Sunday, November 27, 2005

We're Still Here!!!

You may(or may NOT) have noticed that we haven't blogged for awhile. We are here in Hanoi and doing fine! It's just that we aren't keeping a diary that includes shaving, showering and the gym. We will give you one about the hotel and the friendly staff, perhaps with some photos sometime.

Carol leaves early every weekday morning for UNIS and the VERY small children.

Ira goes over to the office and works on wine sales and the like, then enjoys a lunch, which is one of the perks of the job. Vine has a great three-course lunch which he has been able to avoid in favor of a salad most days. they do a great caesar with avocado, tomato and bacon, and a really amazing insalata caprese with ripe tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh Asian basil.

Ira has tried to expand his home cooking and uses the two cookbooks he brought to good advantage. They are Ruth Reichl's "Gourmet" and Molly O'Neill's "New York." So we've had grilled salmon with dill butter, fried potatoes and zucchini, pasta puttenesca, amazing Arabic okra and several other dishes. Dried herbs aren't around much so a trip to the restaurant kitchen after a quick trip to the dictionary yielded some pretty good results.

One of the hotels had a mushroom and game promotion that we found to be quite good. After a buffet of pates, salads, escargot and sauteed mushrooms, we feasted on partridge and venison, then attacked the sumptuous French cheeseboard and had room for the exquisite desserts. Well, there was no room, but we somehow managed.

On Sunday the bulls get so bored. Oh sorry, those are words to a Jacques Brel tune. On Sunday, we are usually ready for rest and recharging. This week, however, we had to attend a charity function which was held at UNIS. There were thousands of people enjoying entertainment, including a blind wine-tasting event that Ira helped run, great international food, beer and wine. Then, at night, we had been given tickets to a jazz concert featuring a group from San Francisco.

We do receive a couple of magazines and try not to read them too quickly as we don't have a lot of books, though UNIS does have a library.

So as we finish our fourth(!) month, we promise to let everyone know about interesting things that happen. If nothing comes up, we can always fill you in on how much detergent we use in the laundry or the price of onions.

Ira's mom Pearl, pictured here at a Phillies' game in July, will be undergoing some surgery later this week. Those of you who know her might want to send a card at Cain Manor House, S. Sycamore Street, Apartment 9107, Chandler Hall, Newtown, PA, 18940.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Who knows where the time goes????

Judy Collins sang a song with that title back in the 60's. Now that I have entered my 60's, it all begins to make sense. It doesn't seem so long ago that I was running off to play baseball, practicing the clarinet, studying(well sort of), graduating from college and law school, playing bridge, getting married, buying a house and all of those other things that are now part of the past.

I even see old photographs and wonder what that was on top of my head. Oh, that's right hair!

Living in Hanoi has one great advantage-many things that are very expensive in the US are cheap here, or at least cheaper.

Most things involving services are relatively inexpensive due to the low cost of labor and the lack of demand for high ticket items.

Carol urged me to get pampered for my birthday so I reluctantly agreed to do it!

I did have a sales meeting to attend, so I put off the fun until afterwards. I had a nice surprise after the meeting. My colleagues, Ms Ha and Ms Thuy presented me with a beautiful bunch of flowers!

When I arrived home, Carol showed me another bouquet that came from Ms Hoa and Ms Hoai, the apartment managers.

I then embarked upon my relaxation/beautification treatments. First, I went to the salon downstairs where Mr. Lan presented me with a birthday card, not the first one, as I received numerous ecards and one in the actual mail. He then brought me tea to drink while I had a manicure($5!) and pedicure($7). I could really get used to this! The salon is great! A haircut costs $12, expensive for Hanoi, but not a lot to pay for leisurely shampoo, arm massage and a really good cut. Yesterday, my hair was still OK, so I went from the 'cures straight to the gym. Some day we will write about the wonderful fitness center/pool which we actually frequent.

After the workout, there was just time to change for my massage($15 for residents). I know you can get one on the street for perhaps 100,000vnd($6.25) but the surroundings are seedy and the operators questionable. Besides, I live about 50 paces from the gym and the idea is to get pampered with fluffy towels and a true massage table.

