Tales of The City

 

Screen Shot 2019-06-22 at 4.43.46 PMOne of my favorite stories continues to live on through the Netflix reboot of Tales of the City. I was in my mid-20’s, newly relocated to San Francisco, when I heard of the books. I didn’t read them at first. I let the mellow voice of the author himself read me his stories as I rode the Muni buses throughout my new playground. A lesbian at the time, I was so excited to be in the Gay Mecca. I was excited to be out in SF. I was excited for all the possibilities that were beyond southern California.

It’s quite exciting to see how things have exploded around this series. At the end of the series we revisit Maryann and Mrs. Madrigal along with meeting some new queer babies. I have such great memories of the books and TV series. They have meant a lot to me and my experience living in San Francisco. There were times that I felt like MaryAnn Singleton myself.

I went to a watch party for the original series. It was magical for me. For one, the TV series follows the book closely, leaving out very little. We were in a classic SF building. Jungle T had been living in his apartment for over 15 years I guess. Cubbies and built ins around the apartment. Jungle T and Chuck-a-ma-Possum waxed romantic of those halcyon days. The mentioned different clubs that no longer existed and the nights they happened. I do remember Club Universe, but it wasn’t part of the “Tales” universe. One place I do know in the universe is The End Up. I have very good memories there, not a bad one.

When I reflect on that time in my life, we spoke more about the light “gay” times. We never really lingered on the dark days of history. After watching the new Tales I see how such a tragic time has not been passed down. There are some deep seated feelings I don’t think much has been shared to the younger generations. I may be wrong due to my own situation in the community, but are the youth looking to those who came before them? But really we know why…it was a horrible time. No body want to revisit this time. Most longed so much for their youth when it was all being stolen from them.

We all have our own stories of coming to this San Francisco, or Atlantis as Anna would refer to it…the listening to the boys as they reminisced made things more tangible. It wasn’t until more and more documentaries came out that I even began to understand the dark days.

I will always cling to this story. As they became more and more I’ve had to have more and more. Then someone resembling me emerged in the story. When I thought I couldn’t love a writer more, his world grew to encompass me. I will never forget meeting the man who put someone like me in his story. I fumbled through the words. Just honored to be in his presence.

I regularly reflect on all the time I had in SF. I miss it dearly and I know I will never live there again. What a special life I lived there.

Screen Shot 2019-06-22 at 4.46.15 PMWatching the reboot, I felt everything in it. Feelings from the first viewing of the original sliding into this one. I felt so tied into everything happening in the story that. Shawna Hawkins was so real, I’d met her a few times at the Lexington or a Fairy Butch event. (Speaking of Fairy Butch, Karlyn’s name was spoken out!) Ellen Page was perfect in the story. Everything was so heartfelt. I want these stories to spread. I have a sinking feeling that as people need to know their history and because everything is so cool they aren’t searching for those who fought the struggle before them.

When I was younger I was in awe of my elders…because it was so hard. It was all we could do, but to find others and tie ourselves together for hope. I know it was even more difficult before me. It was the experience I had with my elders kept me afloat. I loved reading about our histories. Those stories just gave a glimpse of something seductive, harsh, real, and sometimes loving. Chosen families lift each other. It helped me to not feel so alone. I needed to know that I was part of a legacy. I’m super happy to share this legacy of Tales of the City. It only scratches the surface of rich representations of the LGBTQIA community.

Advertisements

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!

 

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.

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.

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.

I ate all the breakfasts and relished American English

IMG_3025
Order anything at the Cove on Castro that has Lorenzo in the name…

 

One of the first questions a person asks me about living in another country is, What do you miss the most about the United States? I miss American breakfast. And just recently I recognize how I miss American English.

Missing food from you country is kind of a given when you live in a faraway place. It’s not like I don’t like Vietnamese food. I love it. I tend to be adventurous about it, but breakfast has always been my favorite meal, so when you go to a country that doesn’t actually have breakfast foods then you miss what you are familiar with.

