Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

It’s Saturday here now. Temperatures are warming up. It’s summer just about in Hanoi. It changed in just about one day it seems. I know it took longer. When I got here in February it was the springtime and late winter wrapping up. Beautiful cool days and cooler nights. Now we get that magnificent Southeast Asian sun again. Laundry gets done more often and my walking usually starts at 3pm or later. Today will do nothing again. Perhaps a Banh Mi sandwich for breakfast and then coffee at a nicer shop. I’m tired of the cigarette smells in the local shops so I will not go to them. The two nicer ones are non smoking.

pho and then coffee

Down the street is my pho place. The wonderful lady makes medicine for my soul disguised as pho. She knows me and makes me the bowl without being asked. Delightful. I love the neighborhood feel where I live now. It took weeks to be seen around the streets. Now I go wherever and they happily welcome me. Now at one of the nicer coffee houses because I like the comfort and relaxation when there’s no smoke. The local places are good and I’ve gone to several but I’d rather pay more and be comfortable.

So pho done and coffee progressing. If I had to pick a country and city to be locked down in it would be Vietnam for the country and Hanoi for the city. I enjoy the neighborhood and pace here more than Saigon.

No one can tell the future or even August. I may go to Cambodia and live there. It’s much the same as here for me. Life is easy for retirees there too. Good food, wonderful Khmer people and cheap beer. What I do know is I will be here until I leave. And it’s all okay for me. Hanoi is a garden of delights for me. The amazing and interesting cross here of local and international is the best for me. The care and focus on protecting all of us during covid-19 times has been so remarkable. Now there is no lockdown here in the city but the borders are locked. No entry and no exits. Not like what happened in the US. This has been a defined process by a very powerful government and I think it meant we came to this point because this government and the people believe in each other. Powerful stuff.

On to a nothing Saturday with my latte patiently awaiting.

Each day is about the same here in Hanoi. It’s getting warmer now and summer approaches with the seasonal hot months. What I do does not change that much. Here’s some stuff I do each day.

  1. Morning fruit and fresh Vietnamese coffee made in a Phin. The fruit may be oranges or pineapple or mango but the first blast of caffeine is always freshly made. You can look up online to see how to make. It’s easy!

  2. Relaxing and zoning. This includes a morning meditation with the Calm iOS app. I just need this each day and it’s been making a big difference in my feelings. Sometimes some peaceful Hatha yoga stretches are good but often I put off the yoga until evening. I’ve been doing some nice 25 to 30 minute practices focused on well being of late.

  3. Late morning out. By 11am I head to the Banh mi sandwich shop or the King Roti stand and then go to a nice coffee house for a latte. I like the local places but the cigarette smoke is irritating since they let people smoke inside and out.

  4. Then back to my room for more zoning and dreaming and doing nothing. The life of a retired guy I guess. I like it a lot!

  5. Afternoon miles walk and dinner I usually now go for a walk at 3 or 4pm. Then I find food which is pretty easy in Hanoi as you can imagine.

  6. Evenings are spent with more zoning and an evening meditation and maybe some yoga if I want to. I usually want to! Then I may read or chat with a Vietnamese friend that lives farther away.

  7. The end.

Or the beginning depending on your half empty or full glass. Daily life in Vietnam with borders locked is not hard. I will go to Saigon to see friends in a few weeks and will change Airbnb to a new one for 3 months next week. I decided to change to a new room because I felt like it.

August might as well be a light year away. I have the day to day. I have acceptance. Thanks to learning meditation and yoga I get a path that is so much easier to follow.

If you blog why not tell your story? Where are you now and why? Many of my friends are isolated here in Vietnam and Cambodia. They have stories to tell but most don’t instagram (thank god) nor do they write creatively. It’s too bad really. We all have stories to tell. I’ve met retired expats and vagabonds 15 years on the road. One guy I met in Da Lat Vietnam years ago was gone for almost two decades hoboing around Southeast Asia. It’s why I call this place the edge. It’s the edge of known and mysterious with enough of either to keep life fresh.

