Read the signs

In my line of work, when you write an article for publication, you should try to fill gaps in the existing body of literature.  Basically, write stuff that no one else has written about, or failing that, at least add some new information or write about the topic from a different angle.  Keeping that in mind, we can see that the signs in Hanoi have been well-documented and commented upon (for nothing amuses us expats more than funny English, inadvertent puns, and odd advertising). Hanoi signs even make “most popular” sign lists, thanks in large part to the “Try cock today please” sign (at least they said please). However, I propose that I still have something to contribute to this body of work. See if you agree.

The signs in Hanoi add a level of fun and, at times, absurdity to daily living when you snap out of your routine long enough to notice them. And I’m all for absurdity.  So here are some of my favorite signs around the city.

Many of the signs that stick out involve kids.  There are the child models creepily posing like adult models (a la Little Miss Sunshine), like these cuties:

This kid in particular is clearly my favorite, as he appears to be a Vietnamese-Mexican cowboy.

There’s also Quang Huy, child chef extraordinaire. He nailed the iron chef look of pride and confidence. He specializes in duck, if you’re interested.

At first the following sign doesn’t raise much attention. The grandparents appear to be playfully admonishing their oblivious and deliriously happy adult children. But the boy, he’s giving an evil death stare as if he’s plotting his entire family’s annihilation.  Or less dramatically, he’s just warming up to his future role as the perpetually annoyed teenager.

Everyday, I get a taste of home as I drive by Arnold Schwarzenegger, pre- California governator days (circa 1970s).

I also get to enjoy his present-day replacement beefcake (this model comes with shorter hair).

Although by now it seems normal, the amount of signs featuring white people really surprised me when I first arrived.  Why is Britney Spears gazing at me from my café table, and what is Hilary Duff doing on the local salon sign?

Hey, do I have something in my nose? And have you seen my shirt?

Miss Snootypants



Then there are the always entertaining propaganda posters, of which I most enjoy those involving drugs and/or HIV.

Pow, take that drugs!

Be careful to avoid those bags of HIV.

Meet Social Evils Snake, vomiting the likes of: HIV/AIDS, massage, gambling, drug addiction, injection, prostitution, motorcycle racing, alcohol, violence, superstition, “beer hugs” (not to be confused with bear hugs), and embezzlement.

“tệ nạn xã hội / văn hoá độc hại” = Social evils / harmful culture

Speaking of mascots, I like these guys:


Migraine-Inflicted Octopus and the Boisterous Bovine

Drunk cannibal chicken

Fly chef superhero

and his nemesis, Disco Chef

Bodyless Friso Freak

The Banana Streaker

I don’t have a common categorical theme for the next few.

There’s something about these creepy feet that really bother me.  The eyeballs in the toes, for instance.

Mr. Bossman is not happy, but his coworkers don’t seem to mind.

While I don’t think this sign is grammatically incorrect, “English skills for key persons” sounds weird, right? Perhaps it’s the persons vs. people usage that confuses me. “Persons” has never seemed right to me, possibly because it’s written frequently but almost never spoken. Either way, there’s something off about naming a school “Cleverlearn” and then marketing it to “key persons.”  How does one know her own level of key-ness?  Must you be clever as well or is that a skill imparted upon you? I’m also curious about how they have reinvented English learning.  Perhaps by combining random words together to amplify their effect (clever + learn > clever & learn).

Who put ecstasy in the noodles?

Haunted milk:

Every inch of what?  (No, this sign isn’t located next to the COCK store.)

The sign that inspired this post (and that will never cease to amuse Mitchell, who was the one who pointed it out to me and demanded that I write about it).

And finally, the king of my sign collection.  Protecting babies just got easier with our exclusive line of sunglasses.  Aviator sunglasses are out, Roman soldier sunglasses are in. I could go on, but really, need I?

Awkward in Hanoi

A post with a lot of awkwardness and a lot of cats.

There are many great things to be said about the Hanoi expat community. Overall, I’m thankful for its existence as it’d be really difficult to live in an Asian country without the benefit of a cohort of English-speakers to help wade through the confusion and isolation.  That said, the nature of expat life in Hanoi amplifies one of my most stubborn and reviled of personality flaws – my tendency toward social ineptitude.

