Proud to Be an American

We spent 3 hours at the American Consulate in HCMC yesterday for Ti’s and Thien’s (15 yo son) K-1 Visa interview.

The line at the American Consulate in HCMC, SaiGon, Vietnam

Arriving just after 7 a.m., the line was already to the end of the block, about 80m long. We got dutifully in line and before long a couple of staff members were working themselves down the line, making sure people had their identification and respective appointment letters.

After about 30 minutes, people started to be allowed into the building. We were wanded by a security person before the building entrance, then just inside at the security station, we went through a metal detector, our bags scanned, and electronic devises were turned in for safe-keeping. Actually, the process was faster and easier than that the airport, any airport.

Ti and her son on line at the American Consulate (last two on the right)

I was impressed with the efficiency of the entire operation. Of course, being Vietnam, the staff were very nice also; not a bark to be heard.

We then found ourselves on another long line and people like me, U.S. citizens? were allowed to sit down in the waiting area. I had brought a real book knowing that they would take all electronic devices for safe keeping.

At this point, about 8:30, the waiting area with nice bench seats (I’m not being sarcastic, they were very comfortable) started filling up.  People were called to various windows based on a number they were given after the first line and before they sat down.

My girlfriend and her son joined me on the bench seats just before 9 a.m. (because we were near the end of the line outside) and were called to the first window just after 9 a.m. This window collected all of her required documents and took less than 10 minutes. We then sat down again, waiting for the interview window to be called.

A staff member checks to make sure people are on the right line at the American Consulate.

They provided water and the restrooms were clean and available.  People were pretty quiet, and I was just glad I brought my book. (Turns out, Vietnamese think they must be quiet and not move around. Ti informed me on the taxi ride home. I had wondered why the woman she was sitting next to, across from me, was whispering and the place was so quiet. Normally, Vietnamese talk like New Yorker’s, loud and clear!

We were called up to the interview window just before 10 a.m. The Consulate Officer was friendly, asked me a few general questions and then I and her son, were asked to sit down, while they (Officer and an interpreter) asked my fiancée some questions.  He proceeded to ask her a number of routine questions in English it turns out. (at first when Ti told me this, I was surprised, but then realized it made sense, since Ti and I had been together for two and a half years and I’d been in Vietnam more than 12 months during this time).

After a few minutes I was called back and asked if I knew my fiancée was still living with her husband in 2018?!?

Now, I am accustomed to being surprised by all sorts of things in Vietnam that I had thought I understood, but this was beyond the pale. I told him, no that’s not right, she must not have understood the question.  While I stood there, he asked her again and I expected her to say, 2015, but she again responded 2018!

Hopeful visitors wait in line

She was clearly flustered, and I was getting there too.

I again said, “no, that’s not right” and said directly to her, “you are saying you were with your husband in 2018”.

Finally, she understood the confusion. I went to sit down again, while Ti explained in Vietnamese and English that while she and her husband broke-up and separated in 2015, the divorce was not legal until 2018.

Within a minute everything was back on track (though it wasn’t really off the track, just that the CO was really trying to help and protect me) and a minute later she got the Blue Paper, because medical results have not been completed. Once done, my fiancée can return almost any day just after 1 p.m. and her K-1 visa will be issued.

Later I thought about this confusion and realized that we often don’t distinguish between the break-up and the legal divorce. At least I don’t. The legal divorce was just the crossing of t’s and dotting the I’s.

All in all, I was amazed by the number of people, a few hundred, they had to process in a few hours. I’ve sat in far worse and inefficient DMV offices over the years.

Three hours after arrival, we were in a taxi on the way home. All in all, I don’t see with the number of people, papers and documents involved, how it could have gone any better.  I also think that at least for the K-1 the process takes about three hours, so if you arrive to get on line at 06:00, you’ll get out sooner, but you will still be there about three hours.

While I was thinking of writing this review, I realized this was my fiancée’s first exposure to American bureaucracy and Americans, other than myself.

I know she was impressed. She experienced a friendly, fair and transparent process, which I think is what America and Americans are all about.

I know it made me proud.

 

First World Problems

Was just finishing washing the dishes after another scrumptious dinner produced by yours truly, when I noticed that the galley sink faucet produces much hotter water at full volume versus reduced volume.  So, my next thought was I better add that to the list of things I need to brief Ti and Thien about.

Dauntless with her new flag in Vallejo

Then, as I thought about it, I realized this was truly a big issue. I don’t think Ti in her 40+ years has ever lived in a house with hot water. In fact, I know she hasn’t. The poor girl didn’t even have electricity until after she went to high school.

