Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

Some days have passed since writing here. Not a lot of changes. I’ve read some of the news and honestly getting tired of the bad graphs and charts. Can someone post a good one? Like how many people have beaten covid-19 worldwide? Here in Vietnam we have about 60 some active cases. Over 200 people have beaten it. Why do we not see those statistics? Worldwide? It would be nice perhaps once in awhile to see something positive. Just my take. In any case I’m kinda graphed and charted out. The human cost in those charts does not seem at all transparent. It’s hundreds of thousands of numbers. Perhaps it’s like my graduate professor in statistics once remarked,

does the difference make a difference

I don’t know. I’m just an experiment of one old retired guy. Somewhat egotistic and narcissistic with no redeeming quality. So be it.

I also see two ways I could deal with this. I dropped one of them.

  1. Dream about tomorrow. It does not work. Who knows what it brings?

  2. Live for today. I can do this. Here in Hanoi. Yes.

But there’s another thing with either. For my own little sanity I decided awhile ago to practice a little meditation. I sometimes want to quiet the nagging voice with its worried cadence and concern about tomorrow. Frankly there is nothing I can really do about tomorrow. No amount of planning which I hate. Scheduling which I despise. Responsibilities I ignore. None work. I gave them all up when I retired.

So I’m left with today. Moments of today. Less numbers of mind numbing charts and graphs that boil down human misery to numbers on gradually inclining graphs. I cannot march to their drumbeats. If you can kudos. I need moments of silence and release. Then I can perhaps see another one. Or maybe not. I’m just fucking human.

Today is April 15th. It’s the last day (so far) of the enhanced social distancing rules that basically shut down Vietnam and isolated many of the cities from each other. Hanoi normally is a very lively place. Coffee shops and cafes do a lively business along West Lake and when you get to Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter normally buzzes with local, tourist and expat life. I have not been to the Old Quarter in some weeks. It must be a lot different. I loved a number of beer bars, pho stands and coffee shops there.

wondering about borders

Many wonder when they can move again. The borders for us old retired expats are much more than entitled millennial backpacker types. The borders for us are social and cultural things. The distance and cost from Vietnam to KL Malaysia allowed effortless and cheap visa runs or extensions of visas. We all have friends in the countries. The ties normally are based on being able to easily go to Phnom Penh when the mood strikes or to get to Vientiane for food, fun and French Bakeries.

The borders being closed means those porous and easily changed countries have shutdown. Now we are in a new reality. The old reality was all about the visa game. You knew the places with 90 day visa free stamps with a US passport. Nice places like Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. A little farther away Japan would beckon. These are like zones of relaxation and soon you established a repertoire of places but perhaps had the fallback. For me that was cambodia. I could easily get the ER extension of stay visa which gives me a year of coming and going as I want. Perfect for the old retired guy that wants Malaysia as a destination. I don’t care for Thailand. Not at all. So it never was included. They mess with visas too much and some friends on retirement visas there were harassed until they bailed to Siem Reap where the living is easier by degrees.

Now we have covid-19 and travels have ceased. I will stay in Hanoi until August and then go somewhere. It does not matter where. Will it ever be the same again I have seen asked on expat forum sites.

No. Never again. It will perhaps get easier but never the same. For those wonderful millennials, I’m sure the countries are just counters to some desired number. For us the countries are zones of life. We live in all of them. Many of my retiree friends enjoy the lives in both Vietnam and Cambodia. It may get better but it won’t go back. So it’s time again when I can to get the backup visa. Because life for us is about visas and extensions. We don’t game the system because it’s stupid but we know the rules. Here it’s stupid to overstay in any one country. Just like it’s stupid to do drugs in any one country. If you must do drugs I would recommend going to Singapore. I hear the canes are not so bad. Also don’t chew gum or smoke.

One of the other little things we do though talking about Singapore is go there for shorter times. Sometimes I need the place where traffic lights are obeyed, where the streets most often look antiseptically clean and the food is amazing. Only for a week and then it’s to Malaysia. I feel more at home for long periods there. And it satisfies the 90 day visa free thing.

final advice for those missing the going

Give it time. Check often with the embassy or consulate where you wish to go. Forget the rumor mill and FB. For now stay where you are. Take the day by day. Asian countries are doing much better in the covid-19 battle. And remember those once porous lines may be sealed up now but a new reality will come. We cannot be held down by this. We will win. But I think how we used to zip around between countries is going to be rethought. It’s only 50 minutes from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Might as well be a light year now. But that’s now. We have when. And when is rich with possibility. Kinda like if. Combined they create new wonderful possibilities. But we only have now. So make the most of it where you are. Try blogging or creating a life journal. Maybe practice meditation or take a free or cheap online class.

