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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

What Do You Want From Your Life?

Two years ago many people thought my wife and I were crazy when we went to Turkey for our vacation despite the recent bombings in Ankara (the city we went to) and all along the Syrian border. We went anyway and had the best vacation I've ever been on.

Two months after returning from that trip, we sold all our stuff and moved to Beijing, China so I could teach English to primary school children and start using my degree in TESOL. Something I was having great difficulty doing while living in the States.

After 20 months in Beijing, we packed up again and now live in Danang, Vietnam. Despite living in Vietnam, I still work for the Chinese. In China.

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind of new adventures, crazy stories (I'm all about collecting new stories), challenging stereotypes, personal growth, and stretching our perception of people, culture and the world. It has been absolutely amazing. I can honestly say that I love my life. It still has difficultes, but that cannot be escaped anywhere.

At least once a week, I hear from someone saying something to the effect of "I am so jealous." OR "I wish I could travel all the time." And my response is always the same.

"Then do it."

This doesn't just pertain to travel. I heard the same when I went back to college after I had started my family. "I wish I could go back to school."

I would suggest they go back to school. I would then get a long list of reasons why they couldn't do what I did.
  • My kids are still in school
  • My job is pretty demanding
  • I don't have the money
  • I've been out of school too long
  • I don't have the time 
  • My dog's about to have puppies
I completely understand the fear that comes with every one of these excuses (except the puppy one) because I had the same issues in my life. I had kids and barely made enough money to meet my rent. I was working several jobs to get that money. I was pressed for time and hadn't been to a school in years. However, I made a simple choice and it was the same choice that every person makes every day.

What are my priorities?

We ALL have responsibilities that take up our time and our thoughts and our effort, but somehow we manage. Many of us have limited incomes, but we still have to decide where we spend that income. Any time we have that is not dictated to us by our jobs, sleep or responsibilities is decided by us on how we spent it.

If you choose to use your money to buy a $100/month cable package, that is your business. Good for you. However, if you have that cable package and then claim that you can't put back $100 a month to save for a trip or a college class or whatever, it's just not true. You did have the money, but you made a choice about what your priorities were and it was cable TV.

I know a guy who always complained about how broke he was and he didn't appreciate me pointing
out that he didn't have to drive a brand-new $800/month car all the time. There are much cheaper cars out there. This same guy took his wife out for VERY VERY nice dinners every Friday night, but then had trouble paying his power bill.


Whether we are talking about money, time, effort, energy, or anything else, we all only have a finite amount and how we choose to spend it is up to us. If you really want to do something, do it. Make it happen. Make your choice.

So many of the people who tell me they would love to travel more use lack of money as their excuse for why they don't. However, I cannot seem to convince them that they often make much more money than I do. And it's true whether they choose to believe it or not.

The main difference is…travel is a priority to me. Because of this, my financial decisions are made with future travel plans in mind. I recently turned down a job offer because the schedule would be too restrictive to allow me to travel freely. Travel is a priority, so I design my life around it. I personally know a girl who prioritizes travel, makes only $1,200 a month and travels all over the world. In the last year, she's been to a dozen U.S. cities and seen China, Bali, Indonesia, Malaysia, Scotland, Germany, Spain, and others. Don't tell me you can't afford to travel.

Whether you realize it or not, you are already doing the same thing. The places you choose to put your money/time/effort/emotions are the priorities you have chosen. You might not have put that much thought into it, but you have done it. The thing you need to consider is: are you being intentional about your priorities or are you just floating along letting life take you where it wants to.

If you have something you really want to do, then make it happen. Believe it or not, you probably do have the means to do so. Sit down. Make a plan and figure out you how may need to restructure your life to acheive your goal. Whatever that goal may be, it is probably not just going to fall into your lap. Go get it.

 Whatever it is

Go back to school ✯ Take your dream vacation ✯ Build that house you always wanted ✯ Write your book ✯ Get in shape ✯ Learn woodworking ✯ Volunteer at that animal shelter ✯ Take that cooking class ✯ Move to the seaside ✯ Go live your life

You have more control than you have given yourself credit for.

If you have something you want to do and you choose not to, that is fine. It is your life and I believe you should be able to live it however you choose. However, don't complain to me about the reasons you can't because I will challenge you to change your thinking.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Goodbye, China

In my last post, I briefly mentioned that I now live in Vietnam, but didn't give any details about why I am here now. I'll try to catch you up, but be warned. I may get a little negative in this post. Something I typically try not to do, but we've had a rough couple of months. Not "stuck-in-a-hotel-room-with-Harvey-Weinstein" rough, but it has not been enjoyable.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you have read many of my adventures already. Here are a few of the highlights.

Click the links if you missed any of these or they sound interesting.

