Twenty Eleven

2010 came and went, and some important events happened along the way. I…

  • lived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, at my wonderful grandmother’s condo (January 18th–February 24th)
  • received my first tattoo, an initials and date of death tribute to my father (February 23rd)
  • attended a Volunteers in Asia (VIA) Spring Orientation in Sausalito, California (April 9th–April 11th)
  • ate dim sum, watched Wicked at the Orpheum, attended a Corinne Bailey Rae concert, and was overwhelmed by taiko drummers during my first trip ever to San Francisco, California (April 12th–April 17th)
  • returned to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for two months in preparation for a year with VIA and a goodbye to Saigon as home (June 22nd)
  • became 144-hour TESOL certified (August 31st)
  • said farewell to Saigon and made Hanoi my permanent home in Vietnam (August 31st)
  • guest lectured at Hanoi University for a semester (September–December)
  • reached my 1-year anniversary working with Graph Paper Press (September 13th)
  • attended a VIA mid-year conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (November 28th–December 4th)
  • committed to a 1-year extension on my guesthouse lease in The Old Quarter (December)

I’d rather not reflect on feelings or other non-action based items from the last year. That’s not what Twenty Ten was about; it was instead about never stopping and always moving. It was also about respecting how little time we all have to get stuff done in our lives before we expire.

25/8/2010 To 29/11/2010

I flew last night to Saigon from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I’d been there for a week, attending the Volunteers in Asia mid-year conference.

The conference was stressful. Volunteers in Asia, like many organizations in the States, is very seriously revisiting its finances for not only the immediate future but also the ultimate future of the NGO. It was our responsibility to talk about it and figure out what, if anything, we as volunteers can do to smartly focus VIA’s efforts in Southeast Asia. I doubt much of our recommendations, if any, will matter. I’ll actually be shocked if they did.

If anything good came out of the conference it was an opportunity for me to revisit the last three months of my life and present them to fellow volunteers in the form of images, video, and music. We are all spread throughout Southeast Asia—other than Vietnam’s in-country representative, I’m the only VIA-affiliated member who is posted in Hanoi—and there are very few of us in the region, so this exercise was critical to putting faces and feelings to bland, paper-based post descriptions.

For someone who doesn’t go into a lot of specific detail about his day-to-day life, it was important for my video to accurately portray my last three months. I eat (a lot), spend a great deal of time at home, have girl troubles and triumphs, party and dine with coworkers, and think—probably too much—about my future in Vietnam. This was not only for VIA but also (mostly, actually) for my family and friends in the United States, who collectively have an incredibly difficult time visualizing or understanding my reality in Vietnam. I don’t blame them; I would, too.

I had fun making this, if only because during the time spent creating it I thought long and hard about my role with Volunteers in Asia, my professional and social life in Hanoi, and my future—if there is one—in the United States.

Every three months now and then I will make a video like this. I need to keep track of my life and do it in such a way that the photos, videos, and music I use all preserve as much as possible my state of mind at the time of the video’s creation. Sometimes I’m happy, other times sad. But it all happens while music is playing in my head and at least I’m surrounded by wonderful souls who know how to make me laugh.

Tomorrow I’ll leave Saigon and return to Hanoi to finish 2010. Seems appropriate, I think.

My Dentist Visit

Night Guard

My newly acquired, custom-fitted night guard

My teeth, while clean and mostly well-formed, suffer from visible wear and tear due to Bruxism—grinding of the teeth and clenching of the jaw, which is at its worst during sleep. Couple that with a cross-bite and I have what a dentist in the States once referred to as a “beautifully malformed mouth”. It looks good, but there’s a lot wrong with it.

Headaches and stress have gotten the better of me lately, and while a lot of that is self-imposed, my Bruxism hasn’t helped lessen the aches and pains I wake up with on a daily basis. Enter my newly acquired, custom-fitted night guard.

