Mikes Thoughts

News, Views, Subterfuge

It’s Monday so a new week here in Hanoi. Today I decided to switch back to the FujiFilm X-T30 camera from my iPhone 11. Maybe because of new firmware that landed or that I need to do stuff a bit different. I don’t take challenges or have goals or responsibilities any more. They are counter productive to my slothful well being. Instead I find something for awhile or longer I want to go do. I decided last night to go do the camera and practice and learn more again on it. It’s a fine piece of kit and I have two lens for it. Each lens requires learning more as each offers something different. The 18-55mm kit lens is a fine lens. How it’s called a kit lens is a mystery. It does so much! Then there is the F2 35mm prime lens. Fast and furious and this lens shrinks the camera size down.

The X-T30 is likely an excellent all round camera but it’s size and features make it worthy for travel. When you have comparable features to the high end X-T3 camera it makes the cost and use very compelling.

I say all this because the camera offers me learning and fun just like the iPhone photography but not tied to classes or goals or requirements. I go at no pace but my own.

So today when I walk in Hanoi later I will use the camera. I’ll take JPEGs only because I’m lazy and I don’t like editing RAW photos. I will do some study on ISO and make a feeble attempt to get off auto ISO. That’s probably doomed. Because I am lazy and the camera can do the work. I may shoot on program mode too.

but now...

Now is morning and coffee and being retired. I decided to delete an Instagram account that had nothing in it because I hate Instagram. I deleted a twitter account because I cannot tweet. It leaves me with the preferred things to share with others. Perhaps I’ve outlined them before but here they are again,

  1. Mastodon. I like my instance a lot. It’s named photog.social and I have a home there. I find mastodon more engaging, often disruptive and friendly. This instance offers photographers or wanna be or maybe something in between the chance to share to the wider world.

  2. Facebook. Only for fun really but most of my Vietnamese friends rely on it. I don’t like or hate it. If it wants to track I was at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum the other day ok. I know I was there too. So go for it.

  3. This blog. The blog fills the desire to communicate and share but not be hammered with categories and followers and likes. Write.As provides a slate for me to fill in each day. It’s words on virtual paper and that’s it. We all know real bloggers use Wordpress. It’s ok. Real photographers use Instagram as well. Right? The blog gives me space in the world to create and discuss and cuss.

Those are the three. Then there is a Day One journal I fill every day. Sometimes I wonder about the intersection of blog and journal. It all turns out somewhat right though. And life in Hanoi goes on anyways. My coffee in the big red cup calls to me.

See you tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

It’s Sunday morning and we are into a week of general shutdowns of non essential businesses in Hanoi. This means coffee shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses are affected. Grocery stores and local markets remain open as well as pharmacies. The city parks are not closed and walking areas are busy in the evenings with people getting some exercise. Hanoi is a gregarious and social city with many coffee shops that are hubs and centers in neighborhoods. People enjoy mornings sitting out with coffees and reading the news on newspapers or their phones.

This has been curtailed for a week so most people stay in or go for walks. West Lake is a popular walking area here. There are also parks to visit and kids play outdoors all over. It’s just different than other social distancing rules in other parts of the world.

So what is a day like here for this old retired guy? Here’s a breakdown.

  1. Wake up with roosters crowing sometimes early on. Maybe at 4am. I go back to sleep but the noise is comforting and irritating at the same time.

  2. Up at 730 or 8am but sometimes later. I relax in the room until about 930am and then make some instant coffee and eat some pastry and fruit I bought earlier.

  3. The morning after coffee is spent being lazy in my room. For some hours I do nothing. Kinda like my regular retired life I guess 😀.

  4. At about 1pm I get outside for a walk. I want to do about 5 miles a day. I stay out walking until about 3pm and stop sometimes at parks with benches and sit.

  5. Dinner can be something like instant noodles or last night I got chicken satay at the local market and had with bread and an orange.

  6. Evening spent with YouTube movie and then reading on my kindle. Sometimes I write a bit or chat with friends. My daughter may call from Florida with depressing news about the virus.