Do any of us even know someone who didn’t have a TV, color at that, growing up?

Even at that, only she and her sister finished high school from their neighborhood. Why? Because they had to swim a small river, hide dry clothes and bikes on the other side, just to get to school. Most kids didn’t want to bother. Umm, maybe if they had school buses the graduation rate could get above the current 98%.

My dinner: medium-rare hamburger, 5 minutes one side, 3 minutes other side, no wind on Weber Q 280 grill. Today, with cheese, grilled onion slice, butter, ketchup on English muffin.

In the USA, we have to cook the books (continually lowering the standards) just to get to 70%. But you all know that.

I know I digress, but let me end it with this: as an educator, If nothing else, at least I’ve learned that children value what they earn and don’t value what adults give them.

It is as simple as that.

So, 20+ years later, when I met Ti, she had taught herself English and had just started teaching herself Japanese. Why? Because English has become the world language and there are some very big Japanese-Vietnamese joint venture projects, (like the subway) taking place in Saigon (HCMC). Ti, as an accountant, wanted to find a position in a multi-national company.

Ti’s River.
Doesn’t look that big, but think I’ll wait for the bus!

She found me and Dauntless instead. Thus, I am making a list of the hazards and operating procedures aboard ship.

All of my problems are truly First World problems.

 

 

 

 

 

Driving Lights on Dauntless

Since my first car days, driving around Mt. Rainier in the middle of the night, I have loved having extra lights on my car, driving lights. No video games, no internet, we didn’t pretend life, we lived life.

The New lights in Scotland in 2016. On the outside of the frame, you can make out the fog lights which are point down to illuminate the hull and anchor chain.

Fast forward 40 years and during my first year with Dauntless, I somehow found myself, cruising the ICW at night, a few times too many. Cruising at night in marked channels is so much harder than cruising on the open ocean. There are frequent course changes, by the minute or even necessitating hand steering. I soon found that that the spot light on Dauntless, mounted on top, forward of the pilot house, did little more than light up the foredeck, thus killing whatever night vision I had.

I found it more effective to stand outside, either in the dark or using a handheld LED flashlight.  But when cruising alone, it’s difficult to be both outside the pilot house and steer the boat. The solution, a driving light. They also come in very handy when looking for an anchorage or mooring spot, with other small boats, like a dingy, that may not show up on the radar.

My first driving light for Dauntless was a large Hella (made in Germany) that I hung under the bow pulpit. I was worried about the anchor hitting it as it swung into place, but that turned out not to be a problem.

It got all the way to Ireland and on the second day in Ireland, as we were re-positioning the boat, rafting her to a fishing boat by hand power alone, we managed to punch the lens of the light out, with the anchor of the nearby boat. The light still functioned, so I left it.

Lucky for me, because 11 months later, as I was cruising up a very narrow channel in southern Sweden, looking for an appropriate place to anchor after an exhausting day, that light saved my bacon.

The channel of “deep” water was only about 8 feet deep and Dauntless needed almost 5 of those feet. But the channel was only about 40 feet wide and outside the channel was only three feet. I had already hit two rocks while in Finland. This was not the soft mud of the Eastern U.S. or even the southern Baltic, this was the jagged rocks of Scandinavia (similar to Maine, as they are related geologically).

Two years later

I was terrified.  In large part because the channel was marked with non-reflective buoys that were spaced too far apart. In other words, as I passed one buoy, I could not see the next one more than half a mile away. Then I thought to turn on my driving light.

It wasn’t exactly like the sun coming up, but it put enough light down range to pick out the marker buoys. My task became easy and 30 minutes later, I was at the spot on the chart that had deep water off channel, so I could anchor and get some much-needed sleep.

Two years later, the lights are being held on with rust

My driving light was not going to last with a broken lens, letting water get into the housing. Earlier in the year, I had discovered that the replacement lens, was almost as much as the entire light, almost $100. In Sweden, more than half the cars have some sort of auxiliary driving lights. Why? Because it’s dark and for Europe there are a lot of big animals, mostly European Moose, (smaller than the North American version) on the road at night.

I found three large lights for $100. Later in Ireland, I got a few more of those Amazon LED fog lights (5” diameter). Link My Amazon Fog lights

(These lights look like an even better deal for 10 lights, An even better deal

Originally, I also had two 4″ fog (diffuse lens) facing forward. But they turned out to be only marginally effective. Also, during the same trip, I had to anchor just off the channel in Northern Ireland. I left the spreader lights on for increased visibility and I turned the forward fog lights down to illuminate the hull (they only consume 4.5 amps/hr). I then realized they illuminated the anchor chain well as I was hauling anchor. So I left that way ever since.

