Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

It’s yet another Friday in Hanoi Vietnam. Almost the end of another month. Things here are open. You just cannot leave or enter at international borders. Life here is truly good. On this Friday I wander back to Kens Cafe for beers and sunset. The breeze sweeps down from West Lake warm and sultry. Warm day in Hanoi that I spent walking almost 6 miles turns to warm evening. Sky tints to pink.

Hanoi is one of those places you would want to isolate in. The city is warm and passionate. Food, coffee, and beer is some lifeblood here. Culture and history and wonderful people create stunning moments. As it turns out I have more Vietnamese friends than western and it’s the best thing ever. I don’t care to have expat friends or even acquaintances. There’s no upside.

The other night we all went out to eat Korean bbq. Four Vietnamese friends and me. We ate and ate and drank a little. We joked and laughed and gently teased each other. Then with hugs and warmth they sent me home in a grab car.

The days blend into days of walking and seeing and eating and nights spent sitting in roughly the same spot with cold Hanoi beers. Yep. This is retirement.

Next Monday I fly to Saigon to see my good friend lily. She owns a tour company down in Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. We will share dinner and beers and talk. The next day she must leave for home and I’ll stay for a few days. Then I fly back to Hanoi on Friday. Back to life spent with no particular direction or place to be. No tasks or timelines or things. Yes. This is retirement. Perhaps how it’s meant to be.

And it’s Friday at dusk and the beer calls and the sunset whispers.

I went out to drink tonight by West Lake. Over at Kens cafe they serve ice cold Hanoi beers. Then they offer a glass with ice cubes. It’s all about comfort and enjoyment and the evenings setting in. Slowly the sun dips down and the lake crystallizes into evening moods. I’m transported thanks to the beer to life on the edge. Here and there. Life spent wandering and hoboing. Not always that way. There were bad decades. Days of hate and anger and divorce. Jobs with no tomorrow and no hope. IT is a terrible mistress. It stings and hurts and casts you down when you need it the most.

But I surmounted. I found the path away. It led me years ago to a world on the edge. Life made of fun and mystery. The beer may be talking now. But I tell you that there is more to life than a flip of the coin or another cloud project. Look beyond. What do you really want? I wanted a life on my own terms. Do nothing or something. I managed it all. Now I sit in a room in Hanoi Vietnam, partially drunk and yet see the path that evolved. We make choices. Bear the results. I’ve found things you may never. Lost things you may never. In the end it’s not the beer talking although I am feeling so good after numerous Hanoi beers.

Just take a look at what you want. Can you get there? I found my way. Now its wonderful Vietnam. Today. Tomorrow. A time. Moments adrift. Time well spent. Hand me that beer.

Good night.

Good morning. Yesterday was a rainy day so I found a nice pho place and then a Vietnamese coffee shop. I ended up eating fast food for some meal and then had a sandwich after beers. Now I sit at Toms Coffee for breakfast. They serve an eclectic mix of foods so wanted the pancakes and fresh fruit sides. There’s not a thing that needs doing today. Beautiful! Tonight will try Mexican food down the street and perhaps a margarita there.

I do this meditation class every day on the Calm app and I wanted to discuss today’s topic and class.

do nothing at all class

There are many ways to find a path or lack of one in meditation I have found. The basic idea is to find a thing like breathing or some sound or thing and you focus in on it. If thoughts arrive or feelings or whatever you acknowledge them even with gratitude and let them go. You never get mad or sad or upset. It’s a muscle you are exercising.

Then there’s the do nothing approach. No focus on breath or anything else. How to decide which one? Why not do both? Doing nothing may trigger guilt or frustrations. Focusing on a thing may let you return to the thing after a neighbor says something or a bird sings or a thought erupts. None of it matters though. You live it and do it. Thoughts and all. Then we come to the do nothing meditation practice. And why not I wonder? We all need the moments to focus on a thing but also to let go. American society and culture teaches one and not the other. Case in point. It took me months basically to detach from the “always do something” approach in IT. Milestones and tasks and plans. They all lead us to do something and then we maybe celebrate the end but often we are already moving on to the next big thing.

