Archive for August, 2009

As I’m sure all of you know by now…

The seventh seal has been broken.

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/Dispatch/market-dispatches.aspx?post=1241188&GT1=33002

Discuss.

Gundam Unicorn
Gundam Unicorn

The new Gundam animation looks good. And this time it’ll be an OAV series instead of a TV series so their production schedule should allow them the opportunity to maintain the visual quality seen in the promo throughout the series. For those in the know, Unicorn finally returns Gundam to the long established U.C. timeline and is actually set a few years after “Char’s Counterattack.”

It will begin being released next Spring. Here is the official website:
http://www.gundam-unicorn.net/en/index.html

R. Lee needs his own network

Another promo after the break…
Read more »

Is everyone ok in Earthquake and Monsoon land?
Is everyone ok in Earthquake and Monsoon land?

Meaning Ben and Steve.

Amazing

The Ballad of G.I. Joe from Olivia Wilde

Julianne Moore as Scarlett!
Vinnie Jones as Destro!

Vietnam

I actually wrote this post a while ago, but it took me a while to finally publish it. I apologize for this huge post, you can skip towards the last paragraph to get my impression of Vietnam.

So, during last Chinese New Year, my school had one week off. After much deliberation, I decided to visit Vietnam. I felt one week was too short to cover Vietnam from north to south, so I stayed around the north section since I felt it had more to offer.

Taking the public bus to Taipei airport, this was the beginning of how nothing worked out smoothly. I left home with plenty of time before my departure, but upon arriving the airport, I got off of the wrong terminal. I thought, no problem, I’ll just take the free shuttle bus to the correct terminal. Unfortunately, when I rode the shuttle bus, it took all kinds of detours through some cargo areas before finally arriving at my terminal. Once there, I found the line to my counter overly crowded. As time went on, I was running out of time. A lady was going around, asking if anyone was heading to Hanoi. Since I didn’t know how Hanoi was pronounced in Chinese, I hailed the lady and asked her if she was inquiring about anyone heading to Hanoi. She confirmed this, and took me to an available counter. After checking in, I, of course, had to wait in another line to clear immigration. By the time I passed immigration, it was already boarding time for my plane, and I still haven’t exchanged my money for Vietnamese currency. I said, “Fuck it” and went ahead to get my money exchanged. Afterwards, I sprinted to my gate, which, not surprisingly, was the last gate in the hall. Through all of this mess, I didn’t realize they upgraded me from economy to business. I seem to be making lemonade from lemons all throughout this trip.

After arriving in Hanoi airport around 12pm, right off the bat, all of these Vietnamese dudes kept asking me if I needed a ride. I ignored them and headed to where the mini vans were located. This was my first foray into how the Vietnamese conduct their business. These mini vans have no schedule. Instead, they leave the airport once their mini vans are bursting at the seams with people. Fortunately, I had time to spare, for I had a train leaving at 9pm to Sapa. The hotel that I booked in Sapa arranged someone to deliver the train ticket to me. Once I had the ticket, I headed to the train station with plenty of time to spare. I discovered that the gate number on my ticket was nowhere to be found at the station. I approached a Vietnamese guy behind a podium and showed him my ticket. He told me that when my departure time arrives, he’ll come and fetch me. Once my time neared he asked for my ticket and told me he’ll be back. Time passed, and I’m wondering, “Where the fuck is he? Did he scalp my ticket?” He finally returned and took me outside, passing by a number of train tracks. We finally arrived at one of the stations, except there were no lights on. He took me inside the cabin, and I’m thinking, “Is this right? Why is nothing on, and where’s everyone else?” I noticed he was still standing by the door in the dark, and I finally realized that he was expecting a tip. After tipping him, I’m sitting in the dark, waiting to see if this is right. I finally hear other people boarding, and the fact they were foreigners, gave much relief to me. My cabin had four beds, but I ended up sharing the cabin with only one other person. He was Vietnamese and turned out to be one of the friendliest Vietnamese that I met during my trip. The Vietnamese also give much importance to Chinese New Year (they call it Thet) and many of them were returning home, as was the case with him. His English and Chinese wasn’t bad, so we conversed in both of those languages.
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We arrived in Lao Cai around 5am. It took another hour by bus to reach Sapa. Sapa is a mountainous region north west of Hanoi that is home to several ethnic minorities. Despite being in Vietnamese territory, they are considered to be more closely related to Thai and Lao. In fact, not only was I surprised that a large number of them can’t speak Vietnamese, but a lot of them were quite fluent in English, especially the younger girls, who most of them work as tour guides. Before I continue, let me say that not only was it extremely foggy and wet, but fuckin’ cold! The weather conditions was absolutely not conducive to my photography, however, I learned quite a lot about photography from an American I met while in Sapa. We started talking when he noticed my Canon 5D Mark II since he had the earlier model. He didn’t exactly “teach” me, but we were hanging out while photographing outside and I observed how he approached his photography. The biggest thing that I gleamed from him was to pay more attention to the background of my portraiture. They should complement the subject and not distract the eye. I realized how I approached portraiture was exactly how I approached drawing. I would normally draw people and not even render the background.

