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40 Years

It's a big day here, so I shouldn't let it pass without somehow commemorating it, but it's always a day of mixed emotions for people from "South Vietnam."

As you probably know, what Americans call the "Vietnam War" ended on April 30, 1975. (From what I've read on Facebook recently — sort of ashamed I didn't have this memorized — Mom, Khoi and I left on April 13 (possibly April 12? EDIT: No, it was mid-March), and Dad left on April 22.) This day has been celebrated as a holiday in Vietnam ever since, going by various names: "Victory Day," "Liberation of the South Day," or the more politically gentle "Reunification Day," which seems to be currently in vogue. This year is the 40th anniversary of Reunification, so there have been some major celebrations throughout the country.

I had heard that the ceremonies in Hanoi were going to be toned-down this year (no need to gloat), while the focus would be in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, with an emphasis on the "wholeness" of the country and, importantly, the 40 years of peace. (Well, if you ignore the other wars and skirmishes that Vietnam has been involved in — but those were relatively short-lived, and there hasn't been anything major in at least 25 years. So... anyway.)

The Prime Minister was down here today, and presumably many other government bigwigs, and they had a huge parade downtown, ending fittingly at the "Reunification Palace," which was formerly the "White House" of South Vietnam, and is where the tank symbolically crashed through the gate on April 30, 1975, and ended the war. I intended to go watch the parade, but it started at 7 a.m. and I had trouble waking up, and by the time I drove down there, it was over. I saw a bit of it on TV, and I also saw some of the preparation in the weeks leading up to it. For a celebration of peace, they seemed to have a lot of uniformed military people involved — though they were mostly dancing, so it wasn't too threatening.

There were also fireworks at night, and I did get to see those, though I had to drive a little ways to get a clear view. (And it was still a bit obscured.)

There's a lot to say about this day, but I don't know if I have the capacity to say anything worth reading. It's an interesting time. We lost. We fled the country. The "bad guys" took over. Everything REALLY sucked for about 15 years. But then things started to get better. And people started to forgive. And people started to come back. And people started to have more freedom — to study, to work, to travel, to use Facebook. To not be starving. And the Vietnam of 2015 is really not a bad place at all. Sure, there's corruption, and there's massive inequality, and many people are still struggling and suffering, but I feel that the overall "happiness" level is reasonably high. It's a safe place to live. It's an exciting place to live. It's a place where you feel like next year will be better than this year, and the year after that will be even better...

I sometimes try to imagine what would happen if April 30th hadn't happened — or if the U.S./South Vietnam would have won. Would there still be two countries? Would there have been a peaceful merger? Would things have ended up better? Or worse? Maybe it's pointless to even think about it. What happened, happened. And, despite the tragedy of lost lives and years, the ending isn't nearly as bad as it could've been. The young generation of Vietnamese, now that they're not worried so much about survival, are starting to get politically active. They've already made the government reverse some of their plans. Maybe the whole Communist regime will fade away. (But, again, will what comes next be better?)


On to some personal things...

I haven't written since Tết, which was now more than two months ago. To recap my "Tết resolutions":

1. I finished War and Peace over the last holiday. That was a source of immense relief. When I start a book, I need to finish it, and that one made me feel guilty for more than a year. But then I quickly jumped into another project: Reading the entire (available) works of L. Frank Baum. They're much easier than War and Peace, but there are a lot of them.

2. I'm using my iPhone 6. You've possibly seen photos taken with it.

3. I got my suitpants hemmed, and have worn one of my suits twice. (I haven't worn the other one yet.)


This week has been another holiday week. There is, as usual, the April 30-May 1 (International Labor Day) combo, but this year Hùng Vương (Hung Kings — the founders of the country) Day fell on April 28 as well, because Tết came so late this year and pushed it back. I hadn't really realized that Hùng Vương Day was a lunar holiday. I guess I thought it was a "third Thursday in March" kind of thing, but it's not. So there were three holidays this week, and most government agencies turned April 29 into a holiday, too, by working on the previous Saturday. My company (the intellectual property side) followed that schedule as well, so I took the Saturday option and I am now in the middle of six straight days off. Of course, I didn't plan very well, so I'm still in the city. I thought about going to Korea to visit Jim LV, but didn't get tickets in time because some other things were in flux.


