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    Wed, 01 Oct 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: Direct Train Between Hanoi and Beijing

    I had no idea this was possible until a travel agent educated me, but I just bought a Hanoi to Beijing train ticket right here in Hanoi. I thought it was impossible to buy Chinese train tickets outside of China, but I was quite wrong. This option has the excellent bonus feature of not getting stuck in Nanning for days trying to buy the onward train ticket after riding the bus from Hanoi to Nanning.

    The Hanoi to Nanning leg is quite a PITA. It leaves from Hanoi at 1830, and then there is a bed-time delaying train change at the border just before midnight (this is also where you clear Vietnamese immigration). This would not be so bad, but then the train quickly stops at a Chinese immigration station, where Chinese immigration take an hour+ to clear the whole train. Final bed-time: 0130. Then we arrived in Nanning around 0600, and were promptly kicked off the train for two hours while they added the cars from our little train to the much bigger train headed for Beijing. I would recommend trying to get some sleep on the Vietnamese train. The damned thing bounces and jolts around too much to read comfortably anyway.

    Total cost for the trip (soft sleeper accomodations) was US$150, less then half the best airfare I was being quoted. And I think my cost was augmented by a US$20-30 travel agent fee. Next time I will go directly to the train station to buy the ticket.

    posted at: 04:35 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry

    Sat, 27 Sep 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: Taijiquan in Hanoi

    There is actually a quite a bit. But like everywhere else in the world, it seems, the vast majority is of the limp-wristed hobbyist, "is taiji a martial art?" variety.

    I might have found an interesting teacher in Hanoi. (Warning: my comments are informed by observing one class, I did not have time to do more.) His name is "Nguyen Hoang Quan", and I am told this Vietnamese-only website[1] belongs to his group.

    What they do is obviously mostly standard Yang-style Taijiquan, and I would call their approach to training a mix of contemporary and ultra-conservative / old school. There were 20-30 students divided into two groups, following an almost Japanese routine of everyone in each group doing the same thing together for the whole two hours. But not once did I see anyone doing anything resembling a form. The whole class was basically super-repetitive single practice. Very Old School.

    There was also no traditional push hands going on, but towards the end I saw pairs doing a variety of connect-and-strike drills, some of it using footwork faintly resembling that of Xingyiquan (without Xingyi structure, and without the follow-step, ie. very simplified). Strikes were often full speed and had some sauce to them. These guys are seeking to train real fighting skills. Not having followed their method, nor crossed-hands with anyone, I cannot testify to their efficacy. Looked interesting though.

    They are well worth having a look at if you are in town. Current location is behind the International School at 50 Lieu Giai in Ba Dinh District. This address is also at the bottom of their website, along with an e-mail address and phone numbers. Like the rest of Hanoi, a fair number of people in the class speak some English.

    [1] http://www.thaicucquyen.com/

    posted at: 08:59 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry

    Fri, 26 Sep 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: FPT Telecom Sucks!!!

    FPT Telecom[1] is my ADSL provider in Hanoi. There are fairly regular (several times per month?) hours-long service interruptions. Day-time bandwidth is usually quite slow, and sometimes (like today) glacially slow. When I say "glacially", I mean REALLY slow, as in it is really another hours-long (day long?) service interruption.

    Next time around in Hanoi I would be sorely tempted to try another provider. Because this one is really cutting into my productivity.

    [1] http://www.fpt.vn/

    posted at: 03:46 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry

    Tue, 23 Sep 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: Nanning to Hanoi: Cheap and Easy

    Getting back and forth between China and Vietnam is cheap and easy. The bus ride between Hanoi and Nanning costs only 150 RMB (~US$20), and you can catch the first one around 0830 at either end, no advance ticket purchase necessary. You change buses at the border, and arrive at your destination in mid-afternoon.

    On the Nanning end, the Vietnamese embassy is in a quite obscure location, but service is good and you can get a same day six month business visa for US$200. Demonstrating typical bureaucratic efficiency, their website[1] does not appear to give an address. Here[2] we can find an address (but without Chinese):

    Consulate General of Vietnam in Nanning, China
    1ST floor, Touzi Dasha
    109 Minzu Avenue
    Nanning, CHINA
    City: Nanning
    Phone: (86-77) 1551 0562
    Fax: (86-77) 1 553 4738
    Email: tlsqvn@rediffmail.com

    The bus station in Nanning is also a very long ride out to the edge of town, 30 RMB by taxi from the train station.

