Tuesday, September 26, 2006

One day in Ho Chi Minh

Notre Dame Cathedral
The late 19th century cathedral has a neo-Romanesque facade with twin towers. A statue of the Virgin is located in the center front. Lots of stained glass windows were lost during World War Two and have never been replaced. Today in the interior neon tubes emphasize the altar and other prominent spots.

Post Office
The Post Office recalls European railway stations, particularly in the vaulted and glazed interior. Its "modern" skylight also recalls European buildings of the later nineteenth century (like Paris' Les Halles or Milan's Galleria). The three-story building has a central pavilion with flanking symmetrical extensions. Like European buildings influenced by Renaissance architecture, it has clearly defined bays and logical fenestration.

Reunification Palace the former presidential palace of South Vietnam.
On the morning of April 30, 1975, the first communist tnaks broke through the gates of the presidential palace. A soldier then ran to the fourth floor to unfurl a VC flag. General Minh, Who had only become the head of state of South Vietnam 43 hours earlier surrendered. It is now called the Palace of Reunification

Municipal Theater or Opera House
This restored three-story theater has an auditorium with 1800 seats and with modern light and sound equipment. originally, it was built by the French and intended as an opera house. In 1955 it became South Vietnam's National Assembly building. Today the building has been renovated as a theater for a variety of traditional and classical performances--plays, concerts, ballet, opera, and Vietnamese traditional dance. Colonial architecture in Vietnam usually adopts Greco-Roman motifs--here a large central arch, a type of Ionic column, coffered ceiling, and the caryatids (though less modestly clothed than Greek examples). The applied ornament, balustrades, cartouches, and roof are particularly French.

People's Committee Building (formerly City Hall)
The French colonists, who occupied Vietnam, wanted to feel at home. Not only did they import their culture, religion, and food, but they imported French architectural styles as well. Cathedrals, like Notre Dame in Ho Chi Minh City and St. Joseph's in Hanoi, imitate French Romanesque and Gothic ecclesiastical styles. Numerous villas of French design border spacious avenues, also of French lineage. The Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City was designed by Gustave Eiffel. (A copy of his tower was erected in Dalat, a Vietnamese town favored by colonists for vacations.) This civic building, originally the City Hall, was modelled on a similar building in Paris. See this site for a photograph of the Paris Hôtel de Ville (or city hall). The Paris City Hall was rebuilt after the 16th century original building was set to fire during the 1870 Parisian revolution.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Post Office, Reunification Palace, People's Committee Building, Municipal Theater

Reference: Vietnam Index; Reunification palace

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bonsoir Vietnam

After a two and a half hour flight, I landed at Ho Chi Minh International airport. I have forgotten how uncomfortable this flight could be: babies crying, children running around not to mention adults speak out loudly as though others are deaf. I can’t help admiring these daughters in law from Taiwan every time I see them with two hands, full of suitcases yet still managing to hold a baby in arm. Passing through customs at Ho Chi Minh International airport is a joyful experience. Unlike most international airports where corridors and terminals seem designed to disorient passengers, Ho Chi Minh International airport is straight forward: take an escalator to the 1st floor and make a left turn on the left side is the transit terminal and on the right side is the passport checking station. It’s too bad customs wouldn’t stamp my passport or return the visa on my departure, I’d like to keep the record showing how many countries I had visited. Outside the airport, crowds of people didn’t shock me this time; on the contrary, there seemed much less people waiting in front of the gate than I remembered…or was it just because my expectations eluded my perception on the crowds.

The temperature here is still hot enough to burn off a polar bear’s butt in late September. In Ho Chi Minh City there is no seasonal difference, the only noticeable meteorological change is the rain. We are in a transitional stage from the wet to dry season; from sun in the morning, then cloudy at noon to rain in the late afternoon. The staff of the hospital told us that last week it was raining like hell and the road in front of the hospital was flooded. We checked into a hotel that is only 2 blocks away from the hospital. No internet in the rooms; one of the elevators has been torn down, leaving a big hole next to the other elevator on every floor and there is no sign showing that they are going to fix the elevator, not even to fix the hole. There are teapot sets in the rooms but no boiled water is provided. I can’t comprehend the logic of it. Next to the hotel is a well-ornamented restaurant in which there is wireless internet service. You can order a drink and get access to internet for free. Except for the heat and mosquito attacks, I like the tropical atmosphere this restaurant emits, accompanied by the sound of frogs that intensifying the tropical feel.

