Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

I made it back. Back to this small corner of a world that flips all the dials for me. Makes mornings feel better with bowls of pho and strong Vietnamese coffees and no rush to reach a thing.

It’s different to realize that I won’t wander but like I told a Vietnamese friend,

I’m home

She just laughed and told me Vietnam welcomes me back.

There’s a compelling mystery and wonder to life here and I know it’s where I belong. For the next year it’s wherever in Vietnam I wish. I am very thankful to be able to get a year visa in this wonderful, mysterious and sometimes strange place.

Look for posts like usual on the everyday of it all. I’ll walk this city, take pictures with the iPhone 11 and give it all back to you with stories, diatribes, detritus of a life spent on the edge.

For now I am so grateful to return. I needed this place and it’s pace. Life proceeds slower now. Roosters crow at dawn out my window. I see tourists flocking to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. I sit across the street in a small coffee house. I feel millions of miles separate us. But this is my Vietnam. Only mine. No tourist or backpacker here. Just an old retired guy making his moments.

Stay tuned. More to follow. I’m home.

I have today left in the US. Got my visa letter printed and my passport renewal. Also have more passport and visa photos. It was a lot cheaper getting them online than going to a photo shop and I got 16 of them.

Now it’s time to do what I usually do. Dwell on the times spent on the US after two years of wandering the edge. It’s been nice coming back. I got to see friends and family but I also figured out who does not matter any longer. One of the final things to figure out is what one friend asked me,

When will you come back?

That’s an interesting question. I spent about 5 weeks in various places here. California twice, Texas, Florida and brief stops in New York and Chicago. I got to ride Amtrak as I wanted. Got to see people here. Many nice dinners and beers and thoughts. What I came up with though is that there is nothing here for me. Friends here are kind of frozen in time. Some want to hold forth on Linux and open source. Others about their work and challenges. It was all good. But there was not a kernel of things. A basic link of then and now to sustain me.

I know my wandering full time is done. Vietnam is a year wherever I want to be. Shorter visits within and to other places in the edge or even outside. Things slow down for me. My friends in Vietnam ask more to see me. There is less here to hold me. My friend Bill said it’s because of stuff. We hold on to stuff and stuff begets other stuff. Soon we need bigger containers. We cannot roam the heartlands like opportunistic hunter-gatherers. We are locked in but meanwhile we gather more. Stuff is both material and not though. Some stuff you feel and hold in your heart but can not touch. Other stuff is cursed by its physical nature. More. Bill says. We must have more. To answer him...

Stuff is the bane of existence. It locks you and restrains you and limits you. Real things like end tables and couches. But also elemental things that transcend. Friends, lovers, haters. They all are stuff. They can hold you either willingly or you make feeble attempts to break free. Nothing works though. You are chained by your stuff Bill says.

breaking free of accursed stuff

Yes. One can break free. Life can be less of both but what there is is meaningful. You can decide what has meaning. I did. Some things are not worthy or won’t fit. 20 collared shirts and 4 pair of shoes and dining room tables won’t fit. So be real. Don’t be a minimalist. Be a realist.

The same holds true for elemental things like people and their existential hold on you. Perhaps the stuff they bring is forever harder to break free of. They forge the chains in fires of memory and experience. They hold you back or let you go. In the end you must decide for both. You must choose.

I choose fewer and more valuable and when Bill asked the “when” question there is no answer. It’s unfortunate but so few people rise above here in the US and so many do in Southeast Asia. So I exert my power and become that realist yet again.

I won’t come back I fear. There’s nothing here that still has a hold on me either physically or existentially. I’ve broken those and others. They won’t fit in the 35l travel bag that holds my life.

Free of the chains and the limits I think. Free of people that don’t matter and choosing those that do. Finally like for the last three years free to have fun on the edge. To carry forth with no goal in sight and no challenge to surmount.

The next time I write I’ll be home. Home in Hanoi. In a wild and fun and crazy and sometimes strange place that holds my heart and soul close. And yes. My Vietnamese friends that offer so much but tie me up so little. Hello to them. From Can Tho to Hanoi. I am blessed. Thanks Vietnam.

