Home > Archive: March, 2011

Archive for March, 2011

feelin' the frugal burn

March 31st, 2011 at 04:32 am

I'm down to my last 30$ for the month, and have been since Sunday. I'm definitely feeling the frugal burn.

Tomorrow I get paid.

A couple of bits of art news.

Bit 1: Screenwriter friend's son is in the midst of another film. The plan is to show his rough cut in late April and to film us as some of the audience sequences. Sounds like fun, but if I'm tapped, its time to ask for a bit more of a plan - what festivals are you applying to, etc.

Bit 2: DJ friend had generated a record label to addition to the internet radio station. So he has multiple CDs, and he is now promoting them in one of the non-Starbucks coffee place outlets. Proceeds for one of the EPs is going to Japan relief.

Vietnam: Temples

March 28th, 2011 at 03:58 am

Some people love pictures, others less so. Big Grin And a picture show isn't particularly fiscal. I plan two more picture posts: temples of Vietnam, and some of the Cambodia pictures.

One of the surprises of Vietnam was the religious life. There was plenty of it, something unexpected in a socialist country. In the north and during the war especially, it turns out that religion was restricted 'softly' using old-fashioned peer pressure: it was considered uncool. In other words, your grandmother went and wasn't harassed, but no one else in the family went. Now all the temples are busy with "customers" of all ages and offerings galore because you just never know who should be appeased. I missed the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, where Ho Chi Minh is preserved (like Lenin was in the Kremlin) and on display. Too bad for me, the mausoleum is definitely a temple for a socialist true believer.

Vietnam has a large number of Confucian temples, a legacy of a thousand years of Chinese occupation. Emperor worship belonged in that also – you worshiped hierarchy starting with your father and your ancestors and your Emperor was top dog in that. In addition to the Confucian, there are large number of Buddhist temples, a smattering of Catholic Churches, and then a couple of big outliers – Hindu, Angkor-esque ruins at My Son dating from the 9 – 14 century or so from when mid and south Vietnam was the Champa Kingdom, and a Cao Dai temple.

Its painting with the broad brush, but in general it seemed to me that the north is more Confucian and the south is more Buddhist, Catholic and Cao Dai. Cao Dai is a new one for me – it is a Buddhist inflected religion that began in the 1920s, stressing the relatedness of all religions – those temples are generally found in the south.

Hanoi: Temple of Literature. If you scored well on the mandarin exam, not only did you serve the emperor, you got your name on a stone stele resting on a stone turtle symbolic of perseverance, and stored in perpetuity at the temple of literature. There is a Confucian temple inside – offerings are plentiful, varied, and recent.

Hue: Ma Thien pagoda, a Buddhist temple.

Hue: The Citadel, the French name for the Vietnamese emperor’s version of the Forbidden City. Once crocodiles swam in the moat.

Hue: Inside the Citadel, showing the long expanses inside. The Vietnamese tour guide told us that when he first came, they were still cultivating rice along these straight-aways.

South of Hoi An: The My Son ruins. These were very reminiscent of the Angkors of Cambodia. Quite a bit of destruction occurred during the war – there were bomb craters everywhere.

Saigon: The neon blue Virgin Mary in the Saigon Cathedral of Notre Dame. The little plaques are the especially generous donors.

Saigon: This was another shot from the 20th floor of the block below – minarets and the square is a Muslim temple.

Outside of Can Tho: The ‘eye’ in the center between the two steeples defines a Cao Dai temple.

Cao Dai Temple: the inside is just as brilliantly colored as the outside – Walt Disney color scheme, I joked. The pillars are especially interesting. Greek Corinthian on the top, Confucian Chinese on the bottom. Note the center blue area at the front top of the altar.

Cao Dai Temple: Zoomed in on the center blue area on the top of the altar. No burning bridges here. You have Buddha, a couple of Dao priests, Jesus with a reddish beard, and Confucius.

picking up pennies

March 25th, 2011 at 03:53 am

Since July 2009, I've been tracking the spare change I've picked up in my travels. I picked up 4 pennies today, and crossed a milestone. I've picked up my 2,000th tracked penny.

