Thursday, October 26, 2006

Google maps in blog

Before we start, symbol < and > are replaced with { and } in this post because of the limitation of html acceptance in blogger.

First you would have to apply an API key that is registered to your web URL. You can make your application at After you get the key, on the same page, google map API will give you an example web page to get you started on your way to mapping glory. You can copy and patste the html code to your web page, however the blogger template won't accept a few html tags such as the {head} tag, so you would have to do some modifications to make it work in your blog. Also, trying to copy and paste the code to a post in blog is futile: an error message pops up when you click the Publish icon telling you that "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not allowed..."

A few steps involve in the code adaptation:

First, find the {head} tag in your blog template and copy/paste the following code right after the {head} tag:

{script src=' API key' type='text/javascript'/}

remember to replace your API key to your own API key receiced from Google.

Second, find the {/body} tag in your blogger template and copy/paste the following code before the {/body} tag:

{script type="text/javascript"}


if (GBrowserIsCompatible()) {

var map = new GMap2(document.getElementById("map"));
map.addControl(new GSmallMapControl());
map.addControl(new GMapTypeControl(1));
map.setCenter(new GLatLng(15.15697371337768, 106.787109375), 5, G_HYBRID_MAP);



the map.addControl(new GSmallMapcontrol()) gives you the scale control (you can replace Small to Large if you like) and map.addControl(new GMaptype control()) gives you 3 icons on map to switch 3 map types (put number in the () gives you a smaller icon). Both codes can be taken off.

map.setCenter(new GLatLng(15.15697371337768, 106.787109375), 5, G_HYBRID_MAP); controls the center position of your map (by designating the
Latitude and Longitude), the zoom in factor, and your default map type. You can set your map as normal map, satellite photos map or a combination of both by changing the code with G_NORMAL_MAP, G_SATELLITE_MAP, G_HYBRID_MAP respectively. Using the following website to get the info of Latitude, Longitude:

Third, put the following code to the place you want it to be

{div id="map" style="width:210px; height:350px"} map loading...{/div}

you can adjust the map size by changing the number in red.


To hide controls on the map when the mouse is out of the frame and to show them when the mouse is over the map, copy and paste the code below.

// Hide Controls

GEvent.addListener(map, "mouseover", function(){map.showControls(); });

GEvent.addListener(map, "mouseout", function(){map.hideControls(); });

Markers and info windows on the map copy and paste the following code:
      function createMarker(point,html) {
var marker = new GMarker(point);
GEvent.addListener(marker, "click", function() {
return marker;

var point = new GLatLng(43.91892,-78.89231);
var marker = createMarker(point,'Some stuff to display in the Info Window')
For advance control of google map API you can refer to the following website:

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Eating in Vietnam

I am amazed by the diversity of rice products in the Vietnamese diet; from the most popular rice noodle (pho) to rice paper rolls (all kinds of rolls use steamed rice paper as the skin of the roll, the most popular one contains lots of different fresh vegetables and sea food/pork, all ingredients then rolled in a sheet of steamed rice paper and dip it with fish sauce) or the royal food (all kinds of Hue style rice dishes served in a small portions; raw chili and garlic are provided and expected to go with the food), it's a guarantee that you would have at least one dish made by rice if you are having Vietnamese food.

Sea food is another "staple" in Vietnam, at least in HCMC. Shrimp , fish, clam, crab, squid ... anything, you name it, you can have as many as you want till a gout attacks without having your wallet slimmed.

Restaurant in HCMC

Tau Ben Nghe, the restaurant itself is a 3 level boat docked at the port near the majesty hotel. Neon lights decorate the boat with fish shapes. Departing at 8:00PM daily for a 1.5 hour cruise on the Ben Nghe river, the boat opens for boarding at 6:00PM. Karaoke (on the first and the second levels) and traditional Vietnamese music (on the third level) provides entertainments before the voyage. The menu on board is written in 3 languages which are Vietnamese, English and Chinese. We ordered BBQ squid, fried beef with onion, water spinach, seafood hotpot, steamed rice and 4 colas for about 490,000VND (less than 1,000NTD). Hot girls dancing with fire brings the cruise to a climax on the way back at the end.

