Preparing for my third Asia trip

Time spent on San Francisco trainsRight now I’m on the L-Taraval on my way to the sunset. Rob is in new York looking for a place to live and I’m crashing at his place while he’s gone.

I just finished a crazy, long day at work with network config, server upgrades, Linux active directory authentication problems relating to a windows server meltdown that also caused DNS and VPN meltowns. This infrastructure is not exactly high availability.  It started at 6am and here at 10pm it’s almost over… On top of that I managed to work out the details of a landing visa for my trip to saigon next week and line up a small crew for how weird this Sunday.

It’s such a foreign world here in SF compared to the remote Mekong farm village where Tien grew up and is staying these days. I love technology, and I need to make money, but I have to find a balance.

I need immigration to approve Tiens visa.  It’s been over five months since I last saw Tien, which is a long time to go without seeing anybody, let alone your fiancé. Too long.

Last weekend I went to San Jose for Sadeks birthday and caught up with a ton of folks I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’ve managed to fit in quite a few good visits in my last few weeks here, though unfortunately a few have not come through.

It’s strange to consider the levels of anticipation between my trips. The first time I left I was burned out on work, going into the unknown ready for whatever. The second time I was lovestruck and impatient for things to move on freely. This time I seem exhausted and underwhelmed. I’ve been so focused on projects at work and dealing with the details that I feel like I’ve lost touch with the joys that I’m pursuing.  When I stop to think about the situation I am either emotionally swelled with missing Tien or incredibly frustrated and nearly broken over this ridiculous US immigration saga.

I need a vacation, that’s for sure. Maybe I’ll go back to Nha Trang…

It’s weird to think back to a time when I cared where I slept at night.

Day to day in Binh Hoa

Friday we woke up and did some internet stuff. I was catching up on a lot of Internet in the morning. Tien got me a breakfast sandwich and made me a banana and strawberry smoothie. What a lucky guy I am, my fiance bringing me food at my computer!

Tien found the information we needed about how to get me a drivers license in Vietnam and it was incredibly simple. We headed to Long Xuyen to get the things we needed in order to apply for it: a photograph of 20x23mm and a notarized translation of my CA driver’s license. We also cruised around to look for a DC power adapter since I forgot the one that goes with the WRT54G that I brought from America. We found one near a park, and after buying it I decided to go take some photos in the park. I was looking for high places to photograph down from in order to make the miniature perspective of the tilt/shift work, so we also headed up to the Panda Cafe on the 6th floor of a building overlooking a main intersection and had some drinks and took some more photos from there. We then cruised down to a local market area, past a block full of flower vendors that smelled a lot like San Jose smells in the spring. I told Tien about this as we were passing through. We picked up some stuff for Thu and headed home to spend the evening hanging out with her family. I tried to hook up the WRT54G and found that the power adapter did not work.

Saturday morning we woke up and headed straight to the translation service and then to the police station. It was a day for people to drop things. While we were riding along I saw three people drop things off of their motorbikes. I’ve also noticed that school is in session now because the streets are full of uniformed students. The girls look beautiful in their all-white traditional clothes, and the boys have a classic schoolboy look in their blue pants, white shirts and red ties. Most of them ride bicycles to school, some hitching rides with others or on motorbikes.

When we got to the police station they informed us that they couldn’t give me a driver’s license unless my visa was good for at least 3 more months. This was mildly disappointing and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a subtle attempt at extortion. I didn’t care enough to find out so we left and went to have brunch at a cafe where we often used to go to surf the net. The food was OK and the drinks were great. We talked about our plans to travel to Nha Trang and possibly to Thailand, what else we would do while I was here, and about whether or not I would return to the USA on Nov 25th, which I think is likely.

We went and swapped the power adapter for one that we thought should work even though it was slightly underpowered, cruised the 20 minutes home from Long Xuyen and found that it did not work. I really didn’t think it would be so hard to find a 12v 500mA DC adapter, but surprise surprise, Vietnam is full of surprises.

That evening we went out in the neighborhood for a walk. We stopped at a little cafe where some locals were watching a ridiculous television show. We ate ice cream and mosquitoes ate me. My ice cream was one of those triple flavors, chocolate, mint and durian. That was interesting… it’s the first time I’ve had durian since I knew it was the “stinky fruit.” It definitely has a very, very odd and distinct flavor and scent.

Tien and I ate dinner on the floor with her mom and sister that evening. I was a little melancholy and I think this made them slightly uncomfortable, but it’s not like we could talk about it. The side-effects of not being able to speak to anybody except Tien were beginning to get to me.