  7. Bedtime is around 1130. Off to sleep and sometimes strange dreams.

So that’s a day for me in Hanoi Vietnam. I feel safer here than most other places. As evidence last night Vietnam immigration visited our apartment tenants and had copies of my visa and passport. They asked about my health, if I needed anything, and wanted to see my face mask. They also let the manager now they would check on us every week to make sure we are ok. I don’t know another country that would do this. And it made my yesterday so good! The Vietnamese government and city of Hanoi care about all people. I feel safer but not safe. I don’t think there is a place to be safe.

I also think about going to Cambodia. I want to go in May and spend a few weeks. During that time will get a retirement extension of stay for a year there which lets me enter and exit as I want. I think about going as I please to other countries I love like Malaysia. I really want that back. Will it come back as it was? I doubt it. Maybe the countries in ASEAN will develop mutual trust relations with their neighbors and we retiree expats can travel between them. Who knows?

It’s far beyond this day to day thing and what I can accomplish. Now back to my YouTube movie and my big cup of coffee.

Thanks for reading you all. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Today a Vietnamese friend let me know to prepare for the city to shutdown for a week or so. Many services will be affected. I went shopping for some basic food items at the Big C grocery store. It’s like the larger Safeway or Lucky stores. Got mostly food easy to cook and not needing a fridge. Also bought coffee since that’s one of the things affected. No coffee shops open for a week.

I believe I am okay now but I can still order food online using grab. I asked my Airbnb host to make available purified water to all of us and he will help with that and any other stuff we may need. I need to buy a case of beer I think. Gonna do that tonight or tomorrow.

What this means here is we are locked in here until mid April and there are no flights in or out. I would not want to leave anyways. Here I feel safer.

I’ll continue to blog and take pictures and do my solitary walks each day. I want to always remember this and what a great job Vietnam has done for everyone. Pictures and blogging work good for me. Tomorrow I will buy more viettel mobile credit just in case. I have a good data plan now which is month by month.

It’s an interesting time. Not scary and there is no panic here. It’s just everyone obeying what the government says. We do that because they are honest and open and transparent. Unlike one US president I know. I won’t go to my feelings about the US now. I will never forgive and forget what trump did though or did not do. The idea of opening the economy on Easter is ludicrous. You will spike the curve and more will sicken and die.

So now I go to walk soon. I’ve eaten and done the shopping. I feel good. Bring it on. It’s always day by day here. I am particularly thankful to my wondrous Vietnamese friends for ensuring I knew what was going on and how to prepare for it.

I don’t know if I will write every day. Overnight the Vietnam government announced a lock on all people entering. Also there are no international flights going or coming into Vietnam now. So life in this closely knit fabric of countries called Southeast Asia has changed both individually and collectively. The new reality is that there is no “life as usual” and that fabric of life, people, history and customs has frayed along many lines.

Life in Hanoi which is what I write about more now is like this:

  1. Many coffee shops and restaurants are open and serve me with the same hospitality and friendliness as before. I can easily find international and local food close to where I live.

  2. Food is easy to find and one can shop at the small stores or go to markets for fresh stuff. I can find apples, oranges, pineapple, all kinds of meat and poultry and a lot of coffee and rice.

  3. People in Hanoi are a gregarious lot. Early evenings are marked with visits to parks, exercise sessions, eating and visiting. I see this every evening and at the local coffee shops I frequent.

  4. Life is not hard here at all. In fact it’s pretty carefree. No one curtails movement and everyone voluntarily accepts the government limits and conditions.

  5. I go for solitary walks every day. Now I take my FujiFilm X-T30 camera because I’m enjoying using it again. I get 5 miles a day walking. I have the streets I know with government presence but I never have felt unsafe in Vietnam. Walking or shopping in my neighborhood has been the same.

All that being said I yearn for the freedom again to just go. I’d like to make it to Cambodia in May. We shall see.

coffee shop times

Now I am at my favorite coffee shop. I had a fresh almond croissant and a hot latte. I will stay for one more. They welcome me gladly and I just sit. Sometimes longer and often even longer. It’s a wonderful shop with numerous rooms and a balcony if you want. I sit in the corner and relax on their WiFi which is free and just read or think of the day. I made a decision to try and not reflect on tomorrow. To just take it every day. I’m grateful to be here. I’m in no rush for a thing but perhaps that yearning to know at some point I’m free to go. I think that part is human nature.

