Back in Danang…


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.

Advertisements

Like college, but with Guy Ritchie movies instead of Quentin Tarantino


I arrived at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel  on Ma May Street on Sunday evening after coming back from three days at sea. I walked through the old quarter past the Elizabeth Hotel.  I carried everything I had with me through busy streets. I dodged motorbikes and others who tried to sell me fruit and t-shirts at tourist prices. The Elizabeth Hotel left me with memories I’d rather forget, but will chalk it up to experience. Did I mention this is my first time outside of the United States? Being born abroad so doesn’t count. The most foreign place I have been has been San Francisco’s Chinatown…although it is a type of preparation for being around other Asians. Lack of space, bargaining, and strange foods. The difference is the traffic lights and they obedience of traffic laws. I miss it.

I was glad to hear they had space in the dorms, because the older Backpackers Hostel only had private rooms at 40 bucks available. After my time at sea I was willing to spend money for a night away from the Elizabeth. I got a top bunk in one of the coolest rooms (cooler temp wise)  I stashed my stuff in the locker and had a beer. It’s a lively place. It is brightly painted housing young travelers from all over the world, but mainly the UK. A shower and a check in to my Facebook I fell into a deep sleep. I was slightly disappointed in the free breakfast of French bread and unrecognizable jams and instant coffee. I at least felt safe and didn’t hear voices in the night. K was quite sad at my lack of energy to check in, but I have been exhausted and a bit despondent. I have not enjoyed my time in Hanoi. I am totally out of my element, with no way to connect. The hostel has made a difference in my stay here.

It is reminiscent of my college days at UC Santa Barbara. There is a Matt in a Pakistani disguise along with a Matt in guise of an Aussie woman, a tanner version of Tomas, and a Ford on my walking tour. I would totally enjoy a version of Jamie, but there is definitely a Cheryl and Karina in the room across the hall. Everyone is friendly and actually interested in what your story might be. I just wish mine was more interesting than being held hostage in Hanoi awaiting a new passport. Breakfast was familiar with Beastie Boys playing in the background. I have been able to sit back a little and be out of my room instead of hibernating. Hosteling has been a good experience for me.

Food in Hanoi has been disappointing. Tony Bourdain went to two places in the Old Quarter. I don’t trust the chicken here, nor can I handle another rice bun or any other rice product. I’ve lost the muscle mass I gained before coming out here. I was expecting more meat. Every time my tour bus passed a cow I totally saw it in its different cuts…flank steak, tenderloin, ribs, ground chuck, even some shank in a nice osso bucco. They are grass fed by the way. The seafood has been terribly sad too. I did find a place that does great fried squid, but that’s about it. Well, there was a place to do BBQ beef, but that comes later in my stories 🙂

The second night in the hostel was kind of wild for me. Totally relieved in being in a new space around a lot of other people I walked into happy hour beers and met a guy from San Francisco, a couple from Minneapolis selling a motorbike for cheap (very tempting), a couple of red headed women from Ireland, and then Adil. Adil is a Pakistani born in Nigeria, educated in London and now lives in Pakistan with his young wife.He’s a buyer of gifts from around the world. He walked into the hotel and sat at my table. We hit it off immediately. We drank a few and then tried to see what was happening at the reggae bar down the road. It was empty and they weren’t even playing reggae. Making our way back toward the hostel I convinced Adil he needed some dinner, as I already had mine.

Brought in from the street we sat at a tiny plastic table on tiny plastic chairs. Kindergarteners would fall off these chairs. Adil fell twice. First, we blamed the small chairs, but then it was obvious that the beer pong was beginning to take effect. We didn’t have that when I was in college. Stacking a few chairs we ordered the meal and began shooting the shit for real. He told me about losing his passport in Madrid and his problems in the world being Muslim. Before you know it he hit the ground and so does our BBQ plate. It landed under the table and flames flew into the air. A lot of the Vietnamese people began laughing their ass off as they were trying to put the fire out. It was quite entertaining indeed, but I was a bit concerned with Adil as he was very drunk. We got another order of food and got busy cooking our meal. It’s fun to cook over a fire, it’s primal, but you got to be lucid to accomplish it.

During the meal Adil received a text from his wife that there had been more bombing in his hometown. The night changed at that moment. The conversation didn’t get too deep. He told me more than the average American could imagine, well, if you watch MSNBC or Fox, of course. I advise you watch RT… It was a surreal few  moments as I paid for the food and we made our way back to the hostel. I didn’t even know what to say to the man. I asked him at one point about how he was feeling about being away from home while all that violence was happening. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and said it was something he had to live with. If there is anyway to suck out the little last bit of American pride from you is talking to a Pakistani who is following the bombing of his town on his iPhone.

Adil insisted on following the party down the road and I willingly followed. I met a fellow Texan living in Japan teaching English. Two fellas in the Air Force from Kansas were kicking it on the sidewalk. The night wasn’t getting out of control, except for Adil. He was constantly checking his iPhone and then ordering shots of tequila. After my last visit with Matt I learned to just stand my ground with shots. I could see the man was just torn up. I knew it was time to skype with my wife before I witnessed something I didn’t want to. It was perfect timing of my leave because it began to pour like a monsoon. The fifth floor was empty of people and I talked with K for a while during her morning routine. I couldn’t imagine how I could function this far from her and our home being bombed. I am already kind of a freak without her here, but knowing she was in danger would tear me apart.

WALKING TOUR

In an attempt to make my forced stay better here I thought I would get involved with a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Most people would know it from Tony Bourdain’s tour of northern Vietnam. The food looked appetizing enough. The hostel is nice enough to chill and relax. I can get everything I need right here, without having to cross the street. The first few moments of the tour made me bristle as the young Brits in the group began complaining about not understanding the Vietnamese tour guide. If they had shut their mouths for a few seconds they could have picked out what she was saying with her soft voice. Instead they continued complaining and then just socializing amongst themselves. I decided to stick close to her side and learn something. The first place she showed us was an original Vietnamese home, before the architecture began showing French influence.  She then pointed out a clothing store “Made in Vietnam” that had nothing in my size.

The streets of course were crowded. Motorbikes whizzed past us, almost across our toes. Trash was piled in the gutter forcing our steps more into the motorbikes paths. We learned that each street had their specialties. You would find whole blocks of shoes and shoe repair. They all had the same products. There were whole blocks of hardware for the house, fabrics and other materials used for tailored clothing, and a block full of what seemed like toys for children that in the evening became outside restaurants for BBQ. As I don’t not like to go out too far from the hostel in the evenings I have not had these BBQ delights. I did make note to come back during the day so I could get some cute things for Tien’s three kids.