Aside from nonverbal communication, another thing that was getting to me was a pain I’d had in my ankle. Ever since I got off the plane in Tokyo I had a pretty significant pain in my left ankle. I thought it might be a pulled muscle or a bruise on my ankle, but the more I had thought about it the more I thought it might be something with my ligaments. It is a pain stretching from the middle of my shin on the inside, down to the top part of my ankle joint, and also is affected by the arch of my foot. Tien gave me a massage and rubbed some Ben Gay™ that her brother in law had brought from america and that made it feel much better, though not healed.

Sunday morning I woke up at 7:15, which is early for me. While Tien and I were at the market having breakfast I saw a shirt that said “Do u know now much plannet u mean to me” and thought that was pretty funny. We talked a bit about where we wanted to go on a trip, and afterwards we headed to Long Xuyen to find yet another power adapter.

After visiting about 10 stores we finally tracked down a 498mA power adapter and decided to buy it even though the man at the shop said it was not very good quality. We took a back road to get back to the main road which I always enjoy because I like seeing new areas. The road took us by the river and on the way we found a crowd of people standing at the waters edge. They weren’t celebrating, but they weren’t frantic either. Tien listened to what they were saying and told me that a child had fallen into the river.

A man away from the crowd began to shout, but nobody payed attention. I thought this was interesting because it seems that Vietnamese people shout a lot. This ended up being one of those “never cry wolf” situations because he was trying to tell them he saw something in the water. A few more people also began shouting and soon a teenage boy ran over and jumped in the water to look for the child there. Several people swam along the shore, which dropped off very steeply, and were diving under looking for the child. We stayed a while but the child was never found…

I had talked to Tien before about how children here are not taught to swim which leads to many of them drowning, and here was a real life example of such a tragedy. I feel stupid and ashamed that I never thought about the fact that the children in Tien’s family can’t swim and it wasn’t until a few days later that one of her other family members suggested that they be put in swimming lessons. Tien couldn’t swim when I met her, and I wondered if anybody else in her family could.

When we got home I tried the power adapter on the wireless router and it was too unstable and thus did not work. I decided to give up on the whole thing, I’ll just mail the power adapter once I get back to the USA.

That night I opened a bottle of Da Lat red and had wine with dinner. It was the first wine I’d had since leaving California and it was delicious and familiar. It felt good to have a familiar taste that is heavily bound to California. That night I slept deeply.

Tien and I had planned to go to Nha Trang on Monday, a beach resort town up towards Danang, but that morning Tien said we weren’t going to go. She had a sore on her mouth and did not want to travel far until it was healed. I wasn’t sure if this was for medical or aesthetic reasons, though I suspected both and agreed.

At breakfast I was trying to teach Ngoc some english words and realized that she had a very difficult time saying words that begin with the letter S. I asked Tien about it and she said there are very few words in Vietnamese that begin with that letter. I thought about phonetics exercises and games that we could do to train her mouth to say english words.

Instead of going to Nha Trang we talked about going back to Mt. Cam where we could hike up the mountain and swim in the pools of the stream that go down from the lake on top of the mountain. We made tentative plans to do this the next day. We also made tentative plans to teach Ngoc and Nhi how to swim in the pool in Long Xuyen.

We had lunch and I wondered about why there were no tuk tuk’s in Vietnam. Tien said that her dad and brother both used to be tuk tuk drivers, but a while back the police said that people weren’t allowed to have them anymore. She couldn’t explain the detailed reasons why, but said that one of the reasons was because there were too many motorbikes. I suspected that the tuk tuks were causing accidents or clogged traffic. I found it hard to believe that anything was limited on the streets of Vietnam, it seems like you can ride whatever you can build on the street.

That afternoon was very uneventful and empty, and the boredom of Binh Hoa began to set in. We were going nowhere and I couldn’t talk to anybody except Tien. I was sitting idle and feeling like I was wasting away. Tien and her sisters decided that evening that we would go to a Catholic All Saints Day festival that was going on up the highway. I wasn’t in much of a mood to go by this point, but it was better than sitting at home and I was up for anything at that point.

The crowd was huge. People were filling up the little two lane highway and vendors came to sell flashy lights, stuffed animals, foods, all sorts of trinkets and just about anything. There were hundreds of people walking along the highway buying things, chatting, riding bikes, talking on cell phones, etc.. Some were going to the graveyard to burn incense and light candles for their loved ones. Very few were going to church to pray.

I felt very uncomfortable in that crowd. It was like being so famous that every single person in the crowd knew me, but I wasn’t famous for necessarily good reasons. And it was like I had a sign around my neck that said “please say hello.” Hundreds of eyes watched me as I did absolutely nothing interesting. People laughed and joked while watching me. Dozens of people shouted “hello” and dozens more said things that I couldn’t understand. If I had been in a better mood I think it might have been OK, but with my frustrations from being so idle I wasn’t really in a good mood for it.

