Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

Today not a lot going on. Will have dinner tonight with friends at a nearby Italian restaurant. Pasta and pizza! Last night was a lot of fun. Everyone should experience a Bia Hoi place. Love the vibes! The beer flows and there is food to go along. It’s not terribly expensive and you get to see people here doing what they do best. Eating, drinking, laughing, telling stories and always waving at me. I was the only expat in the place 😃.

I’ll probably sit here at the Bakery for awhile with my latte. I had pastries already. This place is about 10 minutes walk for me so I come here often.

Tonight we go here for dinner. Looks to be good. We try to visit new places each time we go. It’s pretty easy in Hanoi since international cuisine is big on the list here. It’s funny that we rarely do local food but I think it’s because everyone has Vietnamese food all the time.

I met one of my housemates again. She’s Vietnamese and speaks only a little English. She showed me the fridge and split a six pack of Hanoi beer with me. Hahaha. Very cute. I had given her some beer when she came in late one night.

Now it’s latte time and reflection a bit on some friends traveling. One of my oldest friends left Philippines few days ago for the US. There were only a few people on the plane. Like him and his family. That’s five people. Everyone wears the face shields and masks on the plane too. My other friend tried to get into Philippines but was denied entry in Korea and told to go back to the US. So he went that same day. Every place here is locked down. You can transit in international airports but not go through customs and get visas.

I’m exceedingly thankful to be here. Have days and weeks and months left in Vietnam. I will be glad to go though when a nearby place like Cambodia opens. It’s looking like that could be later this year. Once I get there I can get the year long retirement visa extension. The process is pretty simple. Turn over passport to reputable agent and wait a week. After that you get a visa in your passport marked for a year.

All does not matter today or a week from now. Now it’s the bakery and latte and seeing the smiles of kids looking at all the baked goods.

Tonight I walked around the lake for a bit. Ended up at a Bia Hoi place. This place is bigger than most. Lots of fun with the food and the fresh draft beers. I ate dinner, snacks, and had numerous beers. Price came in to about $7.

The best part is being with the crowd there. Vietnamese people love to drink and eat and the bia hoi places are social like coffee houses. In the evenings you meet friends, eat, drink, tell stories, laugh a lot. Tonight was no different. I sat in the corner and there are loads of blue tables and chairs. All plastic. Waitresses wander around and people wave or yell Em Oi. My waitress saw me and held up one finger for one beer. Then I got the menu. You don't need English. There are pictures but this menu was in English. So I ordered. More beers and food and peanuts.

There is a clipboard left on the table with the orders. Food comes and I order more beer. There is one waitress with the money. She totals up the costs and you pay. Easy stuff. Here is what it looks like. Fun place!

Then walked home. Day is done.

I've been on this platform now a year. I came here because Wordpress tired me out with its ever cycling plans. I upgraded to this or that plan for only a few features like themes and plugins. I had some followers there and a few people commented now and again. I had been on Wordpress for some years. Maybe a decade between the free version on some Linux VPS and moving out of laziness to the hosted side.

I read the community site on read.write.as every so often and find a blog or two I read more of. Most I ignore either out of choice or chance. Some blogs listed do not appear to me as actual endeavors at blogging. They seem to be commenting on other blogs that do allow their posts to be listed on the site. It's a configuration option you can select or turn off. So I go back and forth on turning this off. I do federate my blog and have a few people that get updates that way.

I only mention all this because I don't view read.write.as as a contributory site to make comments or post scraped comments inline. I view it as a discovery platform to find blogs that maybe I want to read. If you use it to make incisive or stupid comments inline great. It's not what I go there for. I go there, as I said, to discover blogs I wish to read more of.

So I think soon I will turn off publishing to read.write.as completely. I don't need or depend on it having bookmarked the blogs I care about now. I enjoy the platform immensely and will be thankful to Mikka for showing me last year a new direction I could go with writing.

And it's a national holiday here. Vietnam National Day. It comes in September each year. Some things open. Others closed. Coffee shop closed I desired so had bun cha instead. Now I'm at the usual coffee shop by the lake. Then suddenly... we had to leave. The area was closed off by the police and barricaded. Gatherings of more than 10 people I believe. So I made my way to the barricade, got through and paid. Tonight no beers by the lake so I will have to go elsewhere to drink. I think I will go for walk and get a sandwich and beers and come back to my room tonight.

