Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An and Nha Trang - Say It 10 Times Fast!

As our trip slowly started to wind to a close we still had 4 more cities to see in 4 days.  Thankfully we were able to drive between 3 of them because we were pretty tired of flying by then.  As this point we had added about 10 pounds to our luggage and Matt was carrying around a 4 foot tube filled with art that airport security regarded warily every time we passed though.  One of our guides grabbed it and and threw it on his shoulder while yelling "I've got a bazooka!"  Ummm, not at the airport buddy!

So we had done the South, and the North and down we were off to see the "Middle" of Vietnam.  We began in Hue (pronounced hway) which was the imperial capital of the country until 1945.  It's a conservative little town poised on either side of the beautiful Perfume River.
Entering the hotel in Hue.
Everybody loves an infinity pool!
Our shower - too cool!  Only problem is the geckos enjoy the steam as much as you do.
Setting sail on the Perfume river to head to the pagodas.  The Trang Tien bridge is in the background.

 The Perfume River, so called because blooms and flowers float down from upstream in the mountains.

The Thein Mu Pagoda built in 1844.  It is an iconic symbol of Vietnam and of Hue.  In the 60's a number of political demonstrations took place here.  In the courtyard is the car that transported monk Thich Quang Duc to the site of his 1963 self-immolation.  He was the first monk to set himself on fire and the photograph made headlines around the world.
There was a monastery at the pagoda an we visited with these young monks during their free time.  They are adherents of the Mahayana school of Buddhism so they shave their head all but for the front tuft of hair and wear brown robes.  We asked what they were reading for fun and they showed us their book - they were studying nerve synapses and stem cells!
One of the restored portions of the old Citadel.
I can only imagine how beautiful the entire palace was if this is just a small piece of what remains.
 The front gate of the Minh Mang burial tomb.  He ruled from 1820-1840 and had the tomb built before he died.  It's know for being one of the most beautiful and harmonious tombs.
Getting ready to pass through the gate to the Sung An Temple in the tombs.
When we got to the temple we received quite a surprise.  They were filming a historical film there!  The crew was set up and the actor on the right was rehearsing his lines.  We stopped in to watch through the doors, when a newscaster approached our tour guide and asked us to to an interview for Vietnamese TV!  The whole exchange was translated via our guide, of course, but it was a lot of fun!  If anyone with Vietnamese TV package on their cable box sees our interview - let us know!
Being interviewed on set!
He's portraying an early emperor.
We drove from Hue to Da Nang via the Hai Van Pass.  The scenery was gorgeous.  At the peak is a bombed out old French fort that was used as a South Vietnamese and American bunker.
 Marble Mountain in Da Nang contains a number of natural caves that have been turned into Buddhist sanctuaries.
They were also used during the war as hospitals.
We arrived in Hoi An just in time for the sunset.  There were major storms passing through and you can see the rain on the mountain in the distance.
Hoi An is tiny little fishing village that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site as it's a surprisingly intact traditional fishing village.
Our greeter at the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese Congregation.
All life here revolves around the river.
Morning fishing and crabbing.

Did I forget to mention that Matt was driving the sampan we are on?
 And controlling the throttle with his big toe?
Even Bessie likes to hang out on the river.
We went a bit out of the way to see what the shipyards look like here.  These guys thought having their picture taken was the funniest thing!
The Japanese Covered Bridge - built in 1590 to link the Chinese and Japanese settlers on opposite sides of the river.
Hoi An by night.

Last stop Nha Trang!  Our visit to Nha Trang was bittersweet.  With only one night to spend in this beachside town we spend a lot of time lamenting that it was our last night!  Once we got over how much we were going to miss Vietnam we did our very best to make the most of our last day.  Nha Trang was nice, but years and years of being a back packer destination have left their imprint.  Example: while walking on the side walk a moto driver crossed 4 lanes of traffic to approach us - I thought for a fare - instead he whispered "hey do you want weed?"  Dude - have you seen 'Locked Up Abroad'?  NO thanks!  It's not unspoiled like the UNESCO sites, but that sure doesn't mean it wasn't fun.  Here's our last day in Vietnam.
The Nha Trang aquarium, made to look like a beached junk.  You have to walk through a lion fish to enter - ooooooo.  We were on our way to snorkel in the amazing reefs off the coast - to bad we don't have water proof case for our new camera! :(
 On second thought going to an aquarium before snorkeling really isn't a good idea.  Do I really want to be reminded of what is swimming in the depths?
 Here comes the rain, do da do da, here comes the rain, and I say it's all right...

