Friday, August 31, 2018

Fortune Cookie #12 - Ghost Month

Red and I have moved into a new house in Hoi An, Vietnam and are still unpacking. Yesterday, I came across one of my old writing prompts.

When we still lived in America, I would save my fortune cookie fortunes to write about them later. Apparently, they have been following us around the world.

FYI: Fortune cookies do not exist in China. 

Here are the posts I have done in the past based on my fortune cookies:

1 - Lesson in Patience - My favorite one
2 - Fortune Cookie #2 - I got lazy with the title on this one
3 - New Experiences Aren't Always Good
4 - Fruitless Argument
5 - Mayan Apocalyptic Debacle
6 - Confidence Isn't Enough
7 - Opportunity Knocks
8 - Let's Get To It
9 - Whistling in the Dark
10 - Adventure is Where You Find It
11 - Chinese Beauracracy

 I pulled the first one off the top and here's what I have to work with today:

Keep an eye on national affairs

As an expat in a foreign country, this is an interesting one. Should I be keeping an eye on the national affairs of my home country (America) or the country I live in (Vietnam). Or a careful eye on both since our countries have quite a complicated (and fairly recent) combined history.

It didn't take long after moving to China to discover that keeping up with American news was more difficult from outside the country. The news I did read had a much different perspective since it wasn't generated in America and I had to make more of an effort to stay on top of it. Plus, when you are not actually there, the constantly changing political climate quickly begins to sound like white noise. I'm just not interested anymore. I've decided that if we ever move back to America, we will just have to get caught up when we get there.

As for the national affairs in this country (Vietnam), I still rarely know what is going on. I hear something every now and then that I feel the need to look up, but so often it is about issues and events that I have no knowledge about. It takes time to understand the people and the culture. I grew more and more interested in what was happening around China the longer I was there, but it took a little while to get a feel for how things work. The better I understood, the more interested I was to read the news and stay up to date.

However, I know that I do need to pay more attention. Yesterday (August 31), I learned that tomorrow (September 2) is National Day here. National Day commemorates President Hồ Chí Minh reading the Declarations of independence of Vietnam at Ba Đình Square in Hanoi on September 2, 1945. It's considered to be the day that the Vietnamese officially declared their independence from French Colonization.

This is a major, major holiday here and it would have gotten by me if I hadn't seen a random post on a Facebook forum mentioning internet quality this weekend. I should probably be up on that kind of stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, Red and I were walking into town to get something to eat and all the businesses had pulled tables out on the sidewalks. They had incense and fake money burning on the tables. Some people were burning cloth. They all had various food items diced up and spread around the fires they had built. The smoke was very thick in the streets and made the already treacherous traffic/pedestrian situation even more difficult to navigate.

I had no idea what was going on until I got home and learned that we are in the middle of Hungry Ghost Month. It is the time of the year when Taoists and Buddhists believe that the realms of Heaven and Hell are open to the realm of the living. It is believed the dead will come to visit the living during this time and it is the time of year when the living can help to alleviate the suffering of their dead ancestors.