To the point: I’m awkward.  Like, really. My awkwardness is the most loyal of travel companions. It has doggedly followed me from childhood to adulthood, from state to state, and even, alas, overseas into Vietnam. It’s who I am.  I’ve spent too much time self-psychoanalyzing the situation, and here’s the little that I’ve learned.  Whether or not I’m able to act like a normal, functioning human being with thoughts and emotions as opposed to a creature with only grunts and needs is highly dependent on whom I’m interacting with. It’s really hit and miss, and this is no clearer than when I first meet someone.  With some people, the initial meeting runs smoothly and effortlessly.  I can even pull off charming and articulate at times.  With others, I lapse into a state of fright and autism. I get jittery, my eyes shift frantically to and fro, I’m afraid of being touched, I forget basic vocabulary and repeat phrases over and over, and my brain’s hardware crashes.  When this happens, I search the wasteland of my empty mind for any topic of conversation to bring up, and all that I can find is the physical state I’m experiencing at that moment –  the weather (it’s cold), injuries/illness (my knee hurts, I barfed yesterday), and immediate outside stimuli (it’s noisy).  That line of talk usually gets me nowhere, and it signals the time to start planning exit strategies.

The anxiety produced by non-compatibility and long conversational pauses puts me into a state of fight or flight. And, as you could probably guess, flight inevitably wins out.  This means I enact one of the following strategies:

a)      First and foremost, I flee.

b)      If fleeing is not an option, I find a small space to crawl into such as a box or trash bin.

c)       I curl up into a compact, impenetrable ball.

d)      I pull my hoodie over my head and tighten the draw strings.

e)      I stop moving and breathing so as not to draw attention.

f)       I faint and play dead.

Cats, being awkward creatures themselves, are perfect for demonstration purposes:

I’ve given up on futile efforts to force extroversion and charm into my skill set, trying instead to accept and work around my limited abilities to interact with people.  Doing this as an expat in Hanoi is like going through social anxiety boot camp.  Let me explain.

One of the best and worst things about the Hanoi expat community is that it’s very small. It’s the quintessential small town in a big city. I know loads of gossip about people I’ve never met. It’s amazing how frequently you meet and see the same people over and over. This is due in part to the smallness of the social groups; chances are that a random person is a friend of a friend. While it doesn’t seem like we are few in number, we are very predictable and attend the same venues with unrelenting regularity.  If an especially cool event is happening, you’re guaranteed to see every expat you’ve ever met in Hanoi at that event, unless of course, they’ve left already.   In sum, we are swimming in a very tiny, incestuous pool.

On one hand, this is rather nice.  It’s great to run into someone you don’t know too well but really like.  The flipside is that you are also repeatedly confronted with people who, for one reason or another, make you want to cringe, throw up in your mouth, cry or run.  For all the reasons cited above, the latter group of individuals far outnumbers the former in my case.  It’s not that I necessarily dislike these folks. I can only think of a handful of people who I dislike in Hanoi, those against whom I have plotted elaborate and childish revenge scenarios.  No, usually these people are just regular people who turn me into the socially awkward Gollum I so despise. I often give them names, mostly to help Mitchell remember who they are and why I’m afraid of them.  Actually, he has a few to add as well, but once they’re on his list, they’re basically automatically on mine too. These include*:

  • Lurker
  • Desk man
  • Data entry girl at work (there are many of these, who only make me nervous because I can never remember if I’ve met them before, and I feel like an asshole for not remembering. But there are so many of them! A small typing army!)
  • Frenchy (aka, that girl who my friend slept with and then treated in an ungentlemanly like fashion so now she hates me, I think)
  • Nemesis
  • Box man
  • Party girl
  • Glasses girl
  • Chomp chomp
  • Agent mustache
  • Mr. Grumbles and sidekick Nooky/Nuoc-y
  • Vanilla café girl
  • Korean businessman (who always demands English teachers of me)
  • Evil research lady
  • MORE! (douchebag who harasses the workers at Vine restaurant to give him more wine at their weekly wine-tasting night)

*Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Wait, that doesn’t make sense.

Their numbers are many.  One would think that my being here for nearly 3 ½ years would mean that I’ve outlasted them, but they tend to only replenish and multiply.  Part of the problem is that there are so many people that you’ve seen a fucktillion times, but the chances that you’ve actually met this person at one time or another are about 50/50.  I’m constantly worried that I’m snubbing people that I’ve met at a random party and forgot about a year ago. Then I make it worse by hiding behind furniture when I see them, so that if they didn’t feel snubbed before, they sure do now.

