Readers' Submissions

Thailand v Vietnam…& Searching Beyond For That Expat Heaven in Asia




I never really had any great attachment to the Vietnamese North or South. I don’t particularly like any of them. I love the Thai. I think they’re the most marvelous people in the world. I like most Chinese, but I don’t like the Khmer particularly and I don’t like the Lao or Malay. I like the Indonesians.”

– Graham Martin, Ambassador to Thailand and then Ambassador to Vietnam

I’m going to respond to this request:

“I am discussing alternative countries to Thailand in the region – given that many people are leaving. As a resident of Vietnam, I wonder whether you would be able to knock up the pros and cons of life in Vietnam, when compared to Thailand.”

(Actually The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) has answered the question, having performed a survey of expatriate life, with 479 respondents polled across the region. A dozen Asian countries – China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam – were rated on nightlife, sports and recreation, healthcare, children’s education, personal security, housing, and cultural compatibility. I’ll cover this at the end and not allow it to impinge on my objectivity regarding my Thailand v Vietnam below.

Our fellow expatriates found two countries neck and neck above the others for that rating of the expatriate heaven in Asia. How did Thailand, for example, make out compared to other Asian countries in this professional survey? I think how our fellow expatriates feel in that regard and which two countries they clearly like the best will surprise you.)

CONTENTS

PART 1 – THAILAND v VIETNAM

THE HASSLE FACTOR

THE PEOPLE FACTOR

THE LACK OF ECONOMIC GROWTH FACTOR

THAT WONDERFUL REVERSE RACISM FACTOR

THE RACISM FACTOR

THE FEMALE BEAUTY FACTOR

THE SEX WORKER FACTOR

THE ROAD SAFETY FACTOR

THE PEACE OF MIND FROM CRIME FACTOR

THE DRUG AVAILABILITY FACTOR

THE BEER, AND CHEAPNESS-IN-GENERAL FACTOR

THE SHOPPING FACTOR

THE HEALTH FACTOR

THE FOOD FACTOR

THE MASSAGE FACTOR

THE SCENIC BEAUTY FACTOR

THE EDUCATING THE LITTLE ONES’ FACTOR

THE GOOD MOVIE AND ROCK BAND FACTOR

THE NIGHTLIFE FACTOR

THE VISA FACTOR

THE PROPERTY FACTOR

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR

THE EASE IN LEARNING THE LANGUAGE FACTOR

THE DOING BUSINESS FACTOR

THAT MELANGE OF NEGATIVES THAT WILL DRIVE ONE OUT FACTOR

PART 2 – THE SURVEY OF EXPATS IN 12 COUNTRIES TO DETERMINE THAT EXPAT HEAVEN IN ASIA



PART 1 – THAILAND v VIETNAM:

You may remember my setting forth (in prior submissions) that about every other day I ask myself what I’m doing in this rat-hole, this cesspool (these two descriptions are not hyperbole), fraught with a lot of people I may be accurate in saying I generally don’t like. (And my answer may be I just don’t know where else to go (typical of many expatriates in the region) – and would it matter, for my local-girl wife thinks Hanoi, her lifetime home, is just fine.)

That’s perusing the Vietnam side of the equation. However, what about Thailand? Having spent a lot of time in the region and traveled around some, of course, including a number of times in Thailand, in such a case, some would act like a real authority on like Thailand. You’ve run into them. I have a friend who has been in Thailand several times, and he relentlessly trotted himself out to all as quite an expert on it. However, in knowing him well, I feel comfortable in saying he wouldn’t know Thailand beyond the Nana Hotel area in Bangkok and Walking Street in Pattaya.

Finally, I shut up subject friend in that “expert on Thailand” regard by noting to him that with his having been in Thailand about four times, with each visit, let’s say, of around five days, then that came out at having spent a grand total of 20 days in Thailand. In other words, he’s your typical newbie – he doesn’t know his butt from a hole in the ground. My point is I’m not an expert on Thailand. (But after reading on, some may conclude I know more about Thailand than I give myself credit for.)


THE HASSLE FACTOR

For the recent Lunar New Year, called Tet in Vietnam (called the Chinese New Year by many others), my wife had some time off and wanted to go on a trip as we often do at that time of the year. She knew, because of my strong (and that’s putting it mildly) feelings, she should leave visiting somewhere in Vietnam out of the options, and says, “How about Phuket or Pattaya?” I added, “How about Singapore?”

We ended up, along with our almost seven-year-old daughter, going to Pattaya. Yes, there are a lot of outstanding ways for kids to enjoy themselves there, and I prioritized doing things my little beauty queen would enjoy. Further, even on Walking Street, there are clearly a couple of ways for young kids to enjoy themselves: (i) a little ice cream store with delicious no-fat ice cream on the left side up about 50 meters (yards) after entering Walking Street, and (ii) throwing food debris (like the vestiges of crabs) into the bay, from the tables of those seafood restaurants on the right just after entering Walking Street, and enjoying the fish coming up to feast. I too enjoyed both. I’ll explain how giving Vietnam a miss relates to this Hassle Factor section.


A NICE 5-STAR RESORT VACATION IN VIETNAM GOES BAD

In a like situation around Vietnam’s National Day on September 2 – with the wife (a Vietnam trade expert) having some time off, we went to the 5-star Furuma Resort Hotel just off the far edge of Danang in Vietnam’s central region. Furuma has been rated Vietnam’s best hotel, and it was having a special, my wife found out, making it within what I’m willing to pay, and I’m pretty thrifty.

It was a fabulous facility, and the three of us (we have a 16-month-old son, but he stays back with his grandmother in Hanoi) enjoyed the coves and lagoons inside the complex, perfect for swimming. I was thinking we’d definitely come back. But leave it to Vietnam, known for only 5.5% of the visitors returning for a second go (contrasted to Thailand’s 80%). (Regarding that data, in the spirit of full and honest journalism, I should add that there’s something about Vietnam whereby for longer stays, the difference is narrowed.)

Around halfway through our stay, I went to a room, adjacent to the hotel’s business center, where there were a lot of computers and the wife was doing the internet. Up comes some Vietnamese guy with an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) identification on his shirt, and says to me, “APEC’s taken over the Furuma, and use of that room was for APEC only.” (Vietnam was the host nation of APEC’s big summit this past fall, and the country took its responsibility very seriously.)

After that, I was wondering if we went to the hotel’s bar to enjoy the Filipina band like we had the night before, whether this guy would come in and say, “APEC’s taken over the Furuma.” That guy stuck to my craw. There’s good chance he was a Party member I later mulled, but my wife’s an expert on that – she can spot them, through their grating conservatism, right away.

About three days later, we’d checked out at the hotel’s front desk, and while waiting for the taxi to come to take us to the Danang airport, I decided to catch up on the newspapers (Viet Nam News) in the hotel’s business center. Minutes later, here comes this same Vietnamese APEC guy. To put it in the vernacular, (it) hit the fan – from my end anyway. He told me that the business center had been made their APEC Director’s headquarters, and I responded he’d better get out of my face and I’d be reading the paper there for the few minutes remaining until the taxi arrived.

He then enlisted the hotel’s staff to try to encourage me to leave. (A day later, a friend, who is also a long-time resident in Hanoi and is an example of your usual high-attaining Jewish people – he was a Fulbright professor, a PhD, Yale grad, expert on Vietnam, a consultant, fluent in Vietnamese, a lawyer, author, a Stanford MBA, and anthropologist – explained that what was then happening was your usual case of the Vietnamese placing no value on the individual and here we have the hotel staff face-to-face with a guy representing a huge organization.)

Within a few minutes, I departed, under my conditions and when I was ready. APEC guy was outside and we had words, including my informing him that if I ever found him on the outside, I’d rearrange his face. Both he and the staff would then be sticking in my craw.

Because of my prior work, I’m an old hand at staffing and organizational battles. I can be dangerous (I liked being told that by an old timer in my former organization) if you merit it or I can be career-enhancing if you rate it. Of course, my complaint that night included (but wasn’t limited to) being staffed to Furuma’s General Manager (based in Hanoi; actually wanted it going to his boss, but couldn’t search out whoever it was) and the APEC Secretariat in Singapore. My lawyer and Fulbright Professor friend (mentioned above) was advising me on how to effect maximum damage on Furuma. I got a chuckle out of this from him: “I like your letter on the "Futurama" or "Fur-mania" or "Fuhrer Mantra" or whatever you call it. Probably all of these would be appropriate.”

But being hard on Furuma wasn’t to be necessary. And good. Furuma General Manager and APEC Secretariat apologized and noted that the subject over-dedicated Vietnamese APEC guy had been reprimanded. The General Manager continually apologized and further invited us to return to the Furuma and he’d personally make sure our stay was great. Incredible responsiveness from both Furuma and APEC, and both responses were immediate – I transmitted my complaint the night of the incident, and when I arose in the morning, I already had responses from them.

But now do you really think I’ll ever want to take another vacation in Vietnam? (This is a rhetorical question.) Vietnamese are what I need a break from. I tell another expatriate friend here we’re going to Pattaya, and he advises going to Mui Ne (newly popular beach resort in Vietnam’s south) or Phu Quoc Island (“a tropical paradise”), adding that he now opts for staying in Vietnam, considering (i) add Vietnam’s $14 and Thailand’s $10 airport tax and you’re in the hole already for nothing, and (ii) Thailand’s having the bombings and all that roughly associated. Well, thanks for the advice but you’ll see us on our vacations anywhere but in Vietnam.

No doubt about it – no one in Thailand ever runs into an insanely overbearing official such as I did, and in of all places, a pre-eminent resort hotel. We continue with “the hassle factor”:


OPTING FOR THAILAND

Yes, we’re doing Thailand v Vietnam, and I mentioned the bombings and the trouble in Thailand. What about that? Turned out those were a plus for our recent vacation. Again, wife had proposed Phuket or Pattaya, and I convinced her on Singapore. Although demand for air travel is normally high at the Lunar New Year, we ended up forgoing Singapore because of high airfare cost, whereas with the trouble in Thailand, airfares were down reflecting supply and demand, with the latter lacking for Thailand. Getting bombed in Thailand? I could take 100 guys over there for a lifetime with each of us trying to get bombed, and it wouldn’t happen, not in 100 years to 1 of 100 guys. It’s called 8th grade arithmetic or perhaps Probability or Statistics 001.

After Vietnam, Pattaya, during our recent family visit, was so relaxing. Good chance we’ll go back. I’d heard about how they drive in Thailand and about the toughness of crossing Second Road, but no doubt about it – compared to the Vietnamese, Thailand’s so easy. They are much better, safer, and polite drivers, and within 24 hours in Thailand (and Malaysia, and Cambodia, and Singapore, and Japan, and the US) you’ll see a random act of kindness on the streets. Vietnam? I’ve been here nine years straight, and have yet to see a single example except from myself. “The hassle factor” continues:


VIETNAM FINALLY GETS TO A DIPLOMAT-LIKE UNDP ADVISOR

My wife’s former French boss was like a diplomat. His best friend was Switzerland’s Ambassador to Vietnam. With the latter being single, they spent a lot of time together. French ex-boss was also a citizen to Switzerland in addition to France. I knew the time would finally come whereby I’d have to meet him, was intimidated, and finally it happened.

How did this Frenchman and I get along? We ended up, along with the wife, meeting for lunch every Sunday. We’ve now long been good friends. He’d introduce us to a new restaurant in Hanoi every time we met for lunch. I miscalculated and when it was our turn to select a restaurant, I’d have done my homework on French restaurants (no problem considering that my daughter was in the French School) and we’d go to one of those. But right away, I learned from him that he’s not in Vietnam for things French; rather, he’s in it for things Vietnam. He wasn’t interested in French restaurants. Yesterday I dropped off, for his birthday, the French-translation version of Stephen Leather’s Private Dancer that I’d picked up in Pattaya for him at my initiative.

Of course being in the diplomat mode, he wouldn’t complain much about the Vietnamese, in contrast to myself. When he thought I’d overstepped it, I’d of course trot out my usual “I call them how I see ‘em, and if someone has a problem with that, then they can just kiss my creamy-white ass.”

On the first day of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, I gained satisfaction and even some chuckles, for I was to soon learn that the Vietnamese had finally gotten to him, very much so.

We’d invited him over to the house for a noon feast as we often did for the first day of Tet. I go out front and see him haggling with his taxi driver. With my Vietnamese being pretty good and his minimal, he called me over for help. What had happened was in going through the crowded Old Quarter of Hanoi, his taxi driver had conked a kid hard enough that it had shattered the mirror.

The subsequent altercation in front of our house was from his thinking he should not pay for the time when the taxi driver kept the meter running while stopped to spend time checking to see if the kid was okay. (Some old-timer expatriates are like newbies – (i) you don’t give the taxi driver a large bill first and expect change to your terms when there’s a difference of opinion, and (ii) you always have plenty of small change on you so that receiving change is never an issue. I take care of the latter by having my bank give me 100 each for all the denominations.)

I had to chuckle when it was ending, not that they’d almost come to blows, but with our French friend, in his minimal Vietnamese, saying to the driver, “Nha que, nha que, nha que” – You country bumpkin, you country bumpkin….That was just about making the driver fighting mad. Of course, it wasn’t the meager amount of money involved, our friend explained, it was the principle.

I keep trying to get in his head too that there’s nothing special about Hanoians as he implies when he uses the expression nha que – country bumpkin – to describe the non-Hanoians. After all, the best way to describe Hanoians would be “Hanoi hillbillies.” This is your typical Hanoian: There’s a toilet readily available, they know it’s available, yet they’ll have their kid going to the toilet by the sidewalk, maybe even themselves too.

Then our French friend relates that back from his meetings in Laos, he agreed to a price of 150,000 dong (there are 16,000 dong a dollar) for his taxi for coming back home from the Hanoi airport. But at his house, the guy’s demanding 200,000 dong which our friend paid but was real mad about of course. When he’s in contact with his girlfriend, he ran it by her.

And all that and the following caused him to conclude he’s fed up with the Vietnamese trying to cheat him every time he turns around. With a project ending, he had to move his private office to the Vietnamese ministry he worked with. He was fortunate to notice that some of his effects, like paintings, had been hidden down below in the parking garage; they were to be stolen. And finally, for some old boxes for the move, he didn’t like their charging him 50,000 dong. And this treatment was of a man who’d advised and carried much of the load and covered for them, like giving public speeches, for the ministry for years.

For another example of a professional really into Vietnam – for years, but like our French friend, was worn down, is now out of the country, and doesn’t want to come back, go to the last factor I cover, “That Melange of Negatives That Will Drive One Out Factor.”


THE ULTIMATE RETORT TO LOCALS

You know the mantra – “The Vietnamese are industrious, intelligent, and hardworking.” None of them are true, and I suspect they copied that from the Chinese – who really do possess those attributes. The Vietnamese Communists look to China for their precedents; after all, they – the Vietnamese – can’t think on their feet. As their soldier-colleague during the war – a former Party member herself and now an acclaimed novelist (and kept under police surveillance in Hanoi), Duong Thu Huong – put it, their success in the war was merely a function of the Vietnamese being good at following. They now exhibit no courage and won’t come forth to support you.

This was funny but very embarrassing to the Vietnamese: The government had given a Japanese businessman an award for humanitarianism in Vietnam. Then a few days later, he was saying and it was documented for all to see in the papers that compared to the Chinese, the Vietnamese just didn’t have it. The Vietnamese didn’t work as smart, as well, as competent, and as industrious as the Chinese.

Rather than being industrious, intelligent, and hardworking, they’ll do nothing rather than solve a problem – I see examples all the time, so many I’ll have to constrain the anecdotes. When we’d have a heavy rain, I’d every time see this neighbor frenetically sweeping away trying to keep the rain – along with all the dead rat debris, the sputum, the crap, the urine – all that stuff water would pick up from the streets of these morons – from flowing into the front door of the house. Where I’m from you solve problems – all they needed was a few cents worth of cement to make a little barrier to keep the rain from flowing in. Problem solved forever.

