Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's Coming Together (i.e., Money Has Been Spent)

Thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday, I was able to convene all the men in one place at one time to discuss dates, those little somethings needed in order to make reservations. I didn't even need to offer food to lure men to the table. I merely noted that the special on Eurail passes was about to expire, so money could be saved by meeting then and there, which we did.

The husband will meet with our travel agent when she's back from her own two-week vacation in South Africa, but he has several dates to work from in the hopes that some flexibility might get us a lower fare. We're shooting to fly to Ho Chi Minh City on March 3, 4, or 5, through either Paris (on Air France) or Amsterdam (on KLM). Amsterdam would be preferable in terms of our European plans, but if the air fare through Paris is cheap enough to offset the passage we'd then need between Paris and Amsterdam on the return leg, we could certainly go the French route. We plan to overcome jet lag and see a bit of Ho Chi Minh City before going to Hue on March 7. The first day of teaching is March 9.

The last day of teaching is April 4, and the husband has been invited to give a talk in Hanoi on April 6, which just happens to be his 58th birthday. After that, we'd like to spend two days on a junk sailing through Halong Bay. If you've seen the Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies, you've seen some of Halong Bay. Then it will be back to Ho Chi Minh City and, from there, on to Siem Reap, Cambodia and Angkor Wat. We've been warned by a friend in the know to keep an eye on the State Department's travel advisory website in case the Cambodia-Thailand border dispute takes a turn for the worse. If it has, and there are advisories against travel to Angkor, we'll see more of Vietnam and then fly to Europe from Ho Chi Minh City on April 13 or 14.

Once we're in Europe, the plan is to get from either Paris or Amsterdam to Oslo to let the younger son binge on Nordic history and culture. We'll also head to Trondheim to visit third and fouth cousins, descendants of the one who stayed in Norway when all his siblings emigrated to Canada and the U.S. Younger son has also requested some hiking in the Norwegian mountains, which I too would love, so we will endeavor to arrange that as well. Once we've done and seen as much as time allows in Norway, we'll head back to the Netherlands to show younger son where we lived when he was born and let older son visit a couple of places he says he vaguely remembers from the year we lived there, when he was two. The two places, Madurodam and Apenheul, are quite distinctive, so I wouldn't discount his memories. Madurodam is a miniature Dutch city, and Apenheul is an open-air primate zoo.

The husband and I will fly back on May 4, 5, or 6, and the young men will follow three weeks later. The Eurail pass special got them month-long passes for the price of three-week passes, so the continent is open to them. Since their passes are good for a month, they can also take a dry run excursion or two on their own while we're still over there with them. I did Europe at the same age younger son will be (19), so they should be fine. Still, as a Mom one of the things I do best is worry.

Loving it when a plan starts to come together!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Couple More Somethings To Think About

Someone I know who spent some time in Vietnam (and Hue) "during the conflict" has posed the question of whether the driver provided to us on weekends might really be a government minder taking note of where the Americans go and what they do during their free time. An interesting point to ponder ... and perhaps keep in mind if I decide to do National Novel Writing Month in 2009 and use the trip as a plot element.

Another thing to think about is how to take books, and possibly a lot of them, along with us. Kindles are pretty pricey, and we might need/want more than one. There is always Project Gutenberg since we'll have Internet access at the hotel, but that limits us to the classics or other works out of copyright. I need to investigate whether there's a way past the 4,000-odd character limit on text files put on an iPod. In other words, is there a way to use an iPod as an e-book reader and not just for audiobooks?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cool Beans!

I just learned that we will be housed in a hotel "around the corner" from the university and that--this is the Cool Beans! part--if we want to go somewhere on the weekend, the university furnishes a car and a driver. Let's see. I know of a nice beach and a nice fabric store (think silk here) down the road from Hue, so I already know of a couple road trips we'll be taking. It looks as though the first day of classes will be February 16 since they usually start a week after Tet. Now the question is do we want to be there for Tet? Off to the guidebooks!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Travel Can Be a Pain in the Arm

The trip has now become as real as the ache in my upper left arm from yesterday's two shots. We made a family visit to the University of Virginia Traveler's Clinic to look into what was required or recommended for visits to Vietnam and Cambodia. I had done some research on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and had some information on general health issues. With seven months remaining before the trip (though my husband has yet to provide the exact dates during which he will be teaching in Hue), it seemed a good time to look into this.