I was amazed to learn that 10 to 12 families would live in one home sharing 1 toilet. I asked the guide if everyone got along. She said that they must under these living conditions. She also spoke about how the government has asked people to leave their homes and move outside the city, but people do not want to leave. In order to afford staying they open a business on the street and live on top of one another. Small alleys were lined with women selling fruits and vegetables from farms just outside the city. Motorbikes narrowly missed their toes. It was crammed and a bit exciting, but claustrophobic. We made our way through many streets with no names posted and even if I wanted to leave the tour group it would have taken me a long while making it back to the hostel.

We stopped by Hoan Kiem Lake for a moment and learned about an ancient turtle who lived in the lake. As the guide was speaking to us a man sat down next to our group and grabbed the flip flops off a young mans foot. He began to laugh as the man began to repair it. The group watched on as the kid just stood there a little dumb of the situation. The man pulled out a piece of rubber tread and a large knife. When the kid finally realized what was happening he was still laughing at his flip flop being taken from his foot. Our tour guide Mai asked the man to step away and he looked up to her face from the ground made a face and returned to his attempt to repair the flip flop. I told the young man he should grab his shoe or he was going to end up paying the guy for something he didn’t want. His flip flops weren’t in that bad of shape. He looked at me like I was crazy. “Take your shoe back or he won’t give it back until he’s done and he will expect payment.” He finally did this, when another man pulled up a chair next to me and started tugging at my shorts to repair my brand new flip flops.

I brushed his hand away and he pulled again he then began hitting me on my arm and motioning like he was going to fight me. I showed him my left fist and walked off as he yelled after me. The group and I crossed the street again to the water puppet theater so the guide could explain how to buy tickets and the history of the show that plays about five times a day. You can watch clips on my youtube channel. Every day in Hanoi there has been something that could easily set me off, and the man at the lake unfortunately set the mood for the rest of the day. As we walked around the young backpackers were duped into paying for the pictures they took of the women carrying their wares in hanging baskets on the shoulders. I learned my lesson in Hoi An and I just kept my camera in my pocket. The tour ended about lunch time and I decided to sleep off my frustration. My living situation might have changed, but walking the streets have become more and more difficult. I refuse to get on the back of a motorbike here. If I can’t cross the street, then I won’t risk being on something I feel aims for me every time I step off the sidewalk.

HOA LU- TAM COC

The Thursday before I thought was the day I got to leave Hanoi I took a day trip to Hoa Lu-Tam Coc. It’s advertised as the Halong Bay on land. It was beautiful…. The unfortunate thigs about taking these types of trips is the getting there and from part.

Waiting for the passport hasn’t been good, but I have tried to fill my time taking tours around the area. I went to Ha Long Bay, but I was more impressed with my day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. I wish I was able to take more pictures, but I ran out of memory on my camera taking video of this guy paddling with his feet. The toughest thing I feel is the punishing roads that lead to these wonderful places. We are crammed in minivans and driven on horrible roads that jangle the kidneys, jam the lower back and wreck the bottom.

My mornings begin rough most times here. The down fall of living in a dorm. The kids tend to return to the room between 5 and seven in the morning and are quite loud. I have early mornings with nothing but noise sometimes. There isn’t anything open until around 830 or nine. There is instant coffee until 10 am in the lobby along with French rolls and fruit. I long for a French Press. When Ice Cube, It was a good day stops abruptly because of a ten minute power outage that’s a sign.

I am sure if I was up here by choice with different energy I would feel differently. That doesn’t mean that they would treat me any better, but I would be able to handle it differently other than crawling up into a tight ball and staying on the couches in the hostel lounge. It’s safer for everyone involved that I do what I can to stay cool mentally. What I need is a huge steak, which I found at Chica’s, and a gym.I look forward to writing about my apartment hunting my days with cute kids teaching, learning to surf and earning the language.

Thanks for reading and leaving comments. I so appreciate to feed back and the love. Technology has been wonderful. I took it for granted in the United States.

Ha Long Bay


Tourism…

Well, I finally checked out of the Elizabeth Hotel on Nguyen Huy Huan Street and waited for the “bus” to pick me up for my trip to Ha Long Bay. I intended on taking the trip with my buddy Kenny or K. Being here in Hanoi has not been cool for me. It’s been hassle after hassle and I’ve barely wanted to leave the air conditioned room for anything. I sat in the hot lobby sweating it out as the other tours loaded up in their prospective buses to the different tours sold in the hotel lobby. I had what I thought was clean laundry packed with my laptop and bunny into my backpack ready for the three hour ride cramped in a mini-van. Van booty is what I call it. Nothing can prepare you for that.

Before loading onto the bus I met Axle who is from Germany and had been traveling the world for the past 27 months. I thought for sure I was going to have a comrade and be able to practice my German. Nope. He was immediately adopted by a group of Germans already on the bus and I was left to listen to one of the men talk the whole way to the harbor. He had something to say about everything, but they didn’t talk to anyone else. We made a stop at some huge emporium of souvenirs for a bathroom break and then made our way to the harbor. Here, “buses” of all sizes drove in dropped off and picked up. Tour after tour made their way to their prospective boats slip.

We loaded our bags on the back deck and sat down for our first meal. It was nothing remarkable if not this side of gross. Everything, besides the food, was twice as much on the land and that made it really expensive to buy bottle of water in order to brush your teeth. Of course, they only had the small bottles as an option.

entering surprise cave

It was a short ride from the bay. The ocean breeze was nice compared to the heat and humidity of Hanoi. During lunch we were given our room assignments and I shared key responsibility with a young man named Robbie. The boat was parked outside the floating village and went to the Surprise Cave. After climbing through the Surprise Cave we kayaked around a few mounts before returning to the boat. I paddled with my roomie, Robbie from London, and I know I would have made K and my dad-in-law proud. Once the boat was anchored in a bay with about five other tours people began jumping from the top deck into the water. I did not. I jumped from the back of the boat into the cool salty water. I swam until a jelly fish was found swimming around the boat. Waiting for our next meal most sat on the top deck talking until we were called in for the meal.

