It’s a new year.

We’ve come into a new year. Some of the memorable moments include postings of yet more people of color, usually black, had been harmed or murdered by police. Black bodies were preyed upon by whites emboldened like never before in history since the Jim Crow era, and the only reason is their hunger for the white privilege they deny they have and the maintenance of such notions. Let’s not forget the lives of  too many transgender people taken and not noticed. This year was indeed a sad and soul searching one.

At the same time, last year was indeed transformative for me. I maintained the position of observation. Like double dutch, I wait for the perfect entry into 2019 to be active and moving over each obstacle as it flies around me. What has lingered is the sense of wonder being here in Vietnam. From the view from my balcony, PICS to the bike rides to and from Ho Chi Minh City, it just feels surreal. This is my life. It is so different than before. I think the struggle is reconciling how I got to be here.

That struggle will linger for a little bit longer, but I feel how it is waning. Ever since I folowed up on a letter I wrote and mailed to my ex-wife, feelings have shifted. The letter didn’t say to much. I basically took time to explain my anger and how it was dealt with. I had sent it a year ago. I knew that there was a possibility of no return answer, but in the end I let curiousity get the best of me and sent a message out of the blue. She hadn’t received the letter. The short exchange shifted feelings away from my heart. The pain is less. I have a lot of thoughts I would like to express to her, but the communication revealed to me that that is not possible. I have to let that go.

I no longer think about her on a daily basis since the exchange and the memories have shifted to happier times, but then there is a little sadness because I have no one to share things with. Then I begin to feel a bit frustrated at not only the fact that I am alone, but don’t have the time to spend with anyone else in the first place. Having two jobs and the need to write keeps me isolated.

This feeling of frustration keeps me on my toes though. As I feel restless and annoyed, it’s because I have words that are clogging up my system. I’ve made such change in my life except for a very important one which is the main goal. WRITING…………..If there was anything that I learned during the month of November is that I am torn. I want to travel, so I need to work a lot to make money. The more I work, the less energy I have for writing. I’m not sure how to make it work. There are a few poeople I need to interview and tap into some ideas of how to make my hustle work. That is another thing. HUSTLE. I’m so used to working for the man that my own hustle struggles.

You know, with my life being in upheaval for the past three years I don’t know how I feel with a sense of peace. With the relationship being on the rocks and then divorce and moving to a new culture…feeling comfortable kind of feels wrong. I continue to be on my guard, yet, I’m excited at the same time. A few people have truly proven to me their integrity and sincerity. I hope to create more lasting friendships. They will never replace what I have in the U.S. but I wouldn’t want that either. My heart still longs to be physically close to some, but it isn’t so. In that my love continues to grow for them.

2019 has begun in a way that I feel there will be some ease for me that I haven’t felt or recognized before. I’ve stuck with the same five New Year’s resolutions for the past 2 years. I think they are the best for me to strive for. PIC After having a conversation about setting resolutions and keeping them, I realize that if you focus on strengths and what belongs in your wheel house you can never fail.

I truly hope that everyone’s new year brings them what they desire and work for. I hope that those who are weak find strength. I hope those who have, have compassion for the have nots. I hope the strong can lift others up. I also hope everyone loves.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Advertisements

The Workshop

IMG_3268

Well, folks, I have tried almost every craft brew bar and grill in HCMC and Thu Dau Mot. I enjoyed most. I will revisit some from time to time. Due to a weight loss challenge and a few bad after effects that come up, I am moving on to one of my other addictions, coffee. It makes me lively and thoughtful as beer, but without the same calories and swollen ankles. Before, beer…coffee. There is a coffee shop every ten meters in Vietnam. A lot sit next to each other serving the same exact drinks. Most are serving ca phe sua da, but I want to find those serving European style coffees. I’m looking for a quiet place, peaceful with soft conversations. I want to get away from the streets, maybe down a hem (alley) or up an old stairwell. I am avoiding plastic or wooden stools with my knees up high making my old hips hurt. Most importantly, I am looking for a cup of joe hand crafted for me.

I once found a small article listing unique coffee shops in HCMC. Most of these cafes are stated to exist in the Phu Nhuan district of the city, outside the city center with it’s own Vietnamese chaos. My first on a tour is not one of these. This cafe is located in District 1,  two floors above a tree lined and shaded street. It’s kind of classy. The menu is leather bound. One page demonstrates the different styles of making a cup of coffee. They offer pour over and immersion styles.

I first tasted Pham Manh Hung plain, black. It was bitter with an aftertaste of raisin as mentioned on the menu. The flavored lingered delightfully without the compulsion of cleansing my palate. The second taste -Halle Berry style- light and sweet with milk and sugar brought out the raisin and molasses flavor with some gusto. It was quite delicious. The problem with Vietnamese style is you never know how much sweetened condensed milk they use, and they tend to be too sweet. You never know if they are using robusta or arabica beans. It’s not common to get a Vietnamese coffee hot either.

I was quite delighted to find this cafe with the pour over option. It’s how I make coffee at home. I gave my French press to some young American guys because it was too large for just me. I don’t like cold coffee and that’s what happened with the press.

This cafe is called the Workshop and it lives up to it name. There is a separate conference room which was being used by people wearing matching polo shirts. Others were with a laptop or some paperwork. Some people were in small groups and pairs. There are small tables next to the large windows looking over the quiet street. There are also a few communal tables in the center. They have a counter, but the stools were a bit too high, with no proper bar to place your feet.

As I mentioned before, the street is quiet, lacking the chaotic HCMC traffic of motorbikes. The other noise, construction, is the reminder of the ever changing and developing city.

IMG_3272

CHEERS

 

Craft Beers

Beers

 

It was to my great surprise that I would find a good wheat beer here in Vietnam. I have fond memories of previous visits that included Bier LaRue on ice. Any beer really, on ice. The beer here is extremely light and chuggable. Most nights traveling in S.E.Asia involved drinking some of these beers names after big cats, like Tiger, Bier Larue, and Leo. I’ve never been a fan of Chang from Thailand, but a lot of people don’t mind the Changover, I guess, the next morning. It wasn’t until the end of my CELTA training course in Ho Chi Minh City that I found some craft beers. They weren’t cheap like the others offered but definitely tasty. I’m a fan of hefeweizen, ales and lagers. Imagine how one would feel being served by some tattooed Vietnamese hipster listening to western music of their decade. It was like home.

