Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Taking Stock

I'm joining in on a blog hop today from Denyse Whelan Blogs and participating in her writing prompt. You can visit the original post here.

From what I saw on her blog, she likes to take stock of her life every few months and stop to examine what she is doing with it. I think a few more people need to do this. It is very very easy to just float through life and then a decade has gone by and you haven't done anything but collect new wrinkles. Living our lives intentionally should be more of a priority.

Denyse listed out what she was making, cooking, drinking, reading, wanting, looking, playing, wasting, sewing, wishing, enjoying, waiting, liking, wondering, loving, hoping, marveling, needing, smelling, wearing, following, noticing, knowing, thinking, feeling, bookmarking, opening and laughing. I'll follow her lead.

Making
Lots and lots of great memories. A few years ago I took this saying to heart. Experiences are more valuable than possessions. It totally changed my life. It's why I travel all the time and now live on the beach in Vietnam. I love my new life.

Cooking
Absolutely nothing. We haven't had a decent kitchen since we left the States and I haven't figured out yet how to cook when there is no room to do anything. Plus, eating out is so cheap, I'm happy to run down to the corner and spare myself the stress of my kitchen.

It's so tiny!
 
Drinking
I have a bottle of Mountain Dew next to my computer right now. Another reason I love this country. I lived in China for almost two years and only had one the whole time I was there. I almost died.

Reading
I just finished reading Christine by Stephen King. Other than that, for the last several months I have exclusively read books by Carlton Mellick III. He writes bizarro fiction. Strange stuff.




Wanting
My new apartment. We rented this place as soon as we hit town because it was cheap, but we knew it would be temporary. We signed a three-month lease figuring that would give us enough time to get jobs, decide how much we could afford and discover what part of town we wanted to live in. I really need an office space. This little corner doesn't cut it.
 

Looking
At our beautiful surroundings every day. Vietnam is a gorgeous country with natural wonders all around us.

Playing
Every day. Since I only work about 19 hours a week, I have a lot of free time. It is used wandering the neighborhood, getting to know our neighbors, discovering new foods, strolling the beach, sightseeing and whatever else I feel like doing.

Wasting
A lot of time exploring my new surroundings rather than writing the book I desperately want to write.

Sewing
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Sewing?!? Um…no.

Wishing
I'm wishing that the new apartment we find will be close to what we actually want it to be and we don't just have to settle for the best we can find. We really want to have some extra space this time. We've been cramped in tiny places for too long.

Enjoying
Our new relaxed life. It has so little stress. I love having all the free time. I feel like I am already retired.

Waiting
I'm waiting for someone to come visit us. I know we live clear on the other side of the world, so I can't blame anyone for not coming here. However, my wife's sister is coming to see us in December and my mother will be coming in the spring of 2020. That's two visitors in 18 months! I am so excited!

Liking
The food of Vietnam. We spent two years in China and I was surprised that I did not like the food as much as I expected to. There was plenty of good food, but not what I was expecting. However, here, I am having a great time trying all the new stuff. Vietnamese food is awesome.

Wondering
When and if we will ever move back to the States. At this point, we really have no idea what the future holds for us. There are things I miss about my home country, but I can't wrap my mind around going back and paying the hugely inflated prices for everything when stuff is so cheap everywhere else.

Loving
The friendliness of the people here. This was not something we experienced in China. They weren't rude there, but they definitely did not seem happy. And they certainly didn't go out of their way to make us feel welcome. Here we are constantly greeted by people on the street and people everywhere are smiling.

Hoping
I will be ready to publish my book by the end of the year. I'm going to have to get busy on it, but that is my goal. I need to do more than hope.

Marveling
Still marveling at the quality of the weather and air here. I think I just got used to the dreary and smoggy days of Beijing. Here, I can see for miles from my terrace. I've always been fascinated by mountain views and they are all around us.

Needing
I teach English online and need more items for my classroom. My background is lacking and I could use more props, but until I get that first paycheck, I'm just not going to spend the money.

Smelling
The streets of Da Nang are filled with the smells of food wafting away from the countless restaurants and food carts that are everywhere. I love the smells here.

