Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Big THANK YOU and Call for Feedback

I just wanted to say "Thank you! Thanks! Gracias!" to YOU!!

Yeah, y'all look decidedly good
on the '80's headboard.
I've had a roller-coaster week here, full of ups, downs, and new experiences and friends. Knowing that I can write this, that you wonderful people will read it, and that I'm maintaining some semblance of communication open with all of my family and friends is pretty much the most magical feeling in the world.

So... thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. You provide me with the will to keep documenting, laughing, and dreaming my way through this blog and the adventure I'm on! I hope you're enjoying my writing so far!

Now I want YOUR input. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Is It?: Kem Khoai Môn

I'm back, in my series that asks: But seriously...

What is it?

If it looks like a duck:
This item looks like ice cream. Purple ice cream. It has to be ice cream, or frozen dairy treat, or soft serve of some kind. (It better be ice cream, because that's what I was craving. This post is completely based on the fact that I wanted ice cream. Ice Cream.) The color is close to the color of my living room two apartments ago - sorta purplish. I'm guessing some kind of berry? (Sigh. You know it won't be.) It looks like it's got half of something that looks like a lavender-fleshed coconut on the front (bottom left), and chunks of purple flesh in the picture, too. Mmm!

Friday, June 28, 2013

The True All-Purpose Bathroom

This post about my
shower/bathroom is for Ally.
I haven't had a hot shower since I got here. That's almost four weeks, if you're counting. I had a lukewarm one around 5pm one day a week ago, but that was as close as I've gotten to hot.*

In a way, this is ok. If I get up in the middle of the night and turn the AC off, I'm sweaty enough by the time I get up at 5:30am that the shower feels pretty good. And in the afternoon? Oof, you want it as cold as it can get! But there's something undeniably nice about being ABLE to control the temperature. Or maybe it's undeniably First World. Either way... I long for an apartment with hot water. (p.s. It looks like I've found it, too!)

Not that it matters much - I don't spend much time in there, honestly. I get it and get out. One reason is that it's cold, sure, but another reason is that I don't like getting all my stuff wet, or moving it out and back in. The first time I took a shower I forgot to remove all the toilet paper and it was partially ruined. Oops!

Wait, what? Ruined TP? In the shower?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Worst Way to Connect with Western Culture

That's right, I reviewed HP INK and BUBBLE WRAP.
It's time to re-evaluate my recent life decisions.
This was my project this morning. It just occurred to me how stupid it was. Dumb homesickness.

It is not the first completely pointless project I've undertaken on days when I don't feel like leaving my room and confronting the alien culture outside my door, but it's by far the one that screams "GET OUTSIDE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU NEED VITAMIN D AND FRESH WATER, STUPID" the loudest.

What AM I doing, you ask? I'm reviewing and rating all my past purchases on If that's not a completely pointless activity, I don't know what is. Maybe something like waterproofing desert hiking gear, or trying to improve the cheeseburger. Pointless. Time-passing. Life-wasting.

What other pointless things have I done to stay inside the English Bubble? Oh, let's see...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Essential Ho Chi Minh City Travel Tips, Part 1

There are just some things that are so small you don't think about the fact that they might be done differently in another culture. I'm not talking about driving on the other side of the road - even simpler than that... these are some that I've learned through trial and error!

Learn from my mistakes, and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meet the Shoeshine Boy

Yesterday, THIS GUY happened to me:

Normally I would have asked permission to take his
picture, but he was a total jackass. So I didn't.
This, my friends, is a shoeshine boy. Except in HCMC, they're more like Tourist Sandal Predators. I was walking along, minding my own business, when he ran up to me, knelt in front of me at a crosswalk and started supergluing my sandals. I was beyond surprised. I had no frame of reference. I shook him off, threw him 10,000 VND (about .50 USD) after he protested and got on my way.

But, oh no, this was not the end of this stupid drama. Not on this day when I've already had the most annoying day I've had since I got here. Of course not.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Is It?: Bánh Da Lợn

Today I will kick off my new food series! I call it "What is it?" because that seemed clever enough.

In this series I will take one new food that I'm baffled by and break it down for your enjoyment. If all goes well, then my body will break it down for nourishment. If not... well, we've all been down that path (God, those jerky strips - never again. OR maybe, for science, if I'm desperate).