I sat and listened mainly to other traveler’s stories. A large man from Holland likes trekking tours. As he learned his English while working in Ireland he spoke with an Irish brogue. There were quite a few couples...A Spanish couple from Barcelona, a Belgian couple, and an Italian couple. All were well traveled and I learned so much listening about their university system, their medical system, and how people are taxed. In my honest opinion, the U.S. is in the stone ages on most of these issues. Dinner was an unremarkable meal of octopus, rice, noodles, some type of greens and an expensive soda. Back to the top deck to avoid karaoke. Instead a few people fished for squid off the back of the boat, while the boat crew played cards, drank and played loud dance music. The conversations went long into the night about travel and tours taken. The Siberian Express, The Mongolian Expres, Sapa treks, Nepal treks into the Himilayas. I learned that the easiest language to learn was Indonesian.

Sleep wasn’t that great. I had warned Robbie that I snored and offered him an extra set of earplugs I had. He said a door mouse would have made more noise than I did.

that's bunny and me waking to a beautiful view

There were four of us who chose the three day two night tour of Ha Long Bay. The second day we switched onto a smaller boat and went to the other side of the bay. It was a slow ride over some of the flattest and smoothest ocean water. It was nice to be with a smaller group. I was with some recent university grads from Brighton.They had no clue of the redemption they earned for the other Brits traveling the world.

We laid in the sun the ride out. We were all excited to do some kayaking and I think the four of us agreed that it was nice to have this day away from the larger tour. As we reached our cove we got into the kayaks boy girl, boy girl and followed Than through some caves and around some mounts. The scenery was amazing. It still feels like a dream being here seeing these sights.We had some quiet, except for Than’s bird calls that echoed against the mounts of limestone.We were able to maneuver quite well. Again, K would be proud that I got my kayak arms together. My shoulder still hurts, but it was worth it. We returned to the boat after going through a pitch black cave

take a torch

and into a a protective cove full of cicadas sounds. It was kind of scary and felt dangerous as Keita and I go stuck coming out the mouth of the cave. A little shove from Robbie and Charlotte we were righted and made it back to the boat for lunch, which was actually excellent. Than told us the food was much fresher on the smaller boat,

After a few hours of chilling out after lunch we were informed that are boat had a malfunctioning motor and we had to wait rescue. I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to be stranded. Once picked up we were lashed to another boat and towed to the Oyster farm where they farm for pearls. At this point I was hot, stinky, and tired. I wasn’t into learning too much about oysters, but I went with it.

We made it back to the larger boat and met with a new group of travelers. They were nice enough, but I was beginning to feel weary. The night was very hard for me as the captain and his Army buddy from 34 years ago sang Vietnamese karaoke at the top of their lungs late into the night. I took the pair of earplugs I offered Robbie and smushed them with my own to no avail. I finally left my cabin and gestured that it was too loud, stop. They did, but by then I really couldn’t get to sleep. I thought they were planning retaliation and feared they would pee on my AC unit to get back at me. The boat rocked abnormally through the night and I constantly heard voices.

The next morning I was done with the tour. The captain killed it for me.  I was grumpy from little sleep and mad that I lost so much weight I had no cushion for my tush to take the “bus” ride back into Hanoi. The tour guide told me they would give me a ride back to my hotel and instead they dropped my off by Hoan Kiem Lake and I had to navigate busy streets toward the hotel, but I walked passed it to the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. It was 100% better than The Elizabeth Hotel. So here I am waiting my passport.

one happy moment

You either love it or hate it…


Ha Noi…I don’t like it. I can see why people do, but…It is much more noisy than Da Nang. It’s much more polluted than Da Nang. It has a lot more tourists, and is less personable than my central coast town. There isn’t much to do in Da Nang and that is what I like the most. I met an American woman from Colorado before coming up here and she let me know what her daily schedule was…sleep in, hang out by the pool, two days a week tutor at noon and then teach in the evenings. Um, yeah. My current fantasy is to have a morning run on the beach (or surf), write and drink coffee, tutor in the midday, teach at Gia Minh in the evenings with the cutest kids ever, have a few beers with Tien, dinner with K and start over again the next day. Is that too much to ask for the next few years? I don’t think so.

SLEEPING BUS TO HA NOIYou can move through Vietnam a number of ways. I would really like to take the train the length of the country at some point. I also would hire Easy Rider to take me around. Bus is an option, but I highly recommend taking the sleeping bus at some point. I advise though that if you are my size or any larger DO NOT let them put you in a berth where the arm rest isn’t at least an arms distance from where you stick you legs.

50 berths on the bus

It was very tight fitting for me. Also, DO NOT allow them to put you near the toilet, good heavens. I eventually was able to turn on my side, wedge my knees against the side, stick my head under my backpack and get some good sleep. The bus ride began in Da Nang with a little confusion on my part. They said “sleeping bus” and the first leg of the trip to Hue was actually on a regular bus. The seats reclined further than on an airplane. I didn’t know I would change buses. It was a beautiful ride considering that the driver wasn’t so kamikaze about his moves. The most worrying part was going through the mountain. Why oh why did I watch Megadisasters involving some crazy tunnel going from Italy to Switzerland or something? We pulled in from the coast a bit and went up and down the mountain road. Motorbikes wove in and around slower trucks as the bus sped past everyone on the curves. I’ve been praying a lot since coming  to Vietnam. There was a little more coast line to be seen as we came into Hue. I look forward to making that trip. It’s very beautiful there. There was no A/C on the bus, but once the window was opened the cool moist air washed over my face. I’ve never seen so much green in my life.There was a lot of green on the island of Kauai, but one side of that island is dry like desert. No deserts in Vietnam. It was amazing to pull through Hue. The city center is really busy with motorbikes and cars racing through each roadway in any direction. Once the bus pulled up to Ngoc Hotel the down pour began. I huddled in he doorway as tourists checked in and I waited for my scooter transport to the bus.

Once we reached the bus, there was pandemonium. It was raining hard now. We threw our bags to the porter and scrambled to get on. We put our shoes in plastic bags and were shown to our berths. I picked an upper berth, climbed in and wedged myself in for the ride. Damn, it was a small space.

waking the next morning

They put all the foreigners in the back. A french couple, some Japanese, a few other white English speakers climbed into their berths. The sun had gone down completely before we were all packed in. Moving through some tolls they turned on a Vietnamese variety show. Each berth had a speaker above it and they played it extremely loud. I placed ear plugs in still heard every word. I had to laugh though, similar to our culture a man dressed in drag is comedy…Flip Wilson, Martin Lawrence, Dame Edna, okay, she’s British…Anyway, I found that I could follow a bit of what was going on, especially when they pulled out a picture of Jennifer Aniston. The screens went dark at some point and it got quiet. Wedged in with pillows in appropriate places I slept hard. The bus rocked like a boat. I did almost get pitched over the side and I think we got stuck in the mud in the middle of the night. That’s when I felt the most rocking. At times the bus would stop, the lights would come on and people would wake those departing at certain stops. I had to laugh at one point as the Vietnamese tried to wake the Japanese and get them to their stop in a hurry. Talk about confusion.

