Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Australian Federal Election - How to Vote

This is my first posting on the Australian Federal Election, due on October the 9th! I'd rather talk about how to vote now, and relegate why I voted this way to another post. I'd like to give one unbiased blog on the subject before getting to my personal hatreds. However, note that voted is not the present tense "vote" or future tense "will vote". It's one of the pleasures of expatriate-dom that you get to do the thing before everyone else. (Alternatively, you choose not to do it altogether. Voting is compulsory in Australia, and normally you have to pay a $50 fine. But overseas voters are exempt from this.)

The first question you have to ask yourself: are you on the electoral roll - the AEC's list of people eligible to vote? To find out, check the AEC's Enrollment Verification service. All you really need to do is put in your name, your date of birth, and your suburb. No street  name is necessary, and certainly no street number. The use of HTTPS makes the information private to your computer.

Now if you are enrolled, then it should come up with your electorate and your state. You can vote. If the software says that there's no electoral data on you - it's too late to get on the roll for this election. (The deadline was the 7th of September.) Sit it out and have a cold one instead. That doesn't mean you can't vote in future elections: see the AEC's Overseas Voter page for more details.

Now if you are on the roll, you have two options:

  • Pre-poll: You come into the embassy or consulate, present yourself, and get your ballot papers. Fill them in, throw them in the ballot box, and you are home free. It's just like home - except that the old primary school is now replaced by an office building. You've have from the 27th of September to the 8th of October. But remember, "normal business hours": 8:30-12:00 and 13:00-17:00. Funny about the one hour off, but you have to give the office workers their daily siesta.
  • Postal-vote: To apply, you write to the "Assistant Returning Officer (ARO)" at the embassy/consulate. Ballot papers will be send to thee, and then you fill them in., and then send them back.

My recommendation (and the recommendation of the Australian Government) is that if you are living in Việt Nam, and you can't get yourself down to the embassy, you get yourself a postal vote ASAP. The flyer I got from the consulate states: "Note: Given time constraints and possible delays in postal deliveries in Vietnam, voters are strongly advised to vote by pre-poll vote." You can try, but it's going to involve three separate mailings: first from you to the diplomatic mission, then straight back at ya (plus or minus 2 working days), then a quick scribble and it's back to them again. It might be your turn for the quick one from the fridge on Saturday night.

Anyway, you have two ports of call in Việt Nam:

  1. You've got the Australian Embassy (6 Đào Tấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội). Ring Janet Whitaker on 04 831 7755 (ext. 148) for election related matters.
  2. For those at the other end of the country, you have the Australian Consulate-General (5B Tôn Đức Thắng, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City). To talk about voting, try Nichoals Sergi on 08 829 6035 (ext. 107).

That's really it. Before I finish, I just want to state that this blog is intended for the Australians in Việt Nam. If you are living or travelling somewhere else, try Smart Traveller on the election, with its list of Oz embassies and consulates around the world. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

"Has anyone seen my plastic bottle?"

I never been to the Full Moon Party - the one in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand. I though about dropping by on the way home to Australia. I didn't, probably because there was no full moon during the trip home. It looks like I didn't miss anything. Well, anything nice.

One of the things I like about Australia was forest doofs. You drive 80km or 90km to someone's farm, and dance to music outdoors at night. Coffee, chai and ciagarettes were what got me through the night. By myself - I liked the easy going vibe of the events, and I could always dance or have an interesting conversation or two. One thing that I liked about them was that people were (in general) pretty good about rubbish. You bring it with you, and then you clean up after yourself, or throw it in the bin. And you never throw bottles on the ground. Some people may be dancing barefoot, and one of them may be you.

By the looks of the party, we're dealing with a different mindset here. I was thinking that the rubbish could be sewage from some where else (sanitation isn't the best in SE Asia.). My second thought: "That many beer bottles?"

The revellers may be giving extra cash to the locals (who get recycling money for the gear). But for anyone who'd dispose of rubbish on the beach that way - wankers.

(Warning: the link contains nudity and bad body painting. You have been warned.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Expatriate expense in Sài Gòn.

