The Good Life, Vietnam Style

I’ve been in Mui Ne a few days now and have enjoyed it. It isn’t very busy this time of year and it shows. The area seems built for much larger crowds than what are currently here. There is also lots of construction going on.

I’ve eaten better here than I have in ages. There are several seafood restaurants in Mui Ne which offer selections caught that day. Last night I had a grilled squid, a HUGE tiger prawn which was basically a small lobster, and two clams. With two drinks the total price was $8. The clams were 2000 dong apiece, or about 12 cents. The squid was 40,000 or about $2.30. Even in Phuket, I paid waaay more for seafood than I’m paying here. A meal like this almost anywhere else would be over $50.

I’m typing this at a bar with wifi about 30 feet from the beach. The waves are unusually strong today and no one is out kiteboarding. There are an abnormal number of people here with laptops. I think I counted a dozen in one bar alone the other day. A lot of Russians here also, which I haven’t encountered on my trip before.

I’ll be here one more full day tomorrow before heading up the road to Nah Trang for a few days.

I’ve been doing a lot of updates via Twitter while I’ve been here. If you want to follow along on the smaller things I have to say, you can follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook, where my messages show up as my status.

Another reminder about the contest. If you are reading this via email or RSS, please check below this post for how to send in your first entry for the contest. If you are not following via RSS or email, DO IT NOW.

Happly Hotelier Interview

Just a quick update from a bar in Mui Ne, just a few feet from the beach while eating fresh grilled squid and drinking a Tiger beer (my life sucks doesn’t it?)

An interview with Happy Hotelier, a European travel blog, has just been posted. You should check it out. It covers a lot of big picture things which I don’t usually address on my site because I’m too busy in the minutia of traveling.

Mind on Mui Ne, an Mui Ne on my mind

I’m finally out of Saigon and on the beaches of Mui Ne.

It is like most any seaside tourist village. Restaurants, bars, hotels, tour booking services, and the occasional communist party flag. I wonder if Karl Marx was thinking of seaside time shares when he wrote the Community Manifesto?

The road of Vietnam is an order of mangitude better than in Cambodia. That being said, the buses are still really slow. Nothing really moves that fast on the road because the motorbikes slow everything down.

The bus I took from Saigon to Mui Ne is a sleeper bus. I’ve never seen anything like it. The “seats” are actually closer to beds. You lie down and at best can put your set in an upright position. It is very hard to get in and out of the seat. I was on the bottom bunk which meant that I was basically sitting on the floor. The top bunk looked to be even worse to get in and out of.

I went into Dong shock when I paid my guesthouse bill this morning. After whipping out my trusty iPod calcualtor, I realized that I was only paying $21 a night, and that included the price of my visa renewal and my bus ticket all the way up to Hanoi. It is just bizzare to have to pay over a million of anything.

After purchasing my new laptop, as if on cue, Wells Fargo suspended my debit card. Wells Fargo still sucks. (However, to their credit, this was the best experience I’ve had with them fixing the problem)

I am thinking of completing my life long goal of windsurfing while in Mui Ne, and by “life long” I mean I saw a sign on the way into town.

Oh, and for those of you who were curious, I have an answer for the age old question: Charlie does in fact surf.

So, I got a new computer

The laptop I’ve had with me since the start of my trip is in pretty rough shape. It is dented, the batteries (both) are pretty much shot and can’t carry a charge, the track pad doesn’t work anymore, and there are large openings in the case. I also think ants live inside of it.

In addition to all of that, the power supply is falling apart. Yesterday, I couldn’t get electricity to charge the computer. It had been getting to the point where I’d have to jiggle the cable to make it charge, but it finally just died.

I found an authorized Apple reseller just two blocks from here to check out getting a new power supply and battery. They don’t just do swaps for items which don’t work. I might be able to do that at a real Apple store, but that doesn’t seem to be the policy in Vietnam. The cost for a new power supply (the cord and the brick) and a battery were close to $400, which seems outrageous for what I’d be getting.

My hope was to keep my laptop hanging on till I got back to the US and get a new one, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. I was faced with the same dilemma you have when you have a crappy car. Keep pouring money into an old car, which you know you will have to replace, or get a new one. $400 for a power brick and a battery is almost the cost of a cheap windows laptop. I decided to bite the bullet and get one of the new MacBook Pros here in Saigon (oh yeah, I’m still in Saigon. I realized too late it would be easier to extend my visa here, so that took and extra two days).

I didn’t want to buy a new computer, so I wasn’t totally happy with the decision, but I sort of had to. The new MacBook Pros are nice. Many of the problems I had with my old one are addressed with the new design. The holes in my case wouldn’t exist with the new unibody “brick” construction method for the cases. My screen wouldn’t be as dirty if I had a glossy screen with glass. The keyboard wont get as dirty because the case seamlessly fits between the keys. The new trackpad, even though it has problems, should avoid the issues I had with my old one breaking. It is also faster and the hard drive is twice as large.