When I finally slowed down one day at a Starbucks in Japan, I realized do nothing had arrived. We need it though. Some of us desperately. Unfortunately our culture and schools and careers tell us it’s a sign of sloth and laziness. Even in retirement I would see the ads to get busy in retirement. My question,

why the F would I do that?

It’s because we are schooled to accomplish, to succeed, to define, to reach farther and higher.

So instead I say no. Hell no. We may succeed and accomplish ourselves to a retirement where we just sit wondering what to do next. I found the answer in the edge. It’s nothing. Consider it. Call it down time. Or me time. How much do you have?

Meditation taught me we need both. We need the focus on the breath because it gives us an anchor. Boats are not meant to just be at anchor though and neither are we. Set yourself free part of the time. Find the elusive trail to nowhere. It’s why I picked up the companion piece of gentle yoga every day. I have no place to go and yoga shows me a slow trail to it.

the end or beginning

Yes. To both. Take as you will. Saddle yourself with less. There is more in it.

I spend some of the days walking nowhere in particular in Hanoi. Sometimes by the west lake where the retirees gather. I met a few two days ago. All American. So many different stories. They all stay here now on a variety of visas. Most face the same future. What to do when the visa ends? It’s a constant discussion and new arrivals have their stories. Soon we have many stories making the rounds. The common thread is they don’t know what to do or know the people to talk to. I guess I’m lucky there. Meeting some of the nice Vietnamese people here has helped me know the story. So I try to tell them a different story.

They will have none of it. I think they luxuriate in hopelessness and simply not knowing what is next for them. One person I will call Dwayne had no idea what happens with his year tourist visa or that it’s easy to extend the stamp IF you have money. There’s really nowhere to go now. No friendly borders are open for air or bus travels. No visa runs. Without that Dwayne needs to find out answers. But does he try? No. He decides all will just somehow come to him so he waits. Waits. Waits. It’s crazy.

I gave up on the narrative because they want to feel powerless or unable even to go to Vietnam immigration and ask. There are immigration staff that speak very good English and will help them. It’s too much of a story though. It’s easier to sit at the coffee shop and spin the story how they want it.

So I don’t go to the expat places too often that the Americans hang at. It’s rather depressing to see people gather and tell stories but not seek answers.

So many stories good and bad. Actors that did this and such. Dwayne does not use Facebook nor probably does he use WhatsApp. Facebook is more than a social network here. It’s the groups you can find to ask the questions and meet the others that will add chapters and plot to Dwayne’s story.

I’ll try to help Dwayne again in a few days. But when you are locked to a particular storyline and it’s plots and chapters it’s hard to see the limits.

There are hundreds of retirees here. Each has a story. I’ve heard a few. None of them even close to mine.

This is a story of a letter from one of my banks to me. It may be the continuation of a yet longer story which could have started last year when I had to get a replacement debit card. I had the first one sent to Bangkok Thailand. Big mistake. It never did show up. Then I got fed up with Thailand and bailed to Siem Reap and tried again. This time I had DHL deliver from my mail forwarder in Texas. Four days later it was in my hands in Cambodia. Nice!

Now flash forward to this story. While not ending yet I am optimistic that today I will get a new debit card from FedEx. It’s here in Hanoi and in the vehicle. It’s getting closer. For two days though it languished here with a delivery exception. I would never have known since the bank never told me, FedEx did not have a phone number and claimed not to know how to deliver. So I called this morning and found out the issue. I let them know the address and my local Vietnamese phone number. Then the status changed to on the truck for delivery. Now I await its arrival. It could be any time today until 6pm. Or maybe not. Never really know until it’s delivered internationally.