Then another time I see in front of the same house the events associated with someone having died. There was that mournful “dead music,” as my wife calls it and hates, and everyone having a white headband. The fairly young son of 32 had died of hepatitis, leaving behind a young wife and kid. The 50,000-dong a day expense of staying in the hospital had been too much, and they’d brought him home. Of course, when all that debris is flowing into the house, someone’s liable to pick up hepatitis. Well it would be obvious to normal people.

A second and final example: my wife’s scooter, it was obvious to me, had a generator problem, little doubt about it when the battery has been replaced and it becomes dead too. Therefore, I tell the caretaker of things such as that for us – her father – let’s get the generator fixed. His “solution”: with the thing going dead about every two days, he’d charge up the battery forever and ever and such a modus operandi was just fine – it would work for years and years.

Real great being out late at night, and the thing wouldn’t start, and nothing open. I literally had to force him to take the action of getting the generator fixed – I stuck him on the back of the scooter (he didn’t like my idea of getting at the source of the problem), and found a repair place. They can’t reason and be logical; hence, if a battery is dead, the battery is the problem; it must have been the new battery the guy had sold him. With the generator repaired, there was no more problem.

That was background; now we’re getting to the point: Rather than witnessing industriousness, intelligence, and hardworking-ness, you see about half the population of guys in Vietnam sitting around doing nothing. That means a guy like me comes along, and a little gaggle of these morons will be staring and maybe get a little mouthy.

Of course I learned to respond like any normal person would, “Em oi- nhin the – em co muon danh nhau hay lam tinh?” In English: Heh man, why are you staring at me like that – do you want to fight or make love?” I mean, in the States, that’s what good chance a guy will say to someone staring at him. Vietnam’s crowded and there are always women around too. The gals always start laughing at these guys, act like I’m the coolest thing they’ve ever seen, the guys dip their heads down in shame, they shut up, and they don’t look at me any more. And a little later if I look back at them, they’ll look away.

If I want to be even harder on them, I’ll point to my gonads after saying the “make love” part, and add, “day” (Vietnamese for “here” – it’s how they can go about making the love). Of course the women think that’s hilarious too. One time I decided to go a little easier on about five guys sitting around doing nothing at one of those kool-aid-like stands (a tiny table and tiny little plastic squat chairs), staring at me. (The real unemployment rate in Vietnam must be around 50% – I mean operating one of these kool-aid-like stands isn’t a real job.) Anyway, I told these guys in Vietnamese that often when guys are staring at me like that, I ask them whether they want to fight me or make love. Same effect.

Now for you to use this technique of using the “…why are you staring at me – do you want to fight or make love?”, you need to know the language well enough that the locals can understand you. In other words, that means using the correct tones; otherwise, what they’ll really perceive is that your flawed Vietnamese or Thai is hilarious; you’re a joke. Not using the tones is similar to a local saying to you, for example, “Do you need a sork” instead of saying, “Do you need a fork.” You can’t understand that just like they can’t understand you when you don’t use the right tones or don’t even know the tones.

When I was in a beginning Vietnamese class, we had a guy who knew a lot of Vietnamese already, having been in Vietnam. One time the professor (Dr Nguyen Dang Liem) said to him, “Ong (Mr) George, you’re going to be fluent in Vietnamese but no one will understand you. You have to use the tones.” Honestly and with all due respect to the generous authors of stories, we all enjoy, on Thailand, when they include examples of some Thai language, I wonder whether they really know it. Do they ever speak it using a tone for example? I suspect that only a few do. When they speak it using the tones, then they will dazzle all.

Thailand v Vietnam, the hassle factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THE PEOPLE FACTOR

“Thais run into you and say ‘sorry,’ and can say ‘thank you’; Cambodians won’t.”

– A Chinese-Cambodian restaurant owner in Phnom Penh

Just before coming over here, I bought some good books, looking for ones on Vietnam, but buying also one on Thailand. Some time after arriving in Hanoi, I read the latter and noticed that when that author was describing the Thai, he was also, without knowing it, describing the Vietnamese.

Later when I kept seeing examples of, when authors were describing the Thai, how they were just like the Vietnamese, I wished I’d have kept a log of the similarities. Too late, I thought – I’ve missed so many examples. I was wrong – the log is now four-pages long! And consider that sometimes I lazed out – I’d see another good example but didn’t want the hassle of logging it.

One example is a Thai woman’s not being able to tolerate being a little hungry. Yes, that’s my wife. In Hanoi, we’re coming back home late one night on her scooter, she says she’s hungry, I opt for doing it right and finding a place on my mind we’d never tried – a cafe in the university district hugely popular with the students, but what was the return to me for trying to do it right: she was steaming at the delay and stayed that way. In fact, she was so mad that when I arrived at my chosen place, she said forget about it – “Go on home.”

In Pattaya, my spouse was getting on my nerves – we’d be out walking, she’d be hungry, I’d delay it (in the case I’m remembering, I didn’t want ice cream at the stand out front of the water park), and try to get into her head that being hungry was normal for people and was no big deal, and so was being tired – she’d also complain of the latter to which I also responded: getting tired was normal, and was no big deal.

I have an expatriate friend who is both significantly intelligent and so tremendously informed about the region that I go to him for advice. He lived in Hanoi and is now living in Saigon. He’s spent a lot of time in Thailand, maybe having lived there too. He’d responded:

“Thais vs. Viets? I'd say the Thais are probably a more conservative and religious people. Certainly much calmer and less pushy. Looks? I don't know; Thais seem to have more dark people, lots of fatties too like in Saigon. I'd say there are probably more educated, honest, good women for a foreigner to marry in Thailand than in Vietnam. Of course, I am not talking about bar girls and whores. I don't count them. Amazing how many of (the visitors to Thailand and expatriates in Thailand) talk about bar girls as if they are not whores and prostitutes, as if they are some other breed, or as if they somehow are representative of Thai women in general. After all, how many of those guys would date/fall in love with/marry a prostitute back home. And if they did, what would they expect?”

As for me, I’ve been known to fairly recently say I absolutely despise the Vietnamese, but now lean towards leaving the “absolutely” off. Just a couple of days ago in the embassy I noted that one could make an argument that the Vietnamese are the worst people in the world. Is it just me? Well who would be in a better position to judge them and the Thai than a former ambassador who was an ambassador to both countries?

This (which you read in the beginning) from Ambassador Graham Martin, former ambassador to Thailand, then subsequently to Vietnam, is interesting, to put it mildly: “I never really had any great attachment to the Vietnamese North or South. I don’t particularly like any of them. I love the Thai. I think they’re the most marvelous people in the world. I like most Chinese, but I don’t like the Khmer particularly and I don’t like the Lao or Malay. I like the Indonesians.”

Thailand v Vietnam, the people factor. Advantage: Thailand


THE LACK OF ECONOMIC GROWTH FACTOR

IF ONLY INDOCHINA COULD BECOME A KAWASAKI, JAPAN

A what factor you say? No one is mentally nimble regarding Vietnam’s 8% growth. They all rave, go gaga, about it in some slovenly reasoning. Yes wouldn’t be great if Vietnam and the whole of Indochina, that most special place in the world in all its intoxicating beauty that we love, or SE Asia would be like Kawasaki or Detroit or fraught with skyscrapers like Hong Kong and Singapore?

Man, that must be tough on these white developmental guys (World Bank, UNDP, NGOs…) coming over here and seeing a place like Laos. Yes, increase its trade (recently a responsibility, along with Vietnam’s and Cambodia’s, of my wife and her French boss), put that super-freeway right down through Luang Prabang and on through Vientiane for the benefit of Bangkok and China, and turn Laos into like the rest of the world – like those just set forth places – Kawasaki….Thankfully, the developmental people end up saying that the PDR in Lao PDR stands for “Please Don’t Rush.” Way to go, Laos! (But don’t we all know how it’ll eventually turn out?)

Vietnam has become unlivable. Yes, trot out the economy is up 8% a year, but un-livability is up 100%. Vietnam makes up one-half of one percent of the countries in the world, but Hanoi and Saigon are now making up 20% of the ten countries noted in a recent study for having the worst air – beyond tremendously bad – we’re talking air fraught with micro-particulates that once into one’s lungs are there forever. Isn’t that something for one to heap on their young kids and infants, and themselves – just like I’m doing? The study added that the bad lungs then cause cardio-vascular problems.

And finally, wouldn’t it be wonderful for Vietnam (and Laos) to blindly like mindless lemmings develop to be fraught with that terrible, even nauseous, grid locked traffic of Bangkok that a normal person would find intolerable? (It’s been known to run me out within hours, more than once.)

On our honeymoon, I was looking forward to introducing my wife to a fabulous, unforgettable $1 lobster dinner, that I’d thoroughly enjoyed in the past in Nha Trang, one of the greatest meals of my life. But what we found in that regard was disappointment – they were all being shipped to Japan. When we got back, I explained the situation to my Fulbright professor friend. Now instead of everyone, I said, Vietnamese and foreigners, being able to enjoy very affordable lobster, you had a couple of exporter guys who were making a lot of money – at the expense of everyone else. Fulbright professor responded, “Now you see what globalization is.”

I formerly lived in by far the best place in the world – the old Saigon when people navigated by bicycles. (Some said the old Phnom Penh was even better.) Just like some of us find that life without a car over here is just fine, other professionals find that their bicycle suffices just fine. My wife’s former boss, our French and Swiss friend, earning $12,000/month, goes by bicycle.

With the case made that growth such as 8% annually actually means evolving to just what we don’t want it to be like over here, the reality is Vietnam can expect to catch Thailand around 2020 (source: wife’s former boss, probably the foremost trade advisor for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos).


ANOTHER CASE OF NO MENTAL NIMBLENESS

Vietnam would like (and indeed completely succeeds) for the world to think of it as the poor little innocent thing that constantly had to get rid of invaders. It’s the darling of the donor world. Sometimes when I see these goody-goody NGO types, I want to walk up to them and ask why they want to help some people who would never help anyone beyond their family, if even them. And the Vietnamese would sure never help these NGO people were the roles reversed. Why not help their own people I’d ask and have indeed asked that of gullible aspiring volunteers. Vietnam is also the world champ at having its hands out begging.

Actually here’s how it is: Vietnam is second to none in invading and claiming the turf of others.

During the war, my professor of Vietnamese told his class (a class of two of us – Vietnamese was found, by others, as alluring as a dentist’s drill hitting nerve – that the devastation the US was heaping on Vietnam was pay-back for what the Vietnamese had done to the Cham (genocide and taking over their country, Champa).

During the last 165 years, Vietnam has occupied Cambodia three times. The only reason it didn’t cease being a country in 1841, when the Vietnamese had made it a province of Vietnam, was the French coming in and stopping that action. Right now, with the Vietnamese not being able to respect someone’s property (I see examples right across from the front of our house) when they see a use for it, they are poaching into Cambodia along the border – they look over there and see that land. The Delta in the south on up thru Saigon was part of Cambodia. Indeed the Khmer are found all over the Delta. Notice that when you take a bus between Phnom Penh and Saigon, that where the land quits being productive for growing rice, well that’s where the Vietnamese had quit encroaching on Cambodia. It’s today’s border.

And here’s a tremendous fact that extremely few know about: Plan a trip to Nan Ning, China, the first city north of Vietnam, do a web search on it, and you read about in history their having to fight back Vietnamese invaders. I checked this out with a scholar of Vietnamese “culture” here, my Fulbright professor friend, who verified it.

The dream of Ho Chi Minh for Laos and Cambodia to be part of a Greater Vietnam ended when Vietnam joined ASEAN.

Under this Factor is the kind of cutting analysis you can't find anywhere else.

Thailand v Vietnam, the lack of growth factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THAT WONDERFUL REVERSE RACISM FACTOR

TRAFFIC COPS

We’ve all heard the stories of how in Thailand (and Cambodia) the traffic cops like to, on a racial basis, go after foreigners…and charge them more. In Vietnam, it’s the opposite.

To illustrate, recently I’m sitting with a coed in a cafe near the Foreign Language University that’s located on Nguyen Trai Street in Hanoi. All of a sudden, there’s all this frenetic activity. The cops had arrived, and they get tired of having to clear motorbikes not authorized to be parked on the narrow alley. Customers and shop owners were rushing to keep from being gigged or maybe even having a motorbike hauled off, the hauling off of which happens all the time, what with their crusade to get tougher.

One little coed was hyper, having been given a ticket. She was as mad as could be, and wasn’t backing off the cop. (Nothing like in the US where if you think you’re going to give a city cop – like in Los Angeles or Indianapolis – some crap, well you better have another think coming. “Do you have a hard-on about something?” – an Indianapolis cop, with his fist firmly entrenched around my gonads, after giving him a little lip as a punk teenager.)

A cop assistant – one of those blue- or army-green uniformed guys you see working with cops in Hanoi – walked over to my Minsk and me, and that was it. No action. When everything had cooled down, and we’re back in the cafe, I’m asking the coed why I was treated differently. And here’s an example of Vietnamese logic: She responded that the police feel that a foreigner can in no way be expected to know Vietnamese law. Heh, I’m not complaining!

And when I’m stopped for a traffic infraction in Hanoi, no payoff is expected. I give them the xin loi – I’m sorry – and I’m on my way. (Actually, I haven’t even been stopped for years.) The Vietnamese, on the contrary, will be raked over the coals verbally until an unmarked envelope (with the amount of dong all Vietnamese and cops know beforehand is the proper pay-off) is discreetly passed to the cop. Sometimes their motorbike is hauled off. You see them all the time lined up on a flatbed truck.

In a different aspect of the cops, unless it’s changed since I arrived in Hanoi in the latter 90s, they will hassle you, good chance, if you are staying with a woman and don’t have marriage papers yet. This was quite relevant to me, including because we had our wedding before the marriage certificate came through, a slow process. With our having lived in two different districts, I can say that the hassle factor from the cops can be quite different. In Cau Giay district, you pay off the neighborhood cop (the hungry dogs the Vietnamese call them, including my wife who hates them) and he keeps coming back for more. Across the street in Tay Ho (West Lake) district, you meet with the neighborhood cop, and then never see him again.

Surprising, when we first met, in the North we weren’t hassled for marriage papers by hotels, but in the South, it was bad in that regard. One source said they were in the midst of some clean-up campaign. How would you like to be on your honeymoon – in Nha Trang, then Dalat, then Saigon in our case – and be rejected by all the hotels? We had to stay in mediocre mini-hotels except for in Nha Trang they only place where a nice hotel would relent. The wife had wanted to stay in her dream hotel, the Rex in Saigon. New World Hotel said they’d let us in with any kind of paper at all – too bad we hadn’t brought our wedding invitation. I made it up to her – took her to the foremost jewelry shop, Saigon Jewelry, and bought her a lovely ring having a ¾-carat blue sapphire surrounded by small diamonds.

And finally, a translation editor friend for the Viet Nam News (Vietnam’s national English-language newspaper) informed me that the cops here protect foreigners. I don’t think that’s the case in Thailand, but if it is, let me apologize.)


ENTRY TO THE GERMAN “METRO” MEGA-STORE

The huge German-owned, French-managed Wal-Mart Sam’s Club-like place called Metro came to Hanoi and elsewhere in Vietnam a couple of years ago. They had that typical European (and Vietnamese too) attitude of you’re lucky to have the privilege of being able to shop with us, and if you have a problem with us, then just go next door and shop there instead. Even the Vietnamese, and that’s really saying something, noticed the deplorable attitude, the arrogance, they’d face when entering the Metro. I read a lengthy article in one of the Vietnam-language newspapers on their haughtiness.

In the States, customer service is paramount; they’ll even have greeters meeting you as you walk in a major department store like Wal-Mart. But I could always get into the Metro after producing identification, their tapping away on their keyboard, and then a pass coming out.

On one occasion, I told the wife to go on in the Metro while I parked the motorcycle, my smoke-belching 1938-technology Minsk beast because it’s unsurpassable for hauling quite a load. I park it, enter the store, and there waiting for me is the wife. They hadn’t let her in, what with her being a Vietnamese. Hence, I learned their policy was representatives of businesses only, but an exception is made for foreigners.

