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Sat, Jun. 13th, 2009, 01:30 pm

There is a small group of little Khmer kids that beg at a highway intersection that I pass on my way to work. As is often the case, they carry babies with them. The other day I noticed one girl around 8 years old wandering through the crowd of bikes stopped at the light. She was waving her plastic begging bowl around with one hand. The other hand was helping to support a little baby tied to her body with a kroma knotted and looped like a sling. The baby was too small to be able to walk yet but it was holding a plastic bag with a straw sticking out of it and closed with a rubber band. This is a very common and cheap method of getting drinks "to go" in Vietnam. What was the baby drinking? Not milk, which would come in a pasteurized tetrapak box. Not even cheap, 5 cents a pint soy milk being sold nearby. It was coffee. Black coffee.

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Wed, Mar. 18th, 2009, 04:22 pm
Blisters... Of ROCK!

My fingertips are getting tougher. They don't hurt anymore but they do feel unusually warm after playing guitar. I learned three more chords today, which doubles my chord knowledge to six. I can now play three major chords (G, C, and D) and three minor chords (Em, Am, and Dm). When I strummed E minor for the first time, I thought "Holy shit! Pink Floyd!" I guess David Gilmour and Roger Waters used that chord a lot because it really reminds me of Pink Floyd. My progress seems to be much faster than I expected it to be. Maybe I have a talent for this and never knew it before now.

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Sun, Mar. 15th, 2009, 01:00 pm

Yesterday, my fingertips hurt a bit. Today, they just feel a little numb like I'm wearing rubber gloves but the numbness is only on the very tips of my fingers. It's not debilitating but I can't imagine performing surgery in this condition. I wonder how Buckaroo Banzai does it.

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Sat, Mar. 14th, 2009, 11:01 pm

I bought an electric guitar and amp on Friday. I got it from a small shop packed with guitars and stacks of guitar parts. It's a knockoff of a Fender but I bought it from the man who made it. I've practiced for a while on Friday and Saturday night. I can tune the guitar, play the chromatic scale, and I know three chords (G, C, and D if you're keeping score). My fingertips are sore and I'm still very slow at changing from one note or chord to the next, but I'm pretty impressed with my progress after only a couple of days. I need to get some headphones for the amp so I can practice without disturbing the neighbors (and advertising my beginner status).

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Sun, Mar. 8th, 2009, 08:51 pm

I went to Singapore in December and bought a 32 gig iPod touch while I was there. Now that I can post to my LJ from almost anywhere, I'm going to start updating more often.

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Tue, Apr. 22nd, 2008, 12:53 pm
Any questions?

If you have some questions, feel free to post them here.

Thu, Feb. 14th, 2008, 02:08 pm
Another Tet...

We went to Ha Noi for Tet again this year. It was very cold. It was only 50F, which doesn't sound too cold, but there is no relief from it. In America right now, there is a lot of snow and cold weather where my family is but they have heated buildings. It is warm inside. They go out into the cold for a few minutes, get into an icy car, and then drive for a few minutes and they are warm again. They don't have to spend every minute of every day in that low temperature. This is northern Vietnam's coldest winter in 10 years. They aren't prepared for this weather. There are no furnaces or insulation in the buildings and most of the windows don't have glass. There isn't a strict dividing line between indoors and outdoors: houses are built around airy courtyards and verandas, balconies and windows with wooden shutters to hold out the rain but not the breeze. It's usually very nice when the weather is warm, but now it means that everyone has to wear three or four sweaters and a jacket in the house to keep warm.

Many people now buy "bánh chưng" (traditional sticky rice cake filled with pork and green bean and wrapped in banana leaves) from the market, but my mother-in-law still makes them herself. I spent most of a day feeding a small fire under a big pot of water to boil a dozen of these heavy cakes. That was a warm day because I got to be by the fire all day.

My niece, Van Khanh, is three now and she spends her days running around the house bundled up like an eskimo. She can talk a lot more than she could last year and she really likes giving me orders. Before each meal, she would come shout at me to come down and eat. Sometimes she would come to me and grab one of my fingers in each of her tiny hands and pull to try to force me to follow her downstairs with repeated cries of "Chú xuống ăn cơm. Xuống đi! Xuống đi!" Every morning she would stand outside the door of our room and demand that I wake up and play with her. "Chú dậy đi! Dậy đi! Dậy điiiiiiiii!" The "đi" on the end of the sentence makes it imperative. Most of the sentences I hear directed at me end in "đi". Last year, she wasn't too sure of me and she was a little afraid. This year, she was always trying to stand next to me or lean on me.

