19/03/10 - A rent increase :-{

I am in Hanoi to try and sort out a few issues before going to Cambodia. Nothing earth shattering.


There was a disappointing development related to Laugh cafe in Hoi An though. We signed a 5 year lease on 126 Tran Cao Van just under a year ago. It provided for rent increases in line with Vietnam's CPI, which was around 8.5% for the preceding 12 months. The landlord(s) (it is a family) decided that they wanted a 30% increase. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a court process in Vietnam fro such matters. It appears that the procedure is to go to the local Peoples' Committee (i.e. the Party), and it also appears that everyone is reluctant to do this as the decisions are often based on matters other than the facts. In out case it appears that the landlord is a Party member. We settled for a 20% increase but this means that the same process will be gone through next year, so the sad decision is that we will look for a new premises in 12 months. A very disappointing outcome.


The Childrens' Hospital in Siem Reap continues to be busy; I have appended the latest statistics below.

AHC statistics for February 2010

27/02/10 - The end of Tet in Vietnam

I came to HaNoi on Thursday night to sort out the funds for Laugh Cafe's rent for the next year. The exchange rate in Hanoi is substantially better than I can get Hoi An or Danang. I use a publicly listed money dealer, Kim Linh, who seem to be not only the biggest but one of the best. Tet holidays are like Christmas and New Year holidays; they are often extended. The holiday period has definitely ended now with the Vietnam Prime Minister now spruiking about how much money and rice had been given to poor families to help them at Tet; (378 billion VND - say US$19.7 million - was given to 1.8 million families - about $20 each family on average, although I suspect that the division is not that equal). The PM used the opportunity to instruct ministries, provinces, cities and sectors to follow his instructions for the "socio-economic tasks for 2010" and to adhere to a Resolution already issued to regulate markets, prices and goods; and to maintain the discipline of workers. He instructed relevant authorities to prevent forest fires, and to tackle drought, and to manage diseases of crops and animals. Ministries were instructed to prevent accidents, limit traffic jams and ensure traffic safety. Obviously this will ensure a happy 2010.

A change that I noticed during Tet this year; my phone worked. I am told that this is the first time in the 15 year history of mobile phone service in Vietnam that the system has not failed during Tet. One thing that has not yet ended, I notice it in the market in Hoi An and now I see it in the markets in HaNoi. Fruit and vegetable prices are between 2 and 4 times the pre-Tet price and have not gone down. Beef and poultry are about 50% higher that 3 weeks ago and show no signs of falling. At Laugh Cafe we have had to raise prices by 10% to ensure that we have enough money just to buy food at the market the next day. If prices do no fall then we will have to look at further changes - not a happy prospect. Prices in other areas also rose dramatically over Tet. Bus fares of private (unlicensed) buses doubled immediately following the holiday as hundreds of thousands (about 100,000 a day at `the two main bus stations in Saigon) descended on bus terminals to return to their homes.

02/02/10 - Tet - Chuc Mung Nam Moi

A few days were spent in Hanoi, tracking down some items I wanted for Laugh Cafe and catching up with a few friends. My apologies to those that I did not get in contact with, for lack of time, not lack of intent. Laugh Cafe is, as expected, doing OK. The Tet ( (Tet Nguyen Dan - Vietnamese New Year. It translates from the old Sino-Vietnamese as Feast of the First Morning) holiday is almost upon us and, last year, it proved a bit of a bonanza. Many restaurants in Hoi An (in fact all over Vietnam) close for the Tet break. Laugh Cafe stays open and business increases. Having said that, there are fewer tourists around at the moment, so it may not be as busy as 2009. We shall see. Tet is important, not only for families but for restaurants too as it is the time when the "kitchen gods" report to the emperor of heaven on the activities that have gone on in the kitchen in the previous year. (See; I said it was important :-)

I have been invited to spend a two days over Tet with a family outside HaNoi, so I will not be in HoiAn for a few days of the break. The Vietnamese calendar is close to, but not identical to the Chinese calendar. A few of the creatures are different [The Vietnamese zodiac has the "cat" instead of the "rabbit". Vietnamese replace the Chinese "sheep" with "goat" (the word for the two animals is the same in Mandarin, I am informed.) The "ox" or "cow" of the Chinese zodiac is a water buffalo (sửu/trâu) in Vietnam]. Tet is January 14, 2010