Crossing a street is a big challenge for me here. I don’t understand why there is so much traffic here. I’ve never seen a single road here that isn’t flooded by motorcycles and cars. Nobody seems to follow the traffic laws, you can easy distinguish locals from foreigners by the way they cross street. I am surprised at not seeing more accidents. It took me at least 5 minutes to walk across a road for the first time; hopefully I can master evasive maneuvers quickly.

The language barrier can be the biggest issue when living in a foreign country. To avoid being ripped off by locals I picked up my first Vietnamese “Bow New” meaning ‘how much’ but the moment I said: “how much?” I realized that I would have to learn the numbers as well to make it work. So, as always, I paid triple the price than in the supermarket for a bottle of water. Shopping in the supermarket isn’t an easy task as well. I wanted to buy a detergent for laundry, but I couldn’t tell the difference between laundry detergent and softener without an English label. I asked staff in the hospital to write down the name of laundry detergent in Vietnamese then showed it to a salesperson but they led me to the bleach aisle. It took 2 doctors and one master 2 days to finally buy detergent for laundry.

I have never seen 7up freeze right in front of my eyes in seconds before. I bought a bottle of 7up and put it in the refrigerator of my hotel room. It looked ok when I took it out of the refrigerator but it happened when took the cap off the bottle, a cloudy white ice spread out from the top of the bottle to the bottom gradually. In 30 seconds, my 7up turned from liquid to ice.

Back to the lab, I have some good news and bad news. The good news is I was worried that I would have to build up a lab for clinical diagnosis all by myself including the physical labor. It seems I get some help from the hospital, so I can just give the order and someone else would comply. But I found out it only works if I give them an exact deadline to accomplish a task or it would be only a promise but no actions. Also, we have received a few gifts from other organizations. The lab has a brand new laminar flow with a UV light installed; that is a water purification system which can produce 14 litters of double distilled water per day. The bad news is, the only centrifuge in the lab is malfunctioning, and nobody seems to know how to use the photo system for electrophoresis. It’s a tube with a porland film on top of it, just like a camera, the problem is no one knows how to focus or if we can still get film for it or not.

I was pleased to see that the PCR machine is plugged in a voltage stabilizer which is a very good move to protect the machine. I asked the director of the lab to turn it on; he plugged in the plug but the plug wasn’t fitting in so well, so it hung there like it could fall out at any second and certainly nothing was turned on. He adjusted the angle of the plug and the machine went on and off synchronized to the sparks flashing out from the socket. I was stunned! My eyes went wide open and my jaw just dropped. Finally, he found the right angle for the plug and the power stayed on. Then we tried to figure out how to set up the program. The machine can only allow one temperature and its holding time, cycle numbers to be set in each program; for different temperature settings, I would have to set many other programs and link those programs in order to get my program completed. Not so user friendly, but hey, who cares as long as it works.

We sent a real-time PCR machine and re-agents from Taiwan, it was a complicated task. We had to get permission for each item from the health bureau of Vietnam and then send the permission to peoples committees to get approval. I have been waiting for the cargo to arrive; I got the machine already, hopefully, I can get the others before the temperature of the re-agents rise. Given the experience of the PCR machine, I asked the director of the lab to buy adaptors for our Real-time PCR machine. Well, who knows when I would get it.

Here are some posts regarding Vietnam on my last visit:


Vietnam Experiences

Bonjour Vietnam

Friday, September 15, 2006

Departing for Vietnam

Late Feb. this year we visited Children Hospital Number 1 in HoChiMinh City for assessing the possibility of an international cooperating research project. Three projects were planned to be implemented in Vietnam they are Entrovirus 71 Clinical Trial, Diagnosis of Acute Encephalitis, and the study of Infectious Mononucleosis and Hemophagocytic syndrome. Given the insufficient of technical support and financial difficulty we tried to simplifying these projects but still the complexity has greyed a few hairs of mine. I am departing to Vietnam on Sunday yet I am still working on transforming compent cells to get constructs for the positive controls of Polymerase Chain Reaction.

