You’ve decided perhaps to read this. It’s a series of posts about how life can be when I decided to bail on the remaining years of cribbage and Sunday coffee meetups in Fremont, California. Leave 20 years of disillusionment in IT Program Management. A series of endings disguised as milestones of life.
Just to give you an idea of the level of my career in IT, my last position was maybe the best. I managed critical programs others could not get done, were removed from, or management believed could not be done in the time required. Two of the three carried significant penalties. The last one did not but instead had commitments from our CIO to the global sales team. I’m not sure what was worse. Seeing financial penalties or a completely pissed off CIO. I did have many opportunities to see the CIO pissed at vendors, contractors and partners since he was my escalation path.
The last project was an untried infrastructure, application, security and virtualization project which would exercise load balancer, networking, identity management and secure access of private cloud services behind enterprise firewalls without the use of vpn. You can imagine how much fun it was. Then they decided that a 7 month project was to be done in 4. Over Christmas 2017. We did it but it took all the gas out of my tanks. I was exhausted after months of 16 to 18 days, vendors that did not, contractors that would not and shifting requirements by our own security and networking teams. But it finished. And so did I.
This is as good a place as any to stop. The next beginning takes us to 28 February 2018. Changes are coming. Like the next day.
Yeah I know. But running out of titles for these things. I felt I should update things a bit after mentioning in August I may head back to California. There were some anxious moments for a few days until I met friends for dinner last night. I’m blessed to know people here. Friends and feels like family. Family in Vietnam is most important and the families go wide and include many. So here I am an uncle which is an honorific title. But on to the wash...
leaving or staying
It comes down to that really. Comes down to what I want. Put at a basic level I’m happy here and want to live here. Vietnam and Hanoi specifically cross the i’s and dot the t’s for me. There’s a warmth and wonder and life here missing in many places. Some would ask about language and difficulties. Of course there are. Others would wonder about cost and safety. I’ll say cost for things here is less. A bowl of pho which is breakfast food is about $1.35. A banh mi sandwich can be had from less than $1 to more. There are really nice sandwich places where I live that do Kebab sandwiches on toasted bread for about $1.75.
Safety is interesting. I got my phone stolen in Saigon but that’s there. Nothing ever has happened in Hanoi to me. I don’t particularly care for Saigon so I only go to see friends or transit through to the airport or bus stations. Hanoi is pretty much the place for me. I feel safe day or night here. Where I live is expat central. Where I lived before was government central.
So I mention some things people have told me over the years. Questions asked or concerns posted. I’d ask anyone is it any more dangerous or less safe than any other big city? San Francisco or New York? Chicago or Rome. By far the safest city has been Taipei but Hanoi feels comforting and accepting and the Hanoians are warm and welcoming. Can’t say the same for the legions of expats, digital nomads, and others not Vietnamese here. Somehow arrogance seems the rule of the day.
So what I’m getting round to saying is I’m staying. I’m getting what I want. What I need. After August 15th I’ll leave Hanoi for awhile and do a rail trip north to south here. I don’t know all the details or how long or where. I do know Vietnam in the days of Covid-19 and after is the safest to me. Hanoi offers the most to me of all things that are wonderfully, strangely and beautifully Vietnam. I don’t know how long I’ll stay either. Other places still beckon. Cambodia or Laos. Malaysia or Taiwan. Sri Lanka. So many places to leave steps in and take images out of still.
I also decided to write some longer content and host it on the blog here in a series of posts. Call them chapters or sections. I feel the need to tell a story. To encourage others to go. To let retirees know it’s not a choice of Burger King or McDonald’s on a Sunday. You can sit in the shade and have an iced coffee in a wonderful, chaotic, mesmerizing place. Have moments there. You may have to wait until this current fever burns out.
So look for a post soon on my humble story. It’s the beginning. Time does not exist. Beginnings can go forever or only last a snap of the fingers. It’s up to you. You own the moments.
I’ve been living in Hanoi now for about 4 months give or take a beer. I may leave here in August for awhile. It’s hard to go anywhere now. Gone are the days of slipping across the Cambodian or Laotian border for a quick visa run. Now things are much more complicated and often costly. I will reach a choice I think tomorrow of staying longer or going back to California for a spell. The option of going back is not very exciting or positive. There is nothing for me there. No house, property, car. Nothing. My family has moved along and the new family is here. People that care for me. Want me. Love me I think. So why? Why?
