to be away, you have to go pay in person at the utility company's offices.

I suspect that electronic transfers may not yet be totally feasible as an alternative to pay bills. First, you have to figure out the bank branch code for the payee's bank account, which of course is an unknown quantity to them or to their call centre. So you call your bank, who will then investigate and call you back an hour later. Then you set up the payee, and make the electronic transfer, listing your account details.

Sometimes that works.

I recently paid one bill in my wife's name. I made the payment from our joint bank account, listing her name in the message for the transfer. A few days later, they called my wife and informed her the payment had been returned, apparently because it came from me and not from her. After more quality time with call centres I have decided to go pay in person and in cash tomorrow. The company and industry in which it operates shall remain unnamed.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Deliveries

Now living in a much bigger place than our "cosy Victorian cottage" in London, we bought a desk, a sofa, and a bigger TV. I guess nobody reading this blog (or living in Vietnam) will be surprised at the mode of delivery.

Drive your darling home

Admitted, the motorcycle for the sofa was a three-wheeled pick-up contraption.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship

With a new house there are - of course - some things that need fixing. Such as a broken water heater in the kitchen. The process was a little more involved and more interesting than I expected.

Day 1, a technician diagnosed the problem: the on/off switch had burned out. (Interestingly, the wires were disconnected from the burned out switch and neatly capped off.)

Day 2, another technician confirmed the diagnosis, and took out the burned part of the switch.

Day 3, a third technician came to install the replacement part. He took the cover plate off, and then asked if he could use my sandals. I did a double take, and then realised that he was planning to install the switch on live wires with only the protection of the rubber soles of my sandals. He declined the offer to switch off power, and expertly installed the switch. Wearing my sandals. Impressive, and a little scary. Do not try this at home.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Moving

Our stuff finally arrived from London last week, and we have moved into our permanent place. Finally out of our hotel - sorry, serviced apartment.

Loaded

OK, our move did not quite look like this. Though it was not quite what I was used to.

At previous moves, I have seen two Dutchmen, four Mexicans, three Polish-Australians, and four English show up. The same move packed by four English in two days was unloaded and unpacked in a little over two hours by ten Vietnamese.

Admitted, the unpacking did not result in a single sensibly ordered closet anywhere. But nothing broke, as far as we have seen, and nothing's missing.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Don't Wait...

for a better opportunity. In photography, I mean. (No life lessons on this blog.) Take it when you can. If you get a better opportunity later, you can always chuck the first shot. If not, at least you got it.

Chicken in Bamboo Street

For example, the above shot is of a random chicken on the street in Hanoi. It now serves as a meagre surrogate for the rooster that used to sit on the street corner opposite the Intercontinental Hotel in HCMC. The story would have been so much better...

Friday, 11 March 2011

Ho Chi Minh City House Hunt Highlights

In anticipation of ending (finally) our house hunt, here are some highlights, accompanied by a few quick snaps. If all goes well we will be taking possession of the keys to our house here tomorrow, and move out of temporary accommodation next week.

First, a house is called a villa here. And many do have definite White House aspirations. For example, two-story columns on the front.



Other favourites include the sweeping spiral stairway in the living room and 15ft ceilings.



Then there are the quirky design features. Such as a swimming pool in the living room.



This house also was a beautiful design with a curved glass wall on one side (left in the picture). Would have been very beautiful and light and if the house would have been built more than a foot away from the neighbour's house.

But my favourite was the very airy house with the round atrium in the middle reaching all the way to a large round skylight in the roof. No doors, and all rooms give out on this central space. Very nice. Especially the fountain with the three nymphs and multi-coloured lighting on the ground floor.



We went for something slightly more restrained.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Circling

Another spiral stairwell

Simple tip to improve your photography, in two parts:
  1. shoot more;
  2. show only the best.
For example, I took the above shot because I liked the curve and lighting of this spiral stairwell in the atrium of a hotel. I also took 27 other shots of the same stairwell. From the 6th floor down to the 3rd floor; from straight down to oblique angles; from below; with people on it, etc. Some of these 27 are OK, some are horrible, and most are boring. None are as good as this one, and none will ever be shown.

Why does this work (for me)?

Trying all these different angles helps me hone in on the 'best' angle. Some people just walk around their subject and look, and then take one shot. Some take even more shots than I do. But you'll get many more good shots by giving your subject a good look first. Experience (by shooting a lot) also helps of course.

And only showing the best gives me slightly better odds of not looking like an idiot with a too-expensive camera.

Oh, and in case you think this is very clever - this approach is far from original.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A Wired Nation

A wired nation

This is quite typical for Ho Chi Minh City. Frenetic traffic and scary wiring (sometimes with loose ends dangling onto the sidewalk).

And it has its foibles. We can attest to the value of a generator, after four power cuts today... Correction, make that five.

I will be shopping for a UPS, because even a good generator leaves a few seconds of no power. Laptops are fine. External drives and routers, not so much.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Hanoi


Hồ Hoàn Kiếm
Sword lake.