My first craft beer was had at Ong Cao. They don’t brew their own beer here, but serve some of the best made in HCMC. Open to the street, the music draws you in. As you look in deeper toward the taps, there are some cool looking young guys with mustaches, tattoos and stylish haircuts. They serve with a smile anything you desire from the menu. In my opinion their music choice is top shelf playing American soul, R&B, and some hip hop or pop from a time that was so good in my life. I enjoy singing along with a delicious beer in my hand.

Upon my arrival in Vietnam a year ago, it never occurred to me that a craft beer scene would be on the rise. Once I moved out of HCMC and settled in Thu Dau Mot I found out from another beer enthusiast that there were quite few options to experience some good beers. I am in no way endorsing any of these places, but just letting you know they exist. Whatever your flavor, sociability and hunger, you will find a spot that suits you just fine.

One of my other firsts was East West. Located a block away from the famous Ben Thanh Market, this craft beer operation does it all on site. From the front of the restaurant you see the large brewing equipment looming over a number of taps at the back bar. The place is quite airy, being warehouse like. There is plenty of natural light. There are a few couches with low tables to have conversation. Tables for small groups and a large communal table near the taps. I went during some World Cup games and enjoyed a delicious steak of Australian beef. This place gives you an option of taking a six pack or even a case of bottled brews home. It’s not cheap, but once you have your bottles home you can enjoy them at your leisure. Drives into HCMC are long and pricy. This is one of the best options. Go in on a case with a friend and enjoy.

Along with their 8 – 10 standard flavors, they are always trying something new for limited times. The past few times I visited they had just run out. My only complaint is that they should erase the name off the board as soon as the last drop has been drunk. The hefeweizen is my favorite, but the East West Pale Ale is something to try. It has just the right amount of hoppiness that doesn’t punch the drinker in the nose and throat. Their Mosaic Pale Ale brings in another interesting taste profile that it’s nice as a taster, but too much for a pint for me. In June their limited edition was a Plum Sour that I appreciated, because it didn’t squeeze the glands just under my jaw. The staff is amazing and the food is quite delicious

A place tucked away on a small street is the Winking Seal. Now, I must say that I do go to the breweries during the day. The earlier it is open the better. This one doesn’t open until 3pm. It was empty when I arrived save the owners who are a collaboration of Vietnamese and American guys. The music is a nice afternoon ambience. There are about six different flavors usually on the menu. The flavors are adventurous and refreshing. Their food menu is extremely small and not that great. Their chicken nuggets should be chicken wings instead. They do can their beers and some flavors are available to bring home. Along with being close to a Tous Le Jours bakery, this place is a nice little stop before getting on the last bus back to Binh Duong Province, which is early in the afternoon.

Another HCMC favorite is Pasteur Street Brewing. I didn’t particularly like this place. It wasn’t as welcoming by staff or even others imbibing on the juice. The spring rolls ordered were disappointing and the beer was expensive. Why did it take so long to pour the beer? I had a taste and a beer and then left into the rain to find another place open this early for lunch beers. I ended up at Gammer. I was expecting a little more from their beer. The place is extremely spacious inside and out. They do brew their own craft beer, but there are only two flavors, Golden and Dark. They come in a huge glass and the Golden goes down quite nicely. That was it though. Not much of an atmosphere or character to bring me back, yet a good place to avoid the rain.

My favorite place in HCMC is Heart of Darkness Brewery. I don’t know why, but it grabbed me by the beer belly and we made friends real fast. Liking Ales and Pale Ales they have a quite a few different ones to choose from. Their pilsners are quite strong and bitter for my taste. I had their truffle fries and sliders that were okay. Mainly, I enjoy the beer here. There are so many to choose from. They all have some cool name from the book. My last beer is always Kurtz’s Insane, and I reflect on the movie Apocalypse Now. From a taster of 6 to pint glasses, I have yet to be disappointed. I also like the atmosphere at the bar. People are sociable and don’t mind some small talk. If I lived in HCMC I would be a regular there, especially since I found that they have live music and trivia night. Just after lunch is a great time to sit and do some blogging also.

Then there is the Hen House, serving Red Rooster Ales. Just a block away from Bui Vien walking street in the backpackers area of District 1 is a nice spot for whole chicken wings and delicious beer. This place was found on the night I finished my CELTA training. The perfect combination of finishing an intensive course and then celebrating with chicken and beer. It was a good night. The wings are large and the beers are cold. It’s owned by an American and it shows. They have a nice blond, but other flavors are available. One thing I wish they had were t-shirts and stickers. An overnight in HCMC, draws me to this place, especially if I get into the city a little on the late side.

IMG_3204

As I mentioned before, the craft beer scene is growing. It’s spread out to the close provinces. Here, in Binh Duong, we have two notable places. One is Bia Factory and the other is Broken Bridge Brewery. They both brew their own flavors. One is a little more polished than the next. Let’s start with Bia Factory. Walking in, it’s nice to see a regular pool table available and shuffle board. I would say in general bar games are missing in Vietnam. Brick walls are kept raw amongst the other kitchy decorations of street signs and license plates. The high stools aren’t that comfortable and that’s when I become grateful for the bar games. It’s a chance to move around a bit. Music is my style. They have a full menu of food and beer flavors. None to take home, but it’s just a fifteen minute bike ride for me. Bia Factory is located in the New City, which is a developing area with small universities and other government industry. At a certain time in the evening, the other expats pour in. This group of expats kind of stick to themselves. Even the other Black guy wouldn’t acknowledge my presence.

The most recent opening of Broken Bridge was a complete surprise. Two young men own this small operation. They offer a small selection that they are sure to grow. One of the owners went to Michigan State and did home brewing while in university. He decided to bring the passion back to Vietnam. It’s a good thing. They have an APA and an IPA available that are quite tasty. They still need to work on somethings, mostly timing and dealing with their hops. It’s nice to have something even closer to my house. It’s nice for a quick stop there after work and enjoy a few wings before going home. It’s rather small and can get loud quite quickly with just a few drunken Vietnamese. I just hope that they continue to be inspired to improve and for sure it will be successful. They do need better seating. Fuck, I need a cushion and something not so high. Am I just showing my age or do other people just tolerate drinking in uncomfortable situations. Trust me, the seats don’t feel better the more you drink.