Bo Tung Xeo (31 D Ly Tu Trong) is one of the Vietnamese restaurants recommended by lonely planet. I tried the speciality of this restaurant which is tender marinated beef (75,000VND). As you can see in the picture, salad is served with a plate full of beef soaking in a mixture of soya sauce, oil, and garlic. When grilling over the charcoal, the oil brings up the fire and smoke giving the BBQ beef a final touch of flavor (I know it has lots of carcinogens but that's what makes the BBQ delicious). The menu is written in Vietnamese and English, only one man speaks English in the whole restaurant.

Another lonely planet recommendation is the Lemon Grass (4 D Nguyen Thiep) located in a small alley near the grand hotel. Female staff dress in traditional costume and according to the book two women play musical instruments while you eat, which didn't happen to me while I was there. The photo menu makes ordering easy, however the price is relatively much higher than other restaurants. I ordered a seafood noodle in clay and a cola for 110,000VND, 10% of service charge and 5% tax included. It tasted almost the same in Uncle Long, where you can get the same product for half price. You can find Uncle Long, a franchise in Vietnam, on the top floor of big supermakets or department stores such as the Parkson mall. The advertising of Uncle Long, 'good rice' is in many languages, tells you what's best to order from its variety of dishes. My personal favorite is the seafood rice in clay, 32,000VND.

Vuon Pho (93 D Nguyen Du, District 1) serves all kinds of Vietnamese delicacies for a very good price. I was looking for a nice restaurant as a treat on moon festival and my choice was Quan An Ngon(138 D Nam Ky Khoi Nghia). Before I made it to that restaurant a suddent rain soaked me instantly in front of the Vuon pho restaurant. I was worried, being the only foreigner in the restaurant, it seemed nobody could speak English at all. With help of body language and an English menu, I orded french fries (a dip with butter and sugar), seafood salad in Thai style, steamed shell-fish and a pineapple juice for 107,000VND. The food was delicious. I was too full to have more dishes in the menu. One special dish served here is made by sticky rice in a ball shape(see photo), when serving, the waiter first flattens the rice ball then cuts it into small pieces with scissors. The deep fried fish with scales is another Vietnamese delicacy that you can order here.

Restaurant in HCMC on Google Map

Tau Ben Nghe, Bo Tung Xeo, Lemon Grass, Uncle Long, Vuon Pho

Restaurant in Dalat

The Blue Water Restaurant is situated on Xuan Huong Lake. Customers can choose to sit indoors or outdoors, both providing a spectacular view. I felt like I was disconnected from reality by Xuan Huong Lake and everything moved in slow motion on the other side of the lake. This surreal perspective unveiled the secret of how French influences and local cultures blend in harmony. The menu is written in 3 languages with nearly one hundred dishes of Vietnamese, western or Chinese cuisine to choose from. I ordered a seafood spaghetti, deep fried onion rings, a coke and a plate of seasonal fruit for 110,000VND, 220NTD. Unlike the onion rings I have had, they use whole onions coated with a layer of flour and taste fresh.

Check the article posted ealier Vietnam-Tourism for more restaurant information in HCMC and Hanoi.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Golf 3 hotel, a 4 star hotel in Dalat

Readers are about to read this article that cost me 50USD and the precious 20 hours of my life. I hope you enjoy it.

I haven’t had a good sleep for the past two days so I decided to indulge myself by accommodating at the golf 3 hotel which according to the lonely planet has the best steam bath in town and a rooftop sky view café. At the reception I asked the staff for information regarding the schedule of the Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus from Dalat City to the airport, and she replied “you have to be in the airport one hour before departure”. Obviously there was a misunderstanding, I asked her again this time I spoke slower and she answered “oh, it takes about 40 min from the city to the airport”. I felt frustrated and asked again this time with body language and she finally understood what I was talking about, but she answered “I don’t know!” So I asked her to call Vietnam Airlines office for the information, she agreed and said she would give me the information later. I went to my room, well the room looked elegant like a 4 star hotel, they even had a safety deposit built in the closet and the water in the bathroom was hot and strong, I was so happy to take a hot shower because I was soaked by the pouring afternoon rain.