What I think I’m trying to say with this confessional piece is this: If you walk by only to find me cowering in dumpster, hand clenched into a claw and hissing at you, please don’t take it personally. It’s just me giving into my insecurities and propensity toward neurotic shyness.

Tet! In Vietnam?

One perk of living in Vietnam is that, if your bosses are as kind as mine, you get time off for two major holidays in a row: Christmas/Hanukah/etc. and Tet (Lunar New Year).  Just as I was adjusting back to normalcy after the post-Christmas hangover, Tet was already upon us.  I love the buildup to the holiday.  Hanoi’s already hectic energy ramps up a few notches, a feat previously thought impossible.  However, the frenzy and traffic gridlock is somehow made bearable by the explosion of colors and smiles throughout the city.

I’ve developed my own Tet tradition of taking copious amounts of photos of kumquat trees being transported on motorbikes and bicycles.  One photo just isn’t enough:

This year we decided not to follow our expat brethren who tend to flee Vietnam en masse during the Tet break.  For most of us, Tet means an opportunity to bask on a beach somewhere.  It’s an allure that’s hard to pass up.  In years past, a few people told us that we should stay in Hanoi.  It’s so calm and peaceful, they’d say.  But Hanoi has no beaches, we’d reply.  Leaving Vietnam during Tet is practically sacrilegious among the Vietnamese, so it can be difficult to explain why we are usually so eager to leave when given the opportunity.  Travel is our religion.

However, not this year.  The trip home for Christmas left us a little exhausted and lazy.  The appeal of doing nothing trumped the appeal of exploring another place. There is much to be said for doing nothing, and we generally don’t do nothing enough.  Plus, a part of me has always been curious to see what Hanoi is like during this period of reverie.  I pictured shuttered doors, deserted streets, and an absence of honking.  I bought what felt like loads of groceries to prepare us for the shutdown.  (They only lasted through the second day of Tet, confirming Mitchell’s assertion that we’d be among the first to go during the apocalypse.)  Most expats who stay in Hanoi lament over the closing of all their favorite spots, but in a way I was hoping everything would be closed.  This can’t be a normal week!  Convenience be damned!

What actually happened was that most places were closed, but enough were open so we didn’t starve.  People were still in the streets, but not nearly as many as usual. The first day of Tet was even busy as people left their houses and flocked to the pagodas.  A friend told us that if you wake up very early on New Year’s day, the streets truly are empty.  Although we didn’t experience this ourselves, we spent a day being tourists in a less crowded Hanoi.  This meant visiting pagodas and actually reading the history and descriptions about them, gawking at old buildings, taking excessive photos and walking aimlessly through the Old Quarter.  While people were still out and about, most things were closed and the traffic was reduced to a trickle. It felt like seeing the Old Quarter for the first time.  In general, it’s easy to feel like a tourist in this city, no matter how long you’ve been here.  It sort of never loses its mystery.  You peel off one layer only to find dozens more.

Throughout the years I’ve peppered Vietnamese people for details about Tet, and as far as I can tell, they do the same stuff we do for the winter holidays. That is: go to “their countryside” (i.e., hometown), eat, spend all their money, eat, cook, eat, nap, eat, drink alcohol, eat, visit friends, eat, visit a pagoda, eat, watch fireworks, and eat.  I don’t know if they also follow the Christmas traditions of bickering over politics, nagging at family members to get married/have babies/lose weight/find employment, posing for awkward family photos, and embarrassing one another, preferably in front of a new love interest.  I can only hope they aren’t deprived these time-honored bonding activities.

Like Thanksgiving, Tet comes with special food.  I had nearly the exact same meal 4 times in 5 days, which includes chicken, fried spring rolls, bamboo noodle soup, “frozen meat,” and bánh trứng (sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves).

What’s frozen meat you ask?  The Vietnamese name for it is “giò thủ.” It was explained as being meat from a pig’s head (or chicken) mixed with mushrooms and then frozen into a lump.  (Find a better explanation and recipe here.) It kind of looks like meat jello.  My American tongue cringed a little at the sight of it, and my body gave off survival signals along the lines of “do not put the strange thing into your mouth, better safe than sorry.” But I overrode these alarms and tried it, and it’s actually not bad. All in all, Tet food is delicious quá.