Isreali guy with Sapa girl

Isreali guy with Sapa girl


Once again, I took the train again, back to Hanoi. From there I took the bus and boat to Catba Island, the biggest island in Halong Bay. Halong Bay is a UNESCO site, home to numerous islands and caves. Again, this is where things did not work out the way I originally planned. After arriving Catba Island, I looked around to see if I could arrange boatman to take me to the nearby islands and caves. I couldn’t find anything, just services providing group tours, which I despise. I also didn’t book a hotel, but this wasn’t a problem. After some searching, I chose the cheapest one, and asked the person behind the counter how I could see the islands and caves. Most hotels in Vietnam also provide some types of tour packages, so she mentioned that the next day, a group of people from her hotel are going to visit the islands and caves and eventually return to Hanoi on that same day. That sounded really ideal to me, except I already purchased a round trip ticket from Hanoi, to Catba Island, back to Hanoi. I finally decided to accept it as a loss and went ahead and paid for the tour. With nothing else to do on that day, I walked around a section of Catba Island, again dealing with the overcast sky. As the day drew to an end, the sky surprisingly cleared for a moment and I actually caught the sunset.

The next day, we left the hotel in the morning and hopped on to the boat. I was still pretty steamed about wasting my money on that return trip, but it probably turned out for the better because while riding the boat, I met a Korean dude and a Japanese dude. None of us knew each other, but we had some great conversations. Since they were not included in the tour package, they continued on to Hanoi while I got onto a different boat to see the islands and caves. It was a shame about the overcast because I’m sure the scenery would look much more majestic with blue skies and a spattering of clouds. On the boat, I really felt like a fish out of water, because no one else spoke English (except for the tour guide). There were two old French couples, two Korean families, and one Chinese family. While in Vietnam, I would often encounter people from mainland China. Though I can communicate with them, I found their Chinese particularly hard to follow because their accent is quite different and they spoke fast! The caves were interesting, but after a while, they just started to look the same. Plus, since I was with a tour group, I didn’t have time to find some interesting spots. Coming back to Hanoi, I no plans for my last two days in Vietnam, so I started walking around and asking various travel agencies what they had to offer. I even ran into the Japanese guy and his wife! This was a common occurrence where I would bump into people I met previously in Vietnam. I eventually decided to pay for a package to visit Tam Coc for the next day. The guy told me to arrive in front of his office at 7:30am, then I headed off to find one of the only hostels in Hanoi. It was already pretty late in night, and the hostel folks told me they had no more room, just a fold out bed and asked if I wanted it. A bed is a bed, plus it was cheaper, so of course I took it.
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The next morning, I went to the travel agency, only to have the guy tell me that they had to cancel it for some reason. I was really not looking forward to spending my time in Hanoi, and as I headed back to my hostel, I passed by a few other travel agencies. I stopped by one just for the hell of it and asked if they had a one day package for Tam Coc. They said yes, but for tomorrow. I said okay, and decided to walk around Hanoi and see if there was anything interesting to photo. This was another blessing in disguise. While walking away from the center of Hanoi, I encountered a sidewalk lined with open vendors featuring Chinese calligraphy artists. Many Vietnamese were getting pieces done for them, I think because of Thet. It was amazing to see them work. Not only were their calligraphy beautiful, but even the motion of their hands had confidence and fluidity. I also loved the range of the appearance of these artists. There was an old guy puffing away on a cigarette, another old guy who looked like he could be some Kung Fu sensei, and another guy who looked like Lo Pan. As I moved on, I started hearing some loud noises from the distance. I walked on over to find a parade going on. Again, something that I wasn’t expecting and a great photo exercise. That day was also my first time eating on the streets. Their food was decent, but quite different from the Vietnamese food I had back in the States.