After the shower, I lay on my bed and turned on the TV. To my surprise, there were only 3 channels in English which are HBO, Star Movies, and CNN. The rest were local TV programs or dubbed in Vietnamese. Usually hotel stars tell you how many foreign channels they get in Vietnam, but obviously this wasn’t the case here in Dalat. Anyhow, I watched a movie on star movie channel and in the middle of the movie the channel switched to a soccer game, the star movie channel disappeared ever since. I gave up searching for a better movie and headed down to the reception for my information. Unbelievable! I had to go through the whole process to let her understand what I was asking for, and she still hadn’t made the phone call! I asked her to call right away and a few min later she told me nobody picked up the phone. I would have to wait till the next day to get that information. I wasn’t pleased with the answer, because there is an airport hotel run by Vietnam Airlines, so they must know the schedule of the shuttle bus. Well, she didn’t know what I was saying and I gave up trying. “Tomorrow it is” I said to her. I was surprised by the ability of English comprehension and speaking of the staff at reception of a 4 star hotel. Actually, I asked a receptionist one day before I made my choice of staying in this hotel about their facilities and he didn’t know what I was asking for. I also asked if a swimming suit is required for taking a steam bath since I didn’t have mine with me. And he answered “no, we don’t have a swimming pool”. I expected that I would have a better understanding with another receptionist when I was checking into the hotel, obviously not.

After, I went to the 7th floor where the steam bath and sky view café located. I felt disappointed when I saw the sign: 20000VND for Steam bath/ 20min; 30000VND for Sauna/20min. I wasn’t expecting costumers of the hotel having to pay to use facilities in the hotel; they didn’t even have any discount for those staying in the hotel overnight. I paid the money and felt like I was being fooled by lonely planet; the steam room was just mediocre and of course there was no Jacuzzi for a relaxing bath after 20 min steaming. Moreover, the sky view café isn’t on the rooftop, the only view from the café is the bustling street that leads to the central market.

I was awakened by the noise of people talking and laughing around 1:00AM. I thought it was just some tourists coming back to their room late and wasn’t paying attention to it but the noise on and off didn’t seem to end shortly. I woke up and knocked at the door of the noise from, nobody answered. I kept banging on the door, still nobody answered the door and I could hear people having a great time in the room. I waited until the noise level went down and banged on the door, this time they finally heard me and 3 guys, naked with only a towel on their waist and a woman opened the door; it looked like I was interrupting their “home party”. After telling them to keep their voices down, I went back to my room and looked at the clock, it was around 2:00AM.

The next morning I went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast (included in the room rate). A housekeeping staff asked me something in Vietnamese when I was waiting for the elevator. I told her I don’t understand Vietnamese. Still, she kept speaking Vietnamese to me. I was grumpy for not having a good sleep for a couple days, I told her: hey, you would have to speak English or I don’t understand a single word you said.” Finally, she said “how long would you stay here?” I told her “I am leaving today.” and went down for my breakfast.

I didn’t trust the schedule that the receptionist gave me, so after breakfast I went to the Vietnam Airlines booking office to get the schedule myself. Back to my room, I found the housekeeping had my room cleaned. I felt no guilt for messing up my room again. I took the elevator to the lobby to check out but the elevator wouldn’t stop on that floor, so I took the stairs from the 2nd floor to the lobby. Just when I thought nothing in this hotel could surprise me in any way, a live band was playing music in the lobby and tables were packed. Occupying the whole lobby, a wedding was being held, in the hotel lobby! I had to squeeze myself through the band and tables to get to the reception. I waited at the reception desk but there was nobody at the counter. About 3min later, a security guard found me standing in front of the counter for checking out and he guided me to a garage on the basement level where receptionists set up a table on which keys were spread as a temporary reception counter. I returned my key and paid 50USD for my room, however my passport was still in the lobby witnessing the wedding ceremony. I waited another 5 min to get my passport back and fled from this madness.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Trip to Dalat, Vietnam