Token White Guy -Learning what my actual job was
I Have the Power -The perils of just paying our bills
My #2s Should Be Someone's #1 Priority -Taking a crap shouldn't be this difficult
Don't Rub Me the Wrong Way - First experience with Chinese massage
Star and Torch Competition - Being a celebrity judge on television
English Lessons - Working with children
The Chinese Language is All Greek to Me - Us trying to learn Chinese
Life is Rough - My incredibly light work schedule

China was great and we learned a lot about adjusting to life in another culture, but…at the same time, China was awful and we learned a lot about adjusting to life in another culture.

When things went really south, I never really mentioned it on my blog. I like my blog to be a happy place where you can let your children play with having to worry about men in trench coats circling around in their van with the windows blacked out. Today, I'm going to let the creeps drive around.

For example, the school that brought us to China wasn't exactly honest with us about how employment regulations work. Shortly after arriving, Red and I were both pulled out of our schools for fear that government inspectors might find us working there.

WAIT! WHAT?

We had government contracts and worked in government schools, but that same government didn't know we were in their schools. It's a complicated mess that I'm not going to explain here (to protect certain people), but our bosses hadn't told us everything.

By the time it was all fixed, we had been in China for seven months before I received my first full paycheck. Until then, we were running around trying to make money doing odd jobs (all illegally) to get enough money to pay our bills.

We lived in China for a total of 20 months and my wife never succeeded in getting her work visa. This means she was never legally allowed to work. The reason for this was due to the job she had (yes, she had a job despite not having the proper government permission). She was an online personality doing videos to teach very young children English. According to the Chinese government, she is a teacher, despite the fact that she never enters a classroom or works with children. They would force her to apply for a teaching visa instead of the standard work visa. However, she does not have the required certificates and experience to qualify for a teaching visa, so it would get rejected every time.

For myself, my contract ended in December and I really wanted to leave my primary school job and teach in a university. And I got job offers from five different universities while we were there. However, none of them wanted me in January. They were all hiring for the next school year, but when the next school year came around no one wanted to hire me because I was locked into a contract at my current school until the following December. These contracts mean everything in China. You can't just walk away from a job. This meant I was stuck where I was unless I was willing to be unemployed for 6 months to change jobs. Although, even if I was willing to try this, my visa would expire and I would have to leave the country. So, I stayed where I was.

Add to all this the air quality issues in Beijing
that are almost always in the HAZARDOUS level
and we decided we just needed to get out.

Getting a job in another country would free me from having to abide by China's contract rules. We did a little research and settled on Vietnam as our new home.

But we still had to get out of China first. It was not easy. I received dozens of phone calls from my school trying to understand, bribe, coerce, threaten, guilt, and beg me to stay. A government inspector even offered to make me the principal of a Beijing school.

After a reconnaissance trip to Danang Vietnam to check out our new future hometown, we settled back in Beijing for one month to wrap everything up (close bank accounts, shut off services, etc). It was awful. It seems that everything in China is designed to be purposefully difficult.
  • I returned the router to the internet company on my last day of service. They required my passport to cancel my service. I had left it at home and didn't want to make the trip back, so I showed them the picture I had of my passport page I always kept on my phone. NOPE. They have to have the original. I didn't see the point. I was not purchasing anything or starting new service, I was ending service. I owed them no money. I eventually told them, I'm just leaving this here. Do what you want with it. The manager got involved and objected to me leaving. After a bit of arguing, I discovered they only needed to make a copy of my passport. "SERIOUSLY!?! If all you need is a copy, I have one." I sent them an email with the picture of my passport attached. It took 5 people standing around discussing this before they decided that that picture would be as good as a picture they took themselves. Uh, yeah. Why wouldn't it be?
  • I had three separate bank accounts due to insane banking regulations and spent an entire day trying to close just two of them. And one of them insisted that I didn't have any money in the account after it was closed. I did, but there was nothing I could do about it.
  • Due to my bank account being closed, our leasing agent couldn't give us our deposit back. Because, apparently, the ONLY possible way to give us our money is a direct deposit into my account.
  • Foreigners pay into social security the same as locals. And when we leave the country, we are to go apply to get the money we have contributed. After all, it's our money. However, the laws and regulations involved all contradict each other in such a way that it is nearly impossible to get that money. I was not able to get it because I cannot legally stay in the country long enough to complete the process required.
Here is my Facebook rant from that day about Chinese social security regulations that further explains it.



Here is my Facebook rant about how our leasing company stole our money.


Moving is expensive. That is to be expected, but we didn't expect to lose an additional $6,000 due to government theft, corporate fraud, and bureaucratic inefficiency.

As of today, we have been in Vietnam for almost two weeks and it has been an entirely different experience from day one. I can honestly say that we already have more friends here than we had after a year in China. The people here are incredibly friendly. People always talk to us on the street and approach us to find out where we are from. Everyone wants to to help. Genuinely help. Not just try to get something from us. After being here only five days, we threw a party on our rooftop and a dozen people attended. It has been great.

There is still much we don't understand about Vietnam and are learning how paperwork and laws work here, but it has been a wonderful experience so far. I love this country already.