Instead I just tried to take photos of stuff, but was uninspired. The night was also very dark and it was hard to get a clear picture. We went to the church and I took some photographs of that, lamenting that I had no tripod. I resolved to buy one or make one.

The incense at the church smelled wonderful on the air and there was a full moon.

That night I talked briefly with Tien about how I was frustrated with the inability to communicate and the fact that we weren’t finding anything to do except be lazy at home. We decided to go ahead and go to Nha Trang.

Heading back to Vietnam

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything, mainly because I haven’t been traveling. Espiritu del solI left Colorado and drove back to San Francisco in mid August, over two months ago. In that time I’ve mainly been focusing on two things: finishing an I-129f petition for Tien and studying and practicing flash photography. Most of that time has been spent sleeping on the floor or couch in Brianna, Lily and Terresina’s living room. I did get a sublet for a few weeks right up on top of twin peaks, and I did stay with some other friend in that time. Some people had suggested that I get a job and an apartment and prepare for Tien’s arrival in the US, but I just didn’t want to do things that way. Instead, once I finished Tien’s petition I decided to go back to Vietnam. So, here I am on Northwest Airlines flight 27 from San Francisco to Tokyo where I have a quick layover before flying to Saigon.

Honestly, the last few months have been difficult personally because my future has been up in the air and it’s been up to me to steer the direction of my life through wide open uncertain circumstances. My fiance is still in Vietnam and probably can’t enter the US for 7 more months. I’ve been wading through the US immigration system pretty much on my own. I have no job and no home of my own. There was the option of starting up a photography business of my own. For a while I didn’t even have a phone, then I realized that was ridiculous and forked over $70 a month for an iPhone plan which was extra great because of tethering. I still don’t have health insurance which led to me skipping an optional vaccination and needing to find malaria meds in VN because I didn’t find the SF Travel Clinic until last night, and I just started planning this trip 3 days ago.

Two nights ago I took the girls out for dinner as a thank you for being so hospitable and to have one last great time with them before heading out. Yesterday I took care of last minute preparations. One of the things I did was buy a pocket camera to replace the LX3 I had purchased in Saigon last time. I lost the LX3 at Lovefest after drinking a bit too much. I honestly have no idea where I lost it, but I was happy I didn’t lose my D300 instead. The camera I picked up was a $150 Samsung NV24HD. The look is what first caught my eye, then its remarkable interface, then its ability to do 60fps video and lastly its 24mm equivalent lens. A few quick googles showed happy owners so I followed the impulse and bought it. Following impulses is working out pretty good for me.

That night I headed down to Lila’s house to crash there for the night. Will had wrecked one of their cars so like last time I let her them borrow mine. This works out great because they get a car and i don’t have to pay storage costs. Lila and I took Maks to his new school in Palo Alto and then she dropped me off at SFO. My friend Blake is living out in SF now and was flying back to CO for a week, so I met up with him at the airport after checking in for my flight. We caught up on recent life details and future life strategy while he waited in an incredibly long line at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter. I left him still in it when I had to go to the international area.

At the security checkpoint I was happy to see that they had gotten rid of that lame requirement to remove your laptop. The posted signs only said to remove oxygen mask systems, full size DVD players and game systems, but no mention of laptops anywhere. My happiness at not having to unpack my bag was ended with a snide comment from a TSA agent about how I was supposed to remove my laptop for the x-Ray machine. I wished her luck when she said she was going to take it out for me, but thought again about how I needed that luck since I’d be the one repacking my bag. Stupid TSA security theater.

I bought an $8 ham sandwich and a single serving bottle of wine because I’d need to sleep on the plane. International flights may be one of the only legitimate excuses for drinking in the morning. I ate, emailed Tien, canceled my per-month iPhone plan and boarded the plane. We took off ahead of schedule and are looking at a shorter than expected travel time. Maybe I’ll catch sunset in Tokyo. Hopefully it’s not foggy like last time.

My trip was taking the same route I took last time, SF to Tokyo to Saigon. Last time I flew on All Nippon Airways and it was absolutely the best airline experience I’ve ever had. I had tried to get another flight with them, but after searching I found that United and NWA (Delta) were roughly half the cost at $680 round trip. I thought this was a fantastic deal considering I was buying two days in advance, but then I remembered the recent flood that ravaged Hoi An and other coastal towns in that region and it made sense.

Transcontinental flights are already pretty awesome with their in-flight entertainment systems in each seat, typically more room than domestic flights and meals and drinks are included in the ticket price. I wasn’t so sure how delta would stack up against Ana and was a little interested in finding out. 3 hours into my flight I have some results…

The entertainment system for the whole plane crashed shortly after I started using it. The flight attendant on the intercom said it would take 15 minutes to reboot, and it did. A sight that was familiar to me came on the screen: tux the penguin and a bunch of black and white textual technological jargon.