Tell your true story and forget the ads and links. Tell the you story. Not the 10 things to pack or the 5 things to see in Lombok or Indonesia or New Zealand during your isolation. Be brave. Find the words. You can write on your days. You may not make any money but you have created.

It’s been three months just about for me here. I normally would have to leave on 18 May for a visa run but traveling internationally is not happening. Cannot leave Vietnam now and if I could chances of getting back in are zero. The international air and land borders are closed and visas are not being granted. I will extend my visa in a few weeks and stay another three months. Many non Vietnamese people living here now are doing the same thing whether on business or tourist visas. It costs some money but I’ll get my passport back with a new exit stamp for August 2020. My desire then is to go to Cambodia and stay. I would get the retirement extension of stay for my visa there and get a year of multiple entries. I don’t think I would leave once I get the year visa extension. For me, living in Cambodia is not much different than Vietnam. I know how everything works there. Basic things like SIM cards, shopping, laundry and transit are very easy. Getting around between cities is easy with bus or air travel. The people are a joy to be with.

the wonder of the unknown

I had worried when the country got locked down what I would do. How would I go or stay in Hanoi when it’s completely locked down. I cannot slip away as I like to other friendly countries. I would be able normally to jet off to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia and get 90 days visa free there. For awhile this bothered me. I came to the realization in one of my evening meditations that whether I got mad or feared it it would not change. So I let it go. Once I did that it became much easier to just take the day to day view.

I also realized some time ago I was much safer here. Vietnam has a handle on the whole virus thing. Now we have coffee shops, restaurants and markets open each day. School has started again for the kids. Some things we do not have here yet. Big malls and cinemas are not open. Bars are not open. Karaoke not open. I don’t much care for those things. Now my day to day is better so it’s easier to take each day. I go to the coffee shop I desire with some breakfast like a Banh mi or some pastry or some delicious fresh roti. I can sit and zone out and always feel welcome here in Hanoi. At our market the folks in the stalls are used to me. I know the stalls with the best mangos and pineapple. Today I went after meeting a friend for coffee and got pineapple, mangos and a bag of oranges.

The day to day pleasure of life is high in Hanoi. I have good Vietnamese food if I want or I go to an expat hangout for burgers and beer. Sometimes it’s satay and a baguette for dinner. I also know a good Mexican restaurant I will take some Vietnamese friends to next week. They really want tacos!

There really is no pain or difficulty here living with how I go about it. I just trust the Vietnamese government, police and army to do what they do. They never bother me and are very kind when they do the wellness checks every so often here.

So the wonder of the unknown is not a wonder really. It’s more of a rather nice and fun day to day thing with Vietnamese friends inviting me for dinner and coffee, checking on me because they worry, and just enjoying the freedom of my walking each day and not having the issues so present in other countries.

to today and only today

I got used to living in Southeast Asia years ago so the day to day works fine for me. If you are the type that plans or schedules or builds careful milestones of things it may be difficult these days. There just is only today.

I think it’s much easier and Hanoi’s a fun city regardless. One just has to take the day and spend it either wisely or foolishly. I don’t worry much about either way. In my meditation app they call it acceptance or equanimity.

Sounds good to me!

Some time ago I decided to pare down my rather massive at least to me Tortuga Outbreaker 45L bag and it’s pounds of weight and compartments. I grew tired of carrying the big bag over a shoulder or on the back. So I decided to find something that would support less and let me move faster with less. I went with the much lighter Eagle Creek expanse hauler bag. I also divested of clothing. I found this bag was so much easier to carry as carry on when I flew and also easy to check when lazy. When I rode Amtrak across the US earlier this year the bag could be with me in the sleeperette cabin. One of the things that had bugged me was the day pack and also lugging around a bigger bag. So when I was in California I replaced a smaller bag someone gave me in Vietnam with a even smaller bag by NutSac. The bag I got carries the daily essentials when around town or in airports and transit stations.