We are at day 3 of no community cases of Covid-19. Doing good! On the subject of this and that a friend flew from the US to Seoul Korea planning then to transit to the Philippines. When he reached Incheon airport he was told he could not enter the Philippines and they voided his visa. So now he is flying back to California. I don't know of a place here he could enter on a visa. Southeast Asia is basically locked down. Seems like they should have told him in the US. It's gonna be this way until it's not. There is some hope countries will gradually open and allow those with COVID-19 PCR tests, willing to enter and spend two weeks in quarantine will be able to do that. Vietnam is looking at opening its borders later this year with these changes. Right now as my friend Joe found out nothing is open in Asia besides for transit through airports on connecting flights which does not require a visa or entry stamp.

On to Thursday!

Today did not do much. I wanted to evaluate the Ulysses app for writing so downloaded and moved some things over I am working on. Still kinda checking it out. It has a lot of nice features for content creation on blogs and longer writing. I think the thing that I dislike is too much organization. I've been using the Drafts app to do all the stuff but have moved a longer thing to IAwriter which is less on the organization side and more on the writing with no bells or whistles. Comparing the two I don't think I could use Ulysses long term. It has some strange issues with syncing to iCloud and sometimes will not until I open the iCloud files app. There is also some basic stuff it does not do like linking to another note which is really handy.

Now am at one of my favorite burger places for a few beers and a burger. It's about 10 minutes walk from my room. Really good burgers. Price is medium. Really don't mind the price of things here. I pay less than $160 a month for my room. For years all I had was a room so this works fine for me. I got the room on Airbnb but then decided to stay longer so the landlady did a lease agreement for me. She has to have rental agreement with expat staying. She also has to fill out declaration form for me every so often. Before I would get visits by Vietnamese immigration to see if all was ok. Now things are not like that. They do come to visit but it's a walk through only. The police do come every so often on wellness checks. It's all about COVID-19 here.

Finally we reached two days with no community transmission. It's taken some time but I am really impressed with how Vietnam handles everything from contact tracing to letting people know what's going on. Not like some other country I know. Another reason I will not ever go back. It's not my country any longer. America stopped being my country years ago.

Finishing up and gonna stop to get some apples and head home. Another day with little to show. Just the way I like it.

Sitting at the Paris Baguette bakery for pastries and a latte. It's another nice day here. I went back to Facebook after a few weeks of a break. It's no different and it never will be. The never ending tirade of politics really lessens it's worth. I got tired last time of the memes and disagreement and posturing by both sides. Most of my friends on Facebook are people from before when I worked in IT. They just continue on. And on. On. It goes. I had thought of staying away until November but it won't be any different then. I did miss my Vietnamese friends since Facebook is used quite differently here. It's a method along with others to keep up with friends, maintain social contact, and meet other people. I guess I could block everyone. Kind of defeats the purpose and nothing is served by it.

So instead I go back but just use the mobile site on my iPhone. Now I feel better in some regards and worse in others.

I was asked after posting a news story about renouncing my US citizenship. It's a thing I've considered. I can get new citizenship in a few places. It just takes some time and bureaucracy on both sides. Perhaps I will. Nothing I need to decide this Tuesday morning in Hanoi. I try to make as few decisions as possible. That means no todo tasks or calendar events either. Just the way I like my Tuesday morning.

Today I wandered to a few places I really like. One is the world heritage site Temple of Literature. It's a nice walk from the coffee shop I started at. I was one of a few people visiting. Wandering slowly you can see all and backtrack all you want. Usually very busy with tours and school kids. Now it's very quiet and serene. It has this wonderful essence of peace and solitude. I was gonna go to the Thang Long Imperial citadel but it's closed Mondays.

Then it was time to stop for Taiwan fruit tea at Yi Fang. It's my favorite fruit tea of all and it's always on my way back to my room. I would visit Yi Fang all across Taiwan. It's the best to me.

Wonderful day playing what I am. Just decided today to partake of the numerous delights Hanoi has. Here's some photographs of my endeavors today. It was simply a beautiful day out. Warm and sunny. Blue skies and warm breezes. The weather now is extremely wondrous in Hanoi.

Now I sit facing Truc Bach Lake. Watching fish jump in the lake and the water stirs in its mysterious and profound eddies. No beginning and no end. The afternoon sun bounces to the water. Reflections stir. I'm grateful for all Vietnam does. We are safer here than in many places in the world. It's not epic. It's normal. It's just a day. Time never moves. Moments stand still.

I'm close to my room but the park bench holds me fast. The retired gentleman of leisure is thankful for what he has and has not.

