Some street scenes of Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Some street scenes of Hanoi's Old Quarter
Most of my photos of Hanoi were taken while I was walking from my Airbnb to get lunch or go shopping, because I really only visited two tourist sites while I was there. I hope you can get a feel for the Old Quarter of Hanoi from these shots. All photos (with one exception noted above) taken with a Nikon D3300 with Nikkor 18-55 mm kit lens. For this trip, I traveled light, and only brought one additional lens, a manual 50 mm prime, which I did not use for any of these shots.

Reflections at a Hanoi café

Reflections at a Hanoi café
HANOI, VIETNAM — While I was sitting in this little Old Quarter café, hunched over my Windows tablet working on my editing task, familiar music started playing on the stereo — The Beatles, The Doors, The Kinks, The Mamas and the Papas, The Searchers, Little Peggy March — all music that Americans would have listened to back in the 1960s and ’70s. Music that Americans serving in the Vietnam War might have listened to, when they weren’t being shot at or trying to shoot soldiers on the other side. I could have been one of those guys — maybe not in a combat position, given my poor eyesight — but during the early 1970s, as the War seemed never to end, and as my 18th birthday approached, there was a possibility that my number would come up and I’d be sent to Vietnam to serve in the war. Yet, here I was, 44 years later, sitting in a quiet café in the NORTH of Vietnam (formerly enemy territory in wartime), the only foreigner in the building and easily the oldest, listening to American and British music of that era. It was at once poignant and surreal. I wondered if any ...

On the first part of the journey …

On the first part of the journey ...
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — There was football. More about that later, though. I left Zhengzhou on Jan. 25 as a heavy snowstorm was just picking up steam. The snow was so bad that even the high speed CRH trains, which run on schedule 99% of the time, had to slow down or even stop, because of poor visibility and slick trackage. My train to Futian station in Shenzhen would normally have taken seven hours. We arrived four hours later. Second-class ticket: 735.50 yuan ($116). My plan was to stay overnight in Shenzhen anyway, and my flight to Hanoi was in two days, so no big deal. There are many bargain flights out of Hong Kong, and I love Hong Kong, so I spent the second night there. My Jetstar ticket was $180 round trip, including an extra checked baggage fee. I stayed in a guest house near Causeway Bay for $65. My Shenzhen hotel near Futian train station was $60. [I’ve blogged about visiting Hong Kong before, but briefly, you can walk from Shenzhen’s Futian checkpoint to the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, passing through two immigration and customs control points. That takes about an ...

Happy Year of the Dog!

Happy Year of the Dog!
GUANGZHOU — It is now the first day of the Year of Dog, a suitable time to update everyone on my winter travels. I have just returned to China from Vietnam, where I stayed a little more than a week each in Hanoi and Da Nang. Now, I’m the middle of another week hopping from one place to another to see old friends before I head back to Zhengzhou. Here’s the itinerary, keyed to the map above. 1. Zhengzhou, Henan, China, where I currently work 2. Hong Kong (with a brief stay in Shenzhen) 3. Hanoi, Vietnam 4. Da Nang 5. Hanoi again 6. Hong Kong again 7. Guangzhou, Guangdong 8. Kunming, Yunnan (to reunite with a friend from Jishou U) 9. Changde, Hunan (for a former student’s wedding party) 10. Jishou (because I miss it) and then probably back to Zhengzhou via Changsha, unless I decide to squeeze in another place first. As I mentioned last time, this holiday trip turned into a working vacation when a former colleague asked me to proofread and edit an English translation of a book by a Chinese writer — for pay. Once I finished that, they offered another job, also for pay. ...