A local making offerings to the ghosts

It's a time to pay respect to your deceased ancestors, but there are also supposed dangers associated with this month. Thanh Nien News provided a list of things you are not supposed to do during the entire month:
  1. Don’t hang the washing at night since some ghosts may notice it and borrow your clothes for a while. When they return them, they will leave a miasma which is likely to cause the next wearer a bad flu, headache or an even worse illness. Tip: A tumble-dryer will help you skip the hanging part. Modernity could save the day.
  2. Never shout out another person’s name at midnight because ghosts will remember the name and later trick the person into following them. Tip: If you hate someone, such as your ex-spouse, invite them to hang out until late and shout their name at Zero Hour, hopefully thus consigning them to hell.
  3. “A leg hair manages three evil entities,” claims an old saying. Dear female readers, you should never wax a limb during these days. Your leg hair will protect you from evil and all other spirits. Thankfully, bikini waxing or underarm waxing is okay during the month.
  4. Never steal even a single cookie or small guava from the offerings tray before it is offered to the spirits. They could extract fierce revenge for eating their offerings on the sly.
  5. Do not take any photos of people at night, especially in dark places, unless you want to have an unsolicited companion standing beside them in the printed image.
  6. If you plan to celebrate your wedding this month, you could do worse than postpone it to next lunar month unless you are the kind who’d love to be available again soon after getting married. The Ghost Month is associated with bad luck in daily life, including married life.
  7. Don’t wear clothes with skull and bones images because the ghosts could mistake you for one of their own and take you back with them after their short visit to earth.
  8. Don’t pick up any currency bills you see on the street during the month. It could be money offered to the ghosts, who will come after you later to claim it back.
  9. Don’t buy white clothes or have white suits made during this month. White clothes are for funerals.
  10. If you are sick and hospitalized (maybe because you committed some of the "don’ts" above), be sure to keep the light on in your room at night. Otherwise, a wandering spirit from a nearby mortuary might, seeking out its favorite darkness, call on you.
So, staying up on national affairs isn't just abut being aware of the current political association. More awareness could keep us from getting dragged into the realm of the dead. I believe this is the most ominous fourtune I have ever received.

Let's Make Another One

About five years ago, I moved to Indianapolis. It was not a terrible distance away from my hometown, my kids, and my friends, but it was far enough away that going home was a big enough undertaking that I didn't do it very often. Once every few months was enough.

After about my third trip back "home" I began to notice something.

Every time I was about to make a trip back to Mt. Vernon, IL, I would start getting excited about what people I was hoping to visit with, what restaurants I would eat at, and the fun things I would do. However, the trip was often disappointing because people wouldn't be available to hang out, some of the key people I was hoping to see at church that weekend weren't there, or one of my favorite restaurants closed. It just wasn't the same.

Despite having only been gone about a year, I could never recreate some of the memories I had of being there.

My wife had a similar experience when we went to visit the city that she had lived in for 12 years of her adult life. We were in Lewes, DE and were having trouble meeting up with people who had been a huge part of her life for over a decade. Connections were missed and even some of the reunions that were accomplished were disappointing for her. For her, like it was for me, it just wasn't the same.

Nostalgia is like that.

Those great memories of a place are just that. They are memories. They cannot be recreated. You have changed and the place you left behind has changed. Plus, every person you left behind did not just freeze themselves in time waiting for you to come visit. Their lives have all continued moving and changing. You weren't there for it. That does not mean you can never go back to your hometown or alma mater and have a good time, but it definitely means that you should change your expectations. You cannot recreate the past. Plus, you need to recognize that much of that thing you are looking back at has been greatly romanticized in your head over the years.

Those great nights of laughing with your friends were surrounded by days of doing laundry, paying bills, and racing to work. But we tend to forget those parts because they are not worth remembering. It wasn't just awesome all the time.

However, here's the great part about those great memories. They DID happen. They are wonderful memories and it is fun to sit and remember those good times…especially when it can be done with other people who were there.

Those good memories are not ruined because you go home one day and it's just not the same. The original events still took place. Your subsequent visit home did not change that. Your memories are great. Cherish them.

This may be a little hard to accept sometimes, but it is something that most of us fundamentally accept to be true. We may not like it, but we accept it.

But let's make one little change and people lose their minds.

To illustrate, let's try a little experiment. Let's revisit this idea, but this time instead of talking about your REAL life and REAL events that happened with REAL people, we talk about an old movie or TV show. Suddenly, people are unwilling to shrug their shoulders and say "Oh well, I guess you can never go home again."

No. Instead, they freak out.

"Why would you mess with perfection?"
"What are they thinking. They're just going to ruin it."
"Hollywood is attempting to destroy all of our childhoods!"
"This will destroy the franchise."

Do you remember the fury and outrage people felt over the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters?

All of these statements I gave above were made about this movie. And I've got news for all of you.

The original 1994 Ghostbusters movie still exists and has not changed IN ANY WAY from what it was before the 2016 remake was released.

