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.
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.
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.
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.
After speaking to a few people, I wanted to write about bravery. First, I wanted to understand what that means for people. The meaning seems to be universal from all perspecitves: The ability to face fears, feel discomfort and the willingness to learn lessons that lead to growth.
There have been a few times in my life that I have been given this moniker. I’ve shrugged it off due to the lack of evidence from my soul. What does bravey feel like? After long thinking and reflection, I came up with this: It’s the acceptance of the palapatating heart during adversity. It’s the flexibility around change. It feels like your heart is being chewed while still in your chest cavity. It also encompasses exhileration of accomplishment at the end of the struggle, but that is only the relief at the end. I would liken the feeling of bravery to pain. Humanity does it’s best to avoid this, and I am of course excluding those careers that forces one into danger on a daily basis, there you are not allowed to question the self.
As of late it has come to mind that I don’t want to be brave. I hate the idea of just living my life equalling bravery, but at some facets that is exactly what it is. To travel and seek safety in a culture where I no longer have to face authoritarian agression, especially from perceived authority, like the every day citizen. You have to admit that certain elements in American society are now so brazen and violent. To be alone, with little understanding of language and people is brave. I’ve made a point in the past to inform my students traveling to a confusing place like the U.S. that they themselves are brave. In time these kinds of things will change the longer I am away.
The sense of bravery is slow to wear away. To acclimate the mind, body, and soul is a process that is never fast. It’s amazing to see how everything is placed. Once the dominoes are stacked in line then you have to move carefully in order to miss the chaos of their tumbling, because as humans we do not choose the design for them to collapse. It never becomes a colorful spiral or even another mosaic matching what the soul truly wants to project. Now, my heart is in the last bites and mastication. It’s ready to be swallowed. I’m ready to be swallowed, but fear the other side. Now, there have been things I have dove into not knowing the outcome, better yet, not imagining what outcomes were even possible. Yet, I made those decisions. Sometimes those decisions haunt me to this day, because the future can play cruel tricks. Create a turn where there once wasn’t. A cliff can appear and you have to decide to fall/jump off or climb slowly down. And which of those decisions is brave.
Recently, a few people have decided to jump off. Into the unknown abyss. As most were celebrities we let into our lives on a semi regular basis we are shocked and saddened. These people made us laugh, cry, question and consume. There was something about them that made us hold them close to us. No doubt there are holes in our hearts but for many others who were actually close and knew them there are caverns. I never had a Jack Spade bag, but knew of Kate Spade from the beginning. We can agree that she was extremely young to die. I enjoyed more than few of Anthony Bourdain shows, mostly before CNN picked them up. Having come to Vietnam before his first show about the country, I just loved how he was able to spin his words to match my feelings about this country, their people and of course their food.
It was a shock and I was angered by AB’s death. It happened to come at a time where I was struggling with my own loneliness and discomfort in being of this world. I’ve come to recognize that I’ve always maintained a discomfort of being in this shell of a body. The discomfort can be so encompassing that lying motionless in a hammock swinging in the breeze of an electric fan in my own apartment living my own life, relief can appear to be far from reach. I think my anger came from being left here. How could he leave when I struggle in a sense to stay? I used to think suicide was a weak action. A cop out. How dare you fucking escape?
The more I live the more I struggle to not be judgemental. It’s more my goal to come to compassion and understanding of things outside of me, especially when what is inside me is so confusing at times. I try to key in to the type of filter I am seeing the world and temper it. I try to hold the judgement down, because what the fuck do I know?
AB lived a full life. I think he just couldn’t do anymore. He literally couldn’t fit it all in. Why should I expect him to do more than him. In certain ways he had so much beauty in his life, but at the price of previous ugly. There is always a balance. He knew about escape as he had a past with heavy drug abuse. He knew about life because we watched him travel, eat, speak and expand right before our eyes. 61 is a young age. I have no idea what the next 20 years of my life could even look like and I try not to. I want to be present. We have to admit that we saw AB present. All I can do is salute him.
To those left behind, someone who knows someone who committed suicide, I know they will find it difficult to believe that suicide could be beautiful. To choose when you’ve had enough. With AB and knowing what I know of his life I find it beautiful in a sense. To have had three or four lifetimes in one. I respect when someone might think they’ve had enough. He didn’t leave without regret. His regret is felt for those he left behind. I hope they can still honor him and the struggles he did survive. He took many steps in life we all would consider to be brave. There isn’t a thing he didn’t try. I can recognize how strong he was to live as long as he did. I recognize how brave it is to grow in the spotlight, but feel the darkness inside.