Wearing
Shorts every day. I haven't worn pants in over a month. Even when I work. I work in front of my computer and my students can't see my legs. It's very comfortable.

Following
Actually not following. The political fighting on social media has grown very tiring for me. Especially now that I am seeing it from the outside. Every political conversation I have is with people from other parts of the world. It has really broadened my perspective. I've decided to stop trying to keep up with American politics. This is not an anti-American statement by any means. It's just that the talking points change so rapidly, why do I need to stay on top of it when most of it has zero effect on me anyway?

Noticing
I'm noticing that so many of the things I valued over the course of my life are of little importance. Moving from country to country has really forced me to re-evaluate everything. Mostly the futility of material things.

Knowing
Very little. This is new to me. I have always prided myself on being the 'smart one'. It's been part of my identity for most of my life. I do have an uncanny skill of maintaining information in my head. The stuff I read stays in there. I'm the guy people always turn to with questions about stuff. I just know things and don't always even know why I have that knowledge. However, I am beginning to realize that I really don't know anything about anything. I'm not trying to be deep and meaningful. It is just very humbling to be dropped into another culture and realize that you have no idea how anything here works. You may be intimately familiar with your little personal bubble you've built for yourself, but that is not even the tiniest fraction of the world.

Thinking
I just may have found the part of the world I could happily stay in for the rest of my life. After a year or two, we may get more serious about exploring this possibility.

Feeling
Very confident about our decision to move here. There has never been a moment where I felt we may have made a mistake.

Bookmarking
This is not exactly bookmarking, but I have been making lists of the books I want to read next. Some for pleasure, but many are chosen because they are in the genre of the book I am writing, I read these to further familiarize myself with the genre.

Opening
Opening our minds to new possibilities all the time. So many of the wonderful things that have happened to us have been because we were willing to attempt something we really didn't understand.

Laughing
Every day. We have made so many friends in the short time we have been here and all enjoy each other's company and laughing together.

Whew! That was a long list and it was fun. It really made me think about my life.



Let's Get Down to Business

My wife and I moved to Vietnam a little over a month ago and we are still getting settled in. My biggest challenge has been trying to establish my daily routine. And it has been a challenge.

I basically have zero outside pressures on me right now. It has taken planning and some hard work, but Red and I have our lives set up to be fairly stress-free. We live on a beach in the tropics. We haven't used an alarm clock even once since we moved here. Our cost of living is tiny. We only need about $800 each month (and that includes cable, wi-fi, 2x/week cleaning service, eating out every day). I work less than 20 hours a week and don't even leave my apartment to do that. I just sit in front of my computer. Most of the time, I'm not even wearing pants.

I can walk here in less than 10 minutes

Now, I am not saying all that to brag about how awesome my life is. It is, but that's not the point. All these perks come at a price.
  • Once I step outside my apartment, the English language becomes useless
  • There is very little of the food from home in this country
  • We do not have a car and the public transportation here sucks
  • It is over 90 degrees every single day
  • Constantly dodging traffic since there are very few sidewalks (we walk in the road) 
  • We are 12 time zones away from our families. Popping into town for events (even weddings or funerals) is not really an option
  • Every day tasks like paying bills and going shopping can be panic-inducing nightmares
  • Unreliable utilities (frequent power outages, national internet disruptions, etc)
  • The water is not safe to drink
  • We have to watch what we say since it is a communist country (although, much less restrictive than China)
We are quite used to all these things and hardly even notice them anymore, but they are worth mentioning because it is part of the choice that has to be made to live the way we have chosen to. Not everyone can do it. But if you think you can live with buying your dinner from a guy who has a working grill on the back of his scooter, I think it's well worth it.

It is especially worth it to me because I set my life up this way for a reason. Well, actually two reasons.
  1. I am incredibly lazy, so lying around on the beach all day works well for my love of sloth and working on my beer gut.
  2. I have been working on a book for two years and could never find time to do any writing.
Now, my life has been purposefully designed to provide the time I need to complete my book and work toward my dream of living solely off my income as a writer. And my schedule is perfect for this. I work sporadically all day on Sunday, so that day is off the table, but I do not work Fridays or Saturdays. And Monday through Thursday, I only work from 5-8 p.m. How's that for a work schedule?