Stay well and strong. Borders are closed but minds can be open.

This morning the rooster sang his dawn rhapsody but spaced between his notes was the drumbeat of rain. It falls peacefully in the mornings sometimes here in Hanoi. Other times there is distant thunder and the rain comes with more force. No matter what though it seems to stop after 30 minutes.

It’s an incredibly peaceful sound here early mornings when it does come. Like small drum sets that dance a percussion and the air cools down and smells fresh with promise. So quiet in the early mornings but soon punctuated by the rooster and the rain.

It’s sadness and joy. Wonder and fear. Sorrow and fulfillment. It’s the morning in Hanoi. A Sunday Easter morning. The moments roll slowly for me this day. Instant coffee but not instant morning. This Hanoi morning takes awhile to show itself.

Then I hear the rain. The morning rain. No promises made and none kept. And it’s better that way. It’s better to have no expectations with the morning rain and be dazzled by its simplicity.

More of the reading than the writing of late. I still capture ideas of things I’d like to write more on and I have these days where I could write on the iPad with the Smart Keyboard. I’ve even thought of likely things.

I guess the main thing is between blogging here and writing longer journal entries the third thing which would be longer form takes a hit. I’ve also seen where the journal and blogging come together in many ways. The life of the journal is an every day thing for me. I enjoy the updates and writing on things numerous times a day. Day One is really meant for voracious journal writers and then searching on tags or words later. The blog is keyed to public reflection. I feel on the blog it’s necessary to capture my day to day experiences here in Vietnam.

Having down time to think over things for me is not ideal. I never really did think over things before. I don’t keep todo lists or tasks or bullet lists and don’t create life plans or responsibilities for the plans. Now though I have time. And it’s time to think which is bad. I do my best thinking moving around miles a day not sitting in a room. It means any down time ideas I may capture in Bear notes has to be then looked at later since I strongly doubt the decisions made sitting still. The old retired guy brain works better moving.

Some things are the grist for the mill. I put aside serious thought about leaving Vietnam because right now nothing can be done. In May I’ll just stay here longer. Then in August I will go. Go where? It does not matter. Some country close by. Even the cost matters less now. It’s too early to think about Vientiane or Phnom Penh or other places. So I don’t.

Instead I do half the equation. I read. Books on the kindle are lined up. Sci-fi and fantasy. History and prehistory. Fiction and fact. The kindle makes easy work of reading for me. I would never read on iPhones or iPads. Too many distractions with news and notifications. I want the reading to be the only thing there is.

Perhaps I will try writing again. There is a thing to say out there that I can feel. It hovers just beyond the blog and journal. Mystery words and thoughts. Actions and ideals. Interests and escapes.

Right now I have moments like these. The rooster crowing. The kids playing. The music playing and some karaoke going. I can hear piano practice. The neighborhood is busy even on lockdown. Vietnamese men and women laughing and talking. Maybe wishing to visit the coffee shop down the street that is closed now. People here are very social and gregarious types. It’s a lovely moment between reading and writing. It’s life moments.

We have about 5 days left in enhanced social distancing here in Hanoi. The government has implemented limits on entering and leaving major cities and public transit like buses and taxis plus ridesharing options like Grab are impacted. I cannot really get to other places in the city easily so I don’t go. Down the street is my local market where they are very eager to see fresh fruit and there are small stores and a bakery, a smaller pharmacy and some limited street food available. I went Wednesday and got a lot of nice oranges, pears, some apples and pineapple cut up.

I had gone shopping twice at Big C markets before the limits on ridesharing. I bought numerous containers of instant noodles but realized soon I cannot be happy with that. I need real meals. So luckily Grab Food delivery can bring me just about anything within about 20 minutes. I’ve had pizza and chicken dishes. Yesterday had a really nice chicken combo dinner with salad and rice for about $4. I always tip the delivery folks no matter what the order costs. I just feel they are doing this necessary and wonderful and essential service to all of us. We get fresh food delivered which is a blessing.

Outside of my room are these little alleys that have apartments and homes. I can hear kids playing. Sometimes music is playing. It’s a reminder of basic life and joy of living and the Vietnamese moms and dads are no different than others in wanting happiness and joy and safety for their kids.

time goes fast and slow

It’s not terribly difficult remaining in my room or shopping but time seems to speed up and slow down and it makes me remember it really does not exist and we enable our beliefs in it to be a blessing or curse. Living in Vietnam now is perhaps much easier than other places in Europe or the US. We still have the same worries as others trapped or wanting to remain in a relatively safer place until things stabilize a bit. Truth is we cannot leave now and if we could probably could not get back in again. My Vietnamese friends that work closer to government officials have told me to be safe and extend my visa here. They all believe by August basic transit to neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia will be easier and I’ll be able to get back.