Last Sunday, my friend Flora had a farewell barbecue at her fancy apartment complex. (She's not actually leaving Vietnam, just quitting her job and moving to a different apartment.) It was very interesting to find myself in the company of a continuum of "Vietnamese-ness": Flora, like me, is half-Vietnamese. There were, of course, full-Vietnamese people there. But there was also a 1/4-Vietnamese, 3/4-French guy, and a 1/4-French, 3/4-Vietnamese woman. So we had a Vietnamese rainbow. I hit it off pretty well with both of them. I think we "mixed" people have a kind of — what's the word for when you are naturally inclined to like someone? — affinity? something else? for each other.


Random anecdote from a few weeks ago: I went to lunch with a friend/colleague who had some friends visiting from Hanoi. There were three women, and their names were Han, Hanh, and Hang. Now, in Vietnamese, these are actually three distinct vowels and three different tones, so they're not THAT confusing, but those are pretty darn similar for novices. And I can't remember which was which.

Holiday mode

I haven't posted here in a while. I guess it's time to give my dad something new to send random comments to a year later.

After shutting down my computer and leaving work today (before dark!), I am now officially on Tet holiday. This lasts for one week now -- for my company, it's the last day of the old lunar year (Wednesday this year) and the first four days of the new lunar year, plus "in lieu" days if those days fall on the weekend. Other companies, including our office building management, take a whole Monday-Friday week off (effectively a 9-day vacation), so our building has been very empty this week.

As usual, I have been lax in planning for the holiday and at this point it's very difficult to get tickets anywhere (or, rather, to get back from those places -- I was hoping to get to Danang but there isn't a single ticket available to return to Saigon, on three airlines, from Sunday to Thursday). I may end up saying in Saigon for the entire break. Not the worst place to be.

My "big plans" so far include:

* Finally finishing mother-effing War and Peace. I feel like I've been reading it for more than a year, and it's a bit of a slog. But I'm in the home stretch now. Only about 400 iBooks landscape pages left. If it was more compelling reading, I could finish that in a day.

* Finally starting to use the iPhone 6 that I bought when I was home for Christmas. I have not even taken it out of the box yet. It's still sealed. I guess I had a bit of buyer's remorse over spending that much money on a phone. I'm not a phone guy, and I worry about carrying around something worth $800 in my pocket every day. (Really, I worry about losing something worth $800.) I had considered selling it when I got back to Vietnam, but I didn't advertise it and now most of the people who really want an iPhone 6 already have one. Plus, my hand-me-down iPhone 4 has a short battery life and some minor issues when used heavily, so I should probably just go ahead and migrate to the new phone.

* Finally getting my suit pants hemmed. Or maybe not.

Kinda scary

I know plane crashes are rare, and this Asiana crash in San Francisco was "minor" compared to how much worse it could have been (that's no consolation to the families of the two fatalities). But when it's an airline you've flown, and an airport that you've spent more time in than any other (probably), it really hits home. I may have even been on this exact same Flight 214 once.

So... I'm flying home across the Pacific in 4 weeks on United Airlines, via Hong Kong and Chicago. Frankly, that sounds a lot riskier than Asiana, via Incheon and San Francisco. But the odds are still in my favor, right?

Chúc mừng Ngày 4 Tháng 7!

EDIT: Fixed Vietnamese spelling mistake in header

The Labor Code of Vietnam legislates two extra holidays per year for expat employees: one day for their cultural New Year (Jan. 1 is already a holiday in Vietnam, so this is nullified for me), and one day for their country's National Day (the Fourth of July for me). My company allowed me to defer this day until later in the year, so I opted to go to work today instead of taking a random, isolated Thursday off to sit around at home doing nothing.

Here's how I celebrated the 237th birthday of the United States of God Bless America:

• Lunch with Annika at Burger King — the first time I've been to a Burger King in Vietnam. (They just arrived last year, and I don't often eat fast food here.) It tasted like Burger King.
Domino's Pizza as an afternoon snack at the office. I don't know who ordered these (four different varieties) but it was a nice treat.
• Dinner (pulled pork sandwich) at Texas BBQ in the backpacker area with my American friend Phil and his wife.