Its purpose is to act as a teeth shield and pseudo-retainer. It’s a bit snug, but it does just that. The only side effects I’ve felt have been very slight teeth soreness after waking up, the inability to wear my night guard and speak comfortably, and an odd oral fixation with sucking on the night guard like a pacifier. This likely explains the soreness.

More important, though, is the comfort I’ve gained from visiting Westcoast International Dental Clinic and realizing that for as long as I live in Hanoi—which at this juncture points to years, minimum—I’ll have an excellent source of dental care in Vietnam.

The night guard, dentist consultations, a single cavity filling, and teeth cleaning combined set me back a very acceptable $300 USD, give or take a buck or two. I hadn’t been to the dentist for a solid ten years; given this week’s pleasant experience, I’m quite certain I’ll have more dental work performed within the next several months.

Vietnamese Celebrity Sighting: Lâm Chấn Huy

I make it a habit to go to Lá, my favorite restaurant in Vietnam, between two and four in the afternoon, just after the mid-day rush and not too close to dinner time. My meals are usually eaten alone or in the company of one or two other late diners, but today was a bit different.

Lâm Chấn Huy—sadly, I had to ask who he was because I didn’t have a clue—and his film crew decided to use Lá as the backdrop to what will presumably be his next music video.

It may have been my “I’m eating now, don’t F with me” face or simply the fact that even if I do show up on film I will be out of focus that left me undisturbed and at the next table over from Lâm Chấn Huy. Whatever it was, I thought it was pretty cool to be able to watch the actual process of making a music video in Vietnam.

Without looking like too much of a jerk I was able to snap off a few photos of the mayhem. I figured it was a fair trade for having my mid-day retreat disturbed by fame in the flesh.

So that was that.

Pre-Wedding Party

My friend Yến, who is from Hà Nam, will marry today. Some of her friends in Hà Nội, myself included, are not able to make it, so we drove the quick 60 kilometers to Hà Nam yesterday for Yến’s pre-wedding gathering.

I posted the photos here. Although I have a history of avoiding weddings, funerals, and birthday parties[1. I'm strange.], I had an absolutely wonderful time in Hà Nam with friends from my guesthouse, not only at the party but also on the drive to Yến’s hometown and the return to Hà Nội.

It has only been six weeks since I packed my bags and moved from Ho Chi Minh City to Hà Nội, but I’m already very happy here. I’ve made a lot of new friends, settled nicely into my new digs, and become close with my coworkers at Hanoi University. I’d really rather be nowhere else than right here at the moment.

Wedding Party in Hà Nam

When I first moved to Hanoi I lived in an Old Quarter guesthouse for nearly 16 months. During this time I became very close with the hotel owners and staff members, who are all now friends of mine. The following photos are from the wedding of one of the hotel’s receptionists. Even after living in Vietnam for so long I had never attended a wedding, so this was a wonderful new experience to share with my new friends.

Hanoi’s 1000th Birthday Morning

Helicopters, people on rooftops, empty alleyways; sounds about right for Hanoi’s 1000th birthday party. I doubt I will go anywhere other than my balcony today. Crowds have a history of driving me mad, and if the last nine days have been any indication, Hanoi’s Old Quarter will be absolute bedlam for the next 18 hours.

Happy Birthday, Hanoi.

Vietnam Over Time

Expats tend to think they are unique little snowflakes. We are unique, but so is everyone else. I’m convinced that those of us who choose to study, volunteer, work, or simply live in Vietnam go through the same types of emotions over time. The feelings, person to person, are always the same. The only thing that varies between us all is the time it takes for each one of us to figure this all out.

Vietnam Over Time

I’ve reached the “Meh…” stage. The good in Vietnam is never really all that great, and the bad is usually just a consequence of a temperamental state.

Never trust an expat who has nothing but good things to say about his new home. Avoid expats who do nothing but focus on negativity.

Upcoming Travel

To celebrate the 1000-year anniversary of Hanoi, Vietnam Airlines has an incredible promotion going on at the moment. Needless to say, I’m taking advantage of it:

Flight Reservations

Hanoi, for now, is home, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hop around Southeast Asia when the mood strikes.