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.
Since leaving my ex, I have had to re-evaluate what is real for me. I had to rediscover tastes. Certain things didn’t have the flavor she claimed there to be. I had to re-evaluate things life the type of effort things actually took. Certain things were actually easier than she made them out to be. I had to re-evaluate the worth or value I put on things. Some of my things are worth way less than she told me. Each time I didn’t question reality I had a stomach ache. Something was upset in my core. I’ve been trying to really listen to my feelings. I have been working on putting my own value on my own thoughts and opinions. All of this is to regain that sense of self I had to attract people in the first place. People can’t see it, but there is a deep dark hole. The circumference isn’t the issue…it’s the depth.
For some reason this past weekend I started thinking about my ex. It wasn’t as loaded with hate as it once was. It was kind of nostalgic really. There is a particular photo I shot of her while she was watching the Vietnamese country side from out soft sleeper car. She appears to be in thought. She’s quiet and there is no cell phone in her hand. She is in wonder. This is the memory I have chosen to remind me of the good times. The woman in that photo caught in that particular moment is when I loved her the most. I didn’t believe I was going to have any good memories of her.
I went through my day giving this memory in my head, this photo, this snap shot in time good energy. I pushed down the many many negative things that came up as I held onto this image. I fought to keep it precious. I came home to find in my mail copies of the sign divorce paperwork that had been filed with the Court of the County of San Francisco. Another reminder of how real it is. A reminder of how sad it is. I remember that day. I felt so light. I remember how light I felt on the train. How can two totally different things brings such feelings?
I think another reason for the feelings is that I am returning to South East Asia, where we spent a lot of time traveling around together. I also spent a lot of time in S.E.Asia in 2011, when I first tried to work abroad. Facebook is also posting memories on my timeline about those times.
You know what though, even though there is a lot of energy and emotion surrounding this move, there is one thing I know for sure. I know I can get through anything. In the past year I did things for and by myself that hadn’t been done in 13 years or ever. I went camping at a music festival on my own. I went through the holidays on my own. I brought in the new year with friends and crashed and burned on Valentine’s Day…but, once I was freed on my birthday I just knew things can’t get in my way and I am stringer than I have been lead to believe.
So…I am moving out of the country. This is something I wanted to do before there was even the threat of Trump becoming president. First, it was for the adventure of being in another culture. Then, it became about the police indiscriminately shooting black people. Now, it’s about the economy and other sorts of civil liberties that are being taken away for fear of an equal country.
My initials plans are to travel to Taipei for a few days and visit with former students. I hope to eat until I pop. Afterwards, I will spend a few days in Chiang Mai. I’ve never been to this part of Thailand. I know a few people to visit with and I want to party in baby Bangkok. From there I will get to Ho Chi Minh City to settle in for five weeks in a CELTA program. I haven’t made any definite plans from that point. If I like it in Vietnam I will stay.
Shit in my life is beginning to feel real. Things I’ve wanted to happen are becoming real in a way that is frightening, but that good frightening. I was caught in a dynamic that made me feel very fearful, but now I feel embolden to live. I am honoring my feelings and moving forward in my life without questioning myself.
Recently, I was laid off of my teaching job. Listen folks, times are going to get rough for everyone and every industry. Something is either going to give or snap. It wasn’t quite the way I wanted to leave. I kind of slid out of there quietly. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. Leaving Stafford House and my coworkers was more difficult than deciding to get a divorce. I truly loved my work life.
THE TEACHER’S ROOM…this is a sacred spot. It was once expansive and difficult to connect with each one. The move to a smaller space, I think, brought us closer together. We were in each conversation, rant, critique, joke and resource giving. You know, it all was like my morning radio show. Certain personalities needed to walk into the room say their piece in order for me to have a complete day. We all noticed when someone was absent.
I had been planning to leave the country for a while, but of course I needed to finish that divorce stuff. Once that was done I wanted to clear up business and make my way out in my own style and fashion. The universe must have believed I was taking too long. I was hesitating. With the loss of my job I have had to switch those gears and speed up my process. Let’s get it done.
I’ve put in an application for a CELTA program in Vietnam. I love this country. I recently scheduled a SKYPE interview and I look forward to moving to Ho Chi Minh and living there while I complete the course. I decided that if I can feel comfortable on my own there then I will try to stay on and find a job. Otherwise, I will consider the other countries I have on my list…Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even some Middle Eastern Countries like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.