Damn, I have gotten so sorry about blogging (see my comments about my increasing laziness below). I tried to rally a few days ago, but when I typed for an hour and then hit “publish” only to see my blog post disappear into the ether forever, it kind of took the wind out of my sails. And believe me when I say that that post was hilarious. Hilarious! Definitely the funniest thing I have ever written or even conceived of – and probably the funniest thing ever written by any human being in the history of mankind. It’s my loss, it’s your loss – let’s be honest here, it’s humanity’s loss. Anyway, it’s gone. I don’t have an hour to try to recapture even a portion of the timeless magic that was that post, so I won’t even try. (Well, actually, I have an hour. I have several if I want them. It’s Sunday morning and I am sitting in the Gloria Jean’s cafe with absolutely nothing planned for the day but chilling. So maybe I’ll type for an hour. Or four. But I doubt it.)
So, off the top of my head:
I am getting very excited about my trip there on April 25th. The good news is I have my visa already. It’s supposed to be a relatively difficult place to get a visa if you go through the ordinary government channels, but you can hire a private company with the appropriate “connections,” and pay $75 instead of $20 and it makes the process a lot easier. So I did that.
They email you a list of 16 questions (with subparts) that you have to answer, and you email those answers and a copy of your passport back to them and they get you your visa. The 16 questions were very detailed and also interesting. “Your father’s name?” Why do they need my father’s name? “Your physical description: (a) height, (b) weight, (c) hair color, (d) eye color, (e) skin color, (f) complexion?” I guess I understand that they would like as much identifying information about you as possible, but I’ve never had to fill that out on a visa application before. Also, they have the copy of your passport photo, so seems kind of unnecessary. Of course I answered “6’8″, 365 lbs., black, brown, black, cystic acne” to the above. Got to keep the junta on their toes! Hah!
They also ask you what your occupation is, which is a legitimate question. But I’d done some advanced reading and it turns out the government will only let certain people into the country. If you put down “journalist” your visa application is automatically denied. I wasn’t sure what to put – I didn’t want to put “teacher” because civil unrest, protests, etc., always seems to involve students in some capacity, and I didn’t want to raise the specter of me going there to work with some dissident student group or something. Also, “attorney” or “lawyer” were out – they would probably think I was some ACLU or Human Rights Watch attorney or something. I stuck with “business consultant,” which could mean pretty much anything. Or nothing. Which is kind of the point.
Anyway, it worked because I received my visa. So I fly out of HCMC on April 25th, spend one night in Bangkok (probably just at a hotel near the airport b/c I get in late and leave for Myanmar early the next morning). I fly into Yangon (Rangoon) on the morning of the 26th, spend the nights of the 26th and 27th in Yangon, then take a train from Yangon to Mandalay on the 28th. Spend the nights of the 28th and 29th in Mandalay, then take the ferry (if there is one) from Mandalay to Bagan on the 30th. (There may be no ferry because (a) it’s the extreme low point of the tourist season there, (b) they don’t have very many tourists going there right now anyway, and (c) the Irrawaddy River on which the ferry runs may not have enough water in it to support the ferry. It’s actually pretty sweet that it’s the low tourist season. First, I don’t really like to be around other tourists. I think that is a fairly common sentiment of the expats living here – we don’t mind being around each other, but we tend to avoid the tourists. Now in Myanmar, I am a tourist myself – but that doesn’t mean that I want to be around other tourists. Also, I have to admit that even in Vietnam, I sometimes take advantage of the fact that I am going to look like a tourist no matter how long I live here or what I do. For example, when I first moved here, I would never wear shorts unless I was at the gym, pool, beach, etc. The adult Vietnamese don’t really wear shorts – some do, but not many – and I wanted to be ultra-respectful of their culture, etc. But then I realized two things: (1) it’s hot as hell here – which didn’t really take me too long to realize. I had a pretty good idea of that by, say, July 14th when I first walked out of the airport; and (2) the tourists all wear shorts and the Vietnamese think I am a tourist anyway, so what’s the point of trying to “blend in.”)
Anyway, I’ll spend a couple of nights in Bagan, then back to Mandalay for one night before catching a train to a mountain town called Pyin Oo Lwin. I’m going there just so I can say for the rest of my life “Aww yeah, like that time I was chillin’ in Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar.” Seriously, the main reason I’m going there is because the train ride up there is supposed to be really scary – goes straight up a mountain doing switchbacks the whole way up and sometimes if you put your head out of your window on the train, you’re looking straight down the cliff! Also, POL (as all the cool people call it) is supposed to be very beautiful itself. We’ll see. After Pyin Oo Lwin, I go back to Mandalay for my fight to Yangon on the morning of May 5th – my flight back to HCMC (again via Bangkok) is later on the 5th. And I’ll start back teaching on the 6th.
