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Two for tea

What do you get when you put two friends together who love the Metropole, who are starvin’ Marvins and have pretty much skipped the lunch hour altogether?  You get Pete and Shanna at the Metropole for high tea!  I’m not a super fancy person, but there is a certain joy which comes with stepping into a historic property such as the Metropole.  Add what is to be a formal service like high tea, and I feel like a little girl dressed in her Sunday best (except that it was Saturday and I was in my jeans).

Both Pete and I were quite starved.  Neither of us had a big breakfast and it was nearly 3:00p.m.  I thought about getting a salad or a sandwich, but the high tea service comes with a chocolate buffet.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a chocolate addict and pretty much eat some form of chocolate every day.  It’s a must.  I truly believe that if chocolate were to disappear, I could not go on living. I would have to just give up and go to heaven (which would smell like the Ishiya cookie factory I once visited in Sapporo, Japan).

Our tea came with a three-tiered plate of goodness.  Tea sandwiches, fruit and some sweets are nicely presented for two.  However, with a fruit and chocolate buffet available to those who enjoy the high tea, Pete and I were both of the opinion that the biggest plate should have been tea sandwiches, not sweets.  Note to Metropole – switch this because it looks cheap on your part to give us just 3 little tea sandwiches each when we are paying $25 per person for the service.

Since I had just bought my iPhone, we spent much of our time playing with my new gadget as well as Pete’s iPad.  And as is the case with us, forgetting all about where we were, we resorted to taking a few silly photos of each other.  Do you like the ganache photo? ;p

Actually, we overdosed on the chocolate treats, making sure to try every piece on offer.  I haven’t had a sugar rush like that since Halloween 1983!  My goodness! If we weren’t silly before we sat down, we were bouncing off the walls by the end of our 2 hour tea time!  If you happen to be in Hanoi, than you must treat yourself to this service. It is special and it will no doubt make your eyes pop out when you see all that chocolate! Yum!

Please be quiet

It’s Sunday, I’m trying to work on my website, to relax, and to write.  I was hopeful this morning because I woke up to a rainy day.  Hopeful that that would mean a quiet Sunday. But the rain is on pause for now, and all the little construction elves have come out to make as much noise as possible and drive me absolutely batty.  This is one of my favorite things about construction in Vietnam….A truck arrives, blocks the lane (it’s a tiny lane) and all the motorbikes trying to pass believe they need to honk their horns the entire time they are squeezing through whatever space is left for them to squeeze through.  Then, the back of the truck is unlatched and the entire load of gravel is dumped in the driveway of this villa.  This sound can best be described as rocks being scratched on a chalkboard…about a million all at once.

Then, the workers pull up these little wooden carts and shovel the rocks into the cart, making sure to give their shovels a good scrape against the pavement.

The jackhammers have started up again (they are destroying the roof of the villa) and I am considering two options 1. Blast my TV volume or 2. Put in the ear plugs.

I’ll say it in Japanese this time cuz I love the word, “URUSAI, URUSAI!!!”

p.s. As I am about to publish this entry, I am now at my desk, which I moved into the bedroom.  Someone banged around on the floor above me for an hour. And now the neighbors are in their swimming pool and the kids are screaming and squealing.  I seriously want silence. Quiet. Peace.


Silly Saturday

I spent a lovely evening last night with my dear friend Mette at the Metropole’s restaurant, Angelina.  We had the intention to catch a party at the tunnel bar, but as we often do, we talked and talked and laughed and shared and caught up.  We arrived at the restaurant at 8:00pm. We left at 3:00a.m.  That’s a good girl’s night out! We love dining here for the menu and cocktails, and because it’s a nice and civilized break from the grit and grime of living in Hanoi. The expense of it only allows me to do this once a month, but it is well worth it!

After just four hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed to go to work Saturday morning (oh that .5 in the contract!!!).  As I was gaining momentum for the morning, got an e-mail from Pete at 8:58am “Lunch today then a massage? Want to go to Tamarind?”  Tamarind Cafe is a great vegetarian restaurant in Hanoi. My response, “Oh my dear. Mama’s got a headache. Can do lunch. Decide about spa then? Need sleep!”