There was another story when I shipped some sandals to Phnom Penh and they sat at the main post office for months. Finally I found what happened and a Khmer friend went to retrieve the package. All was good and I got the package months later. Yet another story was shipping to Siem Reap on FedEx and they did not want to deliver and stopped it at customs inspection. I am guessing they wanted some money. Since I could not make it to Phnom Penh Cambodian customs released it and it was given to a local shipper that let me know when it would come.

Moral of Story

There are a few. Never ship internationally with the US Postal Service if you have some desire of actually wanting the package. Choose instead DHL. They will do the work and tracking the package from departure to your door is really good. FedEx is a second choice. I have had mixed results with them.

A second little thing is maintaining US contact points. Keep a US phone number that can receive texts, calls, and voicemails. I suggest and recommend google voice for this. It’s free and works a treat on cellular or WiFi data wherever I have been. Also consider a good virtual mailbox. I suggest using US Global Mail to manage your physical mail. Change the address once to them and you get to use the address from wherever. They offer really good services to forward and combine packages too. Their service is meant for expats and retirees and they get lots of good reviews. I’ve been with them for years. Never sorry or had less than a stellar experience with their service.

Finally if you are making a decision to bail on the US and are retiring consider how you will manage your money. I strongly recommend two different bank accounts and tie them together so you can do ACH transfers. There is no point in using the debit cards as credit cards in Southeast Asia. Just get cash. It’s really much simpler than going to a 7/11 in Saigon and using plastic for a few beers and chips. That just seems crazy to me. Finally lock the debit cards when not in use. My process has been to normally lock them online on my iPhone and then unlock when using for withdrawals and then locking them again. Never just carry passports and wallets and credit or debit cards where you go. That is also very dumb. No one will ask for your visa or passport on the streets. There are some targeted things like hotels or SIM card purchases which may but I use the passport quickly and then return it to safety. Same with debit cards. Unlock them, take cash out, and lock again.

You can get by in Cambodia for a long time on $50. In Vietnam I carry about $100 in VND. When that depletes I get some more cash. You don’t need all the plastic and the fancy wallet and neck pouch here. Just carry the cash.

I’ve made mistakes and paid a few times when I went against my own advice and a card was fraudulently used. It’s more difficult by degrees in Hanoi Vietnam to replace things like debit cards. I will also get a local bank account here which is easy to do and just keep a few hundred dollars in VND in it.

These are all things you can just do to make things more enjoyable and lessen the stress and likelihood of having things snatched that are really hard to replace. I have lots of fun here in Hanoi on about $10. Dinner and beers and a coffee. Perhaps a meetup with a friend here to enjoy the beers. It’s not dirt cheap but I can get by a lot better without worrying about passports, wallets and plastic.

You have a load to carry. Some visible. Lots existing in swirling gray matter between those shoulders and perched on your neck. There’s pain and acceptance, love and hatred. Moments of irony and bliss. In a small room in the expat district of Hanoi called Tay Ho I see it.

Maybe you want answers or questions. Maybe its degrees of things you desire. I don’t have them for you. I can’t offer fulfillment or challenge or glory. What I can whisper out is I found the path for me. A simple and uncluttered life of few possessions. Most of my more prized things are those not present. No debt. No property. No things. No cars or homes or expensive clothes. A life spent the last years in the edge. The edge of Southeast Asia. A place carefully curated for folks like me. And there are lots. You don’t see them in your fancy blogs and Instagram accounts but we number more than you I think.

I also did away with constructs like goals, timelines, tasks, todo, responsibilities. Years ago I killed them off. So what’s left? Astute question! Things of value remain that take no real space. More lately two things. I’ve written on them both but wanted to offer a set top piece for you to see all people need things. The things may be of our own construction and not real or they may occupy no space but do occupy moments.

