Friday, September 07, 2007

Ca Va Vietnam

Just when I thought there would be no suprises on my 4th visit in Ho CHi Minh City, right at the moment I stepped out of the plane. I had a feeling of something strange about the terminal but I couldn't tell what it was.

Passing through the sky bridge, I saw a spacious Customs area with more than 15 lines open for checking passports and visas that certainly shortens waiting time a great deal; tranparent elevators, steel frames patched with huge glass windows brighten up the building giving me a DejaVu as if I was in Suvarnabhumi airport, in Thailand. The crowd waiting at the exits for arrivals are now divided into two terminals which gives an international airport atmosphere back to the Tan Son Nhat International Airport rather than that of a refugee camp.

The hotel I stayed in this time was the Elios Hotel, a 3 star hotel on D Pham Ngu Lao. My passport was held at the counter after checking in which is a weird rule but it doesn't apply to every hotel in Vietnam. There are 3 types of rooms available: the standard room (18-20 square meters) – one double bed US$45; Deluxe Room (32 square meters) – one Queen sized bed & one single bed US$70; Executive room (32 square meters) – one Queen sized bed (bath room with jacuzzi) US$80. Rates are nett for single use, inclusive of 10% VAT & 5% service charge; buffet Breakfast daily.

Facilities are: Conference room • Business center • Fitness center • Satellite TV (including Star World Channel!)• Mini-bar • IDD telephone.• In-room safe (I can't find one in my standard room)• Individual controlled air conditioning • Spacious bathroom with shower / bath-tub /Jacuzzi (really big, about 1/3 of the room size)• Complimentary in-room Wi-Fi.

On my last visit (April, 2007) the hotel was just opened for business, they were still setting up the fitness center and hotel website; 6 months later, the rudimental website design might be one of the reasons of high vacnacy. I was thrilled by the roof top fitness center that overlooks the HCM City, equipped with brand new machines and a set of stereo. Soon later, I found out the setero was malfunctioning, and attempts at fixing it by the hotel staff were in vain. During my stay in the Elios, 8 days, no one ever tried to fix it again despite the fact that this stereo might still has its warranty valid.

I've learned to turn a blind eye on hygiene issues in restaurants in Vietnam after seeing cockroaches and ants running across my table in a 4 stars hotel restaurant, so when I spotted ants on my table in the roof top restaurant of the Elios hotel, I stayed calm. But what I saw next made me loose my cool. There were two glass tables outdoors and one of them had no tabletop. Despite its toplessness, somebody put an ashtray on the frame right at the center of the table, making it look like a normal table. It was amusing to see people drop their plates on the floor looking bewildered.

I couldn't help thinking of the Broken Windows Theory: consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. 6 Months from its opening, the hotel started having some damage yet left unfixed, how long would it take to run down the system, I wonder?

In the hospital, as I expected, when I asked the Lab technicians to prepare some ground ice to keep specimens of interest frozen while sorting from all specimens collected for the past year; the technicians took me to a room where a handcranked ice shaver was and shaved some ice then showed it to me waiting for my approval. I shrugged and told them as long as them could fill up two medium size styrofoam boxes, why not. The day when we were preparing the specimens, I couldn't help asking them if they really spent hours shaving ice? the answer was they bought it as I requested in my email before my visit.

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