I’ll digress – the just-set-forth Minsk in the context of my wife, reminds me of an anecdote. So sooner, three years ago when I bought the Minsk, my thin-body immediately wants me to get rid of it, adding, “You’ll never get me on that thing.” Her father didn’t like it either; I never could get into his head that all that smoke emanating didn’t mean the engine was bad; rather it was a function of a crude 2-stroke engine where you have to mix oil with the gasoline. Actually, they still use them in dirt-bike racing. To the Hanoians, the Minsk is a despicable peasant machine. I suspect the family also didn’t find the oil, in the living room (where we had to park the 2-wheeled vehicles) that leaked from the Minsk, endearing.

I’d bought it from a huge (6’ 5”) Danish advisor to Vietnam’s Supreme Court who’d bought it new and advertised it on the bulletin board of the Moca Cafe as probably the best one in town. Newly arriving French young men will see it, and want one. Later it hit me why every time I’d met the Danish guy he had on black jeans; I mean it was a Minsk.

The wife was true to her word – she never got on it. But then that changed. Her father was diagnosed with liver cancer, no expense would be spared was her policy on that, and she’d learned the ethnic minority Muong in Hoa Binh City had herbal medicine that was effective. Hoa Binh Province, with its beautiful craggy karstic mountains, is west of Hanoi two provinces.

We go on her upscale (at that time) Honda Spacy scooter. Out in the mountains about 12 km (7.5 miles) before Hoa Binh City, her machine conks out. I pushed it along Highway 6 (yes that Highway 6 where the French soldiers were massacred) to a repair place where to them this thing must have looked like something from Mars. They didn’t even know how to get to the engine, let alone work on it. There wasn’t such a machine in the whole province. An action was taken that did finally get us to our destination and back to Hanoi, just barely. Of course if the battery is dead, the Vietnamese will replace the battery, and they were able to get to the little battery compartment under your feet. (The problem was the generator we learned in Hanoi, no surprise to me.)

For our remaining trips to Hoa Binh for the anti-cancer refills, it would be the venerable Minsk with the wife on the back. As I told her, it would be impossible for a battery to be dead on the Minsk, for it had no battery! She would never again demean the beast.

An update: Now the formerly despised Minsk has become hien dai (modern – fashionable) for young Vietnamese Hanoian students who will have them painted up nicely. I lately have seen a Vietnamese girl or two in Hanoi driving them. In the past no thief would come near a Minsk, to them worthless, but now Anh Cuong’s famous Minsk Shop in Hanoi (http://www.minskclubvietnam.com/) tells me that not only will thieves steal those cheap Taiwanese SYM motorbikes, also looked down on, but Minsks too and will even cut through security devices with bolt-cutters.


THE COMMUNISTS TRUSTING FOREIGNERS MORE

Here’s quite a phenomenon: The Communists can be easier on foreigners accomplishing private business than they are on Vietnamese doing the same. The Communists distrust Vietnamese accomplishing private enterprise.

Thailand v Vietnam, that wonderful reverse racism factor. Advantage: Vietnam.


THE RACISM FACTOR

“You pay 150 baht; I’ll pay 10.”

– Me, with my family on a baht bus on the way to Pattaya’s Water Park, responding to a Thai b—- sitting across from us who took it own her own to try to make sure the driver would rip us. That shut Ms Mouthy up. (Turned out that the baht bus driver was a nice guy and we were charged what a Thai would have been – little more than nothing. I assume half or so of the Thai and Vietnamese entrepreneurs will try to cheat me and I accept that. But I have no tolerance to a local butting in and trying to help out in the attempt at the ripping. Just ask a certain Vietnamese b—- in Hanoi; she’ll never forget me for the rest of her life. Or ask the Mexican (Guadalajara) and Canadian (Vancouver) tourists with me who after, my altercation with subject Vietnamese b—-, said to me, “You’re wily.”)

Not that everyone doesn’t already know this, but half the Vietnamese will overcharge foreigners (or try to in my case – I actually pay less, with my mobility, for all these wonderful examples of fruit they have in Vietnam, than my wife’s mother who does most of the food buying for all of us), but I feel comfortable, with even my limited knowledge on Thailand, in noting that it’s the same in this regard in both Thailand and Vietnam – half of them or so will try to cheat you.

Again, we enjoyed Pattaya, but, of course, I didn’t like being charged 100 baht for 50-baht rides for the daughter at the Water Park. I found out this phenomenon when a Thai ride operator says that with the wife and daughter being Thai (he thought they were Thai), we shouldn’t be paying for the more expensive tickets required of foreigners. (Hence, for the next salvo of tickets, I crouched behind something to be out of sight and sent the wife over to buy them, but it didn’t work. I think the clerk had already seen us all together.)

The following documents our only significantly bad experience in Pattaya of which the bottom line is we like it and could very well want to return again; I was in the mood for it again barely no sooner than arriving back in Hanoi:

Again, I dedicated the trip to Pattaya to my almost 7-year old daughter who doesn’t get to go places much like her mother and myself. After being cooped up in the house, she’ll say, “I want to fly on an airplane again.” We were going to Coral Island. No sooner than departing the beach by Beach Road, our boat stops to offer para-balloon rides where a fast-moving boat pulls a huge balloon with you under it. Daughter surprises me, for I didn’t think she had that kind of guts. She wanted to try it, and went for a ride with a Thai employee holding her.

Even I may not have been that frisky about soaring way up high under some balloon, for I wasn’t impressive in the rappelling part of army training. Yell out some macho stuff, while I slid down, like we were supposed to? – I couldn’t for I was too scared. Making huge noise while bashing the dummy with the butt of my rifle – now that was more my thing, and I was second to none at that.

A significant aspect of our hours at Coral Island was a tout trying to convince my wife to do the “underwater walk” where they put like a diver’s suit on you from the waist up and you walk along the bottom underwater. We thought it was too pricey. Finally, the tout and my wife did negotiate a price of 3,000 baht total for my wife and daughter. Knowing my wife, I suspect she’d jewed him down.

I had asked this salesman for this “underwater walk” activity about the risk factor. “Have any of the customers had any problems?” As usual, in Pattaya I never could get an answer, any useful information, from a Thai. Sometimes I suspected that rather than just answering my question, what was going through their minds was, “Do I go into the one of Thai getting his money mode or getting him ripped-off, or do I just give him helpful information?” On the contrary, for useful information, I found the expatriates sipping beer in an open-air bar invaluable.

(Now that I mentioned expatriates’ ability to provide a goldmine of information, I always wondered why one had advised us in Pattaya, “Lek Hotel is a s—hole too; go to Arcadia Mansion (Soi 12) on the other side of Second Road.” Arriving late on our first night, we’d found a vacancy at the BR Inn on Soi 12 between Beach and Second Roads, we were definitely checking out, and I’d mentioned to him it was a s—hole. With Arcadia Mansion not having a swimming pool, we did end up staying at Lek Hotel, and thought it was nice. When we go back, good chance our stay will again be at Lek Hotel. And I don’t see how one could do better than their 110 baht every-morning brunch buffets. I wonder what the expatriate thought the Lek Hotel was a s—hole.)

We’re back to the underwater walk. Shortly after leaving for the underwater walk, the wife and daughter are back. What happened? No sooner than starting, my daughter’s ears were killing her. She had to bail. My wife added that her own ears were bothering her too. She added that the Thai said he couldn’t do a refund. (Really – you mean you’d go to jail? That’s what I’d have said to him.)

Still at Coral Island, we’re perfunctorily brainstorming doing something about it – I mean with my having taken $1,100 for the trip, 3,000 baht was knocking on the doors of approaching 10% of our whole budget. I brainstormed the tourist police, but the wife quickly discounted any action, saying it was best to forget about it. Well, in the long run I’ve never forgotten about it. And I immediately concluded none of us will ever do anything underwater, and I recounted what an Army recruiter told me in Honolulu – they get these divers there wanting to go to Officers’ Candidate School (OCS), but their high-frequency hearing is gone.

Continuing on about Pattaya and that experience, I never have come to an answer on whether we should have for sure been given a discount. Secondly, for the 10-baht buses, for the daughter should we pay the full 10 baht, 5 baht, or should she be free? In the latter regard, I started off paying 10 baht for her. I asked the Thai what I should pay and again, never could get an answer out of them.

After starting out automatically paying, for the daughter, 10 baht for the baht buses, I then decided, not knowing and no one knowing, to make it 5 baht. Admittedly, being a newbie, without my glasses on and often it was dark, I wouldn’t know a 1 baht coin from a 5 baht coin. Hence, and I didn’t care what with not knowing the price – sometimes the driver was given 1 baht no doubt although I’d prefer the 5 baht.

I went over to Pattaya with the concern of reports that sometimes these baht bus drivers would beat up on foreigners who weren’t amenable to being ripped off. I like contingency plans in my repertoire, but never a problem with the baht buses. It’s not like the drivers have much recourse when you’ve paid them, for you pay them (often I let the daughter pay them), and you’re gone. I mean he’s going to abandon his vehicle to go chasing after the 0-9 baht he’s been shorted?

The outstanding reads I bought in Pattaya included Australian Neil Hutchison’s Money Number One, A Fool in Paradise, and The Fool is Back!, all three about Pattaya. I emailed him, including asking for answers to the two “issues.” He responded regarding the 3,000 baht loss for the underwater walk that Thai never give refunds. My inquiry of how much fare should I pay for 7-year old daughter resulted in research by him – including going to friends, bargirls…He was like me – he could find no one who knew the answer.

Thailand v Vietnam, the racism factor. Advantage: it’s even.


THE FEMALE BEAUTY FACTOR

Back to our most recent visit to Thailand – Pattaya in February – of course there are these whores all over the place. (And consider that it wasn’t until we got lost late one night that I finally even learned where Walking Street was; Lonely Planet, without saying it, doesn’t think much of Pattaya, obvious by its perfunctory coverage.) It didn’t take long after arriving in Pattaya for us to notice how unremarkable the women looked. I’ve seen better-looking gargoyles. (But the foreign guys often accompanying them, it was obvious, thought they were fine.)

I’m thinking to myself in Pattaya that now I know what these expatriates in Thailand are getting at when, a certain element of them, describe the women of Isaan (who undoubtedly made up most of all these bar whores we were seeing) so unfavorably. Reading such always brings a chuckle out of me. (But the guys should know that those ugly flat noses are actually an example of nature’s typical brilliant evolution. The Isaan women are of a hot climate, and a flat nose gets the air to the lungs advantageously as cool as possible. On the contrary, white people, from cold climates, need a higher nose to heat the cold air before it enters the lungs.)

On our last night in Pattaya, I was by myself on Second Road not far from our Lek Hotel, and did see an absolute adorable masterpiece – tall (at least 5’ 10” (177cm), lean, leggy, pretty face, China-doll haircut, white skin (I don’t have a bias in this regard, but Asian values will creep in sometimes after you’ve been over here a while), and even a lovely long neck that the most beautiful women of all have. Of course I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, she’s looking at me, I walk by her and listen to her voice to see whether it sounded like a man’s – sounded like she did a good job of masking it – for I was wondering whether, despite her perfect beauty, she was a man although I haven’t been around such a culture of these gays and s/he’s. After passing her, I knew when I turned around she’d still be looking at me and was.

I’d never get tired of savoring the looking at such beauty. She was by very far the best example of beauty I’d seen in Pattaya, even Thailand as a whole. Why hadn’t someone picked her up? Had I known the wife and daughter would have been out as long as it turned out that they were, I’d have taken this Second Road intoxicating beauty up to our room. I’d only hope that all that exterior beauty wasn’t ruined by nether parts that might not match up in beauty with the rest of her.

We went to the Alcazar transvestite show in Pattaya. The wife said she doesn’t have any trouble telling the subject folks from real women, volunteering: “They have flat butts.” We had a secret there or so we thought. Afterwards out front where you could meet the special folks and have your picture taken with them, we let young daughter know these were really men rather than women. We’re surprised when she responds, “I know – I can tell by their voices.”

And out in front of Alcazar, something happened that I thoroughly like in a gay man or transvestite – one of the performers was so bitchy. S/he didn’t have patience for people taking too long to take a picture. Beautifully impatient s/he was, waving her arms up in the air showing she was indignant.

A lot of times the wife keeps quiet regarding what she’s thinking. Only later do I find out what’s going through her mind, and it can be surprising when she finally tells me. On about day three in Pattaya, we’re walking by one of those open-air bars – on Soi 12 on our way from Beach Road to the Lek Hotel – where there are several bargirls, and the wife says, “They are not attractive; they look and are black like ‘dan toc’.” “Dan toc” (pronounced “zan toc” in northern Vietnam) means hill-tribe or ethnic minority. Indeed the Vietnamese classify the Thai and Lao, who have lived in the mountains of northern Vietnam for centuries, as hill-tribes!

Continuing, surprisingly, scholars wanting to study the unadulterated Thai go to Vietnam rather than Thailand, with the Thai in Vietnam, for example, still having the ancient Thai texts (which unfortunately are deteriorating and need professional help). Often I’ll hear a local Vietnamese man enthusiastically talk about the beauty of the Thai ethnic minority women in Vietnam. I haven’t quite gotten to their areas out in the mountains except did see one working in a cafe in Hoa Binh.

(The Vietnamese are proud of their ancient Dong Son culture. But actually, it was probably of the Thai! Back hundreds of years ago, northwest into Yunnan was Nan Zhao, a Buddhist Thai Empire that was probably the center of the Dong Son culture that Vietnamese claim is "theirs." Nan Zhao actually conquered Hanoi in the 9th century and the Vietnamese WELCOMED the Chinese to take over and kick out Nan Zhao!!!! That was when Hanoi was first built, under Cao Bien, the Chinese ruler who kicked out Nan Zhao. The Vietnamese still consider Cao Bien a hero!!! He really built Hanoi and may have also built the "Vietnamese" One-Pillar Pagoda!!!)

Regarding female beauty, I see the Thai as your usual SE Asians, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love the look of the lean, tall, leggy, narrow-shouldered Hanoi (and Haiphong) women. And as a friend and long-time expatriate here and in the region put it, “The Vietnamese have pretty much nailed the market in awesome trim butts.” Yes, their ethereal trim butts are absolutely perfect, and it took me several years to notice that specifically – that they have to be the best butts in the world. Then there’s that soft skin like that of a baby. Come to think of it, I married one in Hanoi with all those characteristics. We’ve been married for years, but amazingly, I’ve never gotten blase about her appearance. She’ll, for example, walk through the bedroom with her long willowy arms flapping all over the place and it’s always lovely.

(Wife’s long beautiful arms that I love, of course, reminds me of the following that I have set forth in a prior article. Psychologists have found there are three kinds of men – butt men, breast men, and leg men – they’ve further found that the emotionally stable men are the leg men. Me – well here’s a new one: I’m into arms. When I first met my wife and noted I loved her arms, she was thinking, “Is this guy making fun of me?” Hence, she wouldn’t respond about them, but she finally figured out that I really did love her arms. I go into the ANZ Bank and here’s that teller with the perfect arms – long, smooth soft-looking, and of that perfect skin coloration you see so much of here and the region for that matter – a very mild light gold color – and I again compliment her on her arms and she smiles again.)

Then there’s the aging, lack of, factor I see all the time in the Vietnamese. I’ll see a cute peasant in town, selling oranges or something from a shoulder pole or else is collecting trash, think she’s a teenager, start up a conversation, and will find out that she has a 15-year old daughter herself!

When we were living in Japan, a Japanese man of a model agency in Tokyo was asked why he didn’t use Japanese models. He responded that the probability of a Japanese woman having the right build to be a model was 1 in 17,000 or 18,000. No way could anyone say that about the Vietnamese. (I know what the model agency man in Tokyo was thinking: the Japanese have terrible builds – long backs, stubby arms and legs, and they have these big heads. But on the American military bases in Japan, the daughters from the servicemen-Japanese wife liaison will blow you away – you’ll see them with the height (easily up to 6 foot (183cm) and long legs of a Westerner and the pretty face and charm of a Japanese.)

In the spirit of full and accurate reporting, an expatriate living in Thailand visited up here – Hanoi and to the east at Ha Long Bay – I’d helped him on information he wanted before coming here – and he concluded that the Thai were more attractive than the Vietnamese and, further, found in the Thai a certain exotic appearance that was appealing. No doubt about it – for me, though, for this factor of female beauty, and a tremendously significant factor it is to put it mildly as we all would agree, my vote goes to the Vietnamese over the Thai.