I had heard of the Traveler's Clinic many, many years ago when I worked for UVa's Vice President for Health Sciences but wasn't sure it still existed. It does, and it likely saved us a bunch of trouble. For one, it was easy to schedule an appointment for the whole family, something I'm not sure would have been as easy with the family doc; as it turned out, the per-person charge was also less for a group since the 10-page-long recommendations document only had to be prepared once.

The highlights of that report and our visit are as follows:

Yellow fever. Not an issue since we won't be going to an area with yellow fever before we get to Vietnam.

Malaria. This is actually going to require us to come up with a firm idea of what we plan to do while we're there. Hue, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) are not considered as at risk for malaria. This means that although we should protect ourselves against mosquitoes, we don't need to take a drug to help prevent malaria (chemoprophylaxis, which seems a superb word to me) while we're there. Although there is a risk of malaria in Siem Reap, Cambodia, chemoprophylaxis is not recommended for the typical traveler to Angkor Wat. Nor does it seem to be recommended for travel along the Mekong River between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, only in the Mekong Delta. So, we have to look at the guidebooks and talk to the travel agent and see what trips we might want to make to inland Vietnam or areas where the risk of malaria is high. Then, we figure out how many pills we will need, and fill in the number on the prescription we were given. There are various drugs used to prevent malaria; unfortunately, the one the docs recommended for us (based on the fact that malaria strains in Vietnam are resistant to some drugs and other drugs have some pretty wonky neurological side effects) is the most pricey, costing between $5 and $7 per pill. We would need to take one pill daily for two days before the visit to the malaria-prone area, the whole time we were there, and seven days after the visit. In other words, a one-day trip would cost around $250 for the four of us. What this means is that we won't be making several one-day trips, though I could see making a single trip of several days if there are some places we decide we really want to visit. And after we're back here, any unexplained fever or other serious medical symptom that arises in the next two years means a call to the family doc for a malaria test. And though we're all regular blood donors, none of us will be able to donate for a year.

Cholera. Not an issue, though it would be if we were aid and rescue workers.

Hepatitis A. This is recommended for all travelers, and none of us had had the vaccination series before. We all got the first shot yesterday and will go back on January 20 for the second. This is why I looked into all this seven months before the trip; thanks to the CDC website, I knew that Hep-A took six months, though we will have partial immunity from just the first shot.

Hepatitis B. This is recommended for anyone staying for a prolonged period. The sons and I had already had this series of shots, so the husband was the only one in need yesterday. He got away with only one shot, though, since there's a combined Hep-A and Hep-B vaccine. He has to go back in a month for the second Hep-B shot, and in January for the last Hep-A and Hep-B combination.

Japanese Encephalitis. If we were going in the May to October period, we probably would have opted to get this vaccination since that's the peak period of prevalence. Since we didn't get the vaccine, it's recommended that we be very careful with the insect precautions, something we'll be doing anyway bacause of the possibility of malaria.

Rabies. If we were going to be out in the countryside, this would have been recommended. Though it wasn't, we were warned to take any dog bite or scratch seriously in terms of follow-up.

As with Hep-A, this is recommended for all travelers. We elected to do the oral form of the vaccine rather than the shot, and will do that in January. It's five pills, taken every other day. The pills need to be refrigerated, something I found very interesting. It's easier to imagine a liquid needing refrigeration than a pill.

Finally, we all need to be up-to-date on the routine vaccinations, so elder son, husband, and I all got a tetanus-pertussis-diphtheria booster. Since younger son got one of these last year in preparation for going to college, he escaped it this year.

We also got a prescription for a high-powered antibiotic to take if we suspect we're getting "traveler's diarrhea." We were instructed to try a dose of Pepto Bismol or Imodium at the onset of any diarrhea, but if a single dose doesn't have any effect, to take a mega-dose of antibiotic. Several hours later, if there's still diarrhea, we can go back to the over-the-counter meds. The prescription is for enough pills to cover several cases for each of us, which we hope will be more than we need.

Armed with the travel report, I can now make more lists. First is things to put in our travel first-aid kit, including a thermometer, something I don't usually think to travel with. I also need to research the various insect repellants recommended (DEET for bodies, and permethrin for clothes) and see where I can get them in the quantities we might need. We were advised to carry DEET with us at all times and to apply it frequently. The docs stressed several times that as nasty as malaria is, it is preventable and treatable, and we must take it extremely seriously. Having done a bit of reading on malaria, I know to take the docs seriously in terms of the prevention as well as the follow-up.