RANT OVER.
We'll return to our regularly scheduled happy posts now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

It's My Life (and I Love It)

I have a problem.

Well, it's not really a problem for me, but it seems to be a problem for other people. Try as I might, I have great difficulty caring about what other people think.

I can't say I don't care at all. I do care about some of the things they think. I enjoy being liked by people, but don't care if they don't. I love making people laugh, so I want them to think I am funny, but don't actually care if they think I'm juvenile. I appreciate being known as a good guy who can be trusted…but that seems to be where it stops.

About ten years ago, my brain made a subconscious philosophical U-turn and I've been much happier ever since. There were a number of factors that led to this change, but I should have made this decision much earlier in my life.

I just don't put much thought into what people think of me.

I mentioned earlier that I enjoy being liked. That's true, but I've learned how to let it go if I'm not. I am not a perfect person, but I try to be kind to everyone and if someone decides they don't like me, it's okay. I don't have to win them over. I have plenty of friends.

Plus, I get it. I don't like most people and it doesn't even take a good reason.

The main thing I don't care about is people's opinions of my decisions for my life. In the last decade, I have made many decisions that made people shake their heads in confusion or disapproval.

Decisions in the last 10 years that made people go HUH?:
  • Bought a tattoo shop
  • Married a girl I met online
  • Had a six-day engagement
  • Quit my job and moved to China
  • Quit my job in China and moved to Vietnam
These are the bigger examples, but there have been plenty of small ones. Now and then, some of what is being said about my decisions or the "he-likes-to-fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants" nature gets back to me and I can honestly say that my response is a shrug.

Meh!
It really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. As long as I am not hurting another person, my life is my life. My favorite thing to tell people who ask me about something I have done is "You only get to live this life once. You might as well enjoy it."

The decisions that my wife and I have made for our lives is why I am writing this post on the rooftop terrace of my beachside apartment in Vietnam instead of in an apartment in Indiana.


I live here now because we decided to follow what we wanted instead of doing what everyone said was the smart thing to do.

This is literally a five-minute walk from my front door.

In my next post, I'll get into what led us to move here.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Z - Zoo Fun

When my children were younger, (by younger I mean young enough that they still appreciated their father and hadn't learned how to talk back yet) we would take weekly road trips. I had a job where I worked long hours and didn't see the family much during the week, but I always had weekends off and we liked to spend it on the road. Every Saturday, we would load up the car, head to Huck's to grab some gas station road trip food (mini tacos, egg rolls, sodas, etc.) and hit the road.

Some days, we ended up in a state park. A few times we stumbled onto a small town festival. Other times, we would drive into a big city. Often, we didn't even have a destination in mind when we left the house. We would just pick a direction and start driving. I loved these trips.

One particular Saturday, we decided to head to the zoo. When it comes to zoo trips, we are really lucky. We live in southern Illinois and the St. Louis Zoo is less than 90 minutes away. This is the zoo I grew up going to and it spoiled me for other zoos. It is ranked as one of the best zoos in the entire country, so I always end up disappointed when I am visiting someone in another part of the country and we end up at a lesser zoo. Our zoo is awesome. Suck it, Cleveland.

I was particularly excited for this trip because my kids were at that magical age. Kirsten was two and Christian was six. They would think the animals were the coolest things in the world to get to see. Plus, it was springtime and we had been looking forward to getting out of the house after the long winter.

Once we got there, we headed to the exhibit I always insist that we visit first. THE PENGUINS! I love penguins. I always have. This practice of seeing the penguins as soon as we get there first started when I was a child and I still do it when I go back to visit. After I see the penguins, I don't care where we go. I am happy.

I couldn't wait to share these magnificent birds with the kids and hurried them into the penguin house. As soon as we got inside, I unstrapped Kirsten from her stroller, put her up on my shoulders and turned around to see this:


Chicka-Chicka-Wa-Waa
"OK, let's see what's happening on the other side of the enclosure."

We moved further down to get away from the happy couple and were met with another public penguin porn performance. However, this time it was more like a penguin orgy. There were at least half a dozen penguin couples getting an early jump on the day…and each other. As much as I love penguins, I decided that maybe we should come back later. I don't allow guests in my bedroom to watch without paying admission and since the St. Louis Zoo is free, this just didn't feel right. Plus, I had my kids with me.

We worked our way up the hill to Big Cat Country to take in the jungle cats. My kids lost interest in the leopard pretty quickly because it just sat there.  The panther couldn't be seen, but the tigers were much more playful.


In the very next enclosure, the lions were up to the same thing. My wife commented that the animals seem to be enjoying the springtime weather as much as we were.

About 20 minutes later, we learned that the monkey house was not the place to be right now either. I will spare you the pictures. They are much more graphic.

We left the zoo after being there less than two hours, but in that time we got to see elephants, buffalo, three different species of bear, antelopes and even snakes getting it on. We decided that in future years, we would wait until later in the season to visit the zoo.