And funny, I haven't overheard a snarky comment about picking up coins in a few years. Recession maybe, or that I'll mutter back, "bet you can use 69 bucks."

It all adds up.

phooey, I had her on my list...

March 24th, 2011 at 03:49 am

Last year. And she was suggested for my list this year too. Godspeed, Ms. Violet Eyes.

boring stuff

March 22nd, 2011 at 04:16 am

Friday I deposited $41 from my tip box to savings. I've already added $5 to it so the cycle begins again.

Remember last fall when I was in the bird flu adjuvant study. Tomorrow is my last visit - it was weekly for a couple of months and 1 visit after 180 days. Tomorrow is the 180 day visit, with the last $50 to follow. Apparently I was a hit - I've gotten a couple of letters for another study. I'll see about it - now that I've gotten in a groove with them its easy to schedule, didn't do so with the trip ahead because I didn't want to make too many additional plans. My only complaint about the researchers is that they seem to pay in a lumpy manner.

After mailing the asian seeds, a friend of the Duvall friends is sending out more garden seeds. Exciting! And speaking of the Duvall friends, one got a job in her field. Not quite permanent, but its away from the psychotic boss she had been working with and its a start.

Vietnam: Cities

March 19th, 2011 at 03:31 am

The two big cities we visited were Hanoi (6 million) and Saigon (9 million). Actually, there are no words in Vietnamese longer than 1 syllable, so the official names are: Viet Nam, Ha Noi, Sai Gon (boy that last especially looks weird). If you are a member of the Communist party, you would say Ho Chi Minh City, otherwise it's Saigon. We drove through Da Nang (800,000) early in the evening and flew out through there, but we didn't see much. Can Tho sounds like a small town, but it has over 1 million! Viet Nam, at 89 million and ranked 13th largest, is a "small country" only if you are comparing it with China.

Hanoi: Scooter parking lot behind the hotel. There was no such thing as empty sidewalk in a city in Vietnam. Its business space, cafe space, market space, parking lot and, if necessary, alternate scooter lane.

Hanoi: a fairly typical street scene, with plenty of red communist flags. The electric poles were just wild. Anytime I flipped a switch had the light come on and no one get electrocuted was a miracle to me.

Hanoi: This is the worst picture but an instructive one. The yellow building at the left is the last remnant of the infamous "Hanoi Hilton".

Hue: This is a gate fronting Ho Chi Minh's high school. Ironically, Ngo Diem Dinh, president of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963, also graduated from there.

Saigon: The front of the Saigon Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame.

Saigon: If you asked me to pick just one picture that says everything about Vietnam, it would have to be this one. This is the inside of the Saigon Post Office - French infrastructure, with Ho Chi Minh looking out (benevolently, blindly?) over a very large tourist shop. Would Ho Chi Minh be upset over these changes, or would he welcome them? I never got an answer, and frankly, there isn't one.

Saigon: Scooters coming at ya! Jump!

Saigon: In the South Vietnamese presidential library, on the 3rd floor of the presidential palace, perfectly preserved under glass, exists a blue book - a sign that no matter where you are in life, you might need money for a second career. Who knew? This picture still makes me laugh.

settling back in

March 17th, 2011 at 04:13 am

Collected an expense check for something work related I bought, and my bank stock dividend check came in the mail two days ago. (Since its in the process of being bought by another bank, no dividend re-investment). They go into the tip box, along with $3 here, $4 there, $5 yesterday. Right now the tip box squeezings this month stand at $39.

One of my other DRP stocks - IP - raised its dividend by almost 5 cents/share/per quarter. It means that for most of my stocks, each quarter I buy close to another share of stock.

At the asian grocery store, I found seed packets - edamame, several different types of long beans, purple shiso. Mailed the seed packets this afternoon to sister. She is interested in growing them, but found it hard to order some of the seeds.

As for lunch these days, I made up 3 cups of crab salad, bought a pack of whole wheat english muffins, and am going to town. A little bit different than the 1/2 c rice and bit of protein lunches that I've been taking these past couple of years, but the salad/ english muffin combo should last me the better part of a week.