And if this is more than any reader really wanted to know, well, part of recording this is so that I have everything written down for my own reference. It has also helped me sort through the various handouts we were given yesterday in addition to the lengthy report. I've already gone from a half-inch three-ring binder to a one-inch one. I may yet have to step up to the inch-and-a-half one or photocopy a bunch of stuff in duplex mode.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guess I Should Try for One Post in May ...

The saga continues albeit slowly. I managed to learn that the way to see if my laptop will work in Vietnam is to peruse the fine print on the adapter. It appears that Mr. Mac will function just fine over there as long as I procure the adapter kit to make the cord fit into whatever outlet presents itself. I could use the ragtag assortment we have somewhere around here from many years ago when we lived in Europe for a year, but it seems easier just to order the kit designed to go with the Apple adapter Mr. Mac already has. I haven't done that yet, but will next week when I get back from the coming long weekend in New Mexico.

In checking the family passports, I discovered that younger son's will expire in July 2009, less than six months past when we'll be in Vietnam. I'm not sure what they require in terms of passport expiration dates (some countries require passports to be valid for at least six months after the end of your stay), but I think he should get a new one now just to be safe. Of course, since his last one was issued before he turned 16, and he's now 18, he has to do the full application and appear in person to submit it. He can't renew his youth passport for an adult one by mail. More things for the list ... passport photos, hit the passport office at the main post office.

On the weekly Friday night trip to the local Barnes and Noble, I picked up a copy of the book Customs & Etiquette of Vietnam, by Geoffrey Murray. According to the "About the Author" section, he

spent a quarter of a century in the Far East as a business journalist/analyst, including 16 years in Japan, five in Singapore and four in China. He has been decorated by the Australian Government for his work as a war correspondent in Vietnam, and has recently returned there to complete his book. His other publications include Vietnam: Dawn of a New Market (1997) and Singapore: The Global City State (1996).

The editing in the book is less than adequate, with typos on almost every page. Still, I figured it can't hurt to know a bit about how not to be unintentionally offensive.

I also ordered a used copy of an out-of-print book called Sparring with Charlie by Christopher Hunt. It's the story of his motorcycle trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. My stepmother's niece recommended it, citing it as one of the reasons she's more than a little jealous of our upcoming month. Never mind that as a journalist in South Africa, she's done her own fair share of international travel and had her own fair share of adventures. I took it as a good sign that Vietnam was on the list of places she'd like to get to.

Other things still on the lists: visit the travel agent for literature on Angkor Wat, get dear husband to try to set up lunch or the equivalent with one of the professors who's done the Hue gig in the past so I don't have to rely on him to relay information or even to think of what questions to ask, and, surprisingly, see if dear husband has the exact dates for this great adventure yet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Starting Down the Lists

No formal lists on paper yet, but I've started to look into what immunizations we might need for the grand adventure as well as the electrical requirements of my good friend, Mr. Mac, who needs to come along so that I can keep up with my work.

According to the Vietnamese government's tourism website, "no vaccinations are officially required to visit Vietnam, but local medical authorities recommend protection against polio, diphtheria, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, and Japanese encephalitis. For travellers spending much time in the countryside, anti-malaria pills are recommended and you should take precautions not to get bitten. Repellents and mosquito nets are necessary." Hmmm. Just how up-to-date are my vaccinations? I do get a flu shot every year, and I had the hepatitis B sequence of shots when I was working at a school in 1996-97, but I can't recall the last time I had a tetanus shot, and I know I've never had hepatitis A or Japanese encephalitis vaccinations.

I had a physical last week and, obviously, had all this on my list of topics to cover with my doc. Her recommendation was to set up appointments for everyone in the family about six months before the trip. We'll check any new recommendations that may have come out in response to emerging outbreaks, and review everyone's immunization records. Hopefully we'll also have an idea by then of how big an issue malaria might be. Note to self: Remind my dear husband to find out just who in his department has taught at Hue before so that we can go out for lunch or have coffee with them.