I live in a country where there is no particular distinguishing between meals. They eat food for breakfast and there isn’t a structure as to what is consumed at any given meal.  Donner Kebab? Breakfast, lunch and dinner… phở? Breakfast, lunch and dinner…bánh mì? Breakfast, lunch and dinner…fried chicken with fried rice? Lunch or dinner. I can say that you will not find fried chicken for breakfast, except maybe at Family Mart, which is like a corner/ convenience store.

Most restauarants that do serve western style food, well, let’s just say that the American style breakfast isn’t one of the styles easily found or delicious. There are some things you have to let go of…I live in a foreign country and my food is going to taste foreign. So be it. Vietnamese food is great though. Korean food is good, because it’s made by Koreans. There are a lot of Koreans in Vietnam. They basically have their own district in HCMC. So, yeah, breakfast. It happens to be my favorite meal style. I once had a fantasy of owning a restaurant that only served breakfast food. I would have called it Breakfast, Brunch and Brinner. I could reveal other ideas inside of that concept, BUT since I’m still considering it, I shouldn’t reveal too much.

If you are ever in these following towns during breakfast service you should try a meal there. Look further than what I ordered, the menus can be big like the servings. But always delicious.

Esaus, located in Carpenteria, California is a definite stop I make every time I am visiting. It has a classic diner set up. It’s full of booths and counter seating. The servings are very large and so are the flavors.

IMG_2733

IHOP. The International House of Pancakes is found in most U.S. cities. If you’ve never been to a IHOP, I recommend that you do. As a child I remember the commercials for their Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity. I always wanted to try this pancake order. To be honest I just like them regular and unadorned except for butter and syrup. There are choices of syrup flavors. I think that is just as good as the other additions you can make to your order.

IMG_2820

Another great spot for pancakes is Eddie’s Cafe. It’s located in an area called Western Addition in San Francisco. It reflects what made San Francisco. There are stickers all over the place, along with SF Giants baseball paraphernalia and a collection of coffee and tea mugs chosen especially for you. I recommend the three pancake combo that comes with eggs and another meat like bacon or sausage. Their menu includes hot links, pork chops and grits. They always have some old school jams playing in the background like, Prince, Donna Summer or Tina Turner.

The Grind offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I mainly go in for the french toast. It’s located in the Lower Haight area of San Francisco. It was so close to my home that a free morning meant taking my iPad to watch Korean dramas and slowly consuming my delicious egg dipped Texas toast. This restaurant will keep it’s window open on a nice day. You can watch the world wonder by. The menu takes the American palate to a new level with familiar ingredients that you can pronounce.

Cafe International is not really a place to get food in my opinion. I like this cafe, because the owner and her daughter have been familiar faces from the time I arrived in the city. I like overhearing her conversations with different people in the neighborhood. She’s sassy and opinionated. I appreciate the liveliness. I used to give English lessons in this cafe. What I do like on the menu is the iced coffee. She totally gets it with adding coffee ice cubes to the drink. There is no watering down of the drink. It does make it seem like the drink is never ending. It is a powerful drink. Take a chance to sit on the patio and enjoy the mural and wall plants on the back patio.

The Cove on Castro is basically my second home. I’ve eaten there from the beginning of my days in the City. There was also a short time I was employed as a cashier. I have watched it grow and change. It’s been owned by the same family since the early seventies. It offers up the best comfort food in town. The roast beef plate with mashed potatoes was the most awesome welcoming when I first arrived back.

As far as language goes, in Asia, most schools are using books that teach British English. I have picked up some sayings in British English, but I miss the familiar accent, pronunciation and particular American sayings, even how we might talk about language. I just miss my language. In that I miss my co-workers. I worked with some nice, smart, English geeky, quirky and wise people.

There isn’t too much conversation about language in particular. Maybe differences in English from different English speaking countries comes up, but as I will explain more on my teaching blog, we don’t teach grammar. We try to get them to communicate and practice their oral fluency more. They look for more activities than lessons. So I miss talking about the use of language, especially with another American. It’s interesting enough because there are so many places to be from in the United States that American English is even more varied with arguments of standard. RANTS! The teacher’s room was a great place for not just as a language resource, but things that are relevant to me culturally.