One thing I did pick up earlier this year was my FujiFilm XT30 camera and the lens, extra battery and SD card, charger and cable and I also bought a lightning to SD adapter so I could get the images more easily. Of course all of this stuff did not fit in the smaller every day carry bag so I then bought a bigger daypack. Back to carrying the bigger eagle creek bag and a day pack again.

This was not going to work for me. Something had to go. I wanted less and lighter and more portable and less stops and starts for the images. So a few days ago I gave all the camera gear and the backpack to a Vietnamese friend here. She was amazed but needed it to advertise and vlog her Vietnam tourism business. I did not need or want it. In fact I had grown to dislike the gear rather intensely and could not tell the real difference in the photos i shot with my iPhone 11 and it. I also wanted away from the day pack and the larger bag when on the go. I have no fondness for looking like a backpacker in Southeast Asia because I am not one. My life is completely different than theirs. I also wanted simpler and gentler. When I decide to go to Cambodia or Laos or wherever I want ease and speed of travel. When I take photographs of people and places and things I want simplicity of editing and backing up to google photos.

In other words I want,

simplicity

And I want less. I don’t need a 45L 5 pound bag to carry so few things. I have consciously pared down the stuff to reach this point now. Where basically everything is less for me. Fewer of all things. A simpler life devoid of big things.

The camera was the last big thing to go but it’s been the mission and desire for years to simply go with less. Less or none of it all. It makes life more tangible and rewarding and fun to have less. No debt, no property, no house. No jacket or jeans. Simple clothing easily replaced in a market in Cambodia. The only expensive thing are shoes but now I have two pair of Chaco sandals. One not worn yet for the 5 to 7 miles walking each day. It’s hard to get them here so I carry an extra pair.

How little do you have? Or how much? Could you just go if you ever decided to bail on life? Fit it all in a 45L bag? Carry the most prized possessions as memories and moments?

Do you secretly desire a simpler and kinder and gentler life? Maybe you are retired or will be. When the virus ends or dies or does it’s final dance perhaps you will decide to take an adventure of less. I’m here to tell you you can do it. Fear is normal but don’t let it take you down. There will be a place out there that may call to you. Take a chance. Growing old is not growing complacent or rooted to the earth. Now you have time to consider and look at what you want in life. You too can settle for less.

Since we have had the lifting of enhanced social distancing here in Vietnam, lots of moving along. Basically businesses of a wide variety can re open now. Coffee shops and restaurants, gyms and health centers. School will open soon. Many decisions are left to city governments and since Hanoi has more active cases things move along at a slower and more careful pace.

I’m sitting at my favorite coffee shop a few hundred feet from my home. It’s one of the little things about moving forward here in Vietnam. Yesterday a Vietnamese friend and I went out for hours in the Old Quarter. It’s very different than where I live. Smaller streets, busy alleys and social life there teems. You can come out to West Lake which is locus of museums and historic properties here and see wide streets and blocks. Tree lined and with signals that are almost obeyed. Here the local police watch over the busier streets because traffic is also moving along. More motorbikes, cars, bicycles and people walking.

Yesterday though in the old quarter we both remarked about the complete absence of tourists. We did see the occasional expat and retiree hunkering down not so much. Now moving along means going out as they want. Going where they want each day.

It’s much different than American cities opening up. I feel the government here has an overall objective. Never did see one in the US. I’m afraid for friends and family there. With the bluster about human rights and walking the streets championing freedoms to gather I fear the most at risk will pay. Those that don’t gather but have the disease spread by those that do. Then what will all those champions of freedom think when people get sick and die in a supermarket or convenience store because of their actions. Of course I guess the trump mantra of “no responsibility” will make it all okay to move along. I told my daughter in Orlando Florida to stay home. She is not going out.