It’s a working vacation in Vietnam

It's a working vacation in Vietnam
DA NANG, VIETNAM – As usual, I have waited more than a week to write something about my latest journey. Seems to be a habit of mine. This particular trip has turned into a working vacation, which though fairly lucrative, has cut into my free time somewhat. A few days before I was going to leave Zhengzhou, a former colleague from Jishou University asked if I could proofread and edit a translation they had prepared of a book by a Chinese author. (I cannot reveal who the author is, or the title of the book.) She asked if I could finish it in five days, and I had to explain I was leaving in three for Hong Kong and then Vietnam. So, we agreed on a five-day extension. It was 198 pages long. Everything was going along swimmingly, until I caught a nasty head cold in Hanoi, which rendered me useless for two days. But I managed to process the book by the agreed deadline, and collected the other half of my fees. Then they offered me another job – 191 pages this time, but by the same author. What the hell, I figured. Nothing like earning money to defray ...

An end of the year report, and a thank you

An end of the year report, and a thank you
ZHENGZHOU, HENAN — We are about an hour from the start of 2018 here, and I’m taking a few minutes to recap the year before I get ready for the ball to drop (figuratively speaking). First of all, someone donated $30 in Bitcoin to the website today, anonymously as I have no idea who sent it. Whoever it is, many, many thanks! Here’s a quick recap of 2017, which has been one helluva year, for many reasons. In January and February, I spent a month touring Japan. Two weeks of that was spent with my son, and we had a ball! If I could afford it, I could spend a month just in Tokyo and never run out of things to do, see or eat! March through June were business as usual, teaching Business English students at Jishou University. It was year nine for me, and I fully intended to stay another year at least. But, reality beat that idea down. Unbeknownst to me and (apparently) my foreign affairs officers, Hunan province had lowered the maximum working age for foreign teachers from 64 to 60, meaning that I was unable to remain in Hunan as a teacher. Worse yet, as ...

A new bank account, my first HUT paycheck, and a new residence permit

A new bank account, my first HUT paycheck, and a new residence permit
ZHENGZHOU, HENAN — Still busy here, but midterms are now over. My time has been spent marking the exams, and getting a new bank account and finishing the paperwork to get a new residence permit. Marking exams is more fun. OK, I’m exaggerating, but it took most of one Saturday morning to open the bank account, and most of another afternoon to run around getting the paperwork submitted for the residence permit. It all seemed needlessly complicated, but at least the bank account was available for my first paycheck yesterday (YAY!) and for China’s big online shopping day — “Singles Day” — today. THE BANK ACCOUNT Although I already have two Chinese bank accounts, I had to open a new one. To be honest, I’m not entirely clear why, but it seems to have to do with my existing accounts being opened in Hunan, while my employer is in Henan. Even the bank worker was perplexed, as he told my student assistants that there was no need to open a new account, as I already had an account with that bank. After a few phone conversations with our staff assistant, it was decided that, to be on the safe side, ...

Zhengzhou: I hit the ground running

Zhengzhou: I hit the ground running
ZHENGZHOU, HENAN — So, I’ve been a little busy lately. I arrived at the Zhengzhou airport on a Saturday morning (October 14) and began work two days later, right before midterm exams. Another teacher earlier had had to abruptly go home to deal with some paperwork problems, so I took over her classes — 10 in all — and a week later I picked up two more when another teacher had to leave for medical treatment. Two weeks ago, we gave the sophomores their midterm exam (two sections for me) and the freshmen (four sections) got theirs this past week. So, when I have not been in class or preparing for class, I’ve been reading exams. Plus, there was the half-day required for the medical check-up, which was identical to the previous one in May, except that was in Hunan and now I am in Henan, and that’s just the way it’s done, don’t ask questions, and the half-day today for creating a new bank account, even though I already have two Chinese bank accounts in Hunan, but this is Henan, and that’s the way it’s done, don’t ask questions. Anyway, I’m street-legal now, with a new foreign experts certificate, ...