My favorite thing about Myanmar – so far, considering that I haven’t been there yet, is that I asked my friend Thao how to say Myanmar in Vietnamese. She said it’s “Nuoc Mien Dien.” I asked her if that meant anything in Vietnamese and she said “Nuoc” means country – which I knew, like America is Nuoc My – “Mien” is a type of noodle, and “Dien” means electric. So I said “You mean I’m going somewhere called ‘Country of the Electric Noodle.” And she said “Yes.” I love that! Why in the hell they would call Myanmar Country of the Electric Noodle I have no idea, but I love it! I want a t-shirt that says “Electric Noodle Land” – it sounds like a bad Jimi Hendrix song. (I also want two t-shirts in Vietnamese, one which says “Ngheo, Do va Gia” – which means “Poor, Dirty and Old.” I don’t really know why I want that one – I think because the Vietnamese don’t really understand self-effacing humor. They seem to be big on “face” and impressing others, etc., so why someone would wear a shirt advertising themselves as “Poor, Dirty and Old” would probably blow their minds. The other shirt will say “Dau Bu” – which means “Big Head” but which is a Vietnamese insult for someone that is not very smart. It’s apparently used for children a lot. Someone told me that even though it translates to English directly as “big head,” the English equivalent is more like “water head.” Anyway.)
Okay, enough about Myanmar.
I am continuing to enjoy teaching a lot. My commercial law class had their midterm exam on Friday. I had to “invigilate” 72 of the 230 total students taking commercial law this semester while they were taking the exam – which sounds very sinister – “I hate to tell you this, but I am going to have to invigilate you.” – but is just the Australian word for “monitor,” apparently. Another teacher, an assistant, and I invigilated the hell out of those 72 students, let me assure you. I didn’t see anything that looked remotely like cheating – but I did see a lot of puzzled looks and a lot of shaking of hands in the air after the students had been writing frantically for an hour or so. It brought back some lovely memories of law school and bar exams. There were two questions – one on common law negligence and one on the Australian Trade Practices Act – which is kind of a defective products/consumer protection statute in Australia. We teach Australian law because RMIT is an Australian school and Australia uses the British common law system just like the U.S., England, etc. It might make more sense to teach Vietnamese students Vietnamese law, but the idea as it’s been related to me is that they will be working for or with foreign companies so they need to have a general idea of the British common law system and the legal concepts it uses. (Or maybe, and probably more likely, the teachers – myself included – are probably here teaching law because they were burned out on actually practicing it wherever they’re from and so the last thing they want to do is to have to learn yet another legal system – Vietnamese.) Anyway, I have to grade the second question about the Trade Practices Act for all 230 students in the next 10 days or so, so that will involve a fair bit of work.
I’m staying pretty busy with my job. My schedule is not that intensive as far as actual hours teaching goes, but there is a lot of other stuff that goes along with that really does eat up a lot of time. Also, I’m trying to go above and beyond this first semester to make sure my contract is picked up – because the next contract will be for a whole year instead of just one three-month semester.
My other classes – two business case studies classes – had to give their midterm presentations this week. They researched the organizational deisgn aspects of companies like Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Yamaha, HSBC Bank, etc., and presented in class. Some of the teams did excellent jobs. Most did reasonably decent jobs. A couple bombed completely. I try to be fair – I realize how hard it is to do detailed research and make a presentation in a second language – but if it was obvious that the students didn’t really do any work and didn’t really have an understanding of the material, I have no choice but to ding them.
I’m starting to get to know some of my students better. They’re pretty shy and take a long time to warm up to you – I think the traditional teacher-student relationship in Vietnam is very formal. But I like a lot of them. They’re actually pretty funny and have good senses of humor. I try to make my classes fun and interesting – which is easier in law than in business case studies. But overall, it’s been a great experience – and I think it will only get easier in subsequent semesters since I will have already gone through the material once, will know what works in class and what doesn’t, etc.
Since I mentioned my Uncle Creagh’s surgery on here, I wanted to give a quick update. He had the surgery on the 26th, and it was a very serious operation – more serious than I think I realized it would be beforehand. He had some scares after the surgery, but is apparently stable now and doing well. He’s still in intensive care and will be there for a few more days, but it sounds like the worst is behind him. Needless to say, our family is all very relieved and happy that it went well. I know you’re probably not doing too much blog reading in the hospital Creagh, but if/when you ever read this, I’m glad everything went well and I hope you’re 100% better soon!
I Am Lazy as Hell
I don’t know what it is, but I have realized that I am starting to get very lazy over here. Maybe I’m just acclimating to the tropical climate, but whatever it is, I am turning into a bum. I had some pain in my right hip for a while – I think I was overdoing it on the running a little bit, so I haven’t been running for about 10 days – or doing anything else remotely similar to exercise. I can still feel the pain in my hip a little bit, but not enough to keep me from running, so I need to get back to it.