After a few iterations the system eventually stabilized and I was allowed the displeasure of finding innumerable bugs and limitations. The media wasn’t sortable and was not listed alphabetically. When browsing reviews, the “next” function was 4 clicks away while the default was “watch trailer”, which clearly assumes that people intend to watch trailers more than skip to the next review. The media was Aldo incorrectly linked so that clicking Forrest Gump let you watch a Honduran movie called Sin Nombre. There were 4 unhelpful listings for Delta TV that ended up being popular american television shows. The most disheartening thing was their lack of selection, there are only a handful of movies available, nothing for me to watch. The in-flight map showed that we had flown 8500 or so miles shortly after takeoff. This was accompanied by a flat map, not a globe. The “comments” link only let you take a survey and not actually leave comments, which stiles one my personal pet peeves of interface elements that say they do one thing and do something completely different. “Download now” is the worst offense of this kind on the Internet. So, yeah, big fail on the delta entertainment system unless the label it as alpha or maybe beta.

The next test was the meal. It was actually very good, but plastic silverware is wasteful and cheap. They did provide hand towels, coffee, beer and wine though, so that was also nice. All in all, not too bad.

One of the highlights o this trip is meeting up with an old room mate and coworker, David Tran. He’s a Vietnamese Parisian who is on a trip to Saigon to see his family. he’s actually in Singapore right now but will be returning on Monday which gives Tien and I some time to spend in Saigon with each other and her friend Trinh and gives me time to adjust to the time difference, find malarone and get started on that two day lead in before entering malaria infested areas.

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…

Last day in Hanoi

This morning I woke up in Hanoi and went to work developing the photos I had meant to develop before I laid down. Around 7am I went upstairs and ate breakfast by myself. I peeled a banana for myself and thought about meals with Tien.

I looked around the building tops and noticed that the clean lines of the architecture were more prominent without fire escapes. I haven’t seen a single one since I’ve been here.

At checkout I caught up on some internet stuff on the lobby. My brother says he probably won’t come to Bangkok, which is pretty disappointing. I really need to find a traveling companion.

The tour split into two groups, and unbeknownst to me I would not see many of them again. I lost the English speaking couple from Miami and my two favorite children. I ended up with the brat, but also with the Parisian couple. We piled into an SUV and headed out.

I saw a girl on the back of a scooter with a cute backpack on her lap and a crowbar in her left hand.

I saw soldiers doing target practice with rifles on the side of a city street.

We went to the capital campus. Here we entered an area where no cameras, water or cell phones were allowed. No talking, no hands in pockets. Lots of soldiers standing at attention. We were a large group of tourists walking silently on a red path through a huge building that looked like a CTF flag area. Instead there was the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh himself, laying in a glass box in a dark room with 4 soldiers posted around him. I was trying to stay close to the Parisians and for some reason all I could think of was the word “morte” as said by the frail man in Amelie. Morte indeed, but he looked just asleep, laying there with even his beard still in tact.

Presidential Palace of VietnamWe left and the tour guide gave me my gear back, the we went the Presidential Palace is, which is the equivalent of the Whitehouse, and a few other places that were packed with us lemmings. Some of the Vietnamese people looked at me as much as the sights. There were a lot of white people and it was weird. I think I just hate to be associated with the mainstream American ideal and all the white people reminded me of that.

There was a place called the house on stilts that wouldve been awesome to stay in. There were too many people so I didnt bother taking a picture. Outside the house there were a dozen people standing around a sign that was in French, Vietnamese and English: Do not stand here.

Like a million other placess in Vietnam this place had a shrine. Like other shrines and temples, outside of it were loud children and pedalers. Vietnam is definitely a religious country and the business minded people are monetizing that. I’ve never seen this in America. Nobody set up an ice cream cart and a religious souvenir shop outside of a cathedral in any city I’ve been to in America.

Hats! We left the capital and headed to the largest market in the city, both indoor and outdoor. I walked in and out, through streets and up stairs and down small ailes and down stairs. I thought “what the hell is there for me in a place like this?” Then I wondered why I had come on this trip in the first place. Feeling the need to have a purpose I have settled on photography as my primary purpose. Photojournalism, I guess. So with that in mind I began taking photos and wished I had my 10-20mm lens on me.

I saw a dozen k ock-off apple products. They put the apple backwards though. I almost decided to buy a knock-off iPhone just to see what it was like.

I found an ATM and pulled out 2,500,000 to pay the tour guide back the money I owed him and have some left over.

