Sunday, September 30, 2018

Six Questions

Today's post is inspired by Terri D's Wednesday Medley over at  Your Friend from Florida...  She asks six questions and answering them helps your readers get to know you a little bit better.

1. If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
I would love to say that I would spend more time writing. I have a book I have been working on for over a year and have started another one this month, so not needing to sleep would give me a lot of extra time to get them written. However, I also know me. I'm sure I would get some writing done, but I would also get a lot more TV watched. I would read more and I would spend a lot of time wandering around town discovering the nightlife.

These things would not be the best use of my time, but they are what would happen.

2. What’s your favorite piece of clothing you own/owned?
When I was in high school, I had a striped yellow flannel that I wore all the time.  I loved that shirt and I caught a lot of flak from my friends over that shirt all the time. I always just joked along with them until I was out on a first date one night and ran into one of my friends and he made some comment about the flannel. I had it on at that moment. Maybe they had a point.

Today, my favorite piece of clothing is probably by blue "lounge-around" clothes. It's a pair of super soft cotton short and a shirt that matches. The shirt has a few small holes in the front, but is extremely comfortable. My wife has agreed to never throw it out as long as I only wear it at home when we do not have company.

3. What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?
I don't even have to think about this one. Photography.

I have always loved taking pictures, finding just the right angle and figuring out how to utilize the light source. I won a few photography awards when I was younger and one of my photos was even featured in a book, but I never pursued it seriously. I would love to have a great camera and equipment. Then, have all the time and money needed to travel, take pictures, and edit them. I would love it.

4. What would your perfect room look like?

This picture immediately came to mind. This is Stephen King sitting at his desk. He has written dozens of best-selling novels from this spot.

I would want more modern equipment (and lose the phone), but this is it. This room lined with full bookshelves and I might never leave it.

5. When was the last time you climbed a tree?
I honestly don't know the answer to that question. I have climbed hundreds of trees in my life. My brothers and I loved to climb so high that we frightened our parents. We loved to jump from the branches of one tree into another and see who could make the furthest and highest jumps. However, I cannot recall the last time I was in a tree. I do believe that I can say the last time I was in a tree, I was probably much older than when most people get in a tree for the last time. That was still a long time ago and I have no idea when it was. My arthritis keeps me from getting too physically wild these days.

6. Tell us something you will do/did today.
I teach Chinese children online and today (Sunday) is the one day each week that I actually work all day. The rest of the week, I only have evening hours. However, due to a national Chinese holiday next week, the Chinese school schedule has been adjusted to make up for the week off the whole country is about to take. This means all the kids are in school today. Since they are in school, they cannot be taking my classes. This gave me an unexpected day off.

Having this time off meant I needed breakfast. My wife and I wandered off and found a new place that had an amazing breakfast. Breakfast food is quite different in Vietnam, so we loved this find. We will be going back.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Look Out, Vietnam

Last week, my entire life changed.

I have experienced what some would already call big changes in the last few years.
  • My children moved out
  • I got married
  • We moved from the U.S. to China
  • We moved from the big city of Beijing to the more rural town of Hoi An, Vietnam
Despite all those changes, last week was different. I broke down and rented a scooter for the month.

Growing up in rural America, having a vehicle is just a given. You have to have one. There is no other way to get to your destination. Even living in a bigger city, typically people have a vehicle to get around. There are exceptions, but not having a car is not the norm.

It was a bit of an adjustment going to China and giving up our cars, but Beijing literally has the best public transportation system in the world. I'm not just saying that because I was impressed. It really is ranked as the top in the world.

Once we figured out how it all worked, there was honestly no need for us to have a car. We could get anywhere we needed to be by using a taxi, subway, or bus. Plus, it was crazy cheap.

Then, we moved to Da Nang, Vietnam. Reliable public transportation is virtually nonexistent there, but living in the center of a big city (1.8 million) meant everything we might need was fairly close. We just walked everywhere. We were already used to doing a lot of walking because of our time in Beijing.

In the end, we settled in Hoi An. Hoi An is much much smaller and we live out on the edge of town. We don't even have an address. This means we cannot receive mail or order for food delivery. There is an outdoor food market near our house, but anything else requires a significant hike. We don't mind the walk, but there is a limited amount of options near us and the trips to see something new required a big time commitment and a lot of sweat (remember this is tropical Vietnam).

So, last week we rented a scooter to see how much we would actually use one.

It took me about 12 hours to answer that question.

We will use it A LOT.

There is a place I love to go for breakfast, but it would take me 30 minutes to walk there. On the scooter, it's only about 7 minutes. I've eaten there every day this week. I can pop over to the market across town that has a few more Western goods the market near us does not have.
And my favorite part…I can more efficiently explore our new surroundings.