That means my days are completely free to write. That book should be done in no time.

Except for one problem. 

Remember this from earlier? Turns out this is a problem.
My dad was right.

I have all the time in the world to write, but I still have to sit down and do it and I've learned that is easier said than done. It turns out that it is pretty easy to sit around and do nothing when you have no real pressure on your time. I mean Deadpool isn't going to watch itself again and there are fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them that need to be consumed, like, every day. I actually provide a service when you think about it.

So this week, I decided to make a change. I am now treating my writing as part of my job. I am going to actually start setting an alarm.

I'm only going to set it for 7 a.m. Let's not get crazy.
I'm not getting up early if I don't have to.

I will get up, get showered, grab some breakfast and be at my desk by eight each morning. My computer will not be connected to the internet because this is for writing time. No surfing. From 8-11 each weekday morning, I will be writing.

I'm going to need to stock up on Mountain Dew.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Can't We All Just Get Along

I saw a video on Facebook a few days ago that I just can't get out of my head. Here is that video. It centers around fur and veganism, but that is not the part I am interested in. Please pay attention to the point of her message. (Video is less than 2 minutes)


QUICK RECAP: This woman was viciously attacked online because in one of her videos some people thought the fur on her coat was real. It's not, but that is not the point. This woman is a certified animal rescuer. Has been vegetarian for over a decade and has dedicated much of her life to helping animals. As she states in the video, she stands in solidarity with the cause that her attackers are promoting. However, their method of hatred made her wish she didn't.

This animal-lover didn't want to be an animal-lover at that moment because of the nastiness thrown her way by other animal lovers.

That statement is why I can't shake this video. It is very powerful and she only scratches the surface of a major problem we have today.

This problem occurs in many areas, but it is the most obviously prevalent in political discourse.

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but the United States is very heavily divided on a number of issues: immigration, gun control, abortion, free speech issues, racial tensions, any mention of Trump, etc. And most people have an opinion about these and many other issues. And people should have opinions. That's what having a brain is all about.

On top of having opinions, we have the freedom in America to express those opinions and discuss them openly. Please do not take for granted how important it is to be able to do this. For the last few years, I have lived in a country where people do not have that freedom.

Seriously! Posting this image on social media inside of China
would have gotten me deported.
Much worse would happen to a Chinese citizen who tried it.

Having the freedom to be able to express our ideas and even be able to disagree with our leaders and each other openly is a wonderful thing, but there is a responsibility that comes with it. We all still have to live together.

I don't know if social media is to blame, but it is definitely the easiest place to see the divide. Many people love to post their politics on Facebook AND they are free to do so. Other people are free to respond to those posts whether they agree or disagree AND (once again) they are free to do so. However, way too often, civility and common respect for our fellow man gets tossed out the window. The person on the other side of our arguments is spoken to as, at best, an uneducated child. At worst, a sub-human Satanic spawn of putrid trash not worthy of using the same oxygen as the rest of the world.

I have seen many arguments unfold on Facebook that just make me cringe. Not at the ideas that are being expressed, but at the tone of language being used by two people who I know have been friends for years. I know of dozens of people who are no longer friends because they could not see eye to eye on some political issue and their vitriolic discourse toward each other eventually crossed a line that permanently damaged their friendships.



There have always been nasty people in the world. People who everyone avoided because they just could not handle being disagreed with. They got nasty if someone had a different opinion. We had a name for those people. They were arrogant assholes.

I don't generally curse on my blog, but that is the best word for this. Those people are assholes. They are. They don't have the basic conversation skills to have a healthy discourse about a topic when everyone in the room is not in total agreement.

It doesn't matter if it is about gay rights, gun control, abortion, immigration issues, tax reform, welfare or anything. If you are being an asshole about it to someone (even online), that makes you an asshole.