The next morning was extremely rainy.

I have no idea where I am...

Lush and green everywhere we woke with three more hours before we got to Ha Noi. The French couple was up arguing, as I found out later they missed their bus to Ha Long Bay. If there was anything I learned since being abroad is that you need to make sure you connecting transportation is at least a day apart. Nothing, I mean nothing is ever on time.

We disembarked the bus in the old part of Ha Noi. We were immediately harassed by travel agents trying to book up certain hotels. I was given info on a hotel back in Hue, 12 bucks a night including breakfast. It was not the Dai A that’s for sure. I was just glad to have cheap accommodations. It’s a loud place, paper thin walls. I decided to skip writing about the negatives of being in Ha Noi. Considering the reason I needed to be up here, it is understandable that I would be stressed out.

I had made an online appointment with the U.S. Embassy to get a new passport. It was easy enough to get a new one, except that immigration in Da Nang failed to give me paperwork that said I reported the passport missing. After giving much sad face, the nice lady behind window number 2 spoke to her co-workers an they were able to get a letter explaining the situation. I walked out of the embassy within an hour, you can’t do that at any DMV, even with an appointment. I was in a much better mood. It got even better when Mr. Simon called me and asked if I was coming back to Da Nang. I told him I needed to be up here another full week, but would return to Da Nang.

He encouraged me and said they wanted to give me classes and he would begin the necessary steps to get my work permit. Sweet! So I was able to pull a little bit out of my funk. I could look at Ha Noi with different eyes. I went down the street and got a cheap massage, 12 bucks for sixty minutes. I made plans to go to Ha Long Bay on a three day cruise over the weekend.

It’s very lonely here though. I came to Vietnam with advice ringing in my head. They don’t see many black people here. I might see pointing and staring. Some might laugh or even come up to me and touch my skin. The months proceeding my journey I thought long and hard about that. I figured I would just smile back and say hello or laugh with them. I thought that my skin was thick enough to deal with it, however they reacted. What I wasn’t prepared for was the racism from other white travelers, Australians exempt. I’ve gotten the most ugly stares from white backpackers. If they even look my way they avoid looking me in the eye. I will get a good morning from the Malays, Vietnamese, Singaporeans, and others at the communal breakfast table, but the white English speakers will sit right next to you without any kind of acknowledgement.

It was also lonely because I didn’t have facebook or facebook scrabble. I had depended on technology to speak to K on a nightly basis and we didn’t have that, until recently when I was finally able to get internet in my room. It’s a slow connection too. Since ordering the passport and making arrangements for a cruise I thought I would make some touristy moves. I rented a cyclo and went around some parts of Ha Noi. We drove past some temples, through special markets selling live fish and frogs. It was a cool ride, but kind of scary. I think they make it scary on purpose. I wish I had my camera so I could take a picture of this woman and her husband in another cyclo stuck in the middle of an intersection we were approaching. She looked really scared. I just smiled as we passed each other. I did get concerned as we made a left turn directly into the line of cars and motorbikes. Soon after we pulled over and my ride was done. Whew!

I also bought tickets earlier that day to watch the water puppet show. That was really fun. My brother would have to sit in the front row. A person of 5’7″ was fitting quite tightly in the seats. A person of 6’5″ would never have a chance of even bending their knees to get into the seat. As a matter of fact two tall Aussies needed to move toward the end of the row so they could swing their legs out into the aisle. I stayed where I was until some stinky man sat next to me. I know it is hot in Vietnam, but that means don’t scrimp on the hygiene. There was no way I could sit there for 45 minutes and enjoy the show. As the lights went down I jumped forward over the chairs, which were empty, and made myself comfortable. I had a nice cool breeze blowing my way that didn’t include body odor. There were dragons dancing, a procession and day glow. It was a nice break to be inside and get a little culture. Don’t get me wrong, there is culture everywhere you look.

.

Published in good spirits and a full belly.

First week…in Da Nang


Well, 6 hours in Ha Noi makes me long for Da Nang. The ease of Da Nang trumps the pollution and noise of Ha Noi. It’s unlikely I will visit HCMC without K by my side. I’m not really a “traveler”. The only reason I would return to Ha Noi would be travel with K. My main goal for being here is to procure a new passport so I can have my papers together to get my work visa. Did I mention I have a job?…Well, I haven’t signed a contract yet, but…when I get back I should have all my paperwork together and be ready to begin.

My first week here in Vietnam could have been better, meaning if passport was in hand, but I have learned a lot about myself. I learned that I have the capacity for enduring patience. Here you need the ability to take things slow. In Jamaica they say “soon come”. In Da Nang they say “no problem.”

Tien

Tien and Tam made my transition a bit easier. I would greet them in the morning as I ate my pho. Tien would then take me on his motorbike to different places. We would return in the early afternoon. I would shower and nap until we met up for beers and he would show me a new food stall to eat at. He would speak to each stall, explain that I wasn’t a tourist and made sure I got the best price.

Tam (Easy Rider)

I met Tien a block from my hotel. I had sat at Bamboo 2 watching the motorbikes make their way along Bach Dang which runs along the Han River. Whole families, sometimes made of four, were on one scooter. I watched a scooter carry a baby in a restaurant highchair pass by. It was amusing to see the evening cruise. I was wondering back to my hotel when Tien approached me and help me find my way. I took his card and agreed to go to Marble Mountain and Monkey Mountain the next morning. I relaxed in the hotel and watched some TV until I fell asleep.