But, no seriously:


Sunday, June 23, 2013

And After the Alley It's the Hotel Lobby

Behind me is a busy main street. Start Here...
I live in an alley. Well... sort of. I sort of live in an alley.

I guess technically I live off a series of alleys, in a guesthouse. In fact, most of the population of Ho Chi Minh lives on the insides of these giant gridded blocks, where you enter through an alley or tiny-looking sidestreet (often with banners flying above them, but just as often completely non-descript - like my entrance to the left) and all of a sudden it's like you're in an asian Neil Gaiman's mind - they're full of twists and turns, neon lights advertising bun cha or banh mi, tiny stores selling necessities, fried food, and newspapers, and small, hidden temples where the local faithful maintain shrines full of incense.

Slowly, the unbelievable noise of the streets of HCMC fades away and is replaced with the sounds of a community. The roosters you already know about (I sleep with earplugs in now, no joke), and they're not going away. In fact... I've come to like them a little bit! Stockholm syndrom much? Maybe. It's nice to get up so early and start my day. And in that respect, I'm just about on my host-people's timetable. People are up and going before 6am every day of the week, trying to beat the coming showers, humidity, and heat.

And, oh, the people... lots and lots of people!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

USPS Terror Funhouse Commence

Thanks to Ally for the photo and
extra, necessary, finger emotion.
HEY! CHICAGO USPS. Yeah, YOU. Get over here.

What is this?

I said, WHAT IS IT?

Oh, it's my passport? The one you lost, 31 days ago? But USPS, how will I pick it up at the post office now? I mean, I don't even live in your country any more. How will I go down to the HELL that is the Ravenswood USPS Branch, stand in line for several hours, and then wait for you to pull your head out of your collective ASSHOLE while you attempt to locate this for me? And who says you'd even be successful? I got one of these pink mail slips last time, and you lost it for a month. A MONTH. How do I even know you have it now! Maybe this is one of your TWERPY, DERPY GAMES.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Experience with Today's Training Course

This is on really nice paper - a good sign?
Job training consisted of a 2.5 hour presentation, mostly about management of classrooms with 40+ kids (yikes!!) and a little bit about ESL games, some popular ones, and how to vary them.

I guess it was pretty useful. It was interesting observing and talking to the other teachers. 16 (myself included) were there and most were newly hired to this company - one guy had been in the program last year, and several of the younger teachers knew each other socially or from previous networking.

I was by far the greenest of the team, both in teaching and in Vietnam. There were four Americans - the rest were Brits, some Scots, and some Aussies. For everyone but me, this was old hat - most were teaching already, had been to multiple countries, and were already situated in Vietnam for 6 or more weeks. Some had been teaching here for several years.

In Which Our Hero Finds the Supermarket

LOOK! LOOK at this SEXY stocked fridge!
Particularly that stock of water. 'Tis a thing
of Beauty, y'all. BEAUTY.
Food nerds, gather round. I have new and interesting things to tell you about Vietnamese supermarkets and foods.

First of all, it was not as terrifying as I thought. Sure, there were no signs in English, and nothing made any sense. But that's not news, nothing anywhere here makes any sense, so go figure.

I entered through one of (I found out later) three entrances - it's sorta open-air in the middle. It's more like a Jewel-Osco than anything else, but smaller, and fresher. They carry packaged foods, fresh meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and breads, a small amount of alcohol, and clothes. Weirdly, a lot of clothes.

In the past I have found myself in, say, a Target, with an irregular layout. You know the Big Box stores I mean, where things are in slightly different places than the ones you're used to? That always annoyed me, even though I know it shouldn't. I shouldn't EXPECT consistency like that in my stores, but I've been conditioned to believe that it's the standard. Well, this is the solution. Go someplace so new that the old rules don't apply.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reminder to Self: You're a Sweaty Bastard

Dear Diary,

7:30am: I leave my hotel.

  • I walk 3/4 mile with my messenger bag.
  • I spend 30 minutes perusing the air-conditioned supermarket* (post to follow!).
  • I walk 3/4 mile home with my purchases - carrying one bag and another in my messenger bag.
8:45am: I return to my hotel.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Expert's Guide to Getting Lost in Saigon

As you can see, I didn't get too lost on the way
there, except at the end. Still, not bad.
Seriously, this is how you do it. Take notes.

