Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

Down the street from my place is this building. I love its lines and geometries. I walk by every day. I don’t know what it is. I suspect it’s a government building though. Lots of them where I live.

I need a new passport. Pages running out so I have come to the US embassy in Hanoi. It’s not far from my place but being the lazy guy I am I took a grab car here for about $1 USD. I honestly don’t understand why more people don’t use grab. Much better than taxis. You know the route and cost up front and you can follow along in real time.

Now I sit in a nearby coffee shop waiting for 1pm to come. The embassy requires a few things to get a new passport:

  1. Printed out PDF forms of the form. The form can be filled out online and then saved off and printed. Don’t sign the form before.
  2. One 2x2 photo of your mug. You might as well get them cheap online and then printed like at Walgreens or find photo shop here. I did mine when I visited the US.
  3. Your original passport. Mine has an active visa for Vietnam and it’s not expired. I get it back. It will take 2 weeks to get new one with more pages. I will then have two passports for 10 months.
  4. Money! You must pay a variable amount. Mine is $110. You can pay in USD or use VND or card.

Here’s my chief gripes. Instead of merely adding pages which would be ideal and mean I would only have one passport I cannot do that any more. Pain in the butt. There is no way to do this online. Why? Why is the US so backwards. We should be able to login to the US embassy in Vietnam, upload the stuff, use a debit card and be done. Instead we print and copy, journey to embassy and wait for whatever time it takes. For those retired and living like me in Southeast Asia there is no alternative. I could not have done this when I was back. Too little time.

I am hoping one more trip to get passport in two weeks is it. I love the US. I just would like some kind of modern interface for people living their lives somewhere else. By contrast day by day life in Southeast Asia is a breeze. It’s all simple. You don’t need to read the language or speak it. In Taiwan you can just about do everything online. Retirees are prisoners of systems not designed for them especially living in another country.

So true,

same same but different

End of rant. Time to get in the que.

Wish me luck 🤪

Today marks two years for me. I left IT and retired and the next day flew to Japan for weeks. Then it was Vietnam for 6 months. I just wandered all around then. Got to see so many places. Some became my places. Others I would only visit once. Then came the trip back to the US after two months in Taiwan, a short trip to Philippines and back to Kuala Lumpur. Vietnam and Cambodia too. I lived in Cambodia for some months. I received a retirement extension for a year there. That came up last October so I would visit Saigon and then go to Taiwan.

So many yet so few places. Others see and count cities and countries and continents. I punted on that. I counted moments and experiences. Perhaps it’s why in December when visiting the US but even before I knew I would get the year long visa for Vietnam. The goal always was to stop the wandering and find a day to day thing. A home for awhile.

I’ve also looked at friends. They are trapped by their stuff whether it’s real or existential. Their lives revolve around stuff. More stuff. More travel that’s less. Debt that sinks them. Homes that bury them. I figured out retirement though is not supposed to just be a continuation of misery. My ex wife was fond of saying,

misery is optional

And it is. But we never listen to those other drummers as Thoreau said. They are too measured and we believe life is meant to get old and sit at McDonald’s and play cribbage. Watch the other old retired guys wander. No more adventure or mystery. No people that matter or not. Both types of person can show you a thing or three.

But I watch them and their lives careen from disappointment to accomplishment. But each measure is off. We always have both but I believe with more stuff the disappointment is more keenly felt when you must have more. Achievement is fleeting. You don’t have a measure for joy in it. It’s another measure of what again Thoreau called quiet desperation.

But why?

We are made of star stuff and dreams and wonder. The universe peeks out from our souls. Somehow though we lose track of it all. Negative and positive. Good and bad. Milestones and goals. Responsibilities. They all seem to guide us but instead rule us.