All these lights are made for vehicles and thus are waterproof, but the weak point are the brackets. They are mild steel and rust quickly. So, one of my winter projects was to replace those brackets with stainless steel.

I realized Vietnam does so much in stainless steel. Every household has numerous items made from stainless steel: kitchen racks, shelves, shoe and coat stands, etc. Therefore, this was the place to have it done.

Ideally, aluminum would be better, since the housing of the lights is aluminum, but that’s more expensive and the Vietnam market couldn’t sustain it. For the same reason, the stainless steel is to specification 304, not the more salt-water corrosion resistant, 316.

My new stainless steel frame and light brackets with the diagram I gave the fabricator.

The language barrier can also be formidable. In my neighborhood, virtually no one speaks English. The stainless shop I found last year did not. But that means the translator, must understand the concepts that are being translated and understand my diagram I drew for the two types of brackets and the frame I wanted made. Trinh was up to the task and two days later, we got a call, saying my brackets were ready.

The frame cost $31, each bracket $3.50.

I’ll be back to Dauntless in mid-March, getting her ready to move north later in the spring and southeast Alaska this summer.

If nothing else, I’ll be able to better see in the dark.

 

 

 

 

The Older I Get; The Less I Know

Many of you know my fascination and appreciation for Northeast Asia cultures, in particular Korean. My  first visit to Asia was 20 years ago, visiting Korean Airlines in Seoul, for a business-related trip. I found the South Koreans a marvel to work with and I ended up finalizing a NOTAMs product for them.

Father and Daughter

Twenty years earlier every stereotype I held about Europe and Italy in particular, was dashed on the bus ride across Milan from one airport to another. How could the New York Times have been so wrong?  Thus, I was a bit better prepared for my first trip to Korea. I’d even read a book, “Culture Shock Korea”, which turned out to be very good for that trip and started a long-term relationship with the people and the country for me.

I’m embarrassed to admit now, that before that, I had lumped the cultures of Northeast Asian: China, Korea and Japan, pretty much together.   Hard to imagine that, when 10 years later, I even had a Korean language program in my 100% Black and Hispanic school in the Bronx.

Quitting Time at the Factory

Fast forward to the present. For my first foray into Southeast Asia, I knew to leave everything I thought I knew at the door. I read a number of books this time. I was helped with my correspondence with Trinh. It was obvious even then that it was a whole new world.

Vietnam seems like I guess Korea was back in the 1980’s, maybe how Italy was in the 50’s. Countries pulling themselves up by their bootstraps with a population that was dedicated to hard work and sacrifice.  I have also learned that in spite of the convenient geographical reference of Southeast Asia, Vietnam is really culturally and linguistically closer to Northeast Asia: China, Korea and Japan.

In my first weeks here, as I became more accustomed to the heat, humidity and motorbikes, I started to see far more similarities to Korea than I would have guessed before. Initially, all I saw were differences, but within weeks, I realized it more like 90% similar, 10% different.

One of the big differences is the culture of the motorbike. They are popular here because of cost and they work because the climate is warm enough year around.

It took me a while to get my head around the system. At first it seems like no system, but anyone who has driven a motorcycle knows, mistakes hurt. You don’t have two tons of steel around you to protect yourself from your own stupidity.

At the simplest level, the rule is don’t hit anything you can see. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. What amazes me is the total lack of any road rage or even emotion. It’s just a very cooperative system. I’ve been on a road that is already narrow, with motorbikes reduced to one line to get around some obstruction and someone is that line will get a cell call and just stop. Now everyone must also get around them, but there are no words, not even any looks.

I’ve always thought that NYC is a cooperative place to drive. Drivers int eh middle lane, will move left and make room for the car in the right lane, if they see the right lane is blocked. Most other places that doesn’t happen.

So, I’ve have finally gotten my GoPro going and will upload the videos I make to my smug mug site sooner rather than later. The other good news is that I have many Videos made on Dauntless also that never saw the light of day because they were inverted. I finally was able to fix that.

I would appreciate any suggestions (please email me) on the best way going forward to post my action videos. You Tube Channel??

This is a static video showing the intersection by my cafe.

Here is the link to my motorbike adventures

Anyway, enjoy and let me know.

 

 

I’m So Lazy

Since I’ve been back in HCMC, I don’t even do the little I have to do.

My Orange Juice and Yogurt today (cost $1.80)

What do I really have to do?

