A family gathering, video games

On May 22, Tien’s uncle rented a bus and a bunch of us drove over to where Tien’s cousin has just built a house. Many members of Tien’s family were gathering to remember the anniversary of the death of Tien’s grandmother. We grabbed breakfast in LX on the way and everybody was chatting away while I ate. It was strange to be surrounded by such lively and continual conversation of which I didn’t understand a word, and it made me remember that I was foreign.

Just before we got to her cousin’s house we got pulled over by the cops and had to stay there for 20 minutes or so while the police checked papers and things I don’t know. I was a tad worried that I’d need my passport, which I didn’t have on me, but they didn’t ask for it and we were allowed to go on with no trouble.

The new house was nearly complete, but still in a state of final construction. Many new trees of various kinds had supports to hold them up, and there were miscellaneous construction materials laying in the yard. There were a bunch of folks already there, some that I recognized and many that I did not. There were a bunch of older men sitting at a table drinking tea and talking on and on, laughing and looking into the distance. They invited me to sit and drink tea with them, and Tien said they wished that they could speak with me natively.

After a while, incense was lit and put into vases at little shrines, and everybody stood and sang a chanting song in honor of Tien’s grandmother who had died several years ago. Some people approached a photo and bowed to pray and give offerings in memory. Afterwards we all had a meal and there was a lot more conversation that I didn’t understand, but smiles and gestures go a long way on good spirits.

After lunch the family hung around and talked for a long time. I played with the kids a lot, since games don’t really need language. They were playing with a chicken that was tethered by its leg to a tree in the yard. It somehow managed to climb up the tree and over a branch and ended up hanging by its one leg from the tree itself. I shooed the kids away and untangled the string from the tree, but the chicken just lay nearly lifeless on the ground. I wasn’t sure if its leg was broken, but it certainly had no more will to flee the threat of man.

On the way home I slept, since I had a whole bench seat in the van to me and Tien. We went shopping at the mall in LX and I managed to find a helmet that just barely fit me. I also found WiFi on my iPhone, and got online for the first time in a while to respond to some friends and see what people elsewhere are up to. More and more I find that Facebook isn’t really good for keeping up on what people are up to so much as it is a place to waste time with other people who want to waste time. Twitter is even worse. Direct messages are almost the only ways I can really communicate and keep up with people, unless I happen to catch a piece of useful info in the noisy stream of jokes, links and statements of boredom.

On the way home from LX we turned up some dance music and had a fun, rowdy time in the car. I saw a banner for KFC and wondered if there would actually be one in LX soon… this place doesn’t seem like a good target market for that corporation.

Back at home we got back to feeding our addiction to Super Mario Wii. This can be really fun, but there is an extra level of frustration to that game when you can’t talk to your team mates. “Get on the @#(&*$#@ square or it won’t start moving!” “We have to fly up into that pipe up there!” “Everybody ground pound on three!” “Please don’t live inside the bubble, I might actually need to use it.” Then there are the things like gathering as many power-ups as they can, even when they don’t need them and you do, or pressing the power button on the Wiimote when somebody walks away, ending your game just before you get that third big coin by the end of the castle.

Yeah, communication is a key component of that game. We love it though, and we played it all the next day, along with iPad games. I bought Plans vs Zombies for the iPad, which was a hit. We’d also been playing a lot of Marble Mixer, Flight Control, Air Harp, Diner Dash and Magic Piano. The iPad isn’t good at a lot of things, but it’s sure great for gaming and entertainment.

Catching up from Vietnam to Telegraph Hill

The View from The RoofMuch has happened since last time I wrote. I’m currently living at 425 Green Street on Telegraph Hill, but will be returning to Vietnam to be with Tien in two weeks. Before I get into the present and future, I should probably dive into what’s been going on since I got back to America.

Look Ma, no hands!When I got back from Vietnam in Nov , I spent a few days here in America, had Thanksgiving with my friends Rob and Nicki, then drove to Colorado. The drive was tough because I was of weather and because I was pretty tired. I even slept for several hours in my car at the side of the road, but that didn’t help much. I80 East on Donner Pass, Colorado bound I finally arrived in Silverthorne Colorado where my sister was spending the holiday weekend with her husband’s side of the family. We went sledding and ate leftovers and I got to talk to a lot of people I had never met or hadn’t seen in a long time, like Tom Tonelli, Tom Burns, and Holly. I spent the night there and left the next afternoon to continue on to Colorado Springs.