Thank god my birthday is right around the corner, because I'm going to give myself the best present ever: a phone with maps. ELECTRONIC MAPS, PEOPLE. GPS. HOW DID WE LIVE WITHOUT THEM. I DON'T KNOW.

Let me tell you the story about the time I went to meet a new friend and ended up walking around Ho Chi Minh City for 3.5 hours trying to get home, including not one, not two, but three separate xe om (motorbike taxi) rides.

How did this travesty happen? I'm supposed to be the one that's good with directions, for gods sake!

I went to meet this new friend at a bar called the Spotted Cow in District 1. It was fun. I had caramel flan and a beer (bad combo). The owner, Mike, gave us 10% off cards for chatting with him. 

(We also had a really interesting discussion about ladyboys and ladyboy culture, which became hugely, personally relevant about 4.5 hours later. Unfortunately. No, shut up, let me tell it.)

As an aside, I also got lost on the way there, but not as badly as I originally thought. This is the route I took - it was about 3 miles. No biggie. I only got lost at the end and was 30 minutes late, got there on a taxi bike (XE OM RIDE #1). My friend was ordering spring rolls and I think was a little mad, but I've only been here two weeks, give a boy a break!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Call for Science Fiction Books About the Developing World

There's not a lot I can say about this book that hasn't been said, except that you should read it (which has
also been said, many, many times before) as soon as possible. And that I walk under trees like that every day now.

So you're probably aware my literary world basically consists of Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction (and, more recently, all things Game of Thrones-related) and little else. Some would construe this narrowness as a weakness - I say... oh, whatever, I don't care what the haters think! I live for excellent science fiction, and I've enjoyed/been horrified to see many science fictional concepts and values come into their own IRL (Mom/Dad: IRL = In Real Life).

Now I'm in a genuine Third World country (albeit a rapidly improving/modernizing one) and I've got a different perspective on life staring me in the face. And not only that, but Vietnam is a communist regime as well. I'm playing around with starting a series of blog posts that review/talk about books in light of my experiences in this new setting.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Facebook Woes

Just a quick update about Facebook.

I have discovered that the Vietnamese government sporadically blocks Facebook throughout the country. Surprise! I try every day to connect, so if I'm successful you'll see me posting. I am still going to be posting here on this blog, and maybe I'll try and wrap my brain around Twitter (if that's not blocked, too) in order to get updates out to people.

Just to let you know. :/ Hopefully it won't be full time, or I'll have to get a VPN service to get around it (and watch netflix, that would be a super duper bonus! If my internet speeds didn't suck so much).

EDIT: Back online! Thanks TOR Browser!

Food Adventures So Far

Hello everyone!

Sorry about the absence - I've had a packed week here exploring, making new friends, getting a job (!), getting lost (and found, and lost again) and trying so many new things I hardly know which way is up. I'll be more regular about posting now that I've adjusted somewhat, I promise!

And, of course, many of those new things were eaten, because I particularly love food. Most were even enjoyed, and all but one was kept down. So, as I listen to the f-ing roosters this morning, I will take you on a mini food tour of what I've eaten this week.

Monday, June 10, 2013

ScienceNews: Vietnam Develops Invisible Forcefield, Flabby Foreigner Flummoxed

It's true, my friends. It was shocking how effective it was.

Let me tell you the embarrassing tale.

This was my goal: The front door to the big outside world.
Or rather, the door that leads to the alley that leads to the
big outside world.
After getting up early (about 3am) I was feeling pretty good. I'd had a good excursion Saturday, and added a number of things to my todo list that I felt were important. I felt confident in my first experiences with street vendors and xe om (motorbike taxis - so damn pushy!) and gotten a lot of water for my hotel room.

I got up and got ready for the day, showering in my crazy shower-room, and even whistled a little bit (I haven't been singing much since I got here... weird). I dressed, looked in the mirror, told my reflection how nice he looked (he needs some encouragement sometimes) and popped open the todo list. My first 20 minutes was spent reorganizing and prioritizing, followed by a quick 'n dirty flurry of internet activity that took 5 or 6 things off that list. It felt good. I felt good. It was time to go foraging for food and more water. Maybe I could find some more banh mi!

