Tuesday, November 24, 2009



1. Not tipping at restaurants.

2. Low cost of living.

3. Cheap beer.

4. Beautiful, skinny women.

5. Guaranteed employment.

6. Sleeping in.

7. Freedom to break traffic rules.

8. No Internet copy restrictions.


1. Good restaurant service.

2. High quality living.

3. Variety of beer choices.

4. Independent, free-thinking women.

5. Possibility of "rising to the top" of the career ladder.

6. Set work schedule.

7. Everyone follows traffic rules.

8. Fast Internet.

Many times, our happiness in life, is just a matter of perspective.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thou Shall....

Had a coworker of mine put this together for my students.

Big shout out to Mr. Cuong for working his magic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Open Letter to Mr. Bus

My Dearest Bus:

How are you fine sir? Work keeping you busy? Indeed, the grind of the bus schedule is a bit much at times. However, I trust all is well.

Excuse my brashness, but I am afraid the time for civility and gentlemanly manners has passed. I would not normally dare be so rude, but you, my friend, have not been upholding your end of the bargain regarding traffic flow.

I often note your presence in the motorbike lane. While a stray venture here or there could easily be excused, your preference to be among the motorbikes has become quite bothersome. As you know, it is classified as the motorbike lane for a very specific reason. I would never go so far as to question your reading comprehension, but please permit me to remind you that it is a lane specified for those vehicles only on two wheels -- not ten. Indeed, one could make the very astute observation that I am myself often in the car/bus lane. However, I need not remind you that I am an agile snake, capable of weaving in and out of traffic like a magician. You, on the contrary, are a lumbering loaf of metal that finds basic traffic maneuvers such as right turns quite the battle. Give me a hole -- even a small one -- and I will slither and punch my way through it before you can say "Ho Chi Minh City." All things, of course, are not equal, and my occasional dip into the car lane cannot be compared to your egregious abuse of the rules.

For fear of writing another letter, please allow me to lodge another complaint. While driving behind you, I am often bathed in your emissions. My dear friend, this is a personal health issue. We both know that my owner's habit of putting his hand over his mouth is futile in keeping out your byproducts, but please take it as a visual cue that your body odor is quite offensive. I certainly would not instruct the fat man next to me at the buffet to eat less -- as that only affects a single individual -- but if he were to, hypothetically speaking, light up a cigarette, you can bet I would confront the situation, manners be damned. As a motorbike that prides itself on the utmost personal maintenance, I ask you to do the same, so that the streets become a bit more cordial.

I apologize for broaching the subject via letter, but I fear that a personal meeting could quickly escalate and end badly for me -- given our disproportionate sizes. If, however, I fail to see any meaningful change, there will be no choice but to settle the dispute over blows. My honor can only be abridged so many times, Mr. Bus. Please do not underestimate me sir given my small stature, for I am akin to a fly. Have you ever attempted to swat a fly off of your exterior? You have, have you? Were you successful in killing it? Of course you weren't. Understand that my speed and maneuverability puts you at a distinct disadvantage if our unfortunate disagreement were to evolve into a physical altercation. I must warn you that, located under my seat, is a six-pack of eggs. If, by chance, one of said eggs were to end up splattered on your windshield, would you be able to catch me? I will let you contemplate the consequences.

Please do me the honor of saying hello to your lovely wife, Mrs. Semi-Truck, and your two adorable children, Taxi Van and Ambulance.



Monday, November 9, 2009

A Very Ericesque Morning

It's been a while since I've written anything in the blog, which can be attributed to only one of two possible reasons:

1. I'm lazy.

2. Vietnam ceased to have interesting stories to tell.

Since it's definitely not the latter, I am obviously just lazy.

I have a good friend, Eric, who is now making his way up the Vietnamese coast in an ultimate bid for China. He's doing so on an older-style motorbike with our other friend Will. After he completes his mission and waves to some Chinese at the border, or whatever he's going to do once he actually reaches China, Eric will return home to America after about a year of living in Vietnam.

Right up until the trip, every little thing the Vietnamese did bothered Eric: the way they drove, the way they ate, the way the interacted with one another, they way they interacted with him, the way they do business, and the way they thought. So, understandably, he finally had his fill and will be returning soon.

Now, I don't quite hold the same vitriol for the Vietnamese that Eric does. In fact, I generally love their quirkiness and unique personality. However, some of Eric's complaints hold water -- a lot of water. Let me describe a very Ericesque morning I had the other day while out and about.

The day started with an innocent enough trip to the supermarket to buy sunscreen. I was playing softball later in the day and didn't want to make the same mistake of having my legs and neck turn redder than the Vietnamese flag. The parking lot of the supermarket, which is nothing more than a long corridor flooded with motorbikes, was nearly full, so I slowly made my way down the aisle until I saw a lady and her daughter preparing to leave. Understanding that the parking spot was of some value not only to me, I made it VERY clear that my intention was to move into the spot. I turned on my blinker, angled my front tire toward the space, and put myself in position to park immediately once she backed out. Despite my conspicuous actions, an old man barreled through and sneaked ever so quickly into the spot just when I was making my move. Six months ago, I probably would have said, "Screw it," moved on, and found another spot. But now, I am a seasoned Vietnam veteran and I wasn't standing for that crap. I jumped off my bike, repeatedly said, "No, no, no, no, no," and physically backed the man out of the spot -- the old man. Manners be damned.