Meditation and yoga have become two things for me but they are one thing really. There’s nothing I carry with me as I move so slowly but I’ve found some things out. I need both. They offer a big term called mindfulness which I find to be worthwhile. We are in perilous times. Some virus claims lives and sickens others indiscriminately. Others have poisoned souls and minds and I read their diatribes with something akin to disbelief. So I practice both. Neither takes me away or makes things invisible or easy to accept. It’s not their way. They give me a view and let me see and then let me know that it’s not some popular drug that carries it all away. Together it’s the moments I find myself in.

bringing it to the here and now

I meditated this morning on a 10 minute session called “Inner Work”. The idea here and I bring it to you is we go through our lives with tons of outer work. It’s observable and you can measure it. Perhaps you can see it. Success and new cars, wonderful job evaluations and performance increases. All there and many can be seen. Just as important though and perhaps in many ways more so is the inner work. I wandered for decades getting the projects done, receiving comments often good at my last job on finishing things that were thought challenging or sometimes almost impossible. Performance awards and bonuses. Hand shakes from the CIO and well done awards. Yet through all this time the inner work was almost non existent. I did nothing for the work inside me until I retired. Then I realized that all those years living with the external pressure was gone yet for months nothing replaced it. Even longer than months. Years! It took years to find a corner of mindfulness that let me work on me again. It’s still a slow slog. In both meditation and yoga we are told it’s okay and expected to be taken away by thoughts, emotions and reactions. The inner work is always to not blame but gently acknowledge.

I think the getting here now is to find that inner work and work gently at it over the long haul. Become aware that the path is not straight and clear. We become bogged down in the race to succeed, accomplish and track and expect and then demand that outer work. Once I retired it fell away. There were no measures of success but I had nothing to replace it. Don’t let this be the you that emerges. Find the inner things of being you that you work on not keyed to the outward phenomenon of your career. The things are there. Perhaps patiently awaiting a kickstart. Check it out.

I had to wait to find the tug of mindfulness. Maybe you find some other path to walk. It took years for me to see that the inner work for me is not keyed to material success, possessions, and often people.

You can do it too. But perhaps you start like me or retire like me and think it’s all over. I aver that it’s a perfect time to find the inner chorus of your life. Find a new thing that takes you farther or closer or does not move you at all. For me I knew for a decade it was living in Southeast Asia. It’s the edge of the known and the wondrous to me and it released primal things and finally let me find some ingredients to make this inner old retired guy find a measure of his life.

Give it a shot. What you got to lose? Age is not some magical divider. My Vietnamese friends tell me they love and appreciate me. Wisdom and experience may not be what I truly have. But I know meditation and some simple yoga have helped me find the inner work I needed when I left IT years ago.

And it’s often good. Sometimes challenging and once in awhile daunting. But what I have learned is it’s all ok.

I moved yesterday and started another three months in Hanoi. The place I am living now is Tay Ho district. Lots of expats and older folks like me too. The place I’m in now is cheaper than before but so much nicer. The owner takes good care of the renters and it’s clean. That’s opposite from the last place where WiFi never worked and the place was rather dirty all the time.

I also got three months extension here so my time comes up mid August now. No idea after that. Normally I would want to leave for some bit of time. If things were normal, and they’re not, I’d go to Malaysia or Cambodia. I don’t do Thailand. Maybe Laos or Sri Lanka. Nothing is normal so I have created a new word,

notmal

It’s all ok for me. I ceased trying to find the normal day by day. Today I am relaxing with a second latte at a coffee shop. It’s just a continuation of the moments of an old retired guy with no plan and all day to do it.

Hanoi is a good place to do notmal all considered. If I wanted a place to be locked down this may be it. There is nothing though I really want. Maybe to get away from expats since they are rampant here. Tay Ho has the share of expats here. So many. Too many.

I went through all the labels we have or that people call us:

  1. Expat
  2. Digital nomad
  3. Nomad
  4. Backpacker
  5. Begpacker
  6. Tourist
  7. Traveler
  8. Hobo
  9. Vagabond

So many labels of things. The young urbanites like the sound of 2 or 3 or 4.

Others like the word expat. It conjures up living and working in some other country. Others want to only visit so they call themselves something else. Maybe 6 or 7.