I got pulled over for speeding by the police in South Park. The officer was really nice and let me go even though my California plates were expired and I had no proof of insurance. This was an extra nice gesture since most police were on edge this day due to an event that had happened earlier where a man walked into a coffee shop in Washington State and opened fire on some police officers.

Me and my four niecesI spent the next month in Colorado with friends and family. I caught up with Jake and Rachel, who had just bought a new house, my brother, who was now back from Iraq and out of the Army, Aimee Rich, who I hadn’t seen almost since high school, and a whole bunch of other folks from Colorado Springs. I spent several days in Littleton with my sister and nieces, which was great because it seems like I don’t often spend long periods of time staying with them. While I was in Littleton I finally met up Bridgepix, a fantastic photographer and master of HDR.

Dan Fava, December 2009 Helen, December 2009I went to Aurora and stayed with Dan and Cass at their place for a few days. They took me out to a nice dinner and then to a The Clocktower Cabaret burlesque show that was really entertaining and fun.  They also had a little get together and my good buddy Nathan showed up and we all played the new Super Mario Wii game, which is highly addicting. After that I met up with an old friend Helen who is a fellow world traveler and another person who I hadn’t seen in years.

Padre's 100On December 2nd my dad called from the hospital and said he had a tiny accident. Actually, he had had a pretty big accident involving ice, a stairwell with no handrail, a rock shaped like a pyramid and his head. It ended up with 100 stitches and him high as a kite on pain killers. I went to get Jeff in my car to pick up my dad’s truck from where he left it before being carted off in an ambulance, but on my way to pick up Jeff my car window rolled down and wouldn’t roll back up. The fun part of the day ended hereCold weather and stupid cars be damned. Luckily Jeff Foster’s room mate Jeff Chamberlain is a car mechanic and was available for an hour or so to whip my window back into somewhat working shape.

On December 15th my brother and I got his car stuck in the snow by The Crags and had to shovel snow with the police for like 8 hours, well into the night.

EmilyOn the 19th Jeff and Chelise hosted a Christmas party at their house. I met some new folks and caught up with some old friends there.

G and MissySince my family usually celebrates Christmas late because it’s easier to schedule, my brother and I have a tradition of going hiking on Christmas day. We continued this tradition, meeting up with Gerald and his girlfriend Loridna and her dog Misty.

Wine Jug LampI actually had way too much free time on my trip. The weather was terrible and I had continual schedule conflicts with people. I worked on some projects like the christmas light wine bottle lamps for gifts and some whitebox product style photography. Christmas was fun. Tien joined my family over Skype from Vietnam since she was still in Vietnam.

Upside DonnerOn the 28th I headed out of town for that long drive back to San Francisco. It’s funny how the details of such a long drive can disappear completely. I do remember sleeping in my car in the middle of a snow storm in the middle of nowhere. I also remember getting to Donner Pass and being refused passage because I had no snow tires or chains, so I had to wait for a few hours for the weather to get better.

ForistaWhen I got back to San Francisco I headed to BLT’s place and met up with Donna, who happened to be in town.  I spent the next month and a half there, subletting a room from Brianna who was trying to save money. Blake’s buddy Scotty was in from Denver and we hung out for most of New Years Eve, but I ended up retiring early this year.Terresina Polizzi, January 2010

I spent most of January trying to figure out how to get my photography rolling on a serious, profitable path. I did some marketing work for Tara at GroundWork, but other than that it was all charity work and portfolio building with Terresina.

Wil SinclairFor the second half of Feb Lila and Wil let me stay with them, which is always wonderful. I was running short on cash and needed to make some money quickly. I hadn’t had a steady job in 9 months. Julian Ostrow on the guitarOn top of that, I had some car repairs that needed to be done. My mechanics was right next to Julian and Sadek’s place, so I took the opportunity to stay with them for a few days and catch up. It was good times like when we all used to work together.

32::AM::99At the beginning of March Tara referred me to an IT position at her company.  It fit my schedule perfectly, and I managed to land that and get my current sublet on Telegraph Hill for the same amount of time within a day of each other, so for the past month and a half I’ve been back to the daily grind of 9-5 IT work, catching up on finances and patiently waiting for immigration to contact Tien about when she will get her K-1 visa interview.