Once in the supermarket, things didn't improve. I found the sunscreen easily and proceeded to stand in what I determined to be the shortest line. A woman had a full cart of groceries in front of me, so I waited patiently behind her, sunscreen in hand. Meanwhile, another lady with a full grocery cart pulled up behind me and stood in line. Once the lady in front of me had finished paying, the lady behind came to the laughable conclusion that this lady and me were somehow together (an old Vietnamese lady and a young, white foreigner) and started to nudge me forward with her cart. No "excuse me," no attempt at communication whatsoever. I then clearly showed her the sunscreen that I was intending to buy, and she once again nudged me forward with her cart so that she could be checked out. Again, being the seasoned Vietnam vet that I am, I pushed her cart backwards and told her, "No." I tried to give my best "civilized people don't behave like that" face to really convey the message.

And finally, my morning capped itself with a visit to the local sporting good shop looking for a hat. Avoiding sunburn was the common theme of the morning. Inside the shop, I found an old box of slightly worn, dirty hats in the corner. One Nike hat sparked my fancy, an obvious Chinese copy, and I asked in Vietnamese to the lady, "How much?"

"250 000 VND." ($15)

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Asia knows that this price is ludicrous. Despite her efforts to convince me otherwise, the hat was a Chinese copy, and a not very good one. No sporting shop would put real Nike hats in an old box and then treat those them like crap. And second of all, no local sporting goods shop in Vietnam would even carry real merchandise. It's just not profitable.

I did my best to argue with her, in Vietnamese no less, but the woman would not budge from her initial (wrong) assessment that I was a stupid foreigner willing to shell out exorbitant prices for cheap knockoffs. Of course, at this point, she was too invested and her pride got in the way of a sale.

I buggered off and found a hat elsewhere, for much cheaper.

So, Eric, don't die on your trip north and know that while we don't share exact sentiments toward the Vietnamese, I empathize.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What are you doing over there in the corner?

I think every teacher reaches a pivotal point in his or her "career," if that's what you call what I'm doing here, when he or she stops trying to change the assholes and instead merely copes with them. As any unhappy wife or husband can tell you, it's damn near impossible to change your significant other in any significant way unless he or she decides to do so himself or herself. Sure, when you teach you can make some sort of impact on a stupid student who is interested in learning, ready to pay attention, and responsive to guidance and criticism, but good luck trying to change that stupid kid who thinks he's (almost always boys) smarter than you and gains nothing substantive from school whatsoever except a few Zzzzs.

So, as a teacher, you learn to pick your battles. Let that girl or boy sleep. They're always talking to their friends when they're not. Let that girl hit the boy on his back as hard as she can. The boy probably deserved it. Let the two boys in the corner make some inane joke about the teacher, because frankly if you care what any 16 year old has to say about you, you have no business in the teaching profession.

I have a girl in my class at the local high school, who is quite bright, but insists on drawing Japanese anime with every free second she has. She's quite good, but I'm concerned that her social skills might be suffering as a result of her hobby. We can't all be butterflies though, so I usually let her be. She's quiet enough and doesn't talk to her peers too much and when I ask her to participate, she does so willingly and usually provides the right answer.

The other day she was hunched over in the corner, working diligently on her new comic masterpiece, as I was trying to rein in the herd known as my class. Teaching a class like this is more cattle driving than lecturing. You organize them all into the center and establish some semblance of order, but inevitably a stray cattle wanders off into the distance and the process repeats itself.

At the end of class, all of the students filed out of the room until it remained only me and anime girl. She shyly walked up to my desk, and said quite meekly, "Here, teacher. This is for you."

I open it up, and lo and behold, her anime masterpiece was actually a very familiar sight:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vietnamese Happenings

*Apparently my clothes reek of exhaust fumes by the time I make it into work everyday. Bathing in the noxious byproducts of combustion for hours each day makes this not too surprising. Now, I put my clothes into a plastic bag, knot it tightly shut, and head to work in the official uniform of the white-trash -- jeans and a thin, white t-shirt.

*Speaking of sitting in traffic, today, an old man on a motobike leaned to his side and hocked the biggest loogie the world has ever seen. The thing looked like an exploding water balloon when it hit the street. People in China got hit.