I’ve been giving some thought to how I create content and where I share things. I always am interested in finding new things to check out which somehow led me to Journo. This app supposedly provides a place to journal your adventures but you pay a subscription fee. You can share the journal you create and it can be published. At $99 a year cost and its $299 lifetime cost. I don’t really understand the motivation when one can get a wordpress blog for free and create. But I am gathering there are numbers of people that use the app when they go on gap year things or whatever they do around travel.

My real never ending question is value. None of the apps like Trover, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook satisfy my itch. Flickr is too expensive and I doubt it will be a survivor with its gritty pro cost levels.

I think its much better to get a basic blog somewhere. I use Write.As now because it provides this blank slate of a canvas where I can create. I don’t want or need the following or followers but in some ways I do have them because I have federated followers that read my blog with a subscription. I also have my blog set to provide email support when I publish. But even if you went with wordpress, you would get more than Journo. The cost sure is less! Maybe its the collaboration and the travel journal thing. So I include writing journals or diaries because I am inveterate diary writer. Now I use DayOne because for me it works.

Then there are notes. What is a note anyways? Some content that may or may not provide useful to me that is synced on iCloud to my devices. Bear Notes works just fine for that for me. I’ve tried a few others like Evernote, OneNote, Standard Notes, SimpleNote. Nothing does what Bear does for me. It’s an elegant and understated app which allows deep tagging, linking notes to other notes and the ability to just write is so easy and it shows prominently when you fire up the app. I also don’t feel its dumbed down on iOS and iPadOS.

So there is the dust of my miasma. The yesterday tools of me trying to not be productive but publishing useful stuff. Journo, Instagram, Twitter all fall into this category. I have dropped them or never really started. Now I find myself on Facebook because all my Vietnamese friends hang there and my most favorite social media site. Mastodon and my specific instance, photog.social, crosses the i’s and dots the t’s. It’s a federation of sites and I can see federated users and local ones, I can use other instances that may have different focus points. It’s a fun world to use and my instance tends to rock for photography sharing, news on cameras, and basic sharing of ideas.

Finally there is the blog. This blog has been around. It hitchhiked from WordPress to Write.as because I got tired of the mantra of Wordpress and I felt I had timed out with the business account where I never used the 15 features and upgraded for two like plugins and themes. I could just use a self hosted Wordpress on a hosting provider (blah) or a VPS (better) but I never liked the work. So Write.As was the final point of my odyssey. It’s been good for me!

I think I covered all the categories so let me catch up a bit now on my vagabonding.

Back in San Francisco for Awhile

Yes. I am back. Not really liking or disliking it. I’m seeing a few more old friends here and went on a tour today of Alcatraz Island which was a lot of fun. I will see some other folks the next five days, enjoy some food and beer here. Then I will leave. I leave for Vietnam on Monday and get back on Tuesday to Hanoi which will be home for awhile. I have a cheap airbnb there for three months.

I will be going to see my L in March for a few days and also to see another L in Can Tho but I really have wanted the stability of no wandering. I’m tired of the movement even though I so enjoyed the places and not having a so-called home. Even when I stay longer, I only have enough stuff to fit in a smaller travel bag now. I figure I am carrying about 35L of stuff so I ditched the Tortuga Outbreaker bag and its heft and pockets for something much simpler. So home is a relative concept to me given I have nothing at all. Perhaps the “nothing at all” is what frees me from the life of worry and concern others have. I simply do not have anything of real property worth. Some T shirts, underwear, socks, a few little electronic doodads. Life has become incredibly simple and it feels good. Living somewhere means kinda unpacking but I’ve made so many changes to the property side in the last years and even downsized this time that I cannot find it in myself to call a place home any longer. It’s just gonna be a place I stay longer I fear.

So that’s the meandering story I have and I’m stuck with it. You are not though. You can click the back arrow and forget you ever saw this stuff and maybe read that website about how to take the best kitten YouTube videos. I’ll leave it here for you!

I ended a number of train rides across the United States yesterday. It was glorious and full of the little moments. The station in North Dakota. The plains in Montana meeting that big sky. Seeing deserts sweep the view in Arizona. The big cities and beautiful train stations it all came to pass rolling out slowly as it should.

Now I’m on the tail end of the US adventures. I have about a week give or take left before going to Vietnam. People have asked if I’m scared of the coronavirus. I am not. Life goes on with its goods and bads and I have this path to take. Vietnam is the place for me to find the path and the way. A virus is not going to stop me.