Very slim cheap non-processed food pickings at the grocery store lately; I had better luck with one of the permanent produce markets in town, Rising Sun market. $1.25/lb tomatoes, $1.59/lb green grapes. Had to pick around the not so good stuff, but I could be in Japan and have nothing to pick at.

Other than that, I haven't had any NSDs, but I've had several very low spend days and that makes me happy.

Vietnam: Vistas

March 13th, 2011 at 02:31 am

Decided that I had plenty of great vista pictures, so I decided to split Cities and Vistas into two.

Vistas in Vietnam, at least the ones we went to, involve water. We sailed in Halong Bay – part of the South China Sea - for afternoon and overnight. If you see a river going through Hanoi, it's the Red (honest!), in Hue it's the Perfume, in Saigon it's the Saigon, in Can Tho it's Mekong. The Mekong delta is further subdivided into the upper and lower Mekong. And the Mekong is broad enough and close enough to the sea to have 2 tides.

But enough of that – here are the pictures. I didn't get any interesting picture of the Red River, oh well.

Halong Bay: View from our boat, The Bhaya.

Halong Bay: This is the most dramatic one I have. The mountains are limestone, so the water eats away at bits of it. We used 4 person boats for a side trip.

Hue: The Perfume River. I took this picture in the afternoon the day before we sailed on it to get to the Emperor's Tomb.

Hoi An: Beautiful reflective water is incredibly filthy water. Had to hold my breath as I snapped this picture.

Saigon: Morning over the Saigon River, taken from a hotel window on the 20th floor. Saigon is 200 square miles, so even from a great height, the vista will be: city.

Saigon: The similar scene at night. Shipping never sleeps. Using the 10 sec delay function on the camera really helped with getting the night pictures.

A boat ride along the canals and channels along the upper Mekong.

Can Tho: Boat on the lower Mekong hauling sugar cane. Boats with eyes are passenger or cargo boats. The eyes are used to ward off evil spirits. Fishing boats have no eyes – fishermen assume that the eyes would ward off fish.

no tsunami here

March 12th, 2011 at 03:54 am

Last I checked, Jeffrey lives in Japan. Hopefully he is safe and sound.

Sister asked, and I'm sure plenty have thought of it. No tsunami in Seattle - we have all the Olympic mountains to protect us from a big wave. There might be a residual energy wave that gets into Puget Sound, but it would make the extra wave an inch or so, not feet. It'd be hard to tell the extra wave from the tide.

back in the tip box saddle

March 11th, 2011 at 04:53 am

A break from the pictures with an actual fiscal post.

Today I put 9$ in the tip box at work. Ahhhh! I hadn't put any in for several months - I collected fairly crispy $1s for the trip instead.

Now it doesn't matter how crispy the bills are, only that they are. A small act, but it really makes me happy.

Also scheduled my last appointment for the bird flu vaccine study, a time point of 180 days after I got the shot. Another $50 to get in April.

Vietnam: Crops and Markets

March 9th, 2011 at 05:50 am

It turns out that as a general rule for rice growing that Southern Vietnam is richer and more productive than Northern Vietnam, and both are a bit more productive than Central Vietnam, which is narrow and mountainous. In the North, one could get 2 crops of rice per year off the land, in the South, an astounding 4! Astounding because it means that in the south, every 3 months/ 12 weeks, rice is planted, grows, and is harvested. As we were traveling, it happened that the North was beginning its crop, central it was growing, and the South it was being harvested.

Outside of Hanoi: Woman was bundling seedlings to be transplanted into the main paddy.

Outside of Hanoi: They grow more than just rice. Lettuce here. I saw, but couldn't quite photograph, crops growing between the road and the railroad tracks. One got the feeling that if the crop was short enough, people would seriously entertain growing something IN the railroad tracks.

Central: a field with a scarecrow in it.

South: Rice being cut and dried. After its dried, it's threshed. The stalks are used for fuel, the stubble in the field is burned, the land is left fallow for a couple of weeks, and the whole cycle begins again.

South: This is a rubber tree field. The diagonal slashes along the trunk are cut marks where the latex is harvested.

Saigon: Exotic fruit in the main market.