Now, I am not defending the quality of the remake in any way. Maybe you hated it and that fine. Maybe you enjoyed it and that's fine too. But it has no bearing on the original. If you liked the original and hated the remake, my guess is that you still like the original. So, what's the big deal?

And let me remind you, this is outrage over something that is fake. Movies are make-believe. It's a story someone made up.

The same things have been said about other movie remakes:

The Magnificent Seven 
The Longest Yard
True Grit
Point Break
Total Recall
King Kong
Bad News Bears
Death Race
The Fly
The Italian Job

All of these same things have been said about these movies. However, in the end, the audience either preferred the original or the remake or appreciated both. The idea that no one should ever touch an old movie is ridiculous.

But logic and common sense are thrown out the window as soon as someone considers redoing an old tv show also.

Your day is ruined because
they are remaking MacGyver?

Even if you were a hugely devoted fan of the old show (Magnum, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Will & Grace, the Muppets, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Full House, Roseanne, Queer Eye, Murphy Brown, etc.), how does them bringing the show back for a reboot or sequel or anything else hurt you or your memories of the show you are already a huge fan of.

Maybe the new show will be great and you will have a new set of memories and entertainment you can add to something you already love. GREAT!

Or maybe it will suck. In that case, (pay attention here) you don't have to watch it and it still hasn't affected how much you like the old show.

To illustrate the idiocy of this bad attitude, let's try applying it to another area of life.

Let's say that your grandmother made the most amazing apple pies. They were to die for. The whole family just drooled over them and couldn't wait for holidays when she would make them. Unfortunately, grandma is no longer with us and her apple pies died with her.

However, one day you are at the store and run into one of grandma's old friends and you are sharing a few memories of her and the apple pies are mentioned. The friend says, "She and I used the same recipe. There's several of us that use it. I'll send you a copy."

The following holiday, you walk in beaming and exclaim that you found gradma's apple pie recipe and made several of those special pies for the occasion. What would be your reaction if you heard these statements from your family?
  • You did what? Why would you mess with perfection?
  • I hope you didn't screw it up and ruin her old pies for everyone.
  • Why don't we just leave the past in the past?
  • Are you trying to ruin my childhood?
  • What didn't you just try to make something original instead of copying what's already been done?

Those would be considered apalling statements and would never be said. The family would be excited to get to eat a piece of this pie. And if it turns out that it still wasn't as good as grandma's, the memory of her pies are still there and her pies were not hurt just because someone today tried to recreate it and failed. But if you actually were able to get it right, then they get the joy of eating and enjoying those pies once again.

These are easily recognized as ludicrous statements and are no less ludicrous when said about a piece of entertainment. Why would a writer/producer/movie studio not want to create a show that already has a previously established fan base.

But there's no way they can recreate
Tom Selleck's magnificent moustache.

There is no rule of etiquette that says you have to like everything that is created for the screen. Let's grow up and move on.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Vietnamese Banking

If you follow me on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). you are already well aware of the fact that I LOVE Vietnam.

I have lived in Vietnam for just over three months and I love it here. I love the food, the friendliness of the people, the weather, the cost of living, the clean air…absolutely everything. It is incredible here.

On a daily basis, I turn to my wife and say "This is SO much better than freakin' China!"

We had some great experiences in China and we learned a lot, but it cannot be denied that things are so incredibly and unnecessarily difficult there. Anything you try to do is stifled by mountains of ridiculous and redundant paperwork that must be completed and filed at 27 different government offices scattered all around the country who do not communicate with each other to share your information.

To give you a glimpse at what I am talking about, I will tell you about a recent task I had to tackle in Vietnam. I dreaded this task so much, I put it off for almost three months. Last week, I opened a bank account.

I was able to put it off for so long because the cost of living in Vietnam is unbelievably low. We have lived the past three months off the cash we brought with us from China. My pay has been getting dumped into an international account, but I haven't had access to it because I did not have a local bank to funnel the money through. We just lived on (not only bought groceries but paid rent and all our bills) the cash we had on hand FOR THREE MONTHS!