Doctors in Children Hospital Number 1 HCMC treated us as VIPs on our last visit. The overwhelming hospitality deepened our embarrassment for not preparing presents in return. This time, shopping is one thing on the list of must do's before my departure. To be efficient, I pictured in my mind kinds of gifts that look elegant, pratical and are symbolic of Taiwan but nothing rang a bell. Except for notebooks and bicycles what item comes to mind when speaking of Taiwan? Anyhow, I bought a few extra gifts to give away and hopefully these gifts can save me from being a VIP, Very Impolite Person, this time.

I have been engrossed by moving into the new building, the symposium and training 2 techicians from Vietnam and I just realized that I am actually leaving in less than 28 hours. So many responsibilities to delegate yet so little time to get it done. I'm better off stopping here and start packing for my one month Vietnam experience.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Blogger in beta

Can't help my curiosity, I have transfered my blog to blogger beta version. There are a lot of cool features such as the new archive system, Label tag and links to older posts etc. However, the beta version always has some bugs and the programmers seem always too busy to fix the bug you reported. I have encountered problems photo posting, logging in and clicking on the "Older Posts" link at the bottom on the page freezes the browser on internet explorer. It seems all the problems can be solved by using firefox as a browser. Anyhow, once you move in to the new beta version there is no way back, so to transfer or wait for the decision is at your discretion. For those who have trouble reading my blog try using Firefox as your browser.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Chinese Orchestra

Institut Pasteur France, NHRI and CDC Taiwan, held a symposium on re-emerging virus infections on Sept. 1. On that night, we had a welcome dinner held in the courtyard of the college of medicine at NCKU. The scene: floating candles on the grass, rose petals scattered, ambient lighting with a Chinese orchestra performing in the courtyard under the trees.

Here is one of the songs performed that night
The Beautiful Fernleaf Hedge Bamboo/ Yang Chun-lin
The Dai tribe, distributed over the Yunnan area, is one of the most sentimental tribes among the various minority groups in China, and its music is also the most gentle and moving one. The composer uses Yunnan's local color as a basis, describing how the fernleaf hedge bamboo sways like a dancing girl in the wind. The song begins with two instruments, Bawu and Yangqin, whose beautiful melody creates a profound atmosphere, full of imagination. As the song comes to its later part, like dancing and singing couples, the atmosphere becomes more and more passionate with its lively tune and rhythm. Finally, the song ends in a cheerful emotion.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Responsibility V.S Dignity

Everybody likes to work with someone who has responsibility but what's the definition of responsibility? What kind of behavior should one possess in order to demonstrate his/her accountability? Let say one was assigned to a mission which takes a lot of manpower to get done. However, due to some technical problems one has to finish the job by oneself. So one worked over time trying to take care of the mission in all aspects but it just can't be done to perfection. Now, would you say this poor guy is incompetent and he/she deserves censure because of some flaw in this mission or it's understandable and one should be praised by accomplishing the mission short of resources? When one's responsibility compromises one's dignity what are the measures one should take to restore balance and vice versa?

Now, let's discuss the philosophy: achievement is everything. It makes sense the first time you hear that, after all a good result is the end point of a pursuing, without it, all efforts input in the process were totally wasted. However, without sufficient resource support, all the hard work is futile. You can't just milk cows without feeding them. Most people are not stupid; they know what their responsibility is and what kind of request is too much. The problem is nobody stands out to defend their rights so the vicious cycle starts and the situation deteriorates: bosses label employees who request more resources as incompetent whereas employees work over time trying to keep their job.

Diligence is the impression many westerners possess when speaking of Chinese's attitute at work. To me, it's not something I am proud of but is something I accepted silently. I wish to be busy at work without so-called responsibility infringing on my life but it seems like a fairytale only existing in western countries.