I’d like to get my electronic Dauntless logs up to date. I’ve been stalled in August 2017 for the longest time. I need to re-organize my hard drive on my laptop, so I only have one current directory that I keep backed up, with other files, music and pictures, stored on my external drives.

Not exactly the most onerous tasks. So, why aren’t they getting done?

Fundamentally, I think I’m simply too much of an extravert to sit home and be productive. I’m writhing this post now, while sitting in one of my two favorite cafes, in this case, Coffee Bui Van Ngo, about an 8-minute drive on the motorbike from my house.

Sometimes I get Cappuccino, as I find it as good as in Italy
(undrinkable in USA)

I’m enjoying a yogurt with ice and orange juice. Usually I get it blended but decided to get wild today and try it this way. I’d already had my coffee at home. Vietnam is one of the few places where I find almost anyplace, I go the coffee is as good as I make at home.

In fact, New Yorkers would feel this is the one place they would feel at home in regard to coffee. The normal coffee is very strong, with milk and sugar; what New Yorker’s call “regular”.

I was 19 years old, driving across the country for the first time with my first car returning to the University of Washington for my second year.

When i want an Avocado Smoothie, I go to this cafe. (cost $0.90)

I stopped late in the evening in Montana, just south of Missoula, to get a cup of coffee since I was planning on driving thru the night, on my way to Kennewick, Washington. When I asked for a coffee to go, I was asked how I wanted it and I told her “regular”. She gave me a funny look, but minutes later my coffee in a container and bag arrived and I was on my way. Always pressed for time, I got underway before trying it down the road.

Black and bitter. Ugh.

That’s how I discovered that not everyone drank “regular” coffee.

That got added to the list of Things Aren’t Like This in NY. Already on the list was the shocking discovery that the buses stopped running in Seattle at 11:00 p.m. 10 years later, I discovered it was the same in London, as we found ourselves with scores of others trying to find a taxi.

How anyplace that calls itself a major city has a transportation system that goes to sleep makes one understand why people like cars so much.

But today, no tilting at windmills, the Vietnamese coffee is rich, strong and creamy. Perfect over ice, as most Vietnamese have it. The ice dilutes it to a perfect state, still very strong .

So, getting out of the house seems to give me purpose.

The owner and his girl at my smoothie place

Being around people is part of that process.

Though, on Dauntless, I do get restive, but there is always something physical for me to do, which I really enjoy. In a perfect world, Dauntless would be a not too far drive away. Much like when she was in providence , Rhode Island. Living in upper Manhattan, I could drive to Dauntless in about 4 hours. Stay a few days, get some work done and return home for the long weekend.

Even now, If I was anyplace in the States, I’d consider flying to her in Vallejo, staying  5 or 6 days, then home again. Round trip plane tickets can be had for around $300.  I’d do that.

But a trans-Pacific flight is a horse of a different color. 15 hours from the west coast to Northeast Asia for a connecting flight of 4 to 6 hours to Saigon. Sometimes it ends up being two red-eyes. One is bad enough.

I’ll just have to be more disciplined and get out more.

 

Hindsight is Not Always 20-20

Despite my accomplishments this past year, another 2500 miles behind me, the Golden Gate in front of me, the Baja bash, Panama Canal, the Atlantic Ocean, behind me, I wonder if I did not make some big mistake.

Anchored in Finland.

For not the first time, I wondered about my sudden decision to flee northern Europe two years ago. I loved northern Europe. I loved Ireland. I loved the peoples and the cultures.

I lived for 4 years in Germany and still visit relatively often. The Germans certainly have some interesting attributes. Some of which I even like a lot.

In 2015, I was reminded just like 30 years ago, the different personalities the Germans are along the north coast. These are the people who have known “Auslander”, (from an outside land), for thousands of years. They are not the Germans of the much more insular interior, one meets south of Hamburg down to the Alps.

I dwell on this because stupid Google, out of the blue the other day, sends me my pictures of years ago and says, “don’t you want to post these?”

It reminded me yet again of how great the cruising was along the north coast of Europe, Scandinavia, the Baltic and North Seas. The cruising is the best I’ve yet encountered, with thousands of miles of protected skärgärd cruising. With the wind blowing 20+ knots, 100 meters away, you are cruising or anchored with nary a ripple of waves.

Cuxhaven, Germany

All the peoples who inhabit the environs along the coast are sea faring folk. Much like the Celtic culture along the west coast of Europe, from Galicia in NW Spain to Scotland, The North Sea and particularly the Baltic had the Hanseatic League. From Hamburg to Tallinn, they controlled trade and influenced culture from Germany to Russia.

