Sunday, February 28, 2016

Entry 2

In Vietnam people get up early (4am early). Their breakfasts usually contains meat such as a bowl of pho or cooked rice with pork. For vegetarians and vegans it will be sort of difficult to stick to your diet because a lot of soups are broth based and most meals include pork, beef, chicken, eggs, fish and/or dog. 

The French clearly had a great influence on the way Vietnamese cook and eat, we found several nice French pastry shops where you can find delicious, authentic croissants and baguettes. If you’re a church goer and temples or pagodas are not your thing, worry not fellow christians, the French also left some nice and interesting pieces of architecture in the form of catholic churches and several colonial-style houses.

Cu Chi Tunnels (TNK Travel Tour)

When you visit Paris you have to see the Eiffel Tower, when in Toronto, you must go to the top of the CN tower, when in Ho Chi Minh City... you're going to go the other way, underground. The most touristic attraction in the area is a system of tunnels built by the Vietnamese in order to escape the heavy American bombings during the war. The tunnels are located outside of town but you can ask any hotel staff and they can set you up with a tour including the ride there and back.

I have a few important tips to share based on my personal experience. We asked our hotel staff to set us up for the afternoon tour. We booked the day before so short notice was not a problem and the price was fair. A travel agent came by our hotel to pick us up and brought us to their agency where we had to wait for other people to show up so we could all get on the bus to Cu Chi, a 55 min. drive according to Google Maps (adding to the 15 min. we waited in the travel agency). 

Our tour guide had a few good jokes, some more tasteful than others, and managed to kill some time so the ride didn't seem too long. Our bus was also equipped with wi-fi and a television which featured a film about the war. Personally, I wanted to know more about the tunnels. We were told we would make a short stop at the "handicap factory". A few guys sitting next to us were discussing the morality of calling this place the handicap factory and I was on board with their thoughts. 

Basically this warehouse was a place where handicapped people made authentic Vietnamese art such as ceramic plaques and ornaments. They make you go through a production line outside of the building itself explaining the different steps to get to the final product while handicapped people sort of awkwardly smile at you. And of course you exit through the gift shop. I think two people on the whole bus bought something, to me this felt so wrong and from my perspective I'm paying for a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels I have no interest in being guilted into buying things made by handicapped people and the feeling was mutual within the group. Back on the bus.

We finally arrive at the Cu Chi Tunnels where our guide gets our tickets and stickers in order to identify us as, well, visitors. We skip the video on the war part since we already saw this on the bus and head straight for the different displays of traps. The displays were sort of prototypes of traps made during the war surrounded by mannequins building artillery and a big tank which got stuck on a rock to they left it there (photo op). So far, nothing had been said about the tunnels and I thought this sucks! Suddenly we hear a loud bang like AK-47 bang! The first though that came to mind was, calm down you're in the middle of the forrest in Vietnam I doubt this is a terrorist attack but this was just a few weeks after the Paris attacks and that gloomy feeling was still present in our heads. Surprise, it's a shooting range! Yes because a visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels would not be complete without having fired an uzi or AK-47. For a few dongs you can shoot some guns and have the whole group wait for your ass and feel all stressed and edgy every time you fire a shot. Bummer.

So 40 minutes in the tour we finally get to the entrance of the tunnel. Even though this whole trip was sort of unexpected and chaotic, entering the tunnels was a blast! They made them a little bigger so that visitor would have a good understanding of how it felt to live underground at that time without having a panic attack. Speaking of which, one of our fellow visitors had a hard time breathing and along the 110 meters stretch of tunnels with exits every 20 meters we started to wonder how anyone would managed to pull a body out in case of emergency which made the whole experience a bit more authentic. Don't worry he made it out. That being said if you're claustrophobic or have a fear of the dark consider the first 20 meters a good representation of the rest.

If I had some pointers for your visit, book a personal guide which can tell you more about the tunnels, skip the handicap factory and maybe bring some earplugs. The extra cost to have a private tour and ride is definitely worth it and maybe you can also catch something else than an old war movie on the way there and back.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Entry 1

The Vietnam Diaries

If words could describe the humidity of Asian countries it would be something like walking into a wall of sweat. When all the water that is inside your body comes out through every single pore you own. You suddenly feel like a human sponge. In return they love their A/C in airports, hotels and cars. They must believe foreigners are used to such aggressive bursts of cold air but alternating between the two I could almost feel my sweat freezing on top of my skin.

Arrival in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC formerly known as Saigon)

The shock was not only physical, upon exiting the airport you are immediately immersed in a sea of people. With 8.224 million inhabitants (2015), it felt like half of them had shown up for our arrival. Young kids would stare at us, for some of them it would be a first time or rare occasion seeing a foreigner. There are several taxi stands with staff waving us in offering private cars or taxis. We read the most reliable and safe ones were Mai Linh and Vinasun. All aboard for what will be an interesting first ride through the dense, loud and uncoordinated traffic.

side note: Etihad Airways lost our luggage, their policy is $40 US per person per day, you can claim it upon your next check-in at the airport.