FRIDAY…Good morning Vietnam! September 2nd was a national holiday. My first breakfast was French bread and jam. I had a coffee with milk and watched as others were offered noodles for their breakfast. If I knew it was possible I would have ordered pho myself. I took note to ask for it the next morning. Tien met me at 9 and we headed out on his scooter to Marble Mountain. It was already really hot, but it was nice to have the wind in my face. Tien pointed out hospital bunkers left from the war and the resorts and casinos that lined the beach. There is a lot of development happening in Da Nang. Once at Marble Mountain I was left to make my climb of a gazillion stone steps in the heat of the morning.  I donned my backpack and climbed. There were a ton of people climbing the steps, young and old. It was a bit overwhelming, the heat, at first. I climbed and was continually asked to purchase incense for the Buddha At one set of stairs I stopped to rest as did three other boys. I wiped my face with my Dallas Cowboys bandana as they began to take pictures of me with their cell phones. Then they began to take pictures with me. After the pictures it seemed that they adopted me and grabbed my hand to climb with them.

I wanted to see the sleeping Buddha, but it was way too crowded and dark to make up the haphazard steps. I reflected on Uncle Randy’s story of his trip to Marble Mountain and felt that it was okay to not climb into the hole. I just got to Vietnam and I didn’t need to hurt myself. I will go back with K. The steps were steep going up and down . I met Tien at the bottom and we moved on toward Monkey Mountain. We scooted by China Beach, which was empty of people and only had tiny breaks as proof of surf.  Fishing boats were pulled onto the beach waiting to leave that night for a fishing trip. I expected to see food stalls along the beach serving what they caught, but honestly, it is way too hot for anyone to just hang out on the beach like that. Across the road were a few places to stop and eat, but they were empty during the day.

Once up Monkey Mountain I was able to walk around an area covered in stone.  Heat radiated from the sun and the ground. Vietnamese people milled around the temple and surrounding grounds. There was this amazing huge pristine white Buddha that rose out of a lotus.  The architecture and landscaping would be K’s dream to walk around to see. I did find myself in an area where I should have taken my shoes off so I just rushed myself down the stairs back to Tien. I was hot and tired at this point. Glad to have been to a few sights Tien took me back to the hotel to cool out.  I returned to my room and began to ruminate about my lost passport. I had a hard time thinking about where it had gone. How did it leave me so easily? How come it was so hard to relocate? I took apart all of my luggage, pointlessly, looking for that little blue book. They should make electronic passports the size of credit cards that gets slid through a machine as you enter each country. I mean, come on, it is the new millennium.

I made some more phone calls to Vietnam Airlines to inquire about my report of my missing passport. After being disconnected 5 times someone finally called my room to say that it wasn’t found. I sat on my bed feeling a bit low. Then my mind just began to race. Mr. Hiep was sitting next to me. He’s the only one I talked to while I was holding the damn thing. Something might have happened when we exchanged business cards. He had been so nice and willing to help, what if he actually picked it up and was waiting for me to call so he could prove that he was a “scout boy” like he claimed. My mind went negative…it was like the time I lost my wedding ring and I almost jumped a little person on BART because he looked suspicious. He could have crawled under my seat and slipped it off my finger while I slept on the train…horrible, I know…of course, I found my ring in the gym at my office. I just had a feeling about Mr. Hiep. I ended up calling him.

Ten minutes later he showed up at my hotel. We talked about the situation. He didn’t have the passport, of course, but he did have connections at the airlines and promised to look into it when he returned to Saigon (HCMC). We talked a little more about my situation. He asked me about my teaching, and what schools I was interested in. When I mentioned Fisher’s Superkids he gave me a phone number of another American who was teaching there. It was definitely not a waste to give this man a call. I met with Tien and we went around the corner from my hotel to his watering hole. There I met Tam, his brother, and sat for a bit watching the motorbikes, learning about the different tours he takes people on. Tam rides a full size motorcycle and makes longer tours all over Vietnam, mainly through the mountains. They both have comment books and both had very good comments from people all over the world.

After the nightly deluge Tien brought me to a place to eat Com Ga, chicken dry. Folks, it was hella dry. Basically it is roasted chicken and rice. I felt good meeting the brothers. Tien and I would set out again the next day. Back in the room I showered as the room cooled off. I sat back waiting for 10pm when I would skype with K. It would be her morning, yesterday.

SATURDAY…Pho for breakfast along with coffee and milk. Tien and Tam sat across the street at a café. Tam was taking an older Australian lady into the mountains for the day. Tien would take me to My Son Sanctuary  It was a long ride on the back of the motorbike. Along the way there were rice fields and people tending to them. Some used a sickle to cut the grass down and some fields used a weed whacker with a gas motor. They would put it on their shoulder and ride their motorbike to each fied and cut a swath down. It would be picked up, separated and the ride would be laid out on tarps along the side of the road. They did the same with the corn they harvested.  After about an hour on the scooter, we stopped at a place where they made rice paper. . A woman would ladle the rice mixture that included sesame onto a hot skillet heated by the rice husks. Using a wooden baton with a wet cloth tied to the end she would roll it onto the baton and then lay it out on a screen to dry. I had an opportunity to make a few myself. I must say I did well, and we ate what I made. It tasted good.  Back on the motor bike we went to the heritage site.

It was hot and steamy. I thought it might be good to spray some OFF on my exposed limbs and headed up the road to the ruins.  I was very surprised at the amount of people there. Mainly Asians, there were a lot of Japanese and Korean tourists. It was extremely hot. I had to sit down a lot to rest and drink water. I was beginning to feel tired. I think the jet lag was sneaking up on me.  I didn’t stay too long. I wasn’t feeling well. My ass hurt and I wasn’t looking forward to the ride back. On the way back Tien showed me where it would be good to get BBQ beef, but I was too tired to go for it. I requested we get back to my hotel so I could pass out. Scooter butt and jet lag got the best of me that day. No beers with Tien that night.

I was glad to be able to post pictures on Facebook,  and play some scrabble. In the background commercials for that teen movie Eclipse would play. One other channel in English showed Master chef shows continually. On ESPN I was left to watch east coast baseball. I took a nap before my skype session with K. I am very grateful for technologies. It helps to not feel so far away, although it doesn’t help me determine which day it actually is. I am totally lost in time.

SUNDAY…I am so very grateful to have met Tien. I don’t know how I would have gotten my cellphone otherwise. It wasn’t enough to have a name card and email, I needed a number for schools to get a hold of me. We spent about 30 minutes going over the phones. I became a little frustrated with the language struggle, but Tien said “no problem” I got my cheap ass Nokia and SIM card and bought some time. Afterwards, we drank some beers at Tien’s sister’s stall, where I had met him a few nights before. We sat as the rain began to fall and had a few cold ones. Then Tien showed me a place to get fried noodles.  You really need a Chinese person to show you where the good Chinese food is at…this is where I miss my buddy B.O.B.B.Y. I sat at the food stall taking in the sights and sounds. Holy smokes, I’m in Vietnam.