It's Monday so perhaps I will count Monday as the start of the new week this week. I'll be going to Highlands Coffee (think Starbucks) soon to see another old American retired guy and his Vietnamese wife. They both are fun to visit with and I just kinda picked the coffee house because it sits right on Truc Bach Lake and the view is nice. This week will also do Italian food on Friday with some Vietnamese friends. The place I chose is close to where I live and looks to be nice.

My old friend AFT leaves the Philippines soon for the US. I don't envy him but he needs to make his presence felt I guess where he works. He has not been able to meet team members in his cloud computing team since COVID-19 started. I hope AFT is ok with his family there since they are going back too. He has lived off and on in Manila for almost 20 years working for a variety of big cloud players.

The Covid-19 scene here has stabilized since the community outbreak back in July. Most likely we will not have enhanced social distancing which means staying at home unless shopping for essentials. We are at a little over 350 active cases, about 30 deaths, and more people are going home after hospital stays. We have reached 0 new community transmissions and deaths being reported today. Yay!

The rules now are to maintain 2 to 3m distancing and restaurants and coffee shops have removed tables and chairs closer than that. Face masks must be worn when outside. Here it's not a big deal because a lot of people just wear them anyways. We can be fined for not wearing. Throwing old masks away on streets is an offense too. I bought a box of face masks and hand sanitizer at a pharmacy here before. These things have always been easy to find here.

So there's a Monday in Hanoi. I may walk over to a temple complex here after coffee this morning. If so, pictures later. It's a nice walk there. The month of August early on was rainy. Now we have warmer days around 34 most days. We have not had the steady rains for about a week although evening thundershowers occur often. Hanoi has different seasons so September is kind of a transitional month to cooler and dryer conditions.

Now at the Highlands Coffee. Had a banh mi sandwich for about $1.00 here and an iced coffee. Now done with the food part so relaxing with the coffee. Had a nice visit with my friends. Paul and the boss are nice people. It's good to visit every so often. Now it's just as good to have time on my own.

There's never a rush here to finish. Just like me. Never a rush to go or stop.

Decided I wanted to try a few apps again. There are a lot of nice markdown note and text editors out there. Here's a few recently I've tried.

  1. Notion. A hybrid note taking and perhaps wiki style app. There is now a free plan and it seems to be on all platforms. I copied over a few notes from Drafts 5 on my iPad.
  2. 1Writer. A markdown writing and notes app.

Notion can be a variety of things. It can be a productivity tool, a database driven project tool, note taking and information management. Also it's easy to embed a note in another note and add other elements or views in a page. It's easy to add graphical tools to give the page style. Maybe one of its larger areas is team access. If you are building content with a team, notion could work to help smooth out how each team member accesses and delivers. All that wonderful stuff being said, my own view about Notion is it tries to be too much. Let's boil it down to my needs and why notion is simply overkill for me. I don't do productivity things any longer so I don't need an app that traces and tracks productivity or tasks and goals. I don't have a team to consider or want things embedded in other things. It also would be difficult to use notion as I use Drafts. It's just not made for my use cases which are not tied to productivity, teams, or collaboration. If I went to notion, I would lose the ability to simply create text on an open canvas. I could not use custom actions to send things to other things simply and effortlessly. I don't believe it's meant for the actual creative process although I could use it to track that process by building a similar tracking tool as I've seen in YouTube videos. But... I don't need a tracking tool to help me stay on target with goals and milestones. So perhaps if you do need those things notion could be extremely useful. There is a free tier now that looks good for access.

1Writer is a nice app and I like it a lot. It has a nice editing canvas with few elements to distract you. It's more of a writing and editing app and gets out of the way when you want to create. It can be extended with custom actions. The app uses files in iCloud for my editing. I only use iCloud since Apple apps sync to it pretty well. Writing in it is pretty easy. If you know basic markdown elements you can go faster. I like it a lot! The main factor for me that drives me away from it is customization. Drafts has basically spoiled me with thousands of action items. If you are looking for an application to write and want the focus on writing 1Writer could be your choice. It's a one time purchase in the App Store which may make it attractive for those not inclined to support subscription based apps.

the second brain

The concept of a second brain as a digital tool has gained a lot of traction. You use a specialized tool to create and manage your second brain. After watching numerous videos on YouTube I get tired just contemplating the amount of work these folks put into wanting to create, maintain, and enhance their digital note taking aka their second brain. Everything is grist for that mill. Books, podcasts, blogposts. It all goes into a tool. Don't worry if you need a second brain. There's apps for that.