I made it to all of the suggested places to try good beer. Sure enough more are opening. The last venue I made it to was Bia Craft. I went to the one in District 2, but it doesn’t open until later in the afternoon. Luckily there is one in District 3 which blends into District 1. Bia Craft in D3 opens for lunch and has beers called Bottoms Up (chuggable), Let’s Get Naked, and Fucking Liar. All of them were delicious. As some advice, order food to pair with the beers. Having a taster of 4 and then ordering food will confuse you. It was extremely difficult to decide what to get off of their pub menu. Everything sounds awesome. The fish and chips sounds awesome, but it’s not. It’s been my experience in Vietnam that they always get the batter on the fish extremely wrong. They fry the fuck out of it to make it crispy, but the batter isn’t light and it takes away from the point of the highlighted item, the fish.

If you enjoy beer like I do, there is a place for you in Vietnam. There is good craft beer, freshly brewed Vietnamese beer and then beer named after cats or cities.

A lot of my beer enjoyment has happened solo. It has given me time to think and put words to paper. The earlier the better, which means a bit of peace and quiet. Usually, I would have the place mostly to myself. It has given me time to talk to staff about the operations, beer and Vietnam. I like beer. I’m glad I had a little beer tour. I’m grateful to get my pen to paper in this ways also

Think beer on ice is wrong, well, you’re wrong. It’s hot here and before you know it so is your beer. Would I put ice in a craft beer? Not yet, but I probably could.

Hotels in Vietnam

Specifically Ho Chi Minh City.

The first hotel since relocating was a bad experience. It was extremely uncomfortable. I was taking a course at the time and needed some sort of desk and there was none. The beds were horrible, and it was loud. I first tried moving rooms to get a window. It overlooked the alley, but I cut my head on some metal holding the air-conditioning unit. After my iPad was stolen from my room I knew it was time to go. Even though the location was close to school, it was inconvenient. I moved to a hotel in the Phu Nhuan district that had extremely nice accommodations. It was more a month than what I pay for my apartment now, but it had a pool and a terrace. It was surrounded by good and cheap food. It was also less chaotic. It was worth the $400 USD for 6 weeks.

Once I returned from my motorbike tour of the central highlands, I found myself in HCMC quite often. After finding a teaching position, I needed to get my affairs in order to live here for a length of time. I would find myself going to and from HCMC on almost daily basis. There have been times that I’ve spent an overnight, due to the lack of entertainment in the town I currently live.

Hotels of all sorts are everywhere. There isn’t a street you walk down that doesn’t contain some type of lodging. There are all types of accommodations to fit one’s needs and desires. Since traveling in Asia in 2015, I have been a fan of Agoda. Like BookingDotCom it lists all available rooms. The more you use it they give discounts and coupons. It’s good to see what hotels have available and a lot of the times there are major discounts. I remember the first hotel I ever stayed in, with my ex, during our Asia tour. It was sandwiched between two other hotels. The building was thin in width and had about 6 floors. The only window was between the bathroom and bedroom. It was quite closed in, with wallpaper showing a forest and a small spring. We ate breakfast on the roof overlooking the busy street and discolored tin roofs. A lot of hotels are like this.

When finding accommodations online, you should do it with an expectation that you may walk into a place that looks nothing like it’s posted photos. Read the reviews, but I don’t think those can be trusted, especially if they are posted by an American. I find that Americans and other westerners in general have grand expectations and are simply surprised so they rate the place low. For example, I recently stayed three nights in a Japanese style capsule. It was located on the edge of the backpacker area in District one. It was a glorified dorm with screens that came down to individualize the pods. The review said it was loud and smelled. People smell, especially, when you get about twenty bodies into one area. They also rented towels so I am sure some budget travelers were choosing to spend money on beer over hygiene.

As far as being loud, it was in the backpacker area, where it is full of restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s just not going to be quiet. The only thing in the review I agreed with was the hardness of the bunk. The mattress was about two inches thick but mushed down with wear. I basically slept on metal. I asked for an extra duvet to sleep on, just a little extra cushion. For $17USD for three nights and the location, it suited its purpose. I stayed in a different capsule hotel once before. It was trash. What I had walked into was not in the photos at all. So, you have to be careful.

There was a hotel I found just outside of the backpacker area I thought was a nice little gem. The night I arrived was like a story. It was raining heavily that night. The car had no access to the alley, so I had to wander a bit before finding my destination. I took the elevator to the 5thfloor and walked into the first hotel room I had in the city that not just had a window, but it had a view over some rooftop gardens. Yeah. It was spacious and it was clean. I ordered some BBQ using Vietnammm.com and watched as the lightening showed off for about four hours. How did I get so lucky?

Later that night, I went to the little market to grab some beer and met a few fellow Texans. They had been living in the area for a few years at this point and the market was like their little club house. We chatted for a while. They insisted that my living in Binh Duong wasn’t living in Vietnam. Sometimes I think that is true. That stay in the alley was just so romantic to me, especially being outside of the touristy area and winding through alley ways. There was something comforting being enrapt in the city in that way. I enjoyed the accommodation and experience. I continued to book nights there. The next occasion of an overnight in Saigon I stayed across the hall and this room had windows on three of the walls and a balcony. I was beginning to geek out on this place until it was time to take a shower. It was a bucket shower. Not really a problem, but the facilities I was experiencing were beginning to get worse.

The last booking I made at Happy Homes required me to walk 6 flights to my room. I had a window, but no functioning way to bathe. I had to use a tea cup and daintily pour water gathered from the sink. I haven’t been back there since. At one point I was actually thinking of making it my regular weekend retreat. Oh well.

September 2nd is Independence Day in Vietnam. It fell on a weekend and just in the way that I could spend a few nights in HCMC. I booked a hotel that  I would see from the bus traveling to and fro. It included a breakfast, always a plus. It had a window that had a sliver of a view of the park across the street from the hotel. A block away was Bui Vien walking street, the backpacker area. It was a quiet room with two double beds pushed together, but individually made up. There was orange Fanta in the refrigerator which gives this place a high score in my book. Anyway, HCMC quirkiness continues with this facility.