Iistened and thought about bow much easier Vietnamese is than Chinese. For one thing, when I ask what something is called people don’t get into an argument about exactly what it’s called in whatever dialect, they just answer. There is the intonation thing still, which makes sense thinking back to all the VN people I worked with at Actiontec. I think Vietnamese is much prettier when it’s spoken clearly.

It was down to just me and the Parisians on the tour now. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where the hostesses had tropical patterned shirts emblazoned with the names of placess not on this continent, like Jamaica. As we had only a few words of common language between their broken English and my broken French, we ate in silence and listened to the swank jazz music playing in the nearly empty restaurant.

We talked a little towards the end. They recommended Da Lat like the Couple from Florida had.

On the way to the airport I thought about how the scooter makes the dynamic of the cities here so much different. I wonder what SF would be like with thousands of electric scooters. I thought about what it would be like to roll up to The Irish Bank and just park in the alley, and then I realized that I hadn’t seen a “no parking” sign anywhere in Vietnam, nor parking meters, just garages an paid parking lots.

I saw a banner ad for a resort and golf club and thought about how playing golf in Vietnam is good enough for some people. I wonder what is good enough for me.

I saw an ad for Ford SUVs and thought “who the hell over here would buy a Ford?” I looked at the steering wheel of the SUV I was in and found the answer.

At check in I said good bye to the nice Parisian couple who was finishing off a 40 day tour. On the wall behind the check in counter there was a stencil of Santa Clause which may have been the first graffiti I had seen on the trip yet. There was also a man in shined shoes, pressed slacks, a striped button down shirt and a bright green baseball cap with the word “groove” on it.

I saw a Windows XP terminal and wondered how on earth these people could afford XP Pro, especially with Linux as an alternative. I guess it’s bundled with the PC like in the US, and that’s still expensive.

In the airport I heard English announcements with English accents. I found the business lounge that had internet and food for $10, which is just too much so internet will have to wait. Instead I sat down and wrote this on my iPhone then went and had my first taste of whiskey in Vietnam and listened to Kaskade, got on my plane and flew away.

A relaxing weekend

Sunday morning in Binh Hoa village, the plans to go to the beach fell through two different ways due to cultural customs. That stuff sure can get in the way… That’s OK though, one more relaxing day in Binh Hoa will be fine.Tien and Ngoc

Yesterday afternoon was relaxing and wonderful. Nearly heaven, nearly zen. I was laying in the hammock in the kitchen where Tien’s brother and his wife share a double bed in a corner with their two daughters. No sink, no oven, no refrigerator. The same spot where each night the family members sit on the tile floor and eat their meals, happy as can be. I was watching Tien’s figure through the hammock webbing as she washed dishes in a tub under the tin roof of the back patio, the same place this family washes their clothes and hangs them to dry. They same place they wash their children. I was listening to Debussy on my iPhone, Arabesque No. 1 and some other stuff from All About Lily Chou-chou, the leaves of tropical trees blowing in the blue sky outside the back door, a gecko crawling down the inside wall, a warm breeze blowing over my body. I was charmed by this place, by its people and their good lives.

I don’t wish I could’ve photographed this because it’s the kind of thing you just can’t photograph. Maybe a film could’ve captured it…

Tien came inside and sat with me. She’s very sad that I’m leaving, and she said some preemptive goodbyes, expressed some happiness and sorrow. It was a very bittersweet moment that lasted quite some time as we sat, talked, found small ways to show affection for each other, enjoying the physical company that has been missing for the last 8 years of our friendship.

She was wearing a really cute engrish shirt. Cartoonish line drawings of a face and some characters. “Beloved he has maded by yours truly love.”

A Temple in Binh Hoa Later that night we went out on a scooter ride to see the sunset and to go to the bank to get money that would not be needed. Tien and I planned to take her whole family to the beach as a way for me to show my appreciation for their hospitality, but when we got back home her mother would not have it because of the cost. She felt guilty for Tien and I spending too much money on it. Tien was very sad about this, and I was disappointed but understanding. I don’t know how else to show my gratitude. I’ve been trying to come up with something more original than simple monetary compensation, but have come up fruitless in such an alien society. Plus, what do you buy for somebody who owns 3 of about 10 local shops?

One Week in Vietnam

Saturday morning in Binh Hoa, I’ve been in Vietnam for nearly a week now and I it’s been a good gentle immersion in to Asian culture in the tropics. Tonight Tien and I will go by overnight bus to Vung Tàu Beach, which is about 20km outside Ho Chi Minh city, and spend the next day there. Monday I plan to fly to Hanoi and do a 4 day tour at Ha Long Beach. I’m not sure when I’ll have internet access beyond today, but I expect to have it wherever I’m staying in Hanoi since it’s going to be more of a resort style thing, a popular tourist destination.