  1. Obsidian
  2. Roam Research

It's too much for my feeble first brain to even consider creating a digital second brain with one of these tools. Then there's an entire approach to this called zettelkasten. Basically, wikipedia defines this as,

A zettelkasten consists of many individual notes with ideas and other short pieces of information that are taken down as they occur or are acquired. The notes are numbered hierarchically, so that new notes may be inserted at the appropriate place, and contain metadata to allow the note-taker to associate notes with each other. For example, notes may contain tags that describe key aspects of the note, and they may reference other notes. The numbering, metadata, format and structure of the notes is subject to variation depending on the specific method employed.

Creating and using a zettelkasten is made easier by taking the notes down digitally and using appropriate knowledge management software. But it can be and has long been done on paper using index cards.

The method not only allows a researcher to store and retrieve information related to their research, but also intends to enhance creativity. Cross-referencing notes through tags allows the researcher to perceive connections and relationships between individual items of information that may not be apparent in isolation. These emergent aspects of the method make the zettelkasten somewhat similar to a neural network with which one may “converse”.[1]

Source: Wikipedia

Wow. A lot of work. I see these guys busily creating videos hours long explaining bidirectional links and how to structure your vault. It's value the influencers state is for the you years from now. You just don't know what you may need or want years down the road so gobble up all the stuff and write on it. The tools are very complex and most do not have mobile apps so folks use yet another tool to access and update the data. Some use multiple apps. Notion, 1Writer, DevonThink to go. Then when they can something like obsidian or roam research. I just find this amazing. The dedication to creating this repository is far beyond what little I could possibly give to it. You can find intricate videos on all the aspects if you want to see on YouTube. Here is one on Roam Research.

now I use...

The apps I use now for writing are Drafts and IAwriter. Drafts is billed as the place where text starts but it's a lot more than just that. It has the ability to use hundreds of custom actions, flexibility with creating and writing and also it's speed of access makes it more than just a tool for creating tweets or reminders without using those apps. I never did get that use but there are sufficient people that use it for much more. IAwriter is a wonderful markdown writing app with no pretense about note taking. You get an uncluttered screen, focused writing, and minimal customization options. It just does what it's supposed to do as far as I'm concerned.

So there you have it. Do you want that second brain? I don't. I'm too lazy. I think lots of people, young and old, do want though. I've gone from the complex to the simple. Now I'm spoiled.

It's Saturday here. I did some breakfast down the street. Some pho bo and quay which always tastes good. Now up is coffee on a Saturday. Just a short walk from the pho place is a cafe I frequent. They serve lots of coffee and tea drinks but my preference is for Vietnamese iced coffee with milk. A glass costs less than $1. I can sit by the lake, almost the same spot I drink beer in some evenings, and have the required Saturday thoughts. There's not many people here now so social distancing myself is easy. Usually by early evening lots of Vietnamese people will come for beer and evening coffee.

It's warm today. Probably gonna get up to mid 30s. Sitting in the shade by the lake I can still feel cooler breezes running the lake. The water in some spots is mirror like. It heightens the feelings I always have that time does not exist.

So for some disjointed Hanoi thoughts.

  1. Life in Hanoi is pretty good for retired people. Living here is easy. Shopping, food, coffee, beer is next door basically for me. Nothing really costs a lot compared to the US. The bowl of pho this morning was a little over $1.50. The coffee is under $1. Beer on draft or in bottles is usually less than $1. At nicer places for international food choices like Italian, Korean bbq, Mexican I pay more. I kinda expect to so nothing is really shocking for me on how good Hanoi is.
  2. I'm happy here. It would be difficult to not be. We don't have shelter in place and restaurants, coffee shops and pubs are open. Day by day life here is not stressful. I can go as I please here. Hanoi is a vibrant, sensuous and fun city to live in.
  3. I feel safe here. It's important to me to feel safe and able to go walking and take photographs. Most cities in Vietnam I do feel safe in except for Saigon. Down in Can Tho I wandered alleys at night often. Hanoi just feels accepting and there is a noticeable army and police presence where I live. It's the seat of government and the military so I never see much out of the ordinary.
  4. I want to leave. Yeah. I want to go. I'd like to be in Cambodia now. No matter how all feels in Vietnam I always have the wanderlust.

Meanwhile though life goes on this Saturday. People say hello. Kids wave and smile. Coffee shops invite me in with a Xin Chao. It's a good thing I like coffee so much.

So that's a Saturday for you. Nothing to do and all day to get it done. Perhaps some writing later. Maybe some reading. Now I just hear the distant thrum of conversation and bikes going by. The lake seems to beat with its pulse.

So long from Hanoi on some Saturday.

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