    On the Hanoi end, the Chinese embassy[3] is easy to find, on the west side of Lenin Park. Per usual for Asian embassies, it would seem, the website seems to have no address and no information about hours of operation, not even in Chinese. Note that the front gate also has no English, all signs are in Chinese and Vietnamese. Address[4][5]:

    Embassy of China
    46 Hoang Dieu,
    Ba Đình, Hanoi
    Phone: (04) 845 3736
    Email: chinaemb_vn@mfa.gov.cn
    Hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1100

    As of this writing (23 Sep 2008) you only need a photocopy of your passport front page and Vietnamese visa and entry stamp. No mention of return plane tickets, or hotel reservations. You will be turned away if you wear flip-flops (sandals with a heel-strap are accepted) or your shirt does not cover your shoulders (no kidding). Service is terrible, and glacially slow, as there are only two immigration agents working visas, and most customers seem to be travel agents with two dozen passports under their arm. I got there about nine and did not leave until after eleven. After being told at 1040 that I needed to rush out and get the photocopies mentioned above. People wearing flip-flops were being turned away at the front of the line after waiting for two hours, right in front of the guard who was turning them away. Welcome to China.

    As for the bus station in Hanoi, it is also a little ways out of town, tucked in beside a hotel at the NE corner of "Phõ Đội Cấn" and "Giai Văn Cao" streets in Ba Đình district. (I will try to get an address...)

    [1] http://www.vietnamconsulate-nanning.org/en
    [2] http://www.embassiesabroad.com/embassies-of/Vietnam#8101
    [3] http://vn.china-embassy.org/
    [4] http://newhanoian.xemzi.com/en/venue/show/380/Embassy-of-China
    [5] http://www.mfa.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zwjg/2490/2491/t14390.htm

    posted at: 01:34 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry

    Mon, 22 Sep 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: Vietnam Links

    Vietnamese-English on-line dictionary:

    Stardict: Free Multi-Lingual Dictionary for Download (note that software and dictionaries are downloaded separately):

    Vietnamese Input Methods: Telex, VNI, VIQR

    Foreign Service Institute: free Vietnames language course for download:

    Vietnam News: national English language daily
    Vietnam News

    posted at: 05:35 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry

    Fri, 19 Sep 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: About Broadband / DSL Service in Vietnam

    Google turns up just about nothing on the subject, so I will describe my experience in Hanoi. (If you would like to contribute more information, please send to ckoeni@gmail.com and I would be happy to publish it.)

    The DSL was already installed in the house when I moved in, and is provided by FPT Telecom. There were some problems with the line and the landlord was completely useless, so I got the installation contract from him. On it are two very important pieces of information:

    These are what goes into the router to connect to the service. There is also a members web page, http://member.fpt.vn/, where you can see some information about account status:

    As far as I can tell, this line is on a plan called "DSL - MegaSTYLE - Volume" where we are being charged by bandwith (ie. by Gigabyte) up to a maximum of 357,500 Dong/month. We have hit this maximum several times and it seems quite consistent.

    As for bill payment, they have an odd system here where water, electricity, and telecom representives come around and try to collect the bill personally towards the end of the month. If they miss you, they leave the bill at the door and you have to go pay it in person at a local office. If you do not pay by the end of the month, your service will abruptly and without warning be disconnected at the beginning of the month.

    posted at: 09:46 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry

    Fri, 12 Sep 2008

    /xLife/Vietnam: Hanoi Links

    Welcome to Hanoi, Vietnam! If you are new to Hanoi, there is really an awful lot of information out there. Here is some of the best:

    Community site: places, resources, events:

    The Friends of Vietnam Heritage: Cultural Groups and Activities:

    Hanoi Grapevine: Cultural Events:

    Megastar Cineplex: the only theater in Hanoi that shows recent English and Chinese movies with the original soundtrack (no dubbing, Vietnamese subtitles):

    posted at: 02:21 | path: /xLife/Vietnam | permanent link to this entry