When I arrived, I had to lug a fairly heavy overnight bag up a flight of stairs before entering the hotel. It was only heavy because it was actually two bags, one including my laptop and some books. Once I had my key the “bellboy” took my bag and showed me to the elevator. He pushed the fifth floor, but my key had a number for the fourth floor. I pushed four and then he explained that we have to go to the fifth floor, walk up to the sixth floor and then walk down to the fourth floor. WTF?! Sure enough. We got to the fifth floor and then walked up a thin stairwell to the sixth floor. From there we walked down a hallway into a garden. We walked across the rooftop garden to basically another building and walked down another thin stairwell to the fourth floor. There is always something funky about places here. I had to retrace my steps each time leaving my room because I don’t know where the nearest stairwell would’ve taken me.

I would say, that staying in HCMC is a unique experience. Booking a room online is easy enough, but it does need some due diligence on your part or you only have yourself to blame. Read the reviews, a lot of reviews. Don’t expect the pictures to tell you any kind of truth. Location might be important for you, but consider the fact that transportation is very cheap. If noise is a factor then stay away from Bui Vien or pack earplugs. The price range is so varied you are bound to find something you like within any kind of budget. Having paid $140USD for a mediocre room in a Holiday Inn in Austin, I realize that the same price could afford extreme luxury here. At $50USD you can get a great room at the Pullman. Vietnam is definitely a country that has a surprise a second.

Seriously Ill in Vietnam

About a month ago I got seriously ill. I was ill enough to go to the emergency room and stay a few days. It was a Sunday evening when I got off of work and went to get a meal at one of the western style restaurants close to the school. It had been a long week with screaming children and teens. I don’t often eat out, I usually cook at home. This particular night I didn’t want to cook and was craving pasta. I was extremely happy to have some cheesy shrimp pasta, but I should have known better.

The first time I had eaten at this particular restaurant there was no incident. I ate a large plate of pasta and enjoyed a nice beer. The second time I went there I woke up a few days later with a sore in the corner of my mouth. I had had these sores before but never knew what caused them. I hadn’t had one in more than a year. Actually writing this I looked it up…won’t go into it. It was my third visit to this restaurant and I typically learn my lesson in threes. Well, I ate my plate of pasta and drank a large beer. I sat with my kindle and enjoyed the food before I took a ride home in the rain to end the day.

I got comfortable at home and began to lesson plan for the next week. I was working on my lessons when I began to feel extremely hot and started sweating profusely. Waves of nausea began to hit me from the left and the right. I felt it in my toes. I eventually went to the bathroom and sat by my toilet spinning. One thing I hate about my bathroom is how hot it is. There was no cool floor to calm my body’s reactions. I continued to sweat and eventually heaved up my meal.

Ah, okay. Maybe my ice cream float with a touch of whiskey wasn’t the best dessert choice. I went back to the couch feeling some relief. It was hard to believe that a shot of whiskey and a beer would make me sick enough to puke. No sooner had the sweat dried on my body that it all began again. I really hate puking and I don’t know anyone who does, but I decided to campout in the bathroom for a bit, you know, get it all out of me so I could just go to bed and rest. It was only around 7pm at this time, but I was definitely done in. To shorten the story a bit, after laying by the toilet for a few hours I decided that I would be more comfortable heaving from the comfort of my bed into a trash can. The steamy bathroom was keeping me in a state. I dimmed the lights and turned over every 30 minutes or so to drop off whatever into the can.

I lay in agony for hours. It reminded me of two Christmases ago when I lived in Berkeley. That Christmas Eve was spent with some friends at Clooney’s Pub in San Francisco. I had a few pints and a shot of Fernet. I woke up the next morning vomiting uncontrollably. Sick the whole day, I finally decided in the early evening to go to the E.R. I took the last available taxi to the wrong hospital and some generous people, who had been visiting a friend, took me to the correct hospital for care. There I was diagnosed with a virus.

Well here, once I began vomiting green bile I knew it was time to get a GRAB car to the international hospital, which fortunately is very close to me. Within an hour I was admitted and diagnosed with gastritis. FUCK. I was in so much agony at this time. I began to long for the U.S. because I just didn’t believe they knew what to do with me. I thought I would have at least gotten stronger drugs for the abdominal cramping at this point.

Administration bothered me about insurance. I gave them my card but I had forgotten my passport that was conveniently laid out on my dresser for this occasion. It just never made it to my pocket. At first, I thought, how rude. I’m in all this pain and all you can do is bother me about decisions. I ended up choosing a room shared with four people, because I didn’t know what insurance would cover. I couldn’t believe I was being checked in. In the States I would have been hydrated and sent home with a few scripts. I must have got something serious going on. They pressed on my belly, did some ultra sound tests while I continued to puke and writhe in pain. FUCK.

I was eventually wheeled into a room and there was only one other patient. I made more noise than him puking into my bucket and moaning in pain. Each time a nurse asked me how I felt I wanted to lash out, “How do I fucking look?! I feel like shit!” I didn’t though.

They sent food to my bedside and I wanted to kick it over. It looked nice, but the smell sent me over the edge. My stomach would flop at the idea of putting something into it. There were times I would lay on my back looking at the ceiling reminiscing about my times as an electrician. I was fascinated how the curtain rods were fastened to the T-Bar itself and not extending to the ceiling beyond. We wouldn’t do that in the States, especially in California, due to earthquakes. It’s funny how things and structures are secured in this country.

I slept a bit but in fits and spurts. Nurses would come and go from the room. Every two hours or so vitals were checked and in my case that included blood sugar. The lights were bright and nausea kept me just on the edge of falling into a real sleep.

I started the second day feeing extremely poor. I forced myself to take a shower. It was the best thing I did for myself. I at least felt human again. I felt I had gained just the smallest amount of strength, but no appetite. I had to be careful drinking water. Drinking too much at once sent me retching minutes later. I weakly spoke to my doctor in the afternoon wondering when I might feel better. Here he explained to me that I was used to certain germs and contaminates in the U.S., but there was a lot in this country that my body couldn’t handle at this time. We just had to wait and see. Rationally, it made sense, but it didn’t help me feel better emotionally.

The room began to fill up with patients. There were about seven hours I had the whole room alone, as the other patient was discharged. Now, it was jammed packed with patients and visitors. They had no qualm opening my curtain to stare at me. They spoke loudly and used electronics as if they were in their own private homes. I really wished I had asked for a double or maybe even a single room. What made it worse is that because I had no idea I would be admitted I brought nothing with me to entertain myself. I had been alone with just my thoughts. I had no one to call to bring my passport or even a book.