“Many Cambodian men, including me, prefer Vietnamese women, (1) Vietnamese women want to work, (2) they take care of their men, and (3) they maintain a clean environment including their bodies. Only some Cambodian women are like that or some of that.”

– A very intelligent Cambodian bookshop owner in Phnom Penh

Thailand v Vietnam, feminine beauty. Advantage: Vietnam.


THE SEX WORKER FACTOR

DANGER! WHO IS SHE? I.D. CARD IS A MUST! PLEASE CONTACT AT… ”FRONT DESK”

– A notice in the lobby of the AA Hotel in Pattaya

Both countries are fraught with sex workers, but the scene is quite different. My big former football (US type) friend (he’s also the guy I mentioned who fancies himself as an expert on Thailand) visited me in Hanoi, and maybe he wouldn’t have gotten laid were it not for me. Was that important to him? – Very much so for he has a one-track mind where his focus is always on pussy. He went into a karaoke around the Old Quarter where he was staying at a mini-hotel on Hang Bac Street, and they wouldn’t allow him in (not a problem anywhere else, but apparently the authorities want visitors perceiving that Vietnam isn’t naughty).

(As often happens out here, this over-sized friend fell in love with his mini-hotel receptionist, Hanh, who was absolutely adorable, a thin-body with a pretty face. (Good enough that I subsequently tried seducing her more than once with my typical guile, but the gals look out for each other, and she had met my wife. But I did finally see an opening, but didn’t follow-up on it – such adorable young women are all over here – she was just one of many.) It was hard for him to get his fat ass out of the lobby, for he was captivated with her, especially her butt.

Subsequently I heard a National Geographic journalist was interested in her. After my friend left, I learned why he couldn’t score with her. He’d never said the magic words, “marry me,” as relayed to my wife and I at her wedding just across the Red River from Hanoi in Dong Anh, her home. “Many men (in addition to my friend) wanted me, but only one said he wanted to marry me,” she responded. A poor Vietnamese cook, who in the beginning she confided to me she didn’t love, had said those magic words. Hanh wanted a man who would take care of her. She forever remains on friend’s mind. I envied the guy who married her).

So a tourist comes in town here in Hanoi and doesn’t see the sex scene he would just love to peruse. Good, I prefer they all go to Thailand. Whore-chasers make us all look bad. But how is Hanoi really like if one lives here and is fluent in Vietnamese? (I’d studied through fourth-year Vietnamese at the university and added another year at Hanoi National University.) You wouldn’t believe it – the variety of sex workers in and around Hanoi and adjacent provinces.

There are hotel sex workers, rest house (nha nghi) sex workers, massage shop sex workers, barber shop sex workers, shampoo shop sex workers, disco sex workers (at one disco it looks like a national convention of supermodels, as a long-time expatriate friend put it to me – they’ll blow my mind away when I go by), streetwalkers, motorbike sex workers, cafe sex workers, karaoke sex workers, and even the longtime expatriates here in Hanoi don’t know about this: in a obscure rural area in a province next to Hanoi is a strip of Cafe Tam – cafes for bathing – where, you guessed it, extra services are eagerly promoted by the young women, even girls, working in them.

Recently on my way back from my trip from Pattaya and then across Cambodia, I’m walking through that park caddy-corner from Saigon’s backpackers’ district as you head downtown, and a young man sitting on a park bench wanted to chat. He was an earnest young man from the Czech Republic. An expatriate needs to counsel him, a fairly good-looking kid. He was on somewhat of an extended stay and very much wanted to marry a Vietnamese. He told me he he’d been paying $80 for club girls and heard that to marry a Vietnamese he needed to give her family $10,000.

Man, someone’s been throwing around too much money down there in Saigon – these people are of wage levels whereby $80 for a tryst is ridiculously high, and that’s putting it mildly, and it’s not necessary. And $10,000 to marry! That’s not part of the Vietnamese culture. I should have gotten this guy’s email address and put him in contact for counseling from my long-time expatriate friend down there. The kid was a fine young man, and I don’t like seeing him taken advantage of.

The whores are not what he wants but he said he didn’t know how to find other Vietnamese and wanted advice. He felt a whore could turn out to be okay. Of course, I advised him that a whore wouldn’t work out, and gave him advice to his wanting to know how he could find a normal girl. Actually I advised against marrying, for as I’ve set forth before in a prior article, conversing with Asian women is as boring as an English major on Ecstasy, Vietnamese have nothing in their heads, and the thought of being years with such – of course best forget it.

“Some whores don’t like foreigners. Why? It’s their big dicks.”

– A bright motorbike taxi driver in Phnom Penh

Thailand v Vietnam, the sex worker factor. Advantage: It’s even.


THE ROAD SAFETY FACTOR

At this moment, my hand is weak and bothers me, and I haven’t been able to do chin-ups, pull-ups, and my usual 51 push-ups for a month. Snapping punches in shadowboxing bothered my hand, but at least in this regard I’m now back to full snap. Maybe I cracked a bone in my hand, but I think it will be okay. My knee I thought had recovered but I’m noticing swelling; the one that took the hit doesn’t look like the other.

I’m now quite a sight; to my usual repertoire of leather gloves, a helmet, respirator mask, and earplugs, I’ve decided that the extreme sports elbow and knee pads I’d bought a couple of trips ago in the States for this place aren’t too much of a hassle to use after all for my travel on the beast, my Minsk.

Hanoi has earned the title of the brain-injury capital of the world with 30-35 serious brain-injury (aren’t all brain injuries serious?) cases showing up at the Viet-Duc (Vietnamese-German) Hospital in Hanoi daily. Outside they’ve posted large graphic photos of the gore they’ve had to treat. It’s unbelievable and horrible. Intestines hanging out, the whole side of the body looking like a slab of butchered beef, a face ripped off, a hand almost stretched off….Man, when there’s a motorbike accident, flesh doesn’t have a chance against metal.

I just documented 30-35 brain-injury cases a day showing up at Viet-Duc Hospital, but since the time of that data Vietnam’s gone beyond and is literally in what’s called an epidemic of road kill and injury. I have three email messages just received from WHO and UN about it. (Their analyses are slovenly, documenting helmets are the cure-all. No, you need a fundamental change in the Vietnamese attitude whereby they exhibit no responsibility beyond themselves.)

The Vietnamese, and this isn’t hyperbole, are the worst (and noisiest – perpetually on the horn, many of them air-horns) drivers in the world. One respondent has been in 52 countries, driven in half of them, and reported that Vietnamese are easily the worst. He got that right. On the road, they are as oblivious to what is happening at ground level as an outfielder locked in on a pop fly, and drive like you’d expect of a population whose “culture” is engorging on empty white rice – nothing to the brain, then nothing in the brain. (The Vietnamese trot out that they have a 4,000-year culture. Culture – what culture? You call this culture? I don’t see any culture. What they actually have is 100 years of culture they’ve used over and over again 400 times.)

After being in Hanoi for a while, I concluded that the Vietnamese drove with all the maturity of five year olds. But with more time here, I adjusted that for better accuracy; rather, they drive with all the maturity of four-year olds. I mean we’ve seen Westerner five-year olds looking both ways and all that before navigating a street.

It’s amazing (and it’s like they report on Thailand) – you’re driving on a busy main street, they’re coming out on their motorbike (same for cars) from a little alley (ngo) as blind as newborn moles – they won’t check to determine whether there is any traffic coming (which there always is; this place is densely packed with morons), nor have any concern for pedestrians walking by on the sidewalk. My Minsk beast is big and made of metal (1938 Soviet Union (Belarus) technology), I have on shoes, a helmet (all factors are in my favor), and I’ve been known to put them down or almost down (actually allow themselves to put themselves down or almost so – by maintaining the position that is rightfully mine – my policy is if you’re going to put me into an accident, you’re going to be part of it – I’m not swerving to hit someone else because of you), and then I look back using my rear view mirror, and these Vietnamese murdercyclists act like I’m the problem.

Just today I’m driving down Hanoi’s busy Thuy Khue Street and alongside the road are buses parked, meaning if a motorbike pulls out from the sidewalk across the front of a parked bus into the traffic, no one coming down the street in that near lane can see him coming out what with the bus blocking the view. The guy pulling out is almost hit, and then is indignant as if the other guy is at fault! There’s no doubt about it – these people are at the top of the shortlist of candidates for being champs at having nothing in the head. I just spent five days in Phnom Penh and noted four ways that the Cambodians were more intelligent than the Vietnamese, including their driving. Another example is the Cambodians using screens to keep mosquitoes etc out; that concept is beyond the Vietnamese. I’ve never seen one example of screens in Vietnam, and that’s in a place fraught with mosquitoes.

They drive with no discretion even with little infants aboard – just heave themselves right out in front of you. What is funny is that in such contact, the Minsk, made of metal, is absolutely never affected in such collisions, in contrast to the plastic going flying or splitting on the Vietnamese’s Honda Dreams, SYM Attila scooters, and the like. Or else, the kid’s linkage for gear shifting and the like is then flawed whereas the Minsk’s is not affected. Kid and his buddy pull up next to me and I forcefully and indignantly tell them and motion that you don’t just swerve out in front of someone from a side street and they need to open their eyes up. “Ok,” they indicate, and then try getting their machine to shift despite the smashed linkage. The old Belarusian beast by maintaining position had done a job on the little Honda clone.

Tourists don’t have a clue how much of a risk they are incurring walking along all relaxed on a sidewalk in places like Hanoi. Recently I see this tall blonde guy with his fairly attractive Westerner girlfriend walking by nonchalantly on the sidewalk across the opening to a parking garage below the Trang Tien department store. I had to warn him: “Heh man, are you new here?” He responds, “Pretty new.” I add, “You’re going to get your ass run over – in this place with these morons, you can’t just walk by without looking.”

All these Vietnamese morons just come blindly flying out across the sidewalk on their murdercycles from all these mini-alleys, with no concern beyond themselves. I finally came to the conclusion that it was the Americans who had the best modus operandi for dealing with the Vietnamese: Just blow their s— away, the whole bunch of them. (It worked out; the Americans didn’t win the war (didn’t lose it either; they let the South Vietnamese “accomplish” that), but they’ve won the peace. What present-day Vietnam is implementing is what the old Saigon government already had in the early 1970s. And the two good aspects of Communism – free healthcare and free schooling – are now long gone. I recently visited the village of our San Diu (say it “San Ziu”; it’s an ethnic minority originally from southern China) maid and the first sight I see is her lovely 15-year old daughter who had to drop out of school two years ago, because they couldn’t afford the in excess of 1,000,000 dong ($62) a year fees. Sad.)

A month ago, I had five factors against me – something like in weather they talk of the perfect storm – everything that could be not in my favor was aligned. I (i) was driving at a brisk speed to make a 9:30 Saturday morning appointment; (ii) was turning, meaning the Minsk was at an angle – that inherent instability of a 2-wheeled vehicle; (iii) had come across an area where the pavement was wet, (iv) with walls at the corner where I was turning, had a limited view of the 1-way street I was turning on – which should be a non-factor for no one should be driving towards me, and (v), the biggest factor of them all – some typical moron of a Vietnamese was going the wrong-way on the 1-way street, and it all happened so fast – I’d apparently panic-braked and went down hard and was thinking this could be somewhat bad – I may be injured. The other guy apparently never had a problem. I immediately felt a burning in my knee.

What surprised me was the machine having me pinned down – I couldn’t get out from under it – never thought it was that heavy. The engine kept on running. I knew that with Hanoi so densely populated (they say it’s even more so than Hong Kong), help would soon arrive, and sure enough, the machine is shut off and lifted from me. Later it occurred to me that with the exhaust side of the machine having me pinned down, had it been a Vietnamese (or anyone) in shorts, well you know how your wife will have one heck of a burn when she’s parked her scooter and has brushed against the muffler of the adjacent motorbike. I can’t think of anything much worse than being trapped with a hot exhaust pressed against a bare leg.

Those elbow and knee extreme sports’ pads that I gave up on, what with straps all over the place – what a hassle I thought – are part of my new policy. That and driving at a less than brisk speed – always.

I’ve noticed that when the Vietnamese go down, often their hands end up looking like butchered meat. Hence, I’ve long been in the market for body armor for my hands. Found some in that motorcycle area close to the Indian Sector in Singapore, but was too cheap to pay the $40, I think it was. Big mistake. Compared to arthritis that often emerges from minor joint injuries and my hand that may be cracked now, $40 is now looking like a paltry factor.

Back in the times when the cops would show up at the house, subject me – I mean this is a place where they have implemented the ultimate system of people control, modeled on the East German Stasi system – or else we’d be at the police station, they’d hope I’d affirm that Vietnam is safe. Yes, crime-wise I’d tell them, but the way the Vietnamese drive, so rude, so dumb, so dangerously, more than makes up for it.

UN management even documents that for everyone here in Vietnam associated with the UN, whether it be employee or international consultant, they should never get on a motorbike in Vietnam.

About a couple of months ago, a foremost artificial intelligence expert, an elderly professor from MIT, was in Hanoi to apply his expertise to Vietnam’s traffic problems. He was walking across the street from his hotel, and was run over, putting him in critical condition in the French Hospital – Hanoi. A week later, he was evacuated to the States.

(I was finished with this section but what do I just receive though email from UN and WHO: “HEADLINE: Vietnam has road deaths’ epidemic: WHO.” Now you know that I know what I’m talking about.)

Thailand v Vietnam, the road safety factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THE PEACE OF MIND FROM CRIME FACTOR

Now I’m hard on the Vietnamese. And, again, I’ve been known to respond to a certain allusion of some people, who have a problem with that, with, “I call ‘em how I see them, and if someone has a problem with that, well then they can just kiss my creamy white ass.” But you know what – the Vietnamese and I have a lot of laughs and I get invited into their houses – I’d say to half the provinces in northern Vietnam – these provinces for which I’ve been invited into their homes come to mind: Ha Tay, Phu Tho, Tuyen Quang, Vinh Phuc, Hai Phong, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Thanh Hoa, and Ha Noi Provinces – I think I’ve gotten all of them; maybe not. As my wife’s former French boss responded about this, “That’s because you’re a good guy.”

This French friend of ours – he’s also a citizen of Switzerland in addition to France – was the buddy of the Swiss Ambassador here; they went running around together. Our French friend related to me how the Swiss Ambassador was disappointed that in his former two assignments – Albania, and Columbia – he could truly befriend the people – become comfortable enough that they’d invite him into their homes as a true friend. But that phenomenon just didn’t happen with the Vietnamese. They never invite him to their houses. We lived in Japan for a long time, and the Japanese are documented as being the same way – they won’t go that one step beyond – where they’ll invite you into their houses. But my family and I were invited into the houses of Japanese neighbors and friends.

Yes, I’m hard on the Vietnamese, but have to admit this: I read a book on Vietnam about a traveler’s trip in the remote of the country in the very early 1950s; I believe the author was British. I’ll never forget this that he documented, for it’s as true as can be: He’s way out in the sticks in the Central Highlands, and noted: “You don’t have to worry about the Vietnamese, for they are too civilized to harm you.” I don’t like being put in a situation where I’m saying they are civilized but what he documented is the absolute truth – You don’t have to worry about the Vietnamese harming you. (Now you may get killed or maimed on the road because of their indifference in these modern times, but they’re not trying to kill or hurt you.)

Judging from the Vietnamese, the Vietnamese are a bunch of thieves. I mean we have about 50 locks and like devises around the doors and windows of our house – maybe more. I’m looking behind me, right now, at the door to the balcony of our bedroom and see five such locks. Then we have the burglar bars over the windows. (I told the wife I wanted to get rid of the burglar bars in our bedroom since with the door windows (these don’t have burglar bars), there’s not real security anyway. But she in no way wants to entertain such an idea.)

Motorbikes all have minders or else they are locked up in the house. I leave something like my old leather gloves, holes in them, un-fragrant sometimes from sweating in the summer (I carry air freshener for them in the summer), on my motorcycle, and a Vietnamese minder or shop owner will take them and hand them to me, message: someone will steal anything.