The day by day here is different and I’m so thankful. We do what the government says. We believe in what they say. I’m just an honorary Vietnamese as my friend Chinh calls me. I don’t criticize any government the places I live. There is no upside.

So when I move along here it’s different than there. I feel safer and still have liberty to go move along. To the lake or a park.

It’s made all the difference for me moving along. If you are living somewhere in isolation and waiting try writing. Why not tell your story? I’ll continue to tell mine. And my beliefs and decisions. We don’t know where all this ends up. Give it some thought. It’s worthwhile to tell a story. Each story will frame your moving along.

Mine does.

When I was a kid my mom and I would pretend a thing. There was only her and I so our world was a large family. I had brothers and sisters in that world. We got into trouble and had crazy adventures. It was all ok in our minds though. We created this world and then populated it with family. It was fun and perhaps anthropological and sociological at the same time. We created a tribe that were so real then.

If we went on a trip they went with us. Sometimes someone else drove the car besides my mom. We had times together of flight and fancy. Moments of joy and sorrow and adventure and travel. There was no place we could not go and getting there was easy. We could beat the speed of light and reach some mysterious destination in the blink of an eye or nod of the head.

Perhaps I knew then I would do anthropology and archeology for years. As my mentor was fond of saying later,

archeology is the mind wielding a trowel

And it was. We could find places hardly explored and people never seen. We could go and find but then it would end after the drive.

Yet, I would still say another day,

let’s pretend

And off we’d go.

I’ve wondered after 20 years writing one of these things called a blog if it was pretend. I believed at one time we had the best minds creating content. Sometimes linking to my content. It was a wonderful pretense. A world of bloggers creating only for their desire to sprinkle words in a virtual garden of delights. But some years ago pretend ended. And this worse than reality world settled in with blogging. Now words created for the mere joy have become passé. We have demoted our wonderful creators to catalogues.

If I were to ask my mom,

let’s pretend we are bloggers

I’m afraid we would fail. For certainly we have lost the imaginary worlds of words and replaced it with ugly affiliate links and ads. Now the lifestyle and travel bloggers spout self serving platitudes and the inane lists of things.

So yes I am tired of the current crop of pretenders. My mom would shake her head and maybe tell me,

wrong world son. We belong one over

And how much less does it all have to become until we can’t find the thread of it with google ads and subsidized posts and affiliate links? I don’t know.

That’s why I’m here. So let’s pretend that this is a small iota of a once world and you enjoy content and the words next to each other.

I’ll go ahead and do my part. You can read backwards or forwards here. It’s all words on Write.As. Beautiful words all lined up on each other. Now who is pretending? This is my world. Read or not it don’t fucking matter. I don’t write for you to read or to comment or like. I write for my own savage joy to say whatever the F I wanna say.

Quick! Click the back arrow. It’s safe there. Hahaha 😂.

It’s 5 days after Vietnam lifted the enhanced social distancing limits. Today finds me in a small coffee shop next to where I live. I first started next door to my place at my local pho shop. The lady greets me every time with smiles and knows what I want. She makes some of the best pho ever!

Today is Moc Coffee where the lady and her husband say hello to me every morning even if I don’t go in. I can sit for an hour and dream my Vietnam dreams. It’s easier with putting down worries about where and when. I will stay here until August. Here in Hanoi. Perhaps I will visit Saigon in June. I would like to get to Can Tho to see a friend there. Most of all though I’m set here. The neighborhood places know me. The market ladies know the fruit I will want. Pineapples, apples and mangos. Maybe some banana. Life slows down. Rich content heightens.

A morning meditation

Lay still. Breathe in and out. Find the place. The mix of thoughts and letting them go. Hear the kids playing and laughing. Running to the beat of a basketball. Rooster chimes in. I lay listening to it all but not acting on it. It’s like moments I have but let go. I’ve found a measure of peace and acceptance but with a lot of questions still. Meditation truly is taking the thoughts that come rumbling and dealing but not fixating on them. I can hear the voices and the drumbeat is breaths and heart and feeling this wonderful sense of interplay with all. Not sure of the time. Time doesn’t exist anyways so I let it go.