So from here on you will see more of my day to day here. The Day One journal and the blog kinda blur together. Hanoi still moves. Bikes and buses go. People still treat me with that legendary hospitality or close to it.

For all I am thankful. A new day has come.

I’m writing this mostly as a voice of a person now unable to leave Vietnam nor really wanting to. The US embassy has advised that US citizens that can should remain in Vietnam indefinitely. To stay here I believe you need a mindset that life is a day to day affair. Vietnam is not a difficult or expensive country to remain in. Just consider the following:

  1. The borders are locked. It’s almost impossible to get in now unless you meet stringent prerequisites.

  2. International flights have been curtailed and will soon be stopped. There is no reason to fly domestically anywhere.

  3. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health has texted everyone with the rules for self quarantine and distancing. They do not stop exercise or walking in parks or trails. They do require face masks and they require no matter who if you have landed since 1 March to fill out health check and mandatory quarantine no matter if foreigner or Vietnamese. I came in two weeks before but have done the online health check.

If you find yourself in a similar situation try to take life day by day. Nothing is going to be any different until it is different. If in Southeast Asia use local resources like google maps to your advantage. Be careful at a reasonable and prudent level. Get the grab app and you can order food online and have it delivered.

For me I have the resources and have lived in Southeast Asia for some years. I have the basic things like an unlocked iPhone and a good data plan. I know my neighborhood and they know me. I’m not denied basic life needs like fruit, water and others.

Do not fear and be calm and take the day to day. I have Vietnamese friends that care about me and family in the United States that do as well. It’s more difficult for them. My daughter living on fixed income in Florida has a variety of issues around food and basic necessities. Rent at one point became an issue but the state government is providing assistance.

My main message is to accept that life is going to have a great deal of unknowns and don’t stress over things you don’t know. Be brave and resourceful. Get out and exercise. I walk and practice social distancing and record life with my camera. Practice good hygiene. Try living a simpler life. Keep your head in the present and don’t fret tomorrow. It will come and offer good and bad things no matter what you do.

If you find yourself like me and will be staying for an indefinite time try recording in a life journal day by day. When you look back in some future time you will be amazed at your courage and fortitude. Try taking pictures of life now in your country. Don’t worry about what it may mean tomorrow to stay. It likely is safer than America is now especially if you find yourself in Southeast Asia. Don’t be afraid of the government or immigration in your country. Just take on what life offers and see the value every day.

I’ll stay here until I don’t any longer. I don’t know when that is. My own embassy has little in the way of assistance programs. So here’s the final piece of advice:

don’t look back. You are not going that way

Just stay to today. Tomorrow will come and show you new things. We live in a time of great change and countries and governments are doing what they can and must do.

Think about starting a blog and give a new look to your life. Keep that daily personal diary. It’s all gonna change but we don’t know to what or when. This means you have the moments of today.

Live on folks. I am.

I flew back to Hanoi today from Saigon. Very interesting and sometimes stressful. The flight lasts 2 hours. I was perhaps the only non-Vietnamese on the flight. It gave me some pause and it also made me think a bit of what we bloggers should do in the face of covid-19. Here are some things I would like to see bloggers do:

  1. Speak out with passion on the dangers and inform us with reporting from the trenches. Many expats are in countries that are locked down now. We look for a voice of reason. So how about you bloggers speaking to the pandemic directly. Without ads and affiliate links. Write with some passion about the times. Don’t hide behind your sponsored posts and your affiliate links. Speak with passion!