The wife won’t drive her upscale (upscale for Vietnam anyway – with taxes the price is more than doubled here) Honda SH scooter out at night, for she knows there’s a chance some young guys will come up and steal it, no matter she’s still on it. A women was killed not that far away from the house – she was on Thuy Khue Street not far from the Buoi Market – and her necklace was snatched, she pursued on her upscale Honda scooter, but ran into a truck, killing her. On the same street my wife, on a bicycle when a young girl, had a watch snatched from her arm, knocking her down.

I relayed to my wife my mother’s concern about my safety when I made trips out into the provinces. Wife’s response surprised me: “I worry about you out there too.” Actually, Nghe An Province, five provinces south of Hanoi, a large province that juts far into Laos, makes Fieldings The World’s Most Dangerous Places by Robert Young Pelton. (You can search it out on the internet, but not me, for the Vietnamese Communists have this part about Vietnam fire-walled.) Hence, I can only guess it’s because of the drug trade where they even shoot cops dead there.

I’d been in contact with the subject Robert Young Pelton, Fielding (travel guides) Publisher and CEO, and also his author, Wink Dulles, of Fieldings’s Vietnam Including Cambodia & Laos and Vietnam on Two Wheels (about motorcycling in southern Vietnam). I complimented Dulles on his being a precedent-setter, the only travel guide author who would include the pussy scene. I added, “What’s the story with these other authors – are they all a bunch of candy-asses?” Dulles responds, “They are a bunch of candy-asses.”

Both Pelton and Dulles have been of no more for several years. Pelton, living true to what you’d expect in the author of World’s Most Dangerous Places, had gone to Afghanistan where he disappeared. Dulles was in NE Thailand, on a motorcycle with his Thai fiancee sitting behind him. They were on the way to a market when a Thai motorcyclist ran into them, killing Dulles and putting his fiancee in the hospital.

There are a lot of Vietnamese on drugs here, meaning others can be at risk of the associated crime.

I don’t think I could get beaten up here or harmed if I tried. (Of course, the danger on the roads more than makes up for it.) About the day my family and I left Pattaya on February 23 was within hours of when a Thai shot and killed the two Russian ladies there in Pattaya. Guns aren’t in people’s hands in Vietnam. (An American fell in love with a Haiphong schoolteacher, shipped his household goods over here, including his hunting rifle that was found by Customs, … and you know the rest of the story.) (What also flabbergasted the judge and other Vietnamese players at the trial was his responding that he didn’t know where his mother was. That was unfathomable to these Vietnamese, what with the very special place of their mothers within their hearts. Although the guy wasn’t typical, we foreigners can conceive of a few having lost contact with their mothers.)

Thailand v Vietnam , peace of mind about crime. Advantage: Vietnam.


THE DRUG AVAILABILITY FACTOR

Drugs are a plus or negative, depending on how individual people feel about them, as you know. Heroin in Hanoi is cheap with a hit being little more than free. I’ve seen young Vietnamese shooting up right under my nose (that’s not hyperbole) in broad daylight, exposed to all, adjacent to Hanoi’s famed Hoan Kiem (Restored Sword) Lake in downtown Hanoi. I threw a monkey wrench in that when up at the other end of the lake I indicated tactfully to the police in the police box there that while they were (doing nothing), such was happening. After that, you’d see the cop assistants with their butts parked on the park-bench formerly used by the drug guys, sending a message. That new policy has remained to this day. Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t rat them out because I have a thing against drugs; rather it was because these guys, these touts, are wise asses, and I don’t like mouthy people. I don’t like people in my hair about some damn postcards when they know I’m not interested. In other words, I retaliated.

Frankly, although not being into drugs (I only make an exception on the last night when in Phnom Penh by ordering a “very happy” pizza) myself (but open-minded towards recreational users), I’m intrigued by all these authors and the like who enjoyed opium dens in the old Indochina, and when I find out, if ever, where one is in Hanoi, I might give it a try. The former French boss of my wife asked me too whether I knew where one was in Hanoi. (The French were really into the opium dens in the old Indochina, and didn’t appreciate newly-arriving foreigners poaching in.) I know they have opium dens here, for Tiziano Terzani in his A Fortune-teller Told Me no sooner than arriving in Hanoi (he had no use for “moldy” Hanoi nor its people “who couldn’t seem to talk without quarreling and shouting”) hopped on a cyclo at the train station and his driver took him to one. It was right next door to a Communist publishing house! How do I know irrefutably that Hanoi has them? I asked our neighborhood policeman! (But he wouldn’t tell me where they are – only that they could be found.)

I see syringes all over the place in Hanoi – in the parks (where I saw one full of blood), alongside the road when I’m walking, and in the medium of the street in front of the International School. (Young Vietnamese students like to have little night parties on these mediums.) Over by the Long Bien wholesale fruit market on the wrong side of the dyke, I stopped behind a truck to take a leak, and on the ground were about 15 syringes. (And here we’re on motorbikes out on the highway exposed to drivers under such influence. No wonder buses are coming at you full speed – in the wrong lane – they figure you can ease yourself over onto the berm. And no wonder that on the 7pm news, you’ll often see together too many crumpled up bicycles, their wheels bent like potato chips. A bunch of school kids will be killed, for example, by a bus or truck.)

Judging from a young cafe owner I knew well, although heroin has quite a presence in Hanoi, there must be significant risk in going after it. When my wife’s father was dying of liver cancer, I reasoned let’s keep him in heroin so that at least he can be happy and free from pain. So I asked this cafe manager, on a side street (Trieu Viet Vuong) a block from where my wife worked at that time on Pho Hue Street – I’d go to this cafe after taking her to work when I was driving her because of her pregnancy. This young man was adamant in telling me to forget the idea – the cops would throw me in jail. When I persisted, he advised that if I just had to procure it, have a Vietnamese do it for me.

The young cafe manager did know the heroin price – 50,000 dong (there are 16,000 dong per US dollar) a packet or hit. (It had gone up – a couple of years ago, it was only 20,000-25,000 dong. Both prices are little more than free. I mean it’s gone from $1.50 to $3.00.

Marijuana must be easy to find in Hanoi. I’m parking wife’s scooter across the narrow street from the Polite Pub in the Old Quarter, and the minder asked me whether I wanted some. (To jump out of the scope a little, because I get a chuckle out of it, rather than flying out with the wife and daughter from Pattaya, I continued across Cambodia, including spending some time in Phnom Penh. I’ve ordered a very happy (double marijuana) pizza on that river road, and the waiter brings it to me, and whispers, “Would you like a very happy smoke with your very happy pizza?” Man, that’s service! (I’ve decided not to give out the name of the pizza shop although in Cambodia I doubt their cops would go after a place documented as selling reefers.))

(On this trip to Cambodia, the brainstorm of the very happy pizza didn’t work out well. Back at my guesthouse just after midnight I’m having to pack loads of stuff all scattered all over the place, including making sure something wouldn’t be exposed to Vietnamese customs, to be ready for a 6am wakeup for the bus to Saigon, and I’m thinking – what the hell have I done – I’m having a heck of a time packing in this heavy daze.)

This just in from http://www.thanhniennews.com:

“Hanoi’s New Century busted: 1,160 detained, drugs found – Nearly 500 armed police officers Saturday raided the New Century Club in Hanoi, northern Vietnam’s hippest nightclub, detaining 1,163 people, including foreigners, on suspicion of drug use and distribution.”

New Century, at 10 Trang Thi Street, is the disco I mention under another Factor that looks like it is hosting a convention of Vietnamese supermodels. I go by there all the time, and what eye candy.

Continuing with the account:

“The sting was a classified operation by the central Ministry of Public Security’s General Police Department. Even the Hanoi police force knew nothing about it. At 1am, the officers laid siege to the disco at No 10 Trang Thi Street in downtown Hanoi and found over a thousand people, mostly from 17 to 24 years old, dancing frenziedly to strong music. Three were caught red-handed with drugs.

“Some tried to run away but were caught outside by waiting policemen. Some were caught trying to throw away ecstasy pills – a kind of illegal drug mainly used by dancers – and destroying incriminating evidence. Over 200 personal pouches containing heroin, ecstasy pills and other drugs were seized at the site.”

“Over the next 4 hours, 1,163 people were taken to various sites for questioning and drug tests. Prominent singers, actresses, and businessmen were among the group. Over 200 tested positive to using drugs. But by 7.30 pm, all had been released except 20 people who are still detained on the suspicion of drug distributing.

“Though the club owner Nguyen Dai Duong was not present, he was detained later.

“A venue for the wealthy and chic, New Century is one of the biggest and most expensive nightclubs in Vietnam. It has been fined twice in the past for staying open too late and violating noise regulations.”

“Similarly, but on smaller scale, local Ho Chi Minh City police Saturday burst into the MGM Saigon, one of the largest and most rambunctious cafes in the city, and detained over 100 youths, some as young as 14 on suspicion of drug use.

“This all is part of a recent campaign to intensify the fight against crime and drugs. Over the last dozen days, police nationwide arrested over 1,100 suspects and seized over 8.2 kg of heroin and 1,140 additional individual doses of heroin, not to mention the two latest operations.”

“Friday, Duong Duc Hiep, a famous TV comedian popular for his gaunt feature, was caught in Hanoi carrying 0.18-grams of heroin. He confessed to being addicted for 5 months.”

Thailand v Vietnam, drug availability. Advantage: It’s even.


THE BEER, AND CHEAPNESS-IN-GENERAL FACTOR

Is beer enough of a factor to peruse? Definitely and I’ll provide a precedent. My wife and I were in Barrio Barretto, Philippines. Barrio Barretto is the first little town up both from Olongapo and the US Navy’s former base of Subic. Of course, retired US Navy guys are in abundance there. I remember when I worked in the area some years back, a Navy Chief (like a senior sergeant but the Navy version), known as “Mr Philippines” – he looked like an oversized skinhead – reported in the base paper that you could retire and live like a king on $10,000 a year in the Philippines. The point is that we run into obviously an old retired Navy guy and his wife there in Barrio Barretto. She told us that they’d retired there for the sole reason of the cheap beer. (San Miguel cost 8 pesos with there being something like 30 pesos/dollar at that time.) She says, “we retired in the States, but my husband didn’t like the high cost of beer – so we came over here.”

At that esteemed and institution of a website, stickmanbangkok.com, its webmaster is always reporting that we’re in luck, because beer is available at some club for something like “only 125 baht” ($3) – you’ll find the number of baht doesn’t matter when you read on. But I’m always thinking lucky I’m where I am (in that regard). In Vietnam their excellent bia hoi (beer hall) draft beer is as low as 1,000 dong and usually 2,000 dong with their being 16,000 dong to a dollar. In other words I can get about 12 glasses of beer for a dollar! And for some reason, I’ve never seen this documented, but these bia hoi all over Vietnam always serve superb food. No wonder they are the national past time for Vietnamese men.

I still don’t get blase about how cheap items and services are in Vietnam; it continually amazes me. Just a couple of examples, the 5,000 dong (.3 of a dollar) motorcycle repair bills and the 600,000 dong ($37) monthly pay of the maid who seems to work 16 hours a day and with only a rare day off. That’s not my idea, I feel for her and tell her so, but that’s the way it’s done here. I’m not the one who manages her.

I give a French artist visitor to Hanoi a 40-minute lesson on driving his just-procured Minsk, and he, not a toughie-type guy, is on his way to deep in the rugged mountains north of Hanoi to do some sketches. I know he’s not ready and know he’ll have trouble, but the French are like that – they have a pair of balls and will go deep out into the remote as it gets. (I’ve related before in a prior article of my big former football- (that’s US football) playing friend (he’s our “expert” on Thailand) with legs the size of young oak trees, being scared to death at the thought of going to Laos or Cambodia. I email him of someone running into a lucky-to-have-made-it-out situation or even death in those countries and he responds, “See – I told you.” We no sooner get out of Hanoi on motorbikes, and I hear him say, “My butt’s killing me.” I was taking him out into the provinces to a very special strip for him to get laid. He’s never forgotten her, a young Thanh Hoa girl, with his saying to this day: “I should have brought her back to town.”)

And the young French artist, I learn on his return, does have trouble deep out into the sticks; his Minsk quits on him. About four Vietnamese surround it, working on it, and it costs him 30,000 dong – less than $2. “In France,” he tells me, “that would have cost me 80 Euros/person/hour.”

Yes, it’s a privileged life here in some regards. For a superb example, we have two young kids, including a 16-month old. But absolutely no hassle at all for the wife and I. The maid and the wife’s mother take care of them around the clock. We can go anyplace anytime, and don’t have to worry about kid responsibilities. Babies without having to put up with the crying – now that’s a great situation.

Thailand v Vietnam, the beer and cheapness-in-general factor. Advantage: Vietnam


THE SHOPPING FACTOR

Ever since coming to Vietnam, one by one, you see the number of department stores increasing, all little dinky things exactly alike, a function the lack of creativity in the Vietnamese. Well they were all little dinky things until couple of years ago German Metros, French managed, arrived both in Hanoi and Saigon. They are huge and like Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs. Still the selection is mediocre; it’s mostly Vietnamese stuff, but at a cheaper price. All these little department stores (sieu thi – supermarket) sell the same tired stuff, no variety, but it’s better than nothing. About a year ago, another exception: French Big C department stores arrived. They are large.

A spin-off factor is it’s satisfying that with the prices fixed in these department stores, no Vietnamese can rip you off, really putting some hurt on that national institution of cheating you and is getting worse for them.

I spent almost 20% of our budget on books at “Bookazine,” in that nice Royal Garden Plaza department store on Beach Road during our recent visit to Pattaya. I enjoy outstanding reads having the Region as their scope. Trouble is that the Vietnamese Communists don’t authorize books by foreigners on Vietnam. (Vietnamese entrepreneurs counterfeit them anyway in the south where they are in abundance in the backpackers’ district of Saigon. Good buys (until you learn what it costs them to copy them – much less than a dollar). I bought about 60 one time.)

If there’s no beach, no dancing or no shopping, my wife doesn’t want to travel there. She sure doesn’t have any problem with Thailand, what with its outstanding shopping.

Thailand v Vietnam, the shopping factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THE HEALTH FACTOR

Living in this place brings out a lot of worry both for my two kids and myself. (Why not the wife? They – the Vietnamese – are hopeless. Read on.) Right behind me as I type this is a new air purifier, from Korea, going. There’s another one in the kids’ bedroom. (But will their grandmother caretaker use it? It’s like trying to motivate a turnip.) They were procured a few days ago because of the recent finding discussed in the next paragraph.

The just-in study listed about 10 cities where the air particulate level was particularly bad, containing micro-particulates that go into the lungs and stay forever. Hanoi made the list, so did Saigon, and there were a couple or so cities in each of India and China. All these dirty cities were in Asia except for one in Africa. Now that really bothered me – micro-particulates going into your lungs and staying forever.

The finding included the fact that for those living within 500 meters of a busy street, it’s deleterious to the lungs, meaning the heart too. We live 50 meters from a busy street. I’ve always wanted to bail for a location away from all the terrible horn honking and pollution, but am constrained by the spouse. With her being Vietnamese, she, like all of them, fails to see the problem. When I put her in contact with the wholesaler of the air cleaners, the first thing out of her mouth is: “You pay for the electric bill, then.”

These are the type of people like the Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) newspaper reporter who to my concern of lead in the air from the leaded gas they were using (until 2001) responded, “What’s the problem? Look at me – I’m okay.” And that’s coming from someone who you’d think would have something in his head. (That lead in the air situation here was really bothering me – about the daughter who was newly arrived at the time and about myself. Thanks to foreigners who got involved, getting rid of it happened. The Vietnamese were saying they’d need about 13 years to implement the use of no-lead gasoline. Foreigners explained to the Vietnamese that Vietnam didn’t refine any gasoline anyway; hence, it would be easy to procure whatever they wanted, in this case no-lead gasoline instead of the type with lead.)

Around that time WHO, I believe it was, reported that the IQs of the children of Bangkok and Manila were down 5-7% because of lead in the air. Renown Mr Stickman of the website bearing the same name, on my behalf, surveyed his readership subsequently, and then was able to report that leaded gasoline in Bangkok was of no more. I hope so, but keep meaning to go over to WHO and ask them so I’ll know for sure. I just emailed them, but haven’t heard anything from them; maybe their Japanese contact is constrained by his English. Bangkok did just make the news for now having clean air. Great.