Dalat, one of the central highlands of Vietnam, is 300km away from Ho Chi Minh City. Can’t stand 7 to 8 hours stuck in a bus so I chose to fly to the land of honeymoons, 53USD for a return ticket. Everybody looked at me and asked “are you traveling Dalat alone?” every time someone heard about my trip. The altitude of the Dalat airport is 1000 meters above sea level. Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus takes passengers to the center of Dalat City, which is 30km away, climbing up to the altitude of around 1500 meters for 20000VND or about 1.25USD for a one way ticket. I checked-in at the crazy house, Hang Nga Gallery & Guesthouse, and started my journey at Xuan Huong Lake which can be circumnavigated along a 7km path. My first impression of Dalat is the French influences on architecture here, they even have a miniature Eiffel Tower in the center of the city. Without the bustling traffic of HCMC I was almost convinced that I was in one of the European countries, plus horses can be seen along the lake path. However, the honking from motorcycles gave it away that I was just in a less trafficked city of Vietnam.

Although paddle boats can be rented at the edge of the lake near Thanh Thuy restaurant, I haven’t seen any tourists paddling the giant swan looking boats on the water during my stay. Along the way, the Dalat flower garden was the first sightseeing that ruined the reputation of the flower city. Obviously, it was the wrong time to pay a visit; it was like a deserted garden just not too long ago, flowers in the garden looked lifeless even the fountains had been drained out, leaving only one pumping water helplessly at the entrance. The road next to the garden leads to a golf course and Dalat University. I was hoping the university would be worthy of a hike up the hill, well no comment here.

I gave up my breakfast to catch my flight in the morning and I got lost finding the road to Dalat University which made the 7 km path along the lake much farther then I expected. By the time I got back to the center of the city it was 15:00 already. I was hungry and tired. Luckily I made it to a restaurant next to the lake before the pouring rain hit. The restaurant, called blue water restaurant, even thought the water was yellow, has all kinds of cuisine you can choose from. I ordered seafood spaghetti, deep fried onion rings, coke and a plate of seasonal fruit for 110000VND, 220NTD. How was the food? Well, when one’s hungry everything tastes good, although the noodles of the spaghetti weren’t real spaghetti noodles.

Back at my room, I was excited for the first 10 min then I felt regretful for staying over night in the crazy house. I had Kangaroo room for a night which is in an irregular shape with a small living room, fireplace in kangaroo shape, bathroom and bedroom in about 4 meter squares. Outside the room, a long bench and a small space with one tea table and two chairs for a nice afternoon tea time. Sounds great? Well, the mattress and blanket were damp because of the humidity; mosquitoes in the room because the room was opened for tour before anyone checked in; no TV in the room, it would be odd if there was a TV in the room though, and the light in the room was just too dark to read without feeling sleepy. I was the only guest there that night, no TV, books, not even a person to talk to for killing time. I even let tourists come into my room for a tour just to be able to talk to someone! Moreover, the shower water was small and not to mention caged turkeys in this complex making this surreal sound all night long as the house wasn’t crazy enough. The good thing of staying in Crazy House was no tourists showed up at 7:30AM. I got up and explored every room without having tourists taken in my photos. There are honeymoon, ant, tiger, eagle, termite, bamboo, kangaroo, bear, gourd, and phoenix rooms in this complex; each room was named after the shape of the fireplace in the room. Due to not enough guests accommodating, the crazy house now only opens the bamboo room, 19USD, kangaroo room, 24USD, bear room, 39USD, and gourd room, 45USD, for rent. New construction is being conducted now and new rooms are only for visiting.

My knees hurt from too much walking on hilly terraces, the wound I got from last year traveling in SiChuan wasn’t really healed and waterfalls, tribal villages are spread out in Dalat so I rented a motorbike, 5USD per day, and hired a guide leaving navigation to someone else, 10USD, from the state run travel agency Dalat travel bureau which is located across the road of a 4 stars hotel, the golf 3. There is something about golf 3 hotel that is worth another blog entry later. I had the guide pick me up at the crazy house, and we drove down through a green pine tree forest to the Dambri waterfalls (10000VND). There is a cable car, 5000VND, right after the entrance, although the waterfall itself is easily accessible. Horseback and elephant riding photos can be taken as well as dressing in a tribal costume can be arranged, which lots of Vietnamese tourists have some kind of obsession about. You can rent a paddle boat for drifting down the river, however 20 meters is as far as you can go. Up the hill, there is a mini zoo filled with monkeys and some furious animals living in captivity behind bars.

