I was so happy to go through the Hai Van tunnel into Danang after spending two weeks waiting for a new passport in Hanoi. Hanoi was an experience I would only do again in order to entertain K and her newness to Vietnam. For me it is more of a hub for different tours that go into countrysides and interesting mounts in the middle of a large bay. There are some very interesting sights in Hanoi like the Ho Chi Minh Museum , but you have to be able to maneuver the shady motorbike drivers and sometimes taxis that will take you around and around your destination before the meter has gone up to their satisfaction. It is also a very aggressive city. There was very rare a moment walking down the street before being approached by vendors that had nothing I needed. Ten minutes explaining that I get razor bumps on my face from using razors is totally worthless. I learned to shake my head and my hand and just walk away. I became exhausted refusing to resole my new flip flops and shrugging off swinging basket ladies who insisted on putting it on my shoulders for me to pay for a picture to be taken. I learned to take pictures from across the street and over someones shoulder.
Tien met me in the center of Danang City when I arrived and brought me to the Dai A.. After paying 10 bucks for a night in a hotel and 6 bucks at a hostel, it kind of hurt my feelings to pay 20 a night in a room that was only worth maybe 8 bucks. Nonetheless, I gathered the rest of my luggage from storage and settled into my room. I unpacked with the intentions of changing out the t-shirts I had been wearing for three weeks for new ones from some vacuum packed bags. I pulled out my dress shirt and khakis in hope of getting new visa sponsored by Gia Minh, who offered me a position and then filled it with another person. Understandable. I didn’t have my paper work obligations fulfilled. It was such a relief to be back, to have a familiar place to land with plans to switch hotels and scrub off my last two weeks and push on. I was very excited to shave because I forgot to pack my clippers.
Before any of that was to happen I called Mr XXXX at the school and set up to meet him at the school to hand him my passport and fill in the visa paperwork. He explained to me that as a sponsor that his school had first dibs on my time due to the sponsorship. I could look for work elsewhere. Um, I can’t be hired until I have my paperwork though. Feeling really assed out but happy about my return things slid out of control. I gave Mr.XXX the money for the processing and he would expedite it through a friend of his at the Immigration office. I had another seven to ten day wait until I had a visa. Okay. Now what?
I had to repack a bag that was expertly packed by my wife. It was one of those things that if you took one thing out of it’s original spot nothing would ever fit again. I spent an hour just looking at the bag. It hasn’t been right from the moment I unzipped it the first time.
The move was easy. A taxi drove me three blocks to the Phu My. Pictures lie. I was able to get a room with a view. It’s about as much as an apartment, it’s serviced, I get my laundry done, and it’s safe with no pests unless I leave a window open. 150m taking a left from the Hotel’s lobby is my pho tai breakfast. Hoan Kiem stye, but better than anything I had in Hanoi. 130m to the left is my coffee and tea. 100m to the left after 7pm is the banh my cart. 50m to the left is the market I buy my grapes and Asian pears . 30m across the street are two good clean restaurants Mr. Tien pointed out to me. One night he got us takeout and sat and drank beers somewhere else down the street.
It has been this small area of the Hai Chau district I have been keeping up appearances. The rain is another reason I have been keeping a short radius. It’s an amplified Seattle this time of year with typhoons that move through the South China Sea. 75 o 85 degrees daily. I find it quite nice. I began reconnecting to the schools I approached when I landed and darn it if they aren’t fully staffed and have a pile of teachers waiting. I think I hear something…
Friday morning Mr. XXXX called me early in the morning on Friday morning asking me about a letter the US Embassy was suppose to give to me to use as an introduction to the Vietnamese Immigration…They said nothing of a letter.I didn’t receive any letter. What letter? All I’ve been receiving emails wishing me the best of luck on my job search. Arghhh, Buddhists.
I’ve been feeling a little stressed. I’ve isolated from other English speakers, avoiding expats feeling shameful of my situation… losing my passport and being hung up. I just felt they would judge me as a poor teacher because I was in this situation.I ranted to K nightly during our skype sessions. We went through my decision to come home. We talked about having some patience and K would ask around for some resources. My despondency prevented the timeliness of this post. To put me in a good mood Mr. Tien took me to Hoi An and introduced me to a tailor. You need to know what you want. If you want to keep it cheap. I got a very nice material that will wear well in warm climates. I ordered two linen popovers and three work button downs. I spent more than I would at the Van Heusen store, but they are custom. I would like very much to return to have trousers made.
I spent my nights with the boys, Tam and Tien. They would order something nice to eat. I don’t know the names, but it was good. I also don’t have pictures, I feel like a jackass taking pictures of food. We watched soccer on the TV and sat around hanging out. They are funny guys and they are very much into talking about their country. I’ve learned a lot, but due to language difference there is a little that is lost on translations. I do catch on though, because they tend to repeat themselves. They just might know I am chewing on what they had said. Time spent with them has helped me a lot. I don’t say too much as my was an old story at this point. I knew I needed to leave. I couldn’t stand Hanoi and knew I wouldn’t be able to make it in Saigon. My days, during the typhoons were spent in my room. Movies on the laptop. Scrabble games through Facebook. Job contacts, CV alterations, and laments about my visa issue.