After the treatments, it was time to get cleaned up and dress for dinner. In this case, just like in the old movies, we did dress up. "Dep chai" said everyone who saw us. Very handsome!

We have an acquaintance with Chef Jurgen Kauz, a South African with lots of international experience. He cooks at the Melia Hotel, where we have often enjoyed the sumptuous Sunday brunch. He once told us that he would be happy to make something special for us, and what occasion could be better than a landmark birthday in a city far from home, with no friends or relatives to throw a party? We commissioned a meal and gave him some parameters and then let him work.

We were greeted at the door by Carlos, the F & B Manager, who escorted us upstairs to a private dining room, elegantly appointed and with our personal server, Hu'o'ng. Taittinger champagne was brought and the meal began.

We started with pate de foie gras with micro greens and red currant-peppercorn vinaigrette. Just look at that presentation!

This was followed by an unbelievably creamy chanterelle mushroom soup.

The main course was lamb fillet with little rolled-up potato pancakes, truffle butter, tiny pattypan squash, green beans and asparagus all with a Torres red wine sauce. Carlos had graciously permitted me to bring a bottle of 1999 Northstar Merlot, a good match for the gaminess of the lamb.

Ever heard the phrase "too beautiful to eat?" Well the dessert was almost that lovely! The plate, created by Pastry Chef Phu'o'ng, included a creamy chocolate truffle, fruit sushi, which we ate with chopsticks, pistachio roulade with champagne creme anglaise and, just in case we thought this was not excess, a side of strawberries and cream.

The dinner was served graciously at a leisurely pace so that we could savor the occasion. It is unlikely that we could duplicate the experience even in a "developed" country.

After dessert, we moved to the couch to open some gifts from the hotel, such as a Melia shirt, some notepads, a stuffed water buffalo and some other souvenirs.

Then, just like in the movies, brandy and a Cuban cigar. They are legal here as they are in most countries, actually in all countries save one!

This was a truly memorable day, tempered somewhat by the distance between us and our friends and families. Of course, had you all been here, there wouldn't be a blog for you to read!

Friday, November 11, 2005

According to Plan

We are more planners than not, particularly when it comes to social events. While we do some things on impulse, we are used to looking at the concert or opera schedule, finding an event we would like to attend and immediately booking tickets.

When we have news of a family event, we write it in our calendars and schedule around it. Months before Thanksgiving or birthdays, we huddle up with the rest of the family to see who will be around and where the celebration will be held.

Vietnam makes this sort of planning rather difficult. Schedules are made to be broken. We often check the musical schedule at the Opera House and order tickets, only to find out that the event is rescheduled, sometimes more than once, or cancelled entirely.

Appointments are similarly loose both as to time and date. Ira has a weekly sales meeting that is sometimes postponed or cancelled, not an unusual occcurrence anywhere in the world. What he finds strange is that it seems to happen without notice and no one seems to know whether or not it has been cancelled.

One time, Ira and a colleague had a meeting scheduled with a customer and he got an urgent text message the day before asking him to come right away, the customer was a day early. In this case, the customer was Swiss(aren't they usually precise?) but maybe there is something in the water!

We have still managed to go to many wonderful concerts and to enjoy our life in Hanoi. Ira says that people are beginning to correct his Vietnamese, meaning that they actually are beginning to understand him. Just this morning, a taxi driver understood him so well that the driver began speaking very rapidly, assuming that Ira understood him completely. this was not exactly the case, but it does give one hope.

For now, we will sign off and promise to let you know when something really interesting happens or when we have more random observations about life in Hanoi.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sunday Afternoon Stroll

Sundays are usually kind of "lazy day" for us, as it is the only day that we have completely to ourselves. Unlike in our younger days we don't just sleep it away but have a varied routine. Yesterday we ate the buffet breakfast at the hotel, then took a little walk to see the local sights. The oldest pagoda in Hanoi(the foggy picture at the left) is on a short peninsula in West Lake, a few hundred meters away. We fought our way through the postcard and t-shirt sellers to view it. We have found that saying "We live in Hanoi. We are not tourists." in Vietnamese usually either pacifies them or at least shocks them enough to get us past. Occasionally Ira points out some actual tourists and suggests that they would probably love some souvenirs.