It’s really a question of visas and residence here. Tomorrow I find out my options to just live here as I want and what it will take. Or I exercise the choice and go back to America. I was just there in January this year. I did not leave anything there. Vietnam is my home now. It’s the perfect combination of people, culture, history, food and beer. And I love it here.
So August will come. I will either stay or go. If I stay I will leave on a rail trip from north to south Vietnam. If I go I will see some airports like Hong Kong and San Francisco.
The world is an extremely complicated place and even more so with COVID-19 out there. Borders closed. Life changed. I’ll do what I want and have to do. But first it’s what I want. Having to do a thing has not been in my vocabulary for years. Difficult decisions for difficult times.
After my last post here on finding the old diary entries archived away, I decided that having two apps to record one life was one too many. The one place I spend every day is Day One. I write a diary post on my life, maybe discuss some ideas, perhaps photography. But hold forth in two apps? I have been meditating and thinking on making decisions and being happy. There’s no point in plotting out either any longer. No point in long discussions with maps and outlines. When I reached this view I knew creating and maintaining content in Bear Notes was not something I needed. Or wanted. I don’t need complex plans and discrete documents on “what if” scenarios or to decide to hop a train or bus to Haiphong town on 15 August. I just decide and go.
So I get to One. Day One. And I feel liberated from the false imprisonments of notes that I never really dealt with. I’m a firm believer in journals and diaries to capture, reveal, illuminate, and define the truth, lies, thoughts and vagaries of this life. I don’t need little word bunkers that I slouch behind and try to justify by writing in them every so often. There is no workflow or information flow or diagram where things go and never really has been. There’s me and the tags of my life. The few possessions of an old retired guy now in Vietnam.
I got away from a last idea of the right tool for the job. I have no job. Now i move on in this moment. The less tools the better. Life is not defined by how many tools you have. It’s more defined by what you are spending the moments doing. For me, I capture all that in Day One. There is no process. No multiple journals which just cause hints at organizations. There is me walking to breakfast soon. Riding a bus or train and seeing more of Vietnam. Most of all finding equanimity with the sometimes rush of thoughts and feelings. Day One gives me space much like mindfulness does. Ain’t that better?
This is a bit off from the usual daily notes of life in Hanoi. Life here goes on much the same. Day in I go for coffee or even coffees. Day out it’s dinner. Many things captured in Day One and lesser for awhile as notes in Bear app. Each thing has a point though and while Day one is a personal end and often beginning and also stands as an encrypted thoroughfare, I had lessened capturing things in Bear Notes. The question was why?
what’s the difference between a personal note app and a diary app? Do we need both and why?
Answers were not forthcoming. Something though is a line drawn, perhaps invisible, through each. This fell down when I found diary notes going back to 2015 in my Bear archive. I had thought them lost after changing apps every so often. Yet I had them. All markdown or clear text formatted. Not easily imported to Day One.
I also found notes of last years vagabonding. Notes on Laos and Taiwan. Vietnam and Cambodia. Even Thailand. I had begun to write a longer story on my adventures in the US. Never really finished.
A capturing of moments perhaps priceless only to me. Stories of hoboing around Southeast Asia made me smile and tear up. The before times in the diaries were sad marks of a disillusioned life spent waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Waiting to leave. I knew in 2011 I would go. I did not know it’s form. That 2011 me would, I think, high five the today me. I proved out for myself retirement can be more with so much less. Money is not the important or limiting factor. What is the most important and limiting factor then?
You make your travails and your limitations. You can break them. It may take time and notes and journal entries and changing life out completely. Here’s the point. I could not go with how I was. I had to change out. Had to become something else. Something less. Where everything fit in a 40 liter travel bag. Where life was day to day. Where debt and property did not exist. That was me through the years and fears and doubt. Those years like 2015. Prospects low. Marriage gone. Jobs coming and going. I had to change and arrange something.
Here’s the questions though.
