Friday, January 04, 2008

Yes Erica, Vietnam is Still a Developing Country.

Maybe I’ve spent too much of my recent life in a Black Hole, but there are days (and weeks even) in Vietnam that I can begin to forget just how far this country has come in such a short period of time. And how much further it still needs to go. It’s easy to take for granted a certain amount of progress that has been made – and begin to assume that it is an indicator of how much more progress must have already been made. Often, what you’re busy taking for granted is actually an indicator of the cutting edge here. I’m not talking about bathrooms and paved roads – that would’ve been Madagascar. Things are slightly more evolved here, if only slightly.

Let’s take my most recent experience with technology: establishing a wireless network in the privacy of my own new home in Cao Bang Town, Cao Bang Province, Rural, Mountainous Northern Vietnam.

When I arrived in Vietnam over a year ago I discovered one of the major perks of my new job was not only having relatively fast and reliable internet access in my office, but having a wireless internet network in my office. And since I was living in that office, having that same wireless internet access in my home was an even bigger perk. Since that had all be established before my arrival on the scene, I took its existence for granted…up until our router decided to die an untimely and (fortunately under-warranty) early death. Then for several days we had a variety of Vietnamese-nerd males bouncing in and out of the office getting things back online. I suggested my potential interest in the goings-on, but was summarily dismissed from any consultation and with the language barrier I found I couldn’t force the issue. The network has since functioned reasonably well, despite some concerns that the geek squad from the post office ISP have continued to refuse to address.

Still, when the time came almost a year later for me to venture into the world of private internet access in the home, I wasn’t completely optimistic. But the process was not only surprisingly quick, it was also almost unbelievably cheap and painless – so much so that I figured I could justify the cost of picking up a used router in Hanoi and bring it up north.

I set about setting it up myself, with help from a friend. Things clipped along quite smoothly until I ran smack into the first wall – the Wi-Fi router insisted that it needed to know my username and password for my ISP.

Errr, ummm, I didn’t have one? I remembered clearly that I had asked the guys during the 15 minute hook-up if I would need one of those, but the jaunty reply was, “Nope!” He made it sound as if the idea was really rather passé. Well, now I need one.

And so, the saga begins. First I recruited my poor translator to call the ISP and ask them for some basic information: username and password. When I said “wall” – I meant sheer granite cliff. No going under, around or through. Only way left is to climb it. And so we did, for days. Apparently usernames and passwords aren’t information that is easily shared with the client. They gave me a website that I could conveniently enter that information into to receive my account information, but without that basic information to begin with, I wasn’t quite sure what they were expecting me to do at the website. Several more phone calls later, and my so-patient translator announced they were finally going to come to my house to set it up themselves.

Fine – I can agree to this – as long as I can watch and learn what is going on.

And here’s assumption number two: the geeks that will arrive at your house will know how to set up a wireless internet system.

Christmas Eve. I have had random assortments of not-so-geeky looking men wander in and out of my house all day to stare at my computer. I mean not-so-geeky in the sense that I don’t think any of them actually know how to use a computer beyond the basic “click this until it does that” training that they must’ve received at some point. They fumble with the cords and connections a bit and I give each new batch about 15 minutes go just in case one of the new guys really does know something. Then I have to come back in, put everything back in order and guide them to the set-up page and show them the information I need (username and password). The last guys who came looked at it for about an hour, then plugged the cable into my computer, bypassing the wi-fi router completely and stood back and shouted "voilà - internet!" Yeah, duh, I know, if you plug in the computer directly then it works. But that's not the point of the wi-fi.So, I mean stare in the sense that that’s really the most productive thing any of them did in their random traversing of my living room.

And this is where I stop and reconsider: yes Erica, this is still a developing country. When I stop to really think about it, I’m pretty sure that my house, once a wi-fi network is successfully established, will represent the second wireless hotspot in all of Cao Bang Town – the first being in our offices. And of course, the internet service provider that cares for our office network is not the same as the one providing my home internet service. They probably had to call some poor geek all the way up from Hanoi to set up our office network, and now I’m really stressing the capacity of the this ISP office.

Still, all I need is my username and password!!!

Finally, one of the groups to come over makes a phone call and almost magically I see letters and numbers coming out of the end of his pen that very much resemble the type of information I need – a username and password, even if it still looks a bit funny. Halleluiah. So, we type the information in and sit back and wait…and wait…and wait. Nothing happens. So they disconnect the cords, move some cables around and suddenly voilà! I have internet again! All because I’m plugged directly back into the modem. Sigh.

And, so, with that, I thank them and send them on their merry way, certain that they have done their last good deed for 2007.

And I am left to figure out what’s going on. Fortunately after a bit more fumbling and discovering that that original site for checking my account won’t work on my home account, but will on my work network, I confirm what my username and password are actually supposed to be. Then I return to the puzzle, and after a lot of Googling and checking around and almost 3 weeks after this all started, I discover that my ADSL modem is not set to “bridging” – which possibly some geeky-type-person might argue isn’t actually necessary, but hey, I changed it and VOILÀ, miracle of miracles, my wi-fi router now officially works. Look ma – no cables! I can now update my blog from my bed if I like.

And so, the moral of the story remains: when in a developing country, always remember you are in a developing country. This may well mean that you could well be the highest authority on any given topic on any given day, if only because you happen to speak fluent English (or another major language) and have internet search skills. Capacity, my friends, does not always come in the form of actual expertise.

1 comment:

Mom & Dad said...

Sounds like the still developing country of Northern Wisconsin!