I love to wander the streets of a new city and start discovering all the little-hidden gems as I build my mental map of how the city is laid out. This takes a long time to accomplish on foot and it is something that Red does NOT enjoy doing. Now that I have the scooter, I can tear up and down the streets and quickly discover what road meets up with what and find all those little shortcuts. I have learned so much about the layout of our city in the last few days.

And today we ventured outside the city. Having the scooter gives us the freedom to go explore without having to pay a cab to just cart us around all day. Especially when we don't really know where we want to go half the time anyway.

Today we went to Tháp Chăm Chiên Đàn to see some 12th-century towers built by the people of the Champa Kingdom which existed from 192 and was absorbed by Vietnam in 1832. We figured if we are going to start calling this country home, we should probably start learning a little bit about it.

Now that I'm mobile, no part of this country is safe. I'm ready to see it all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

PSA: Stop Being Stupid!

Today is my birthday.

Forty-seven years old.

And as someone reaching the justified "grumpy old man" status, I was met with something that made me grumpy as soon as I rolled out of bed and checked my Facebook. Although, honestly, this seems to happen more and more often lately.

It was one of these stupid Facebook posts. Maybe you've seen this one floating around.

I cropped out the owner of this account to save a little embarrassment

Here it is in text form in case you can't see the picture well.
I wondered where everybody had been!
This is good to know: It's ridiculous to have 200 friends and only 25 are allowed to see my post.
I ignored this post earlier, but It WORKS!! I have a whole new news feed. I’m seeing posts from people I haven’t seen in years.
Here’s how to bypass the system FB now has in place that limits posts on your news feed.
Their new algorithm chooses the same few people - about 25 - who will read your posts. Therefore,
Hold your finger down anywhere in this post and "copy" will pop up. Click "copy". Then go your page, start a new post and put your finger anywhere in the blank field. "Paste" will pop up and click paste.
This will bypass the system.
If you are reading this message, do me a favor and leave me a quick comment...a "hello," a sticker, whatever you want, so you will appear in my newsfeed! It WORKS!!

Please bring back my friend
I have been seeing this all over Facebook for the last weeks. I hadn't seen it for a few days, but it was back again this morning and now I have high cholesterol. It's time to speak up. Let's stop being stupid!

Before I get started here, if you are one of the people who has shared this status, let me take the time to personally apolog…nope. Nope. Nope. I can't do it. You should have known better. And this isn't about computer savvy. Pay attention.

Let me try to help some of you out there and maybe we can stop this lunacy.

Basically, this post states that the algorithm Facebook uses keeps you from seeing all the posts of your friends (or your friends from seeing you - there's a bit of discrepancy in the language used here).  There is some truth to this statement. Facebook does mess with your timeline a little. I understand that can be frustrating and wanting to fix it. This post claims to be the way to do so.

It is the people who actually believe the claims of this post who baffle me. Once again, no apology. Get a helmet.

Let's break this down a few sentences at a time.

I wondered where everybody had been!
This is good to know: It's ridiculous to have 200 friends and only 25 are allowed to see my post.
I ignored this post earlier, but It WORKS!! I have a whole new news feed. I’m seeing posts from people I haven’t seen in years.

The first thing that caught my attention was this claim that it works.

How do you know that it works? If you are just posting this on your page for the first time, you cannot honestly claim that it works. You have not seen the results yet. In fact, while you are pasting it in, you haven't even hit SEND yet and you are still telling all of your friends that this works when you actually have no idea or even the thinnest shred of evidence. That makes you a liar.

That may seem like harsh language, but it is what it is. Liar. How does it feel to have your britches constantly on fire?

I wondered where everybody had been!
This is good to know: It's ridiculous to have 200 friends and only 25 are allowed to see my post.
I ignored this post earlier, but It WORKS!! I have a whole new news feed. I’m seeing posts from people I haven’t seen in years.
For this section, let's look at the discrepancy in what this thing actually claims to do. The first bold statement claims that some people aren't able to see your post. However, the second bold statement uses language stating that you are not seeing other people's posts. Which is it? Is the problem with how you see your own wall restricting you from seeing other people or with how your posts go out to others and keeps them from seeing yours?

And if you think I'm being picky here, the writer mixes them up again a little further down.

Here’s how to bypass the system FB now has in place that limits posts on your news feed.
Their new algorithm chooses the same few people - about 25 - who will read your posts. Therefore,
Once again, does this algorithm limit what you see or limit what posts of yours your friends can see. These are not the same thing. Even if this thing did work (SPOILER ALERT: it doesn't), it would not fix both your's and your friends' walls.  The original author of this post couldn't even decide which lie he wanted to tell. But for some reason, many of you are willing to help him anyway.

Now, let's look at the most incredible part of this entire thing.
Hold your finger down anywhere in this post and "copy" will pop up. Click "copy". Then go your page, start a new post and put your finger anywhere in the blank field. "Paste" will pop up and click paste.
This will bypass the system.
The instructions direct you to copy this status and then paste it into your feed. And like a good sheep, many people did just as they were told. That is what is supposed to fix it. Let's look at this claim.