Lo Pan writing

Lo Pan writing

So, the next morning, I arrive at the travel agency and waited forever for the tour bus to show up. As it turns out, the tour bus was hopping from one hotel to another, picking up tourists. Just another example of stuffing as much people into a vehicle before taking off. Our group of people was quite eclectic. There was an older French woman, one Swiss couple, two French couples, two old US sisters, one very old US couple, and one old Japanese guy. Tam Coc is located in Ninh Binh and is known for their countryside and their main river. Talk about timing, it was overcast during my stay in Vietnam and on this day, it was nice and sunny. The tour included a visit to two temples, a bicycle ride through the countryside, and a boat ride through the river. It wasn’t a bad experience, but man, it was so disorganized that we even lost two people by the time we were ready to head back to Hanoi. Okay, so I can’t have my last night in Vietnam without something bizarre happening to me. I was walking Hanoi, taking some night shots, when a motorist motioned me to come over. I ignored him, as I do all other motorists asking if I need a ride. He rode his motorcycle over to me and asked me in English, if I was Korean. I was wondering how the hell he knew I was Korean, and wondered if he was Korean also, so I said yes. This friendly looking guy said his name was Lam, a Vietnamese and wanted make friends with me. Right there, alarms were going off in my head. Ironically, the night before at my hostel, I was reading the Lonely Planet and there was an excerpt on how some Vietnamese will approach foreigners and try to befriend them in order to scam some money off of them. The more he talked, the more I was sure he wasn’t legit. He asked if I was traveling alone, how long I was staying. and if I wanted to go have beer with him on that night. I found this situation so hilarious. I really wanted to say something to the effect of, “I’m so defenseless here in Hanoi.” So I started playing around with him. I told him I was already heading back home, but asked if he had time tomorrow night (without telling him I will already be back in Taipei). We arranged a time and place to meet, and that was the last of him.

Last morning, I get onto the minivan for the airport, where, of course, I wait until the minivan is overflowing with people. Many people have asked me what did I think of Vietnam. A good question, especially since I’ve read a lot of other people’s impressions while planning my trip to Vietnam. One thing I discovered while researching Vietnam online was the amount of tour packages being offered and how little information there was for one to travel by themselves. I now realize how difficult it is to get around Vietnam on your own. I don’t think it’s so much on the language barrier, but on their infrastructure and organization. It appears that they have no regulations. I thought walking through traffic in Taipei was an adventure, Vietnam has them beat, hands down. Just ignore the signal that indicates when you can cross the street, just walk through the flow of traffic. The key here is to not stop or run on the street, just walk in a continuous motion as the traffic magically flows around you. I’ve also read about how the Vietnamese will do as much as they can to swindle money off of you. This is not untrue. They usually overcharge foreigners and give you the wrong change. I quickly discovered it’s best to have small bills so that you can give them the exact amount. Also, the frequency of motorists asking if you need a ride was getting really irritating. Some people say they shouldn’t be criticized because that’s their “culture”, others say that they can barely make much money in the beginning, so that have to resort to these behaviors. Regardless, this only adds to the negative impression of Vietnamese people. This also reminds me of these three Vietnamese students who were in my first semester Chinese study here in Taipei. They were absolutely the worst students I’ve ever encountered. They never did their homework, talked while the teacher was teaching, and cheated during tests. Everytime the teacher reprimanded them, they just look at her with indifference. I wonder if these kind of attitudes, coupled with the struggle over control of Vietnam by the French, China, Russia, and US has stunted their development out of a third world nation? One older American that I met said to me, “It’s the perfect chaos.” I would rather put it, “Ordered chaos.” It’s absolute chaos there, but it works for them.
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