The third morning, a miraculous thing happened. I woke up feeling soooo much better. I didn’t have a huge appetite, but thought that I could at least eat a banana. I craved a banana. I was thinking of the BRAT diet. For some reason there were none to give me. SADS. It was good to communicate to my doctor that I was feeling better and he said that if the good feelings continued through the night to tomorrow I could look to going home the next day at some point. I needed to make that happen. I also needed my passport for insurance purposes, as hospital admin were calling my bedside hounding me for it. I didn’t want to pay out of pocket to file forms with insurance later. Then, I decided I felt good enough to go A.W.O.L.

I needed a few things other than my passport. I hadn’t brought clothes to change into. I needed my scrub towel to have an even better shower later. My phone battery had lasted a long time, but it was about to die. I wanted my iPad. My body hurt from laying in bed the past few days and it would be good to sit up and read for a bit or watch some movies. I called a nurse to my bed and asked her about leaving. It was hard for many to understand that I DID NOT have someone to call and help me. She said she would go and ask someone if I could leave. Well, she took too long for me to wait anymore. I had it in my head to go already. As I got onto an elevator I made eye contact with one of the nurses on the floor and slipped into the lift.

I got a GRAB car to my apartment. Someone from the hospital called for me on my cell phone and I explained I would be back within half an hour. It was truly a fast trip. I got the same driver back to the hospital after grabbing some clothes, a charger, iPad and a book. I’m glad I made the trip. I was now able to drown out the voices of others. I longed to surround myself in English. I’m not worried about them speaking about me, it was just so loud, so yeah, I grabbed my headphones too.

I was quite insistent on leaving the next day. I even told the school I would make it back to teach my class in the evening. I passed the time watching music videos and started reading Casual Vacancy, by J.K.Rowling. The way the book introduces the characters I found myself a bit lost, but it solidifies soon enough for the reader to not be too impatient.

I took another shower in the morning, dressed and waited until noon for the okay. I received a few scripts to continue taking for the next few days. Insurance covered everything and I was refunded half of my deposit. So in short my co-pay for the E.R. was 1.5 million VND ($65 USD).

Satisfied by the level of care and attention, even the food I could eat, I went home to rest for my evening class. I hope I never get that sick again. I am confident in the level of care in that international hospital. I probably left even stronger after being inoculated with whatever Vietnamese bug I got.

It’s been 1 year and it flew by and I sure as hell don’t want to fly back.

Taking time on my day off to reflect on the year I spent outside of the United States. I’ve never felt more like a refugee and asylum seeker than I do now. As I am proud of my independence and respect the depth of my strength I remain lost as I watch my country seek to repeat the history it’s lost. I want to celebrate my year, but am faced with finding ways to never go back.

A year to the day a young black woman was slashed to death on a train platform waiting for a train. It’s the same platform I would wait on for my trains living in the Bay Area. Most time I would need to wait late at night on this platform for a train. A black man was legally murdered in the state of Florida over a parking space. I think of the young men shot multiple times while being armed with a cell phone or wallet.

Recently, a black business owner was ambushed by San Francisco police while opening his own business. I think of black men forced to lie on the ground unarmed, in their pyjamas because they were “moving funny”. This was after they themselves called the police. I seeth with anger at the white people who catch feelings when a person of color is in the vicinity and threaten these people with calling the police knowing damn well what the next actions could be. White people call the police on children selling water or lemonade, as my university friend’s kids are doing the same damn thing across the bridge.

I use Facebook as a way of connecting with my people across the planet. There hasn’t been one day this past year that I haven’t read something to bring me to tears. Each time my mom stated that the U.S. was still the best country in the world my head threatened to explode and all the while innocent people were being bombed in their homes 20 minues away from where my parents live.

Recently, I was face timing with my father. He told me about his upcoming road trip through a section of the south with my mom. I am so scared for them. I don’t want them to go. They’re retired. They have worked hard throughout their lives and have nice things. They deserve everything they have, but what if some cracker decides they have too much. They want to judge what my parents deserve. I fear for black children as they are “playfully” lynched or even demeaned by class mates by calling them maids and whatnot.

Will U.S. citizens need to apply for asylum in other countries? Which countries would take them, take care of them and treat them with respect? Vietnam isn’t it. They have racial discrimination also. I really try to imagine a place to be able to celebrate me. I personally don’t know if I could celebrate with all the scars I have, mentally and emotionally challenging me daily.

I am scared of the United States of America. In my perspective, it has become a state that perpetuates fear and fear begets violence systematically and socially.

And you know what, I want to be happy about the Thai boys rescued from the cave in Northern Thailand. I really do! That experience will be a mark on their lives and we can only wait to see how it manifests. 1000s of people from multiple countries came to help rescue those boys and their coach. Now, what about the 100s of children held in cages in the United States? How will the months of being kept in cages affect them physically and mentally? Ask the average black citizen who have been passing the effects of slavery in their dna for generations.

White people are fucking scary as fuck…destruction is their way of life. The gaslighting they intend to use to control situations is a collective mental illness. Their lack of education, socailization and self evaluation has left us, people of color, at a point of struggle that resembles countries newly colonized. It’s brutal. It’s overwhelming. We’re left not just with memories, but physical actualizations of the violations of body and mind. We are left to relive what those violators have forgotten or rather ignore.

Bangkok for the Fourth

There are some things I wish I had done. There are some things I will never do again. There are a few things I am so glad I did do and others I will do time and time again. I really like Bangkok. There is so much to do and see. Always do your research and make plans.

1. Transportation… There are taxis, motorbikes, tuk tuks, and on my last day I learned they have GRAB. GRAB would have made my trip a bit smoother. GRAB is like the baby brother of UBER, which I believe has been kicked out of S.E.Asia. I had specific places to go and it is much cheaper than a taxi.

Some taxis are metered and some not. You should only take a metered taxi. You can negotiate with the other kind of drivers, but unless you are familiar with the baht and real costs, just avoid them. They will be approximately 6 times more expensive than a metered car. Motorbike is a good option if you are traveling solo, but you should know Thai and be prepared to haggle, which I hate. Also, stay wityhin a small radiius of where you start, because they do not use GPS. Tuk tuks just want to take you to certain tourist sites. They have different agendas. They want to take you to places where they will get a commission.