That's what I do on American holidays. One guilt-free day of pure American livin'.

When I got home tonight, I saw that the landlord had given me a brand new electric Infrared Cooker to replace my reclaimed gas stove. It looks like this:

High-tech, yeah? Wikki-wikki what! Supposedly it works with any kind of pot. Haven't tried it yet, but apparently this is how it works:

The electric heat stove take use of the far infrared to heat the food. It is especially suitable for the modern family cooking.

This weekend I'll try to make some modern family coffee and ramen.

Second quarter

Well, whaddya know? Everyone's posting here again all of a sudden. I'm sure it won't last, but I'll join the fun for a day. Another "quarter" has just come to an end, so I guess it's time for my check-in anyway, even though I don't really feel like writing right now.

To be honest, 2Q2013 did not live up to my expectations. It was more stressful and sad and malaise-ful, and less productive and edifying, than I had hoped. This doesn't mean it was bad, just that I didn't feel that everything was "clicking" in my world as much as it did in 1Q2013. I wasn't as happy with myself or with my surroundings. A lot of little things happened, but not very many big things. I had two (work) trips to Hanoi, and one (motorbike) trip to Ho Tram, a beach north of Vung Tau, on the long holiday. I turned 41, which is kind of a "who cares?" birthday. I'm experimenting with the New York Times 7-Minute Workout. I'm working my way through every episode of Seinfeld (most of them for the first time). My fantasy baseball team's in a rut.

Yeah, kind of boring.

Random snippets:

* The landlord took away my stove (in-counter with two gas burners) today and replaced it with an electric tea kettle. He said something about the gas being "dangerous," which is probably true. They also installed a smoke detector last week, along with something that is either an emergency light or a hidden camera, at the behest of the local police. I am a little disappointed that my kitchen has become de-kitchenified, but to be honest the electric water boiler fulfills about 75% of my kitchen needs anyway. Mostly I just used the stove to boil water for coffee and to make noodles. The new device should be quicker and easier for coffee, and I can still make noodles the pour-boiling-water-and-let-it-sit way — but how am I going to add the frozen dumplings and fish balls? Maybe I can convince the landlord to give me a microwave. Or an electric stove.

* I got my annual raise in my June paycheck. Another +13%. Pretty good! Although I should note that I am still making significantly less per year than I did 13 years ago working for Excite@Home. Of course, I am also spending half as much. I hardly spend any money at all.

* One costly thing that I did just get pressured into buying is a pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes. The soles on my current shoes have been worn nearly flat by the cement court I usually play on, and that's not a good thing. It can even be dangerous. I considered buying shoes here, but they're hard to find, especially in my size. I mentioned this to one of my new basketball buddies (he's Vietnamese but is taller than me and has even bigger feet than I do) on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning he called me to say that his sister would be coming back from Australia next weekend and she was at the outlet shoe store in Melbourne RIGHT NOW buying shoes for him and did I want her to bring me anything? Then we had a very 2010s (what are we calling this decade?) exchange where his sister took pictures and videos at the store with her iPhone, sent them to his iPhone, and he sent them to my laptop. All this nearly in real-time. And after he went to all this work, I couldn't really say, "Well, I don't think I want any shoes," so I agreed to get a pair that look exactly like this. Some of you probably know that I haven't owned a pair of non-black basketball shoes in more than 20 years, and my modus operandi when shopping for basketball shoes is to buy the cheapest name-brand (Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Converse) black shoes I can find, with no regard to style. And now I'm getting a pair of gray shoes that cost more than $100 (though he stressed that they would cost $50 more if I bought them in Vietnam). I feel so totally-in-your-face and proactive, and unlike me. Maybe it will improve my game, which is definitely not getting better with age.