  2. You have enjoyed counting the continents and countries and discussing travel tips and itineraries. These places are made up of people though. Look at the human factor. Be bold and enterprising. Show everyone there is more to your conscience than merely counting your countries. Stand up and discuss! Write about the human factor. I have long thought that the new blogging elite are after the money pot at the end of ads and sponsored posts and affiliate links. Show me I’m wrong. Publish a thought piece on your blog on the human part of things. Surely you have seen that in your travels? Stop with the inane itineraries and plans and things to pack. Be brave and resourceful. Show that by blogging your conscience you can reach your loyal readers and give them your view on the human cost. I don’t see travel bloggers ever giving out their minds and thoughts and feelings. Now is the time to share beyond your itineraries. Write now on the people behind the itineraries.

  3. Be a passionate speaker for what you do. Engage and create things of value to you but most of all use the pulpit you have to speak loudly and clearly about the world, travel and your thoughts. Show us you care more for the people in all those places.

By doing this what do you lose? You lose nothing. What do you gain? You gain a voice. Become a speaker again of the human cost. Write passionately about covid-19 and how you see it’s cost. Go back to the bloggers of yore. When you were still packing your lunch box for school. Then writers worked to create and share visions.

I challenge you all to do just a bit of that. Cease the endless prattle about “working with me” and tours and itineraries. Get thee back to the halcyon days of the act and art of creation. Be the voice that moves others to create.

Yes I would like to see bloggers create again without itineraries and plans and what to pack. Because the medium can carry the thoughts and feelings to far etched corners of this world. Be more you bloggers. Create more and then show us your thoughts. Travel is only half if that. Consider the voyage and the people you have touched.

Will you do it?? Likely not. Blogging has ceased being a voice calling out and become the ATM card of the generation. It was not always like this. It’s lost the shine of its convictions. Too bad. With that loss it has truly become popularity and followers and likes and not the value of the thought.

The borders are shut here in Vietnam. No one in on new visa and if you have existing you quarantine. I’ve realized awhile now Vietnam is a haven in all this stuff. The authorities are reasonable and prudent and tell people the truth. Life in Saigon now goes on. People observe the basic rules. I’m lucky I would say to be in this particular country with a year visa at this time. There are moments to do.

In my little corner time is not really real. It clocks and minutes and hours only matter rarely. I go to coffee shops and pho stands and walk alone and take pictures. I sometimes chat with Vietnamese friends online and more often now with my daughter living in Florida. Life there is a hurdle for her. Limited income, food and supplies getting hard to get and observe social distancing. So she suffers a bit but learns more. Perhaps it makes her more resilient and independent. It definitely instills a fear in her.

I don’t look forward too far and never have since leaving years ago. It’s easier for my moments to just come and show themselves.

I leave for Hanoi tomorrow. Glad to be going. It’s a two hour flight from Saigon. Then a taxi to my neighborhood and a short walk home. Back to a quiet existence. Moments to come whether ill spent or not. I’m flush with them.

Awhile back I had decided to lighten my load and drop the overly heavy Tortuga Outbreaker travel backpack in favor of lighter. I ended up with an Eagle Creek travel bag that weighs significantly less and is much easier to either check or carry on. To get there a few things changed:

  1. Dedicated camera, lens, batteries and cables was ditched in favor of an iPhone 11. The iPhone has proven to be an excellent daily shooter for me. The loss of basically pounds of camera gear meant an easier daily carry.
  2. Ditched the 12 inch MacBook 2017 model and it’s terrible charger. I also lost a multi port type c dongle I had bought so I could get some ports back. This lessened the daily carry by pounds again.
  3. Purchased an iPad Air 2019 model and the Apple Smart Keyboard. I wanted a device with lightning chargers. It’s just easier to manage a single type of power connector between devices.
  4. Found a multi port international travel adapter that took the place of two other things. Score some minor weight loss and more convenience
  5. Got rid of some clothing and bought other lighter weight t shirts. In Asia you don’t need sweat pants and most often you don’t need a hoodie.
  6. Lost the daypack and replaced with a everyday carry bag by NutSac. Crazy name. Really fine bag. Now I don’t look like a backpacker or digital nomad with the two backpack setup. Airplanes, buses and trains much easier and the bag is tough as hell.

The real result of all this is a life devoid of most things. Things that do not matter or make no sense or I decided to leave behind. But now I get the camera gear back in a week. I must decide what I do. I don’t feel like I need a dedicated camera. The iPhone 11 is plenty of fun and so easy to use. It takes RAW images if I want and there are excellent pro apps that complement it like ProCamera. I only use the default app now for quick things or its night mode.

