Sunday, May 28, 2006

Jean -Yves Thibaudet

When Ira's brother Dick was here, he noticed in the Vietnam News that the noted pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet was to perform in Hanoi and showed Ira the article. Naturally we HAD to get tickets, but the paper did not list the concert in the events column, nor could it be found on our usual source

Ira immediately emailed and sms'd(text message on the mobile which is a great form of communication if you enjoy the dinging sound when a message arrives) to the powers that be at the website.

The first report was that they had not heard of the concert. Later they said that there were no tickets, all having been allocated to Party members and government officials. A subsequent message indicated that there might be two tickets for a special and favored customer but that they might be too pricey.

Well, they were pricey and they did exist so last Friday evening found us in the sold-out Opera House hobnobbing with Hanoi society, or at least that is who we imagined the audience to be. Actually, we did run into two of Carol's colleagues, Ira's Vietnamese teacher, Mr. Huy and the group from the Hanoi Conservatory.

The recital was just great! Thibaudet makes you feel as if he is playing just for you. He has great technique of course, but it is his expressive playing and musicality that makes the night special.

He played Schumann and Ravel during the main part of the program, but the encores were familiar pieces by Chopin that had the audience stamping their feet and clapping. We were pleased to have been a part of this. Perhaps one day we will attend a performance in the US and be able to meet Thibaudet and tell him we heard him in, of all places, Hanoi.

Not Yet

The Vietnamese people we have met seem, on the whole quite cheerful and friendly. They are helpful when Ira tries to speak the language and so far we have not encountered anyone who resents us as Americans or as Westerners with more money than most of them have.

Perhaps one word that evidences this cheerful attitude is "chu'a" which means "not yet." Whether it is a woman being asked whether she has a husband or boyfriend, a person being asked if he or she has a job or someone being asked whether or not they have had lunch, if the response is in the negative it is never "khong"(No) but always "chu'a"

Ira has now vowed to use this expression more. When he is asked whether or not he has accomplished some task or if he has fulfilled a mojor goal or if he knows the meaning of life, his answer will always be "chu'a"

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Brother Act

BIG EVENT!!! Our first "real" visitors came to Hanoi this past week. Ira's brother Dick, his wife Sue and daughter Leslie(20 years old) were able to undertake the long journey from their home in Bethlehem, PA where Dick and Sue own a great seafood restaurant( We eagerly awaited their arrival ever since they told us that they were going to be able to come. We wanted to be able to show them our adopted city and let them experience for themselves what attracted us to Hanoi. We also wanted to see how people might view the city having never before experienced it. Ira met them at the airport and was easily able to recognize them as they came through the airport doors wheeling their half-empty suitcases that they hope to fill with new clothes and souvenirs. Ira had arranged for a car and in half an hour they arrived at Sofitel Plaza and their introduction into the little neighborhood that surrounds it. When you live abroad, the biggest thing you miss is family. Through the wonders of Skype and email, we do stay in touch with both sides, but there is a time difference and you can't just pop over for a visit anytime you feel like it. Of course, as Ira's mother Pearl always says "the minute you hang up you think of many things that you meant to talk about."

We won't give you a detailed play-by-play of the all-too-short week but we can tell you that they spent one day out on their own on an excursion to Halong Bay, the most scenic attraction in Vietnam and spent the rest of the time enjoying Hanoi pleasures. Sue and Leslie had several nice outfits made for them and did a lot of other shopping. Ira also arranged for Leslie to spend a couple of hours with a young woman closer to her age. she really enjoyed riding on the back of the motorbike and shopping where the young Hanoi women do.

Ira arranged an itinerary, making sure that Dick, Sue and Leslie visited Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and his "house on stilts" as well as the infamous Hoa Loa Prison, dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton" by Americans unlucky enough to have spent time there during the war.

Shopping, strolling and dining were high priorities as was a ride in a "cyclo" which is a bicycle rickshaw that is now mostly a novelty for tourists rather than a primary form of transport.