It does this every day, but this one came on particularly fast!

Heading out of Nha Trang...
Bye, bye Vietnam!

Thanks for tagging along with us!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Daily Local News in Dubai (Who Would Have Thought?)

Lisa and I got a special treat earlier this week as we sat down with a reporter from our hometown!  The Chester County Chamber of Commerce decided to take a trip to our little Emirate to see what all the hub-bub was about and one of the members is a reporter  for the Daily Local News.  After we sat down to lunch with him for a few hours, we were thrilled to find out that our story was slated for the front page of the business section yesterday.  How exciting!

Have a look at the article, pictures, and video here:

Or just scroll below...

September 27, 2010
Daily Local News
"West Caln sisters forging their careers in Dubai"
By: Brian McCullough

For two Coatesville-area sisters, the road to Dubai has been a long and sometimes rocky one.

Long, because Dubai is far enough away from Chester County that Lisa Shaver missed her 22nd birthday while on a flight to the Middle East emirate, one of seven that comprise the United Arab Emirates.

Rocky, because of the timing of her decision to join her sister, Katie, who forged the path to Dubai with her husband, Matt Mueller, after he had taken a job in the emirate with Harvard Medical International.

When Lisa arrived in August 2008 shortly after graduating from Temple University with a marketing degree, Dubai was still a boom town with little warning of the financial meltdown that was about to take place, the sisters from West Caln recalled over lunch in Souk Madinat marketplace in the city on Friday.

Lisa, 24, began her career in Dubai selling advertising for an English-speaking women's fashion magazine when the market was still strong.

She went home that Christmas and when she returned things had changed.

"That's when people started getting really nervous," Lisa recalled.

The global financial crisis had hit, and Dubai was right in the middle of it. Projects that were going gangbusters crashed to a halt, and Katie Shaver had an uncomfortably close, front-row seat for the events that were about to unfold.

Katie worked at Tatweer, a subsidiary of Dubai Holding, the company set up by the government of Dubai to manage its assets and investments.

Katie said she was thrilled to become head of communications for the executive chairman's office, especially since she arrived in the country in January 2008 as a trailing spouse. In Dubai, she explained, it's hard to land a job without contacts, even more so than in other countries.

"For three or four months it was really exciting, this was the company building Dubailand, Universal City and the Tiger Woods golf course," she recalled. "I worked in an office (in Dubailand) where you would walk into the building and there were two live Bengal tigers there."

Katie started her job at Tatweer in May 2008 and was caught up in the country's "huge plans."

Then, January 2009 brought the financial crisis to her doorstep with revelations that many of the projects were severely overleveraged.

"2009 was the lost year for companies in Dubai," Katie said. "It was no longer fun to be the top communicator. It went from fun to how do you most appropriately write a redundancy letter."

The U.S. equivalency for redundancy letters are pink slips.

"That was difficult," said Katie, 28. "My role had always been to be creative."


And, the ramifications of unemployment in Dubai are far greater than in the U.S. or other Western countries.

Employment laws in the United Arab Emirates require dismissed foreign workers, who make up the bulk of the UAE's workforce and who are known locally as "expats," to leave the country within 30 days following the termination of their employment visas.

Expats make up roughly 85 percent of Dubai's overall population, and the Shavers say nearly all contact the public has with workers in places like restaurants and hotels as well as other private businesses are with foreign workers. (The locals, or Emiratis, work mostly in the government, which is why Katie had a different experience from most expats in working with Emiratis at Tatweer.)

"I haven't worked with a local since I got here," said Lisa, who changed jobs in January and now works for Explorer Publications, which puts out guidebooks, maps and other products for expats working in or traveling to the UAE. "I've never had a conversation with a local. Here, you only come across people who are not from here."

Added Katie: "The real power here is to know someone who knows someone who knows someone."


The foreign worker situation is one of the differences the sisters see in doing business in Dubai, but far from the only one. Take the job interview process, for instance.

Employers can ask prospective employees questions that would be unlawful in America, including whether they're married, their religion and whether they plan to get pregnant.

"That was a big shock for me," Lisa said of the process.

"The interview process is a no-holds-barred process here, that's for sure," Katie concurred.

When employers advertise in publications, they can specify what age and gender they are looking for in the job seeker and can state, "Locals Only Apply."


Another difference is the overall business culture, the sisters said. Traits coveted by U.S. employers — being a straight-shooter, a multi-tasker and highly efficient — don't translate in the emirates.