I’m not a photographer and have never claimed to be one. I do enjoy the art and science of it but I decry the labels and the canon or Sony with the 10 foot long lens. I want to record the things not carry around dead weight all day. That’s just me. Your mileage will vary.

The ultimate and wonderful joy of having almost nothing always wins. Life is not about accumulating things or bemoaning the lack of them and desiring more. For me it’s about simplicity and being a realist. No BS minimalist labels need apply. Life is not a label folks. It’s moments heaped on moments. People you find that give and that you take from and they take what you give freely. People have dropped away from me but my path is pretty clear to me. I need less that means more not more that means less.

Today Vietnam got its 17th and 18th cases. One quarantined from a flight from Korea and one after traveling Europe. In the second case, Hanoi has shutdown a part of the district she lives in. No one comes or goes. Now she is hospitalized after being administered the test for the virus. Yes Vietnam has a plan and they go about the treatment I believe very efficiently. People are generally not worried here and trust the city government to do the right things. I would much rather be here than in the US facing their issues. It just feels Vietnam has not politicized the virus and instead has plans to deal with people and communities.

So my friend Lily that lives in south Vietnam by the Mekong delta messaged me about the problems and really wanted me to leave. I gave this a lot of thought and decided to stay. There are a few reasons. I do not feel at hazard of catching the virus. I feel safe with what the government does and their steps to combat the problems. I am not going to turn and run. This is my home. I would hate leaving Hanoi.

So when I look at the next 2 months here nothing for me changes. At some point the Coronavirus thing passes. Whether life ever goes back to normal who knows. I do know after reading the “hunches and gut feels” of the US President I would much rather hear science and reality and live in a place where science and method works. The Vietnamese government takes concrete steps. Trump goes on a tear about a governor asking to hear reality and reporting from experts. I’ll leave it to your imagination which one is the most valid. What is needed is not a stable genius but stable science and experts.

So here is better in so many ways. I feel safe here and I feel the Vietnamese government practices both standard and proactive methods to protect people. Not stupid hunches from someone who has a feel for this stuff.

Finally here in Hanoi I am happy. My neighborhood, the people, the market down the street. So here I will stay. I won’t run away to another city when I feel safe here and, most of all, happy here.

It’s been two weeks and a little change living in Hanoi Vietnam. I’ve found some interesting, fun, sometimes challenging things. One of the things that touches all three is this:

I have nothing to do most everyday

This creates a different spin on waking up, coffee in the mornings, observing my neighborhood through many lens. Take the street next to my place. It’s a busy market where stalls sell shoes, clothing, fruit and vegetables, street food like satay and spring rolls, small cafes with local foods, small stores with snacks, water and beer. Also, there are small specialty stores and pharmacies. But the main ingredient and the most fun to observe are the people! Southeast Asia is perhaps famed for its markets. But it’s the people and this market like Sanhe market in Taipei is not your tourist market.

So what does this have to do with the art of doing nothing? Well dear reader it’s this. A market like this and, in fact, my neighborhood with the nice people that sell pho right across from me, the Banh Mi stands, bakeries, coffee houses and the wonderful small shops I visit daily for snacks and water and beer propel me and make possible doing nothing. I believe the market, the neighborhood, and the people make it possible for me to lead this wonderful life of no accomplishment every day. Not challenged or needing a thing that requires planning except for the passport renewal, moments ebb by and are replaced by others.

Children playing, workers smiling and saying hello. The friendly shop owners used to me now. It creates the ability and enhances the doing of nothing. Long walks with no purpose. Mornings spent reading on my kindle. Latte at the ready. It’s an idyllic life this being a gentleman of leisure in Vietnam.

And Vietnam does it’s part. It gives me its Hanoi neighborhood freely. I’m grateful for the food and coffee and moments. The hellos of children and shy smiles of others. Thanks Hanoi for my moments of sheer indulgence that makes up 99.9% of this old retired guys life.

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