There’s something about this place – Vietnam – that no matter where you go, it’s dusty, heavily dusty. You even see Vietnamese a lot now wearing masks, and that’s really saying something when we’re talking Pleistocene Man. The highways are all torn up, and in any direction out of Hanoi, I run into terrible dust so bad it sometimes gives you a sore throat. I’m talking about it being that way no matter where I’ve headed – going to Son Tay in to the west, Thai Nguyen to the north, Tam Dao and Tuyen Quang to the northwest. I can see why some tourists put their Minsk rentals on the train, and then only when far away from Hanoi will they ride them. The Vietnamese have made this place unlivable. In trips I’ve made through various regions of Thailand – Nong Khai – Bangkok, Savannakhet – Bangkok, Pattaya – Cambodia, Bangkok – Poipet, and Bangkok south to Malaysia, it’s not like that.

When an expatriate has a significant health problem here, they are flown to Bangkok. (Not me if I’m ever in dire straits health-wise; you won’t find any example of SE Asian Pleistocene Man such as the Thai cutting on me. Singapore inspires more confidence, preferably a Westerner rather than a Chinese. Indeed, a Harvard case study documented that you sure don’t want an Asian at the helm of the airplane you’re in, for if something happens, these old hands – the Asians – at relying on a group for decisions and are from a culture of centuries of followers, can’t make the decision to save the plane.) Wife had a young friend, a secretary of UNDP, who had throat cancer, and they flew her to Singapore. Notice that Vietnam is out of the equation.

Thailand v Vietnam, the health factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THE FOOD FACTOR

The Far Eastern Economic Review in its book review section in the same issue rated two books by top New York and Paris chefs who had independently traveled the world to find the best food. One chef concluded that Thailand’s street food was the best food in the world. The other chef concluded that on a per square meter basis, Vietnam had the best food in the world” (Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour – in search of the perfect meal). I agree with both of them. I regret when we were in Bangkok, my wife seeing an example of some street food she wanted so badly, but my responding let’s get out of this wretched heat by eating in a restaurant rather than out on the street. She never got another chance at that morsel she wanted so badly. I’ll make it up to her next time.

I read the subject Bourdain book. He, by the way, is also known for revealing that one should never order fish on a Monday. Supposedly, he was searching the world for the perfect meal, but he could only barely get away from Vietnam. He’d cover Saigon, then cover somewhere else in the world, then he’d spend a chapter on Nha Trang in Vietnam, then it would be another place in the world, then he’d be back in Vietnam, this time in Can Tho. And finally, he was in Saigon again at the restaurant that was supposed to be Vietnam’s best.

Bourdain loved the Vietnamese (I can just picture it – a newbie comes over here, enjoys a massage from a young girl in Can Tho (as he documented), she’s working his inner thigh and of course he thinks he’s found heaven) and loved the Vietnamese food, raving about its incredible freshness and seasonings all right there in front of you to choose to your liking. Too bad that he never made it to Hanoi, for it has its distinctive food, second to none, too.

But does Thailand have even Asia’s best street food? The spouse and I visited and were cold in Shanghai when winter was winding down, and its street food was memorable. I remember these huge, grilled, steaming sweet potatoes that had a delicious caramel-like taste. Cost was only two yuan (8.65 yuan/dollar then). (The wife didn’t know, and paid some Mid-East-looking guy, working the end of NanJing Lu (street), 10 yuan when we first arrived.) And I remember enticing giant strawberries, encrusted in a clear coating, on a stick.

And close to our hotel on NanJing Lu, that massive shopper’s promenade downtown packed with thousands of people, was a stand with some seasoned pork on a stick that my wife could never pass by without a fix of. She noted it was the best pork she’d ever had, and that’s coming from someone of Hanoi where the people have a fix of pork everyday. I asked her: Would you rate Bangkok’s or Shanghai’s street food the best? She paused, thought, and responded “Shanghai’s.”

As I’ve reported before, I continually mull bailing on this place, this Vietnam. But one of the thoughts that bothers me is not having available all this incredible variety of almost every kind of tropical and non-tropical fruit there is, all so cheap here (except for durian – easily available but they aren’t cheap anywhere in the region; I once calculated that for the price of one durian in Hanoi, I could buy 40 ice creams, hence deciding they just were too expensive). Absolutely great for the health all this fruit is.

I’m sure in Thailand one is at no disadvantage when it comes to these wonderful tropical fruits. I noticed it has a variety of lychee that Vietnam doesn’t have – that variety of big red ones. I formerly agreed with the Chinese that the lychee was the finest of all fruits – that is until my wife introduced me to durian (maybe it was in Kuala Lumpur which she said had the best). I would be surprised to find that all these examples of fruit are as inexpensive in Thailand as they are in Vietnam. For example, I can get mangoes as cheap as a half a dollar for a kilo. Up where I am, we also get the cold weather fruit by the big boxes from southern China – for example, apples and those round, juicy Japanese pears. The cost is not significant.

Thailand v Vietnam, the food. Advantage: It’s a tie.


THE MASSAGE FACTOR

In Bangkok and Pattaya, I walk by these massage places where you can see all these customers lined up in a row together getting massages. I wouldn’t get one of those massages if they’d pay me $10.

In Vietnam, it’s more discreet where generally a flimsy piece of cloth used as a curtain is drawn. I like the privacy of there being only the young (they are always young) masseuse and myself. In Hanoi, the typical price: 30,000 dong for an hour – less than $2; I recently had one out in the provinces for only 25,000 dong and I know a place in Hanoi that does it for that too. (16,000 dong = 1 dollar.)

Most tourists here never know of such pleasures (and pleasures of the carnal variety) widely available here. You have to know the Vietnamese language. (You don’t need to know the language in Thailand.) The services are advertised in Vietnamese, and those great Vietnamese euphemisms such as their word for “relax” are used. Now the Vietnamese and I know what this “relax” is referring to! Hence, don’t come here – go to Thailand (which you will anyway – everyone goes to Thailand – or so I thought until I saw the figures for Malaysia which easily beats Thailand in attracting tourists).

Lonely Planet Vietnam reports that generally “extra services” are available with Vietnamese massages. They’re wrong. Half of the massage places perform legitimate massages; there are no extra services – you won’t get your cookies off. But many will perform the extra services. And some of the nhan vien (employees) get lazy and will only perform the extra services. If you see the Vietnamese word for “relax,” you’re definitely going to walk out having gotten your cookies off by one of the three ways. (Actually there are four.)

So which kind of massage place does the author prefer – (i) the legitimate ones where the girl will work her butt off for an hour (for little more than nothing), including quite possibly that wonderful walking on your back and maybe that variant of grinding her knees into your back – or (ii) the naughty type where when you walk out you will be a few ounces lighter?

The author prefers neither the legitimate nor the naughty massage places. What’s that, you’re saying. There’s a rare kind, by far the author’s favorite. Some background: he’s married, and needs to be able to service his young wife, and he’ll have a problem if he’s gotten his cookies off already. There are a few places, hard to find, but cherished by the author once found, that are somewhat of a hybrid. As part of their repertoire, they will apply pressure at various points around your goodies for an extended period. And they might use a feathery, tickling technique around your goodies. It’s like 90% of an orgasm for an extended period of like 15 minutes. Yes, this place can be second to none.

Unfortunately, Hanoi is not static – you don’t go to one of your favorite places for a month or so, and when you go back, some damn dentist or something has replaced it. Or your favorite girl is of no more there. And some of these girls are absolute masterpieces – just adorable in every way – perfect skin and perfect mild gold skin coloration, that just-right mild hair pattern down below,….The author can think of about four he’ll never forget, but they are lost forever.

He did luck out once. One of his favorites had been gone for a year – she was of the Tay (related to the Thai) ethnic minority and had gone back home to Lang Son on the China border. To him she looked Vietnamese, but the Tay and the Vietnamese might differ on their perception and might be able to tell each other from the other with ease (just like the Thai and Khmer although to me they look the same). One night the author is driving by – in the area for another reason – and there she was; she’d returned to her old place. The author was euphoric. Lan had started off giving him legitimate massages, but he brought her around and she brought herself around to where she gave that kind of massage he likes, but she was always cautious; there could be no suspicion from boss lady and her colleagues. The author and Lan had our secret. He got a kick out of the time she crossed the line; she inquired, “Do you need some help?” Yes! Sometimes this place is heaven. The author never has to even envy Donald Trump or anyone for that matter.

And that brings me to another technique that the author will use. It doesn’t always work There can be a girl only giving legitimate massages, but you can encourage her to expand her repertoire by using some guile. The author won’t go into details. Trade secret.

I’ve heard of those soapy massages in Thailand that guys probably rave about. But no way do I want to be rubbing against some sex provider who quite possibly has had very physical contact with literally 5,000 guys over the past five years. (Do the 8th grade arithmetic.) With that kind of contact, has she picked up something like herpes, venereal warts, hep B, or ? Well do sheep have pubic hair?

Thailand v Vietnam, the massage factor. Advantage: Vietnam


THE SCENIC BEAUTY FACTOR

As my wife’s former French boss put it, there are two reasons to live in Vietnam – #1 the women, and #2 the women. To that I’d add that Vietnam is cheap and Hanoi, where I live, offers great proximity to ethereal scenery and with all these interesting hill-tribes. And one doesn’t have to go far from Hanoi to be out in the mountains among the “dan toc,” the ethnic minorities of which there are 53 in Vietnam. I love them, all of them. My favorite place long was Sapa, far to the northwest, and now it’s both Sapa and the Ba Be Lake and Park far to the north. No doubt that it’s not just mere coincidence that neither has majority Vietnamese, only the minorities.

Even with the highways torn up, in 95 minutes I can be in our San Diu (say “San Ziu”) maid’s village halfway up the tremendously high Tam Dao mountain (where at the top there is a resort known as the “Dalat of the North” that served as a summer retreat from the oppressive heat and humidity of Hanoi for the French). As I approach her village, I see all these beautiful green mountains shrouded in mist. It doesn’t get much better. The San Diu people, by the way, are typical of many of the ethnic minorities in northern Vietnam, having originally come from Southern China. But there are only 95,000 San Diu in Vietnam, nowhere near the number of HMong, Tay, Muong, and Dao, for example.

Majestic scenery is to be found all over Vietnam. Unfortunately, you never see any wildlife, for the Vietnamese have eaten everything. I was here six years before I saw an example of wildlife, a dead snake as I approached the Ba Be Lakes and Resort eight hours north of Hanoi. Judging from its bright color, it was probably was of the poisonous variety. I suspect Thailand’s the same – one won’t see any wildlife. In Malaysia, I did see a huge lizard as large as a crocodile swimming across a stream by where our train had stopped. You see monkeys in Phnom Penh and around Angkor Watt. The Vietnamese would have eaten them. I never saw any rats in Phnom Penh, and suspect the Cambodians had eaten them. Vietnam is fraught with rats that will un-nerve you when they catch you by surprise. You noticed that I call Hanoi a rat-hole.

What do I think of Thailand for scenery? And while I set forth in the beginning I don’t trot myself out as an expert on Thailand, I have seen a fair bit of it. The scenery of most parts of the country is unremarkable. I read guys’ accounts where they note how beautiful it is where they visit in Isaan. I think, man, they must come from an ugly place. Going from Nong Khai (across the river from Vientiane, Laos) to Bangkok; Mukdahan (across the river from Savannakhet, Laos) to Bangkok; Bangkok to Malaysia; Bangkok to Poipet, Cambodia; and Pattaya to the southwest corner of Cambodia (fairly recent trips I’ve taken), I’ve found the scenery to be almost non-existent.

Head out in the sticks from Chiang Mai over towards Burma, well I sure didn’t find that disappointing; rather it was unforgettable. Why don’t I get back there? (Oh, I know – the wife isn’t interested if there’s (i) no dancing (ballroom (“classical” as she puts it) preferred), (ii) no beach, or (iii) no shopping – she’s the worst case for my type of traveling. Plus she gets that motion sickness; hence, if it’s not flying, she can’t do it. She does do well on a motorbike. But when it was taking us 8 hours to reach Ba Be by means of her scooter, the young lady was going into a tizzy – “that guy (of Queen Cafe) said it would only take 6.5 hours.”)

And a friend – who married an absolutely adorable local girl here in Hanoi, became fed up with the Vietnamese (they hassled them at the Hanoi Airport when they were returning from a trip), earned his English-teaching certification (I gave him the lead) in Phuket, and then taught in Bangkok – noted to me that Thailand has beauty every bit as good around those islands in the south as one finds in spectacularly beautiful Ha Long Bay to the east of Haiphong.

Thailand v Vietnam, the scenic beauty factor. Advantage: Vietnam


THE EDUCATING THE LITTLE ONES’ FACTOR

I came over here to Hanoi with no plans for starting a family but was in love with a young lady I married within 4 ½ months after arrival. Her plan, it turned out, didn’t include having no kids. She’s standing nude or semi-nude in the bedroom, I’m looking at her magnificent body – that 170cm (5’ 7”) of mild gold-colored skin, lissome beauty of arms and legs from here to over yonder, and breasts of which I could no way improve on – and note to her, “If you have a baby, you’re going to lose that figure.” The response was immediate and indicated values nowhere near mine. “What – give up my dream for a child for this (mere figure)?”

So the daughter comes, and I made sure it was a daughter, for if I had to have a kid, I wanted it to be like a clone of her. (And the daughter has indeed started sprouting out to having a figure similar to her mother.) We went to a clinic called Sinh Con Nhu Y Muon – Bear a Baby of the Sex You Prefer. Yes, through timing, one can effect whether it’s a boy or a girl – it’s based on a Japanese, US, and French model, I believe it is. I first learned of it from an Australian doctor in a clinic mostly for foreigners here in Hanoi.

Then there is the problem of where the daughter will go to school. And I saw no answer. Neither the wife nor I wanted her in the Vietnamese schools. And as one whose family had always gone to school for free, I sure wasn’t going to spend $6,000 a year for the International School – Hanoi or $11,000 for the UN International School – Hanoi. No the option was, well there was no option. Hence, I did what any normal person would do in such a case – I hid from the issue and pretended she’d never become old enough to go to school.

Of course a few years pass and the daughter’s old enough to go to school. What would I do with there being no option? Out pops the perfect idea from a long-time expatriate here who (and I’m serious) knew everything about everything about the region. “Go to the French School.” The daughter, even at the young age of a week and a half away from her 7th birthday, is now in her fourth year of the French School. With it subsidized by the French Embassy, it’s quite affordable, costing about half the International School.

What about quality? One expert, an author and one who has been over here so long, he tried hanging on here after 1975 when the North won the war (the winning side didn’t say they had to leave as such; rather they made it so difficult the expatriates would leave on their own), noted to me that the French School was now the best of the three international schools in Hanoi, that they had an outstanding principal (who was also an expert guitar player, he added), and had surpassed the UN School which was formerly the best. But, he warned, things can change – with staff turnover, the French School may not remain the best. We’re absolutely satisfied with it, but teaching English, we hear, isn’t their strong point. (And maybe, just maybe, that’s the way the French want it.)

That’s going to be a blast for the daughter when she fills out that section of a job application on languages’ expertise. Rather than checking off the boxes indicating her expertise for the different variables of the different languages, she will merely have to write in “native speaker” for each of English, French, and Vietnamese.

A long-time, highly respected English teacher (Mr Stickman) for a prestigious institution in Thailand has noticed that the kids who go to the common Thai schools turn out to be every bit as competent as those who went to the pricey international schools. Unfortunately, I don’t hear that about the Vietnamese schools; and frankly, this is what I think of the Vietnamese: They have nothing in their heads. In the spirit of honest journalism, full disclosure, I do have to say that when visiting one of the Vietnamese public schools as part of my teaching English, I was impressed by the talent of the kids – the skits and musical performances they put on to honor me.