This was to be my last visit for a good long time. Knowing that I wanted to listen to every conversation. I wanted to collect and compare idioms. I kept my ears open and thankfully the conversations I heard weren’t ridiculous and as mundane as before I left. I listened with different ears. Ears that relished and hungered for the familiar sounds as much as I hungered for familiar tastes.

California Love

The road was smooth. Every lane was the fast lane. I flew dơwn the 101 listening to the radio songs of my youth. The sky over the coast was clear but deceptively cool. During the day it got down right blustery during my stay in Carpenteria. I’ve traveled this particular stretch of freeway, the 101, many a time. It was like comfort oxygen being in the Santa Barbara area. I saw very few people. I laid low and walked around a bit at the UCSB campus. Walking through Isla Vista reminded me of times hanging out with some wild girls on Sueno. I recall bouncing around Sabado before returning to my own insane house on Del Playa. My time living in the central coast area has just such nice memories.

Making that drive can be exhausting, but I didn’t even try to stop. Traffice was magical. I do wish I had slowed down a bit. There were some scenic parts that reminded me of Vietnam. Particularly with a vast area of agriculture and the mountains in the background. I regret not pulling over for a minute to photograph it. The Central Valley of California is the true bread basket of the nation. This time of year a lot of the valley is lush and green with food crops.

The highlight of my trip to Southern California was staying with my brother and his small family. My little nephew turned one the day after I turned forty-five. He is a little darling. He starts off shy and slowly warms up to people. He just began walking and seems to really be concentrating on perfecting it. He would not sit still. He did laps around his living room at the end of the day speaking baby speak. I’m sure he had a lot to say, but his mouth would not let the shape of the letter form just yet. The remarkable thing was his smile. He smiles a lot. It warmed my heart when he reached out to me at different times.

Compared to my sister-in-law’s family ours is very small. I feel for my brother as he may feel a little bit of emotion as he doesn’t have family to quickly reach out to. I’m in Vietnam and our parents are in Texas. He might feel a little isolated… I imagine that I would. Well, I do feel that way on the other side of the world. I have a slight tug at my heart that I should be here in the States for my little nephew, but I admit to being selfish. I tell myself that I actually live far away for my nephew. His name is Atlas. I am collecting proof that there is so much world to see. I hope that one day I can show a little of it to him and he becomes a brave traveler on his own. I’m an absent son, brother, and now an absent Uncle, but I am absent with a purpose. I don’t want to be absent, but I have to be in the world. I just hope that one day Atlas won’t resent that.

It was a nice little visit before we made our way up the 5 to Sacramento. We didn’t do a thing execpt watch the baby walk every inch of the living room. That was enough for me. Driving was nice. While driving I experienced very little traffic. It was smooth and I am left wondering. Driving, moving from place to place, both the U.S. and Vietnam have been able to do it, but who is more efficient? What is cleaner? Could I actually drive in Saigon? We made good time to Sacramento. California was definitely showing out this weekend.

In Sacramento, I met with my parents at a friend of the family’s house. Mr. T and my father have been friends since their teens. There we celebrated my birthday with a proper Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing, greens, sweet potatoes, homemade dinner rolls and green beans. Just the kind of homemade food to feed the soul. A reminder of what you left behind. A reminder of the things that don’t change, good food and family. Little nephew came and we walked and walked around the backyard with him as he babbled on.

I had a chance to do a little bit of shopping at Costco. Secretly, I marveled at the diversity that exists in Sacramento. I miss seeing different faces. I miss hearing more than one language. The extra suitcase was beginning to fill up and I looked forward to the challenge of watching the weight slowly creep up to the weight allowance. I came with a bag packed in an empty suitcase. I left with two checked bags bulging toward the limit, still missing some needed items.