My first morning I was convinced to go on an hour tour. I was taken to temples that were barely visited, bare and under construction. I paid for a boat ride, supposedly at a discount and I kind of understand why. The floating market wasn’t happening and the river was bare of any activity. I was reminded of the term “Idiot Tax”. I paid my fair share on this trip. I mean, I only took a picture of the front of the boat.

The morning wasn’t wasted, but it could have and should have gone differently. Later, during my trip, after being approached by many drivers, I learned that they take the same route I had been on. Same temples, same tailors and boat ride. I seriously recommend downloading GRAB and get to specific desinations at a cheap price and miss the garbage. Otherwise, ride with a Thai friend and they will help you get around the best.

Things I won’t do again…I won’t stay close to Khao San Road. It’s just too touristy. I am so repulsed by the young, screaming, white, backpacker, drunk in the streets losing their minds. I’m too old for that shit. Since living in Vietnam, outside of Saigon, I really prefer being amongst only a few foreigners. The hawking of laughing gas, pasty white skin, it’s like a girls and boys gone wild video. I also don’t like how they are so culturally inept. I mean, learn how to say hello, thank you, and not spicy, if you can’t handle the heat for godssakes. I did walk the street one night looking for specific beer tank tops and I had to rush through. I picked up a few things for my bro, but found what I wanted the next day in the morning.

My best memories of Bangkok were the visits I had with former students. My first visit was with a young man who was living as a Buddhist monk. It’s a Thai tradition for young men in Thailand to do this for a two weeks, a month or longer. Knowing it was his father’s decision to spend the time, I knew it will be a long two weeks for him. It’s not an eay thing to do. It’s hot in Thailand and they live without airconditioning. They walk barefoot every morning to collect breakfast donated by other Buddhists. Then they spend time studying and meditating. They have free time to do whatever, but cannot spend money. They also cannot eat after 7 pm.

I spent some time with another young man I taught in San Francisco. He’s calm and thoughtful. He was gracious enough to show me a really good evening in Bangkok. We first tried to go to a rooftop bar, because I wanted a drink with a city view, but it was popular and already at capacity at 630pm. We took a tuk tuk, for super cheap, to the Chinatown area and began eating. Everything you heard of Bangkok and it’s food happens in Chinatown, except Mondays, it’s the law.

I started with some noodles, salty and sticky. Further in I had some soup that contained crispy porkbelly, liver and chitterlings (pork intestines). DEELISH. My mom always said to not eat them in other countries, but when the culture eats them more than Black people then you know they are good. It’s been my experience in Asian restaurants that they are amazing and clean. I would be hesitant if the chef was white though, just saying. On our way out of Chinatown we grabbed a quick dessert. I was a bit nervous because raw  was lettuce involved and it was dripping with water. The last time I had something with lettuce I got “Thai tummy”

The dessert was similar to bahn cuon, but it had chestnut. It was only slightly sweet, nutty, but very chewy. It began to rain, as this time of year is the rainy season. We grabbed a tuk tuk to go back to the area where my hotel is. The temples were brilliant at night in the rain. It’s too bad my iPhone had no more room for photos. We stopped at a bar but had to leave due to a private Ducati event. Another tuk tuk and we landed at Brown Sugar.

It’s a jazz bar, with live music daily. The front is very unassuming. Open, with a pool table. We walk through the open area and through some glass doors and got a still slap from the air conditioner. The music before the band was nice. What we in the States would call adult contemporary. A lot of them were remakes of popular songs, but all in English. There was a jazz mural covering all four walls. There was Duke Ellington, Amy Winehouse, and Dizzy Gilespie. The music began at 8:45.

A young and beautiful mixed race girl sang with a guitar player. She sang some standards beautifully and then thanked and spoke to the audience in Thai. The atmosphere allowed us to speak about life and ask each other questions. It was a truly pleasant night and I was grateful to spend it with him. There weren’t any World Cup games to stay up for so I didn’t stay up late. There were twlo things I still wanted to do. I wanted to see Wat Arun and the David Beckham Temple. That’s right, David Beckham Temple.

I woke up early like the previous mornings. I had breakfast and decided to take a ride to The Temple of the Dawn, a mistake. I should have just walked to the pier and taken the boat. Instead I paid an inflated price to the pier and took the ferry across the river. The sun was shining fully into the complex. I am grateful for my poorly tailored khakis. As poorly fitting as they feel they are extremely light, perfect for the tropics and temples. They did pick up the sweat from my knees which weirdly happen to sweat a lot.

The Temple of the Dawn is not what I expected at all. From afar it just looks like gray stone, but up close it’s brilliant white with cool mosaic pieces. I walked out of the complex, got the ferry and once I crossed I began to ask the lazing drivers about how to get to the David Beckham Temple. Then looking at the map I could see the temple was quite a disctance away. It was recommended that I take a boat along the river to get there.

I referred to the blog I had read about the David Beckham Temple and found the temple’s location. One driver told me he could take me to the pier, but mid way said he could take me to Chinatown. Once I closed my phone the location became foggy in my mind. The driver dropped my off in Chinatown, which during the day is another world. It was the complete opposite of the night before. It was brightly lit by the mid morning sun. The sky was a brilliant blue with strips of stationary white reflecting UV-rays. As the driver took off I took out my Google Maps and let out a puff of air. I was slightly closer to my destination, but still so far away.

I thought of walking in the temple’s direction and grab a tuk tuk on the way. That was a big fail. I got a tuk tuk and he went in the wrong direction even though I showed him a map. Then he wanted to triple the price we had agreed upon. I told him to pull over and went on foot toward the temple. I was following a large street. Sections of it was gem street and I thought of my mom, because she loves jewelry. I walked for about 45minutes and began to notice how the heat was sapping my energy.

I forced myself to get some water at a convenience store. I could feel my calves tighten up and cry a bit. I don’t walk this much in Vietnam. Places began setting up for lunch and I moved on. I was on a mission. Eventually, I came to an alley full of resting motorbike drivers. They were chilling and I got their attention looking like a hot worn tourist. I showed them my phone a discussion in fast Thai ensued. Men pointed their finger in different directions. Every once in a while they would mention the name of the Temple, Wat Pariwat.

They volunteered the oldest guy to take me. We rode for quite a bit, but the anticipation encouraged me. I was going to see my golden boy. Traffic is so different in Thailand. For one, cars dominate in Thailand. In Vietnam it’s the motorbike. Cars in Thailand stop for pedestrians when they enter the space. There isn’t a challenge of machine versus man. It felt safer and more considerate. If Thais doubt me, then I suggest you spend a weekend in HCMC and then tell me what you think.

