Mai Chau And The Noodle Bowl Of Goodness

IMG_3817After walking through the Arts Festival yesterday, the Bus-Riding Conservative, the Unkempt Guy and I decided to hoof it over to the nearby Dinin’ Hall for lunch.  The UG had never been there, and the BRC and I decided it was high time to introduce him to the wonders of this cool Franklinton dining option.

I’m glad we stopped by, because I discovered a new and terrific Columbus food truck — Mai Chau – Eat Viet.  I decided to try the Noodle Bowl, and for $8 I was treated to a heaping bowl of vermicelli noodles, pulled pork, bean sprouts, cucumber slices, pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, crushed peanuts, and fish sauce.  It was succulent — crunchy, delicately flavored, and filling, to boot — and I ate every bit of it.

I thought Mai Chau might be a bit of Vietnamese wordplay — a food truck with a name pronounced “my chow”? — but a little research shows that there is a region of north Vietnam called the Mai Chau Valley.  I don’t know if the proprietor of the food truck hails from there, but I hope he sticks around Columbus and becomes a regular part of the Dinin’ Hall rotation.

The Web’s “Bad Neighborhoods”

Every city has a “bad neighborhood” — a squalid, dark, depressed area where sullen people are roaming the streets and the unwary stranger can easily be the victim of crime.  It turns out that the internet is the same way.

A Dutch researcher tried to determine if there are patterns to the generation of malicious email used in spam, phishing, and other fraudulent scams.  It was a huge task, because there are more than 42,000 internet service providers worldwide.  The researcher found, surprisingly, that about half of the malicious email that is the bane of modern electronic communications comes from just 20 of the 42,201 internet service providers.  The worst “bad neighborhood” was in Nigeria, where 62 percent of the addresses controlled by one network were found to be sending out spam.  Other cyberspace skid rows were found in India, Brazil, and Vietnam.

The hope is that the study will allow internet security providers to better understand the sources of malicious email and further refine filters to try to block the efforts of spammers and fraudsters.  It’s a worthy goal, but I’m not holding my breath.  There have always been people who would rather hoodwink people than earn an honest living, and the internet has provided them with a vast new arena in which to ply their criminal trade.  If they can’t use that “bad neighborhood” in Africa, they’ll just find another “bad neighborhood” somewhere else.

Back In The U.S.A.

I’m pleased to report that Russell has returned to the United States from his trip to Vietnam, safe and sound and no doubt enriched — personally, culturally, and artistically — by the experience.  For now, however, he may be mostly glad to get back to the land of serious air conditioning.  In recognition of that likely fact, I offer Russell the following amazing performance of Back In The U.S.A. by Chuck Berry and Linda Ronstadt, with a wicked guitar solo from Keith Richards tossed in:

Last Stop, Hanoi

Russell’s time in Vietnam (on this trip, at least) is rapidly drawing to a close.  Tomorrow he flies from Hanoi back to the States.

Hanoi conjures up interesting images for people who are in the 50-something age range.  We think of Jane Fonda, the “Hanoi Hilton,” and other Vietnam War images that are decades out of date.  Now, there is an honest-to-God Hanoi Hilton — that is, a hotel operated in Hanoi by the Hilton Corporation.  It is called the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel and boasts of being designated Vietnam’s top hotel for five years running.

The current Hanoi Hilton

The meaning of “Hanoi Hilton” is not the only thing that has changed in the 30-plus years since the pointless Vietnam War drew to a close.  The United States now has an embassy in Vietnam, and the embassy website speaks to how much the relationship has changed since the depressing images of overloaded helicopters taking off from the United States Embassy were seared into the American consciousness.  Today, the United States is Vietnam’s largest export market and third-largest overall trading partner;  in 2009 trade between the two countries exceeded $15 billion.  13,000 Vietnamese citizens study in the United States, and the U.S. recently commemorated 15 years of “normalized” relations with Vietnam.

What does this mean?  I think it means that Russell made a very good choice in his decision to select Vietnam as a place to visit, thanks to the generous Weitzel-Barber grant program.  It is a country in transition, where the “War Remnants Museum” in Ho Chi Minh City stands cheek-by-jowl with beachfront resorts and tailor shops creating handmade suits.  It is a land rapidly emerging from the shadow of a terrible war that will always evoke disturbing images among Vietnamese and Americans of a certain age — but it also is a testament to how time and effort can change strongly rooted perception.  For Russell, who never watched the flickering images of bloody combat on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, Vietnam will always be a place defined, for good or ill, largely by his weeks of travel during the summer of 2010.  He bears an accurate, first-hand perception of this exotic country half a world away; my understanding, on the other hand, is warped by out-of-date perceptions that no more reflect current reality than Laugh-In reflects current television programming.

This is why travel, and having the essential first-hand experiences, is so important.  I am eager to see Russell and hear what he has to say about his weeks of travel in a foreign land.

Hotter Than Hue

Russell’s Vietnam expedition is winding down.  After leaving Hoi An — where he indeed bought one of the hand-tailored suits for which that town is well-known — he traveled to Hue.  He reports that Hue is an attractive city, but that the temperature seems to increase as he travels north.  The air is wet and humid and it is already brutally hot, so every degree of increased temperature makes the travel less pleasant.

Hue has an interesting history.  Centuries ago, it was the capital of a feudal dynasty, and the architecture from that period located within the city’s Citadel has made Hue a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Hue also features pagodas, mausoleums, and buildings from the French colonial period.  The city was located close to the border of North and South Vietnam and was the scene of intense fighting during the Vietnam War, including battles during the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Hue occupies both banks of the Perfume River (and you wonder whether that name is appropriate) and is one of the wettest cities in Vietnam, with average annual rainfall of 120 inches. July tends to be the driest, but hottest, month of the year.

Russell is now on his way to Hanoi, which will be his last stop on the trip.

North To Danang (Or Hoi An)

Russell has left Ho Chi Minh City for the last time and headed north, to Danang.  Danang is located about halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.  It is a major port and industrial city and the largest city in central Vietnam.

China Beach

Danang also is a familiar name to those who grew up during the Vietnam War.  The United States had a major air base there, and the last United States ground combat operations in the Vietnam War happened in the Danang area.  The beach American soldiers called “China Beach” is on the outskirts of Danang and was a popular spot for American troops on leave.  According to a 2003 Time magazine article, the beach was home to aggressive beggars that local officials believed caused the tourist trade to bypass Danang for other nearby Vietnamese cities where the begging was a bit less persistent.  It will be interesting to see whether Russell encounters any well-tanned panhandlers during his stay in Danang.

Edited to add:  Russell has just reported by e-mail that he has stopped in Hoi An, a neighboring city that is smaller and less industrial than Danang, close by China Beach, and known for making “made to measure” clothing.  I’d say its about time for Russell to get a tailor-made suit.

My Tho

Russell is slowly working his way back to Ho Chi Minh City, where he will stay for a day or two and then head north.  One of his recent stops was in My Tho, a Mekong Delta town not far from Ho Chi Minh City.

My Tho played a strategic role in the Vietnam War.  The town was situated at the intersection of Route 4 and the My Tho River and served as the base for several U.S. Navy patrol boat squadrons.  The Navy installations were the target of regular rocket and mortar attacks, and My Tho was the subject of a major assault by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces during the Tet Offensive in 1968.  The town took a pounding during the fighting, and apparently signs of the fighting are still visible.

Now, My Tho is known mostly for its noodle soup, which includes pork, shrimp, quail egg, and noodles and in pork broth.