The problem today is that "the asshole mentality" is becoming more and more the norm. Due to the ease of finding like-minded people today (television, internet, etc), a person settles for cozying in with their tribe and just hurling insults at the other tribes. Actual discourse and intelligent discussion go out the window. And as the woman in the above video was saying, that method does not win people over. In fact, it does just the opposite. It makes them not only dislike you but take an even stronger stance against the cause you are arguing for.

I have approached many people who I politically disagree with solely because I saw them being verbally assaulted by someone who I actually politically agree with. I've seen people I love say vicious things to other people just because Obama or Trump or Clinton or Michael Moore or Brad Pitt or their mayor said something that they are ready to defend or condemn with their lives.

The worst part about all of this is that most of the time the hot-button issue of the moment is just the issue of the moment. In six months, everyone will have forgotten about it and will be on to arguing about something else. However, the relationship has already been damaged. It's not worth it.

I am not suggesting you avoid sensitive topics of discussion. Feel free to discuss anything you want to discuss, but do not be one of those idiots spewing venom at anyone who disagrees with you. And, this one is just as important, do not engage with those people who do. No good will come of it. Just walk away.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Underwater Surprises

I have this new thing I do. I grab all my things, tell my wife to pack her bags and we hop a plane to a tropical beach. And then, to make things just a little more exciting, we never go back. It's kind of fun. You should try it some time.

This is a literal 8 minutes walk from my apartment.
Actually, I've only ever done this once, but I think it's my new thing. It's who I am now.

It may seem like a daring move to do something like this. Many people have said things like, "Oh, it must be so difficult living in a different country" and "How do you survive not being able to speak the local language?" and "Isn't it really hot there?"

However, living on the coast in Vietnam has its advantages. Here are a few:

There are some breath-taking views

Fruity beach drinks that cost less than
a bottle of water in the States.
Incredible seafood dinners daily.
Bikini contests on the beach near our apartment
These are just a few of the things that make the hardships worth it. In addition to the pictures, it never gets cold here. I haven't worn pants in over a month. My new life does not require an alarm clock. Insanely cheap cost of living. I swim in the ocean every night after sundown. No one here knows who Nickelback is.

So, in case you can't already tell, I think life here is pretty sweet. I am still amazed every day by some new thing I discover and fall in love with. When we first got here, it was the Vietnamese ice milk coffee. This week, it's the back alley noodle shops. I love it here.

Despite all the things I am in love with and enjoy looking at, I am slowly finding the few things I don't care for. This one started last week.

I mentioned earlier that I swim in the ocean each night after sundown. I do and it has been great. I've never really been much of a swimmer. I can swim, but just never had any desire to. But living so close to the beach, I thought this would be a good habit to develop. Plus, it's good for you. So, each night I head down and splash around in the water for an hour or so.

After a couple of weeks, I really began to notice how much the salt water made me itch. I would scratch all the way home AND it would always take me a while to get home because I would wander through the back neighborhoods to pick up banh mi sandwiches or my quang noodles. I love the food here.

Some days, I would feel like I was being jabbed with tiny needles while I was swimming. Not incredibly painful, but definitely unpleasant. It even turned me off from swimming for a few days. If you know me, I'm not really much for physical activity. So, it's pretty easy for me to quit stuff like this.

A few days later, on a Da Nang Facebook group post, someone asked if the beach infestation had subsided yet. That got my attention and I started reading through the posts. I soon found out what had been causing my discomfort.

SEA LICE!!!


Apparently, there are all kinds of lice.
  • Head lice - regular lice you get in your hair
  • Body lice - lice that are too stupid to ask directions to the head
  • Pubic lice - these are the party lice (street name - "CRABS")
  • Various species that attack different animals
However, I really thought we were safe from these little bastards in the water. Turns out the earth always finds new ways to get you. I mean, how many kinds of lice do we need to worry about? Are there toilet lice, coffee lice, toothpaste lice, shoe lice? Does there have to be nasty bugs everywhere?

A little more research showed me that sea lice aren't actually even lice at all.

They are baby jellyfish.
Aren't they cute?
This information makes it a little less disgusting. I was not being infested with a nasty bug, but just getting stung by baby jellyfish when caught in the fabric of my swim trunks. This can be easily solved by swimming naked, but Vietnam is still rather conservative concerning adult nudity.