It still causes a live in the moment sense but no fear or anxiety. I can sit here in my room and observe almost like a disconnected fan how my times change. I do feel removed from it all in many ways.

documenting the moments

I’m convinced that writing now will let others see how a person like me dealt with life after lockdown and enhanced distancing. It’s like a picture in a frame of moving landscape where the hidden wheels turn behind the photographs letting you see a gradually changing scene bit I remain constant and unmoving. Moments shift by and clocks tick the day away.

I now do not read a lot of blogs. I’ve become convinced that mainstream bloggers do not do the creation to provide anything of real value besides to their pockets. So I stop reading them. It’s sad really that these same bloggers could be impassioned voices but feel no desire to tell people about their lives now.

So I will just continue here to tell you about my journey of one. How Hanoi Vietnam deals with the aspects and issues and good times and bad. How a single poor country outdistanced the mighty US in managing the response in a humane and credible way.

But most of all it’s about what I see day to day. My feelings. The children playing. Basketballs bouncing. Parents calling children to eat. You know. The moments of life. We all have those.

It’s up to us if we speak out. Blogging could be a force of information and creativity. Those days though have passed I fear.

Stay tuned because I’ll continue to tell my story here. Maybe share a photograph or two. Tell you my little adventures good and bad. Perhaps it gives you a flavor of how humanity deals with this and how different Vietnam and the US are.

Take care all. Flatten the curve. Be healthy and well.

There is a week left until our two week maximum distancing period ends. It gives time to think a lot about life on a very small scale. Like the geometry and shape of this room. The cat meows outside my door. People coming and going. Yesterday I bought dinner from Grab Food. Today is instant noodles later. I'm so used to walking hours each day and being outside so I started exercising in the room for 30 minutes.

I also decided a few things.

  1. Staying on in Hanoi for three more months. There's no magical potion or lamp to tell the future. I think three more months will make it easier to do a visa run.
  2. Relationships seem a blessing and bane of my existence. I am not good at them and I see my failures are many. Perhaps exemplified during this social distancing period. On the good side one person left with no explanation but I gained someone else who perhaps needs me more. It's all hazy sometimes because I am not really good at interpersonal dynamics.
  3. Writing and creating content has been something for a long time I've wished to make easier. I don't like the barriers between apps on iOS. What makes a thing a diary or journal tool versus a note or writing tool? Why do some use this and others that? I know! Personal need. Reviewers and experts only know how they use a thing and what the thing is supposed to do. But only for them. All of us are really left with a wonderful universe of apps but how we use is up to us. I figured out one thing. Clear text and markdown rules.
  4. Photography is not what someone else on YouTube says is best. There are no experts on what works for you besides you. Perhaps a DSLR or mirrorless camera is not for you. Maybe it's knobs and dials only get in the way and block your moments. Do you care about ISO and aperture priority or shutter speed or shooting RAW? It all depends on your needs and wants. I thought through this a few times. I want the ease and speed of actually getting a moment. Then perhaps editing the moment and then sharing the moment. When I realized a dedicated camera for me got in the way it became easier to find my way. All the reviews on the world cannot tell you what works best for you.

I also have had time to consider if Vietnam is a long term thing for me. I don't know. I do know I feel that 2020 with covid-19 has been a major change to things. The rest will come as the dust clears from the next moments.

Wishing you all well. Stay safe. Be happy. Eat and drink well. Watch an old 50s sci-fi movie. Works for me! 😀

Bear in mind traveling right now is nigh impossible. Borders are closed. Flights cancelled. Countries are either offering visa extensions or just automatically extending like Cambodia. Vietnam, on the other hand, has this entrenched system which gives certain visa super power to agents. I think somewhere they get money back when an agent charges almost $400 for a simple thing. I should be able to go to Vietnam immigration and get a simple extension stamp in 10 minutes. All they really need to do is cancel the expiration stamp for one day and enter a new one.

And that’s what gets me to the nuts and bolts of this.

  1. Stay in Vietnam for 90 more days and either pay an agent $400 or just go to immigration and do it myself. That would mean I give things until August to get better. Will it? I don’t know. Who does? No one.

  2. Try to leave around mid May for Cambodia. Borders are closed now but may re open by end of April. I could get the so-called ordinary visa and then get the ER extension of stay for a year for $293. That has to be done with an agent that I know in Phnom Penh.