My visa finally came, and I leave Thursday for Zhengzhou, China

My visa finally came, and I leave Thursday for Zhengzhou, China
It’s finally here! Since the July 4 holiday, I had been building up the necessary documentation to apply for a Chinese work (Z) visa. Along the way, as I wrote earlier, I made a couple of mistakes, one of which slowed down the process about a week. But most of the delay was at the hands of government offices — particularly the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC — as they processed those documents. Anyway, that’s all in the past now. I have booked my tickets for Zhengzhou, Henan, China, and leave Thursday. I’ll arrive Saturday and I assume begin teaching classes on Monday. It’s a rerun of my first arriving in Jishou in 2008, when I arrived early on a Sunday and started teaching the very next day. Zhengzhou is the provincial capital of Henan, population 9.2 million — *quite* a bit larger than Jishou. It has its own airport, so transport in and out will be much easier. Judging from this Google map capture (see below), my new university — Henan University of Technology 河南工业大学 — is some distance from central Zhengzhou. HUT was founded in 1956, about two years before Jishou University was. My students will not be ...

In China’s Countryside, Poverty Is a Lifestyle, Not a Choice — Sixth Tone magazine

In China’s Countryside, Poverty Is a Lifestyle, Not a Choice -- Sixth Tone magazine
It’s not often I see stories about Xiangxi, that part of western Hunan where I lived for nine years, so I want to share this one with you. The writer is Deng ChaoChao, who works with impoverished villages in the Chinese countryside, including Mendaicun 们岱村 west of Jishou. I’ve marked it on the Google map above. Writing for Sixth Tone, an online magazine in China, she describes the cooperative ventures her NGO has helped villagers create to augment their meager incomes. She also mentions working with university students on a service project. I wonder if those students are from Jishou University. While I have never visited Mendai, I have visited Paibi, which is not far away as the crow flies. It’s on the northern edge of the map above (labeled Piabixiang). I wrote about that visit last July. I was visiting a school in a town, and not a rural village, though. I won’t reproduce Deng ChaoChao’s article here, for copyright reasons, but here is an excerpt. The village of Mendai is located in an impoverished part of western Hunan, a province in central China. Difficult to reach and suffering from a shortage of farmland and labor, it is also ...

The long, long wait for a work visa will soon be over

The long, long wait for a work visa will soon be over
DENVER — Today I got the next-to-last document I need to apply for a new Chinese work visa. It’s a big relief, and with luck I’ll be back teaching in China after their October National Holiday. This process began after the July 4 holiday and so far has cost me $566 in postage, FedEx charges, application fees, and visa agency services. But the worst part has been the waiting — waiting to receive the documents I sent out, waiting for the final authentications from two Chinese consular offices, waiting to find out if I’ve crossed my T’s and dotted my I’s in the correct fashion. Mind you, I have enjoyed living with my children all summer, and have enjoyed the longest vacation I’ve ever had from working, but the waiting has been driving me a bit bonkers. So I am glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To remind you all how I got in this fix, it started in early June, when I was told by the foreign affairs office of Jishou University that Hunan province had lowered the maximum age for foreign teachers from 64 to 60. Despite the contract we had both signed, ...

Lots of bad news about China and Bitcoin, and good news about new blog

Lots of bad news about China and Bitcoin, and good news about new blog
I have lots of things to catch you all up on, but let me start with the international news items first. This month, China has basically pulled the plug on Chinese citizens’ easy ability to buy or sell Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. It transpired in stages, long before there was any official policy announced from on high. First, an anonymous writer for the respected financial paper, Caixin, wrote late on a Friday evening that the government was planning to ban Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), which has become a popular (and often abused) method for blockchain projects to quickly raise funds. Prices for digital assets like Bitcoin dropped sharply over the weekend all over China, and to a lesser extent around the world. A few days later, Caixin published another article saying that 60 ICO platforms were being shut down. Further, all ICOs were to be halted immediately, and investors’ funds returned as soon as possible. While those folks were scrambling to comply with the new rules, prices continued to fall. Bitcoin values dropped from the mid-$4,000 range to around $3,000. Then, two major Bitcoin exchanges, OKCoin and ViaBTC, announced they were closing up shop by the end of the month. ...
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