Dan Lopez, March 2010HanikI’ve had some good social times in there, but no traveling. In fact, I don’t even drive my car anymore except to move it from one street cleaning zone to another every week or so. My friend Dan Lopez hired me to photograph him for some media stuff he had coming up with Linux.com. I finally met up with Hanik, a local house DJ that my friend Jonathan knows.  SugarCon was this week, so I caught up with some old friends there, and also happened to run into Chris Nojima on Market Street.

A few days ago my good friend Rob got hired on at Boxee and will be moving to New York, so that will surely be a trip I will be taking in the next year.

I bought an iPad after a lot of back and forth and waiting a few weeks from its release. I’ve always loved the tech, and always wanted a tablet, but aside from that I think it will be very useful on my trip.  It fits my travel needs, which are pretty lightweight compared to what I do with my laptop, and I can probably sell it in Vietnam for a profit since they aren’t for sale there yet.

32::AM::91At the beginning of the month I had called USCIS about the status of Tien’s visa, and they referred me to the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. I contacted them via e-mail, their preferred method, but never heard back. I called them after a week and a half, but they said they couldn’t answer questions over the phone. Luckily Tien is living in Saigon now, so a few days ago she went down there and discovered that they had sent her interview letter in February, but it just hadn’t arrived. This was both good and bad. It sucks that we’ve wasted two months, but also in that time I’ve been able to make some money and some good business contacts.

Today I began shifting back into traveler mode, focusing on what technology I need to bring on my trip, how to go about packing my day-to-day things back up, and things of that nature.  I have exactly two weeks to finish my job and move out of my apartment.

My plan is to travel to Vietnam and see my fiancé who I haven’t touched in 144 days. We’ll travel north to Hanoi and Ha Long, and hopefully hit Danang and Hue on the way back south, then return to her home town to see her family. I’m thinking we may go to Ha Tien beach, and maybe to the island of Phu Quoc that we had considered going to last time.

That being said, now that we’re back in touch with NVC things could change, especially if Tien gets her visa interview soon. Either way, I’m planning to return to my where my girl is and live happily ever after with her by my side, not 8,000 miles away in a country on the other side of the planet.

Political talk at dinner

While the tragic mystery of my corrupt hard disk was unfolding I made progress with other technology. A new version of Blackra1n had come out that allowed me to upgrade my iPhone from 3.0.1 to 3.1.2 and jailbreak it. This was the simplest iPhone jailbreak ever and had the option to only do the network unlock and not install other low level tools or app installers. Getting to 3.1x was good because there are some useful apps that don’t run on older versions, like Dropbox. Yelp also doesn’t run on older versions, but that’s not helpful outside of America.Night Sounds from Hell

Tien and I went for another walk to find a screwdriver and some dinner. We tracked down a screwdriver with little problem and on the way back to the restaurant we found a doughnut shop. Regular people do not eat doughnuts before dinner, but Tien had never had a doughnut before so we indulged and bought six. We walked down the street and shared three of them on the way to dinner.

We chose Viva Coffee for dinner and got a table on the upstairs patio. During this stay in Saigon we ended up eating there quite a bit no only because most of our other outings to find decent restaurants came up fruitless, but because it was literally 2 skinny VN doors down from our hotel.

We had only ever sat downstairs outside, and as we made our way through the inside and upstairs we found that the rest of the cafe was quite different. Outside was decent patio furniture and glass tables with trees that had colored lights hanging from the branches. There were large reaching awnings that could be set nearby your table to give you cover if you needed it. Inside there were rooms with bright colors under dim light with couches set around central coffee tables. The stairs going up were zebra print. There were large screen TVs everywhere playing various asian and American movies. There was even a large TV outside where we were going and at first nobody was there to watch it.

We ordered dinner and I had a cocktail. The cocktails in Asia are never, ever as good as they are in America. Most aren’t even close to the same taste, and sometimes they’re flat out wrong. I had been making my way through the cocktail list trying to find anything that was made right, but this last night turned out to be no victorious climax as I was served a Sex on the Beach with a cherry, a pineapple and a little straw hat as garnish. Not even close. Fortunately it still tasted decent, whatever it was.