I'd just start by giving a plug out to:

Australian Clinic & Pathology Diagnosis
38 Mạc Đĩnh Chi, Đa Kao Ward
District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City.
Phone: 8227 2264 - 827 2265

That firm is the clinic that I go to when necessary; I recommend it to anyone from abroad visiting this town. I learnt about them from a Australian coworker last year. They are the company that worked out the chest virus I had, gave the recommended pills to me - and without the constant overmedication of antibiotics common here. That is also the firm that my Vietnamese girlfriend sees when necessary. She even recommended it to one of her employees as well. And it only cost me 100,000 VNĐ (or $10 AUD).

Now it is not one of the "common" expatriate clinics. There are a few in town: SOS, Columbia-Asia, and a few other. Now guess what price they take? About 110 USD for a trip to the doctor - or $150 AUD. A little bit more for tests and ultrasound. My girlfriend's response was "too expensive". She's right.

That's one of the strange things about expatriatedom here: some things like food are a lot cheaper than home. For example, a full meal for four plus tea and beer was 95000 VNĐ tonight. That's cheap. However, "services" for foreigners in Việt Nam are often more expensive than home - although it depends on where "home" is. My theory is that the services are set at a rate equivalent to U.S. prices. That may make the Americans in town comfortable. It certainly makes the American insurance companies comfortable. On the other hand, the prices are outrageous for Australians. Pay $150 for a consultation in the land of the bulk bill? Fuck that.

Another example of a "service" cheaper at home is the humble gymnasium. Recently I've been attending one at a certain ritzy hotel. I actually won it in a "trivia" contest, would you believe? However, the conditions of the prize state that this is an "off-peak membership": out of here after 4:00 pm, and no coming in on weekends. And how much would I pay normally? About $110 USD a month I think. If it was peak membership, double that.

Here the comparison to home is unfavourable again. My old stompin' ground in Brisvegas, Thor's Gym, has the following prices: "Casual visit AUD8; one month membership AUD90; three month membership AUD250; six month membership AUD350; one year membership AUD470." (One person who worked at this unnamed Sài Gòn gym - a Canadian - also mentioned that it was more expensive than at his home.) And yet again, there are local alternatives that are - if not better - than comparable. One guy from my CELTA course ended up attending a gym whose membership consisited mainly of Vietnamese from the local Navy. He never got hassled either. (However, lack of air-conditioning would deter most expats.)

So what explains this odd phenomena, where expatriates pay about a third of the average yearly Vietnamese GDP/capita for a visit to the doctor? One guess is that of exclusivity - "you can't be rubbing with the poor." While that is the result, I believe it isn't the intention. Another explanation is that they believe the expat services deliver better quality. I can understand why people have this belief, but I'm not convinced is is inevitably true. One workmate picked up a bad case of athlete's foot from another "expatriate" hotel gym.

After some thought, I think the main reason expatriates pay inflated prices is that they don't know any better. This implies that the information available to expatriates is limited. That's understandable. You are in a strange country, which speaks a strange and tonal language not understandable to you. There are a few resources available: guidebooks, handouts from various embassies and consulates, and a few odds-and-ends from tourist companies. It is understandable that they choose the "big-name" companies first. The problem is that the "big-name" companies are generally the "big-name" prices. That isn't a hard-and-fast rule back home, but it seems to be over here. After all, "competition" in this sector is limited, so there isn't much incentive to cut prices.

However, there is one shining light in the darkness: word of mouth. The advantage of word-of-mouth (well, from friends) over the guidebooks is that it is generally altruistic - rather than dis/un interested (from the embassies)... or worse, involving some "finder's fee" that you don't know about.

After 6 month's of living here, and about $500 US of medical bills (from 3 consultations!), I learnt about the "Australian Clinic & Pathology Diagnosis" from a co-worker. That was the place where he took himself, his wife and his two daughters whenever they got ill. He told me about it. I told my girlfriend, she told her employees, and perhaps they'll tell other people. And now I'm telling you.

So if you are sick in Sài Gòn (and believe me - that's common) - you know where to go.