The day was chill. Tien was showing me around. He showed me a great place to get pho. That particular spot was owned by people from Ha Noi and it has been the best pho I’ve had

first faux pas, leaving chopsticks in bowl

As the night grows older Da Nang cools off, but also shuts down. Cafes close and only a few restaurants are open. After spending the day in the heat I retire to my room for some TV and a nap before my nightly skype session. I needed to calm down a bit. Monday was my day to head out around town to look for work.

MONDAY…I woke up early to set out my shirt and tie. I wasn’t looking forward to wearing so much material in the heat, but that’s the only way I can think of to get a job, look professional. They key is to wear a tank under so it gets sweated out before the shirt. I wanted to wilt when I stepped off the elevator at my hotel, but I persevered. Tien took me to each English language school in the city, nine. Again, Tien is the man. I don’t think I would have found the schools without him. It would have taken me a week to apply to each school, if I found them. It is very important to have a motorbike in Da Nang, because the schools are very spread out. We made it to the school that I had made contact in the spring, the school that offered me a job and then quit communications. I met directly with the director this time. We chatted for just a moment. It was long enough for him to tell me that they had too many teachers for their 50 students and give me directions to a café that had a bulletin board that listed jobs.

oh yes I did

Bread of Life is a café owned by an American and employs deaf people for vocational and ASL training. UCSI director mentioned they had good hamburgers and I figured I might be able to find a lead. I left UCSI campus determined to never contact them again and headed for a familiar lunch. He was right about the bulletin board. I found a posting for a job, a few postings for cheap housing, and a post for Vietnamese language lessons. The Coke was cold, the burger and fries were okay, but it was good to try and wrap my head around a few things. I made a list of things to do before the end of the afternoon. I knew I was ready to get out of this shirt and tie, but the day was not over.

30 minutes after sending Mr. Simon my CV he called me for an interview. I got back into my shirt and tie and went to interview at Gia Minh. It’s an English language school far down the road from my hotel. Through an alley and up some stairs you can hear the voices of eager and happy children. It was steamy in the office. Fans pushed around hot air. One of the young women working administration led me back to Mr. Simon’s office. The difficult part of the interview was understanding Mr. Simon. He himself doesn’t have the best command of the language, so it was slow going. He took whatever paperwork I had and made copies. I made him aware of my passport situation and he let me know that I needed to get my paperwork in order so I could get a work permit. He showed me the work permits he held and his teachers have been with him for many years. I just wish I was able to speak to one of those teachers.

We walked through the small school and I met a few of the children. Super cute! I never did see a teacher in the building. Red flag. I left the office feeling good, otherwise. I knew that if I didn’t have my paperwork there would be no contract. Even if he offered me a class I wouldn’t do it. I’m not trying to get stuck somewhere doing shady business, plus, my ideal place was Fisher’s Superkids. It all happened very fast. Damn, that passport. I needed to push Mr. Hiep on that issue. I didn’t want to push too much because it is Vietnam and they have their own timing. A call wouldn’t hurt.

TUESDAY…I Just wanted to get around the city myself. I started out with my pho breakfast and headed out toward no where in particular. I had been on the back of a motorbike for the past days and kind of felt that I needed to walk around to get my bearings in the place. The woes of scooter butt. I made it three blocks before three motorbikes tried to pick me up. I kept trying to tell them no as they would show me their comment books when Tien rode up on the sidewalk beside me. Since he was there I got on and told him he needed to take me to the immigration office so I could report my passport missing. There I sat in a hot office waiting for what seemed like forever, but was probably 15 minutes. Heat makes time go slow. On the back of the photocopy of my passport they wrote that I needed to go to the U.S. Embassy in Ha Noi. My stomach dropped. I didn’t want to leave Da Nang. I so wished there was a consulate here. I needed to make another call to Hiep, who kept telling me to calm down, he would hear about it soon. Come on man, it’s been a while. If they haven’t found the passport now then they won’t.

After the immigration office Tien took me to Cham Museum . I can’t say I had the best time. I’m not really a museum person, but it was nice. It was also very hot in there. I did think it was interesting how they placed the reliefs in the wall as if they were found there. Of course I liked the lions. There was a nice big tree in the back for shade. I sat there for a while and tried to get my head together. I didn’t really want to do anything. Day by day the amount I owed Tien was mounting, but without my passport I couldn’t cash my traveler’s checks. Money stresses me out. Not knowing the language was stressing me out. The heat was getting to me. Tien could tell something was wrong He said let’s go to Hoi An. I reminded him about money and he said, “no problem”. It was a problem. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Let’s go to Hoi An, screw it.”

I didn’t like Hoi An. I didn’t like that every step I took they asked me to buy something. I couldn’t walk by one store, stall, or even restaurant without being accosted. It was too much for me. I stopped to buy a soda and was dragged to a tailors shop to look through a catalog of clothing. It was my plan to have clothing made, but I didn’t have Tien with me to introduce me to the right tailor. It was like sitting at a time share meeting. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally escaped the tailor to be harassed by a cobbler, to a souvenir hawker. “Why you no want table runner?” “I don’t have a table.”  I booked it through the alley into the food market. I took out my camera to take a picture and got conned into taking this woman’s photo and then she charged me for it. I should have deleted it in front of her. I wanted to kick her basket over.

Feeling angry and abused I felt hungry. I had not had any fish or seafood since being here. I saw a couple sitting in a restaurant that advertised garlic prawns as a special and I went in and sat down.  I ordered a long island ice tea and waited for a long time. I thing they went to go fish the three prawns they gave me, I was hungry too, so another disappointment…I just wanted to get the hell out of Hoi An. I didn’t understand the appeal. I may go back to get clothing made for work, but that is about it. Get me back to Da Nang. I washed my scooter butt and lay in bed to wait to skype with K, who I was missing tremendously. I was reaching my limit of Vietnam.

WEDNESDAY…After a night of drinking Remy and loud music at the Festival Club I went to Bread of Life for an American breakfast of pancakes and eggs and bacon. Ah, bacon. I had walked there from my hotel and it was very far. I had to call Tien to pick me up and take me back to the hotel. I upset my body by not having pho and I needed to lay down. I blame the food, but I know it was depression. I was feeling out of sorts and after the Festival Club I was feeling taken advantage of. I didn’t want to be part of the city anymore. I slept most of the day.