My moments are ending. I decide that on a whim. Eyes flutter open. Room spins back. No hurry. No predisposition.

back to coffee

Hanoi has a blue sky this morning. Leaves wag outside the coffee shop. Almost inviting to walk farther. I will go today. I’ll walk to a place not near or far.

It’s a morning. A Monday morning in Hanoi. Time well spent with nothing. Blogging is a empty canvas. Words strike down. Virtual ink left. Motorbikes zoom by and young Vietnamese laugh outside. We are all glad to have this easy and simple moment back. A coffee shop on a Monday.

Maybe tomorrow never comes. And that’s good. Today is a measure enough for one old retired guy.

For about a month restaurants, coffee shops and stores have been closed unless they are essential or provide delivery via Grab food or other option. Cannot go in and get food to go here. Everyone uses Grab Food.

Now the mandatory and enhanced distancing has ended and we can go out as normal but we should still try to stay home. We all must wear masks and observe required social distancing. To ensure compliance the Vietnamese police and army were out today. In force. I was not told to go home but they kindly let me know places not open to walk like sidewalks in parks or large government buildings.

As I’ve mentioned Hanoi is very gregarious and social. Coffee shops play an important role culturally and socially for people. Same as small bars and food restaurants like Pho shops. Vietnamese love the social part in life here and they love their coffee houses.

Now the enhanced rules are done and we can go out. Many places opened today for the first time in a month. I am talking about regular service and not take away. I went to my favorite coffee shop and sat for hours luxuriating in the delicious latte, it’s art and a wonderful almond croissant. I went to the local market and got satay for dinner.

Other places closed still. Government buildings like museums and the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum are closed. Malls and barbershops and hair salons closed here but could be open in Saigon. Hanoi has more active cases and there are still districts locked down with the enhanced social distancing rules.

My neighborhood is full of small shops and coffee houses. Little restaurants now opening for regular service. I could tell yesterday things were changing. Store owners and employees were cleaning up, getting ready for customers, and taking down the covid-19 signs marking them as closed. My favorite coffee shop opened at 8am. There I was at 11am with a latte and almond croissant. Then a day of walking and doing the little things in photography I love so much.

It dawned on me how truly blessed I am to be here. Vietnam is an Island of relative safety and when you see how close they are to China, it’s amazing what they accomplished. Vietnam is a poor country but how did they do no deaths due to covid-19 and now only 50 some active cases? It’s simple. They were on this since January. The government had a plan. They were flexible and transparent. They treated all with compassion and dignity but the baseline was met. Who knows with covid-19 what happens next.

I know one thing. Vietnam is truly a joy during these times. I wandered today almost 5 miles outdoors. Wherever I wanted to go. Thank you Vietnam.

I’ve come to the conclusion we live in trying times. Times that beset us with agonizing realities that only months ago some politicians said did not exist or were fables. We reach a plateau where life and thought and solitude have become social distancing. Solitude to me is,

being alone because you want to be

Social distancing just reaffirms the choices some oftentimes hermit like me is prone to make. I’m not a community guy. I want a certain life of simplicity but I want sometimes to see other people. Just not too close. Whether social distancing applies or not. I just don’t like most people.

So the whole idea of meditation stole upon me awhile ago. Not meditation with legs crossed and mumbling phrases. I wanted what I will call rich content. I wanted the tapestry and form of modern meditation. It’s peace. The breaths in and out. The dealing with finding space. Most of all finding me. Because these times are crazy and a old retired guy needs...