We went to visit my mother-in-law's side of the family in the quiet little town of Bắc Ninh, where we met one of her cousins, a very old woman. After chatting for a while, we went for a walk with the old lady to see a few other people and then we came back to her house to have lunch (our second lunch of the day, but we couldn't really refuse). Her husband had come home while we were out and he was really happy to see us. I think he was the one that insisted that we stay for lunch. This old man sat on the floor next to me during lunch and he kept putting his arm on my shoulders and patting my leg like we were good friends. He kept wanting to drink rice "wine" with me (a weird fluorescent yellow concoction resembling Mountain Dew that came from a 5 liter plastic jug that looks like it once held automotive fluids). We drank several cups together. After lunch, we went back to the coffee table for tea and coffee. He made me a cup of coffee and then he asked to take some pictures together when he saw Ninh taking out her camera to take pictures of some of the cute kids that were in the house. We went out on the steps in front of the house so he could stand on the step and not be so short next to me. He put his arm around me and pressed his smiling wrinkled face against my shoulder like a happy kid. Then he put on his nice coat and came back to take another picture. He seemed so happy that I thought he was about to start crying. He shook my hand a lot and gave me a hug before I left. He was in the military before he retired. He doesn't speak a word of English, but I know the word for "army" and I could see the photo of him in his uniform in the display case next to the coffee table. When he explained that he was in the army, he mimed using a rifle. I think he's seen many Americans before me, but I'm the first one that he didn't have to kill. I sat in his house and ate and drank with him in peace like a family member and that made him really happy.

We're back in Sai Gon now. It's tough to go back to work after two weeks of eating and sleeping in. I put on a bit of weight over Tet and all the Vietnamese I've met since I got back say I look fatter and more handsome. I know I've been getting skinnier. I had to add a new hole to my belt to tighten it a couple of inches. Last year, I weighed myself on the scale at my in-laws' house and I was 88 kilograms. This year, I was 80 kilograms. At 1.8 meters tall, that makes my body mass index 24.7 (under 25 is "optimal"). This may explain why guys (westerners fatter than me and Vietnamese shorter than me but close to the same girth) have been saying I have a "good shape" that they would like to have. This also explains why I've been seeing abs in the mirror while I'm in the shower. The last time I was skinny enough to see my abs, I was prepubescent and didn't have a lot of musculature to speak of. This is a new sensation for me. I'm sure it won't take long to drop my Tet weight, especially since it seems that my schedule will be busier in the next few months (pacing in front of a class while teaching probably adds up to a lot of walking each week and I walk to work a lot now that we live close enough).

Tue, Jan. 8th, 2008, 12:51 pm

This update is adapted from a mass email that I sent to several friends. I don't know if it arrived or not because I only received one reply. For the benefit of those of you who weren't on my mailing list (or whose spam filters caught my email with all the attached photos), here's the update.

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So how are you doing?

Thu, Aug. 2nd, 2007, 06:56 pm
Quick update

I've been kind of busy lately. Here's the rough outline of events.

My brother-in-law came to visit for a few days while he was in town on business.
My wife went to Hong Kong for a few days and left me home alone unsupervised.
I got sick.
I got better.
My mother-in-law came to visit.
We went to see the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh and the Cu Chi tunnels.
I got a part-time job on the side being an English voice at a recording studio that is making some audio books.
My mother-in-law is still here.
I think my Vietnamese listening comprehension is getting a little better. My mother-in-law and wife are constantly speaking Vietnamese. They aren't very good at repeating things for me when I don't understand though. If they say something too fast for me, they only repeat the parts I understood. For example, my mother-in-law tried to ask me about rice cultivation in America. I heard something like "In America, blahblah rice blahblah rice plants?" and said I didn't understand. She clarified with something like "In America. A-me-ri-ca. Rice. Rice. You understand 'rice'?" and didn't repeat the part I missed. But it's still a bit helpful to get some extra practice.
I also seem to be the only teacher at work that treats the Vietnamese staff nicely. I smile and say hello to the "tea ladies" that clean after us and prepare snacks for the classes. They don't know any English but I use my little bit of Vietnamese with them. Now they try to talk to me when I'm between classes and they offer me leftover cakes and cookies and fruit from the corporate meetings held in the building. Being nice has its rewards.

Sun, Jun. 24th, 2007, 11:10 pm
Making contacts

I've been feeling rather lonely lately.
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