THURSDAY…I knew I needed to start making plans to deal with the passport issue. I had three huge bags and my backpack to deal with. I felt that if I moved everything up there with me I wouldn’t come back. People have been telling me left and right about how easy it is to get a teaching gig in Ha Noi, but I wanted to stay in Da Nang. I knew I had to get my paperwork in order before anything could happen. I finally heard from Mr. Hiep after a few email exchanges that the passport wasn’t to be found, duh. So which way would I go, by plane or train? Well, by sleeping bus of course. The front desk at the hotel worked out the arrangements. I made my appointment at the embassy for Monday. I would be able to store my larger bags at the Dai A and I was about to be on my way. I still needed some comfort and my body wasn’t use to eating so many carbohydrates…I needed a steak. Going through the in Da Nang website I found an Australian pub and grill across the river by the beach.

The Billabong is a small, but nice place that serves Vietnamese beers and the regular cast of spirits. They have many types of food, but not Vietnamese. I sat at a table away from the bar and stayed quiet. After I ate my steak and fries, which were perfect by the way, three Aussies invited me to the bar for some happy hour beers. We watched some soccer and learned about the Rugby pools. It was nice to get to know those guys. Two of the three were visiting and one has been living there for a while with his Aussie wife and kids. I thought of my friends Chris and Marcy and began to look forward to their visit to Vietnam. Aussies are very friendly. It was good to get to that side of the river. It is even more laid back and beachy. I hope to find residence on that side.

Tien picked me up to take me to the other side so I could skype with K. It wasn’t that time yet but it had been raining and I wanted to get back before any more started. Tien told me that he and Tam had missed me. I was leaving for Ha Noi as they were leaving for Hue and the mountains. They got some Dutch clients and would be gone throughout the weekend. We wouldn’t see each other for goodbyes. I didn’t realize how much we were actually friends. It made my heart feel good. I inadvertently agreed to go home with Tien. We snaked down some thin alley to his house and I met his family. He has three children, 7, 5, and 1. Talk about cute!!! We ate some pho, even though I was full from steak and fries. We sat and talked a little. We watched as his youngest would wipe the table down after we put our sweating beers on the table. Tien couldn’t help but smile over his brood. I felt really special meeting his family. I feel really special having met Tien. I don’t know what my stay in Da Nang would be without him. I got choked up on the motorbike back to my hotel. They’ve given me true Vietnamese love. We agreed to meet in the morning before we both left to say good bye and good luck. Published Sunday night awaiting my appointment for a new passport at the U.S. Embassy.

sorry if it could have been edited better, kinda not in the mood…

The Flight


It’s been seven whole days since I made the trip to Southeast Asia. A tremendous amount has happened since leaving my flat on Page Street. The day of the flight began quietly. I went over and over the contents of my bags, determined to not forget a thing. I paced the floor, held my cats and said my goodbyes to a place I called home for the past 13 years. I cried as I sat on the cold toilet seat one last time. The crying was a relief, letting go of what I found uncomfortable in order to make room for the inconveniences I would experience here in Vietnam. The crying was also from disbelief that I was actually making this move. I use to sit in an office day after day thinking about a day like this. Needless to say, I was quite overwhelmed with my own decisions.

My best girlfriend took off from work to drive K and I to the airport. My heart was heavy leaving her. She had been through so much in the past two years and fortunate for us our friendship grew stronger as we leaned on one another for support through some stressful times. Curbside goodbyes are never the best, but that is what we had to do. K stuck with me and my huge bag and assisted me at check in.

before purchasing another piece luggage

Check in was just a preview of what was to come…Because of weight requirements I needed to purchase another bag to check. It was urgent to take care of this as I must have been on the last AirChina flight from SFO, they were closing the ticket gates. After being directed to a proper luggage store, K helped me repack my suitcases. Time ticked away too fast.

K bought me a sandwich before heading through security which I needed to get to in order to call my parents before boarding the plane. Our good-bye was rushed and way too short. I wish that as I was leaving and even planning this trip I had had more time with her. Time was sliding through the universe, slipping through my hands and conscious. Without my insulin pump I went through security with ease. I slipped my Chacos back on and rushed to the gate.  I called the last of my last people and set the phone to airplane mode. The 747 was packed to the gills. A flying Chinatown. I ate my sandwich and settled back to watch The Lincoln Lawyer which my buddy Rob luckily loaded up on my computer. After the movie I slept.

13 hours later we landed in Beijing. It might have been fog we landed in, but I feel it was otherwise. Once inside the terminal we made our way toward the connecting flight. This airport is immense, pointlessly. Maybe ten percent of the airport is actually used. It seems that they insisted on parking the planes at the furthest gate creating a long distance to do anything. We were very late and even if we landed on time and hour is not nearly enough to make a connecting flight. The lines for transfer and immigration were tremendous and confusing. Two of us missed our connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh City due to the plane’s delay. We needed new boarding passes and to reheck our luggage, if we wound it.

There was another man who had been redirected by AirChina. He was originally suppose to have a direct flight to Hong Kong, but was sent through Beijing. He was trying to get home to see his dying mother. He ended up having to get a hotel room to wait for his next flight out the next morning. We ended up banding together through the confusion and headed through immigration together and looked for our bags, which luckily were still spinning around on the carousel. He left us to go to his hotel and H (a nice young woman from a small town in Pennsylvania) stuck with me as we navigated the immense airport to check back into our flight, now to Singapore and then HCMC. I am so grateful to have been in that situation with her. She’s a seasoned traveler and I was able to gain a little strength from her attitude. I think we both agree, though, to avoid AirChina.

We waited for our flight to Singapore checking mobile access.I was able to send texts to K and let her know a bit of what was happening. I didn’t find  place to charge my laptop though. I really wanted to watch another movie on the next flight, but figured I would try to get as much sleep as possible. I didn’t feel tired, but I totally feared the effects of jet lag and I wanted to do whatever I could to lessen it’s effects. It wasn’t a bad flight. It was another 8 hours I think, or at least it felt that way. I began watching 4 Lions but the accents were hard to understand through my headphones. Then the battery died. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep some more. I was also obsessed with staying hydrated. A week before leaving for my trip I had another corneal erosion. They are the most painful things. I know I have tattoos and all, but when the pain is close or in my head, I have a hard time tolerating it. Upon some research I learned that hydration plays a large part in this condition. I chugged water and added hydration tables to help me absorb said water (thanks Alma).