According to the same website, electric power in Vietnam is 220V, with a frequency of 50 Hz. Since I am not the physicist in the family, I have no real idea what that means beyond that we will need to take adapter plugs and, something I learned only recently, to check to make sure my computer and any appliances we might take along can handle the different voltage. I learned this little fact on a quilting mailing list from a Brit friend who posted that "the husband works for a US owned company and they regularly have visitors who destroy their electrical equipment by running 240 volts through it." Note to self: Find out just what the capabilities and needs of Mr. Mac might be. I should be able to do that online, or by asking an IT-type around here. If all else fails, there's always the Mac store at the Short Pump mall.

Beyond that, I haven't done much other than print various info from the tourism website and purchase the April issue of National Geographic Adventure. Besides the photo of Harrison Ford on the cover, it had an article on "Traveler, Heal Thyself" that contained a list of supplies for a "portable ER." Since the advice I've read is that the safe plan is to take along any medical supplies we might need, I figured this article couldn't hurt. Since we won't exactly be in the backcountry, I doubt we'll need the multitool that's on the list, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to make sure we have the Ace bandage that's also there. More than anything, it gives me a good starting point from which to work.

Remaining to be thought about are visas, travel arrangements, and where we will live over there, items that I hope the university will be helping with. The awesome younger son also needs to decide if he wants to take spring semester off from school and come for the whole month or just make a short visit on his spring break. Since he started college as a third-year student, taking a semester off wouldn't really slow him down, though there would likely be some finagling to do in terms of his dorm room and the like. Stay tuned for details.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Why a New Blog? Hue!

Two weeks ago, I drove to North Carolina to meet with some colleagues regarding a book project. Right before I left, my dear husband phoned to ask what I would think about a month in Vietnam. This is the same husband who earlier this year dangled in front of me that he might teach in the Semester at Sea program next spring, meaning that I could accompany him on a four-month voyage around the world. Needless to say, I got to liking the idea and had many a fantasy of the places I'd go, the things I'd see, and the relative isolation being aboard a ship might provide that would be conducive to some serious writing. After all, he'd be teaching; I'd just be along for the ride. As it happened, he dashed my hopes upon a rocky shore when one of his nuclear physics experiments was scheduled for beam time at an accelerator during the time we would be away. This is a big no-no in the research and funding worlds, meaning the trip was off before it really started anywhere but in my imagination. As a result, when asked about spending a month in Vietnam I said something like, "Sure, whatever, sounds great to me" and hit the road south.

By the time I had arrived in Chapel Hill and checked into my hotel, my dear husband had consulted with his department chairman, checked with his funding agency and a lab or two, and submitted a request to the dean to add teaching a month-long course at the University of Hue to the sabbatical he had already had approved for spring 2009. There was no reason to think the dean wouldn't approve the switch, dear husband said, so I should start planning. Well, I said, if the book project did end up a go, I would have to have Internet access, not wanting to think about communicating with my co-authors and a publisher using Internet cafes to which I would carry my thumb drive. Dear husband assured me that would not be a problem.

Fast forward two weeks, and the dean has given her blessing. It appears that we will be spending a month, probably mid-February to mid-March, next year at the University of Hue, in central Vietnam. Next year will evidently be the third year that someone from the University of Virginia has gone to Hue to teach a one-semester course over the space of one month, similar to the way courses are compressed here during summer school. It's part of a program that a UVa physics faculty member who is Vietnamese started with some colleagues in Hue. I don't know the other faculty members who have taught in earlier years, but I do plan to ask dear husband if we can get together with them. It would be nice to hear firsthand just what sort of adventure we will be taking.

I thought that a new blog might be a good way for me to keep track of the various preparations that will have to take place (I have multiple mental lists that should at some moment be committed to a more stable medium than my mind) as well as to chronicle the adventure as it unfolds next year. For now the only plan we have is that our elder son will accompany us for the whole month given that he has finished his master's degree by then. Our younger son's spring break falls during the month we will be there, so he could come over for a week. We did purchase two guidebooks and a map so that we can start to get oriented. The Vietnamese physicist who helped start the program told my dear husband two things to plan on: drinking bottled water while there and taking several bottles of Pepto-Bismol with us. I've already added those to one of the mental lists.

Besides the aforementioned guidebooks, I've started looking at various travel websites for background. I printed off visa applications only to have dear husband offer that he thought the folks at the university there would be assisting with those. I'm having a physical in two weeks and have needed shots on the list of items to discuss with my family doc. I need to ask someone about a power converter for the laptop. Lots to do, but by starting now, about a year before we would be getting back, I hope to get it all done without too much scurrying to and fro randomly panicking. Yeah, I know, the best-laid plans...