*While we're on the subject of spitting, a funny anecdote. I was driving to work the other day in heavy rain, and a taxi -- or more specifically, what I like to call a "needless honker," -- began honking his horn loudly behind me despite the dense traffic, as if this obnoxious sound was going to part the "red sea" of motobikes and grant him easy traveling. Naturally, I threw up the Vietnamese equivalent of the middle finger -- the index and middle fingers crossed so that it vaguely resembles a vagina. The taxi began honking more loudly. I responded by making vagina fingers again. The two men in the car, now noticeably angered, pulled up along side and brandished the middle finger. So, here we had an American man gesturing the Vietnamese "fuck you" and a Vietnamese man gesturing the American "fuck you." If that's not cultural respect, I don't know what is.

The man proceeded to roll down his window and attempted to spit on me, accompanied of course by the obligatory "fuck you" (in a laughably bad accent). However, joke was on him.

I had my rain coat on.

*The randomness of Dragon continues. The students have a speaking test soon which requires them to debate a topic. The students were given about 15 minutes to come up with said topic, conditional on my approval. The first three proposals by Dragon were all rejected.

1. Should students go to school?

2. Should we have no parents?

3. Should we start WWIII?

Yeah...That's Dragon.

*One of my students, Tommy, a quiet bloke with a soft demeanor, wore an absolutely killer shirt today. It's mostly white with some generic design on the front. The centerpiece, however, and what makes this shirt awesome, is the huge purple collar that stretches the length of his shoulders. He looks like a cross between a 70s porno star and Cuban drug dealer.

*Imagine you're the teacher of an American 11th grade class. You walk into the classroom and tell the students that they will be singing a song in front of the whole school in roughly three days. How badly would that go down? The students' faces would be a combination of "you can't be serious" and "I'm going to kill you." Not at a Vietnamese high school. The 11th graders went ape-shit when I told them they'd be singing, even the boys. The song they chose?

Westlife's Nothing is Going to Change my Love For You.

Check it out here: http://mp3.zing.vn/mp3/nghe-bai-hat/Nothing-Gonna-Change-My-Love-For-You-Westlife.IW6IC0DF.html

Nearly every day, I eat com chien bo (beef fried rice) because it's cheap (about $1) and near the school where I work. The manager who runs the place, aptly named pe de (gay) man, has a fondness for tall foreigners I suppose. He likes to jump on the back of my motobike while I'm waiting for food and hug me tightly. When I'm sitting down and eating at the restaurant, he can't help but give me a shoulder massage or two. The other day, while walking past pe de man, he ever so subtly caressed my crotch. Rather uncomfortable.

I now have my food delivered every day and the place is right next door. The look on the delivery girl's face every time she comes to the school is like, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

If only you knew the truth friend.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bloody Vietnam

A pretty bizarre thing happened tonight. Wait you say! You're in Vietnam! Something bizarre happens every day!

To which I reply...



But tonight something even more bizarre happened. I was eating dinner at a large outdoor seafood restaurant. We were having a couple of beers, laughing, and enjoying the atypically cool weather. Often, at these large outdoor restaurants where one sits on a cheap little plastic chair (remember this...it plays a crucial later role in the story), a group of boys on a bicycle swing by to "entertain" the patrons. On the back of the bicycle is a giant boombox system, something one might've seen on a basketball court in a rough neighborhood in the early 90s. This thing is absurdly large and has a karaoke system to boot. I guess we could stop the story right there and that'd be bizarre enough, but with this being Vietnam, there's always more to the tale.

The trio of boys operate their business like this:

Boy A grabs the microphone and starts singly (badly) some Vietnamese song to music blaring out of the boombox.

Boy B walks around the restaurant floor, making sure to stop at each and every table, and sells some nasty candy. Boy B often lingers around a table in an attempt to get what I call "Get the hell away from me" money. As the name suggests, this is money you give a beggar/seller to get the hell away from you. (Remember this too).

Boy C stands guard by the bicycle and controls the volume, putting it just loud enough so that no one can hear their friends speak.

So the entire 10 or so minutes this occurs is pure agony, for all involved. It's mostly a civil affair, however, with the restaurant guests biding their time until the bicycle boys move on to the next poor suckers down the road.

Not tonight.

One man -- an obviously inebriated man...the more I think about it, the more I remember just how intoxicated this guy was...he was just hammered -- took exception to the lingering of Boy B and proceeded to grab the nearest weapon at his disposal...

A small, plastic chair.

How Vietnam won the war

Mustering all of the force a drunk man can possibly muster, he swung the plastic chair as hard as he could at Boy B's back and sliced the damn thing open. I say again. He sliced the man's back open. Boy B's white shirt quickly turned a bright crimson red. The thing was absorbing blood like nobody's business.

The fight quickly escalated into an all-out brawl between the bicycle trio and drunk man. After a couple of knock-down, drag-out blows, drunk man began bleeding. Drunk man was so gone that I'm convinced he felt no pain. Hell, we probably could've drank his spilt blood and gotten a buzz off of that. So with drunk man doing his best imitation of the Hulk and bicycle trio teaming up to inflict all kinds of hurt, it turned into quite the sight. Many men tried to break the fight up, but emotions were running high, and it proved quite difficult. Finally, the thing quieted down a bit. Drunk (and now bloody) man went to the back of the restaurant and disappeared from sight. Bicycle trio went on their merry away to the next restaurant.