Saigon: A thoroughfare in the main market. I tried getting a shot of someone delivering breakfast pho, but the deliverers are way too fast.

Mekong: DH, like Monkeymama, told me about the 10 most venomous animals that live in Vietnam. Well, if life gives you lemons, make proverbial lemonade. Turns out the venomous animals are caught, killed, and pickled in rice wine – called snake wine. I had a shot of this. It tasted brown.

2 little windfalls

March 9th, 2011 at 04:55 am

Windfall 1: Did my taxes this weekend and filed them electronically. I'm getting back $379.

Windfall 2: Tonight I found a $20 bill on the floor by the cashier. It took me aback enough that I asked the guy ahead of me if he lost it. Nope, he said. The cashier told me that about 15 minutes before someone was hunting for a $20, but they were long gone.

I'm not quite at finding $50 bills yet, but I'm getting there. I guess I can't say that I don't find bills.

Vietnam: people

March 7th, 2011 at 06:36 am

I figured to make things easy that I'd split my pictures up into big units – people, crops and markets, vistas and cities, temples.

Hanoi: they mean it when they talk about sidewalk cafes.

Hanoi: two Imperial crowns. Not sure if the Emperor of Vietnam traded them off or one was worn every day and the other formal. Smile FYI – this was definitely a surreptitious picture. Museum setting on the camera!

On the way to Halong Bay: a farmer with a water buffalo, plow, and yoke. Yet to be planted rice paddies in the background.

Hue: Bun and oven guy heading home.

Hue: Dad and baby in a scooter. Scooters were everywhere and would come up within inches of the side of the bus.

Saigon: I’m available for weddings and bar mitvehs! Smile Turns out that Sunday morning in the park by city hall is a popular wedding picture setting.

Cu Chi Tunnels are a historical park for the Vietnamese, serving much the same purpose as Gettysburg might in the States. A Vietnamese park ranger demos how to get into a tunnel. Tunnel entrance is rectangular - you have to raise your arms so your shoulders clear, and you need to turn your head so it clears.

Can Tho floating market: The pho lady comes to you.

Vietnam and Cambodia: a few words about the trip

March 7th, 2011 at 06:06 am

Before I start with the pictures, a few words about the trip. Sister and I flew Seattle to LAX, LAX to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Hanoi to join the rest of the tour. It turns out that I misinterpreted the schedule - the first afternoon read like a simple cyclo ride, something to do while everybody got there. Well, that was the case sort of but it turns out that we missed a bit of old-quarter Hanoi sight-seeing that most got.

Big lesson 1: don’t over-interpret the tour schedule.

If you think of Vietnam as a big "S" we went from the top inner curve (Hanoi, Halong Bay), went down to the middle (Hue, Hoi An), then went to the bottom outer curve (Saigon, Can Tho).

From a full day in Hanoi, we drove about 60 miles to Hai Phong to Halong Bay. Buses could only go about 40 miles/hour tops, so one really had to slow down. It made things relaxing for those who could slow down, but it meant that the schedule itself got re-arranged often and we had to be flexible about it.

Big lesson 2: Be flexible

From Halong Bay we drove back to the Hanoi airport to fly out to Hue (pronounced Way), a day in Hue, then a drive from Hue past Da Nang to Hoi An, another day in Hoi An and the Cham site in My Son, then a flight from Da Nang to Saigon, a few days in Saigon, with a side trip to the Lower Mekong at Can Tho, then back to Saigon to fly out to Siem Riep, Cambodia.

Big lesson 3: you see a lot, but you will definitely see that lot from a bus seat and from a plane or two.

Nearly every day we had three meals – a full breakfast (or rather, a buffet breakfast that took a rare amount of self-control to not make full), a fixed 5 course lunch, a fixed 5-7 course dinner. Yikes! Who eats like this anymore? The food was good, but tamer than I had hoped…and it was fixed. Beer was generally considered part of the meal; it turned out that beer was cheaper than bottled water.

Big lesson 4: treat your liver extra nice after the tour.