I also found I have to say goodbye to someone important in my life. I gather I have higher demands but I value those that do not lie by omission or commission or cheat me. It hurts to make an ending but I require a higher standard in a person and I always will. She could not take any road even the low one. On the flip side someone else entered my life so perhaps each thing cancels out. It’s hard to get old and maintain relationships folks. Especially when you are as contrary and finicky as I am.

I move on and find my way on this path. A year in Vietnam in front of me. Friends there to see. Moments to wander and be that vagabond only now within Vietnam. In May I’ll visit Cambodia because the Kingdom is dear to me and there are people there to see.

Now the road reaches to me. Being solitary is not being lonely. Tomorrow never makes it. Today just reaches forever onward and a path or paths are shown. I’ll the the one. There is nothing wrong or right about a path. Each one presents itself and you make the call.

Now I’m sitting with latte this morning in Seattle. Only three days here. Then a week in San Francisco. Then gone to the edge. Back to where

same same but different

guides me. Where life is different and full and has demands and needs and fulfillments to exercise.

Another day on the rails turns. Evening falls to the beauty of clouds and water and solitude. Take the moment. Fly. Wander. It’s yours to find.

I finished up with Orlando Florida yesterday and boarded the Silver Meteor train for New York. It’s an overnight voyage and now I’m in Washington DC. Taking Amtrak requires rethinking things but it fits with my approach to vagabonding around. Basically,

  1. Don’t be in a hurry. If you are riding Amtrak the joy is not in arriving but the going itself.

  2. Don’t book connecting trips within an hour or so of arrival. Each of my connections are 4 hours later.

  3. Give yourself time but enjoy the moments. Nothing beats the everyday things you will see from a train that are invisible when flying.

For me the act and art of train travel harkens back to a yesteryear when my mom and I would watch the trains roll into Lancaster station. Beautiful cars and equally beautiful people would be seen. I remember thinking then that one day I would venture forth myself. See those sights and tell those tales.

It has taken awhile to reach the moment again. From my mom holding my hand to the world opening it’s hands. That little me then would be amazed if he could see. Maybe my 7 year old me would nod the head, smile that bashful smile, and tell this old version that some good things require patience. Much like riding Amtrak. With age though has come things far beyond the ken of my 7 year old self. Amazing and sad. Wondrous and tearful.

I reached the moments perhaps then that could not be seen. From the window of a Silver Meteor with the opening act of sunrise showing me another day. Another set of moments. Truly these are Amtrak tales.

Done with five days in Orlando Florida seeing my daughter and her boy friend. Also went to Disney World Magical Kingdom and Epcot Center. I enjoyed Epcot a lot more. It has technology, nice international park areas and great food. For a price. A high price. I bought two tickets for two parks and it was $500 just about. A lot of money! I doubt I will ever return to Orlando.

Next up its back on the Amtrak trail with a ride to New York Penn station tomorrow and then an Amtrak trip to Seattle all the way across the US. After 4 days in Seattle, back to SF for a week. Then I leave this place for home. Hanoi awaits me. Friends there to see and days to spend in idyllic pursuit of nothing. On 17 March I fly to Can Tho to see a friend and then 3 days in Saigon with my L. Finally two days in Da Lat and back to Hanoi.

So that wraps up the US and seeing family and realizing I don’t belong here and I miss the edge terribly. Will be so glad to get back to Southeast Asia!

I don’t like doing the 5 things to do in a place or tours to take or writing tips type blogposts. I think there are plenty of those out there already and you can find the 25 things to do or things to see or places to go easily.

There’s always another side to things though. Cities are not 5 or 25 things. Places of natural beauty like Halong Bay are not a group of things to see in a day. Taipei or Saigon or Hanoi or Kuala Lumpur are not just marks in a blog. The same with San Antonio. So I could write a few places to go see here:

  1. The Alamo. A historic site downtown San Antonio but surrounded by beautiful historic buildings as well. City streets that are mostly square or rectangular in nature in a grid style that lets you wander easily. You will end up at the river walk if you keep on going past the Alamo. Blocks away is a beautiful Main Street district with the courthouse and wonderful old buildings with their elegant yet simple lines that strike the beautiful balance of utility and use. While I can start at the Alamo, its likely I will wander down streets to see the small buildings that dot the blocks with wonderful lineages of time.