Thien Vien Truc Lam is one of the largest Zen Meditation study centers in Vietnam, with an equally large numbers of nuns and monks. The pagoda situated in a green pine tree forest overlooking the Quand Trung reservoir (Tuyen Lam Lake) was built in 1980 for local agriculture. Motor boats can be hired for a tour around the lake. Picnicking under the forest of green pine trees between the pagoda and the reservoir is a great escape from traffic and tourists.

To get to the Datanla falls, 5000VND, I chose to walk down the path through a rainforest and took a slide up the hill. The slide was adopted from Germany; a round trip ticket for one person is 30000VND. Unlike the scale and muddy water of Dambri falls, Dantanla falls’ clear water makes it friendly for the public to get into it. Village of Love, Thung Lung Tinh Yeu, or Vallee D’Amour, had its name changed in 1972, the year Da Thien Lake was created, by students from Dalat University. It’s about 5km away from the center of Dalat City. Along the way, shops sell Dalat’s specialties: strawberry jam, dried fruits. Of course the prices are much higher than food stalls in the center market area west of Xuan Huong Lake. Like every other tourist attractions in Dalat, tribal costumes, horses and paddle boats can be rented. Except for a few statues symbolizing love and a sign of Vallee D’Amour, I really couldn’t see any love in this village.

After visiting the Village of Love, I asked my guide to take me to the Cremaillere railway station where an old Russian steam train is on display. You can’t get a train that takes you to other Cities such as HCMC at this station. The only train commutes between Trai Mat Village, 8km down, and Dalat City departing at 6:30, 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 14:00, and 15:30 from Cremaillere railway station and coming back from Trai Mat at 8:00, 9:30, 11:00, 12:30, 15:30 and 17:00. From the front gate of the station, it looked like an abandoned giant French style house. The afternoon rain leaving small puddles on the unpaved square intensifies the desolate atmosphere even further.

Advice: The best time to travel to Dalat is around Xmas till the end of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. At that time, with no afternoon showers to shortening your journey and all kinds of flowers blossoming, the city becomes not only very colorful but worth visiting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crazy House in Dalat

Crazy house, Hang Nga Gallery and Guesthouse (Admission: 80000VND; tel: 882070; fax: 831480; 3 D Huynh Thuc Khang) is about 1 km southwest of Xuan Huong Lake. The Architecture is something straight out of Alice in Wonderland and can't easily be described: there are caves, giant spider webs made of wire, concrete tree trunks, a nude female statue, a concrete giraffe with a tea room built inside and caged turkeys providing the surreal soundtrack.

The gallery's designer, Mrs Dang Viet Nga, is from Hanoi and lived in Moscow for 14 years, where she earned a PhD in architecture. She dresses in pure 1960s hippie garb, burns incense and has something of an air of mystery about her. Hang Nga, as she's known locally, has designed a number of other buildings, which dot the landscape around Dalat, including the Children'd Cultural Palace and the Catholic church in Lien Khuong.

The Dalat People's Committee has not always appreciated such innovative designs. An earlier Dalat architectural masterpiece, the House with 100 roofs, was torn down as a "fire hazard" because the People's Committee thought it looked "antisocialist". However, there is little chance that Hang Nga will have such trouble with the authorities (her father, Truong Chinh, was Ho Chi Minh's successor). He served as Cietnam's second president from 1981 until his death in 1988.