Since we did many meals, another strain on me was small talk. I wish I was better, or rather in some cases, I wish I didn't have to do it. I enjoyed about 97% of the trip – I saw everything that I wanted to see, learned a tremendous amount of culture from the Vietnamese and Cambodian tour guides, learned a lot history from the professor and his son who came with us, got some exciting souvenirs and stories.

My 3% dissatisfaction came from the fact that I was being immersed into 3 big cultures: Vietnam, Cambodia, and the culture of the type of person who could afford the trip. Smile My thought was that many on the tour broke my big rule of travel: eyes open, mouth shut. Sister and I seemed a bit at odds sometimes with a few of the rest of the group. Sister and I were a bit younger (not terribly though), I was a bit quieter, neither of us brought our electronic toys (which often worked, wonder of wonders), and we both decidedly didn't want to play keep-up-with-the-Joneses like many others did. However, sister and I did have farm skills and since Vietnam was still mostly a rural society, playing guess-that-crop on the bus was an asset. That being said, about 1/3 were cool, 1/3 could be taken in regulated doses, and the other 1/3 we wanted to avoid. I suspect others felt the same way, but they had their strategies in place to avoid the folks they wanted to avoid. And several told me that the group dynamic was reasonable – no one got sick, no one was chronically late, no one shopped 'til they dropped slowing everyone down. It could have been actually bad instead of 3% dissatisfied!

One woman shared with me that she felt the same – at odds - when she began going on tours and gave me some good advice about it. In a nutshell, she defined what she wanted to get out of the tour – in this case, she wanted to learn about the culture of the country. If she made friends on the tour, fine, but that wasn't her goal and she was all right with that. She told me it was perfectly okay to be quiet, and as far as small talk was concerned, get your lunch partner to talk about their grandkids and you'll never have to say a word. Smile!

All in all, I think I would go again, but I probably would on tours if the culture was edgy enough that I'd prefer the bubble. A couple of the women went to Iran, which I think would be perfect for a tour. For Europe, I wouldn't bother – the mechanics of the tour and the probable Jones-ness of the others on the tour would put me off.

before Vietnam, actual fiscal news

March 5th, 2011 at 04:04 am

Discovered that one of my Drp stocks did a 2:1 split while I was gone (WEC). Actually, the split got completed my first day back.

I found out because I look at the share prices every couple of days and it was freakishly low. Like, tear my hair what happened low. Nice to know it was a divide by two situation.

I'll be checking the transfer agent to see how they account for it and how they calculate the cost basis, but as for me right now maintaining my spreadsheet, all I'm doing is multiplying the shares I have by 2, and dividing the price I paid by 2.

Also turns out that the dividend increased by a couple of pennies per share also. Good news on that front.

I picked up a copy of Turbo Tax yesterday. My financial moves this year have been pretty boring - no IRA conversions or odd schedules coming from an inheritance. (Unless I find $100 bills on the sidewalk, the IRS doesn't particularly want to know.) This year, bread and butter. I can do bread and butter myself.

Finishing up catching up at work which has been a struggle. I'm still jet lagged and when I wake up I think that I'm not in Seattle but somewhere in Asia. Its been much rougher than Paris. Getting to Hanoi I wasn't particularly jet lagged, or perhaps I was so excited that I didn't care. Could also be the light - Paris is a similar latitude as Seattle, so the day lengths are similar - May/June nice and long. Vietnam, being close to the equator, has a day length close to 12 hrs year round, while Seattle, not so much.

Did make it to the gym and miracle of miracles, I'm under 170, with a 1 lb weight gain. That after 3 full meals/day, hours mostly on the bus or a plane with a bit of walking, and multiple course meals with beer or wine. I thought for sure I'd have put on at least 5 pounds.

Sent sister the $5000 for farmette upkeep. She's back in Milwaukee from the trip. I hope she had a good time - those last few days when the tour ended and we were flying home was especially rough. Incheon airport in Korea with an 11 hour layover was especially hard.

I'm back!

March 1st, 2011 at 09:10 pm

Came from 35 degrees C to 35 degrees F! I had fun, and will have pics and color commentary soon.

A quick FYI - someone picked correctly on the Fantasy Celebrity Cemetary for 2011 today.