H and I made it to Singapore without any visible scars, mine are emotional, and were able to get boarding passes and make some internet contact with people. We both took turns watching each others bags as we did some self care. I found a Burger King and had a whopper meal for breakfast. They gave us change in Singapore dollar which I promptly spent at the Starbucks on the way to our gate. The airport and it’s employees are so awesome. Once we had landed from China there was someone at the gate with an iPad to give us information as to where to go for flights and tickets. Purchasing our tickets we found that our boarding passes didn’t list a gate. Another young man was able to check his iPad and show us on our way. Walking through the airport they list the time it will take to walk to the next gate or bathroom.

If possible make your flight arrangements with Singapore Airlines. The planes are nice and clean. They hand out warm towels as you take your seat. The fight attendants are not just good looking, they are fine…and they smile. No one in China smiles. The food was much better and we had real silverware to use. I watched TV on this leg of the flight. Anthony Bourdain in Cambodia, which I have seen like ten times. Watching it this time was totally different. I became more and more anxious as we began to make our descent. I had long missed my flight from HCMC to Da Nang. I knew once I landed I would need to buy a new ticket. Not a problem, I was just playing it by ear at this point. H stayed with me through the visa processing and we headed out to get our bags.

H met up with her fiance, a Vietnamese national, and I headed to the domestic terminal fighting off taxi drivers trying to convince me of a ride…the terminal was a three minute walk. I pushed my cart of bags to a ticket counter and got my ticket to Da Nang. The flight was full except for business class. Hell, I needed to get there, and why not fly in a bit of style the last leg. It cost me just over a 100 bucks to do that. Ticket bought and bags checked in they told me to run to my gate, which I did. I showed my passport and boarding pass and was led to a shuttle that would take me to the plane. I sat on the shuttle a little confused. I asked an older man if I was on the right shuttle for the flight to Da Nang. He said yes and we began to talk.

He asked me my business. He told me he was a factory owner who worked in Saigon, but was from Da Nang. He flies in and out of HCMC weekly for his work. We exchanged business cards and the first thing he mentioned was to get a SIM card. I needed a phone number. We spoke the whole way to the plane. I disembarked the shuttle and rifled through my cargo pocket for my passport and boarding pass. Shit! They were gone. I stood to the side as the shuttles for both business and economy classes left to return back to the terminal. It had been my habit to place my paperwork in my right cargo pocket and I have no idea how it didn’t make it back there when I was at the gate. I stood at the bottom of the stairs with about 6 to 7 airline employees standing around me helping me go through my back pack and looking in places I know I didn’t put my passport, but just in case. Once the last person was on the plane they asked me, “Do you want to go back or fly?” I told them fly.

I needed to get to Da Nang. I had made it that far I needed to go on. I was so disappointed in myself to have made it this far and I effed up so bad. I spent the next hour brushing off the feeling with a Heinekin and pineapple and prosciutto sandwich. An hour later I was claiming my bags and then reporting to the airline my missing passport. After haggling for a cab ride I made it to my hotel.  I wasn’t tired, but I laid down to rest a bit.I struggled with the fact that I lost my passport. I began to feel queasy at the thought of what to do next…I called Hiep, the business man I met on the shuttle. He told me he knew someone at the airlines and he would do some questioning. The problem was that the next day, Friday, was a national holiday. Everything was going to be closed. I decided to hunker down and relax the first night. Grateful to have a contact, I settled in to look at the places I marked on my Google maps and try to devise a plan for the rest of the weekend.
 I wish Bunny(K) was here with me. I took out my bag of trailmix she had hurriedly mixed for me and turned on the TV. I laid back turning the AC up to high and waited to skype with K and then fall asleep. Heading to Hanoi by overnight bus as this is being published to get a new passport.

The last goodbyes…


Growing up with such an intense feeling of otherness, I have found that I allowed that otherness to be a wedge between certain relationships. At the same time I found people who embraced me and that otherness. I have been blessed to always have the most beautiful people to love me and hold me up. At the very start of my blooming, as late as it was, I made the acquaintance of a beautiful young woman whose eyes are half moons when she smiles. We met at QSU at UCSB. She is interesting, intelligent, empathetic and strong willed. She really believes in living. I am very proud of our friendship. She is one of a handful of sisters I have. (Shout out to Andrea and Alicia) I am really going to miss them.

Ileana took me out last weekend. We saw The Coup at the Independent. It was a badass show. I had no idea of what I was walking into and after speaking to a Chris H. I feel like an ass for not knowing about them sooner. He’s from Philly, so he’s cool like that. It was the best show I have ever gone to, with the exception of seeing the Gotan Project at the Warfield. I was so happy to be there with her. I am going to miss these types of shows while living abroad. I’ve been spoiled living two blocks from the Independent.

This band from Oakland made some hardcore, rock/funk tunes that made your feet and knees hurt from dancing on the concrete floor. One of my pet peeves is people who don’t know their own space while dancing, but that night I just rode the positive vibrations.. There were creative lyrics, talented vocalists and awesome DJay, Pam the Funkstess, who spun the records with her ample breasts. That’s right, her boobies. It was such a good show.

Saturday the following day, my buddy, B.O.B.B.Y, and I went to the Art and Soul Festival in Oakland. The Plaza Stage was the brightest, with the best talent. Sisters in the Pit rocked it out. I’d never seen 3 black women rock so hard. I tried to swallow down that this was a significant moment. I wouldn’t be seeing black folks in Vietnam. I also wouldn’t be seeing much funnel cake either. After getting our fill of vitamin D in Oakland we made our way back to North Beach to meet up with more of my people for beer and curry. There was the 630 crew, the Twins, and the Hermans who joined me with a few others for some spicy food and pub games. It was nice to share food and a raucous good time while a gang of super heroes danced around the establishment. The best part of the night was watching the Herman fuse-ball tourney that went in slow motion. I was fascinated by the lack of shit talking during the competition. I’m still not sure which side had won. I was glad to take these moments to catch up with people, talk about possible visits.

A long table full of my buddies was great to see. These are the people I try to share the best of times. These were people I could get down with while dressed as a bunny or a banana. It was really nice. I am blessed with the best spirits surrounding me, evidence of my mother’s prayers. In each of one I see love, goodness and God. It is so hard to believe we will be so far from each other.

Sigh, I love you guys.