We tried to do as much as possible while still leaving them time to enjoy the gym and pool and of course the "Happy Hour." We took them to "Cha Ca La Vong" on their first night. This Hanoi institution serves only one dish-fried fish with various condiments. It boasts no decor but it is great fun to serve yourself from the sizzling skillet that sits on a charcoal fire right in the middle of your table.

Later meals included examples of upscale and less formal Vietnamese food as well as some Western meals including the best pizza in Hanoi at Luna d'Autunno.

On our final night, we enjoyed the sumptuous buffet at Sen, where traditional dishes are cooked at various stations. We then repaired to Fanny's Ice Cream for the best ice cream in town.

They say that all good things must end. In truth ALL things must end, whether good or not. This special visit was no exception and on Friday morning Ira went to the airport to wish Dick Sue and Leslie a safe journey home. As he rode a cab back to the city, the familiar journey was just a little bit different as he text-messaged to his Vietnamese colleagues
"Anh buon it" (I'm a little sad)

Friday, May 05, 2006

They foam at the mouth

In Noel Coward's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" he says that "In Bangkok at 12 o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run." We have now been to Bangkok six times without ever witnessing such behavior(Brits would say "behaviour")but there's always a first time. Many years ago, on our first visit to Asia, Carol had discovered that the occupancy rate at the legendary Oriental Hotel was extremely low, due to some revolt or other. We were able to stay there at a quite reasonable rate and it has been our digs in Bangkok ever since. The service is impeccable and the hotel a dream. Located right on the Chao Phrya River with every room having a view of this busy stream, it defines Old World luxury. With approximately one staff member for every two guests, they don't miss much. A couple of years ago, a restaurant manager noticed that a bee had spooked Carol by buzzing around her too closely. He proceeded to have a special ripe mango cut up and presented to "make your day better, Madam" As returning guests, we are always treated with special care. This time they upgraded us to a deluxe room, with large sitting area, dressing room and marble bath. On one of our visits, Ira's mother, Pearl, accompanied us and enjoyed the luxurious surroundings and attentive service. We are not in the class of Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and the hundreds of royal guests who have graced the Oriental, but we get the same treatment. This is why we keep returning.

Epic Proportions

Ira has a new job! Lawyer and Business Consultant for a company known as EPIC(Economic Based Professional Investment and Counseling). This is a Vietnamese company specializing in investments in Vietnam, a rapidly growing field. Ira was speaking to two of their people at an AmCham function and a meeting was arranged. After a rather lengthy period of time, he was invited to lunch with the head of the company and the offer came shortly afterwards. His duties are rather varied, from helping with editing of English text for report and the website to the writing of articles for an economic journal, to dealing with the new Investment Law. The staff is quite friendly and helpful and he has a nice desk and computer in an office shared with the IT specialist, Mrs. Hang. This is particularly helpful as his technical knowledge is less than perfect. On his first day, he attended a meeting held totally in Vietnamese. They speak quite rapidly and comprehension is not 100%. After the others had spoken, Mr. Hung, the director of EPIC, asked Ira to comment and give his suggestions! That's only part of Day One. Ms Thuy, the Director of Communications, asked him to provide a 1000-1500 word article(in English at least) on due diligence. Of course, she needed it yesterday, but would settle for the next afternoon. Is this what happens in a developing nation? EPIC is a very professional company with a website at for your enjoyment and education. Ira's business cards are also very professional and, like the baseball cards of his use, fun to trade! EPIC is seeking foreign investors so if any of you are thinking of diversifying into an emerging economy with real estate, shopping centers and power plants just waiting to hit the market, you can email Ira for details. The above does not constitute an offer which can only be made by formal prospectus(Where is the tiny print for that announcement? It is so much fun working with the people at EPIC. They need and ask for help with their English and, in turn help with Ira's Vietnamese. Of course, much of the help consists of their speaking VERY quickly and replying to his efforts with "khong hieu"(I don't understand). It's not total immersion but the next best thing.