This seafaring culture manifests itself in boat friendly, stranger friendly ways. No matter how small the port, or how many boats are already there, they will find room for you. In the more formal marinas, like Tallinn and Cuxhaven, the American flag was being put up on the yardarm of the marina even as I checked-in. And even check-in itself was a 5-minute process, with reasonable rates, about $0.25 per foot in Holland to $1.00 per foot in Helsinki. Overall average for marina overnights ended up being less than $0.50 a foot for my 4 months in the Baltic and North Seas.

Haapsalu, Estonia
Tallinn, Estonia
Robbengat Sluis
Holland
Waterford, Ireland

All these experiences were exactly the opposite in southern Europe, by the way. 30-minute check-ins, filing out endless forms, each time, $1.00 per foot was best price and it went up to $2.00.

I was also reminded with much regret that the $1,000 ten-day stay I had at Cabo San Lucas was the same cost of one year! in Waterford, Ireland. Sure,  Waterford could not boast like Cabo of having only 7 days a year with rain, but I am sure they can boast that they have at least 7 days a year with sun.

So, all these fond memories really made me question my decision of leaving Europe in 2016. Stupid Google also reminded me of my great trip to Galicia to scope out a winter home for Dauntless the following year. Food, people and marina in A Coruna were fantastic. I could stay there for $500 per month year around.  Had I stayed another year as planned, I would still have some options. I could return to the Baltic the following summer or just stay in Northern Spain and Western France. I would have also saved so much money.

Oh Regrets. What would life be without them?

Probably a hell of a lot better!

I acknowledge that 2016 was a traumatic year for me. I  often wonder if unexpected life changes led me to make some hasty, irrevocable decisions? It certainly seems so to me when I think and think and think about it.

It would have been just as easy to fly between Ireland or Spain and Vietnam. I picture myself escaping the heat a humidity of Vietnam for the damp coolness of Atlantic Europe.

One key factor drove my decision to leave for the Pacific, the availability of crew. My Hawaiian nephew wanted to take a year off from school before he went to law school. He thought exploring Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean via Dauntless would be ideal. He spent almost a year with Dauntless and I.

He was indispensable. Not only as a great, hardworking, vigilant crew mate, but also as a smart, interesting companion for the boring passage between Europe and the Panama Canal. I couldn’t have come that distance without him.

Dauntless is in Vallejo, California now. I’ll return to her next week for a month of getting her in ship shape. Next spring, I’ll return and weather permitting get her up to the Pacific Northwest by June, then British Columbia and Southeast Alaska for the summer.

Ending up in one of the wonderful, little towns of Southeast Alaska. Which one, will depend on several factors, Dauntless taking second stage for now.

By next year at this time, my life will take another turn, as I gain both a First and Second Mate on Dauntless. We’ll end up staying in Southeast Alaska only a little longer than originally planned. Visa requirements for my wife-to-be and her son require us to live in the United States, so SE AK is the perfect place to settle down for a while and catch a few fish and enjoy the fantastic scenery and wildlife.

What would have happened had Dauntless still been in Europe now? I would truly have a mess on my hands. Instead of struggling with a 2500 trip, I would be looking at 10,000+ miles. Eek!!

Everything happens for a reason. Two years ago, I had no idea I’d fall in love with the love of my life, yet again (ok, I’ve had a lot of lives). Or that she would be in Vietnam or that I’d spend all my free time with her in Vietnam.  Or that SE Alaska, then so far away, now so close, would be the perfect place for a variety or reasons.

Trinh and I in SaiGon, Vietnam

Sometimes even a blind squirrel finds an acorn.

 

 

What We Know

It was about 10 years ago, 5 years before acquiring Dauntless, my first and probably last boat, that I got a vague idea about cruising and living on a boat. I’d never heard of Kadey Krogen, I thought sailors who crossed oceans were living the life of hermits.

This bot was watching that light (upper right corner) and as soon as it turned green, he pointed so his mother would notice.
Kids love helping and being engaged .

I spent the next 5 years reading everything I could find about people on, in and about, boats. I’d always been fascinated with merchant marine stories, so now I just expanded to the small boat world.

Pretty sure that the sailboat life was not for me, my first readings were dominated by those prolific powerboat writers, Nordhavn owners. I’d stalk the mailman, Steven, (yes, even in the Big Apple, we had our mail carrier’s phone number), waiting for the latest issue of Passage Maker, to find out what some hardy Nordhavn owner was up to.