It's not really a big deal as long as you don't have an allergic reaction to the stings, but it's still not pleasant. The internet suggests showering thoroughly after swimming to get them all off you. Or you can do like I do and wait until the surge of little demon babies has passed. I'm told this happens for a few weeks every summer and then the beaches are clear again.

I can wait it out.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Our First Vietnam Adventure

Red and I have now been in Danang, Vietnam for almost three weeks and haven't really gotten to see much outside of our immediate neighborhood and a whole lot of each other. We are a little tired of each other. Since we are not on vacation and actually live here, this time has been spent performing mundane tasks that really aren't much fun.
  • Deciding which bank we should use
  • Locating nearby grocery stores
  • Learning our way around the city
  • Discovering where the post office, hospital, pharmacy, police station, et cetera are located
  • Comparing money exchange rates around town to get the best deal
  • Applying for jobs
  • Exploring all the little back alleys to find where the best goodies are
  • Trying to make new friends
  • Discovering where I can go that she won't follow me
It's not been miserable by any means, but we've been itching to get out there and start seeing some of the sites and beauty of this wonderful country. Yesterday, we decided to take a day off and do just that. Since I have now started work, we know the money will be starting to come in and we don't have to be quite as tight with our finances.

We rented a motor scooter first thing in the morning and decided to tackle the city traffic to get out of Danang.


I recorded that video the first time I was here back in March. Since then, I 've decided I'm just going to have to get used to it.
We hopped on our hog and drove off into the jungle-covered mountains of the Son Tra peninsula with no idea what was out there other than the monkeys that I was really hoping to run into.

But we never saw any
However, we did discover lots of other things. First, we stumbled upon a large Buddhist temple, Chùa Linh Ứng.

Nestled way up in the mountain

Inside one of the smaller buildings

Many statues of Buddha on various animals

The main temple

Inside the main temple

The entire area is covered in beautifully-kept gardens

The tallest Buddhist statue in all of Asia


All signs are in Vietnamese.
If you want to know what they say, 
you have to learn Vietnamese.




We eventually ventured further up the mountain and just enjoyed the view. Vietnam really is a beautiful country.

My wife likes to remain anonymous online.
Because of...ISIS, I think.
We tackled a few jungle paths.
After running around the jungle for a while and not seeing even one single stupid monkey we came out to discover we had a flat tire. We were parked at a small lean-to where three guys were hanging out in hammocks renting life vests to people who wanted to venture down to the water. Luckily, one of them had a tire pump. He pumped us up and frantically pointed down the mountain.

GO! GO! GO!

We got about halfway down when I could feel that the tire was getting low again. There was no way we were going to make it back into town. We were way out in the middle of nowhere on a jungle road in Vietnam and had no idea what we were going to do. We pulled up to a little shack that had drinks for people venturing up to see the temple.


Using our skills of American pantomime that we perfected while living in China, we got the guy running the shack to understand our problem. We needed a tire pump to get us a little further down the mountain. Our plan was to do this as many times as it took to get us back to Danang.

Instead of airing up our tire, he parked our scooter to the side of his little place and started taking off the tire.




Twenty minutes later, we were back on the road. He had patched the leak and charged me only 50,000₫ (just over $2). That patch took care of us for the rest of the day. Thank goodness for people who know how to do stuff.

From there we headed south to the city of Hoi An to check out the ancient city and explore their marketplace.


I wandered off while Red was negotiating prices for some cinnamon boxes and was grabbed by a woman who told me my ears were too hairy. Not the best pick-up line, but she was cute so I followed her to a small bed. She sat me down and set to work on cleaning me up.

My ears were hot the rest of the day.
That was not at all what I was hoping for and it cost me 60,000₫, but now my ears are really sexy.

The rest of the day, we ate amazing food, saw more beautiful sites, discovered places to go back and visit later and got horribly sunburned (the tropical sun will do that when you spend the day on a scooter). It was an amazing day and we cannot wait to venture out and tackle it all again.

Once our peeling skin grows back, of course.