"Frozen meat" or gio thu. Source: http://www.theravenouscouple.com

We didn’t stay in Hanoi the whole week, though, as we visited a friend Chi at her grandmother’s house in Bac Giang.  The house was on a small hill in the countryside.  Chi’s family was very hospitable and generous from the start. The warmth and open-heartedness of Vietnamese people never ceases to surprise me.  If you’re in their house, you’re family. Period.  It’s humbling.  Chi’s grandmother is 92 years old and tiny.  She smiles often.  While she lives alone, Chi’s aunt is right next door and numerous other relatives are close by. There were many animals around as well. Chickens, dogs, piggies, kitties, birds, and cows.  It’s nice to see the Vietnamese countryside.  I often forget that there’s a lot more to Vietnam than Hanoi.  Hanoi has a way of occupying one’s attention.

While it was difficult to pass up the chance to travel, I’d recommend staying in Vietnam for at least one Tet holiday.  Indulge your sedate side.

Chúc mừng năm mới!

Home for the holidays

It’s a little late to write about Christmas, but I’m feeling festive so here goes. Mitchell and I went home to America for a couple of weeks for the holidays. By America, I mean Colorado (Mitchell’s “countryside”) and Kansas City (where my sister, aunt and uncle live).  As is my custom, I dreaded it.  It’s not that I don’t like visiting my family (really, mom!), it’s Christmas itself.  Let’s face it: it’s a cheesy, shallow holiday.  Nothing makes my soul recoil like Christmas-related music and movies (Home Alone being an exception). The worst part, though, by far  is the shopping. Our tendency to deplete our bank accounts in some misguided effort to express love through stuff is…is…neurotic, exhausting, bizarre, depressing. I don’t know.  It’s a tired liberal rant, but it’s tired because it’s true. In sum: yes, I’m a Grinch bitch.  But no, this doesn’t mean that I had a bad time.  And no, it doesn’t mean that I donated all of my awesome gifts to charity (blush).  I’m just prone to tired, liberal rants is all.

Even Hanoi has embraced Christmas. No, I'm not amused.

Speaking of rants, my family especially likes the holiday tradition of bickering over politics. We are firmly divided into two camps: 1) thoughtful, concerned, informed lefties and 2) wacky, confused, brainwashed Republicans.  (No bias there; to my astonishment, most of my family members reside in the latter camp).  This means that the dinner table frequently turns from civil and content to frothy and aggressive.  To my surprise, this year the topic that set us off was not Occupy Wall Street as I’d expected. I’d been telling Mitchell for weeks, “If they even mention the word ‘bongos,’ I’m gonna completely lose my shit!”  By this I meant that I’d jump on the table, mimic an enraged ape and throw the turkey across the room, behavior that has been scientifically proven to change hearts and minds. In the jungle at least.  No, the topic was Guantanamo Bay.  My uncle mentioned it to illustrate Obama’s failure to keep promises, my sister and I started pulling our hair out and screaming about Bush being a war criminal, our cousin asserted that Bush saved the Middle East, so on and so forth.  Lovely time.  Anyway, I’m not sure how we can learn to engage in these conversations in a more flattering and sane fashion.  At present, our country is experiencing a time in which the extremes we hear seem to be true. Bush really is a war criminal after all. Our civil rights really are being violated. And Newt Gingrich really is an evil, baby-eating robot troll sent from China to destroy American democracy. God, it’s so obvious. Just look at the guy:

However, that was the only maddening thing that happened this Christmas.  Most of it was really great.  Because they are so young, seeing our nieces on visits home is like meeting entirely new people.  Mitchell’s niece Catey Rose (age 16 months) knows sign language and can navigate an iPod. My niece Evelyn Grace (age 2 years, 4 months) can actually form and understand whole sentences and is learning to break dance.  They’re like real humans now!

Catey Rose

Evelyn break dancing

I was inordinately proud of the gifts I had made in Hanoi for my two nieces, Bettye Rose and Eviecakes (hồng = rose; bánh = cake):

Bettye Rose and Eviecakes

In Colorado, we got to go swimming in some nice hot springs.  Mmmm…hot springs.  (Words of wisdom: some friends and I learned the hard way that the hot springs in Kim Boi, Vietnam are not to be confused for actual hot springs. They are lukewarm springs meant for lukewarm weather.)