Do you want change in your life. To become less yet find more? Don’t believe that retirement is “same same but different”.
Do you want to find joy and happiness with your new life? Maybe retirement sitting in a McDonalds is not your Big Mac. How about sitting in a pub in Hanoi Vietnam sipping a beverage? Or maybe finding another reality. Look for the joy.
Finally. What’s your expectation? My life is a day by day thing. I eat, drink, play, do some writing. Some wandering. There are places being old is not a sentence to despair. Don’t let that be your expectation. Here my Vietnamese friends respect and love me. I’m an old retired guy but my expectation is that this is how it’s supposed to be. What’s yours?
So that’s it on this Thursday edition. Found notes and old diaries lead to revelations and memories and moments. Try keeping your own journal however. Maybe you will find it one stormy day and the words will flow over you. Maybe gently challenge you. Perhaps scare you. It’s all ok. Just words. Or are they?
It’s interesting being kinda sorta isolated in Hanoi Vietnam in the midst of the most of the rest of our world just exiting stay at home and social distancing requirements from COVID-19. Here they are mostly non existent.
That’s not to say we all don’t need an escape. Without further ado I give you a Way. From my friend Mikka Luster’s diaries and photographs a wonderful plunge into another world. I love the writing and photography and how the chapters of his journey take us far away to that venerable place. Yes. An Escape. Now go. Find those shoes and that imagination. It’s time to walk a path. Read the words.
Life goes on after a few beers and then a few more last night. I went to Kens Coffee and had the sunset but got hungry so went to this Doner Kebab stand. They make excellent sandwiches and cost about $2. Then dropped at market and got two more beers and some cheap chips. Ended up back in room with the food and beer. So I ate and drank.
Now I’m at breakfast place where I always get the toast with avocado, bacon and egg and nice sliced tomatoes. Good basic stuff and a iced coffee gives me Saturday.
Today is a nothing day. Like all days. I watch the movements of the tay ho expats and retirees and I’m not them. I don’t like or need or want them. They move in their circles and the retirees move in theirs. There’s nothing to say to them. They seem a galaxy away from me. So I sip my iced Vietnamese coffee and watch Saturday evolve right next to West Lake. At one point I had wanted to be in Cambodia on a retirement extension but they did not happen. I’ve learned with some bit of meditation to acknowledge the things and let them go. It fits with my overall lifestyle well. Do I go here or there in the future? I know the answer.
I don’t know and right now it does not matter
yoga and meditation
They don’t teach. They show. You can follow or not. I will say what you can get for a small admission is more from life. Or less from life. What is it you want? I wanted less. Then got more. Your mileage may vary.
wrapping up Saturday
Not in a pretty bow. Or looking ahead. There’s no ahead to look I have found. No future worth sacrificing for and no past to be sorry about. There is now. This moment in Hanoi. Letting the persistent “what if” thoughts go is still work for me. I have tools now through. We all are plagued with them. They sacrifice us to altars of shame and responsibility and effort. You can acknowledge the thoughts and create space though.
Yeah. That's real. Went out with my friend lily to drink and eat. We did that. The drinking part especially. Then in a moment of weakness I took the phone out and... the phone was snatched by a guy on a motorbike. So had to get new phone. I bought the iPhone 11 Pro 256gb model. Had to get a case and new SIM card too. Took care of everything at a technology store in Saigon. At the same time had to remote erase the stolen phone using Find My. It was done when the phone connected to mobile data.
In years here never had that happen. Wandered around many so called dangerous cities. I was warned of Bangkok, Phnom Penh and a bunch of others. It took beers and weakness. I was never warned about Singapore or most cities in Malaysia and Taiwan stands out in my mind of true safety day or night. I never had problems a bit drunk or sober anywhere.
Now in Saigon for one more night then back to Hanoi. I did a few things I wanted here and since I never plan things the things wanted are my only things. Yesterday I went for a nice walk, did some peaceful meditation and yoga in my room and decided nothing. The new iPhone is nice. The camera setup and quality of the photographs is fun. It’s smaller and the screen is a delight to use.
I’ll be glad to be back home tomorrow. Hanoi is more my speed. Slower, easier, and more fun to explore.
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.