By 2009, it was obvious that the real estate market was not going to keep doubling every few years. I’d never have the money of the Passage Maker crowd. No one was going to give me a $100,000 sponsorship and fly parts needed to repair of my hydraulics stabilizers, by helicopter, to the Northwest Passage.

I expanded my reading to that I had eschewed previously, about sailors and sailing. The amount of material about non-powered boats was 1000-fold greater. I didn’t censor what I read. I was reading to learn, to understand, to experience without having to do, even those experiences I had no interest in doing myself.

I realized just like moving to Italy in the ‘70’s, I needed to have an even more open mind than normal. The more I read, the more I understood that there was no “right” way.

It wasn’t that what I knew was wrong, it was simply that it may not be right.

Even weeks before my first Atlantic crossing, I knew four people was the right amount. But I couldn’t get four.  Julie and I came up with a new plan. She would come but leave at the Azores. Then a third person volunteered at the last minute. But at that point, we decided that two was just fine; and it was.

Sitting in the Azores, looking for crew to assist me from the Azores to Ireland, a 9 or 10-day passage, I was finally convinced by an American sailor from North Carolina to just go on my own. I’d be fine, and it would be better than wasting good weather sitting around and it was.

What I took from all this was that what was obvious, wasn’t.

The Front Seat

I was brought to this entire train of thought recently as I watched a mother and daughter (maybe 2 or 3 years old) on a motorcycle here in Saigon, Vietnam. How touching the scene was. They were having a conversation as they motored along at 20 mph. How could it be safe? Children that age will normally sit in the very front on a little stool or stand.

Surely, I know that a child in a car seat in the back of an automobile is safer than this!

But then I wondered, safer, certainly; but happier, more secure. I wondered?

Over the days as I thought about it even more, I realized I’ve never seen a crying child on a motorbike. Not one. I see captivated kids. They are watching the world go by, with their parent nuzzled snugly right next to them, holding them.  How can you feel more secure than that?

On the other hand, how many times in the USA have I observed some child having a tantrum while being put into a car seat in the back of a car? Too often to count.

Safety versus separation anxiety. For many kids, probably not mutually exclusive, but for some?

 

Even in the First World, we know less than we think we do.

 

A child seat for your motorbike
Getting ready to go


 

 

How Fresh is Fresh?

In the last 5 years Dauntless has visited almost two dozen countries.  While, I’ve been in couple dozen more in the last 40 years. That’s a lot of different languages and cultures.

Chicken, Rice, a green vegetable, some pickled vegetables

It was 42 years ago, that I first set foot in Italy and it would begin a life of living and experiencing new languages, cultures, foods, etc. Sitting on a bus, passing thru the middle of Milan, in just looking out the window, it was obvious this was not the Italy I had expected, nor was it the Little Italy of New York either or the Italy of Italian-Americans. Not one cannolo was in sight. In fact. It would take me a year to find one and that was further south in Florence.

Passing a billboard advertising skin cream which depicted naked women, I vowed then and there to leave my perceptions behind and reboot my expectations. For effective cross-cultural communications, this can be the only starting point. When in Rome, Do as the Romans.

No phrase probably sums up a successful expatriate experience better. I was/am always amazed at the number of Americans I would meet living overseas like I yet complaining that it wasn’t Kansas.

Living so, accepting the people and cultures I’m immersed in, allows me to enjoy my travels and adventures with Dauntless, or like this month, without her, in Vietnam.

Even when speaking a common language, understanding and accepting cultural differences is crucial for good relationships of any sort.

Trinh speaks pretty much fluent English. When she doesn’t understand a word, it’s usually because of my pronunciation. Our miscommunications center around different understandings of the same word or sometimes, while the words are understood, the background isn’t.

Thus, began our discussion about “fresh” chicken. A little question about fresh chicken, became a bridge to cross cultural communication.

Trinh is the best cook I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. I’ve always prided myself on my own cooking and for most of my life, I’ve done most of the cooking in the household. Over the past year, I tried to analyze what makes her cooking so good, even better than almost any restaurant I’ve eaten here in Vietnam. And should we try something new to her, if we like it, she will recreate it at home. I’ve concluded that it’s her meticulous preparation and wholesome ingredients she uses.

By far my favorite dish is her fried or sautéed chicken.  I’ve never had such delicious fried chicken any place or any time in my entire life. The skin cooked to almost a hard, crunchy shell, with moist, tender chicken underneath and flavors that just melt in your mouth.

Chicken to die for.