Also, I haven’t had any coffee since last Saturday – so about 8 days now. I have been drinking a lot of green tea – which has nowhere near the amount of caffeine in it that the lattes I was drinking had, so I think that is making me feel lazy too. I had gotten used to “spiking up” on caffeine first thing in the morning and then sporadically throughout the day to maintain it, and now plain old green tea and whatever energy level I naturally carry that are having to bear the full load. The idea is I will wean myself off of the green tea too after a while, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
But I am seriously lazy. Sunday is the only day that I am really completely off of work over here – I am technically off Sunday and Monday, but on Monday I have my Vietnamese lesson and I have to prepare for the next week of classes, etc., so it doesn’t feel like an off day. Anyway, the point is that I have gotten where I don’t make any plans at all for Sunday – I just keep it completely open so if I just feel like sleeping late, vegging out all day, watch a movie, play some Xbox, etc., I can do it. I feel a little guilty because I should be out exploring this crazy city, etc. – and I am out doing that a lot of days – but I also relish just being able to do nothing much. And I’ve also started taking naps. I sound like a grandfather or something, but some days during the week, I have a class in the morning and then not again until late in the afternoon, and after lunch I will go home and sleep for 30 minutes or an hour, then go back to work. That’s pretty damn lazy.
The only other time I’ve done that was when I worked at a technology company in Atlanta called Radiant Systems back in 2001. I had very little work to do there – I seriously think I could have gotten all of my work for the week done in one day – so I was bored a lot. I lived in my buddy Alex’s house right across the street from work, so some days after work I would walk home, sleep for an hour, then walk back to work. Rarely did anyone ever ask me where I’d been or say they’d been looking for me or anything – including my immediate supervisor – whose cubicle was two cubicles down from my own. The few times he did ask me where I’d been, I’d just say “In a meeting,” and he’d go, “Oh, okay.” I’ve never worked anywhere that held more meetings – everybody in that place was meeting with everybody else all of the time – so “in a meeting” was about the best excuse I could have had and he never asked “With who?” fortunately.
This is also bringing back memories of my second day on the job at the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta in 2002 (immediately after my Radiant Systems gig). The night after my first day at the EPA, my old roommate Dave and I went out to $3 pitcher night at Moe’s in Virginia-Highlands. I drank way too much and was sick as a dog the next day. I had to go to work – it was my second day on the job. I got to my office and shut the door – thankfully I wasn’t in a cubicle – but I was so sick that I threw up in my garbage can in my office (and later had to carry the garbage bag from my office down to the men’s bathroom). What I really needed to do was sleep – but my door didn’t lock and I didn’t want to be sleeping there at my desk and have my boss or someone walk in on me. So what I did was to lay down on the floor with my feet against the door – so no one could barge in on me. I slept like that for a while and then I said “To hell with it,” and got up and just left work. I drove home and slept for a couple of hours then drove back. Thankfully, no one had been looking for me during my absence. So I really started that job out on the right foot!
(Some of my former coworkers at MMM will also remember the time I came to work and could do nothing but sleep on Gerald’s couch for a couple of hours before I finally gave up and went home. You know when you walk through the door and people immediately start telling you “You look terrible,” that it’s going to be a rough day.)
Anyway, the point of all of this is I am getting very lazy, so if I come home in October about 30 pounds heavier and don’t do anything but lay around eating potato chips and drooling on myself, at least you’re being warned in advance.
My dad is supposed to be coming here in June now. He was coming in February, but had to cancel his trip when I got this new job and wouldn’t have been able to hang out with him very much while he was here. My semester break is in June, so he’s coming then and that should be a fun trip.
I am trying to get my mom and stepdad to come in December. They are thinking about it – more seriously now than before, I think, and I hope they will come. My stepdad is all for it, but my mom is a little wary. I think once she gets over here, she will realize that it’s no big deal and will have a good time, but I think the whole idea of traveling to Vietnam is a little intimidating to her. She also doesn’t really like to fly, so a 25-hour flight is not that attractive to her. I told her she could knock out about 10 hours of it with sleeping pills, but she said she doesn’t want to be groggy for a day or two after she gets here. I said “You’re going to be so jetlagged when you get here that you’re going to be groggy whether you take a sleeping pill or not!” So anyway, I hope they will be here for Christmas.
My friend Michelle (who used to live in my condo building in Atlanta but now lives in NYC) was going to come in May in connection with a trip to China for work, but her trip to China has been put off, so she won’t be here in May). My friends Will and Ashley were going to come in June but are not coming now. My friend Sharla may come for Thanksgiving, but that’s about the only other trip on the horizon right now. So if you want to come see me in Vietnam, come on over!
I’ve been told by Tim that the flag I bought about the “Armed defense forces, Hue, 1969,”or whatever is 100% certainly fake. I said “But it looks old,” and Tim said he’s personally been to the factory where they soak new flags in tea to make them look old, have Vietnamese workers scrubbing new zippo lighters with steel wool to make them look old, etc. Oh well. I still think the map I bought is legit, but who knows?
Okay, I am having a hard time thinking of anything else to mention, so I guess I will sign off here. I think I did type for more than hour. I guess I need to get out of this cafe so I can go resume my laziness.
Sorry again for the infrequent posting. I’ll try to get better! I hope everyone is doing well.
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