The internet speed in Vietnam is back to dialup level.  There are rumors of another cable cut as well as maintenance that will last more than another week.  This after weeks of "undersea cable maintenance" after which we had awesome download speeds for awhile.  This means a lot of large transfers from sites outside of Vietnam are unbearably slow.  In the meantime, go buy your favorite movies or TV shows on DVD for 10,000 VND, it'll be quicker.

There is a time of day when speeds are much better.  It's in the wee hours of the morning, when most of the population has stopped downloading porn for the day.

If you're slightly resourceful you can take advantage of that window of high speed internet by downloading to a server outside Vietnam during the daytime and then downloading from there to your home PC at nighttime.

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Last week I was interviewed by Sketch Magazine, a monthly publication for Vietnam's Japanese community.  So the September issue will feature a little something of my thoughts on living in Vietnam from a foreigner or Viet Kieu perspective.

One question that came up was: How did I end up in Vietnam? And why?

This is a question that's pretty commonly asked in the expat community.  Nobody chooses where they were born but we expats all had some say in the foreign country we moved to.  I traveled around North America, Europe, Asia, and some of Latin America before deciding I wanted to live somewhere in Southeast Asia, finally settling on Ho Chi Minh City.  

When I ask others how they ended up here I get a variety of answers.  You could split them into "planned" and "accidently".  Those who ended up here accidently stayed because of: 

  • a girl (often now an ex-)
  • came on holiday and became addicted to cheap beer
  • came for school and decided to stay (a lot of Germans, Koreans, and Australians)

Others come here due to Vietnamese blood relations, and some come specifically for the business opportunities.  And then there are the true expats, the ones who were sent here or came to work for a specific job.  Traditionally, they would get a fat expat compensation package with housing allowances (thus driving up housing costs for all) and other perks, but this is changing.

So what do those expats who didn't come here with a job in hand already do? 

1. Freelance.  With Vietnam connected to the world via internet (barely, sometimes), many of us with creative skills such as programming or writing can continue to work for clients back home.  Due to the much lower cost of living compared to Western countries, one doesn't need to work as many hours or maintain as many clients as before.

2. Find a job.  This is a bit harder since there may not be the breadth of positions available to match your specific work experience.  Having a PhD in some applied science may be worthless here.  Nobody may have heard of the university you thought was famous.  But most people I know eventually get a real job here (ignoring survivorship bias).

3. Make your own job.  This could be by starting a company, something which is within the reach of most foreigners here, whereas it would have been a highly risky use of savings back home.  Others shop their skillset around to companies who might not have had a position open if you can make them realize you are the solution they just weren't looking for.

4. Teach English.  This is what people do while they are in the process of #2 or #3.  Some people do this for years.  Teaching English in Vietnam is the easiest way to make decent money in Vietnam, assuming you're from the US, the UK, Canada, or Australia/New Zealand (but they also hire good English speakers from the Philippines, Europe, and other countries).  Teachers are in high demand and salaries are often more than you'd make back home.  Teachers don't even need high school degrees, much less college degrees.  Some English teachers find a school before coming here, but it's absolutely not necessary.  The situation is similar in neighboring countries like Cambodia and Thailand.  But with low cost of living and high salaries, Vietnam is probably one of the best countries to come and teach English in.

That covers the where, the what, and the why.  But how?  It used to be quite easy for most Westerners to stay in Vietnam on a 6-month business visa without actually having any business here.  They've since cracked down a bit but it's still possible and quite common to stay on a 3-month tourist visa renewed multiple times.  The laws on the book (not so much in practice) are always changing though, so more on that next time.

Barcamp Saigon Summer 2011 Parting Thoughts

Submitted by tomo on July 27, 2011 - 2:31am

Sunday we had our 4th and largest Barcamp in Saigon. About 570 showed up to the premier free and open tech event in Vietnam. Here are 5 of the things I took away from it.

1. The most people sign up in the last few days before the event.

(if the below graph doesn't load, try reloading the page)

Traditionally, we would get a 50% show rate of the registrations but this time we had 999 people sign up and 570 show up. Without any setup for cross-checking registrations we don't know how many showed up without pre-registering. Because so many signed up after we settled financial calculations, it wasn't possible to accommodate the unexpected people with free food.

2. Barcamp is a recruiting event. Sponsors came with recruitment in mind. Non-sponsors can also try to muscle their way in. Giving a presentation is a great way to advertise your company and the people who ask attentive questions might be good hiring candidates. But giving a presentation as an individual is also a great way to advertise your hireability to companies.

3. Morning rush - everyone should have an equal chance in getting their presentation on the schedule as long as they show up to the opening. But it's kind of chaotic. When the dust settles, most sessions are in the morning while the afternoon schedule is sparser. A lot of people end up leaving before the closing ceremony and t-shirt giveaway, not that there's a problem giving out all shirts. Other Barcamps do it differently. Some use a voting system and I've thought about some implementations for next time.

4. Serial event organizing needs (infra)structure to make organizing less stressful over time. Without huge Google or Microsoft campuses in town, we're lucky we do have the large (although far) and impressive campus of RMIT to depend on. If we want to go Yangon-scale, we may need a totally different location.

As a tech-heavy event with talks on web scalability and high throughput, it's no good when the official web server falls over under load (I blame Windows). Good internet connectivity at the end is also a must.

Other skills the organizing team needs: Fund-raising, logistics, graphic design, legal, and the ability to get the word out.