Except they didn't.

Five minutes later, bicycle trio comes back with what looked like three broom handles.

My friend and I looked at each other and had the exact same thought.

Check please!

Okay, we're taking bets! We've got plastic chair man vs broom handle trio! Broom handle trio has 2-1 odds, but remember gamblers, plastic chair man is absolutely trashed. Never underestimate the pull and power of alcohol in a fight.

Remarkably, amazingly, and thankfully, the crowd was able to discourage bicycle trio from continuing the fight. So, alas, round II with weapons never came to fruition -- at least I didn't see it. Who knows if they scheduled an after-school playground affair for the morrow.

This was even out of the ordinary when compared to regular Vietnamese fighting. Vietnamese fighting usually involves no violence (that is, of course, unless they're at war, in which case, they'll kick your ass). Let me give you the rundown of a typical Vietnamese "fight." Two Vietnamese people, often adjacent shop-owners, get angry at each other for unknown reasons. They then proceed to scream at each other at the top of their lungs on the sidewalk, for all to see and hear. As the fight becomes serious, both hold their hand high in the air with their index finger pointed straight to the heavens. This means business. When they get really mad, they point directly at each other and shout some nonsense. And the final act in this verbal barrage of violence is, well...I'm not even sure if I want to tell you. It's scary stuff.

The two participants grab their motobike helmets and flail them wildly through the air, purposely avoiding contact with the other by a healthy 10 feet. Then they get tired and go home.

There Will be Blood

In America, rats are disgusting, vile creatures. The mere sight of one will leave even the manliest of men running for the hills. However, in Vietnam, rats are part of the collective population, quietly going about their business through the night and not really bothering anyone. That's how another country will change you, will change your psyche. I sometimes have rats crawling about my feet while eating and it's no bother. I bet my mom is reading that part and freaking out.

The same thing occurs with blood and gore.

In America, one sees blood or gore and swears it's the most disgusting and out-of-place thing he or she has ever seen. In Vietnam, it's commonplace. After only a month in Ho Chi Minh City, I drove past the scene of an obviously horrific accident. One of the motobikes was in two pieces and both men were lying on the street in pools of blood. One man was moving and responding to the crowd, but the other was just a lifeless shell of a man. Had to be dead. My friend Eric helped an unconscious, bloody man involved in a motobike accident who was just lying in the middle of the street get out of the way of oncoming traffic. I remember going to a friend's house one time and having to drive through a thick pool of blood - the aftermath of yet another accident. When I was involved in my most serious motobike accident, the lady I ran into had blood dripping down her leg and onto the street.

Anyway, that's enough about blood.

Onto random thoughts. If they put drunk, plastic-chair-wielding man in a cage match with bicycle, broom-handle trio, and then put it on Pay-Per-View, you know you'd pay money to see that.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dragon and Bob

Teaching kids sucks. They're loud and retarded and always want to play games. Any teacher worth his salt has heard this countless times:

"Teacherrrrrrr.......play games."

"No! Now sit down and listen to my fascinating lecture on the difference between -ing and -ed adjectives."

I have one kid class right now, one that I had a lot of trouble with in the beginning. We've finally established some kind of a cooperative relationship -- they shut up for about half the class and I don't get on them for not shutting up the rest of the time.

The class has 17 (17!) girls and 2 boys.

Meet the two boys: Dragon and Bob

Dragon and Bob are the perfect sitcom pair. Or the perfect buddy cop movie. I can't decide which.

Dragon is obnoxious, self-confident, intelligent, and extremely fat. He wears his weight like a badge of honor, welcoming any disparaging comments thrown his way and quickly brushing them aside. Without fail, every day, Dragon walks down to the snack stand near the school and buys 3 (3!) bags of chips, all to be consumed on the school premises. I of course don't let him eat in class, but he'll try to sneak-eat when given the chance. That's not the only thing he sneaks. Our teacher-edition books contain all of the answers, and if I leave those books exposed for more than a second, Dragon will snag all of the answers and pass them along. During class, he'll blurt out the stupidest shit and you can't help but laugh along. In one exercise, the students had to "design their own city" and write down some of the rules. Dragon's city name? Monkey-Dragon City. Its rules? Everyone can fly, everyone's hair is yellow, and everyone dies. Just the most random nonsense. The class loves it, and I'll be honest, I do too. The boy pushes the envelope and constantly crosses the line, but he does everything with an undeniable charm that makes it hard to remain angry at him for too long. He sits next to the oldest girl in the class (just turned 17), and although he doesn't realize it now (Dragon is only 13), he is spitting mad game at her and the girl is genuinely interested. I can't help but look at him and feel proud, thinking, "That's my boy!"