* I had to proofread a trademark appeal at work last Friday. (What is an appeal? A company tries to register a trademark in Vietnam, the Vietnam authority rejects it for not being distinctive enough, and the company appeals the decision by trying to prove that their trademark is, indeed, distinctive.) One of the arguments prepared by our lawyer for the trademark, for a line of apparel, was that the trademark had become well-known to consumers through advertising in "world-famous fashion magazines like the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and Magazine." Even more ridiculous was the next argument, that the trademark was well-known because of its appearances at "many famous fashion shows around the world such as Undated catwalk and Undated photo shoot." Um, yeah. Someone had some reading comprehension problems.

* Movies seen in the theater: Iron Man 3, Fast & Furious 6 (don't ask!), Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z. Movies seen on DVD/TV: Argo, Iron Man 2: Iron Mannier, Winter's Bone, Source Code, Brave, Your Highness, Wreck-it Ralph, American Reunion

* Books read: Gulp, the only book I've finished in the past three months is The Glory of Their Times, a celebrated book about old-time baseball players. I need to start reading again! I've actually just started re-reading The Great Gatsby, which seriously underwhelmed me the first time I read it (in my mid-20s).

Well, I didn't feel like writing, and yet there's a whole lot of words (maybe I wouldn't call it "writing") up there on the page. See you again in three months.

* Oh, almost forgot to mention — I'm coming home to the U.S. in August. I'll arrive in Grand Rapids on Saturday night, August 3, and will stay through Friday, when I will fly to California for the Huynh Family Reunion and a brief in-state family trip. If you need anything brought back, let me know now.

It is indeed a crazy world

Remember this post from Feb. 24, when I mentioned that I was one song away from having in my possession every single Top 40 (on the Billboard Hot 100) hit from the 1970s and 1980s? The one song remaining was Mac McAnally's "It's A Crazy World," which was not available at the iTunes Store and had only seen a brief release on CD.

I was doing some Christmas surfing on Amazon.com tonight and thought I'd check in again on my old friend Mac, and HOLY FLERKING SCHNIT, his album showed up in the Amazon MP3 Store (not just the regular CD store). I zipped over to the iTunes Store and saw it was there, too. I swear it wasn't as recently as 3 days ago.

Short story even shorter, I bought it. And now my collection is complete. All that's left is upgrading low-quality vinyl transfers and such. I feel triumphant but also a little sad that the 13+ year hunt is over. Now I can either move on to the much harder but more rewarding 1960s, or the easy but dreadful 1990s (actually, only 1995-1998 are required).

Goodbye, September

Crap, now I'm feeling pressure to even blog once a month. It's about 11 p.m. on the last day of September and, predictably, it's been a month since I wrote anything here.

Today (tonight) was Tet Trung Thu, or the Mid-Autumn (or Moon) Festival. This holiday has been described as the Vietnamese Halloween, which isn't quite accurate but I suppose it's close enough. It's a children's holiday, really, revolving around dressing up and harassing people and eating stuff that makes you feel gross.

I spent the evening at Dam Sen Park, which I believe I have probably written about before. It's the Vietnamese version of Disneyland, but even for Vietnam it's decided downscale and cheezy. But fun! They now sell "package" tickets at the entrance that get you in the gate, and also let you go on "all the rides." (Except for the ones marked "Not included in package ticket" once you get into the gate, which is about 20% of them.) I rode the ferris wheel (paid extra), went on a log-flume ride that got me drenched, rode a pedal boat across the lake, went on two separate bumper cars, walked through a very easy house of mirrors, rode the monorail, watched an extremely cheezy "Main Street Electrical Plus Power Rangers" knockoff parade, and ate fried fish balls. Pretty good holiday, if I do say so myself.

Not much else going on here. Baseball season is almost over, and I've been paying close attention to that (Tigers, A's, and fantasy). College football season started with a bang but has quickly become uninteresting. I'll watch the MSU-Michigan game but probably won't bother with waking up early/staying up late for anything else this year.

Work has been very busy for a few weeks, but both of the bosses are in America this week so I'm looking forward to some 9-to-5 days.

I wish I had more to say but I kinda just wanna go to bed. Hello, October!

Not you too, August!