I knew she always bought the packages of chicken wings at Co-Op Food. Co-Op is owned by the government of Vietnam. They have two retail stores that are everywhere in Vietnam: Co-Op Mart, which is like a large supermarket, familiar to any westerner and Co-Op Food, a small, convenience store style store. I like both, initially, I had to leave my preconceived ideas at home about Co-Op Food. When I think convenience store, I think packaged snacks, old hot dogs, mystery meat burritos heated up in microwaves and gallons of colored water, chemical based drinks in large plastic cups.

But Co-Op Food is the place for everyday items and fresher foods than Co-Op Mart (the supermarket) offers and why Trinh only buys the chicken at Co-Op Food, not Co-Op Mart.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m skeptical of almost everything I hear and half what I see. So, I pressed Trinh on the difference, why was this package of chicken wings better than that one?

What do you mean the chicken at Co-Op Mart is not fresh? When was it killed in the last week or so?

She looks at me, like I have two heads (because she wouldn’t touch chicken killed last week. Who knew?, not I).

No, she responds, the chicken at Co-Op Food is killed that night.

What do you mean that night? I ask, still not able to get my mind around her expectations of freshness.

She explains: Chicken at Co-Op Food is killed, plucked, packaged at 01:00 a.m. on the morning I buy it. It’s on the shelves around 06:00 a.m.

She doesn’t know how old the chicken is at Co-Op Mart, she guesses a few days at most, but it’s older and she’s not buying it, ever.

For a boy grown up in a supermarket culture, with foods routinely shipped thousands of miles and processed and packed ages ago, it’s fascinating to realize that while the outside package looks the same, the behind the scenes processing is totally different. These supermarkets and smaller food stores are competing with local markets that are everywhere, literally every quarter mile.

Supermarkets do as local markets

Who knew that fresh could be that fresh.

Lotte Supermarket in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City

I can’t fault the results.

Vietnam & Americans

I’ve hesitated writing this post for months.

From the WSJ

Why?

Because I know how sensitive this subject can be for Americans of my generation. I didn’t want to offend or disrespect anyone.

Disrespectful to the American veteran who was put into a shitty situation thru no fault of their own and told to fix it, without the tools to do so. Disrespectful to those who lost life and loved ones. Disrespectful to those Vietnamese, who if they survived the war years, then had 20 years of a very hard life or if lucky enough, were able to flee with only the clothes on their backs.

So, what changed? Living on and off here for the past year, I see people, no matter what their background who are truly appreciate of Americans, like Americans and just want to work hard.

I’m watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – Hanoi. Find it someplace and you can see in pictures and sound what I am trying to explain poorly.

I just got back from two weeks in the country for the Tet holiday.  Upcountry as some could say, in Quang Nam province, just southwest of Danang.  Simply put, Tet is about remembering the dead and living. Country living here is like living in the countryside in Europe 30 years ago or the USA 50 years ago.  Yes, that means we have electricity and cold running water, but everything else may be luxury.

Former ARVN (left) & VC are now the best of freinds. (He had just showed me the scar of the hole in his leg when he was shot by VC) We then both looked at her and everyone laughed. (it was a bit surrealistic for me).
The memorial to the father of Trinh sister’s husband. KIA during Tet 1968 while fighting with/for the Americans.

I was overwhelmed with the warmth of the people: friends, neighbors and family of Trinh’s mother and family. They would lend us motorcycles to get around. I was invited to every neighbor’s party. Everyone had to come by and drink with me.  I drank a lot of beer and my new-found drink, rượu nếp, which is much like Korean makgeolli (막걸리, but a bit less effervescent.

I think Dauntless needs eyes

Now, cruising here with Dauntless is another story. A complicated story for another time.

Trihn’s mother’s house and memorial dinner

Tet – It’s Not a Holiday, It’s an Adventure

Yesterday as I was watching my girlfriend Trinh prepare the food at her grandmother’s grave, I realized how much my perspective has changed since crossing the Atlantic.

Food laid out at her grandmother’s grave

I accept a level of uncertainly, magnitudes above, what I would have been comfortable with even 10 years ago.

The cemetery is about 20 minutes from Trinh’s mother’s house, where we are staying these days of the Tet holiday. Trinh and her mother had been cooking all morning. Finally, they meticulously packed a large bad hat would sit between my legs in front of me on the motorbike.

We set off. I had been to the gravesite two days previously, so I thought I knew what was going to happen.  Upon arrival, I see the box of cookies we had left the previous visit. Obviously, her grandmother hadn’t eaten any. Yes, I was being flippant.

Incense was still burning; Trinh mentioned that her step-brother, must have just been here. I never knew she had a step brother, but what the hell, I’ve only known her for little more than a year!