Meet Bob. Bob is shy, tall and skinny, and not all there. He has this clueless demeanor and brandishes this perpetual smile that it leaves one questioning if Bob knows he's learning English. He moves around with a child-like innocence and utter lack of awareness of his surroundings. The fact that he chose Bob as his name speaks volumes. Readers, think of a "Bob" right now. Chances are, you are thinking of my Bob. It's like he knew the name Bob was perfect for him. Bob is always good for a reaction or two. I sometimes pair him up with two girls because he explodes with this very audible "nooo!!!" But this being Bob, he's smiling the entire time. His English skills, while developing, are pretty bad. No matter how hard I try to instill in his mind that "play game" is not proper English, that's the answer I'll get every time when I ask, "What did you do yesterday?" Bob also has a certain charm that's difficult to describe, but of an entirely different nature than Dragon's.

Bob and Dragon one day during class.

Like I said, this class has 17 girls and Dragon and Bob. The students sit in a U-shape, with the two boys comprising the ends of the U. This way, they only have to sit next to one girl.

They're both good kids and I enjoy them a lot. If there was a movie detailing the two's adventures, I'd pay money to see it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trip to Korea

I'm at a coffee shop right now and pretty bored, so I thought it'd be nice to post an update about my recent trip to Korea.

A little backstory:

Ever since high school when I moved to California, Korea was the country I wanted to go to teach English. I studied Korean on my own from the Internet and did two formal semesters at the University of Florida. During high school, I had many Korean friends and often ate at Korean restaurants with them and spent time with their families.

Before leaving for Asia, I decided to come to Vietnam over Korea for reasons I've yet to really figure out. Perhaps I had spent so much time mentally preparing for Korea that I knew it'd be impossible to meet my expectations, whatever those were. Or maybe part of it was the many Korean golfers I met on the course in Florida who kind of rubbed me the wrong way -- didn't really make an effort to be friendly or make an honest attempt to understand American culture, which I thought was kind of close-minded because I was making an honest attempt to understand their culture. Whatever the reason(s), I'm in Vietnam now. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to spend a great week in Korea with Dman and his father. I had a fantastic time and the country left quite a profound impression on me.

The following is only my impression and I know many people have had different experiences. My roommate here in Vietnam, Mark, loves Korea and can't wait to go back. He's not very fond of Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh City and will be peacing out as soon as possible. He did meet his future wife in Vietnam, so wasn't all for naught.

I found Korea to be quite an unhappy place. The poverty was much more significant than I imagined, and the lifeless, endless apartment blocks were rather depressing. People crammed into the subway cars after a long, hard day at work, and immediately fell asleep. Occasionally, I'd see a Korean man or woman using the complete stranger next to them as a pillow. Smiles were rare and eye contact was ever rarer. It was a big contrast from Vietnam, where the people pride themselves on being exceptionally friendly. The women in Korea were stunningly beautiful, but I never got the vibe that any were even remotely interested in me. Again, another big contrast from Vietnam. Probably didn't help that I looked like an American soldier with my short hair and Florida Gators sweatshirt. The Korean peninsula, both north and south, doesn't really like the American presence too much.

I found Korea to be much more "foreign" than Vietnam. The food was stranger (but delicious), less people spoke English, the culture was much more rigid, and generally, I felt like an outsider moreso than in Vietnam.

Despite that, I had a great time and would love the opportunity to go back. I loved the "foreign" aspect of it because it was truly a different experience. At times, I felt like I was in a different world.

Obviously, it's difficult to obtain a thorough impression of a country after only one week. Mark swears that the place is incredible once you give it some time and make some friends.


One of the first meals we had in Korea. We just walked up to a store and ordered. Had no idea what we would get.

View from "Building 63." Taken on the 63rd floor.

Crowded market/shopping area.


Some snow on my last day there.

Dman killing a $2 bottle of soju by himself. Beast.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Types of Drivers in Ho Chi Minh

The Hot Chick:
The hot chick drives with one goal in mind -- to get noticed. Motobike, helmet, and attire are often color-coordinated. Skin is milky white and is displayed for all to see. Posture is of the utmost importance, with the back perpetually held at an impressive 90 degree angle. Speed and aggression are nowhere to be found, as that would detract from the main goal. Doesn't wear the mask and sun-protection gear so popular with other Vietnamese girls because she likes to show her face. Favors very feminine motobikes. Despite the attention grabbing get-up, she never makes eye contact with the boys gawking at her. Be assured however, she damn sure knows you're looking at her.

The Racing Boy:

Undoubtedly the most dangerous of all the drivers, the racing boy throws caution to the wind and drives like a complete and utter moron. Favors reckless abandonment, speed, and "looking cool." Similar to the hot chick, attention is a high priority. Often wears eye-catching attire, such as purple, pink, and other ridiculous button-down shirts. Motobikes screech loudly and sound like a dying baboon. Prefers not to wear a helmet as that would be a sign of weakness and intelligence. Motobike of choice falls into two categories: old, "juiced" up beaters and new racing bikes. Doesn't realize that people can die. Also fails to realize what the rest of the world does -- his "racing" bike is a moped that tops out at 65 mph.