So lunch we did.  First item ordered was fried cheese. Oh my yum. Perfect after a long night and maybe one more cocktail than needed. We also ordered crepes and nachos and bruschetta. Coffee, juice.  We were both recovering from a fun Friday night. Slowly, the color came back to our faces.

We brainstormed some names for some of Pete’s new business ventures.  The thing with Pete and I is that once we get creative, we get creative.  And we start being silly and taking silly pictures like this one.  Those are Pete’s glasses which he said looked good on me.  I wasn’t willing to take a normal picture. Do the glasses look cute?  Our lunch turned into a four hour+ conversation filled with lots of laughter and imaginative ideas, as well as concepts so stupid and comical we cried hilarious tears.

We stopped at the CD/DVD shop where I picked up the GLEE set, a few music CDs and where Pete bought me the DVD set of Little Britain.  I’m set for entertainment for awhile.

Next stop was the spa and a total indulgence of a two hour hot stone therapy massage.  Oh my silly putty.  Had a quick bit to eat and now that I’m home and all squeaky clean from a hot shower and vigorous loofah, I am soooo ready to hit the sack and venture off to dream land.  What a fun, spontaneous and totally wonderful day!

Tell me about one of the friends in your life you can be super silly with…

My daily dwelling spot

Ever wondered what my office looks like?  Here ya go.  I moved into this office back in April when our sales office for the boat moved and we rented the space to a third party.  I am in the back of the building, all too near the restrooms, the service elevator and back stairs.  I have no window.

This office makes me happy that my job includes a decent level of travel.

Do you like your office space? Is there someone’s office you covet?


Quiet please

I’ve said on any number of occasions that if you were to ask me to describe Vietnam in one word it would be “loud.”  I really don’t understand how an entire nation of people have become comfortable and unbothered by all this noise.  A year and a half later and it still drives me nuts.

You remember that when I first moved into this apartment, construction began right next door.  I was woken up around 6:00am every morning to banging and pounding right on the other side of the wall of my bedroom. And that was seven days a week for five months. FIVE.

I’ve mentioned on Facebook about the neighbor who had a rooster which took to crowing at 3:30 in the morning. I’ve never been so happy for someone to get rid of a pet.  Although I still wish that the neighbors would get rid of some of their dogs.  The reality about that, though, is that usually if an animal has been silenced, it also means it’s been eaten. Yes, the dogs too.

My friend Mette, who’s apartment looks over West Lake,  has endured about two years of construction noise and had her west-facing windows completed blocked by a new building constructed next to her.  That same building and another next to it have essentially blocked my view of the lake.  Mette and I can no longer wave at each other!

There is construction happening all over my neighborhood as older buildings get torn down or villas get renovated so that foreigners will come in and rent these places and the owners can make oodles of cash.  My rent is $1000 a month plus utilities and quite frankly, for Vietnam, I think this is bullshit.  My apartment is nice and I’m lucky it’s well constructed, also lucky I have nice owners, but still, $1000 for a 1.5 bedroom apartment is nonsense. Add the fact that I’ve never had so many problems sleeping and I think I should be paid to live here.  Jeez!

Now the villa across the way is being renovated and from 6:00 in the morning until late at night, there is noise.  Big, loud, obnoxious, makes-you-want-to-scream, head-banging noise.   It’s everything I can do not to yell “SHUT UP” from my windows!

Gift of Giving

It always sounds a little weird for me to say, but I employ a maid.  It’s pretty much the norm here in Vietnam, but it’s the first time in my life that I’ve had hired help.  Hien comes to my house two days a week.  She helps me keep things tidy, does my laundry and occasionally my grocery shopping.  Even though I am a single gal and not particularly messy, my work schedule doesn’t really allow me the time to do these things.  I have only Sundays off, and the last thing I want to do on my one day of rest is laundry!  I’m super grateful for Hien’s help.