The making of "How to enter Vietnamese inside Blogger" - Part I

I'm no fan of "The making of..." documentaries. Cuts from the film interspaced with actors' banalities about "motivation" depress me. This is clearly intentional: after a few vacuous shots of (say) Angelina Jolie - combining ego, self-satisfaction and vacuity, many viewers say "Enough. Get on with the friggin' movie for cryin' out loud." Or so I think, but strangely, other people like the stuff. For example, look at the milti-billion audience for the Academy Awards. (Don't call my mum then: she'll call you.)

Now I'm going to do one myself on How to Enter Vietnamese inside Blogger. Don't worry: my motivation isn't ego (well, in some ways it is), but embarrassment. Remember me saying "It was piss easy to enter Vietnamese inside Blogger"? It is: unfortunately, it was initially piss hard to enter tables and pictures inside the site. The result was about 2 pages of empty spaces around tables, and holes where pictures should be. After a few days of stress working it out, I was so pissed that I even considered changing to TypePad.

As you can see when you click the link. I solved the problem - or rather, both problems:

  1. Blogger adds unwanted line break tags.
  2. I couldn't work out how to adding pictures to Blogger.

Here is a description of the problem, and my solution to each.

Unwanted line breaks

The first decision I had to make in writing "HTWVIB" was "How do I get the content into Blogger?" When you decide to "Create New Post", Blogger provides you with two interfaces:

  • Compose: This is a WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") interface. You enter text, press a few buttons to add bold and italic, and hit return to insert new paragraph breaks. This is useful for simple tasks. However, there is no direct support for tables, and the mechanism for adding images appears to be broken.
  • Edit HTML: Since option 1 won't be suitable, you have to go with option 2. Fortunately, this gives you far more flexibility.

The best thing to do is use a special HTML editor to write the file outside. Afterwards, you copy everything between the "<body>...</body>" tags (but not including that or anything outside!) and paste it into the Blogger interface. How you write HTML is your own business.

When I wrote the document in straight HTML, it looked good. (I was so happy that I even printed it off and showed it to a friend: But when I inserted it in Blogger... oh, what a mess! The problem was that Blogger had decided to insert breaks and paragraphs every time it came to a new line in the HTML code. On the screen I saw 1 page of blank space before the first table, and extra space within the table cells.

Fortunately, there's a switch that controls that behavior. Turn it on, and it inserts lots of spaces and blank lines. So I had to turn it off. Folks - if you are writing hard HTML (rather relying on the "Compose feature"), do the following:

  1. Click on the "Settings" tab.
  2. Click on the "Formatting" link.
  3. Scroll down to "Convert line breaks". It states: If Yes is selected here, hard-returns entered into your blog posting form will be replaced with <BR> tags in your blog and blank lines will be replaced with <P> tags. Choose "No".

I did that, and republished the blog. The dead space dissapeared. The tables looked decent. Beautiful.

I remain a little peeved that they don't put the "Convert line breaks" switch anywhere near the composition screen, where it would be of better use. My issue with this is that it should be a local setting, and turned on and off per post - rather than an a global setting. For the time, I will keep it off.

What about adding pictures? Well, it's late tonight, and I think it is time I went to bed. However, the topic is more interesting that just FTPing the pictures to a website. In fact, I ended up trying (and discarding) the program Hello, the program Blogger promotes for image loading. But It's just too late for me to continue.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

"Probably wasn't a nuclear test."

North Korea (like Việt Nam), has fallen under the moniker of "Communist". The following shows how labels don't tell you much nowdays...

North Korea Blast Created Mushroom Cloud, Yonhap Says (Update3) Sept. 12 (Bloomberg)

An explosion last week in North Korea created a mushroom cloud as wide as 4 kilometers, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing unidentified diplomats. A South Korean official said any blast probably wasn't a nuclear test.

This has also been reported in Channel News Asia. As for me: I'm glad this country isn't as scary as North Korea. All you have to worry about here is the killer traffic.