Kangaroo Room, left; Gourd Room, right

Phoenix Room, left; Bamboo Room, right

Honeymoon Room, left; Ant Room, right

Tiger Room

Eagle Room

Bear Room

Termite Room

Reference: lonely planet: Vietnam

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Culture experiences

I was shocked by the news on Sept 23 in Vietnam News entitled “Traffic safety month sees rise in accidents”
The ministry of public security’s road traffic department released data showing rises in both the number of accidents and the numbers of deaths and injuries. It recorded 627 accidents with 460 fatalities and 528 injuries from the beginning of September to September 15…This issue didn’t follow a logic of more patrols and heavy punishments would reduce the number of violations… The government of Vietnam has requested Japan to help fund a project in order to improve traffic conditions on urban and major national road systems.
What shocks me is not only the number of traffic accidents in 2 weeks but also the measures the government took in order to tackle the issue. It seems requesting funds from other countries is the first step of solving problems. Germany donates US3.75 million to improve health services; NIH from US helps to fight HIV… the list can go miles long. The problem is when these funds dry up, what measures would the government take to keep the work going? Could they adapt from the experiences and develop ways to meet their own needs? It’s like the project I am working on right now. We showed them how to make a faster and more reliable diagnosis on encephalitis, but it seems to me the hospital isn’t going to implement this technique to their lab. Actually, I have been trying to push everybody to do something that should have been done before my arrival. I would have to say almost nothing was prepared when I arrived. The only difference from the last time I visited was some new equipment, scattered in different rooms of the lab. I have been asked this sensitive issue of “the budget” many times and I got the feeling that they will do whatever they have to do to get the funding for the next year but that’s about it, nothing more. That means if we are going to evaluate the project of clinical trial of EV71 at the end of the year then that’s the only project they are going to invest money in. Of course finance is a big issue here, but it’s the system that makes finance a problem here if you ask me. There are some doctors who don’t like the system as well, but their voice won’t be heard because of their ranking in the hospital. I wonder if someday these once considered “heretical” doctors reach the top level; would they stick to the ideals they were pursuing when they were in a lower ranking or would they be perverted and see only the so-called “a big picture”? Maybe they would never reach the core by possessing different thoughts. From where I stand, it seems the purpose of living here is not pursuing happiness but salvation.

I asked some of my friends how much they get paid for being a doctor here in Vietnam and the answer was almost unbelievable, which is only USD 30 per month. How can anybody survive when a bottle of water costs one third of your daily salary? No wonder everybody packs their bags and leaves at 16:00 promptly everyday then heads to their private clinics where doctors here nicknamed them fish farms and fishing means examining patients. The purpose of staying in a government run hospital is to gain reputation. It’s like paving the road with lure to attract fish to the fish farm so they can do the fishing, except the lure is the reputation and the fish are patients. So there is a unique paradox here: everybody works hard, after all, most people have two jobs, yet they seem to not take it seriously.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Something New

I was waiting for my friends in the lobby of my hotel one day; we were supposed to have lunch together. One of my friends showed up and told me that one of his friends was getting married and he invited me to go to the wedding, so we went to the wedding instead. I wanted to try the “cyclo” before I leave the country but I never had the nerve to give it a try. Lucky for me, my friend was on a motorcycle that day so I was happy to have the chance to experience what it feels like to drive in a bustling street on motorcycle. Well, except for driving through one intersection, it was not as terrible as I imaged it would be even though we saw a few accidents on the way. I was embarrassed for dressing like a “Tai ke” (T-shirt and sandals) when I got to the wedding since everybody was nicely dressed. The groom works in a pharmaceutical company operating on foreign investments. In the wedding I saw many foreigners from different countries, such as India and of course from Taiwan. The wedding started with ballerinas dancing and then the host introduced the parents from both families and the bride and the groom, accompanied by dancers were sent to the stage on a conveyor belt. After a short speech, the bride and the groom filled champagne glasses and cut the wedding cake. The ceremony ended with balloons being released and the sound of them popping mimicked firecrackers, then the lunch dishes were served.

Just like a wedding in Taiwan, the newly wedded couple and both families’ members offered toasts, table by table during the meal. Also, a professional band was hired to do a performance during the lunch but it ended up as a karaoke and dance for guests, unlike weddings in rural areas of Taiwan, where you might expect a strip dance or elegant classical background music for a wedding held in urban areas of Taiwan. The party here revealed the fact that every body was having a good time. Another difference in custom from Taiwan, here the bride and the groom don’t have to change their dress every 20 min or so. After the lunch, the newly wedded couple stood in front of the gate to show their appreciation for the presents from guests. I had my picture taken with the bride and the groom.