After exploring the pagoda, together with many tourists and locals(Sunday is a huge family day in Hanoi, for strolling, sightseeing and dining) we walked further down the street to the Quan Thang Temple. This is also quite old and in quite good shape. This one actually has an admission price, but 2000 dong is only about 15 cents.
Before trudging home, we made a stop at the Fivimart so Carol could buy pantyhose, as the 3 and 4 year olds take a toll on her clothing. It is always fun to shop and watch the local people watching us. Ira is not yet fluent but can at least make himself understood well enough to find most items.

After our little expedition, we trudged home, past the Swan Boats, reminiscent of Boston, but these are pedal boats. We then spent some time at the pool which has the only retractable roof in Asia, permitting swimming in any weather.
Luna d'Autunno has the best pizza in Hanoi, and we often go there on Sunday nights to enjoy pizza, wine(last night it was refosco, a light red from Friuli) and conversation with Alberto, the manager.
Then it is back to the apartment for TV and winding down before the new week begins. This week will feature an american "indie" film, Vietnamese traditional music and a concert with the Hanoi Philharmonic. We are always given tickets for the orchestra by our friend, Dr. Minh as the orchestra is made up of Conservatory faculty and students.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Mother Knows Best

Ira's mother Pearl always told him to dress nicely and reminded him that his father always had a sportcoat in his car, just in case.

Hanoi is quite an informal town and we are often "off by two(or more)." That is Ira's way of judging how appropriately we are dressed. "Off by one" is acceptable, while two or more degrees of separation from the norm at an event shows that we have no clue. For example, if most are in slacks and sweaters, a shirt and tie is off by one as would be Dockers and a golf shirt.

We have too many dress clothes for Hanoi,but have to wear something so are often overdressed. Saturday, it proved to be helpful to our cause.

We had seen a Russian Chamber Concert advertised online and decided that we would just show up, rather than order tickets in advance. At 200,000 dong($12.75US)it was one of the more expensive concerts, but still easily accessible to us.

After a steak dinner at The Press Club, a restaurant that caters mainly to expats, we wandered to the box office at the Opera House. The ticket seller informed us that there were no tickets, as the concert was by invitation only. This was despite our having seen it advertised online and our having seen people with tickets outside.

We voiced our disbelief and disappointment and she finally relented. Telling us that we looked so nice, she led us inside and showed us to some empty seats, charging us nothing at all. Just before the concert began, she came back and told us to move towards the front, as the attendance was not large.

So we enjoyed a wonderful concert free of charge and all because of Pearl's sartorial advice.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Law is the True Embodiment.....

of everything that's excellent. At least that's what the Lord Chancellor says in "Iolanthe." No matter. Ira, being learned in The Law, or at least trained in it, sent a note to some law firms offering to teach legal English to their staffs. One firm, Invest Consult, responded and hired him to teach English AND US law to a group that numbered nearly 50. Fortunately, they agreed to two 1.5 hour classes, rather than one unwieldy 2.5 hour session.

The course has been outlined and includes a variety of topics, with each week's lesson building on the previous weeks. Of course, there is much digression as one thing leads to another, like the time that asking the student's to talk about their hobbies in English led inevitably to foliage tours in New England. It was truly not a quantum leap and can either be left to the reader as an excercise in logic or explained for the price of a private email.

The class is reasonably attentive and all have some knowledge of English. the challenge is to keep both classes at the same point and to integrate the four phases of learning a language-reading, writing, speaking and listening, into every lesson and to provoke the students into participation.

It can safely be reported that the students enjoy the class and are learning at least as much as Ira is from them. Ira hopes to sit in on a session of court sometime and to observe the Vietnamese justice system up close, if not personal.

It being Saturday, it is now time to adjourn to the pool before steaks at The Press Club and a Russian chamber concert at the Opera House.