My iPhone has been failing to function as a GPS receiver, which sucks because it’s the only one I brought that has a screen. I was surprised to see that there are only 2 geocaches in Saigon, one of which was a virtual, and three in Hanoi. Looking at the standard of living here, it makes sense, but I still expected there to be a district where there were more, or in parks outside of town, or something.


Binh Hoa sky Last night Tien, her sister and I went to the bank to figure out some money thing for my trip. For some reason they wouldn’t let me pay with credit, so I ended up going to the ATM outside and pulling out 1m, took some cash from my wallet and put down 2.8m on the trip.

This is roughly equivalent to $160 USD.

When I first went to the bank and exchanged a several 20′s for a stack of 50,000′s all I could think of was Snow Crash’s hyper-inflation. An average meal can cost 20,000. A taxi ride can cost 300,000. I wonder why they don’t just drop those extra 3 zeros. I talked to Majed online and he joked about how I left my job a millionaire.

After we got the details of the money and registration for my trip worked out we left, and then were almost immediately called because of an error in my name, and then called again because we didn’t put down enough money up front. When we got back to the bank it was closed. The problem is that I have to leave on Monday, and the bank won’t be open until Monday, so I’m not sure how this is going to work out. But hey, that’s part of the fun, right?

Science Experiment? Later last night we went back to a nearby city and had some food and drinks and tried to find a US to Asian power adapter, which nobody has. As usual a lot of people were out enjoying the cool night. I’ve found that people like night here and I assume a big reason is because it’s cooler and more conducive to style and enjoyment. Vietnam is the only place I’ve been where it’s common to see a beautiful, slender girl in figure fitting clothes that you can vaguely see through wearing high heels and riding a motorcycle.

On the way to town I noticed how common it is to see platonic same-sex affection. From what I know about the conservative guy/girl relationships this makes sense. I saw girls walking hand in hand, and three guys with their arms on each others shoulders. This type of thing is common, but seeing those two in succession made me realize how prevolent it is. I thought about how it was starkly different from places like Paris where you see lovers when you’re out at night, but here you see friends.

I saw a man on a motorbike using his right foot to push a man on a manual-pedal tricycle down the highway.

I could do a whole photo book on the spiral staircases in Vietnam. They’re everywhere, and they’re really pretty. Most nice houses have a spiral staircase going up to the roof. Most two floor houses have a spiral staircase going up from the back of the great room that takes up most of the bottom floor.

There seem to be two kinds of houses here. Single floor houses made from cement and wood, extended with tin walls and awnings. Then there are several floor houses which are painted, have balconies, big windows, etc.. It’s the only big difference other than quality of motorbike that I’ve seen so far to distinguish poor people from rich people. It’s really awesome that there is not a huge disparity between the rich and the poor here, not so much as in America at any rate. I like that the majority of the people are in the middle, not at the upper and lower ends. It’s actually a lot like Yentown from Swallowtail Butterfly. I noticed this a few days ago and it was a slight revelation as to why I feel so at home here in VN. That is my favorite movie, after all.

Today Tien and I sat down at the market and ate breakfast and drank coffee again. This has been a pretty daily occurence, and I really enjoy it. I’ll miss it. We talked about musical classification, and the larger issue which is general classification of information and its attributes. We talked about traveling, my trip, family, America, intelligence, jobs, what makes a good life. I think Tien is brilliant and she just doesn’t know it. I told her so too. She asks questions beyond the obvious ones and understands things very quickly. I think she may be a genius.


Before I left America many people told me I’d have terrible digestive problems when I got here, but actually I think I’ve had less than I did in San Francisco. In fact I haven’t had any problems until today, and they were incredibly minor. This is interesting to me because it’s not like I’ve been sticking to the “don’t drink iced drinks and don’t eat vegetables” advice that my doctor gave me.

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.

Back in the office… on a Saturday morning?!

*sigh* I forgot some paperwork at the office that I need in order to get my Visas for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It’s funny how my mind works, I get so much good thinking done when I should be in deep sleep. And by “funny” I mean “kinda lame.” Anyhow, I nearly startled awake on the couch at 4211 #1 this morning with the realization that I’d forgotten this folder that I’m keeping all of my Asia documents in, and with that as my number one priority for the day I got in my car and started driving straight to the coffee shop. Then I drove straight to the office, 50 miles away, with DJ Tiesto – In Search of Sunrise in the speakers. Life is always better with a soundtrack.

