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

1 comment:

225712012 said...

"The temperature here is still hot enough to burn off a polar bear’s butt in late September"

haha very nice.
good to hear your news.