There is a certain comfort I have found in the small Hai Chau District. I am sure a lot has to do with the fact I have Tien to introduce me around, but Danang City itself is a nice place. It is the third largest city in Vietnam. It isn’t as congested as it’s big sister cites. There are a lot of motorbike, and people are always out and about. Crossing the street doesn’t involve much prayer. I knew from the beginning I would like this place. It’s my Asian Santa Barbara. There is an ease about the people. To me, this is the real Vietnam.
Through my week of looking for jobs I stayed to myself. In other places in Vietnam the white face wasn’t as friendly as I thought. I came back to Danang and didn’t give the foreigners a chance. I couldn’t stand to call anyone. I was depressed. I ran through my head what my next moves might be. I’ve become to appreciate Twitter and Facebook. The technology has allowed my far away support system to reach out and show their love. A large part of me wanted to give up and come home. I wouldn’t be coming home to anything different than what I was dealing with here in Vietnam. I am a highly trained individual in a lot of different things, nevertheless, I run up against people with more experience and expertise. When there is a small market in anything there is competition, and when you have black skin you are only put in a holding pattern, a waiting list. Even in Asia white is right.
My mom reminded me of the racism in Asia. Mixed children at the end of the American War (how they say in Vietnam) were treated quite badly, but that went across the board black/Vietnamese and white/Vietnamese. Nevertheless, it is a structure of discrimination that I am not use to. In America, the structure is unique, but I know it. At the same time I would see the daily battle of overcoming it. I actually grew up believing I could do anything, but in the back of my mind I was cognizant of the system that would prefer I fail. There is that fine line of love and hate. They hate it when you succeed, but they love to use you as an example of how anyone “in America” can make it with hard work and perseverance. A black man in America teeters between being despised and his personal despair of having to work three times as hard as the next.
I knew the moment Mr. XXXX called me the next Monday about what his friend in immigration said, it was a sign. I wasn’t suppose to be here. My visa issues were so complicated and the lack of work left me spinning in my room. I needed to make a move. I emailed the US Embassy about my situation. I politely let them know that they really put me in a bind by not giving me that introduction letter. I was miffed as to why they would let me leave without it. It should have been in the same folder as my passport. I hit the send button and wondered if I would even get an answer the same day. They answered the same day. They were apologetic. I still think more Americans should be handling American issues…was that racist? The rest of the week involved phone calls from the embassy in Hanoi, writing letters, more emails and phone calls to head offices. Eventually, the end of the week produced some results. Friday I went to the immigration office, a letter of introduction was faxed to the Danang office. I filled out my visa request for an exit at Moc Bai/Bavet border crossing. Instead of leaving over the weekend I am able to stay for two more weeks. “You must leave the country.” is such a hard thing to hear.
I have been saddened by my hardships here. All paperwork problems. The Vietnamese like to have their paper in such a way. In my communication they were surprised how I even got a visa. They didn’t seem to know one could apply for a visa approval letter online. I explained that a letter came through email and I presented it to immigration at the airport. I didn’t have anyone sponsor me, work related or travel agent related. I got a visa on arrival. That damn letter caused me problems from the beginning. It held me up at SFO. It walked off with my passport on my arrival here…
Well, my exit visa will arrive on the 12th of October. I will be leaving here shortly after to make my way to Thailand. There I have a friend who has been living for more than a few years. He’s been teaching there and will be giving me some support. I will only be giving the job search a certain amount of time. I would like to think of my larger goal, but the call of my life in the United States, whatever that was, is ringing loudly in my ear. A dear brother of mine just relocated to SF. My wife is doing big things in the city of San Francisco and it tears me up to think of her giving that up. My cats! If you ever met Rufus you would understand. I doubt you’ve met Schmutzy, but he is my little guy who is sensitive, but oh so loving and cute.
Everyday is an emotional roller coaster. My emotions run through fear, anger, sadness, joy and love in this crazy country. I’ve at least been able to impress myself by being in such a surreal environment. The English language has a lot of words, mostly pointless ones, that will never be able to fully describe what I’ve seen, or what I have had going through my mind. I’ve been able to stretch my legs a little and be seen in my hood. I am able to walk down the street and smile and joke with others. Most know what I want to eat when I arrive. Sometimes, I stand on a corner having broken conversation with a man, usually much older than me. I have enjoyed the reaction people have when I tell them my age. It’s a compliment when they say they wouldn’t have guessed older than 25.
My time in this part of the country have been special to me. Unfortunately, the consequences of certain actions prevent me from staying. I am getting better at not beating myself up about that damn passport. I try to not get down about my culture shock. Daily I brush off my existence as a black man in Asia. Let’s face it, it’s hard being black anywhere in the world. I try to think about how lost I felt in the United States. It’s no wonder I would feel lost anywhere else. Fitting in is a consciousness. You are who you are no matter where that might be.