In Kansas City, I was taught to love my family’s newfound obsession with ping pong and the Wii Just Dance game.  The latter obsession has followed me back to Hanoi. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve found the Wii Just Dance videos on YouTube, which means that yes, I can be found clumsily shaking and jiggling around my house to Gwen Stefani and Daft Punk.  I realize that no self-respecting person should do this after the age of 15.  But I have a problem. And no, I will not post a video of myself, but I might perform one of the dances for you if you are exceptionally charming and get me really drunk, as Huong has discovered.  The new hobby has inspired me to make a New Year’s resolution – learn Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance. Whenever the Thriller song comes on, I inevitably turn to the nearest person and proclaim, “I have to learn that dance before I die.”  Seeing that the world is supposed to end in 2012, it may be my last chance to fulfill this lofty goal.

My parents playing a cut throat game of ping pong.

Just Dance 3 - Wii Game; This guy is totally a burner.

I would write more about the wonders of Christmas, but the man sitting next to me at Joma is talking to himself while emitting an onslaught of coughing, snorting, slurping, sniffing, throat-clearing, and chugging noises.  He’s a symphony of bodily functions and my cue to leave. Happy post-holidays!

Who likes airports??!!

After a two week trip to the US for Christmas, I’m currently on my way back to Hanoi.  If things had gone to plan, I’d be there already, probably sleeping next to Mitchell in our bed.  What a cruel thing to write because nothing, fucking nothing, sounds better than that scenario right now. The reality is that I’m stuck in the Hong Kong airport where I’m battling time, fatigue and the bottomless depths of self-pity, and I’m basically losing on all counts.

I had three flights to catch: Kansas City –> Chicago –> Tokyo –> Hanoi. The first one was late causing me to miss the next two.  These things happen, but I still hate American Airlines. Allow me to painstakingly detail why.  There were 17 people on my flight who needed to catch the Chicago to Tokyo flight.  When we noticed the flight delay, they assured us that they’d hold the plane for us in Chicago, and I thought they actually would because…well, why the fuck else would they say that?  Because if we were guaranteed to miss our flight, then wouldn’t it be better to stay at our original location where we may have family or friends?  No Sarah, that’s not how it works!

When we arrived in Chicago, we frantically scurried over to an American Airlines employee who could help us find the location of our patiently-waiting airplane.  Looking annoyed and overwhelmed by our mob, he shouted “K12!” in response to our gibbering about Tokyo. Collectively, the crowd shouted “K12!” and started running to the gate on the other side of the airport. We arrived only to find it empty.  Rather than a tumbleweed, there was a lone crumpled itinerary slowly being blown across the gate ramp. Which wasn’t even in the international terminal I happened to notice.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that he just gave us a random gate number to get rid of us.  Rather than being helpful or at least empathetic, the American Airlines agents that I dealt with after those initial betrayals (2 lies! Lies, I say!) were supremely annoyed at my presence and seemed to imply that the flight delay was probably my fault. No, they didn’t say this outright, but I can read eyes!  And tones! Anyway, I’ll admit that at least the lady who booked me on new flights over the phone was nice. In sum:  Dear American Airlines, I understand why you are bankrupt and I look forward to the completion of your financial collapse.

The airport wants you to recycle. It feels bad about its carbon footprint.

In all, my travel time has increased from 24 to 45 hours long.  I’m now at the 36th hour and feeling rather delirious and zombie-like. I look the part and probably smell the part too. My deodorant stopped working about 5 hours ago and I had not the foresight to pack a toothbrush and FSA-approved mini toothpaste. My eyes and gait are those of a severely stoned person.  I’m in need of glasses anyway, but my eyesight gets worse with fatigue, so I’m squinting at boards I can’t read and wandering/sulking around in circles, bumping into people and desperately asking them if they’ve seen my plane.  My bag is heavy, so I’m dragging it about and digging in it desperately in search of iPods, magazines or anything to entertain my sleep-deprived brain.  I’ve probably been talking to myself and not noticing. I’m the crazy, homeless airport lady. Luckily, no one seems to notice or care. Or I’m at least at the point where I don’t care if they care.  A nice place to be.

My interpretation of my own pouting

Every time I make these lengthy trips, it feels like time travel. And it kind of is.  I don’t know where the hell January 3rd went.  Something about the journey shuffles my brain so that I begin to lose my sense of time and self.  Where am I? Who am I? What day is it? Who are all these people and why do they occasionally ask to see my visa and passport?  I know logically that I only left Hanoi 14 days ago, but when I think about our taxi ride to the Hanoi airport – one of the nicer taxi rides as our friend Jim brought along some wine – that feels like 5 months ago.  Like I was a completely different person back then.  A less confused and smelly person.  After a couple of days at the destination, everything shifts back to normal real time.