"Punctuality is not valued at all," Lisa said. It is not unusual to wait 45 minutes for a meeting only to find out it's been canceled, she added.

Instead, relationship-building is the key component in doing business in Dubai.

"Once you know that, then you can adapt to it," Katie observed.

Another cultural change for foreign workers is working within Muslim guidelines. Five daily calls to prayer are observed by everyone — non-Muslims take discrete breaks during the observances — and the month-long Ramadan observation means restaurants are closed during the day.


Dubai has big advantages, the Shavers said. It serves as "a jumping-off opportunity" for travelers. Katie recently returned from a two-week vacation to Southeast Asia while Lisa visited Jordan and India during the summer.

The country is also extremely safe. Crime is rare. The sisters believe the reason for that is two-fold: the punishment is tough and expat workers can't afford to be deported, which would be automatic for someone found guilty of a crime in Dubai.

"They are supporting a huge amount of people back home, they can't take the risk," Katie noted.

Added Lisa: "It's 20 times safer than Philadelphia."


The sisters aren't sure what the future holds for them in Dubai, but say they've learned a lot from the experience of living in the emirate.

Katie, who left her job at Tatweer in January, is doing sales and marketing consulting. She also spends a good deal of her time as a board member on the American Business Council of Dubai and is earning her master's degree in political management from George Washington University. She believes she'll be returning soon to the U.S.

Lisa said there's a "three-year itch" when it comes to living in Dubai. If she does leave, she'd like to move to another foreign country.

"Once you return to the United States, it's tough to leave," she said. "New York would be the end game."

Recent government reports indicate Dubai's economy is bouncing back — and the sisters each said that's their impression, too. For Lisa, advertising is improving at her publication while Katie has another barometer: For the first time since the financial crisis hit she made a dinner reservation last week. During the crisis, reservations weren't necessary, but recently they've been filling back up.

Halong Bay and 1st Wedding Anniversary

Yup.  That's it.  I'm not sure if I could have dreamed up a more serene, majestic and jaw-droppingly beautiful place to celebrate our 1st year of wedded bliss.  As luck would have it, the plan was to spend the night aboard a 'junk' sailing Halong Bay.  Things only got better when we realized that the boat was just for the 2 of us!  So we set sail on a rainy and grey morning and we ended the day - if you can believe it - with a massive rainbow and the the same time!!  I kept running from one side of the boat to the other in total disbelief and because both were so beautiful I couldn't choose which one to take in longer!  Thankfully Matt was there to make both scenes live on in his photographs for us to enjoy for years to come (sunset above).  I'll always look back on this as an incredibly special anniversary and I can't wait to see where we will celebrate the next one!
Our vessel the "Princess"
 In the mist it looks like all the outlines of the rocks are just super-imposed on each other, like a negative.  There are over 2,000 natural islands that rise out of the water of the Gulf of Tonkin.
Hiking up one of the rock faces on our way to the caves!
 The huge rock faces of Halong Bay are full of amazing caves that have been carved over ten of thousands of years.  Just don't get stuck in there when the tide comes in!  The cave entrance floods and you can't get our for hours.
Kayaking in the rain on the bay.  We got soaked!
While we were kayaking our crew passed the time by engaging in sand soccer match, which Matt prompted joined as soon as we were on shore.  Check out that header!
The rain finally started to clear in the afternoon and we took a swim in the bay.  Just us and a few baby squids. :)
Puffy clouds means the sun is coming!
I don't even think the picture does it justice.  Rainbow over the bay...
...and sunset on the other side!
Our 1 year anniversary dinner on the deck.

The crew then surprised us by serving us our three main courses with a succession of amazing fruit carvings.  Apparently, it's just something the chef does "in his spare time".  They were amazing.  We couldn't stop taking pictures!
The cranes.
The falcon.
and a watermelon replicia of the actual boat we were on!  Complete with 'Shaver-Mueller' sails.  In included the paddles, the deck chairs, the cables - everything!  and was lit inside by candlelight.  It was truly extraordinary.  Everything you see is fruit!
The next morning we took a tour of some of the floating villages on the bay.  Families live out here full time!
Boarding our tender to get to the sampan.
We were offered traditional hats for our journey.  Matt appeased me with the picture.  I wore mine the whole time, the shade was great!
Puffer fish comes to say hi!
Even the dogs are relaxed in the bay.
One last shot - because I literally can't help it!