After shopping I rested for a bit, but I also felt I needed to do a bit more walking. I was doing big breakfasts while visiting and I needed to get some steps in. I napped for a bit and decided to walk in the early evening. Now the weather hasn’t been that warm. Weather in the 20s is chilly to me. (that’s 20 degree celsius) But the evenings have been nice. The first night I went walking around the area close to an elementay school and all residential area. After about 10 minutes of walking I started to feel a bit timid, worried. It wasn’t just two weeks prior to my visit that a young man was gunned down in his own backyard in the Sacramento area.

I was a new face in the neighborhood. They had never seen me before. I’m a black man walking around in a residential area. I’m also painfully aware of how the police in this area and throughout our country treat people of color. I began to get a little scared of the situation. At one moment I felt like there should have been a place for me to register myself and have neighborhood watch aware of my presence. You know, call down the phone tree, or alert the group chat that I was there and I was an okay Black.

The next evening I walked along a bigger road that was away from the residential area. It was more like a business park area. Low rise buildings with dark windows surrounded by parking lots lined the busy road. I felt a little more free to stretch my legs. I just kept walking until my legs told me they were tired. I guess that took me farther than I thought because I didn’t get back to the house until the start of sunset and that of course made the parentals concerned.

Even though everything is bringing the good feels, I am subtly reminded why I don’t live in this country. The underlying fear that just doesn’t go away while I walk down the street. It’s the real fear for my safety in any given situation. I am also extremely frustrated with this country’s cognitive dissonance.

My drive to return my car rental also went smoothly. The roads have treated me well on this visit. The last bit of freedom on four wheels was a nice thing. I appreciated the radio stations that now play music from my era. Thye’re not quite classics, but good grooves that should be continually played on the radio. Those songs were made for radio play, you know what I mean.

Growing up in California, the car has been an important part of my life. Driving closed the distances of this long state. The car took me home to San Bernardino County, through the central coast to San Francisco. I’ve covered those miles many times. A lot of things about the coast are still the same, enough to keep you clinging to those old memories where your youth cannot die, memories of blue skies, ocean views, Californian accents and lexicon, and the food that is light and rich at the same time.

Driving a motorbike in Vietnam…

As a friend described it. It’s like playing Mario Kart but you only have one life.

No!!! Stop! Are you going left or right?! Where TF did you come from? Dammit!!! Go, go, goooooo. Fucking go! STOP! Oh gawd, I almost died, again. Good grief! What the fuck man!!! Why?! Are you serious?! Fucking hang up the call! You drive like that with your kid with you?! Yo, I was next in line. 

They come at you from every angle. They drive against the flow of traffic. They make a left turns in front of your right and vice versa. They make turns from the opposite lane. They park in the turn lane. They drive for a long while at a slow speed with a blinker on, you follow not knowing when the damn turn is going to happen. They stop in the middle of turns for no apparent reason. At night they will drive without their lights.

 

It’s the price you have to pay for independence. I don’t know how my life would get to this point without having a motorbike. Now that I have driven, I could do it in HCMC, but I’d rather not really.. As I gain better control, I consider which bike I will actually buy. It’s a toss up between three, but really two. I rent from a guy in HCMC. I currently drive a Yamaha Nouvo. I am considering NVX of the same brand. Maybe a Honda Airblade. Price and size are the deciding issues.

Driving in Vietnam can be invigorating and freeing. I can just go when I want to go. Uber no longer exists in the country. They have a ride company called Grab or you can take a taxi. Eventually it all adds up. I’m not willing to spend my paycheck to not be able to explore and move around on my own. My next goal is to get a Vietnamese license because if you get in an accident without it, no insurance will cover you. It doesn’t matter  if you have an international license.

I like riding a bike. I don’t even mind riding in the rain except when I have dress shoes on. When it begins to rain everyone on a bike pulls to the side of the road and take out their ponchos to keep on moving down the road. It’s best to have ice running through your vein because even the children are chill on the back or front of bikes. It’s their everyday. They know no different.

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