A few months ago I sent a pallet of equipment to Vietnam destined for Laugh. The cost of getting it from Australia to HCMC was a bit over $100. Trying to get it cleared through customs and transported to Hoi An proved to be so expensive that it was beyond a joke and beyond our resources. We abandoned the shipment (although that cost another $140 odd) Since the contents were donated and can all be replaced it is not a great disaster, but it did bring home the difference in treatment between local and foreign transactions in Vietnam. I carried 10 tablecloths with by luggage to substitute for the 60 that were in the shipment, and will do the same for the next few (years??) until I figure out a better way.

Thank you to all who supported our appeal in January for donations for the rent for the Laugh Cafe building for next year. Together with what we have saved from trading we will have sufficient to pay our landlord, even if, as expected, the rent rises by 10%. Property values in Hoi An are still rising. Enough for the moment. I do not want your eyes to get tired reading my ramblings.

16/01/10 - AHC statistics for December 2009

AHC statistics for December 2009‏


Despite an ever growing list compiled by Cardiologist Dr. Ngeth Pises & Radiologist Dr. Luy Lyda stating there are more than 1,000 patients at AHC still requiring open & closed heart surgeries, 36 successful closed pediatric heart surgeries took place at Angkor Hospital for Children in December.

AHC welcomed back a ten-person Cardiac Team from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) led by Dr. Paul Grossfeld. Over one week, Dr. Grossfeld's team performed 26 of these surgeries, ranging from simple to extremely complex.

Later in December, Dr. Sriram Shankar and his Cardiac Team from Singapore operated on another ten cardiac patients with complex conditions. In 2005, Dr.Shankar traveled to AHC and initiated the first cardiac surgeries. AHC's own Dr. Vuthy assisted and performed several of the operations under Dr. Shankar's supervision. A big Thank You to our excellent hospital nurses and doctors, to all the members of the visiting Cardiac Teams, and to the many generous donors who contributed toward the Kardiac Kids program.

08/01/10 - An appeal for support

Laugh Café has been in its “new” home for more than 8 months. It is doing well and there have been two students who have come and moved on to better positions, as a direct result of their time at Laugh. The training we offer is not formal; students learn “on the job”, and everyone has to do a little (sometimes a lot) of everything. English, at least as it is used in a restaurant environment is a requirement; table service is a requirement; bill preparation and presentation is a requirement; restaurant presentation is only of interest to some as is kitchen management and restaurant management. Everyone works in the kitchen, where tasks include food preparation and presentation as well as the obvious one of cooking (being a cook is not a requirement, although preparation and presentation are). The objective is that young people can find out what they are good at, and make some decisions about what sort of positions they mighty like to apply for, outside the world of Laugh Café.

We need to pay 12 months rent in advance and this falls due in March 2010. The rent for 12 months has yet to be calculated exactly but it will be very close to 68,000,000 VND (68 Million). That is around AU$4000 or US$3800. We have around 20,000,000 already so we need another 48,000,000 VND [AU$2800 / US$2600]. Laugh Café has generated enough money from its operations to pay for the care and feeding of its students (this includes paying them a modest mount each month as well as providing a bed and all meals, basic toiletries such as toothpaste, shampoo etc. as well as clothes washing facilities and the like). In addition, since moving in to 126, we have purchased new tables and chairs, linen, plates, bowls, glasses, pots and pans, new sinks, kitchen extractor fan, kitchen benches for food preparation, restaurant fans, new lighting, signs, loudspeakers, painted the place, installed a hot water service and…well, you get the idea. With support from generous donations we have also purchase a new refrigerator, microwave oven and griller oven. We have done remarkably well and will continue to do so, but we need your help.


The least expensive way to put funds in our account, from within Australia, is by bank transfer.
BANK: NAB, 292 Pitt St, Sydney
BANK/ BRANCH (BSB) 082 080
ACCOUNT NO. 82160 9147

If you are not in Australia, the best option appears to be Paypal. Using Paypal means you have to set up a free account. If anyone has discovered a better option we would be very happy to hear about it. PAYPAL EMAIL is:; that is how we are identified, by my email address. Please contact me if you have suggestions, or need more information.

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