Then there are the true wanderers. Those that walk the highways and roads between the here and there. Moments spent in far flung cities. I’ve met them. They have stories but rarely tell. Decades spent wandering Southeast Asia. Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia are the places to wander through at no speed. Taiwan and South Korea are places footsteps are left behind.

Tay Ho is not the place to stay long for me. It’s a place to simply wander through and find an exit in August. A neighborhood in Da Nang perhaps. Another wandering trail of moments. First though get to another point on the compass. I wander not to the end or the beginning. It’s the getting there that counts.

Times are difficult you know. News cycles. Pandemic. Death and dying. Ignorance and bliss. False prophets say take to the streets. False presidents encourage them. So I say it’s time for a time out. Like on school playgrounds when someone went too far. Teachers and supervisors would give them a timeout.

My time out is not really out. It’s more like moments to acknowledge the things but see them as things. There are irritations and unhappiness. Bad and good. In many moments I see them with more clarity and equanimity. Thanks to meditating and daily practice. It’s not sitting in some position and saying some word or phrase. I call this modern meditation. It’s about bringing things to a point and then focusing on the point. The instructor calls it a home base. Maybe it’s breathing or a noise. It can change all the time. The truth is to choose a thing and then focus on it. Thoughts and feelings come all the time. So what. Let them. See them.

What has it done for me?

It’s done a few big things and many small ones. I feel better each day for it. More able to take hold and see and let go. I feel at peace with it. Able to see my things before and beyond with more depth and clarity. It’s not about letting go. It’s about grabbing on. It’s not losing yourself in mantras. It’s finding yourself in moments. Big and small things when you are an old retired guy in a country you really cannot leave nor do you want to. It grants little and big things as you want. Will it work for you? Probably or not. I don’t know.

What I do know is these are challenging and difficult times whatever your circumstances. For me the 10 or 20 minutes a day has been very good.

Find a thing for you. You deserve.

So I am an old retired guy. Not too flexibly inclined. Walking is a daily meditation of sorts for me. I can get beyond or under or through. But yoga is different for me. I’ve never done this before so the old body is kinda crispy. But I will tell you what works for me, what has made me happy, and what makes me want to continue. First of all week 0.

At week 0 of yoga I had been meditating using the Calm app for awhile. I felt the need for a companion piece. Something similar but different. So read about yoga during week 0. Lots of beautiful young people twisting into amazing shapes. I did not see many old timers at all in the stories. I also played with a few apps both on the iPhone and on the web. None of them worked.

The problems are many. They want you to be a 20 year old beginner and twist and move an old body into some shapes that look like pain. Or they want you to do 50 minutes of beginner classes. Why 50 minutes? What is it about doing yoga for over 50 minutes that makes it a sweet spot? The answer? Nothing. There is nothing I could find which demonstrated or defined why a beginner must do that long just learning. Is it to separate wheat from chaff? Find out who is worthy and will groan through the hour? No. There is no reason. It is because of a goal you set or desire of a place you want to be? No. They don’t ask you what you want out of it. None of them are discussed or asked. Somehow the 50 minutes is the standard by which all is measured. There are no beginner classes for shorter lengths.

So then I asked myself what I wanted out of it? What was my desire and goal? I had none. I wanted nothing out of it at first but to try it. I wanted to see what it brought me. What did it give? The real answer is nothing. At least at first. Now flash forward almost a month. Now ask what it’s done for me.

  1. It’s given me more understanding and patience and desire. I feel more peaceful and sometimes less peaceful and sometimes it relaxes me and other times I get less. The outcome is always the same though. After I just feel better. More calm and centered. More in the now of things. Less in the then of things. I also seem to exercise what the meditation instructor calls the equanimity muscle in gentle meditation.