Our cash was starting to run low, so I reluctantly succumbed to the pressure to finally take care of this. I really dreaded it because my only experiences with opening a bank account in another country have been in China and it was not pleasant.

Take your time to count all the smiles in the room.
I'll wait.

Visiting the bank in China is like going to visit someone in prison:
  • You have to wait until your number is called
  • You must carry proper identification 
  • The person you are talking to is behind a thick pane of glass
  • Guards with large batons are watching your every move
  • The tiniest little (or imaginary) infraction can get you thrown out
  • There's always someone screaming in a back room somewhere

And all of this had to be tolerated to visit the bank for anything. The first time I went was to open an account and it was SO much more complicated…and took four attempts to get it right. Seriously, I went back four times. It was not pleasant. Add to this the fact that China doesn't really let you choose your own bank and it gets worse. You have to bank where your employer tells you to because they will only pay through direct deposit and they will only do it at the bank where they do business. And then, in order for you to pay your company-supplied insurance, they will only deduct that amount from a particular bank (not the same bank, a different one because…well, you know…reasons. Shut up!). They don't deduct it from your pay, they will deduct it from your separate bank account.

This means you must open accounts at these two banks (one to receive your pay and one to pay your insurance) and each month you must transfer money from one to another to have the money in the proper place for the insurance.

And none of this was told to me until after I had already gone out and opened an account at the bank I had decided would offer the best customer service to a foreigner. So, after doing all the research to choose just the right bank for me, I wasn't able to use it. I spent the next two weeks sitting in bank lobbies getting all the proper accounts needed to be able to receive pay that never ended up going through any of those banks anyway.

China was fun!

So, you may understand my reluctance to start this process again.

So, back in Vietnam now, after doing a lot of research and talking to other expats about what banks they use, I finally decided on the bank I wanted. The bank I chose had an impressive English-language website (this is one of my requirements) that suggested I register myself with their bank before I go in to save time on the paperwork on site.

So, I started an account and plugged in all my info (passport #, name, address, etc.) and hit enter. I then received an email asking me to set an appointment to come in. I scheduled it to be as soon as possible and set out the door with all my legal documents under my arm.

Twenty minutes later, I walk into the "bank"

Does this look like a bank to you?

This was not what I was expecting. I had to go back outside to ensure I was at the right place. This was the bank. Except, they don't like to call it a bank. They call it a hangout.

As soon as I walked in, a young girl approached me. "You must be Mr. Minor. Have a seat. Would you like a drink?"

They had water, juices, several types of coffee, and even beer.

You conduct your banking business
at a coffee bar counter.

I sat in one of the large cushioned chairs by a low round table while she whipped me up an espresso. She returned with my coffee and the paperwork from my online registration. Over the course of the next ten minutes that I was there (yes, only 10 minutes), she got a copy of my passport, had me sign two papers, gave me a bank card with my name already printed on it and explained to me some of the features of the new account I now had.


I stepped back outside unsure about what had just happened. That was way too easy. Even for America. A new bank account in minutes? I didn't need any of the paperwork I brought with me? And I could have drunk a beer if I had ordered one. Incredible!

Here is part of what saved time. The place is able to have the more personable setup because they don't handle any money on site. I could not have made a deposit if I wanted to. This bank is a purely digital bank. It is designed to all be done online. If you want to make a cash deposit, there are a few banks around town they are partnered with where you can do that for a small fee, but it's rare that people do that.

Because there is no money on site, there is no need for all the extra security, guards at the doors, thick glass walls, or cameras everywhere. This place facilitates paperwork and they are incredibly efficient at it. Since I had already filled out all the needed information online before I came in, they didn't need me to do that when I got there. In fact, the only reason I had to go to the office at all was was to physically sign the papers, let them scan my passport, and hand me my card. The only reason they don't just mail you your card and have you do the other two digitally (which would be easily possible) is due to banking regulations to prevent fraud. You must physically show up with your passport. Small price to pay for this kind of ease.

I love this country more and more every day. Vietnam is awesome.