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.