Last week, we spent a few days in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. More dignified, stylish, charming, and less frenetic than Saigon. Though not nearly as tranquil as this shot may make it appear. And traffic may be less busy than Saigon, that is compensated for by a more aggressive driving style. Less busy, but in the end, scarier.

I did not spend as much time looking around as I wanted to, distracted as I was by some offerings to the porcelain god. So for now only a few superficial impressions and comparisons to Ho Chi Minh City.

First and foremost, Hanoi is a lot better in maintaining its history. The old town still has many French colonial buildings, and the entire district is still laid out as before - organised by guild (Cotton Street, Bamboo Street, Fish Street, etc.) with really narrow and long 'tube houses'. Nice to see that not everything is being torn down for yet another gleaming highrise.

Hanoi is almost 2 hours flying north. It is less sunny and a lot colder at this time of year (18°C vs. 34°C ‐- or 65F vs. 94F).

Finally, a little opinion: the people in HCMC seem a little friendlier and laid back, while the food is heartier up north (more meat, more deep fried, a little less fruit and veg).

Saturday, 26 February 2011

How did the chicken cross the road?

Never mind why...

Long Load

Crossing a road in a city in Vietnam, even on a green pedestrian light, is at first intimidating. Rules of the road do not appear to apply. Bikes run red lights, go up one way streets, or take to the sidewalk (pavement). Or all at the same time.

But in fact it is not very hard, or (apparently) very dangerous. Just go, and go slow and steady. Especially steady. As long as you keep going at the same slow pace, a path will magically open for you in even the densest oncoming wave of bikes, and traffic will flow smoothly around you. Takes a bit of confidence at first, but it works very well.

And whatever you do, do not run, abruptly stop, or change direction. Confuse one driver, and there maybe trouble.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Expat Life on Sunday

Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm

Well, not really. More like eating an enormous buffet brunch at one of the big hotels.

Last week we tried the Dim Sum at the Intercontinental. Excellent, all made to order, and a great deal. For Londoners: think Royal China on the Queensway, unlimited, for ten quid ($15) a person. In the Intercontinental.

And this week the Italian buffet at the Park Hyatt. Very good, unlimited Prosecco, but at a price level closer to London than Saigon.

You can guess how the remainder of the afternoon is spent.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Spiritual Bali: Tirta Empul

We caught little glimpses of the spiritual side of Bali everywhere. The most visually clear example was the ritual bathing of the faithful before entering Pura Tirta Empul (the Clear Water Spring Temple).

Purification

In the foreground you can see the heads of some people in the long line for the spouts.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Quiet Bali: Rice Fields

Once you get off the road, Bali is quiet and beautiful. This was down a little alley and a fifteen minute walk through the rice paddies from the centre of Ubud (with its 80,000 shops).

Rice fields

And this is one of the (somewhat rare) places where you have a view from the road, in Tegalagang:

Rice Terraces

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Beautiful Bali: Damselfly

Damselfly

I took this in the pool in Bali. It wasn't as hard as it may seem. These flowers dropped in the pool all the time, and they attracted the little damselfly (it's about an inch long). The pool had a slight current towards the drain, so all I had to do is be ready with my camera in the pool, downstream, and wait till they drift by. That way I did not startle them and got quite close.

Minor disadvantage: without sun screen, you get a nasty sunburn when you spend a lot of time in the pool. Especially when you start out as pasty white as I was. (I turned a beautiful crimson red afterwards.)

UPDATE: I believe this is a Blue Tailed Damselfly, and it sits on a Frangipani flower.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bali

Overdue post! We're back from Bali - the long Tết holiday is over.

Welcome to Bali

On a bike tour, in the rice fields, this happy fellow elaborately welcomed us to Bali, making a point of mentioning that we were welcome irrespective of our faith. When I asked to take a picture, he insisted that my wife be in it too. When seeing the result, he exclaimed "I am handsome" and welcomed us once more. That's when I snapped this.

Bali was not quite what we expected. Gorgeous luxury hotels, check. Beautiful, quiet and spiritual, kind of.

Beautiful whenever you get away from the road - it seems pretty much all significant roads are lined with shops. The 40km (25mi) drive from Jimbaran to Ubud was at least 80% lined with shop after shop. Half of the rest was other buildings. Leaving little view of the landscape.

Quiet, not so much. What do you want with a population of about 4 million on 5633 square km (2175 sq mi) that derives 60% of its income in tourism? (That's more densely populated than the Netherlands, the UK, or any US state by a good margin.)

Spiritual, yes. Bali is Hindu, and every compound has its little shrine, every village has three temples, and religion and rituals pervade every action. Just don't expect to find 'Eat, Love, Pray' on your holiday:-)

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Tet

Almost ready for Tet

Tet is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It coincides with Chinese New Year. And it totally closes Ho Chi Minh City down. The government in fact declared a 6-day holiday, from January 31 through February 7. Everyone celebrates with their family, and most shops and restaurants are closed down for most of the week too. We were advised to get out for a break.