Anyway, I’m clearly bored, so I’ll detail some random highlights of the past 36 hours.  Unless you’re bored too, now’d be the time to find another blog to read. The other 16 passengers who missed the Tokyo flight were from Taipei.  When she discovered I was in the same predicament as they, a sweet middle-aged woman in the group latched onto me as we ran through the Chicago terminals.  She was saying things to me like, “Can you help us?  You’re so nice, you’re our friend!”  I did what I could to help, but there was little I could do. They spoke English and very well at that. Although helpful in some situations, my whitey, English-speaking superpowers are useless against the American Airlines bureaucracy. I was just another angry peon. But I tried anyway because she was sweet, and I at least accomplished getting us free lunch vouchers.  In the middle of the confusion, she told me that they were Christians and that her husband is a pastor. I can’t say for sure, but I think she was telling me this because she thought it’d be a point of camaraderie, rationalizing that as an American, I’m most likely Christian.  She then asked me with wide, expectant eyes, “Do you love Jesus?”  For a moment, I considered lying to her and just saying yes.  But that didn’t seem right, so I mumbled, “Um…sorry, I don’t,” although sorry for what I didn’t know.  I mean, I haven’t even met the guy, so “love” is a little strong of a word. But I don’t like disappointing people I guess.  Her grin didn’t fade at all, though, and she continued to be my airport friend confirming her commitment to following those Christian values we’re always hearing so much about.

Speaking of Jesus, he has actually been a running theme in these travels. I noticed a shelf of inspirational books for sale in the Kansas City airport.  I wrote down some titles because this is what bored people do:

  • A Woman’s Guide to Fasting (read: temporarily turning anorexic so she can fit into smaller jeans)
  • Food, Fitness and Faith for Women
  • Heaven is for Real
  • Promises for Women from God’s Word
  • When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection

What could make me jump off a bridge faster than reading “Food, Fitness and Faith for Women?”  Nothing.  Wait, reading “A Woman’s Guide to Fasting” maybe. There’s a mean joke lurking in my brain along the lines of if God wanted you to be skinny, then… [he wouldn’t have made cinnamon rolls so delicious/he’d make marathons more fun/er…something funnier than that].

The other Jesus-related thing was just a fellow passenger who told me about her daughter’s recent conversion to Christianity and how it hasn’t yet resulted in her respecting her mother more. She’s 15 after all. Isn’t there like a commandment or something about respecting parents?

End bored airport ramble. On to podcasts and the like.  See you soon Hanoi.

đi đi Hà Nội!

Dengue Fever on the Electric Mekong Tour

There is one less thing I’m allowed to complain about in Hanoi these days: music shows.  See, back in my day (i.e., way back in 2008) the only live music that my admittedly-clueless-and-inexperienced self knew of was Minh’s Jazz Club, karaoke bars, the water puppets on Hoan Kiem Lake, and that guy who plays the flute with his nostril on the streets.  Music shows would happen on occasion and would serve as an impromptu expat Mecca for a weekend.

My, things have changed. These days, you can find live music every week at places like Hanoi Rock City, 21º N Club, and Ronaldo’s.  What you hear can be a little hit and miss, but the number of good performers either in or coming to Hanoi seems to be ever-growing.  We were rather spoiled over the last 2 weekends in particular.

First, there was the Electric Mekong Tour with Dengue Fever.  When it comes to music genres, I’m at a pre-elementary level of understanding.  When I hear there’s a music genre called “Crunkcore,” I assume it has something to do with porn featuring Lil’ Jon.  There’s also “cuddlecore” – porn featuring teletubbies and care bears?  “Cybergrind” – enough with the porn already.  “Cowpunk” – cowboys with mohawks?  Ok, point being that I know nothing of the world of music genres and subgenres, but Wikipedia tells me that Dengue Fever combines Cambodian pop music with psychedelic rock.  A combination that works rather well.