The Foreigner:

The foreigner has no idea what the hell is going on half the time and is surprised when he or she arrives at work unscathed. Accidents of all varieties are commonplace. Quick to exhibit road rage. Likes to use the horn more as an aggressive "fuck you" than an accident-avoidance mechanism. Usually far too large for a motobike. Often looks ridiculous when traveling on the streets. Prefers older motobikes that are prone to stalling and a myriad of other mechanical problems. Finds solace in beers after work with other foreigners with the conversation revolving around the "retarded driving" in Vietnam.

The Sun-Fearing Woman:
At the top of the sun-fearing woman's greatest fears' list is not the prospect of never getting married, as is commonly believed, but sunshine. Holds an irrational fear of our nearest star and would choose to blow the damn thing up if given the chance. Completely covered from head to toe in cotton of some sort, this woman looks like she is about to rob a bank or partake in guerrilla warfare. Spends roughly 12% of her day putting on and taking off arm-length gloves, masks, sunglasses, sweaters, socks, and the trusty zip-up hoodie -- despite the 100 degree weather.

The Older Man:
This man simply doesn't give a fuck anymore. In his mind, there is only one motobike on the streets and he's on it. He's too old and has put up with his nagging wife who refuses to sleep with him and his annoying kids for too long to have consideration for other drivers. Drives in a zombie-like trance with only his destination in mind. Subconsciously contemplates suicide. Regularly fails to notice red lights, street signs, and the big truck honking loudly behind him. Actions such as left turns and lane changing are performed instantaneously, with nary a glance at the sideview mirrors. Drives the motobike equivalent of a minivan. Wonders why he ever got married.

The Safe, Normal Driver:
This driver doesn't exist.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Teaching has its benefits

I can't see myself teaching English forever or even an extended time period for that matter, but the job certainly has its merits.

One of the most unexpected is that I never feel tired on the job. A class can be boring, torturous even, but I never feel the urge to lay my head down and sneak in a little shut-eye.

My last job at a naval hospital was good in that it afforded me plenty of free time to study for the LSAT and browse the Internet, but I hit up the office vending machine for caffeine more times each day than the fat co-workers...and that's saying something.

In Florida, I was working as a pizza delivery driver for Domino's. That job was good because....wait, scratch that. That job sucked. There was nothing good about that job. If any of my readers are aspiring pizza delivery drivers, abandon ship! But that's a story for a different day. At times, I was so tired, it was a miracle I didn't kill anyone while driving. D-man used to be so tired that he developed a hilarious habit of leaving entire pizzas on the roof of his car as he drove away, only to have them come cascading down the side of his Integra and get run over by his back wheel. He then had to embarrassingly stop and exit the car to pick up the "advanced signature" Domino's heatbag while traffic zoomed past. I put that in quotations because the heatbag was nothing more than standard non-conductive material with some velcro.

Teaching is an extremely versatile profession. You get exactly what you put into it. If I want to challenge myself and become the best teacher possible, that option is available to me. If I want to coast through my classes like a native-English speaking zombie, that option is also there. You put in a lot of hard work and you start to see great results from your students -- classes become more fun, they learn more, and you feel good when leaving the building. Compare that to pizza delivery driving. Sure, you could work hard and get that pizza there two minutes faster and maybe get that extra $0.50 tip (yeah!) but, at the end of the day, you're still delivering one of the main culprits of the obesity epidemic to lazy Americans. And you're destroying your car while you do it. There's no satisfaction in that.

There's another great perk to teaching as well.

You can blog while you do it! The students are taking a test right now.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vietnam likes to keep its money in-house

English teachers are very privileged in Vietnam and it's incumbent upon those employed here to always acknowledge this. We make the equivalent of English teachers in Korea and sometimes even Japan, with a much lower cost of living. However, as the last week has taught me, Vietnam likes its money to remain in the country's banks and not shipped overseas.

Of course that's common sense, at least now. Vietnam is a developing country and truly needs every cent to remain within its borders. When I first arrived in Vietnam, I found it incredibly easy to get a bank account -- almost too easy. I remember feeling very surprised, especially after recalling the hour-long process of getting a bank account in the States. Now I understand why. Giving a foreigner a bank account makes it that much more likely that he'll keep his money local and in the Vietnamese currency (dong).

I made the mistake of buying a couple of plane tickets to Singapore on the Internet with my American credit card. So I need to send money to my bank account in San Diego to pay off the bill. First thing I tried was walking into my bank and simply requesting a transfer. The bank staff looked at me like I was an alien -- "you want to what?"

"I want to send money to America?"


"What's it matter?"

"Hold please." *ring* *ring*...."Please go upstairs."

I walked up upstairs and met even more resistance from one of the suits.

"I want to send money to America."

*looking very annoyed*..."Why?"

I gave him a blank stare.

"Sending money is very expensive and very difficult. I need to see your passport, labor contract, and visa."

I had none of that so I just left. I had seen Western Union signs EVERYWHERE in Ho Chi Minh City, so I assumed it would be a cinch sending that way. However, most of these locations only receive money, not send. In fact, there are only three locations in the entire city to send...a population of six million people and three locations.