So we decided to slum it out and go to Bali for the week. I am writing this from the poolside of our private villa there. Life is hard...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Rain in the Dry Season?

This was supposed to be the (relatively) cool and dry month of January, well into the dry season. Clear skies and no rain. Well, I've seen clear blue skies only once since arriving - this morning. And both yesterday and this afternoon it rained... Not much, more like an English drizzle than tropical rain, but still. Global warming?

Still Raining

This is a shot from last October in Singapore, but it could have been taken here yesterday:-)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Australia Day

Yesterday, we went to the Australia Day event here in Ho Chi Minh City, sponsored by the Australian Chamber of Commerce. There was a slight shortage of Australians (maybe because it was 4 days early?). And that included the entertainment:

Australia Day

Juram and His Band, I believe. Not bad at all, by the way.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Vietnamese Coffee

I am surprised there is no Starbucks here yet. Vietnam must be the perfect country for them - there really is a coffee house culture. And it is not limited to a coffee: breakfast buffet, lunch menu, cakes, ice cream, you name it. They're places to hang out, and to see and be seen.

Luckily, most have true Vietnamese coffee - a slow drip, brewed at your table, and very strong. A bit like Turkish coffee without the deposit (I am probably insulting two countries now). You can get it hot, but also iced, which means you also get a glass of ice to poor the coffee over. Tasty. In almost all places, you also get free and endless supply iced tea. Though once I got hot tea with my hot coffee; the rest of the place got ice tea with their cold drinks.

Vietnamese Coffee

To get back to Starbucks: the biggest chain (Highlands Coffee) is very similar to Starbucks. Espresso drinks only (allegedly they have drip coffee, but they are always out), about $2 - $3. Not the best place for local colour (though it is filled with locals). My favourite chain is Trung Nguyen (eight different roasts of Vietnamese coffee, and cool places) but I also like trying all the independent places. Spoilt for choice.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Ho Chi Minh City Rush Hour

In case you đid not think the Saturday night traffic was manic, here's a shorter video of rush hour traffic.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

For those who follow me: Smart Phones (Part 1)

The good news: you can get 3G data on your smart phone, even on a prepaid account (which is all you can get without bank account etc.). And it is cheap. Data charges are about $12 for 3.5GB at decent speed, and are capped at about $25 (all per month). Calls are about $0.06/min. Call quality and data speeds here seem comparable to the UK, if not better.
The bad news: adding these services is done by sending multiple SMSes to a service number, or dialing odd numbers like **61*980#. Instructions are an outdated and Google Translated Vietnamese text and/or depend on the (helpful) local operator staff. Keep Google Translate handy for the responses from the system:-) The opposite approach to the endless different calling plans on offer in the UK, but equally complicated and intimidating.

Then I kept receiving Vietnamese invites to gamble on UK Premier League matches, and pop-ups with live Entertainment news. A Google search found this, which solved the problem. (It is a SIM Application; on my phone at Settings > Phone > SIM Applications > LiveInfo.)
Getting voice mail going is an ongoing battle. So that'll be part 2.

To lighten up matters, I'll end with a nice picture of the traffic here. This one's from last October (rainy season).

Cyclist in the rain

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Night Traffic

Here is a slightly too long video of Saturday night traffic in Ho Chi Minh city centre. Lots of families coming to see the lights for the upcoming Lunar New Year (Tet). This is not nearly as manic as rush hour:-)

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Electronics Shopping

Went shopping for some electronics last week. Not quite the same as stepping into Curry's or Best Buy.
Elegant shopper

At the entrance you will be greeted by some multimedia system proving there is an 11 on the volume knob. For example, I bought a mobile phone at Wonderbuy, where I had to shout over a well attended screening of King Kong.

The phone then turned out to come with a case of Heineken, a tombola ticket, and a scratch ticket. No luck, only a sponge was added to the beer. I didn't take the offered opportunities to share the case with the locals on the way home. Another missed opportunity to integrate...

At Nguyen Kim it was a battle scene of Pearl Harbour making any communication other than with hand and feet impossible. At least it drowned out all the big screen TVs also blaring at 100% volume.

Paying and picking up the goods is also an interesting event, involving multiple tickets and receipts, and usually three different counters (select, pay, and pick-up). Luckily I've always found someone speaking decent English.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Good Morning Vietnam!

I have relocated to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Good Morning Vietnam!

I will be posting some of my experiences in this vibrant and exciting country, together with some pictures. I may even try to incorporate some general photographic stuff...

I am looking forward to spending an exciting time here!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Goodbye UK, Goodnight London

After a long break from blogging, I am going to give it another go. This post is a little overdue - I am no longer a Dutchman in London. But here's an 'announcement' anyway.

Goodbye UK!
Leaving

And Goodnight London
Good Night London...