Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Vietnam in 2005 & 2013

In 2005, I was sent by my company to Ho Chi Minh City several times. Then, in 2006, I quit the company. After an 8-year hiatus, I finally decided to return to Vietnam, though this time for vacation.
What have changed in Vietnam in these 8 years? And what have not?

What have not changed

The Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, Opera House and People’s Committee Building in Saigon all have retained their charm. And the traffic in Saigon is as scary as ever…

Notre Dame Cathedral

What have changed

Vietnam’s Highway 1A runs from China-Vietnam border in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south. But make no mistake, this so-called highway is similar to Malaysia’s national trunk roads, where drivers share road with motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians.

In 2010, Vietnam finally had a ‘real’ expressway – the HCMC-Trung Luong Expressway. The expressway connects HCMC with the Mekong Delta region, shortening the travelling time by about 30 minutes. The expressway still had not been extended to Can Tho, the largest city in the Delta. But I am sure eventually it will.

HCMC-Trung Luong Expressway

Between the 40s and 80s of the last century, economy of Vietnam stagnated because of war and communist policies. It is catching up now…

By the way, I saw more pretty women in Saigon than there were 8 years ago. I guess this was because Vietnamese women could afford to spend more on cosmetics and skincare products, yet another sign of the nation’s rising income.

Saigon at night

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vietnam Airlines

I am back from my vacation in Vietnam! And, as promised, I will tell you more about Vietnam Airlines…

One thing which bugs me, and many other passengers, is that Vietnam Airlines like to re-schedule its flights. To its credit, VA does inform the passengers through email a few weeks in advance. In my case, the KUL to SGN flight was re-scheduled from 2:00pm to 12:30pm. This was actually a boon for me as I had more time on Vietnam soil. But be careful if you have connecting flight. A change in flight schedule could potentially turn your plan upside down.

Having flown mostly with budget airlines in the last few years, the first thing I noticed, in fact expected, upon entering the cabin was the much larger legroom. I no longer had to press my knees on the seat in front of me, LOL…

During take-off and landing, the cabin crew sat near the emergency exits. In doing so, Vietnam Airlines sacrificed two seats which would otherwise be sold to the passengers. I am sure the kiamsiap (stingy) Tony Fernandes would never do this.

The food served during the flights was just normal, certainly no match to the food I tasted in Saigon. But at least it was complementary.

As a conclusion, Vietnam Airlines is far from perfect. (I have already mentioned, in my previous post, that its online booking mechanism is not user-friendly.) But if the price is right, I would certainly recommend it.

Flying over Mekong Delta

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My upcoming trip to Vietnam

I will go for vacation in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon later this year.

The reason I choose HCMC over other destinations is that Vietnam Airlines offers ‘Super Saver’ fare. My round trip airfare, inclusive of airport taxes, is RM335. Had I gone with Air Asia, the airfare, including airport taxes, but excluding travel insurance, would set me back at least RM588.

So much of a budget airline!

Of course, if I booked my flights 6 months in advance, AA’s fare could still cost less. In addition to this, it has other advantages over VA: AA’s online booking system is more user-friendly. It has four daily flights from KUL to SGN; VA has only two. Do note, however, that AA’s flights at ‘more convenient times’ tend to be more expensive.

I will tell you more about Vietnam Airlines after returning from my trip.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

1967 Malaysian Movie

Mat Bond, released in 1967...

As the name implies, this is a story about James Bond - Malaysian version.

Note that the two actresses wear bikini. You won't see bikini-clad women in today's Malay movies. This country has become more conservative in the last few decades.

And, after Malaysia's 13th General Election on May 5, 2013, we probably won't be seeing women's hair in locally-produced movies anymore...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fitness & Health

How to be healthy? Any sports enthusiast will tell you to exercise. Not just any exercise, but those rigorous, heart-pumping cardio. Recently, in a Malaysian Internet forum, a guy dismissed walking as “useless”.