Back in Taiwan I had never celebrated the double ten national holiday before. This year I had the honor to participate in the 95th double ten national holiday of the Republic of China that was held in Legend Hotel by Taipei economic and cultural organization in HCMC. I was told to dress nicely so I borrowed a white long sleeve shirt , any color but red, since the political issues in Taiwan, from the lab and that wasn’t an easy task since Vietnamese are relatively smaller in general. I decided not to take the camera with me so I wouldn’t look like a photographer from a newspaper or agency, then I regretted it immediately when we arrived at the venue. It was nicely decorated; on the stage the activity was written in 3 languages, Traditional Chinese, English and Vietnamese. It was nice to hear people talking in mandarin since I haven’t spoken mandarin for nearly one month and my ability to it is deteriorating. I was eager to speak to someone however I found it’s difficult to cut into the exchanging of business cards or conversations about corporate revenues. I introduced myself as a person who is helping the lab in Children Hospital No 1 with a cooperative project. I looked at them and I got the feeling they didn’t care a bit. Anyhow, it was an extraordinary experience for me, it was the first time I celebrated the birth of my country and it took place in a foreign country. By the way, the buffet was nice, especially the apple tart. I can still taste the smell of cinnamon and the creamy texture of the apple in my mouth.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Something about the Children Hospital N0 1

It is expected to have an afternoon shower everyday during the wet season in Ho Chi Minh City. Usually days start with a sunny morning followed by a cloudy noon and then an afternoon of showers, just enough to wet the floor. One day in the hospital, I walked out of the office and I found something was different. Usually the hallway of the hospital is full of people; you would see people sleeping on the floor, clothes hanging between the pillars etc. but it was empty that day! Then I realized the corridor was flooded and everybody was calm. It seemed flooding was not a new thing for them, well it was for me, so I borrowed a camera and took pictures of the moment.

A few of my moon festivals were spent in the other countries such as Italy but none of them feel the same as in Vietnam. Mid-autumn festival aka Moon festival is celebrated in Vietnam by having moon cakes and decorative lanterns displayed but it’s not a holiday. Instead of a holiday for family reunions, moon festival here is more like a holiday for children and lovers. The children hospital number 1 had arranged folk activities in the courtyard of the hospital on moon festival. It started with two dragons chasing each other followed by dancing lions, a martial arts display etc. You can still see the influence of Chinese left behind after 1000 years of domination. Later that night, I went to the center of the city. In front of the reunification palace, the night was lit up with two gigantic disco lights and lots of stalls selling stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with moon festival such as handicrafts made from coconut shells. There were two stages on each side of the DL Le Duan, there weren’t any shows but children talking on the stages. The only way to tell this was the celebration for the moon festival were lanterns that weren’t even lit up hanging along the DL Le Duan and an arch with two lantern shapes on each side.

I had buffers and reagents prepared for the experiments, I asked doctors to start sending me some clinical specimens to see if the system works. I got 2 suspected entrovirus infected patients’ throat swabs and vesicle specimens. I had the RNA extracted and one-Step RT PCR performed and the result revealed entrovirus positive by electrophoresis. Everybody in the lab was happy with the result and the PR of the hospital, who I haven’t seen for weeks, showed up and congratulated me. I have never knew news could be conveyed so efficiently. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some kind of espionage system built in the electrophoresis device. Once the result showed positive for what they were interested in, the key person would get informed.

The lab was planning a trip to Vung Tau beach about 100km from Ho Chi Minh City with me last weekend. However Xianshan typhoon struck the center provinces of Vietnam, so the journey was postponed. This weekend we managed to go and I was told that they would pick me up at my hotel at 6:00. Saturday, I was awakened by the phone ringing, at 6:15! I rushed down to the lobby and felt embarrassed for keeping 8 people and an ambulance waiting in my hotel. Well, taking an ambulance for a city tour wasn’t a first for me, but this time the flashing light was installed on top of the car and the hospital logo was emblazoned on the side. I got in the ambulance and wondered: would they turn on the siren if we got stuck in a traffic jam? Of course turning on the siren is useless in Ho Chi Minh City if we get stuck in a traffic jam, but the advantage of traveling in an ambulance is no toll fees are needed, thus we can bypass the lines at the toll stations.