Tien and I talked about differences again, mostly differences in freedom. I explained again how Americans have rights that we believe that every person should have by default, not because of some exception or allowance in the law that says it’s OK, but because it’s a right that should never be taken away. Free speech, freedom of religion, the right to bare arms, etc.. The freedom of speech was a big point. She kept asking me if there was anything an American could say that would get them in trouble. I told her there really wasn’t, we were free to say whatever we like. We could bad mouth the government, the police, the president, whoever we want that we disagree with. If you got in trouble it was because of the circumstances surrounding what you said or it was unjust. She thought this was amazing because, of course, she’s from Vietnam where they say you can say what you want but then they don’t let you say anything contrary to popular thought or anti-government or revolutionary. The VN government is even giving buddhist monks a hard time because they see even such a passive religion as competition to the leadership of the government.

We also talked a lot about gun ownership and how that is a dividing issue in America. Tien said she’s really scared of guns and she thinks that Americans always want to shoot and kill each other because that’s what’s on TV and in the movies. Obviously she doesn’t think American life is really like the movies, but to what extent it is different she does not know. I explained both sides of the argument and then went into detail about my perspective on the issue, that we should be allowed to own guns in order to protect ourselves from intruders and as principle to keep oppressors in check.

While we were chatting and eating I checked my phone and saw that my brother had posted a Facebook update. After 4 years in the Army, including two tours in Iraq as a combat medic, he was once again a civilian.

A Tragedy in Binh Hoa

Saturday morning I woke up to Tien climbing back into bed. “I have some bad news from the people in my village…” She went on to tell me that the father of her best friend Trinh, whose family lives across the street, was on his way back from taking his parents to the airport when he had a heart attack. Trinh and her boyfriend rushed him to the hospital where they diagnosed him as immediately needing an operation. It was an expensive operation and Trinh did not have the money, but they would not do the operation until they had the money. Trinh and her boyfriend rushed off to the bank to get the money that was needed, but by the time they returned to the hospital her father was dead.

Tien said he was a good man. Good to his family, good to the people in the village. I had met his wife, she is a wonderful woman. He had planned to take her to a tailor to get new clothes made so they could attend the engagement party for Tien and I. This family was close to Tien’s family.

Trinh and her boyfriend were on their way back from the hospital with her father’s body. When Tien and I headed in to Long Xuyen to take care of some engagement stuff they had just arrived at the house and were preparing a memorial.

Later in the day Tien and I went over to their house. Trinh’s father was laying on the bed under a blanket, a flower in his mouth, his wife at his side fanning the flies off of his body. A table was at the end of the bed with a photo and a little shrine with many sticks of incense and cigarettes burning in his honor.

I had never met Trinh, and this was hardly a good time for introductions, so I ended up not even talking to her. Her boyfriend was nice though, he was taking care of most of the folks who were coming in to pay their respects. Tien spent a lot of time with Trinh while I sat at the side of the room and took in the gravity of the situation. I partly wanted to photograph the scene, but didn’t want to actually go through with doing it. The photographs would’ve been amazing though because of the genuine sorrow. It was bittersweet. Clearly these people loved this man, but now he was gone.

I gave my regards to Trinh’s mother and then Tien and I went back to her house. We talked about how unfair it is that sometimes money rules who gets to live and who has to die. It’s interesting that this sort of thing happens in a communist country. We talked about the health of people in Vietnam and how they handle medical problems. She says that people do not go to the doctor, they just take medicine to alleviate their symptoms, and if the symptoms don’t go away then they go to the doctor. She said that they do a bunch of things that probably don’t help serious problems.

The world is really different over here in Vietnam. So much is the same, but so much is different…

Living the Dream

After a morning out with Tien walking around Saigon in the hot sun, after I asked her to marry me, we did what most people do during the mid day heat and napped it away in a cool place. We talked and were happy with all that had happened and the new direction things were going with the two of us. We talked about traveling to America.

At dinner we found ourselves on a side-street with many english speakers and restaurants that had Asian and western cuisine. We shared a ham and cheese crepe along with a VN dish, and I had a Saigon Red. It was very satisfying to taste a bit of home and to drink that cold beer on that hot day with my new fiancé. I thought about asking the other English speakers about traveling to Cambodia, but decided not to since my plans were not set.