In the West, some fitness experts pointed out that yoga is ineffective for weight loss, since it doesn’t burn as much calorie as running or spinning. But they are unable to explain why long term yoga practitioners tend to have lean figures.

Which makes me wonder: Does fitness equal health?

Okinawa in Japan has some of the longest living people in the world. Scholars attribute the long life expectancy of the Okinawans to their diet and active style. However, I doubt many of them still do karate fighting at the age of 80.

Hong Kong is another place with very high life expectancy, and scholars attribute it to the fact that Hongkongest walk a lot. Unlike Malaysians and Americans who are terribly car-dependent, Hong Kong people often ride train (MTR). However, walking to and fro the MTR station is not cardio exercise. Taichi is popular in this Southern Chinese city, but again it is not a cardio exercise. (Taichi does have some “fast forms”, which are rigorous, but they are not commonly practiced.)

Fitness is essentially a Western concept. There is no Chinese translation for the English word ‘fit’.

Fitness is external; health is internal. Fitness is generally associated with physical exercise, such as running, swimming and weight lifting; health is related to many more factors, such as diet, nutrition, therapy and mental wellness.

American researchers recently compared data from two studies of 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers. Their findings could surprise many of us. Results showed:

The risk for first-time hypertension was reduced 4.2% by running and 7.2% by walking.
The risk for first-time high cholesterol was reduced 4.3% by running and 7% by walking.
The risk for first-time diabetes was lowered 12.1% by running and 12.3% by walking.
The risk for coronary heart disease was lowered 4.5% by running and 9.3% by walking.

So, would you say “walking is useless”?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Squatting for Sexy Butt

In her column, Malaysian fitness expert Fiona Ho writes that the best way for a woman to tone her butt is by squatting. (Sunday Star, March 10, 2013)

Mention squatting, the first thing which comes to mind is the traditional Asian squat toilet. I found it hard to relate squatting to beauty…

When Hong Kongese and Mainland Chinese engaged in the locust-dog squabble last year, a magazine (亞洲周刊) pointed out that there exist cultural differences between the two people. One of them was that the Mainlanders liked to squat. So, do you see many Chinese women with big, firm, round butts?

Squatting exercise

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Myanmar, anyone?

I plan to visit Myanmar this year. As traveling in this country, which emerged from decades of isolation just recently, is a bit troublesome, I would like to look for a few partners to share the burden. If you are interested please contact me.

A bit of background information

Myanmar has the so-called ‘Big 4’ destinations, namely Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake. Yangon is in Southern Myanmar, while the rest are in the Central Region. Visiting all four of them would take more than a week. Air Asia flies to Yangon only.

Myanmar is largely a 'cash only' economy, with very limited use for credit cards. Advanced booking of domestic travel must be done through local agents. All foreign visitors need visa to enter the country.

My initial plan is to go there in June, and will spend most of the time in Yangon. Duration is 4 or 5 days. However, if I can find travel companions, I may decide to visit more places...

P/S This will be a budget trip.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Struggle with Yoga

Wanting to improve my flexibility and posture, I decided to take up yoga a couple of months ago.

Before joining the class, I was concerned that the pretzel-like poses in yoga would be too tough for me. Fortunately, I managed to set aside my fear. Now, having practiced for a couple of months, I am happy with my progress. I have also realized that (almost) everyone can do yoga.

As you probably already know, there are dozens of, perhaps more than a hundred, poses in yoga. (Poses are known as asana in Sanskrit.) On top of these, there are ‘variations’ to the classic poses. If one finds the classic poses too tough, he/she can always try the variations.

More importantly, we should practice at our own pace. Do not try to match the other students in your class. And guys, don’t try to impress the girls by performing Headstand or Crow before you’re ready!

This popular pose is often seen in photos…

This pose is quite challenging. My lower hand still cannot reach the floor yet.

This pose is often practiced for relaxation. Unlike other forms of exercise, relaxation is integral to yoga.

Surely everybody can do this. No?