(Aside: Because most meals are cooked from fresh ingredients on the spot, I'm assuming this hunter-gatherer behavior will continue for awhile, until I can find an American grocery store that sells frozen burritos, ha ha. Protip: unattainable fantasy alert.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

School of Walk

Yesterday was my first foray into the wild n' crazy streets of HCMC, and I think it turned out pretty good. A couple things I'll have to remember:
  2. And maybe that map I bought
  3. Also, be more like Luke Skywalker in Episode IV

I live at the red flag. I wanted a
bucket of water at the green marker.
As for Number 1, Captain Hindsight here. Of course I should have brought water. I explored my neighborhood, District 3, going about 3.75 miles in 1:45. It was a leisurely stroll and there was no lack of things to see and wonder about. This city is ELECTRIC! It's an assault on the senses, and it's awesome. I think I could really get used to it. But.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being There

Besides being the title of my favorite Wilco album, it's also what I'm trying very hard to do, right now, without falling asleep again.

A view from my window - look at those
bangin' plants on the porch over there!
It's 7am here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. After 31 hours of flights and layovers in exotic places (or at least their exotic airport terminals), I arrived here last night about 5pm. There was a bit of a delay at the passport check (as I suspected there might be) because of my new passport - the number on the loose-leaf visa and my new booklet didn't match up. Which was ok - it only cost me $45 to get a new one on the spot, and - BONUS! - it's a stamp in my booklet, so I won't worry about losing the loose visa.

(Oh yes - I did have one very close call in the Istanbul airport. The iPhone 3GS my friend Jeff gave me, and which went into a river with me in April on a hiking trip, started freaking out and eventually shut off, not to turn back on. But then I got to my hotel and plugged it in, and it worked, mostly, only freaking out a few more times but not permanently shutting off. I might have to get a new phone, not sure about that quite yet. I'm eyeing it with distrust.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

International Relations

We've all got our own 'Continuing Adventures' going on in our lives all the time, and I want to stay on top of all the important things going on in each of your lives. This post will be about the art of International Communication!

I like writing letters, and in recent years have even gotten better at reading and responding to them! (I know, it's such a novel concept.) But whether it's a letter or postcard in the mail, or a text, phone call, email, or video call, I want to hear from you, and I'll want to reach out, if for no other reason than using English words with other English speakers will keep me sane and grounded in an strange culture.

So here is a list of the various ways and methods you can get in touch with me. If you'd like to connect via any of them and don't know my details, use the contact form in the sidebar to send me an email and we can work it out.

In short... Let's be friends!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Passports, the USPS, and the Aftermath

My stuff, just waiting for my passport to arrive.

Today, I finally received my replacement passport!

This meant two things immediately:

1. I now have to go to Vietnam. Like, for realsies.
2. I now GET to begin my traveling adventure!

After ripping the passport out of the express mailer, Thought #1 made me momentarily light-headed. But Thought #2 rushed back moments later - the trip that I've been working on since November 2012 was finally - FINALLY - about to exit the planning stages and take off into the stratosphere!

To backtrack, for those of you I haven't told directly, the USPS lost my first passport on its way back from the Vietnamese Embassy in D.C. Here's a condensed (really, I promise) version of events:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Chicago and Goodbyes

I love Chicago. I've loved living here. It might be my favorite place in the entire world.

Heavy statement, sort of. I believe your favorite environments tell a lot about you. Mine is here, as of now. This weather (this batshit crazy weather), the people, the grid system. The biking, my friends, late nights and early mornings. My close proximity to IL/WI family. Everything is my favorite here (except raw food restaurants, that was a one-time-only experience, sorry Erin!), and I'm leaving all this comfort - including, I might add, IN-UNIT LAUNDRY! - to go to a far away, tropical place teeming with strange foods, customs, and the buzz of an alien language. I'm going to get very good at charades, I can tell you that! I'm not fooling myself: it'll be difficult, scary, and very, very exciting. I'm sure my first couple weeks will be exhausting!

Passport Drama, Revisted

This is my first entry in my temporary blog - real domain address to come soon! But people have been asking, and now I've got the urge to document some of the feelings I'm having and the some of the events that led up to it while I wait to leave on this grand adventure.

At the moment I'm sitting in my living room on Chicago's Northwest side. I'm surrounded by clutter and moving boxes, but, perhaps surprisingly, it's not mine. No, these all belong to a stranger (who seems super, duper nice, btw) who's moving into my bedroom. It still makes me feel uneasy, unsettled and on edge. I've been practicing being flexible for months now and I'm viewing this waiting game as the ultimate test... so far I think I'm winning!