I guess my LiveJournaling has permanently devolved into nothing but end-of-the-month check-ins. August sure went fast. These were the major events:

• I broke my nose playing basketball. I suppose it's more accurate to say some other jackhole broke my nose. I certainly wasn't the one ramming my nose into the back of his head. That's not how you play defense. Facebook tells me that I "didn't break any bones" — despite what the doctors and x-ray told me — so that's a relief!

When you look at my nose now, you can barely notice any difference, but I definitely can feel the crookedness, and I spend a lot of time each day doing so. I never noticed my nose before, but I'm certainly aware of it now. I debated for a week about whether or not I should get surgery to repair it, and ended up doing nothing, partly out of inertia and partly out of a suspicion that the post-surgery recovery stage ("No breathing out of your nose for 10 days!" "Wear a face brace to work!") would be much more damaging to my self-esteem than another 40(?) years with a nose that is a smidge offline. Probably the right decision.

• My friend Stephen (from Toledo/Flagel University/Saigon/UC San Diego/Singapore) came to visit for 10 days and stayed with me. He was looking for a post-MA job in Vietnam but didn't have much luck. Now I hear he will be working in Cambodia. At least he'll still be in the region.

• I finally finished the Complete Project Gutenberg Works of Mark Twain. That's basically everything he ever published, and a lot of things he didn't. (The final hurdle was reading the Complete Letters of Mark Twain, a "book" that was probably longer than any of the others.) I don't remember exactly when I started this project — when I read that first page of The Innocents Abroad — but I believe it took me right around one full year to finish. It was pretty intense. At the moment I probably know more about Mark Twain and his works than anyone you know, so if you've got questions, feel free to ask them before all that knowledge leaks out.

• I traveled to Hanoi last week to help with the quarterly Board of Directors meeting. They're now meeting once a year in Vietnam — last year was Saigon, this year was Hanoi. My main role was creating some historical displays, covering our firm's 120-year history and especially that last four years of expansion in Vietnam. I thought I was missing Hanoi a little, but when I got there I discovered I was wrong. I was still pretty unhappy; not about anything in particular, but that's just the impact Hanoi has on me. It lowers my spirits.

Not a whole lot else is going on. I got excitingly close to first place in our fantasy baseball league, but it turned out to be a mirage, and now I'm fighting to hold on to third. I finally got some pants shortened by a guy whose business was literally a sewing machine set up on the sidewalk. I still haven't gone to the dentist, even though I have a chipped filling that is annoying to eat with. I loaned a friend 35 million VND. I haven't bought a car or much of anything else. I'm not playing tennis. Check back in this space in one month, maybe I'll have more to write about!

Goodbye, June

I haven't posted here since before I turned 40 ("A decade ago," by sportswriter math) but I didn't want to leave June completely blank and July is coming oh-so-quickly, so here's a late month check-in.

Tomorrow morning I am flying up to Nha Trang, where I will serve as the official scorer for the first two days of an international youth baseball tournament organized by my boss. On Monday morning I will fly back to Saigon and will go straight to the office. (Actually, I will probably stop at home and change my clothes.) I'm looking forward to the trip, but I think it will be pretty baseball-heavy and I don't know if I'll have much time to go to the beach or do any other tourist things.

The other big news, which most or all of you already know about, is that I will be coming back to Michigan next month to help the Linebaugh family be duly honored at the Ionia Free Fair, and hopefully do some other things too. Jason and Khoi and Karla will be back too, and it will be the first time we have all been together since... Wow, I don't know. Khoi's wedding? Maybe there was a Christmas in there somewhere. I'll be home from July 20 to July 27. Let me know if you want anything (legal) brought back from Vietnam.

As far as everything else, things are going well. I'm comfortable in my apartment, I enjoy my co-workers, I like living in Saigon a million times better than living in Hanoi. I actually have had a lot of things to write about but haven't been writing. Maybe July will be different.

Apartment Illustrated

I've been in my apartment for a week now, and I've got most of my possessions moved in, though the kitchen is still pretty bare. I'm pretty happy with it so far, though I'd like to make a few improvements.

I took some pictures over the weekend and posted a new Flickr set so you can see how it looks.

As usual, I've put the story in the descriptions, so please page through one by one if you have the time. I'll try to post more about my new life soon.