Crunkcore, cuddlecore, cowpunk

I had attended a wedding earlier in the day, where the bride and groom somehow convinced me to ingest high volumes of strange alcoholic concoctions. Like I’m going to argue with love. So, by the time I ended up at the American Club, I was miles ahead of much of the crowd, excitement- and inebriation-wise.  And what’s the first thing I saw?  Two enormous condoms – well, people dressed like enormous condoms at least. (I will refrain from making enormous dick jokes).  This strange sighting occurred not due to the correlation between sex and rock and roll, but because the event was sponsored by the American Embassy in Hanoi and PEPFAR – an aid program with a long name that gives money to combat HIV/AIDS around the world.  Of course I drunkenly stumbled up to the condoms and demanded attention from them. (Luckily, I wasn’t quite drunk enough to demand they let me wear their costume.)  To get rid of me, they directed me to a table with free condoms and HIV prevention information, including the materials below, which after a few hard blinks, I shoved into my purse:

By no means do I disapprove of these materials. Quite the opposite. I am, however, amazed at the level of explicitness in them.  For one, Vietnam is pretty conservative when it comes to icky sexy stuff. Also, they were funded by my country, and as an American, I realize how prudish and backward my country can be regarding sex, particularly gay sex. Props to PEPFAR then.

Back to music!  Last weekend was Go!Go!Japan!, a rock concert featuring Japanese and Vietnamese bands.  When I found out it was being held at the National Exhibition Center on Giang Vo St, I knew I had to go. I drive by this place every day and have been repeatedly awed at just how glitzy and hideous a place of this size could be, particularly on event days.  It takes the “bigger, brighter and more rainbowy are always better” approach to decorating.

Of course, the other major lure was the music lineup.  I had seen Okamoto’s at a previous CAMA event and like the rest of the crowd, I fell in love with the band and the Japanese Mick Jagger-like stylings of the lead singer.  They are apparently “psychedelic garage rock,” if that means anything to you.  To say this band is energetic is an understatement.  The vocalist is constantly running and shaking and bobbing and crawling and fainting and swaying and telling you to speak Japanese.  The drummer and guitarist are also enthusiastic.  But the bassist. No, he serves as the counterpoint.  Dressed in nerd chic, he calmly stands in place, practically bored.  Someone must be responsible.

Okamoto's - Charisma

Before Okamoto’s was the Electric Eel Shock, a “garage metal” band.  They were also very entertaining and quite good, even playing some “Brack Sabbath” tunes for us.  My favorite part of this band were their power moves, particularly those of the drummer.  He played with 4 sticks, 2 in each hand.  Occasionally, he would raise his fist, 2 sticks in a V-shape, and slowly move them across his face.  Think Pulp Fiction dance move.  Other times he would dramatically stand up and point at the crowd or the sky. I missed it, but someone told me he was playing the drum cymbals with his shirt at one point. And I heard that he usually plays in the nude.  Yep, he’s awesome.

Electric Eel Shock

Electric Eel Shock - note the power move

This band also instigated a mini-mosh pit of sorts.  The mosh pit was composed primarily of tâys, who tore off their shirts, ran into each other a lot, jumped on one another’s backs and unsuccessfully attempted to crowd surf.  I turned to Huong and said, “The white people are embarrassing us again.”  But that was a joke. The group never got overly obnoxious or rowdy, stayed relatively confined, and was almost as entertaining as the bands.  Another fun spectacle was the young Vietnamese metalheads (?), who with joined arms, were bent over and swaying rhythmically for most of the night.  Not sure if this is what they were going for, but I found them adorable.

Other bands included the Vietnamese “progressive rock” band, Ngũ Cung, also known as Pentatonic.  They were clearly a big draw for many of the young Vietnamese concert goers, many of whom were wearing the band’s t-shirts.  I wish I had more to say about them, but all I can remember is that at one point, they sported a keytar, and they performed a few 80s hair band reminiscent power ballads.

Ngu Cung, and their keytar

Other bands that were there but that we didn’t see were Molice of Japan and Rosewood of Vietnam.  They’re probably worth checking out.  Thanks CAMA and Japan and US Embassy/PEPFAR and music extraordinaires!

My blog is many things, but useful it is not.  Nothing makes this more clear than visiting that nifty WordPress stats page to figure out how in the hell people came across this little corner of the internet. Mostly by accident apparently, while in search of other, very different things than what Hanoi is doing to Sarah. I’ll present here a quick overview of the wanderers who have gotten caught up in my interweb lately, mostly to be left disappointed by my lack of answers for their internet queries.  When I can, I’ll try to answer some of these questions or to offer useful advice for once.

Vietnam/Hanoi category:  Naturally.