(Learnt via Steve Gilliards's aptly if not accurately named article Holy Shit, the North Koreans have a nuke.)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

The Jakarta Bombing

Yesterday, a bomb exploded outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. That's very unhappy news, especially for the families of the dead. All fatalities are Indonesian - for now:

Australian officials say one of those seriously injured in the blast was the five-year-daughter of an Australian father and an Indonesian mother. The girl had been granted Australian citizenship just days ago. Her mother died in the explosion, which wrecked buildings across parts of Jakarta's business district.

I can only imagine his pain.

One of the nasty ironies about this is that it is happening some weeks before an Australian Election, so people are wondering what the political fallout will be. John Quiggin said it best:

I don't have anything to say about this crime that I haven't already said about others. But it would be easy for partisans on either side of the Australian political debate to try to make political mileage out of it. I'm posting to express my hope that this will not happen.

It is reasonable enough to argue in the abstract as to whether the government's policies have increased or reduced the risk of terror attacks. But we can't know anything about the specifics of this attack except that many innocent people are dead or injured. No-one should seek to make political capital out of their suffering.

Well said.

Can it happen here? Việt Nam, unlike Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, lacks a large Muslim population. The presence of an Al-Qaeda affiliate is also unlikely, but not out of the question. Personally, I feel I am safer here than other Asian cities. But that's my view.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

How to enter Vietnamese inside Blogger (or anywhere else)

Most of the previous postings have had some Vietnamese characters somewhere inside them. How hard is it to do this? It's piss easy. Firstly, let's get rid of one common misconception.

One of the misconceptions about Vietnamese is that you need special fonts to display it. We are talking about proprietary fonts as provided by the VNI Corporation, as opposed to preinstalled fonts like Times New Roman on Windows. This misconception may have been true in the mid 90s, but it isn't true in the 00s. Windows fonts such Times New Roman, Arial and Courier New (among others) have supported Vietnamese since Win98and Win2K. I'm happy with them.

(I cannot speak for other platforms such as Linux or MacOS. I assume that MacOS would have better support for languages than Linux - given then centralization of its development.) Still, entering Vietnamese is not as easy as entering English, where pretty much all the characters you want are on the keyboard. It is a little harder than entering German (with umlaut characters such as ü) or French (with é and è), and other European languages. But it becomes easy with practice. All you have to understand is the diacritics that this weird and wonderful language uses in much abundance.

Vietnamese Characters

Many languages use diacritics - additional marks above or below letters. In the last paragraph, we saw the umlaut (two dots above the letter), the acute accent (a raising slash above the letter) and a grave accent (a falling slash below the letter). Diacritics are common with vowels in Latin alphabets, and are sometimes used with consonants as well.

English stands at one extreme: it hardly uses diacritics at all, except with the odd loan word. Vietnamese is at the other extreme - many letters use two diacritics at once. For example, the most common family name in Việt Nam is "Nguyễn". This makes it hard for foreigners to read and hard for many to remember. But there is method in all this madness. Each diacritic you encounter has only one purpose:

  • One set indicates the type of the vowel: beet versus bet, cart versus cut, and so on.
  • Another set indicates the tone: is it raising, falling, dipping or flat? Vietnamese is a tonal language. The writing style (or Quốc Ngữ) has tone built into it.
Let's look at the vowels first. Firstly, there are six vowels without diacritics; "a", "e", "i", "o" and "u" should be familiar to you. In Vietnamese, "y" is also always used as a vowel. Then there are 3 other vowels which use the circumflex "^" diacritic: "â", "ê" and "ô". Another diacritic used is the breve: "ă". Finally, there are two letters which have a pseudo-diacritic hook or "'": "ư" and "ơ". Note that the presence or absence of the hook, the breve and the circumflex says nothing about the tone of the letter. However, they are pronounced differently in the language, and are considered asseparate letters. This is important. Just as important are the tone markers or "dấu". I will provide the Vietnamese names, as they provide their own examples. You have these 5 tones to remember:
  • The acute accent, known in the tongue as "dấu Sắc". This indicates a rising tone.
  • The grave accent or "dấu Huyền". This indicates a shallow drop.
  • The dot below or "dấu Nặng". This is a deep, low drop - the Marianas Trench of tones.
  • Then you have the "question mark" tone, or "dấu Hỏi". Think of a low dip and then a rise.
  • Penultimately, you have the tilde or "dấu Ngã". This is similar to the "dấu Hỏi" except that you make it creaky and tighten in larynx - well, that is if you live in Hà Nội. In Sài Gòn, the Hỏi and the Ngã sound pretty similar. However, you should distinguish them in your writing.