So I imagine many retiree expats are facing the same dilemma. We all feel we want to belong to a country like Vietnam or Cambodia. We have something to offer. We are stable and put money back into the economy. We do not feel the US or whatever country of origin is our home. We are not backpackers or digital nomads or any of those other stupid labels. Most of us steer clear of local politics and instead wish to live or travel a bit in the ASEAN block.

knowing to go or feeling

It’s not a good time now to make a dash to another country. Will it change in 3 more months? Like I said. Who knows. So part of me says to stay put here in Vietnam and get the extension. Another part says Cambodia is just as easy to live in as here. The bottom line is I don’t know. And neither does my South African housemate. We discuss it time and again. We both want to stay. Or go and come back without extending. It only requires some friendly country to let us in for a day to clear customs and then come back. If I could in May I would just go to Malaysia or Laos or Thailand or Cambodia and then come back. Therein lies the last part of the problem. Once I leave am I reasonably certain I am able to get back in?

The whole world and travel and life with covid-19 has changed before our very eyes. Countries need to treat people more humanely. Would you go back to the US or Italy or Spain now? I sure as hell would not. I value my life just a bit to want some safety and those places right now offer little. Southeast Asia, once the home to backpackers and the elites like digital nomads, have emerged as countries that have done the best treating both natives and foreigners with compassion. The countries have defined strategies for months in the case of Taiwan. Where would you prefer to live? The country with a few hundred covid-19 cases or literally thousands and more? Simply put going back to the origin country now is way less safe than finding an answer to staying in Vietnam until August. After all, staying here is some money spent and feeling safer. What would you do?

I will let time go by. Live day to day. And see. There is no rush to decide. There is today with KFC for dinner and weeks to go.

I think though many people are faced with similar questions. I’d like to see bloggers discuss this openly and offer a platform. I’ve started. Show me your voice. Write something if you are staying somewhere. If you wonder the same or different things. Show us your stuff. Forget the cute Instagram captions and silly philosophies. This is now. You can speak to it. You have a voice with written words.

Yes it's Sunday. I'm writing this in Ulysses on my iPhone. I decided on a whim to go back to one thing for all. I get rid of two apps and the little wall between them for a single thing that does about 90% of what I want. I can't really publish the post directly to write.as but I can have a more comfortable experience writing.

Hanoi Goes On

I ran into my South African housemate and we talked about the usual things. Covid-19 and Vietnam visas and extensions. He has two more weeks but will get an extension. I have a month. Cambodia has taken a more humane position on visa extensions and just give automatic extensions. Vietnam likes the money from the agents. I will pay $400 for an extension. That's more than the flight and an ER extension of stay for a year in Cambodia. Trouble is I am not sure in May if the border opens and I can just go. We both agreed to go day by day. Perhaps this is the very thing many of us retired folk living in Southeast Asia are faced with. Can't go here or can go but can't go back. Interesting times to say the least.

Summing it all up

The intention of the blog has always been to document my meanderings both physical and mental as I both wandered and now am staying put in Vietnam. I entertained the idea of writing something longer for other folks that want an out from a place like the US. Truth is people focus on the younger travelers but there many more of us than you think. We also need encouragement to go and see. Just because we are old does not mean we have lost all desire to go and see and dream. Age has no bearing on dreams or desire. Somehow though we are lumped into some category of “old and worn out”. Truth is we are more viable for Southeast Asian countries. We may have retirement income and stability. But the real thing is we want homes and a fun and interesting life. Countries like Cambodia, Malaysia , Vietnam and Laos get it. I don't think Thailand gets anything. To me it's a huge disappointment there. There is no land of smiles. It's the land of expats and retirees stamped with dollar signs on their backs.

I go on to the beat of my life slow or fast or just going day by day during these days. I call out what I see both good and bad. The blog has always meant that. I don't wish for readers or likes. Popularity or ads or affiliates or subsidies to post. You want words? I have those.

See you next time.

It’s been a few days of the more extreme social distancing here. Not supposed to leave the house except for food and emergencies or to visit a pharmacy. I’m good with food for awhile and can call Grab for food delivery. Today will do that and get pizza delivered.

