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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Introduction: Laos, Top to Bottom (January 2016)


Last January, I went to Laos with my friend Mariana. This is the introduction to a series of posts about my trip (links to the series will follow at the bottom of each post, including this one, as I publish them).

Really, the first thing I have to say is: WOW. It's a beautiful country, and I daydream about being here often! Especially the North... sigh. 🙏

Even here in Vietnam, countries that are neighbors for a loooooong stretch of border, I rarely hear anything about Laos, or see any Laotian people. It was a black hole in my knowledge of the region. I was very interested in comparing my experiences in Laos to experiences in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I wanted the food, the nature, and the culture, and I got all three in spades.

We visited the North and the South (leaving out some of the Center, sadly, due to time), and experienced a country rich with tradition and history, just beginning to bloom on the international ecotourism stage... all while dealing with ghosts of the past and pressing modern concerns.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Country as Kin: Personal Pronouns in Vietnamese Society

"tweet tweet bitches, bow down!"
In American English, we use a set of pronouns to talk about people and animals, generally regardless of age, position, experience, whatever.

Vietnamese is... a little different.

One seriously unusual highlight of this country is that, even over the course of a 1,000+ years of occupation and struggle (the Chinese, the French, the Americans and Australians), Vietnamese are STILL quite recognizably Vietnamese. Their food is not Chinese food, their language is not French (although, thanks to Alexander de Rhodes, Vietnamese written language uses the Roman alphabet and is vastly improved from the original Sino-influenced script). And, while some in the South might act more cosmopolitan than their Northern brethren, the country remains solidly Vietnamese in many, many aspects.

One possible factor in this cultural longevity and tenacity could be the important functions provided by personal pronouns in the Vietnamese language. In them, we find the basic foundations of Vietnamese society.

Read on for my meditation on that most unlikely of subjects, the humble Personal Pronoun...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

He's Come Undone (33rd-Year Edition)

I can't articulate WHY... but this speaks to me.
Real talk.

For a while in 2016, it indeed looked like I'd come undone. A better metaphor is that it was like being unmoored and lost at sea.

Unmooring a vessel means to lift up the anchor and release ties to the dock, releasing it to the weather, the sea, and the skill of the crew. It's always the start of any journey, and no ship leaves dock without a destination. I unmoored myself from Chicago when I left to travel abroad. The thing about journeys is that, when you have a stated end goal, your journey will end in either success or failure.

In other words, becoming unmoored is the first step to achieving your dreams. However, being unmoored is also the first step in getting truly lost.

This year, I ran into some headwinds at sea.

I had a series of jobs that I didn't like. I felt like my real talents were going to waste, but wasn't always able to articulate those talents in a way that made sense, to myself or employers. I attempted to start a few businesses, and was marginally successful in one of them. I got a job I loved, and then got fired from when I demanded a contract (oof, disheartening - she operated in America, FYI). I followed a lot of irrational hope, in hindsight.

In the meantime, all my internal plans were in disarray.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Nuong BBQ, Meaty Kinds

My absolute favorite: octopus with spring onions
and green chili sauce!
You can't walk far in HCMC without tripping over a restaurant full of people sitting around tables, open flames lighting up the cluster of beer bottles. It's a magical thing.

Roasting meats and vegetables over a flame evokes some of our most base food instincts. It's comforting... it smells like survival. (Check out this great Smithsonian article "Why Fire Makes Us Human"). It also just plain smells AWESOME.

I have always been a bit of a pyromaniac. I love building fires, cooking, and gathering around them in the cool evening.

Evenings aren't so cool here in Vietnam... but the principle is the same! They're a way to gather with family, share the kill, and mingle over an invention that literally changed our very nature, in rich communion with our fellow humans.

Also, of course, BBQ is just plain great!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Uf Da - Year+ in Review

Where do I even start?

It's been a long time since I've addressed you, dear reader, of that I'm acutely aware.

Ultimately, I'm so happy I took a year away from documenting my life. I underwent some big internal and external changes this year, and I feel like I'm coming out of the forge much better for it. It would have been weird to go completely dark, so here I am again. And I come armed with so, so many thoughts... :)

In the time since we last spoke (and keep in mind there are old blog posts yet to be re-published), I:
  • Did the Ha Giang loop with my cuzbro Chris!
  • Got a new job teaching Kindergarten!
  • Hated my job!
  • Traversed the mid-south by motorbike!
  • Visited Chicago, and went to a wedding!
  • Went to Laos!
  • Saw Chris and Anya and their beautiful baby!
  • Missed a whole lot more weddings! Was kind of a dick about it!
  • Got hired (possible dream job?!)!
  • Got fired (Not the dream job!)!
  • Went to Bali! Got a new passport! Cried in front of the military on my way out of the country!
  • Started a private business!
  • All adult students!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Coming Soon: New Words

Our Main Character, taking a rare selfie,
in Northern Laos. (January, 2016).
Xin Chào! Lâu rồi không gặp!

Hello! Long time no see, everyone!

Sorry for my very long absence.I had some problems with my personal domain, which eventually resulted in me losing interest. I'll be recovering lost blogs and posting them here soon.

It's been a rollercoaster of a year, and I can't wait to update you all. I've had what feels like a gazillion adventures, and I've learned a lot about the world and myself.

In the meantime, looking forward to be back!

-Ben

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Psycho Asian Comfort Food: Crepes, All Kinds

This was not my recipe, but they awakened a fire in my belly....
a fire that can only be quenched by... more crepes (and better cheese).
One of the single best benefits of having roommates from all corners of the world is a chance to mash up cuisines, creating new, and occasionally wonderful, dishes in the process.

American society contains an embarrassment of riches in the form of cultures from all over the world. I talk about Chicago a lot when people ask me about food, because it's such a very interesting example of mixing and matching, as well as just a all-out-amazing foodie town. Chicago's socio-ethnic history informs modern neighborhoods in a real and visible way, and many neighborhoods exist as a living record of the last hundred years of people and cultures moving in and out of these 'hoods. The city is both a global food experiment, and completely & utterly Chicago and midwestern in expression.

As for me? I know what I like, and I know that I'm a builder. Sometimes I get... mildly obsessed.