In all the years I’ve been in Vietnam, I don’t remember having one intelligent conversation with a Vietnamese. It happened almost instantaneously in Cambodia. And I meet a young Chinese woman from north of Beijing, and it was also different – she had a brain; it was stimulating talking to her. (We were on the same boat doing Ha Long Bay. I get a kick out of how the Chinese, her included, feel about the Vietnamese – the Chinese think the Vietnamese are a joke, don’t take them seriously, and just laugh them off. This includes the 1979 border war – the Chinese laugh about it.)

Continuing, I talk to a British woman at intermission for a movie at our Hanoi Cinematheque and it’s different – I got more out of conversing with her for 10 minutes then I have from all the Vietnamese added together. “Beef has the best fat for you, and I should know – my father’s a doctor” (Ms Huong, one of my wife’s best English- and French-major friends from their Hanoi National University days at a party where I got on the subject of eating healthy).

And finally, I’m discussing all these factors about Thailand, Vietnam and beyond, but what is the best thing in my life over here? No doubt about it, and I didn’t want the guy, old smiley, my 16-month old. The wife also had to have a #2 to complete her dream. I was concerned about the too significant cost for educating a second one at the French School, and she volunteered that she’d pay all of that herself if I’d agree to the #2.

I wasn’t interested in having a #2 and if we had to have a second, I preferred a daughter – they’re better looking. But I go to the hospital, I see the contentedness, the happiness, the fulfillment in the wife and what bravery – she’d just given birth and exhibited no expression of such on her face. I see the little one next to her. I was won over and have been ever since.

The little guy, old smiley, is the best thing in my life. He may be good-looking, he may be ugly, or he may be average – I don’t care. He’s a blast, good for laughs every day. He’s my favorite human. I know what pre-eminent interviewer Larry King was thinking when he broadcast after the birth of his son that meeting all those presidents, actresses, CEOs, all those whose who of the world, well that’s nothing – having my son, now that’s really something, he added.

Thailand v Vietnam, educating the little ones’ factor. Advantage: Thailand


THE GOOD MOVIE AND ROCK BAND FACTOR

“The best thing in Hanoi,” and I agree with the young man perception who said that. Yes, a little more than two years ago, an American opened up the Hanoi Cinematheque. Now enviably we have like a perpetual international film fest here. A friend in Cambodia envies it, and so does one in Saigon, because they have no such offerings – I hear from them, “I wish we had that here….” I’m talking to a British woman during a break during a Japanese series of movies, and she notes, “Cinematheque shows no crap.” Yes, it is indeed the best thing in town (other than Vietnam’s women and associated) and shows no crap.

Cinematheque can only ask for donations, and often the films are free when they are sponsored by one of the myriad of embassies or country institutions that are in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam where all the embassies are. Last Sunday was Greek Day, and Israel Week just finished.

Most of the movies shown here rate in the 7s (that places them in the 90-100 percentile) at www.imdb.com (compared to in the 5s for typical Hollywood fare). And other than (i) carnal pleasures, and (ii) the delight one’s kids bring them, what’s better than an outstanding movie? The Cinematheque is tucked away in like a little oasis in the middle of a block in downtown Hanoi on Hai Ba Trung Street across the street from the American Club.. It shares space with a wonderful tree-shaded outdoor restaurant and the Hotel des Artistes boutique hotel. It’s far away from the traffic and associated noise, and has perfect ambiance.

Cinematheque could be a factor keeping me here. Hard to believe, but Hanoi now has it over almost all the places for seeing the top movies of the world. Only if I’d go to a place like Los Angeles or Washington DC would the movie offerings not diminish from what I have here.

For a couple of examples, tonight I’ll be seeing the German Knallhart (Tough Enough) (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0475317/) with director Detlev Buck present. Somehow, Cinematheque’s Mr Herman is always attracting these notable directors and personalities. And tomorrow there’s a Pedro Almodovar movie, rated up in the stratosphere of imdb.com at 7.8. Knallhart is right behind at 7.3.

Expanding on the notables the Cinematheque owner attracts, this email just in from him: “Wait till you see SHORTBUS! The director – John Cameron Mitchell – is coming to Hanoi in November, so I'll have to find a way to show his movie…. talk about skin…and ‘action’…. !!!” This was in the context of my telling him that I like it when the directors, like in the Israeli movie Walk on Water, showing a few days ago at Cinematheque, have them getting all their clothes off; the nudity adds something special to a movie. But Cinematheque can’t cross the line, for as its director, responded to me, “They’ll shut me down.”

Cinematheque may have pushed it to the edge when they showed, as part of a Spanish week, a Miguel Albaladejo movie, Cachorro (Bear Cub is the US title). It started off showing rough man-on-man butt copulation. Interesting, I thought. But the genteel old couple next to me got up and walked out. And this was funny: There in front of and to the side of me was a Westerner guy with both a white woman and Vietnamese woman with him. He spends the movie trying to get them to bail from what he was seeing as deplorable. But the two gals were enjoying it just fine, thank you, and wouldn’t budge!

After seeing the absolutely precious Rinko Kikuchi in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel,” playing a Japanese schoolgirl where she flashes that very special part of her body and later goes completely nude, many, like me, may brainstorm fleetingly that Japan could be compelling.

Now for the rock band side of the equation: The wife is aghast at the idea of going someplace out of Vietnam without having a place to stay in advance (reservations). First time we went to Bangkok, it worked out well though, all her paranoia and frenetic pecking away on the keyboard. She’s superb at computers and associated, better than me by far. Me – I told her I just show up cold at any hotel and there’s a “Do you have a vacancy?” It’s worked well for me. She responds (subtly insults), “You’re different; everyone does reservations.” (She’s been around all these spoiled brat international experts who arrive in Hanoi and spoiled brat Vietnamese in Hanoi.)

She had us reservations in Bangkok with the massive Ambassador Hotel, 3- or 4-star, and it was super we thought. (For some reason, I never see anyone saying or documenting anything about it, with the exception of Jake Needham in one of his novels, which I got a kick out of what with our having stayed there.) Actually, the wife is correct about making reservations by the internet I later learned, for it means savings of roughly 50%. Our room at the Ambassador was $24. She did well.

Part of the Ambassador Hotel experience was walking out of the side of it and into this beer garden, facing Sukhumvit Road. There was real good ambiance at the open-air beer garden. And now to my point: A tremendous Thai band, with a beautiful female lead singer, well it was like their taste in rock was identical to mine.

They were playing What’s Up by Three Non-blondes and Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. And they did them very well. Thailand offered more reward in one night in that regard than I’ve had in nine years in Vietnam. (On a subsequent trip, we were to have a like experience, like the rock band by the Ambassador, in Kuala Lumpur around another place with fabulous ambiance – its Bintang Walk. The band there was playing my favorites too, but not as well as the Thai; but the Malaysians tried.)

Thailand v Vietnam, the good movie and rock band factor. Advantage: #1 Hanoi; #2 Bangkok; and #3 Saigon.


THE NIGHTLIFE FACTOR

Nothing needs to be said here, for we all know. Thailand has nightlife, perhaps second to none in the world, while in Saigon and Hanoi, when clubs try to approach Thailand’s (skin) style, they are fined thousands of dollars (happened in Hanoi at that club advertising itself as “Thai style” on Nguyen Du Street across the street from that big lake there) or closed down (happened in Saigon at a restaurant where mamasan was hiring gals to strip).

Sometimes the author thinks he’s really missing out on it by not having the skin shows here like they have in Thailand. But then it hits him: for little more than free, he can have the clothes off a young female anyplace in Vietnam, and she’ll only be inches away.

Thailand v Vietnam, the nightlife factor. Advantage: Thailand


THE VISA FACTOR

What good is it if it’s hard entering or hard being able to stay in the country that one’s decided is just the place for him or her. It’s turning out that this one is a hard one for me to come to a conclusion on, for precedent implies I can stay in Vietnam for as long as I want, but what about a single person? I’ve been living in Vietnam continuously for the best part of a decade, but am married to a Vietnamese citizen, and am the father of two Vietnamese citizens (the latter of whom are also citizens of my own country of citizenship).

I wouldn’t think it would be Vietnam’s policy to throw out the spouse (me) and father (me) of Vietnamese citizens. (At least those are the words I put in a senior Immigration official’s mind when I got into a little trouble a few years ago in going after a photograph of the Dao (say Zao) ethnic minority for a travel story I was writing. (I intruded a little into a restricted area (good chance a military reservation) and took a picture; it’s not as stupid as it sounds. The authorities got all illogical and excitable. There’s more of a story to it.) Back to the Immigration official in Hanoi I just mentioned, a couple of days later he made his decision and was saying, “It’s not Vietnam’s policy to make the husbands and fathers of its citizens leave.” Talk about my pulling one off! There was no policy like that; I’d made it up!)

I was talking a few months back to a young man I ran into downtown Hanoi – he was a tourist, a Romanian-American from Los Angeles, who was staying as long as possible – and he told me he’d tried to extend his visa, and Immigration refused. But did he use a tour company? With them, you’re dealing with non-Party members while at Immigration we’re talking pure Communists. Yes, for Vietnam anyway, one can be better off, strangely enough, by not going direct (to Immigration) but going through a tour company.

Once my family and I had a stopover in Bangkok, and the Thai working for Vietnam Air wouldn’t let me continue on to Hanoi; there was a glitch regarding my visa for Vietnam. (This has happened to other expatriates of Hanoi – I hear it isn’t a Thai initiative, but a function of their Vietnamese boss. And it makes these expatriates mad. I know it did me.) It was sad our having to abandon each other – it was my wife’s first trip out of the country, and the daughter was only two.

The point is I then didn’t go to the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok; rather a tour company on Khao San Road had me a visa within three days. (Actually I had a nice stay-over – after looking at the cheap $8 a night guesthouses on Khao San Road and finding them so depressing they could cause a guy to commit suicide – I was down anyway – I said the heck with thriftiness and spent $35/night at the Buddy Lodge down the street. I mean how much money is it possible for one to waste in just three nights – not much.)

(I’ve always liked Khao San Road. When we were planning our trip to Bangkok, a long-time expatriate advised me: “Don’t stay at Khao San Road – I hate that place – all those drug and pierced-body fiends. You should experience the real Thailand, none of which is at Khao San Road.” The guy has a tremendous wealth of knowledge about Vietnam and Thailand, but I ignored him about Khao San Road and glad I did.)

One argument in favor of Vietnam is my having been in Hanoi for 9 years, and have never been required to make a trip out of the country to maintain staying eligibility. And there is no investment or having-money-in-the-bank requirement in Vietnam.

Regarding work permits and their perhaps being a factor in visas, my experience has been that the Vietnamese don’t give a damn about work permits, like to keep it simple (including keeping the cops, who run about everything in Vietnam, out of it), and like to pay on a cash basis (including no hassle over tax deductions). And who has been my employer having such an attitude? – It’s the Communists themselves of a major ministry of the government of Vietnam!

Vietnam has passed a decree whereby foreigners can now obtain permanent residency cards, and there’s not any big money in the bank or having to have a condominium requirement like in Thailand etc. But what you can run into regarding such and other decrees is officials saying they can’t perform for you, because they don’t yet have the implementing instructions for the decree. (It sure would be terrible to have to be bold enough to think on your feet and make a decision. But that’s the way the Vietnamese are.)

Hence, when we go in soon for my visa extension, I’d be surprised that we walk out with a permanent residency card. I know of one guy having one, some old British guy married to a Vietnamese in Saigon, but he’s so much of a sycophant, so patronizing when it comes to Vietnam, it’s nauseous. He has this massive distribution, with all the examples of the Vietnamese press on it, and is always using it to sing the praises of the Vietnamese system and things Vietnam.

We’ll be back to the visa factor, but first let me spin-off on something the British guy reminds me of. (There’s something about certain British here in Vietnam and being sycophants, patronizing ass (arse for them) kissers, and sob sisters. (i) There’s the old British guy just mentioned (I had fun with him and, tongue-in-cheek, praised an example of his long-winded verbiage; he then invited me to his house in Saigon (God – no thanks) and wanted to help me get a permanent residency card like he did); (ii) this one British who is on a major crusade about Agent Orange (he might start with the Communists here who relocated the people in areas they knew were Agent Orange contaminated. The Communists don’t care about Agent Orange, only that it gives them a chance to hold their hands out, as usual, to ask for more handouts, these world champs at begging); (iii) one who was crying, thru a letter to the editor here, about the way the US savaged the Vietnamese (I almost wrote in a response of how about Dresden when the British firebombed the place away although Germany was already defeated); and (iv) there’s another one here who you may be mentally nimble enough to figure out. This latter one continually gushes in his accounts that Vietnam and the Vietnamese are, in effect, the best thing since hot fudge sundaes. Heh man, have you ever heard of the expression “puff journalism”?

Now all that is said by someone having no axe to grind with the British and by one whose name, all three of them, is more British than anyone’s. I documented in another article that they are the most civilized people in the world. Those who could some up hundreds of years ago with that fabulous document called International Law that’s still in use to this day is, as a German professor related to we MBA candidates, are of the most civilized people in the world.

But with that said, hell is being packed like sardines with a bunch of British in a bus from Vientiane to Hanoi. After seven hours without any kind of break like to take a leak, they won’t complain and I’m in agony. When after seven hours I finally see an opening, I’m walking over them in the aisles, and they are complaining, in their British accents, at my falling on one’s girlfriend. “Oh you’re hurting her…Oh we’ve all been on here seven hours.” I’ll take, instead, being on a bus with a bunch of Lao and Vietnamese Hanoi to Vientiane anytime. The Lao and Vietnamese have no problem having the bus driver stop for us to take a leak. It’s a comfortable trip. The trip with the British is the bus trip from hell.

Former US Ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson, was extremely popular here in Hanoi. His background: He bombed them 68 bombing times before spending time in that prison known as “Hanoi Hilton.” You don’t have to be a sycophant. My next-door neighbor, a close friend, is a former NVA (North Vietnamese Army) who carries scars from the war and we’re the best of friends. He’s invited me to go to his veteran organization’s next trip to Lang Son (almost on the border with China). I asked him whether they’d ever consider inviting a Saigon soldier, and he responded, as I knew he would, “No way.” They really do call the Saigon soldiers linh nguy (puppet soldiers). Yes, the former NVA next-door neighbor is a good one – he had beautiful 14- and 17- year old daughters, and said he’d be glad for me to marry them, were I single.

Former Ambassador to Peterson was out here in Hanoi not long ago giving a talk before showing his film, and I got to ask him a question: “Why are all these grand old French buildings still standing? War is destruction, meaning they should have been flattened. I would have were I in charge.” He responded, “Did you ever notice there are no buildings remaining along the railroad tracks? Have you noticed there are no buildings remaining along the Red River? Regarding inner Hanoi, the people had been moved out.” He’s right, although I’d never noticed it. To this day, there are no significant buildings along the railroad tracks and nothing in the way of buildings along the Red River (which runs thru Hanoi.)

Back to the visa factor: Saigon is a better and cheaper situation for visas than is Hanoi. (Notice that you don’t see a “Ho Chi Minh City” out of me; a request from the southerners in that regard brought about the change in me. To them it will always be “Saigon.”)

And complicating my conclusion is the tourist-friendly policy of Thailand where one shows up in their country with no visa, no visa required. Not true for Vietnam, although for a few favored countries they are now not requiring visas.

As the translation editor for a book called Doing Business in Vietnam, I asked my brilliant friend, the Fulbright professor who is quite an expert on Vietnam, to review it and make comments. He had a real good point: What if the investor’s visa isn’t extended? So there’s an effect of our visa situation; we of the mentally nimble aren’t putting any assets such as investment in this place, our wives be damn.

I almost concluded that for the visa factor, it’s even in our Thailand v Vietnam. I then remembered that you have all those single guys in Thailand who even if they aren’t working can cross a border, then re-enter Thailand and reap a new free visa. We do know that it’s now tougher.

One final note: Regarding that anecdote of a Thai not letting me fly on to Vietnam, when I arrived back to Hanoi, my wife said the Thai guy had been right. What had happened was that the Vietnamese had made a mistake on my visa when we’d left Vietnam. I had two Vietnamese visas both valid at the same time – my old one overlapped with a new one, and the Vietnamese had stamped the wrong one.