Sending money via Western Union from Vietnam Chi Minh is akin to those incredibly annoying, time-consuming video game quests that has you running all around the map assembling some bullshit contraption, like the "magic sword" to defeat the "big boss" or the "special bomb" to blow up the enemy's headquarters. Of course video game developers insert these quests to add "length" and "bulk" to their games so that they can advertise it's a 15-hour playing experience and worth every penny of its $60 price-tag.

Let's stick with the "special bomb" and me as a video game character metaphor.

First thing I needed was obviously the most important -- the bomb casing (my passport). I walked into the bank with my bomb casing and explosives (money) and hoped everything was in order for me to assemble my kickass piece of destruction.

"I'm sorry sir, but these aren't the right kind of explosives. You need American explosives (dollars)"

*Changed my explosives at a different bank...came back*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need a timer (my visa) for this bomb."

*Got a copy of my visa*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need some specialty wiring (labor contract) for this bomb."

*Had my company MAKE me a contract so I could satisfy this requirement*

"I'm sorry sir, but you need a trigger mechanism (payslips)."

.................*blank stare*

And that's where we stand today...still no bomb.

Ahh, the video game of life.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

City comes alive

We're in the midst of the rainy season, so pretty much, without fail, it rains every day in the early afternoon. The rain is heavy and blankets most of the city, but it doesn't last too long and keeps the heat from reaching extreme temperatures, so I try not to complain too much. After the rain finishes, however, it has a tendency to linger in the air for the rest of the afternoon, and even well into the night -- an uncomfortable stickiness that keeps people indoors and leaves one questioning, "Just how effective is my deodorant?"

Today, although it appeared at times that it would, it didn't rain -- a welcome change no doubt. The seemingly everpresent sticky and uncomfortable air was nowhere to be seen. The weather was the perfect blend of temperature, breeze, sunlight, and atmosphere -- the kind of weather that reminds you just how awesome life really is and how lucky we are to experience it. Many times we're consumed by the small unpleasantries in our life. The weather is too hot, the car needs new tires and I have no money, nothing good is on TV...We allow this minutia to dominate our thinking to the point where nothing in our day seems enjoyable.

If anyone had those thoughts this afternoon, they were immediately erased in favor of pure appreciation. The streets, often overcrowded with motobikes and people perpetually on the move, were instead filled with shirtless, barefoot boys involved in a passionate soccer match, cute babies with huge cheeks being pushed around by their mothers on tiny plastic bicycles, teenage schoolgirls walking hand-in-hand sharing gossip and giggling, and adult men slowly sipping coffee and talking about their families. I assure you the economic crisis and money and pettiness was the furthest thing from anybody's mind. It was quite the sight to behold.

Today reminded me of my golf-playing days in Florida, when it was often miserably hot and full of mosquitos just waiting to feast on your flesh. Occasionally, however a cool breeze would successfully fight off the Florida heat and keep the mosquitos at bay. That, combined with a beautiful sunset peaking through the trees, left me with some of my finer memories of Florida. There I was, golf club in hand, beautiful weather all around me, my friend D-man walking by my side, contemplating nothing more than my next golf shot. What more could you ask for?

Had a similar feeling tonight. Of course, these realizations and appreciations would be impossible without the bad weather. So next time you find yourself in horribly unbearable weather, whether it be freezing, scorching, pouring, or hailing, be thankful, because it makes the good days that much better.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Words of wisdom from my mattress

Vietnam is fascinated by English. Not correct English mind you, just English in general. String together a couple of English words, form a nonsensical sentence, and voila, you've got the makings of a T-shirt that unsuspecting Vietnamese might buy in Binh Thanh Market. As a Vietnamese teenager, wearing a shirt with English scribbled all over it is a one-day all inclusive pass to the "cool club." Of course it doesn't have to make sense or be comprehensible to anyone -- that's English baby, and yes, it's all over my body. You know you've been here quite a while when you can discern some kind of meaning from T-shirt slogans such as these:

I found this picture on the Internet, but it captures nicely the English we see here daily. But you say, "yeah, Patrick, of course we're going to see mistakes on T-shirts. Nothing new here." But as anyone who has lived in a foreign country can tell you, these mistakes are not limited to cheap products such as souvenirs and T-shirts. Take this as an example, our TV in the upstairs bar room:

Japanese Darling Executive: Well, we had the technical expertise to design, build, and manufacture en masse a kick-ass TV...If only we had the extra resources to understand simple past in English, argh!!!!

At my job, the water cooler (which I love by the way) has the option of not only ice-cold water, but scalding hot as well. It even has lights on the front to indicate what the machine is doing! When you put in fresh, room-temperature water, the red light for "heating" shines brightly. Nice, no English problems there. A quick glance to the right, however, one will notice that the machine is also, quite proudly, "colding" the water.