What it prompts us thinking and reflection. Some complain about doing nothing but retirement has been exactly that for me for awhile. Some things have bounced around,

photography. I’ve watched a number of YouTube videos on both the iPhone 11 and fuji cameras. I’ve asked myself what are the compelling reasons to stay with either one. I cannot find a reason given what I do with photography to heft around the fuji camera at all. There is no value added to having it for me and I dislike having it exist in almost isolation from the workflow around taking photographs, some editing. And sharing photographs and then backing them up to google photos. Everything is an effort with the camera. The remote app is crap. Getting photos off requires adapters and removing the SD card and importing. The final result is still the same. I cannot tell the difference between photos taken with the iPhone and fuji camera. Before the lockdown I went out walking around Hanoi. Here is some stuff I managed to see. All little things caught in small worlds with the iPhone 11. Why do I need more?

vagabonding Asia. I’m glad I stopped wandering last year and decided longer term stays every three months visiting either a new place or a place I love like Malaysia or Cambodia. Little did I know how life and the ability to just wander the countries would change. Now I am in Vietnam until August because I’ll extend my stay by 3 months. I hope then I can go as I want.

people and relationships. I’ve never been very good at either. Getting old makes me more set in my ways. If you and I don’t give and take something of value from each other and mutually agree to the trade it’s not for me. There is never something for nothing. Friendships and people and relationships are not exempted.

blogging and social media. I decided awhile ago that the Instagram self portrait website and the twitter world were not for me. I got rid of accounts on those sites because a presence on them had no upside. I settled on blogging here, mastodon and Facebook. I take blogging seriously and I can’t believe really what has happened to it. Gone are the days of creating for its own value. Now are the days to only make money and get a niche and self proselytize. There is no going back but I found Write.As to let me find some of the old back. When we wrote to create and to share and link to others. Mastodon is simply fun and I can find so many people of diverse interests in a federated world. My instance is focused on photography but it’s the fediverse. You can find whatever. Finally FB is just for fun. I use it because friends use it. If it wants to track that I was at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum three days ago it’s ok. I know I was there too and I purposefully checked in. I also use it to track my wandering ways. Food, shopping, travels. I have an imperfect record so where I was. All good because I ain’t perfect either.

And finally...

Remembering and Capturing. I think in the days of covid it’s important to capture and remember. These are amazing days we are in. I want to remember the little things so I focus now on Day One for these things. I got rid of a notes application because I don’t use it for any of the things. I added journals to get to the things important to me. It’s all imperfect because I am. And that is ok too.

So there you have the remonstrations from the day. A day captured and remembered. My day caught at a moment of nothing in a lot of moments of nothing that I will make into something. I don’t want goals or tasks or responsibilities. I don’t desire property or debt. What I need I have. What I want I consider and often let go. If it does not fit it’s gone. It’s left a life of few material things but richness of moments. Moments I create and dispose of at a whim.

All brought together by Saturday and Hanoi and moments to spare.

Starting now we have two weeks of maximum social distancing in Hanoi. Cannot leave the house except for food and emergencies or if you work in essential service or industry. This is an important time for vietnam to flatten the curve even more than their aggressive mitigation strategies. Keep in mind vietnam is next door to China and has done an admirable and ethical job protecting the country. Now it’s another step to track and treat those that have entered since early March or that frequented some establishments in Hanoi or Saigon. Time to stay home, do some reading and writing and reflecting.

If you blog and you find yourself in another country tell your story. Don’t Instagram it. Tell it on your blog. The basic blog is truly a storytelling medium. You can show your followers and those that happen to find your blog you have a story. You decided to stop and take a breather and weather this storm.

I did. I stopped in Hanoi Vietnam. I could have stopped elsewhere as well like Cambodia. Vietnam has what I want though and I can stay here and live. I also stopped because I had decided to stop wandering Southeast Asia as I had done for years. That was before covid-19 times. I wanted a home for awhile. A place to breathe and stop and slow down. Southeast Asia is a perfect choice although I could have picked Taiwan too. It’s that nice there. Instead it’s here and now for me. I decided to stay in this place because I felt safer than most others. That the government here was transparent and ethical and treated all with kindness yet they remain aggressive in dealing with the issues surrounding the pandemic.

My advice FWIW.

  1. Live day by day. Nothing is gained by worrying about tomorrow.

  2. Find your stride to life. Is it meditation or yoga or reading or writing. Find the passion then do it every day.

  3. Don’t worry about immigration or visas. Vietnam and other countries understand. Have a basic plan and find out what you can do. It may cost. But what’s more important. A few hundred dollars or you?

  4. Finally keep the faith. Whatever your faith is or is not. Just believe in yourself. You are imminently powerful and will get through this.

If you find yourself in another country become a spokesperson and tell the story. What have you to lose? You can gain a lot. Perhaps going back to what blogging was once all about. It’s not all ads and followers and sponsored posts. It’s words and thoughts and storytelling. So you are a force.

Go be one.

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