The old man made a stop to ask an old woman about directions. We were on a large road, almost like a freeway. A young Thai person came walking by and he asked them. We were both relieved that they spoke English and I was only across the road from my destination. All I needed to do was climb some stairs and walk across the bridge. The bridge doubled as a platform for a train. Well shit, I wish I had found what train came this way.

My tired legs held strong as I climbed the stairs. On the other side I opened the blog for further directions. I was able to match landmarks. I fucking made it!

I walked down a long drive as described. The closer I got I could hear children at the school next door. I had closed the blog and without knowing which building to go to, I just walk to the first building that appeared to be a temple. I took a deep breath and got my camera ready. I got excited about my new camera bag I bought in HCMC. I could carry my camera and two extra lenses. I walked up to the ornate building and my eyes hadn’t trained on anything specific, until I saw a figure with a shark head. My heart began to beat fast. What the fuck am I looking at? I let my camera hang for a bit and walk up close to the structure. Whoah! Is that…Popeye?…Wolverine?…Holy Shit! I just got so happy. I didn’t stop smiling the whole time. I just found the most exciting thing in Thailand.

I couldn’t wait to find the little gold statue of DB. At times, I felt a little faint. I hadn’t eaten lunch and should have gotten a large bottle of water. I couldn’t stop though, sweating or taking photos. I switched lenses and angles and focus. I looked and looked but couldn’t find the likeness of my man crush. I couldn’t care more though, this funky place was amazing.

There was another building of similar build next door about 10 meters away. There was some type of construction happening. The amazing things were the likenesses under the eave of the building. First I saw a Viking…what the…a Native American figure in full headdress, a cowboy and then Che.

I gave the Wat a new name….Wat Thefuckamilookingat. Again, I cannot express in words the excited feeling I had mixed with hunger, exhaustion, and low blood sugar. I hadn’t even entered the temples yet.

A young man and who I can imagine was his small family, sat on the floor in front of a fan in the entrance of the temple. The inside was jaw dropping. The only thing to remind one it was a Buddhist temple was the large gold Buddha outlined in neon that changed colors. Then I saw Einstein, Julius Ceasar and Shakespeare. Their likeness in mosaic pieces. The art on the ceiling is immense with the color of blue cut by designs in more mosaics and gold.

I didn’t find David Beckham, but the trip to this building was worth all of the trouble and kilometers walked. I opened up the blog post again. There were more buildings to discover and I was really feeling my sugar level drop. I found the entrance to the building I should have looked for in the beginning, but the area was closed off. Definitely, no DB this trip. I did find a concession stand and grape Fanta. I cooled off in the shade before making it back to my hotel. I had been on the move all morning and afternoon.

I walked back to the large road. As I approached, a taxi had just dropped off a passenger. This when I learned the GRAB existed. He dropped me off on Khao San Road, quiet and hot in the high shining sun. It was steamy, yet quiet. I needed some souvenitrs for myself. I found the t-shirt stand I needed. She had the tank tops of all my favorite Asian beers. It was a perfect way to end my trip. I will come back Bangkok.

Link to more Bangkok photos…https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156392489922226.1073741838.619127225&type=1&l=6c148501db

 

I’m Coming Out…

I have something to admit…

So lately, I have been feeling poorly and it’s been a few months now. It’s a combination of things that have been getting me down. After news of a few American celebrities taking their own lives, I was left to wonder how I even made it this far. I’m lonely here in Vietnam. I have spent time with coworkers, but I long for someone who already knows me, It’s difficult for me at this age to get to know new people. I’ve become pickier and now see that I need to be even more so with the people around me.

I do know some cool people, but the cool kids live in HCMC. We met at our CELTA course and they lead busy lives as I do, so we don’t get to see each other often enough. I long for intimacy. I long for a pet, but I’m not quite ready to make that commitment. I also find my poor feelings connected to teaching teens. I can honestly say I don’t like teaching the teens here, yet I persevere. Unfortunately, that doesn’t alleviate the exhaustion felt at the end of each of those classes. They don’t care to learn English, nor do they even want to be in a classroom. They lack curiosity and basically teens are assholes. Luckily, as of late I have been teaching more adult classes and I am grateful to be using familiar material, American English File. I am questioning my teaching options.

Besides that, I have an annoying and awkward situation with someone I work with. I do work with a Trump supporter, but this blog is not about him. It’s an obvious problem. But I have another coworker who happens to be transphobic. This experience with them has made me quite aware of the charmed life I have lead as a transgendered man. I haven’t felt loss. I’ve always had support. In a lot of my life I never had to come out. I never purposefully lead a stealth life. I was just being me, no explanations. I was married to a woman so the world saw me exactly as it should, a man. The only time I had to think about coming out was after my divorce. It was going to be a new and daunting thing.

Now I need to back pedal a bit…I had made some “friends” here in my current city. Two women. They live in my building. We work together. One is South African and the other is Australian. We’re around the same age but they look much older than their age. I thought a friendship could grow. I thought I had made a connection. The longer we were in this friendship the more I considered coming out to them. As I didn’t consider us that close I never felt compelled to really say anything about, but it was in the back of my mind. I’m not attracted to either of them so I didn’t think they needed more information.

Well, one night after the Tet holiday I had them over to share my Duty Free whisky purchase. We got a little messy with the drinks. It got messy enough for them to go home leaving me laying on the warm not comforting bathroom tiles. This wasn’t before the Aussie blurted out, “I’d fuck you.” Not knowing how to respond, I said nothing. I almost said, no you wouldn’t. It definitely got me to thinking that I needed to same something.

I never flirted with her. I never made sexual jokes or innuendo.  We’ve never even touched in a hug, high five or hand shake. The closest we’d been was when she drove me on her motorbike. Since she expressed attraction I thought I needed to say something, and we were “friends”, so. I invited her over once more to talk. A few days had passed and the longer it wasn’t being addressed the more I felt stress. Did I mention, I hadn’t come out to someone in over 14 years.