In my first apartment (the one that leaked really bad), she came to my house just once per week and I paid her 500,000 VN Dong per month.  When I moved to my current home, I increased her salary to 750,000 VN Dong, as she could come twice a week, for a bit more than half a day’s work.  I moved one year ago, and while I did give her a 13 month salary bonus for TET in February, Hien brought up the topic of providing her with a raise.

I knew before we negotiated that I would give her a raise, but I wanted to help her understand, too, that I am not made of money and that while I appreciate her services, having her help is a luxury for me.  I could do these things for myself, I just choose to have her assistance.  I also explained to her that if I gave her a raise, I hoped that she could think ahead (always a challenge in this country!) and make sure there was always milk in the fridge and that the bed sheets just get automatically washed on Friday.  I usually leave her notes, but I’m a creature of habit, so there are some things I like to have done, which should be common knowledge by now.

She understood that with the raise, it meant just a wee bit more initiative on her part.  I asked her how much more she wanted.  She requested only 100,000 or 150,000 VND more.  So I told her that I would be generous and would help her out a bit and give her now 1,000,000 VND per month.  This is about $13 USD more than she makes now, and a total of about/just over $50 per month, depending on the exchange rate.  You would have thought I actually was giving her hundreds of dollars more.  She was so happy and promised that she would never ask for a raise again.

I wanted to make sure that Hien knew that I valued and appreciated her.  Even though her job has not become more difficult or she’s working longer hours, it felt good to give her a raise.  It was the right thing to do.

No love for HSBC

I ranted on twitter today about my visit to HSBC.  And I feel like ranting here.  I hate the fact that I get paid in Vietnamese Dong.  This one fact has changed the entire way I have to bank and there is really no other reason behind it than it is less costly and more convenient for our company to pay us in dong than dollars. This unnerves me to no end, but that is a blog for another time.

I went to HSBC today to withdraw Yen for my upcoming trip to Japan.  I have to have my passport, my ticket and if needed, a visa in order to “prove” that I need the foreign currency.

The tellers now think they are immigration officers.  The idiot behind the counter today said, “I cannot give you money.  You don’t have a visa.”  I told her I don’t need one.  Then she made a phone call.  The person on the phone told her I needed a visa. She said, “You must have a visa.”  I told her, “I am an American Citizen and if I go to Japan for less than 90 days, then I do not need a visa. I do NOT need a visa! Understand?”  She made another call.  “Ok, you do not need a visa.” Then she needed my original ticket to make a copy of, even though I provided a copy for her and showed her the real ticket with the copy.

Then she shuffled the papers, looked at the screen, looked at the papers and confirmed verbally the amount of yen I was asking for.  And she said, “And it is Yen?”   Trying to remain calm, “Yes.  I wrote on the form that I will withdraw Yen.  The ticket says I am going to Japan.  So I need Yen.”  So she made another phone call.  “Um, I’m sorry, but we can’t give you that many dollars.  You are over the daily limit for withdraw in US Dollars.” (This is a VND account policy)  So I replied, “I don’t want US Dollars.  I want Yen.  I am going to Japan.  They use Yen.  I need Yen, not US Dollars.”  And so she picked up the phone again.

After a few phone calls and a visit to the room where they keep the foreign currency, she returned with my Yen.  I signed off on the papers and said, ” I realize you are just doing your job, but this is my money and if I want Yen, or Dollars or Dong, I should get it.”  Oddly enough, she said, “I know.  Sometimes the policies of HSBC are not very customer-friendly.”  “My point exactly,” was what I said before I headed out the door.

I’m quite sick of having these headache-inducing interactions with my bank.  I feel like just because I have a Dong account, my money is held hostage and I don’t have control over what happens to it.  And that just pisses me off.  I would love to hear suggestions of a bank which doesn’t penalize a person like me who lives in a foreign country, operates with foreign currencies and uses her credit card in foreign countries too.  It really should not be that complicated!


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