When I got to the office there was a woman standing with her baby in the center of the road into the parking lot of my office building. This reminded me of something that has struck me lately… I’ve noticed that the people who live in the new condos they build next door have what I would consider to be a very miserable existence concerning their neighborhood. Forget lost beauty I see people walking their dogs and taking their babies out for strolls through our parking lot, which amazes me because there’s a beautiful field in the exact opposite direction. (And I mean beautiful in respect to what you tend to find in the middle of a populated metroplex. Untended with small animal wildlife doing their small wild animal things.) The area has been under construction for the last 4 years. The mall next door has been going out of business for longer than I’ve lived in the Bay Area. Even just the other day a woman I met on the street who just arrived from Taiwan and was lost told me she went into the mall and thought it was closed because almost nobody was inside. Even though there is some beauty to be found around here it seems so odd or incomplete or mismatched, seeing somebody raise their family around that same poorly engineered, crummy parking lot in an eternal construction zone on the corner of a freeway exit at one of the most accident prone intersections in the South Bay. I just don’t understand that.

We all have our likes and dislikes, and who knows? Maybe they like just having a place to call their own. As for me, I’m out. Just 2 weeks until I’m sitting in Saigon discovering other ways of life that I don’t understand.

Remembering the South Bay

Just arrived at Gecko’s place after dinner and drinks with Kyung at Kat at 99 Chickens in Santa Clara. Driving towards 101 on Great America Parkway with Kaskade on, anticipating the freeway with that electronic music pouring in my ears and filling my veins, I recalled some of the exciting appeal of the South Bay. Like most lifestyles, it can be awesome if you know how it works and know how to find the joys in it. I also think that it’s easier to enjoy the South Bay when you are comfortable driving long distances to go to the places you know you will enjoy, and hence it will get better the more time you spend in the SFBA.

Tuesday in the Office

I slept on Gecko and Brian’s memory foam bed last night! It was interesting, I’ve never slept on memory foam before. They are letting me stay in their Menlo Park cottage while they attend a wedding in Arizona.

A girl named Megan Lau from Logitech came to my office to let me and Ray Sennewald review some pre-release gear. For compensation she hooked us both up with some logitech gear, and ga ve me a cool travel mouse that will be very handy while I’m out on the road. I also got a webcam that I’m not sure what to do with. It would’ve been great back at 4211 when John was always stalking us at night.

After work I met up with Chelsea. We had dinner at Erik’s and then tried out Beard Pappa’s, which was underwhelming. Then we went hiking and photographing up on Long Ridge. It was gorgeous, as it often is, and this time it was nice to have a beautiful girl to photograph, and of course it was good to have good company. We cruised back to Cupertino and had tea at a coffee shop up on Foothills where cyclists often meet before heading out into the hills.

Back at Gecko’s it was nice to have a cottage to come home to, quiet and homely. The Caltrain woke me up in the morning briefly, then sprinklers after that. Unfamiliar sounds. I should get used to that. It was nice to have a hot shower, which I sometimes have been going without lately, and it would’ve been really nice to have a hot bath but I couldn’t find anything to plug the tub. I endured the patience testing madness that is 101 traffic via car and stopped off at Cafe Dolce for breakfast for old time’s sake.

And now that I’ve finished my breakfast burrito and am sipping on a white mocha, I remember that I need to take my typhoid pills at least two hours after eating and at least one hour before. Hm. =/

Geeking out with Donna

White Gorilla Man Went to How Weird with Karen today and had an awesome time. Afterwards I realized I probably would’ve had a more exciting time if I hadn’t had my camera on me. I’ll have to keep that in mind while I’m over in Asia… remember to have camera-less days. One thing I was thinking of taking is an instant-on voice recorder so I can just begin recording audio so I can dictate what I’m seeing. I suppose I could just get a video cam though… Hmm.

I came back to Sunset after How Weird and hit up Noriega Pizza with Donna to unwind. We hung out with Lauren in her new place for a few minutes before coming back to the couch and cozy chair at 4211 #1 to use laptops and do online things. I’m crashing here tonight.

I need to remember to get my typhoid inoculation from the doctor tomorrow.

Mother’s Day

Crashed at Rob’s place again last night. Just got back from picking him up at the airport.

Yesterday I taught Donna how to drive stick and moved some more stuff out of Lauren’s place. I kinda freaked out about having too much stuff and nearly just threw most of my remaining shit away, but after a nap I decided to just let it ride. I just have anxiety about owning things I have no immediate or even medium-term use for.

The Casting PoolsI cleaned Rob’s bathroom because it was the most disgusting bathroom I’d ever been in. Right as I was finishing that Karen showed up and we went geocaching in Golden Gate park. We found the casting ponds by the Anglers Lodge, really cool area. Hit up Shanghai Dumpling King afterwards, tried to catch the fireworks of the K-fog Kaboom after that, then stopped by a Tea Party at 4211 #1 for a while before heading back to Rob’s. Karen took one of my bean bag chairs and a large photograph, which was really helpful because that’s just less shizz for me to worry about.