We went back to the hotel room and took a short nap, checked out of the comfort of the hotel and instead chose to (try to) sleep on the bus on the way to Binh Hoa where we would tell her parents about our decision. I got just about no sleep, and was hardly comfortable until we got to Long Xuyen where other passengers got out. This was like 2 miles from her house. It was 1am.

I’m not sure what all was said because Tien is the only english speaker in her family, but later she told me that she had told them and they are happy with our decision and give us their blessing. I wasn’t sure when she was going to tell them and having learned that they already knew I felt a little weird being past what would’ve been a moment in the spotlight for me to ask for their permission and thank them for their blessing. I really have no idea how this works in Vietnam, and I doubt I’d be much good at it even in American culture. I guess I’m just used to doing things my own way so when it comes to doing things the way of tradition I’m lost.

We had a delicious breakfast at the market and talked things over. We decided that she would stay here to finish a class she is taking, get her passport and her visa to come to America, and that I would continue traveling as I had planned. This tears me a little because I had so hoped that she would be able to come with me, but it’s just not possible. It will be good to continue to travel though, but it would be good in a slightly different narrative as well.

I spent the evening on skype and on chat with friends and family, telling them about how our engagement came about, and everybody was very happy and congratulated me as I knew they would. I had at one point thought about calling a close friend to ask his advice on the situation, but thought better of it knowing exactly what he’d say. I was right, and it was great to have the support and excitement of my friends and family.

Several people told me before I left to come to Asia that I was “living the dream.” I never really thought about it like that, I just thought I was doing what I wanted to do. Now though I am having dreams and making them come true and so I do feel like I am doing as they said, I am living the dream.

Anime Lunch

Today Tien and I sat at the market where her family store is and talked a long time about language, world culture and classical music. I tried to also explain some things about computers and networking, which was preceded by my saying that I was intrigued by the problem of making a better network for a place like this village and was succeeded by my explanation of the word intrigue. While we were talking it began to rain pretty heavily, like a flash flood. We sat near the edge of the market and watched gallons of water pour off the tarp roofs of the stalls outside and I told Tien and two other girls about how cold the rain was in Colorado and how it made hail. When the rain died down Tien and I strolled the 2 blocks back to her house and had a very anime lunch.

Tien When I say anime lunch, I mean it in the romantic comedy sense of anime. Picture Tien’s mom and a neighbor woman of the same age bringing me a tray of fresh cooked food as I sat on the couch. Tien’s niece, who is ever sweet and thoughtful even at 4 years old, brought me water like she often does. Two of Tien’s sisters, two nieces, her mother and the neighbor sat there around the table watching and smiling while Tien fed food from the tray into my bowl. They all looked at me and smiled and made jokes and talked about my looks and asked if the food was good and asked about my wife or girlfriend and said a lot of things that Tien didn’t translate for me. Then in typical dorky anime guy style I broke the chair I was sitting on when I got up to get some medicine from my bag. (Lord knows I couldn’t get up to get anything but what was exclusively under my control, the women would have to get it for me.) By this time three other girls had come in, so there I was breaking the chair I sat in while about 8 asian females watched and laughed at me. The food was delicious though, and I ate it with chopsticks from a bowl. They all smiled at me and watched me eat until I was full, sitting next to that broken chair. Then they made me go take a nap, but when I went to lay in the hammock the frame of it fell backwards and I nearly broke the glass in a cabinet while pulling a muscle in my arm and dropping my laptop on the floor. Of course everybody around laughed at me, and I taught Tien the word “klutz.”

Is that not so cliché anime? All I could think of was Kimagure Orange Road or Tenchi Muyo.

After I finally got safely into the hammock and Tien and I finally agreed that neither of us should feel bad or embarrassed about what just happened we sat and talked for another long while about cultural differences, the mix of culture, non-ethnically defined culture which is often found in America, and the difficulties encountered when cultures blend and break. A lot of this stemmed off of a common idea that Tien and I might get married, which isn’t going to happen of course but Vietnamese culture leads its people to that conclusion when they see her and I together, and the difficulties between men and women of different cultures. For instance, I would’ve loved to stop talking to make out with Tien but her more conservative Vietnamese culture won’t allow that to happen, so instead we just talked about how difficult and frustrating these things can be and then I took a nap, which wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as making out would’ve been.