When Gadgets Go Wrong in Vietnam

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We are just a week away from the four-month mark in Vietnam.  Half of me wonders where the time went, and the other half feels like we’ve been in Vietnam forever.

While I’m not sure one ever feels settled into life on the road, things are finally starting to normalize for us.  We’ve learned some key words and phases in Vietnamese, and we have a routine of sorts, particularly on riding days.  Everyday tasks that once required Herculean effort (like finding routes, getting bikes repaired, finding hotels, etc.) are now mostly second nature.

Of course, life is never that easy, and being so consumed by all the little details of daily living can leave one blindsided by the big problems.  Take, for example, a broken laptop screen.  This, and tech issues in general, are a pain in the ass for anyone, anywhere.  I dare you to find me someone who just loves dealing with IT problems, and that includes professionals.

Now imagine dealing with such a problem in rural Vietnam.  In an instant, all the progress and normalization goes out the window.

We found ourselves in this very predicament when we arrived in Ha Giang city, capital of the famed Ha Giang province, considered to be Vietnam’s final frontier and the most beautiful and rugged part of the country.  I would concur, but, unfortunately, this remoteness makes the area just about the worst place to open your laptop for an afternoon of writing, only to find the screen irreparably cracked.

After a short-ish period of wallowing, we asked the hotel about our chances of finding a repair shop in town.  The good news: there were indeed repair shops “all over town.”  The bad news: no one seemed interested in telling us where one was located.  We would just have to ride around and find one ourselves.

As luck would have it, we found a shop pretty quickly.  Though Google Translate leaves much to be desired when translating between English and Vietnamese, we managed to work out an arrangement to get a screen over-nighted from Hanoi.  True to promise, the screen was waiting for us when we arrived at the shop at 9:00 a.m. the following morning.  So far, so good.

Then, the screen turned out to be a millimeter too wide.  The shop guys fiddled around with it for some time, even taking it somewhere else in town while we patiently twiddled our thumbs.  All to no avail.  They apologized and asked us if it would be alright to leave the computer and come back the next day at 10:30 a.m.  This made sense – we figured they’d just have another screen sent and get right to it first thing in the morning.  Heck, maybe they would even have it finished by the time we arrived to pick it up.

This is where our luck ran out.

We arrived at the shop at 10:30 a.m. the next day to find it closed.  I tried calling their various listed phone numbers.  This seemed like a good plan until one of them answered, and I was reminded that we don’t speak the same language.  We switched to texting, and I got an apology and a request to come back at 6:00 p.m. with no explanation as to why.  Um … no.

They eventually came in (after their neighbor called on our behalf) and explained that my laptop was currently in Hanoi, would take three more days to fix, and cost TRIPLE what we had agreed upon.

At this point, we demanded that the laptop (and our deposit) be returned.  That this had all been done without our permission, not even a heads up, and that they weren’t at the shop at the agreed upon time were enough for us to feel uncomfortable moving forward.  After much back and forth, they promised to have our laptop and our deposit back to us at 6:00 p.m. that same night.  Just to be safe, we had our hotel call to confirm as much – twice.

Of course, when we arrived at 6:00 p.m., the shop was closed.  AGAIN.  This time, the guys got wise and let my repeated calls go to voicemail, so we had no way of reaching them.  The neighbors were alternately laughing and yelling at us, presumably that the shop was closed.

Eventually, someone (not any of the people we had worked with) showed up and handed over the computer, but she refused to give us our deposit back.  We had to call our hotel again and put him on the phone with the woman before she would hand it over.  She too found the whole situation wildly funny.

That was almost a week ago, and we are still short a computer.  Our current solution, sharing H’s MacBook, is less than ideal.  Between the big stuff like editing photos and writing, not mention smaller tasks like keeping in touch with friends and family, managing money, working on taxes, logging expenses, etc., we need to be working simultaneously if we have any hope of keeping up.

I hope you’ll bear with us while we get this resolved.  Since we are gluttons for punishment, we are attempting repair for a second time, hopefully with a better outcome now that we are in the touristy town of Sa Pa and have the support of a lovely hotel staffer.  Wish us luck.

UPDATE 1, 3/16/2014:  If you wished us luck, it didn’t do much good, as the second attempt has also failed (but thanks anyway for the thought).  Everything was going great with our contact in Sa Pa – it would take almost a week for a guy to go to Hanoi, procure the screen, return, and install it, but we were willing to wait.  Then, the night before the guy was to return, he went out drinking, crashed his motorbike, and ended up in the hospital.  So much for that option.  

UPDATE 2, 3/17/2014:  We bought an IPad.  It’s less than ideal, but we had to have another device, and we decided to spend a bit more money on something we’d actually use once we can manage to get my screen fixed.  

UPDATE 3, 4/4/2014:  We made a third attempt with high hopes since we had found an actual Acer support center in Vientiane.  Once again, failure.  The support center told us it would take at least two weeks to fix, as they needed to bring in a screen from Bangkok.  Apparently, they are using a carrier pigeon for this task.  There can be no other explanation, as Google Maps tells me I can actually walk to Bangkok from Vientiane in less time than that.  As a stop gap, we found a keyboard for the IPad, making it much more useful. 

UPDATE 4, 5/10/2014:  If you can believe it, the screen is fixed.  Yes, FIXED.  Finally.  After over two months of what seemed like an endless parade of failed attempts, we found an Acer support center in Chiang Mai, and they had it fixed in one day (are you listening, Vientiane support center???).  Glory be.  I will never complain about America again.

One Response

  1. […] As you may have read, we’ve had laptop issues, which are still unresolved (our second attempt to fix my broken screen ended when the repair guy decided to get drunk, crash his motorbike, and put himself in the hospital) and now compounded (H’s MacBook screen also cracked, and though still usable, makes processing photos tough). […]

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