By the time you have done this and hit SEND, all you have really done is put up a Facebook status. Something you have done hundreds of times. You did not change any settings. You did not reset your account. You did not bypass the system (what system?). You did not rewrite any algorithm. You have done nothing but post a status. How, in the name of Sofía Vergara, could anyone possibly have believed that posting something on their wall would change their account settings.

Probably the same people who think sharing or liking a status will save a random baby who has cancer. 

I pointed this idiocy out to someone the other day and they told me I was wrong. He said I missed a key part of the message, but I said that I only missed that he was one of the idiots. He pointed out that the message asked the people who see it to leave a comment to get them added to the new list of people who will get to see their stuff (or you'll get to see their stuff - still some confusion there) in order for it to work.

Here is what he was talking about.
If you are reading this message, do me a favor and leave me a quick comment...a "hello," a sticker, whatever you want, so you will appear in my newsfeed! It WORKS!!
This is the same as the problem I pointed out above. How does someone leaving a comment approve them to be part of your feed in any different way than if they were leaving a comment before? In the end, you are still just posting a status and they are leaving a comment.


…other than you are getting laughed at by the person who originally wrote this post to see how many people would fall for it.


The only way to see certain people in your newsfeed more often is to be sure your settings are arranged the way you want them and interact with people on Facebook. Facebook does give precedence to the people you interact with more. But a one-time status, comment or like will have ZERO effect.

The people who believe and post this stuff are probably the same people who post the status claiming that Facebook has no legal right to the pictures they uploaded there. Despite the fact that using Facebook required agreeing to Zuckerberg's TERMS AND CONDITIONS (an actual legal document).

So, everyone, for the sake my happiness, don't be stupid. AND if you see someone else being stupid, please say something. They need to know…and be publicly shamed if you can arrange it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Cinderella Got It Right

I pulled this fortune out of my collection this morning and have found myself thinking about it all day.

We will not know the worth of the water 'til the well is dry.
The analogy here is water, but it can be applied to a large number of things.
  • Many people don't realize how much their parents mean to them until they lose them.
  • Young adults often don't realize how good they had it at home until they move out on their own.
  • People who have always had money have no idea how difficult it is to be truly broke.
  • Young people take their energy and health for granted. It's rarely appreciated until they get older and tired.
However, this fortune really reminded me of the quote from Boris Yeltsin - "We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone. Freedom is like that. It's like air. When you have it, you don't notice it."

I have lived the last two years outside of the United States. The majority of that time was in China. It doesn't require much time in China to feel how oppressive the atmosphere is. You really do have to watch what you say and do. I'm not going to get into all the details of what can happen and just how particular their rules are, but it is possible to get into a lot of trouble for just opening your mouth about something you think.

This was something we were aware of before going but didn't really understand it until we got to experience it firsthand. We kept our noses clean and stayed out of trouble, but the times it was most difficult was when speaking to a Chinese person who honestly has no idea how oppressed and controlled they are. Having never experienced being free, they think they already are.

I had a Chinese girl get really upset with me at a party after she asked why I didn't teach on a particular subject. I explained to her the restrictions I was under and she got very defensive. "We have total freedom of religion here. I can be anything I want. I can believe in Buddha or Jesus or Allah or anything."

Talking to her further, I learned that she had no further argument. Yes, she could believe whatever she wanted. However, that was the full spectrum of the freedom she was allowed. She is not allowed to voice it, to tell other people about it, to share her faith (whatever it may be), to invite someone to join her at a religious event, to show any outward appearance of what her beliefs were, etc.

That is not freedom.

She had the right to have her own thoughts and praised her government for allowing that.

This is just one example, but it was the same across the board (personal ownership of property, taxes, educational choices, speech rights, media control, volunteer spies on every street corner) and most have no idea that much of the world does not live like this. This is simply because it is all they know. Having never experienced freedom, they have no idea how sweet it is.

I know America is not perfect and there are things we can point out as not being as free as they used to be, but way too many people take our freedoms for granted and have no idea just what that freedom means. This is especially troubling when I see people flying into rages over the smallest infractions on their "rights".

So many of the people screaming that America is a cesspool are working hard to make it worse without realizing they are doing it. The more and more they chip away at our freedoms, the closer we get to losing the very things that make our country a place to be proud of.

I'm trying to be careful and not single out any particular movement or recent event because people will want to focus on their opinion of that event instead of my overall sentiment.

Please appreciate what you have. Whether we are talking about money, freedom, spare time, health, whatever. If the time ever comes that you lose it, you don't want to look back and realize that you squandered it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fortune Cookie #13 - Making that Goat Money

This morning, I reached in my bag of collected fortune cookie fortunes to see what the day had in store for me and I got this.