Thailand v Vietnam, the visa factor. Advantage: Thailand


THE PROPERTY FACTOR

The two countries are similar in this regard. We can’t own houses in either but can own condominiums. For some time, a legal question and answer column in Viet Nam News, the national English-language newspaper, had me feeling good about being able to own a house here with it in my name or at least including my name. An American was advised that after leaving Vietnam, he had six months to sell his house. This in effect tells me that a foreigner can own a house here. It was too bad what I learned from good source later: This guy would have been an overseas’ Vietnamese of American citizenry and there’s a provision for these overseas’ Vietnamese to own houses. (But these overseas’ Vietnamese say that the system still makes it difficult for them in that regard.)

Hence, it’s a heinous situation we’re in for both countries. I told the story in a prior article of a former member of the Algerian diplomatic corps retiring in Hanoi, and his Hanoian wife taking all of the profoundly significant property that he had in her name. He lost his beloved hotel, the finest where it was, at the Tam Dao mountain resort, that cool-weather summer retreat a couple of hours northwest from Hanoi, referred to as the “Dalat of the North.” And he also lost a nice classy bar and restaurant combo in a prime section of Hanoi not far from UNDP. We’re talking her taking, I’d say, a million dollars worth of property; at least.

The conjecture was: his wife was advised by a Vietnamese guy that she could easily take all of it, and she did and tried rigorously to get him thrown out of the country. (With all the money she had from selling the property, just think of the pay-off she could make to get the Algerian thrown out.) It almost killed him. His French-speaking network of friends tried to keep his spirits up. He finally opened up a nice Mediterranean restaurant in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, but several months back, I noticed it was of no more. I wonder where he went. Another example of conjecture is the reason she became so infuriated at him in the first place; I’ll use discretion and let your figure that one out, not too difficult.

Big effect all this; ever since I’ve been in our neighborhood in Hanoi, I’ve wanted to get away from the noisy, dirty major street we’re close to, get away from this cesspool where around the house the sewage will back up, meaning it’s tracked in the house, but really – would I ever put any more money in this country considering what I set forth above? It’s not going to happen.

And this won’t surprise you: when you have significant money that you’re adamant in keeping away from over here, Vietnam in my case, the local-girl wife is frustrated. I’m not even letting the interest earned come over here; rather, I let it compound. Our slim bodies don’t like not having significant funds way beyond their reach in another country. Also, factor in that we are on the type of short visas described in the previous section. What if your visa isn’t extended and you have a lot of money tied up over here such as in property? Wife responds that they’ll never turn down my visa extension. No thanks, I tell her; I’ll err on the side of safety.

Thailand v Vietnam, the property factor. Advantage: It’s even.


THE HAPPINESS FACTOR

We’re riding the baht bus in Pattaya, I ask an expatriate how life is in Pattaya, and he responds, “half and half.” The next day on a baht bus, I asked the same question of another expatriate, an old guy. First, he grimaced, and that clearly provided the answer. He added, “I don’t know; you have to look at the good.” I responded I don’t think like that – that feeling one has to exhibit positive and optimistic attitudes means you can’t be objective. I added that I noticed that there were no smiles from the Thai in Pattaya, with him responding, “That’s because they are stressed.” Not a large sample, but no one was saying nor showing that they were happy in Pattaya.

I got to know in our little group going to the tiger park not far beyond Pattaya a Swede and a nice Black man from Nova Scotia. The Swede, many times to Pattaya, said that he was now down on it and would never explicitly visit it again and would only go there when he was in-transit at Bangkok. The Canadian, a first-time visitor, volunteered that it would be his last trip to Pattaya. They had soured on the attitudes they were finding. Every time they turned around someone was trying to get money out of them.

(To give example of how in Pattaya they are so in the mode of seeing you as money, the subject attitude even came out when they were trying to be nice. The wife was shopping on Beach Road, and rather than being bored I pulled out something to read, always having something to read with me with the effect being the word boredom isn’t in my vocabulary. A clerk in the form of a young lady says, “Here – sit down in this chair, and I won’t even charge you for it.” In normal places among normal people, a thought even available in the brain of charging you to use a chair would never exist.

And in and around the lobby of the Lek Hotel there was a tip box for the bellboy, a tip box for the front desk, and a tip box for the buffet. Maybe not a problem, but it sure was a lot of tip boxes, and it caught the author’s attention.)

Again, as for me and I think my family agrees, I like Pattaya and found it relaxing after Vietnam. It’s just not the hassle, for one thing, as I’ve already documented.

You’ve read what’s been set forth throughout this article and see that Vietnam and its advantages and disadvantages don’t come out to where one can conclude that the place exceeds another for the happiness factor.

Thailand v Vietnam, the happiness factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THE EASE IN LEARNING THE LANGUAGE FACTOR

THE SPOKEN LANGUAGES

Both Thai and Vietnamese are tonal languages. We foreigners can learn to speak using the tones, but I’ll tell you what: I have years and years of experience (more years than you could believe) with the Vietnamese language, both Northern and Southern dialects, and to this day, anytime I say something, I still have to concentrate hard on getting the tones right. I know the tones for the words I want to say – I can’t tolerate not knowing them – but to talk them, I always have to concentrate. Two exceptions: there are two tones in Northern Vietnamese that are so exotic, once you learn them you have no trouble saying them and the Vietnamese have no trouble understanding.

How important is it to learn the tones? As I set forth way earlier, your not using the tones would be similar to a Thai or Vietnamese saying sork instead of fork. You’d have no idea what they mean. Also as I set forth earlier, when I was studying beginning Vietnamese at the University of Hawaii, we had a classmate who knew a lot of Vietnamese already – he’d lived in Vietnam, but here’s what the professor (Dr Nguyen Dang Liem) told him, “Ong (Mr) George, you’re going to be fluent in Vietnamese, but no one will understand you. You have to learn the tones.”

How many tones are there? In standard Central Thai, there are five: low tone, level or mid tone, falling tone, high tone and rising tone. In Southern Vietnamese, there are also five tones. In Northern Vietnamese, there are six tones. (Cantonese (Guang Dong) Chinese has seven.) I wouldn’t be surprised that I’m the first to document this: There are a total of seven different tones in Vietnamese, for a word with the tone of the lowest pitch (the dau nang – heavy tone) is pronounced way differently depending on whether one’s speaking Northern or Southern.

I found it irritating at the University of Hawaii when they weren’t consistent in teaching either Northern or Southern. North Vietnam wasn’t even open to the world then, and the first day of class, some big, fat, rather dark-complexioned lady (I thought she must be Indonesian rather than Vietnamese) comes in and says, “You really should learn Southern, but I speak Northern, so I’m teaching Northern.” That wasn’t going over well with me what with the North closed. I complained about it informally.

Hence, here’s the way it was: if the professor spoke Northern, that’s what she and he taught, and when we had the Southern man, he’d teach in Southern. (In fact, the Southern professor despised Northerners. He came in class all elated one time, telling us how he’d just s—-ed over a Northerner, “Oh those Northerners are tricky; I just shot down the credentials of one, advising that (he or she) had nothing.” The person was trying to get a job or something at the university.) Now for the point: In the long run I learned how fortunate I was to have gone through the frustration of the two dialects (actually there’s a third – the Central dialect, but I think of it as about like Southern), for I ended up fluent in both Southern and Northern.

Moving on to Thai again and its tones, in one of our classes of Vietnamese there was a brilliant fellow, a graduate of Columbia University in New York City, who was fluent in Thai, having served in the Peace Corps in Thailand. He said this is how he was able to be proficient in Thai without using the tones: he’d speak very fast. One can see the logic. Now I said he was brilliant. He said he could learn any language in a week. I mean he’d jump right in it, use it intensely, and when people talk, normally they’re using a limited selection of words over and over. Learn those and you’re fluent. We didn’t deny what he was saying, for he was learning Vietnamese way faster than the rest of us. The professor, the Vietnamese Southerner, loved having him in class and arranged for him to teach his daughter, meaning he would learn Vietnamese even faster.

For ease of learning the language in the context of tones, it’s even between Thai and Vietnamese.


THE WRITTEN LANGUAGES

The written language of Vietnam is a dream, none better in the world. Vietnamese is of a phonetic alphabet and writing just like we use in English. There are marks on or over the vowels letting you know precisely how to pronounce a word, superior to English in this regard.

As for the Thai written language, we’ve all seen that squiggly script. Enough said.

One advantage of learning Thai is that one can communicate with the Lao too. A Thai explained to me that spoken Thai was similar to Lao but the written languages were not similar. The latter surprised me, for to me the also-squiggly Lao looks like Thai.

For ease of learning the written language, it’s advantage Vietnam.

Thailand v Vietnam, the ease in learning the language factor. Advantage: Vietnam.


THE DOING BUSINESS FACTOR

Under the next Factor, I discuss my brilliant Fulbright professor friend in detail. He’s had a lot of experience with consulting in Vietnam, performing as a translation editor for a magazine on economics in Vietnam, and taught economics at the National Economics University – Hanoi. What does he say about doing business in Vietnam? He says that the Communists don’t want anyone making any money but themselves.

Vietnam’s national English-language newspaper, Viet Nam News, invariably only has articles on those successful Vietnamese entrepreneurs who then teach everyone around how to do what they are doing. In other words, it’s not okay to be successful – you should be giving up your niche of success you created by initiative and hard work.

The Fulbright professor has another good point that came out in the context of his reviewing the book, Doing Business in Vietnam. What if you invest and they don’t extend your visa. I mean most of us long-term people are on 6-month and 12-month visas.

Are there success stories in Vietnam, however? Of course there is. We’re doing our Sunday noon lunch thing with him at one of the restaurants of the French Metropole Hotel, and he points out a young French man who had a business idea in Hanoi and it’s made him rich. I think, but maybe I’ve forgotten, that his niche was importing certain products in from France.

Here’s quite a phenomenon: The Communists are easier on foreigners accomplishing private business than they are on Vietnamese doing the same. The Communists don’t trust the Vietnamese accomplishing private enterprise. Come to think of it, it’s another example of the reverse racism, covered earlier, there are cases of in Vietnam.

Is Thailand one of the more friendly places for a foreigner to accomplish business? I realize the answer is “probably not.” Are there examples of private business of the developed Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore seemingly pouring in Vietnam with huge projects? Yes.

Thailand v Vietnam, the doing business factor. Advantage: Thailand.


THAT MELANGE OF NEGATIVES THAT WILL DRIVE ONE OUT FACTOR

You’ve seen mention of my friend, the Fulbright professor who typical for a Jewish person – he had an incredible number of professional qualifications and education, second to none. He was really into Vietnam, for example learning the language well and so accomplished in his knowledge of things Vietnam he’d win consultancy contracts from the big players such as World Bank, UN, and the European Union. I envied the way he’d only have to work from time to time but still end up with quite an income, the ideal life I thought. He, on the contrary, wasn’t pleased that he could never find a permanent job.

He’d respond to me that I was right – he was an intellectual and politically correct. He was so politically correct that we’d laugh at him, making him infuriated. For one example, when we were translation editors at a Vietnamese magazine, he made an issue to our Vietnamese about an article he was editing on Vietnamese girls modeling. He said such had no place in Vietnam and was counter to the teachings of Ho Chi Minh. Back then he was an admirer of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese’s former struggle, and said he himself was – it was either a Marxist or Leninist. Of course our Vietnamese did what any normal person would do – they laughed at him. Then he yelled, “YOU LAUGH,” and was infuriated. Of course, the Vietnamese were taken aback by this hyper display. It wasn’t Vietnamese at all.

Yes, he’d get to people, but he never could to me, nor make me angry, for my reaction was to laugh at him. I found his going hyper hilarious. As mentioned earlier in this article I had asked him to go over the book, Doing Business in Vietnam, for which I was an editor and contributor. Of course, I gave him documented credit. As a result, over the phone, he’s going hyper on me, saying that I could get him kicked out of Vietnam.

I respond with a lot of laughter, making him infuriated, and I say, “Well, there’s life beyond Vietnam.” He yells back, “Sterling, that’s easy for you to say, for with your family they’ll let you stay forever. I can’t be thrown out, because Vietnam is my area of expertise.”

Then he adds this, “You could get me killed by the Communists.” This gives me pause to this day. I realize Vietnamese Communism isn’t, by any means, of what they call the “Tropical Communism” variety (like Cuba has whereby they are downright mellow and the people are happy despite not having much), but they will kill you? And he knows about such systems, being fluent in Russian, having lived in Russia and another former Soviet country or two.

And to my criticizing the Vietnamese, he once said that what I was saying was “racist.”

That was all a few to several years ago. How does he feel about Vietnam now? He leaves Vietnam last summer for Siem Reap, Cambodia, and I receive this from him: “…Boy am I glad I left that place (Vietnam)….”

A couple of days ago, I receive these from him: (i) “About two years ago, in Ha Noi, I got hit on my bicycle by a taxi cab and also had a knee injury. It took about a month to heal. The back tire of my bike was destroyed. I had the taxi take me to the bike repair shop and pay and he offered to take me to a doctor, as well. That was when I was realizing that living in Ha Noi was a dead end.

And (ii): “I just turned down a chance to compete for a short consulting job in Vietnam for the EC with the Ministry of Labor. I didn't want to deal with the horrible politics and controls that the project would impose.”

And finally, what are the names of two books he recently completed about Vietnam with titles aren’t complimentary? These yet unpublished books are entitled, Copycat Pirates and Hanoi Hillbillies.

Thailand v Vietnam, that melange of negatives that will drive one out factor. Advantage: Thailand.


CONCLUSION

Of the 25 factors, Thailand comes out ahead for 12, Vietnam 7, and 6 of them are even. All that was objective. Now let me bring in some subjectivity and note that Vietnam has gotten to be unlivable and is getting worse. Hanoi is fraught with all these outdoor cafes that should provide superb ambiance, but with all the morons on the horns, anyone but Vietnamese would and do find it intolerable. I’ve long not recommended Vietnam to anyone. I’ve never been a real fan of Thailand, but can’t say it’s not livable; hence:

Overall advantage: Thailand


PART 2 – THE SURVEY OF EXPATS IN 12 COUNTRIES TO DETERMINE THAT EXPAT HEAVEN IN ASIA:

PHILIPPINES AND SINGAPORE VOTED AS THE EXPAT HEAVENS IN ASIA

(This poll of 479 expatriates across the region was taken before the recent trouble and adverse factors in Thailand – the bombings, the coup, the discouraging of foreigners through such as making visa extensions tougher; hence, Thailand could easily rate lower in an update.)

I lived and worked in the country my fellow expatriates voted #1, and my hat is off to the Philippines. I loved it; liked the warm people; almost chose to move there permanently instead of Vietnam; and other than the police once stopping my van for a pay-off late at night when leaving a Manila entertainment district, I have no negative memories of the Filipinos. In this latter regard, about the Vietnamese, do I? Are you kidding me?

TOP ASIAN COUNTRIES FOR EXPATRIATE LIVING

1. The Philippines

2. Singapore

3. Malaysia / Japan

5. Hong Kong

6. Thailand

7. Taiwan

8. China

9. Indonesia

10. India

11. Vietnam

12. South Korea

The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd (PERC) said the friendly Philippines edged efficient Singapore in its survey of expatriate life.

The Philippines, despite relatively weak marks for healthcare and personal security, topped the survey, in which a grade of zero represents the ideal situation and 10 the worst condition possible.

The Philippines averaged 3.35 points, nipping Singapore’s 3.55 score, while on the other extreme, worst performer South Korea only managed a grade of 6.75.

As a country where English is widely spoken and nocturnal entertainment is a major urban industry, the Philippines scored highly for its nightlife and cultural compatibility.

PERC said that perhaps the greatest attraction of the Philippines was “the friendly attitude of the local population towards foreigners and the ease with which both groups intermingle.”

Singapore noted for its pleasant but costly living conditions, scored high for personal security, beaten only by Japan. Relatively weak scores for housing, sports and recreation and most of all its regulated nightlife pulled down Singapore’s average. Car prices are also extremely prohibitive.



Stickman's thoughts:

An absolutely tremendous submission which very clearly took a huge amount of effort to put together. With so many Westerners resident in Thailand looking at alternatives the timing of this article could not have been better. Well done!

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