She sat away from me and I began to explain: “I’ve never had to do this before. It can sound a bit shocking. I feel very nervous, but I’m just going to say it…If we were ever to be intimate you would need to know something about me. I’m transgendered. Of course, she was shocked. There was disbelief. The conversation didn’t last much longer. She expressed that there was still an attraction and then rambled a bit about being with women before, just not an American. I don’t think she understood that I wasn’t expressing a desire to sleep with her. I never had a desire to be involved with her in that way. The air became more and more awkward by the minute. I asked her if she wanted to talk anymore about it. She didn’t and she left.

Then there was the silence. Okay, she needed to digest the information. I get it. There were about four days we didn’t speak after speaking everyday if not seeing each other going to a café or something. It was a deep silence. Not only did I not see her in the building, I didn’t see her at work. I told her on Monday and by Friday I felt I needed to check in. There wasn’t even a message of asking how anyone was so I knew this wasn’t good.

Friday, we met up in a café were would regularly go and meet. It serves so so western food, but nothing to really talk about. I thought that if things weren’t cool it would at least be respectful to tell me where she was at with it all. I shouldn’t be chasing her to find out. She left my apartment saying things were cool and her actions said something else. We ate and I had to ask her to catch me up with her thoughts. I think it would be better to be friends. Things can get complicated. I never wanted to be more than friends in the first place, but I did tell her something I had felt was quite intimate about me. She goes on to say, It’s a trust thing for me. I don’t know if what you have been telling is the truth. I mean I get why you didn’t say anything, but I don’t know what to believe. Match drops to bridge and immediate combustion happens. In other words she called me a liar.

Now, if I had pursued her, flirted, insinuated I was attracted to her, I could understand. I didn’t do any of that. In no way did I betray trust. What transphobic people don’t understand is that we were lying before. Being transgendered is the most honest life to live. Identifying leaves only truth for us. I am a man. This is my truth. I don’t have to lie or manipulate people to be in my life and I for sure didn’t do that with her. She basically called me a liar and that’s where and when isolation, depression, and rage crept into my life.

Well, shit. I live in the same building and could run into her at any time in the parking area or elevator. We work at the same school. Slowly, and noticeably she stopped making eye contact with me. Her being cordial ended when she asked to use my extra helmet, that I had given away to a buddy as a souvenir, and I told her I didn’t have it any longer. Probably what happened is that she didn’t believe me, for the liar she thinks I am. She then stopped talking to me all together. I went back to that garden café on my own to spend an afternoon. The owner asked me where I had been. I said around. Then she told me about a small gathering that my “friends” called me about. I should have come. It was nice. Oh, I get it now, because that phone call or message never came.

I no longer try to speak to her or make eye contact. At first it was strange. I had become a bit angry, but I’m not going to go out of my way to make her feel comfortable. I am angry at being called a liar. People are going to believe whatever they want to believe. I’m not here to educate them. I don’t have to have patience for them to get it. I just don’t need shitty people in my life.

It took me a minute to snap out of it. This summer would have been my 20th San Francisco Pride weekend if I was still living there. In the past I would make brunch and watch the parade on television, then go to the festival in the afternoon. In light of American politics today and my current feelings, this year’s event is very important for me. Fuck man, even my soccer club are LGBT supporters, because they fucking get it. I miss having people around me that get it. It can be a lonely struggle.

I maintain my identity. Whatever you see, the vibes you get is exactly what you should. It’s all me and nothing else is needed to be projected. There is nothing fake about me. Not one transperson is trying to fool you. Your trust issues are with yourself not me. I don’t feel compelled or have a need to convince you of my existence. Hence, I won’t go out of my way to make anyone feel comfortable about their own bullshit.

I have quite a few people to credit for my strength. Ortgans, years ’93 – ’96. My years at UCSB were more formative than my high school and teen years. I need to give a huge hug to my family who I do tend to hold at arms-length, they continue to grasp for me. I have an old school friend who would carry me to conservative evangelical christian events in her LUV. We came out the other side much better than before. My current friends, who haven’t blinked an eye as I tell this story, I wish there were more of you in the world.

Happy Pride Month. I know some warriors out there. Thank you for your perseverance and reminders of love. Your work is not lost, nor has it gone unnoticed.

World Cup

It’s that time of year where as an American I question why we haven’t embraced the sport of football as the beautiful, elegant and exciting sport that it is. I no longer watch American football. One for political reasons and well, it’s fucking boring to me now. It’s too slow, it lacks finesse and momentum. Others might disagree, and they can start writing their own blog.

I became enamoured by the game when I became an ESL instructor in San Francisco. My early days involved teaching quite a few Brazilians. Most were Corinthians fans. It has been my experience that Brazilians are by far the craziest football enthusiasts on the planet. You see the sport pulsing through their veins. Even if their team is the worst in the standings their team is the best. The love for the game is definitely infectious. Bringing that exuberance and confidence into the English classroom is appreciated because it can bring out good things in other students.

If you can get your students to relate and personalize the language, the more they will want to use it. Football is that thing that most students have in common and can speak about. I needed to get to know this game. I wanted to relate to my students. As I watched and hung out with students I recognized the skill, strength, and endurance involved. All of the players have to have this. I could see how a goal could cause an earthquake created by fans in a major city. Goals are fucking hard.

I began to watch Premier League and research different club histories and players. Didier Drogba drew me to Chelsea. It is the respect I held for him as a person and player that I follow his career. Chelsea’s record got me hooked and well, I like blue and Lions. Don’t get me wrong, baseball and the San Francisco Giants are my heart. Football just allows me to connect internationally. Football has helped me related and be relateable. Now, here in Vietnam, during the World Cup, I can say that I enjoy being in a culture where football is their everyday life.

Cafes, country wide, stay open late showing games into the wee hours of the morning. Most chairs are taken up. Families gather in apartments with their children running up and down the hallways kicking a ball. I love seeing that. It’s going to be a good month.

For me, rooting for a team never was about national loyalty. It never will be. I’m always going to be team Brazil due to how I came to the game. As each team is getting eliminated though, I do root for the team with the darkest complexion. I know that sounds statistically and scientifically driven.

Football has brought some good people in my life. I miss my San Francisco City F.C. crew. It has to be a group that just makes everything feel right. I like football and there are some deep fans of the sport in this group. I learn a lot from them and enjoy raising a beer or two or six with them. It’s just fucking fun.

I hope Brazil goes to the end. At the same time I just want to see the games and enjoy watching it with other people who know it, like it and have passion for it.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