You'll make foreign money in the year of Goat.

Now, a fortune telling you that you are going to make some money is always a good fortune. Who couldn't use a little more money?

However, my first thought about this took me right to my time spent teaching English in Beijing. Consistently, regardless of age, every student would get this question wrong.

What is this animal?

Every student I ever had would answer "sheep". ALWAYS. From grade one all the way through high school. They would tell me that was a sheep. 

I would correct them and show a picture of a sheep.

THIS completely different animal is a sheep.

The students never questioned me. They had the foresight to understand that the native English speaker in front of them is probably correct. However, the new knowledge rarely stuck with them. Inevitably, at some point, this would come around again and they would label a goat as a sheep.

Once, I heard a Chinese English teacher call a goat a sheep and I realized that the kids weren't mixing the animals up, this was what they had been taught. However, it was a pretty consistent mistake since I had encountered this phenomenon in several schools and even different cities. Why was this happening?

I eventually cracked it. The confusion can be tracked down to the way the Chinese language functions. Many of their words are two other words pushed together. In this instance:

See, the Chinese don't really have an original word for goat. They have the word () Yáng for sheep. But for a goat, they take the already existing () Yáng and add (山)Shān to the front. 羊.

山  means mountain.

So, their language provides a word for sheep, but then the word for "goat" is literally "mountain sheep." This doesn't even account for all the little goats that are running around farms and have no association with mountains. I understand the confusion.

Due to all this confusion within the Chinese language, I turned to Google to investigate my fortune to ensure we were even talking about the correct animal.

It appears to me that even within Chinese culture,
they don't know what animal we are talking about.

 I also discovered that the Year of the Goat…Sheep…uh, Ram…whatever isn't coming around again until 2027. Eight years from now! What am I supposed to do until then?

I went back to look at the fortune.

Wait a minute!

Due to my international lifestyle, I already make foreign money. I spent the last two years in China and am now in Vietnam. My money comes from a few different countries. Given my current circumstances, the best the fortune is offering me is letting me know that I will still be employed in eight years.

Although, these fortunes were all collected by me when I still lived in the States. I just still have them. Had I read it at the time, it would have been letting me know that my income would not be US-based a decade down the road. This may be the first fortune cookie I've ever gotten that actually came true.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Making Friends With the Locals

I grew up out in the country. For the majority of my childhood, we couldn't even see another house from our yard. We were familiar with the wildlife of the area and lived among all kinds of creepy-crawlies. Mice, spiders, snakes, lightning bugs, are just part of life when you are surrounded by grass and trees. We even had raccoons, skunks, salamandars, deer, foxes, snakes and other animals we caught as pets.

Throughout most of my adult life, I have lived in town. There are critters in the cities also, but not nearly as many. Snakes just aren't as interested in concrete as they are dirt. Dirt is sexier.

Since leaving the States, I have only lived in big cities. I spent a year in San Juan, Puerto Rico (355,000). Almost two years in Beijing (28 million) in an apartment on the 11th floor and then three months in Da Nang, Vietnam (1,300,000). So, I've never really gotten familiar with the wildlife of anywhere but southern Illinois. But a couple of weeks ago, Red and I found the house we wanted and moved to Hoi An.

Now, Hoi An has 120,000 people. However, we do not live in town. We live way out on the edge and are surrounded by rice paddies. We love our big new house, but there is no urban wall of separation between us and nature anymore. Red learned pretty quickly that she was just going to have to come to terms with the ants. They are not going to go away. It doesn't matter how clean you keep your kitchen, they are still going to invite themsleves in. They're quite rude.

Next, are the geckos.

These cute little guys are everywhere. They range in size from one inch to almost eight inches. It is fun to watch them stalk their prey across the wall and then take out a moth or cockroach. Although, the bigger ones can be a little unnerving when they bark at you.

Next, we have a snake that lives in the small garden on our front porch.

He just skulks around the flowers looking for something to eat and doesn't really pay attention to us, but we have learned that he is venomous. His teeth are typically unsuccessful at penetrating human skin because they are designed for small prey, but it was good to know. The locals told me that venomous or not, we should leave snakes alone. Many Vietnamese believe that they are actually remnants of people's ancestors and it is very culturally disrespectful to bother the snakes.

 All those critters I can deal with. Here is the one that is taking some getting used to. This video is from my Facebook page.


This guy is huge. AND about 90 seconds later he was dead. I didn't want that thing clomping around at night keeping me up with his loud footsteps.

Since posting that video, I have been informed by many of the locals that you actually want those spiders in your house. Those are the "good spiders" my New Zealand friend told me. They hunt down and eat roaches, smaller spiders, and mosquitoes. So, we are changing our approach toward them.

We are trying to make peace and let them be. They could probably overpower us anyway.

Saturday, September 1, 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.