The final tone is its absence: "không dấu" or no tone at all. Here, you keep the vowel flat, and by that I mean flat: no dipping or rising to intonate your emotions! Those vowels absent the 5 tonal markers are assumed to be flat in tone. That doesn't mean the absence of any other diacritics, such as the circumflex.

We must finally finish by mentioning there is an extra consonant in Vietnamese: Đ (lower case đ). This is just mentioned to get this out of the way. Don't confuse this with D and d: they are different letters, and have different sounds.

All of this may seem daunting for the Vietnamese beginner. The total range of vowels is 2 (lower case and upper case) by 6 (for the six tones) by 12 (for the 12 vowels in the language) = 144 possible vowels. Then you've got Đ and đ. How do you enter all these characters? There are two methods, as we shall see.

Entering Vietnamese

Firstly, there's the character map method. That's basically a program that shows you all the character for a given font inside a table. One example is the Character Map (charmap.exe) program inside Windows. Microsoft Office also provides a similar utility from the "Insert Symbol" menu command. The idea is that you click, copy and paste the characters you want to your given program. Here's a screenshot of Character Map in action:

Character Map on WinXP

You can use this if you want to display the odd Vietnamese character inside your file. I advise against it in the long run: it's tedious. After 10 point and clicks, you will get tired of the whole activity.

I recommend that you use a Vietnamese keyboard or keyboard driver for the task. Despite their name, they are not hardware: they are small programs that sit in your OS and convert your keystrokes into nice, lovely Vietnamese. And do I have a particular program in mind? Boy howdy, I do: Unikey. I've used it for about a year and a half without complaint. I like it so much that I've shut off rival keyboard drivers running on the same machine. The advantages of it are:

  • It's free. Nice to know, isn't it?
  • It's just a download away: for NT/2000/XP, for 95/98/MEor for Linux.
  • Installation is simple: just unzip it and it is ready to go.
  • It lacks bloat. It's a small program that does what it is does without any unnecessary feature.
  • It sits on the taskbar. This makes it easy to switch between "English" mode and "Vietnamese" mode: just click on the icon on the taskbar.
  • The user interface actually provides for English speakers, which makes it easier to understand.

(Of course, if you aren't happy with Unikey, you could look for other utilities. Look at the Vietnamese Unicode FAQs for more information. But rather than comparing all the utilities, I want one that works for me.)


When you start up Unikey, you see the following dialogue:

UniKey at Startup in Vietnamese

What does it all mean? Fortunately, you can find out what is happening by clicking on the "Mở rộng" button. "Mở rộng" means expand, and that's what you need to do.

UniKey in Vietnamese - now expanded

See the checkbox with "Vietnamese interface"? Uncheck it. The whole interface will turn into English:

UniKey now in English

That makes it a lot easier to use, doesn't it? Okay, here's what I recommend you do:

  • I recommend you always set the "Character Set" to Unicode - always. A character set is basically how characters like "ư" and "a" are represented as numbers that computers can handle. The Microsoft Office utilities and Blogger are set to handle Unicode by default. Unicode is an international standard, so you can't go much wrong with it. The only exception to this is if you have the misfortune to use one of the old VNI Fonts from years ago. But Unicode - good.
  • The "Input method" is what keystrokes will form a character like "ư". I prefer TELEX, but I will give instructions for using Unikey with VNI and VIQR as well. See the next section for instructions.
  • Advanced options: uncheck them all. Especially uncheck the "Use oa', uy' (instead of o'a, u'y)". This is an irritating preset that doesn't allow you to write "hoà"; instead it alwayscomes out as "hòa". You don't want that.
  • There's also the "Help" button - which provides you "Help" in Vietnamese. If you understand Vietnamese, it's nice to look at. If you don't, it's not of much assistance. Anyway, that's what this document is here for, isn't it?
  • Finally, there's "Auto-run UniKey at boot time". If it's your machine, I see no problem with it. If it's someone else's, then I advise against it.