5. Outsiders are awesome. I'm really grateful for the guys who brought Barcamp organizing experience from Cambodia, China, Southeast Asia, Germany, etc. to Saigon to share with us. Barcamps are often bootstrapped by foreigners. Outsiders also expose us to new ideas in technology. But I was happy to see at least some local ideas find an audience in the foreign attendees.

Barcamp isn't just about the sessions. It's as much about people coming together and sharing ideas outside of the sessions. The organizers' task isn't to control who speaks, unlike traditional conferences. Our job is to provide a platform for everyone to share knowledge with anyone who is interested. The trend, I hope, is for more people to realize that they do have knowledge that's interesting and worth sharing and to give them the opportunity to speak in front of an audience and further develop their ideas when putting together their presentations, and also get feedback from strangers that they otherwise would have never met.

Some newspapers reported about Sunday's event (in Vietnamese):
http://dddn.com.vn/2011072504147776cat187/rmit-viet-nam-to-chuc-thanh-co...

XAMPP: Apache Vhosts with SSL

Submitted by tomo on July 18, 2011 - 6:21pm

I needed to test out ssl on my Macbook as a web server with XAMPP.  It took more effort than it should have because I was using virtual hosts as well.

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[This blog post is a rewrite of just the main points due to my baby Macbook Pro dying while I was distracted.]

Drupal content types with CCK make it quite easy to add any number of defined fields to an 'object', and with multiple/unlimited values for a field or with node references it's possible to make a Drupal node 'two-dimensional'.

Sometimes you need more. Sometimes you want tabular data, a table, to be part of a node. If the table always has the same dimensions, and at least the same columns for each node, then the above can work through node references and views.

What if you want to add a different two-dimensional table to nodes of a content type, but without knowing the number or labels for the columns and rows beforehand.  For example, you might want to attach a pricing table to a node, with multiple products and multiple ways to price each product.  An example of that might be 5 t-shirt designs, where shirts are priced based on size and quantity ordered.

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What's the first thing tourists to Vietnam do after deplaning?  They go through immigration and then get in a taxi to go to their hotel, reverse on the way home.

Generally, people from Europe or the Americas need to pre-arrange a visa to enter Vietnam, unlike most other Asian countries, or they can be brave and pre-arrange a visa-on-arrival.  

If you've never gone this route, it works like this.

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[This is the third post about Accessing Facebook in Vietnam

Lately, ISPs in Vietnam has begun randomly blocking Facebook again after a period of openness.  When it's blocked, even accessing Facebook via their Lisp4 server (or using the Saigonist DNS server) doesn't work.

But there are a number of apps, both web-based and desktop apps, which integrate with Facebook to different extents.  These apps, once you login to them with your Facebook account, can basically get your Facebook updates for you without requiring access to Facebook.

One such app is Seesmic, which has both a web and a desktop client.  Seesmic connects to a numer of social networks and I use it for reading my Twitter feed, with a custom hack to fix a serious problem with disappearing Tweets.  But once you login to Seesmic and connect it to your Facebook account, you can see your Facebook feed as well as messages.  That's enough for most people, most of the time.

Other desktop apps that can connect to Facebook are Bubbles and Hootsuite, but I wasn't able to get Hootsuite to connect to my Facebook account.

Another less convenient way is to use Opera's online demo of their Opera Mini browser.  It's a Java app and you use it like you're using a phone, but it will connect to Facebook for you (unless your browser doesn't let Java make network connections).

When I saw that Diesel released a desktop app called Excellbook as part of a marketing campaign called Be Stupid At Work, I was hoping it would also work in bypassing the Facebook block.  It's an Adobe AIR app, which requires installing Adobe AIR, and is generally a piece of crap.  Even if you can get it to connect, it will require a connection to Facebook still and so it's not so useful.  Nice idea, terrible execution and yet another example of a bad Adobe AIR app.

PSD to HTML Slicing Services Reviewed

Submitted by tomo on June 17, 2011 - 10:45pm

I've known for awhile about the existence of PSD to XHTML cutting (slicing) services which can turn your website design straight from Photoshop into clean HTML/CSS in factory assembly line turnaround.  But I didn't realize there there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of little shops like this.  With so many options, a number of sites have sprung up to review these PSD2HTML clones.

If you don't want to read any further then just go with Psd2html.com.  They started the industry and are the most well known and most reviewed.  In general, the reviews are positive.  But there are many, many cheaper options.  If you, like me, always strive to get the best deal, then read on.

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Muong language

Submitted by tomo on May 26, 2011 - 3:45am

Thanks to all the responses from people who listened to the short audio I posted the other day of a man "speaking strange Vietnamese".  I got all kinds of answers from "it's Vietnamese" to "it sounds like Thai mixed with Vietnamese" to "it sounds like a Thai or Cambodian man speaking Vietnamese".  Some people actually understood the content quite clearly, which talks about Jesus, while others couldn't understand it at all.

In fact, the segment was neither a man speaking Vietnamese nor a foreigner speaking Vietnamese with an accent.  This man was speaking his native language, which is Mường, a language closely related to Vietnamese, and perhaps closer to the origins of the Vietnamese language.  The Mường people are basically ethnically Vietnamese but live in the mountainous areas of North-Central provinces such as Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa.

Although considered a separate language from Vietnamese, many Vietnamese speakers will find they can understand much of the Mường language without studying it.

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