  • “finding America girl living in Hanoi” – Try stalking the embassy, the American Club, and/or your friendly neighborhood expat bar/restaurant. We’re not hard to find.
  •  “vietnam burning shop cleaning” – Is the shop burning or Vietnam?  Someone should get on that.
  • “talktome Vietnamese” – Wish I could.
  • “freaky shit in Hanoi” – Hanoi’s so weird, even its shit is freaky.
  • “happy pizza hanoi” – Those emotional food items.  This is a reference to pizza with marijuana baked into it.  As far as I know, dear internet searcher, this is a Phnom Penh thing.  Am I wrong?
  • “how to say takeaway in Vietnamese” – It took me a long time to figure this one out too. It’s “mang về”.
  • “Hanoi my love” –  Awwww….


Travel/expat category: I wrote one entry about Vang Vieng, Laos, and wow, it gets a lot of traffic.  Funny that it’s not exactly a glowing review of the place, but I suppose it offers enough details to confirm its awesomeness or abhorrence in the readers’ minds. So, aside from backpacking in Vang Vieng:

  • “expats are weird” – And how!
  • “Hanoi language barrier” – Is alive and well. Learn this phrase: Không hiểu.
  • “where to eat thanksgiving Hanoi” – Oooh ooh, useful advice: dinner at Green Mango (18 Hàng Quạt) and maybe the Press Club (too fancy for my bones). Also, you can get a fully cooked turkey at The Oasis (24 Xuan Dieu).  Side note: “Turkey” in Vietnamese is “gà tây” or “Western chicken.”
  • “expat salaries in Hanoi” – Considering the cost of living – pretty pretty pretty good.
  • “vang vieng parasites” – Ew.
  • “massa massage Vientiane” – Which one do you prefer?

Sex(pat) category:  I must say, this site must be especially disappointing for people of the sexpat variety.   Well, yes ok, I’ve attended happy ending massage places and brothels myself, but always by accident!  Really!

  • “massage Hanoi happy ending”
  • “massage with prostitution in Hanoi”
  • “brothels in dalat Vietnam”
  • “girls hanoi full service massage addresses”
  • “sex movie for vieng”
  • “tall creepy guy in vang vieng” – Miscategorized?
  • “thats what she said Vietnamese” – Is there a Vietnamese version of The Office these days?  There most certainly should be.  Rife with fruit snack breaks, computer naps, youtubeathons, overtime and underpayment.

Use a condom, massa seekers


Sex subcategory: tied up and gagged: Note to self – Be more careful in how you title your posts.  People in search of the tied up and gagged genre are not interested in your fumbling attempts at teaching children.

  • “girls tied up and gagged” – Oh no, what happened?  Scary!
  • “angry girls tied up” – Well, I’d think they would be.
  • “babysitter tied up and gagged” – Darned kids.
  • “advice tied up gagged ask”  – Seems like it might be hard to ask for advice while gagged.
  • “americangirlstiedup” – Oh, now it’s getting personal….
  •  “gagged Vietnamese” – And I guess a little more relevant to the blog.
  • “kid tied up and gagged “- Ummm…creepy to the nth degree. Let’s move on, shall we?

Animal category: Mostly turkeys, with some fish and cats thrown in for good measure.

  •  “how to draw a turkey” – Take hand, add pencil.
  • “how to draw an angry turkey”- Add furrowed brow.  Getting specific, that’s good.
  • “a turkey with a gun to its back and holding a sign drawn colored pictures” – Very specific.
  • “angry turkey sounds” – GOBCHCHCIEKDKKDWW!!!
  • “fish on bicycle”- Fish can’t ride bicycles, sillypants.
  • “i can barely take care of my cat, should i have children” – No.

Kids, harder to take care of than cats.

Perhaps try a mini-dog instead

Sarah category

  • “sarah eats Hanoi” – That’s why she is so bloated.
  • “sarah’s place Hanoi” – And we’re back to creepy.

Random category

  • “iceland hot pools gay cruising” – Yes, please.
  • “hangover burf” – What’s a burf?  Let’s hope it wasn’t supposed to say barf.
  • “beaten businessman in bar fight” – Well, fights are not fun, but I hope he at least worked on Wall Street.
  • “Burning shorts” – For the short-less ancestors.
  • “dang zombies shirt” –Who doesn’t like zombie shirts?
  • “hedonism irresponsible party” – Is there such a thing as responsible hedonism?
  •  “no you run and it’s gone wild” – Haiku?
  • “naked sport bicycle” – Sounds itchy.
  • “never trust someone who eats at their desk” – Noted.  I will eye my coworkers suspiciously from now on.
  • “right. you cant see it for yourself because youre so fat, and because it is curled so tight. i dare say you could play with it, like kitty, when you were a pup, but it must be a long time now since youve” – I’m very confused.