So I gave it all up. Now I write this in the Dragon Coffee Shop in Hanoi Vietnam. A locals only place you would think. But not really. I’ve watched the moments and experiences last forever. I’m here to tell you that you too can decide and define. The status quo need not apply. You don’t have to do what I did but never think getting old is some sentence to a life of gradually diminishing returns. There are places that value and treat old retired guys like me with respect and where I have found new people that walk with me, talk to me, love me for me, value me.

This is my answer. You don’t need timeshares and worrying about time. I’m here to say to leave time alone. Take your moments like wonderful jewels and let each day play itself out.

Perhaps you shall be amazed. Or maybe you will just go on, eyes on the steps in front of you. It’s really your choice. What I did two years ago is not daunting or difficult. Getting rid of everything is just that. And it’s fucking liberating as hell.

Just for fun and starting soon I’ll write each week in truly random fashion about my Hanoi focusing on my neighborhood. A picture or two. Maybe a story. A little narrative about what I’m seeing, drinking, doing, eating. Where I’m walking. I’ll title the posts something like this:

My Hanoi – some blurb or other

All pictures with my iPhone 11 and all observations mine. Let’s see how it gets on 😃. Maybe two posts a week or five. I dunno. I’ll try using snap.as to share the images.

There caught in a reach to the lake in Hanoi. Stairs leading to an open door. Graffiti on the walls. An embattled elegance which captured me. Taken on my iPhone 11 and edited in the photos app. Tell me why I need a dedicated camera?

When I came back to the edge I knew what I wanted. It was the lightness of time not scheduled or tracked or even planning a next country to see and walk. I knew life would settle down in Vietnam wherever I lived. Vietnam is made for a person to live slowly. Neighborhoods have small cafes and coffee shops. Bakeries and pho stands. Small stores selling everything. I never go far to find a thing.

It creates a basic life for me that is easier, cheaper, and I simply love how all of it fits easily together. I live in a room now sharing mostly with Vietnamese renters. I’ve come to realize a room is perfect for me. I get the best of things and pay the least.

There is the lightness of life being throttled down to basics. Where life is not measured by passport stamps or visas. I can fly around in Vietnam for cheap. About $50 round trip to Saigon and back to Hanoi.

There are the people I care about from south to north here. All within reach now. Mostly it’s this edge of life where nothing is something, no inexorable creep of days or time. Just a coffee shop and a cool morning to keep my moments.

Perhaps just perhaps this is what retirement was always meant for us. We all should be able to have that lightness of being. A soul and heart and mind not constrained with worry, with debt, with the crush of things. A lightness and wonder in one small piece of the world.

There are the little things when I wake up in my room here. It’s early. The sun maybe a whisper on some horizon. But in the air is morning. The roosters now by their clocks and one runs on another time zone. He starts and the others join in. A frenzied cacophony of good morning and its still nighttime.

I get back to sleep because those guys will stop after awhile. They’ll realize they greeted the morning and their clocks are assuaged. I don’t have a clock to go by. I get up as I please and visit a coffee house. Perhaps I get a bowl of pho or a Banh Mi. Sometimes I walk the neighborhood market with its fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and meat.

Life is a slower mix of no required things to get done. Coffee now or at 11am? Does not matter. The local house a few doors down welcomes me with smiles and hellos any time of the day. They’ve perhaps grown used to me relaxing over that rich brew. Ahhh. Coffee in Vietnam. A joy best enjoyed in a local house. No backpackers and no tourists.

Morning thoughts assail me but never argue for prominence. Life indeed has become the slow mornings, coffee later and thoughts of a morning life spent with no places to go.

All good I hear the inner voice say. Sometimes it asks about things like getting laundry done. I quiet it. Those things are easily done here. I found the local shop with the bottles of water and beer and snacks. A uniquely Asian thing perhaps.

Now though all things can have their due course. It’s a morning in Hanoi. No debts to pay and still my daily walk will come. Next up that liberal dose of caffeine to overtake my senses. Maybe a seat in a park after. This little park with benches and kids and moments to spare.

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!

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.