Mindfulness

Yes I do. It brings me back and sends me forward. But I felt to expand what I truly wanted I still needed movement aside from walking. I love the 12k steps a day I soon will be doing since Vietnam has lifted the social distancing directives that closed everything down. But another thing. I needed to find a method to move my old muscles and bones another way.

It’s always a journey and not a destination for me. So enter restorative yoga. The yoga for old folks that still want the moves. I decided as usual I had no goals but I wanted moments to sink in and reach out. Yoga offers both. It’s also a solitary thing for me with the excellent Down Dog app on my iPhone 11.

The Result

There is none. The old muscles and bones in the old retired guys body take days. The old mind encased in the old body takes days. Walking returns soon which is a moving mindfulness for me.

I decided to simply enhance it all and offer something to myself that let me see the other sides.

Is it for you? I don’t know. I don’t know your journey. Maybe you will find a similar itch to scratch. I can say there is a larger measure of peace and acceptance but it does not change the “you” in things. I still want less people in my circles but I want more of the things now that matter. And one of them is mindfulness.

Because it does matter. To me.

I normally don’t do reviews so I won’t this time. Here are some things though to consider. Things for me only. Things about me only. Your mileage may surely vary. You are probably smarter, more able, with better abilities than me and you can perhaps handle things. I can too. I have perhaps a simpler life than you though. What I own fits in a 35L travel bag. Lots of clothes? No. Electronics stuff? No way. Other physical stuff? Nope. Debt? None really. So maybe I know something after all. I live in a room in Hanoi where things are relatively safe. Nowhere is safe now. You been to nowhere?

What I’m getting to is even with a somewhat reclusive life and one where admissions are closed to entry, I have feelings and desires and dreams. Yep! The old retired guy dreams. Not of fanciful success in any world. Or acceptance even. I really don’t give a rats ass if you accept me or not. See? No comments or likes. No ads. These are my News, Views and Subterfuge. Been that same way with the same blog name and title for over a decade.

Here’s the final thing to consider. We all need something in this. Whether it’s a person, a thing, a desire. Whatever. Age does not discriminate for desire and wants and needs.

I uncovered a need. Yep. Actually with writing a journal using Day One awhile ago I found a need. I simply needed to write the journal.

Blogging also became more and less. I found satisfaction and joy moving away from Wordpress to Write.As. So blogging after 20 years became something different. I rail against the blogger elite now because I would like to see, in my need, a return to the days of authors creating words and ideas, sharing them, linking to mine. But I know now this is unfulfilled. That’s ok. We can’t always get what we want. But we do get what we need. That brings us to the point after journals and blogging.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Yep. Meditation is not sitting in a dark room in some arcane position mumbling words. Or even following some person that will lead you to enlightenment or acceptance. It’s, to use a tired phrase perhaps, a journey. Not the destination. But the way to get there. It’s breathing. Yes. Breathing. The simple thing we all can do. It’s learning to see yourself. Your feelings and emotions. Your needs and wants. Not denying the feelings. Or the words. Or the thoughts that bang around sometimes with abandon. It’s accepting, seeing, and understanding them. It’s creating some bit of space to let them be. And then not dismissing them or killing them off.

So while I have just started a voyage with this I have also seen it’s importance to what I want and need. In the day to day battle we confront we court wants and needs. Our feelings. Our emotions. Our instincts. For me it’s mere moments to see them, accept them, understand them but also create the space for it all.

It’s not sitting cross legged and mumbling words. It’s being alive and dealing with life. Perhaps you don’t need this but I have found I do. These are troubling and difficult times. We are hit by a thousand points of darkness each day in every news cycle. My advice?

Take some you time.

I won’t end up recommending an app. I use one called Calm. You may find another. For me, the app must fit my need. I have found this app does. You have to find your path. Perhaps you don’t need any of this. That’s great!!

It makes me slowly feel better, confront emotions that still sometimes bang around, and feel that I too have a journey even if stopped for awhile in Hanoi. It’s a question not of wants but needs.

What do you need?

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