They also gave me a free 160gb USB external hard drive.

Most importantly it is slightly lighter and produces MUCH less heat. I used to almost burn myself if I had my computer on my lap. Now it just gets warm.

I’m going to send my old computer back home. It still functions and will function better indoors with less threat of moisture getting inside the holes in the case. It would work fine if you had an external keyboard, mouse and monitor…which is exactly what I might use it for in the future.

The Election From Overseas

I get asked this question so frequently, I figured I should write about it. I try to avoid talking about politics because I think there are things in the world so much more important and interesting. Also, lets face it, you can only end up pissing people off when you talk about politics. This post isn’t intended to be preachy, just to answer some questions of how I have viewed the election play out over the last 18 months from outside of the US.

Did I Vote?

No. For the first time in my adult life, I did not vote. I am not losing any sleep over it either.

For starters, I’m not sure I’m legally eligible to vote anywhere. I’m no longer a resident of Minnesota. My drivers license is from Wisconsin, but I didn’t stay in Wisconsin long enough after I sold my house to be considered a resident (I think). I’m sure if I had wanted to, I could have cast a vote in Wisconsin and no one would have been the wiser, but I saw no need to go out of my way to do it. If the electoral vote is close, and Wisconsin ends up in a tie, I’ll get more joy from seeing that than if I had voted. Besides, I always vote for third party candidates, so my vote wont be missed. Unlike many people, voting doesn’t make me feel good and I don’t get a cheap thrill about being part of the democratic process. (I would have voted if I could vote for “No” or “None of the Above”)

I felt the choices this year were between the douche and the turd sandwich. My politics lean libertarian. I think Bush has been a horrible president. That, however, does not make me like Obama. The messianic following that Obama has developed is frightening. McCain I think has only one real policy, and that is becoming President of the United States. Him calling Obama a socialist makes me wonder where he has been for the last eight years as his party has increased spending across the board, more than Clinton….oh, and the small issue of nationalizing the banks, which is one of the most socialist steps taken by any president in American history.

For the first and only time in my life, I donated money to a political candidate this year, so it isn’t as if I’m totally detached. But I in no way can justify casting a vote for the lesser of two evils. I don’t see a Maverick or change. When people tell me I should vote, it is almost always couched in terms of the other guy being bad, not their guy being good. Arguments about the other guy being bad are not mutually exclusive with each other. I have Republican and Democrat friends and can go easily between the two worlds. I’m from a conservative part of Wisconsin, but went to a liberal, Liberal Arts college. I can listen to Rush Limbaugh and read the Huffington Post, and filter out the crap from both sources without getting all worked up about it. Politics really just doesn’t do it for me.

That being said, more random thoughts on the election:

*As a traveler, in my own selfish way, who would probably do the most for me? Probably Obama. I am often asked if I get any anti-American feedback from people. The answer is a qualified no. Locals never do, and if anything, being an American is a plus. I did have a few Australians and European travelers who have been snotty, but that’s it. If we elect a black Democrat, it will shut them up, which will make life a bit easier for me.

*From a travel standpoint, the changes to border laws for travelers and mind bogglingly stupid rules at airports have made life difficult. Whatever rule we make tends to be followed by everyone else in lockstep. The US is now going to require citizens of the UK (our biggest ally) to apply for a visa to enter the US. This make no sense and is not necessary. I have no faith that an Obama administration will really change anything, however. Once power has been granted, you almost never see it go away. Those who hate Bush, now that one of theirs is in power, will think that the power is in safe hands, forgetting what all the Republicans have now learned: the power you grant will one day wind up in the hands of your opponents.

*Of the American I have met while traveling, I have met ZERO McCain supporters. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I’m not even leaving one out so I can exaggerate the point.

*Locals I have met have a detached interest in what is happening, but don’t really seem to have any preference. People in Indonesia asked a lot about Obama, because he spent a few years there growing up. It had nothing to do with policies, just having some tenuous link to a candidate was enough. I think the rest of the world is simply fascinated with our process and how complex it is. I never realized how complex it was until I had to explain primaries, party conventions, picking a VP, and the electoral college.

*I am often asked if I can keep up with what is happening. Not only is the answer yes, but it is often hard to get away from it. I have decided that it isn’t so much that Americans are ignorant of the rest of the world, it is that we suffer from the same problems as the rest of the world: a fixation with America.

*Many Europeans I meet, who think that Americans are ignorant with the rest of the world, really don’t know much about the US. Many don’t know the number of states. When I say where I’m from, I always have to add “It’s in the middle, near Canada”. I love shocking people because they assume I don’t know anything about where they are from. I met a man from Melbourne last night at a bar. I asked him if he knew who won the Melbourne Cup (a horse race on a par with the Kentucky Derby which tool place yesterday) and how Australia was doing the Rugby League World Cup. He was stunned :)

This ends my political programming.