Then click on "Close". The program will now sit on the taskbar - unobtrusive, yet available. If you see a big "V":

Sitting on the task bar - waiting for Vietnamese...

That means that it is set up to enter Vietnamese. But if you want to enter pure English, just click on the "V" and you will see:

Now it just outputs English, as it has done a million times before...

It's easy to toggle from one to another: left-click on the letter. And if you want to remove the program altogether: right-click on the letter, and on the resulting menu, click "exit".

Okay, now that it is running: what do I do? Reading the next section is a good way to start...

Input Methods

The idea of a keyboard driver is that it makes it easy to enter desired characters using the keyboard you have. UniKey doesn't even assume you have the "Alt" or "Ctrl" buttons. Instead, you press a combination of letters that tend to follow the following order:

  • If you want characters without diacritics, like "a", "b", or "c", then type them.
  • If you want characters with diacritics but no tone markers, then type the combination. For example "dd" in TELEX will create a "đ", and "ow" will create a "ơ".
  • Always add the tone afterwards.

The following table gives the combinations for all the Vietnamese characters in lower case. If you want upper case, then use upper case letters instead. For example, "DD" in TELEX will create "Đ", and so on. Here are the tables:

Desired letterTELEX VNIVIQR
âType "aa"Type "a6"

Type "a^"


Type "aw"

Type "a8"

Type "a("


Type "dd"

Type "d9"

Type "dd"


Type "ee"

Type "e6"

Type "e^"


Type "oo"

Type "o6"

Type "o^"


Type "ow"

Type "o7"

Type "o+"


Type "w" or "uw"

Type "u7"

Type "u+"

Add a "dấu Sắc"

Type a "s"

Type "1"

Type single quote "'"

Add a "dấu Huyền"

Type a "f"

Type "2"

Type reverse quote "`"

Add a "dấu Hỏi"

Type a "r"

Type "3"

Type "?"

Add a "dấu Ngã"

Type a "x"

Type "4"

Type tilde "~"

Add a "dấu Nặng"

Type a "j"

Type "5"

Type period "."

Remove tone

Type a "z"

Type "0"

Type "0"

To understand this, I will provide some examples:

Hai Bà TrưngType "Hai Baf Trwng""Hai Ba1 Tru7ng""Hai Ba` Tru+ng"
Tiếng ViệtType "Tieesng Vieejt"Type "Tie61ng Vie65t"Type "Tie^'ng Vie^.t"

Yes, it all seems a little tedious to learn. So choose one of the methods, and practice. I admit you may need a good motivation to do this. My motivations were (a) learning Vietnamese, and (b) retyping the names of Vietnamese students that had been provided sans diacritics.


What I've tried to do her is set up a tutorial for those unfamiliar with Vietnamese, and also unfamiliar with computers. Alot of this was learnt from consulting the original Vietnamese documentation, and also a lot of practice. Now if you are interested, practice as well. You may still encounter difficulties. For example:

  • You are trying to enter Vietnamese in a font that does not have Vietnamese characters. For example, fonts like "Georgia" and "Garamond" do not support them. That's a shame. For the time being, stick with "Arial", "Times New Roman" and "Courier New". There are others.
  • You are trying to enter Vietnamese in a pre-UNICODE "Vietnamese" font like VNI-Times. The result looks like poo. One way around it to set the "character set" to "VNI". However, I'd recommend against it, unless (a) you are printing it, or (b) you know the people you are sending the document to also have aVNI-font installed.
  • There's one problem that I've had with Excel. You enter a Vietnamese word in a cell. You try to enter another word in another cell. Then the "Auto-complete" feature tries to guess what you are entering, and make a mess of it. This has happened to me a few times. I suggest you turn "Auto-complete" off.
  • Finally, the program you are using doesn't support UNICODE at all, and cannot even understand what you are typing. For example, the main interface for the popular editor HTML-Kit cannot handle it.

But if you have a reason to learn Vietnamese, and if you are determined: go for it. I wish you the joy of discovery!

All mistakes in this document are mine.