Trinh proceeded to unpack the bag, which contained not only food, but plates, utensils, clothes and even money. When you’re dead who knows when you may need extra cash.

In spite of my flippancy, I really like, respect the Asian reverence for the dead and elderly. It was one of the differences (in my mind) between western and Asian cultures and a reason I became so attracted to first Korean and now Vietnamese culture.

After 15 minutes, Trinh was putting the final touches on the dinner. I watched as she meticulously spooned a little fish sauce seasoning on the two main plates, a tuna steak and a plate of sautéed squid. Looked so good, I thought it a shame to waste.  Knowing the Vietnamese don’t waste anything, I was surprised.

She poured little glasses of wine and water, giving the old water to the potted plants, and refilling the glasses with fresh water.

When everything was done, she lit the incense and did her little prayer ritual.

Then, just as I was thinking we were ready to leave, she started to undo all the work of the last 15 minutes by putting all the food back in the containers it had come it. Nothing wasted, even the little sauce, went back into its’ little bag.

(two short videos of her getting it ready, then putting it back)

Putting it all back

Surprised? Not really, more like bemused. After my first Atlantic crossing, I learned to not be surprised at anything. I also learned to not complain about anything. When I dared complain about the 12-foot waves, they became 18 feet.

Mother Nature taught me as only she can: Be grateful for what you have, because it can always be worse.

Oh, I can still be as miserable as I want or as the situation dictates, I just can’t express how bad it is. Can’t even think it, for who knows who is reading your thoughts nowadays.

Those three storms, each a day apart, in the North Atlantic in the last week of August 2014, re-forged my brain.

New Yorkers grow up in a culture of excellence. That’s because we complain about anything that isn’t top notch, price notwithstanding. As teacher, then principal, I took that attitude with me. I did what was best for the students and built the teachers into a successful team. I complained to the powers to be about policies and procedures that were not conducive to student learning. I was listened to. While we had a reform minded Chancellor, that was very effective; but as soon as that Chancellor left, the reactionaries returned and I was out within 6 months. My only crime was my naivety that results (graduation rate from 40% to 70% in 4 years) would speak for themselves.

Food, money, wine, water, clothes and of course money (in USD of course)

Dauntless was the crucible that helped me through that abrupt change in life.

Three years later, on the North Atlantic, heading to Ireland, this was the forge. I would become accepting of what is or else. Now, this doesn’t mean I accept just anything. More than ever it simply means that if I’m not happy with a place or situation, I need to not be there or accept that I can’t change it.

Thirty minutes after arrival at her grandmother’s grave, now, really ready to leave, I still had to ask, with a little smile on my face, but what happens if she is still hungry? Trinh answered deadpan, “she ate”.

That was that. I knew what we were having for dinner and it was quite tasty, though the tuna was a bit drier than normal!

The North Atlantic taught me not to complain; to accept. The North Atlantic opened me to the possibility to be in an Asian culture in which even when I think I understand, I don’t.

I watch, observe, but don’t judge. I assume I don’t understand the full situation at any given time. I keep my questions simple, where do you want me, when?

I never ask why. Like waves on the ocean, it is, what it is, could be better, could be worse. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else, but don’t try to change it.

Vietnam Tells You How to Avoid Storm at Sea

With Tropical Cyclone 21W (Doksuri) bearing down on northern Vietnam, they gave this 4 minute video of how to avoid the storm if at sea.

I don’t understand a word, but I like it because it’s pretty understandable.  Some explanations:

  • In the beginning, the Cap 11, refer to winds of Force 11, which is when  action big ships should take, the Cap 6 is for smaller boats.
  • The depiction with the forward hatch is to make sure you have all hatches and doors secured.
  • The anchor thing is that if you do call for rescue, to deploy your anchor.
  • The capsize is don’t let the seas get on your beam.

Fire Training in HCMC, Vietnam

Liquid Fires

This was quite spectacular because I have never seen office workers actually getting “hands-on” learning how to use a fire extinguisher to put out propane and liquid fuel fires.

They also watched how to deploy and connect the firefighting hose that are everywhere, as well as outside my apartment door.

So, I thought you would you find this interesting and it is certainly applicable to boaters like us.

Opposite my Apt Door by the Exit Stairwell

The Videos below, show the following:

 Putting out Propane Fires

Propane

 Putting out Propane Fires

Getting Fire Hose (which is then used to fill tub for the liquid portion of the training

Putting out liquid Fires

 Putting out liquid Fires

What Happens if you run out of fire extinguisher