Today is the How Weird Festival 2009, so I might head down there with Karen.

I almost totally forgot about Mother’s day, so the least I can do is call. I think G-funk is back in the flower business, maybe I’ll have him deliver something for me.

Planning to meet my brother

I’m crashing at Rob’s house to night. Right now I’m on his couch chatting with my brother in Baghdad. He’s planning to meet me in Bankok on July 30 and we’re working out the details right now. I’ll probably arrive early and meet up with My. Hopefully she can show me some cheap places to stay, or hook me up with a friend of hers or something. Maybe couchsurfing.com could help…

Gearing Up for Asia

I’m trying to not gear up too much for Asia. That is, I don’t want to spend a ton of money on this trip, I want to make it cheap. Reason one is so there’s less liability for lost, damaged or stolen gear. Reason two is that since I’m quitting my job I won’t have money to play with.

That being said, I just got a GPS for my camera. This is so I can keep track of where I take photos without having to know exactly where I am, remember that and go back to manually geotag those photos. I think this is worth it because I want to be sure to remember the beautiful locations I find, and I expect to not exactly know where I am every moment of every day. It’ll also help with journaling my trip and figuring out where I sleep each night. All I have to do is take a photo before bed and be done with it.

The other big expense, and in turn logistical thing to figure out, is what pack to take in order to fit what I want to take with me, which brings up the question of what I want to take… That’s definitely been on my mind. I’m seeing Gecko tonight (for the first time in years) and I expect that she’ll be pretty insightful about that.

Location Update: 2009.05.07

Learning the Hills So much for keeping track of where I will be staying. I ended up crashing at Lila’s place instead of B’s because of some work stuff that was going on. Lila’s house is on top of a mountain range looking out over the forest down to the ocean. It was all cloudy towards the ocean, so the clouds were washing up through the valleys over the forest. Gorgeous… So quiet, so fresh.

Location Updates

I suppose I should keep track of where I go. I’m looking for a way to embed some kind of map about my journey, it will be great to have a geographically aware journal with geotagged images. For now I’ll just log it.

Friday and Saturday nights I slept on the couch at 4211 Moraga #1.
Sunday I slept on Rob’s couch.
Monday I slept on the beanbag in my office.
Last night night I slept on Kyung and Kat’s spare futon in San Jose off Oakland and Rock.
Tonight I’m staying with Bernadette in Scott’s Valley.

In other news, my stuff is still partly in my car, partly in a storage unit, and partly in Lauren’s place across from 4211. I need to consolidate that shizz, sucks to have things spread around. I’d almost rather get rid of the stuff than have it scattered around.

It’s been cloudy and raining since Friday, but the sun was up this morning. Saturday I met up with Rob, Zach and Ben, hadn’t seen Z for a long time. We ate at a place called The Pork Room to spite the swine flu.

Afterwards, Rob had me come with him to cover the masturabate-a-thon for the blog. It was entirely underwhelming and not at all what I’d expected. It appears we went at one of the least active times, though I still wouldn’t have really wanted to go if it weren’t for a story.

That night I went out with Donna and Lily for dinner in Chinatown, then to Matt’s (Lily’s friend and old roomie) birthday party for a bit, then back to 4211.

Sunday was dull and wet. I went to REI to look at packs and buy some hot weather shirts that will travel well. Hacked teh linux with Rob late that night, trying to hook Boxee up to his TV.

Monday I went to dinner in San Jose with Reem, Julian and Dana and caught up a bit. Reem had just gotten back from Dubai. Dana and I talked about her travel dreams and a little about photography.

Last night I went to Trials and met Kyung, Kat, the other Kyung, Chris Bennett, Sadek, Julian and Martin.

Resuming the Journal

A lot has happened since I last updated this journal, and now I feel like resuming this introspective personal outlet for my own benefit. I’m going through some changes in life right now and would like to keep track of the thoughts that are developing in my mind. The two three main things that are going on are:

• I’m quitting my job at SugarCRM. My last day is May 29th.
• I’m going to backpack around SE Asia for two months. I’m leaving on May 29th to Saigon via Tokyo.

• Oh yeah, and I’m homeless as of 4 days ago. I’m living out of my car and a storage unit in San Francisco.

Sooooo, rather than tweet succinct thoughts as they come to my mind I think I’ll speak more completely about what’s going on.

What is going on at this very moment is that I just fried a 750gb hard disk containing a backup of the iMac I had been using before I was homeless. Little things like this are preparing me for the potential pitfalls I may encounter on my journey.