The problem isn't solely confined to Vietnam. A dumpster in Korea with some labeling issues:

There are many more examples. I will keep an eye for some really good ones and snap some photos as well. To close out this blog entry, I offer some insightful words from my very own mattress, because, you just never quite know when you will need advice from the thing you sleep on:

PS - Yes, that's a Tom and Jerry themed mattress. Happy to you!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

First days in Vietnam

I've been in Vietnam nearly six months now and I've learned a lot about the culture and country during that time. During my first few days here, I really had nothing to do, so I aimlessly walked around snapping photos of whatever I could. Most of the photos are from the Pham Ngu Lao area -- haven for both the backpackers and sex tourists. I didn't know it at the time, having been in Vietnam for only a few days, but Pham Ngu Lao doesn't accurately portray "the real" Vietnam. It's loaded with foreigners and full of stupid souvenir shit that I could care less about. Anyway, although I hardly go there now except to pay off my motorbike rental or meet a few friends, I thoroughly enjoyed my first month in "the Lao."

She works all day, seven days a week, and makes around $60 a month.

Bui Vien Street -- Foreigners' Mecca

Gotta admire the electric company's audacity in adding just one more wire.

To quote a friend -- squished baby!!!

An actual wedding photo shoot. I snuck in from behind and stole some quality shots.

Vietnamese weddings use powerful, deep reds. It's really quite beautiful.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Late night visitor

Little bugger decided to join me for some Coca Light and Perfect Storm on the television.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Journey to Tay Ninh...and beyond

After four or so months of daily teaching grind, we were finally granted a reprieve in the form of a four day vacation. Most of our friends went to their girlfriend's hometowns or to the beaches on the east coast, but Will and I, feeling spontaneous I suppose, said, "Fuck it, we're going west!" We didn't know at that time just how west we would end up venturing.

We spread the map on the table, Will recognized the name of a town (Tay Ninh), and passed along that his friend "said it was alright" A not-too-enthusiastic endorsement, but good enough for me. Off we went.

The drive normally takes about two hours, at least at the speed we drive, but of course we got ass-backwards lost on the way there. We were following Highway 22, no problems, just driving, driving, perfectly expecting it to take us right into the heart of Tay Ninh, when we saw a massive structure ahead...

Will: "I think it's a bus station."

Hmm...maybe. I thought it was a huge roundabout in the center of some random town. Beside the point, anyway. Will and I were committed to reaching Tay Ninh, giant "bus station" be damned. We continued on, both of us of the mind that we're just going to drive through the thing. We had almost accomplished our task, oblivious to everything but the road in front of us when we heard...

"STOP! STOP! STOP!" a security person flagged us down, wildly flailing his arms. Confused as hell, we shot a glance at each other, then the security man, and we all sat in silent confusion for a couple of seconds. Sensing our bewilderment, security man made it perfectly clear with his pointer finger.


Oh. So not a bus station, but a border station. In retrospect, it should have been pretty obvious. How we missed the giant "Welcome to Cambodia" sign on the way in, I don't really have a good answer for.

So, even though my passport doesn't have a stamp to prove otherwise, I've been to five countries, not four.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Concerned English teacher in Vietnam

My English is getting worse...and I teach it for a living.

The other day, a friend asked me where the nearest convenience shop was and I replied, "close here." Not "close to here" or "near here," but "close here."

Yesterday, while driving out of Ho Chi Minh City, I told my friend Will that I thought our journey was really "adventuresome."

Simplifying English for my Vietnamese students hours each day has began to take its toll with hilarious results. My English is not static, nor improving, but actually getting worse, and I try to teach this stuff every day! The Vietnamese don't conjugate verbs in English because they don't in Vietnamese. It's a simple, literal translation. So, when talking to a Vietnamese student, they might have difficulty understanding the past tense of "to buy."

So instead of saying, I "bought my motobike three weeks ago," you will find yourself saying, "I buy three weeks ago."

I've done this enough that I've started to think it's normal and natural and an efficient way to speak. Take English articles (the, a, an) for example, probably the most pointless grammatical structures known to man. When a Vietnamese student asks about them, you can't help but agree and say, "yeah, they're pretty stupid."

It became apparent what a foreign country will do to your English with enough time during my teaching training course in Vietnam. One of the students could hardly speak English and here he was in a course that trained you how to teach it. At first, I thought he was from Eastern Europe or something, but his accent was of such a unique variety that no one really knew. It took about two weeks to find out that he was from England! He had spent eight years in Korea and his English has deteriorated into such a boggled mess that fellow Englishmen couldn't pinpoint his accent.

The main reason I decided to travel to a foreign country and try my hand at teaching English is because of blogs like these, most notably Shawn's Korea and China Life Blogs and Gaijin Smash. I spent many a night reading those blogs back when traveling abroad was just a fantasy. So I reckon it's my turn to pass on some experiences and knowledge, and hopefully in turn, slow the decay of my English skills.

Not sure how frequently I will update this blog. Maybe in a couple of years I won't have the requisite English to string together a coherent sentence, so I might as well start now. Cheers.