  2. I learned that doing 50 minutes or an hour or 90 minutes is BS. Unless that is what you want. If you want what that brings you there are plenty of resources to give you the goods. No though. For me it was less. I wanted to define it. Today I did 15 minutes and it felt just right. I could not do every asana completely and it was just right. I practiced breathing more with it and it felt good. I did what is called restorative yoga. Slow and easy and holding positions longer. I could do gentle yoga or yin yoga or hatha yoga no flow. I just decide which one for whatever minutes I want. Today I felt out of sorts and I wanted to be babied so I chose something gentle to restore me. Tomorrow I may be lazy again. I don’t know.

  3. Finally I learned that you must set your path or have no path and either have goals or no goals. I do not have some final ecstatic state. I want little things. To feel better. To find myself in the moment. To arrive and then depart. To pop in and pop out. To learn something or nothing at all. In the end all the instructors and websites and YouTube videos will not work unless they put the YOU in yoga. So I set no final conditions for a week later. If I do 10 minutes a day for a year it’s all good. If one day I break out and do 15 like today all good. If I don’t know which one to practice or how long all good. I don’t decide in some thrilling intellectual approach. No dear reader. It’s more and less like all life is.

  4. So what’s your favorite take away. Your mile marker? Your final state? I don’t have one for you. What I know is day by day using this app on my iPhone called Down Dog gives me it all and gives me nothing. I can set it for beginner. For gentle yoga. For 15 minutes. Then I go. The next day I feel good so perhaps 15 minutes of gentle yoga. Maybe one day I feel introspective so some yin yoga for 15 minutes. Or 10 minutes or 30 minutes.

It’s like the rest of my life. No goals. No responsibilities. No timelines. I just go. Perhaps you are driven though by other things and you need the mile markers and successes. I don’t. I want the feeling and the arrival.

The next post I talk about what meditation has done for me on this little journey in 2020 and why I decided to do it. Stay tuned. The old retired guy is learning more and less but it’s all good.

The final post about what both have brought a month later. I’ll sum up things. Offer no reason why and let you wander alone down a dangerous path with no light. Or perhaps you will find something of worth in my little journey is one.

Perhaps a more introspective post instead of the thrum of daily life in Hanoi.

I miss the every three month going or even sooner. In 2019 I hopped around to so many places. Start of the year was Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Then back to Cambodia. After that three months wandering Vietnam south to north and back to Cambodia. Then off to Laos for a month. Back to Cambodia and maybe Vietnam. Then flew to Taiwan for months. Of all the wandering I look at Taiwan as the best. It’s the confluence of culture, history, people, food and technology there. That wrapped up 2019 except for one more few week visit to Saigon. An interesting year of hoboing around.

This year I would have gone to the Middle East but cancelled the whole thing and came back to Vietnam in February after weeks in the US. I knew I should not go and when I see the global impact of covid-19, I’m glad I came back.

So someone would ask maybe,

what did you learn?

The answer is nothing. I did not go to learn anything. There’s nothing I expected or demanded from the voyages or destinations. I only wanted moments and experiences and a photograph or three. I did not want to find out a thing but in the end I did find things out. Things about people I had believed in or at least wanted in my life. Things about places. Some good and some bad. Things about me. So the final thing is with vagabonding is I did not set out to learn but what I received and took was so much more.

It’s not travel or being a tourist when you have no destination in mind. It’s not being a nomad or a backpacker when that label slips off or feels odd. Living on the edge is more than all the millennials with their expensive backpacks and wondrous blogs ever see. It comes down for me to movement itself. Either purposeful or with none. Flying or taking a bus or train. It’s the sensation of homelessness and no place to be and all day to get there.

This feeling has exemplified itself in retirement for me. Every day I walk the miles, do the mindfulness and I know. I’m meant to not have destinations. It may take longer this time to reach a place but there is a place out there. No one knows which one and I’ve learned with meditation it’s okay and even good. I’ve learned a bit of equanimity in all this. My vagabonding around is purposeless yet it has purpose. It’s timeless yet it has a millennium of moments.

August comes and new and old arrives. No fear or acceptance. Just my moments and my travel dreams.

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