According to The Saigon Times, as of January 2014 there were 5.8 million registered motorbikes in HCMC. Three cars out of four are taxis so motorbikes are clearly the best way to make it from A to B in this town. There’s barely any stopping, even though it looks like we could be stuck in this massive mess for hours people simply change lanes and keep rolling. The immediate difference between Asia and all other western countries is their use of the horn. For them it’s simply a way of letting other vehicles know that they are changing direction or approaching slowly. 

We were dropped off on the main street where our hotel was supposed to be and the taxi driver kindly pointed toward a building across the street. After walking up and down the block a few times we couldn’t find the address and decided to test the locals ability to locate our small “boutique” hotel. One lady managed to point us to an alley which was leading off the main street. We later understood that addresses such as: 54/33 means that the second number will be in a small alley located next to 54 off the main street.


Vietnam is know as a food mecca, we purposely refused to have breakfast included with our room so that we could go out and get our mouths dirty. The catch? Vietnam has been going through an increasing industrial phase which resulted in a lot of pollution of many water ways. This being said, it is highly recommended to avoid drinking water from the tap and we would go as far as using bottled water to brush our teeth. What does that mean when eating out in a restaurant? Well this means the fresh vegetables on your plate have been in contact with tap water and the ice in your drink is also often made out of tap water.

The first few times we avoided ice at all costs and whenever we ordered drinks we asked “NO ICE, NO ICE”. After a few tries some of the restaurants’ staff began to assure us that “ICE CLEAN, GOOD ICE” or “MINERAL WATER ICE”. We realized a lot of the more touristic places knew that foreigners’ stomachs were not made to sustain the damage caused by the tap water and had switched to buying mineral water to make their drinks. Just to be clear, they put ice in nearly every drink, smoothies, fruit juices, iced coffees and even in beer!

side note: once the ice dilemma was cleared up we fell in love with the Vietnamese Iced Coffee   (Cafe Sua Da), made of 50% Arabica and 50% Robusta beans, a small amount of coffee is poured in a glass full of ice, topped with sweet condensed milk and hot water. Stir, drink!

Our first hotel in HCMC was conveniently located in the Nguyen Thai Binh district (pardon the accents, I’m not switching my keyboard to Vietnamese). The street we were on had several small quaint coffee bars and restaurants which would certainly appeal to everyone. Throughout the trip we noticed that a lot of little places like these were popping up here and there and they also get a lot of attention from the locals. What’s interesting about the furniture is how everything is so close to the floor. Miniature chairs and tables, almost child-like! We all know the stereotype of Asian being shorter but even for them it looks like a bunch of adults in a kindergarten parent-teacher meeting. Most of the restaurants and cafés’ store fronts are made of one huge garage door so the A/C is substituted by fans.

side note: for a complex misunderstanding of the Vietnamese alphabet click here

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ink Kultur

'Tis the season to be half-naked again, with temperatures hitting the high 30s Münchners are heading to the streams, lakes and public pools to cool down and show us how their gym membership paid off, or not.

With all this exposed skin just walking about, we get to discover some beautiful artwork and interesting tattoo concepts. The most coveted one has to be the "tramp stamp"! Briefly popular in the 90s the concept left a lot of women and some men regretting this particular investment and being shamed by those who said thanks but, no thanks to the ongoing trend.

In Germany there are a few terms to describe this often tribal piece of artwork located on the lower part of the back.

"Schlampenstempel" is probably the most literal translation, there's also "Arschvignette" and my favorite "Arschgeweih" which translates to "ass antlers".

"Cool tattoo honey."

Friday, November 21, 2014

What it means to work abroad

A few days ago, I stumbled upon an article on The Local's website. According to this article I'm not the only qualified immigrant coming to Germany for a piece of the cake. Plenty of us find ourselves in the same situation. We move to a country with a 5.1% unemployment rate (lower than Canada 6.5%), we make a few friends to network, start looking for jobs and realize through the application process that if you don't speak German, your options are very limited.

As a native French speaker I pick up English at a very young age and consider myself lucky to be able to fluently discuss in both languages. Europe is different! The proximity between all of the countries is the cause of a cluster of languages. International companies are looking for people who speak Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Dutch and the list goes on.

Certain skill sets override the language requirements. I've see a lot of engineering and computer science jobs which require only English. Makes me think about a change of career path sometimes.

As far as I'm concerned, I still have to improve my German skills to be able to pierce through the Communications and Marketing field. I've been actively searching for a position in PR firms, Communications Agencies, bigger companies such as Yahoo, Amazon and a few local craft beer companies (everybody has a dream right?)

I'm currently looking at the job market and the internship dilemma. Stay tuned for my next post.