  2. The River Walk area. A meandering riverwalk with restaurants, stores, and even historic districts to explore with arts and shopping. Sidewalks line the riverwalk areas and many people walk in a roughly circular fashion to see the combination of restaurants, shoppes, and history. When you stroll along the riverwalk area its more of a time away much perhaps like walking the riverwalk area in Melaka Malaysia. Melaka’s riverwalk area is dotted with bridges and eating spots much like the riverwalk here. People sit outside at tables and get ice cream there and simply watch. Perhaps time stretches out for them past minutes and hours. They maybe realize they have priceless moments to garner experiences. You can reach there a variety of ways including a large shopping center/mall area if you want but I think its better to just wander through the Alamo blocks and historic city areas to reach the river and its walkways.

I only list the two things because I rebel against writing lists of things but I could also have done this with wandering Hanoi and its maze of streets and Hems and districts keyed to different products to buy. One block has nothing but toys. Small markets dot Hanoi blocks with shopping for clothing but you can find tools, candy, coffee shops and restaurants that dot the landscape.

Let me ask. Have you wandered without the instagram and twitter and just gone to go? I wandered Da Nang so many times that way and found a park with a circular road around it where Vietnamese men sat out over morning coffee and greeted me warmly with waves and smiles. In Tokyo there are more than 5 things to do in a day but there are less too.

My view is settle for less always. Along with this always stay longer. A month in Taipei lets you see more with less.

Today though I cannot do that. I have a day but I will still ignore the travel blogs with their lists and hierarchies. In awhile, when I’m ready I’ll go. Walking to see fewer things but enrich the moments more. Maybe you will join me someday. Consider it. You can retire and do less and sit at the trailer and watch the world spin by. Or you can leave it all behind and be part of the world spinning around outside you. It’s not challenging or requires millions of dollars. It does require a new mindset. Much like the less in seeing places; its the less in having things.

One day in San Antonio Texas beckons. Your life beckons. Take some challenge, get rid of it all. You don’t need cars and property and things. The world can be your retirement haven. Give it some thought. Age is not some limiter. The limitation is what you adopt and propose.

Give it a few thoughts today.

There’s a solitary joy to a day spent in “some city” somewhere. When the sidewalks or park trails or a path meanders to no drummers beat. Where small things are never remembered and big things equally forgotten. Today was one solitary step to another and soon the joy and feeling welled up and I knew I would just go. And go. I don’t race walk nor do I really count steps or miles or set goals. I’ve come to realize as an old retired guy that things like goals and milestones and tasks and responsibilities are counter productive. They don’t yield accomplishment or fulfillment as one footstep leads to the next. Instead it’s a solitary joy of the moments spent most times dwelling on no specific actionable works. There is some saying like this,

a man is known by his works

I have none. So no one truly knows that single solitary joy of hours spent. Like today in Austin walking after some days of not. It’s a light bulb, a light in the darkness or it is the darkness. It’s a thing and the opposite of things. It’s all. And it’s nothing and it’s all in between. It haunts and praises and welcomes and damns me. But the steps lead forever on and the moment intertwine with today and yesterday.

It’s my life spent with nothing but everything that matters. It’s walking and feeling each step and knowing I can’t stop. No goals or special challenges or trails. It’s just me and the moment.

When I walk.

Tomorrow I catch the Amtrak from Oakland to Los Angeles and then on to San Antonio for a few days. I visit an old IBM friend in Austin, spend two days in San Antonio and leave for Florida.

It’s been two years gone to the edge for me. Two years of something completely different. Suffice to say that Asia is more fun, spontaneous, and prices are a lot different. The main thing has to be the people though. It’s just better there for me. After a week in California I can’t wait to leave.

All told I have about 4 weeks in the US. I could never live here again. There is simply not enough for me. So on to Texas. Two days on an Amtrak which is a thing I have wanted. On to things which are different but not different.

I don’t believe I will come back again. There’s just not enough compelling to make me want to make the trip again. I’ll enjoy my Amtrak trips all across the United States and then back to San Francisco but my heart and soul are not on this continent. It’s just a momentary wandering thing with some enjoyment here and there. Vietnam and Cambodia are not even close to what I see here.

I’ll share my google photos album of the train trip to San Antonio. Here to there. Moments to traverse. No more people to want to see in California.

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