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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Crimes of Our Fathers

I had a disturbing call recently with a close friend, who lives in Europe. Her husband, one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, is having some significant health issues brought on my work-related stress. I’d seen him a year ago at Christmas and he seemed to be on the mend, but since then took a turn for the worse.

Owning a Bar/Cafe in Italy is a 7-day a week, 362 day (they close two days of the year) job.
Our children don’t want those jobs either.

Through it all, his wife and friends are there for him, but his two, now adult (mid, high 20’s) children, are MIA (Missing in Action).  Adults in their mid-20’s can get caught up in their own lives and certainly have their own angsts, but this isn’t that.

These two children have decided that their father is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. The youngest one hasn’t spoken to her father in over two years.

What’s the crime that so unspeakable?

He worked hard, while getting a college decree, to enable him to have higher paying jobs to provide for his wife and two daughters, including putting them thru university.

It seems in our ever more indulgent society, his daughters expected him to be there more for them.

Sorry, I have no idea what that means. I saw my father, late evenings and on the Sundays, he wasn’t still working. While some of those Sundays had a planned trip, with us going someplace to visit friends . Many were spent waiting impatiently for him to finish fixing the car or washing machine or something else of necessity.

But thru it all, I understood that my father showed how much he loved us by how hard he worked. It wasn’t about face time or sitting on his knee. It was about never having to worry about whether we would have something to eat or a place to live. Besides, if he got home earlier in the evening, we’d have to watch something stupid on TV or listen to classical music all night (which is what we did on those Sunday visits, but at least we got out of the City!)

I asked my best friend, who is also European, what he thought of this.  He said, he never saw his mother because she was working all the time. But in just those words, I gleaned that he fully understood that all he had now, his business and personal success, was because of his hard working mother.

We of the west, expect things to come to us, whether we work for them or not. It is one of our fundamental problems with education and one of the reasons for our dismal success rate in public schools and colleges. And everyone: students, teachers, administrators and politicians own a piece of that failure.

My Vietnam time is coming to an end in a couple of months. So, I am ever more keenly aware of what’s going on around me. Savoring every moment, every observation, like it will be my last, as it will be soon. Thus, I notice the streets packed at 07:00 until 21:00 every day. What are people doing? Working, going to school, doing those things that they must do to be successful, to be happy, to survive.

Vietnam calls itself communist or socialist, but it is less socialist that any European country or even the USA for that matter. It’s a one-party state, but that’s about it. There is no safety net. Children understand that if they do not work hard in school, they will not get a decent job. Adults understand that it’s work or starve.  Simple, maybe harsh, but effective.

That’s one of the things I both appreciate and admire about Asian cultures. They seem to be not so far removed from the basics of life. While we in the west, the USA and Europe, seem to ever more indulge ourselves in a fanciful world in which we do nothing, but want everything. We base our very existence on false stereotypes that never existed in the first place.

But it’s hard to have conversations about real life with our children, when we spend all our time arguing whether it’s a wall or a fence and then make millions suffer to make our nonsensical point.

Our children learn from us.

 

Peoples & Cultures are Neither Homogeneous nor Heterogeneous

In my post, How Fresh is Fresh? I wrote about my first trip overseas to Italy. What an eye opener that was. But as I reflect on the different cultures I’ve experienced, I realize my first true culture shock happened in the USA, when I arrived in Seattle in the fall of 1969.

Birds of a feather flock together and still squabble.

Seattle was not as I had expected.

I spent my first 18 years growing up in the heart of the City, New York, not even Brooklyn, nor the many towns of Queens, let alone the Bronx, but New York (Manhattan, for the uninitiated). Being in the heart of it all, makes one think they know it all and have seen it all. I certainly wouldn’t be the first New Yorker accused of a little hubris, especially coming from the heart of the heart, Greenwich Village. New York is nothing if not multi-cultural, and Greenwich Village was its soul.

In those days, Greenwich Village was the inexpensive refuge for people of all creeds, regions, colors, races, sexual preference and artists. The place for “different” people, my parents settled there because there were few places an inter-racial couple could live peacefully at that time, even in Greater New York and the rent in the West Village for our two-bedroom apartment was only $50 per month. Even communists were welcome, as Alger Hiss rented the top floor apartment in our little four story, four apartment building, when he got out of jail. A very nice man by the way. Our upstairs neighbors were two men, they would be called a couple now-a-days, but in the Greenwich Village of the ‘50’s, labels were neither needed or desired. They were simply two nice mean and neighbors for me.  I learned to take people at face value, as I wanted to be taken. My brother and I just knew them as them as the good men who would make pancakes for us occasionally; like uncles, in fact better than my true uncles who I never met until I was 50 years old!

Fast forward to 1969, I found myself in Seattle, having decided pretty much on my own that I was going to the University of Washington (UW). (Which is a tale for another time of independent kids who involve their parents only on the periphery). Once I was accepted to the UW in the spring of ’69, I looked up all the information I could find about Seattle.

I knew its population was about 500,000. New York’s was 8 million, but Manhattan was only 2 million, therefore I figured Seattle is roughly a quarter the size of New York.  From that factual conclusion, I made some interesting assumptions.

I figured life in Seattle would be like living in New York, if I never went north of 57th street or left the City (any place out of Manhattan). Therefore, I’d be giving up my occasional trips to the Bronx Zoo, Coney Island and going to Mets’ games. But then I figured one has to make some sacrifices to be able to attend a university.

My one quarter the size assumption, implied the quantity of everything I was used to: shops, movie theaters, buses, stores, delicatessens, etc., would be reduced to 25%. So, instead of having a choice of 20 delicatessens, I’d have a choice of 5. No problem I thought, nor did I think quality would be reduced to levels last seen on the Oregon trail in a Conestoga wagon.

Now, the UW knew the out of state kids would have some adjusting to do, so they had come a week earlier. Thus, I bonded with the other out of state kids in the dormitory and one in particular who was from Long Island. He wasn’t even from the City, yet even he could tell something was amiss here.

Bad food, bad coffee, bad everything; not even one delicatessen and the buses stop running at 11 p.m. The bagels that were sold in Safeway appeared to have been made months earlier by people who had never eaten a bagel but had once seen a picture of one (meaning it was round).

Who knew people lived like this? This chubby high school kid lost 20 pounds in 6 weeks.

In the early days, still thinking that civilization would return as I knew it, I’d ask for those things common to New York. In the summer everyone drinks ice coffee. But not in Seattle in 1969, when I asked for an iced coffee, the waitress had no idea what I was talking about. Somehow, the culture of strong coffee mixed with ice in the summer time never made it past Chicago (If it even got that far).

Another time, when asked how I liked my coffee, I replied, with that New York classic, “regular”, meaning with milk and sugar. They gave it to me black, well not really black, as I could see the spoon at the bottom of the cup. The coffee was an undrinkable, light brown concoction, of hot water and coffee flavor.

I survived, but it was my first eye opener, that when one leaves home (however large or small that “home” may be), one has to leave assumptions behind. Nothing was basic, even the telephone operator for my monthly collect call home, usually misunderstood my telephone prefix “Oregon” for “Argon”.

While I consider myself a life-long learner, I never said I was a fast learner. But as life went on, I learned to dump more and more assumptions so that I’d arrive at my new home naked with eyes open.  From there one can make the case that there are no true assumptions. Assumptions by definition are conclusions based on spotty data. Good luck with that.

In the next two decades, I found myself in many varied places: Alaska, Colorado, Southern California, Italy and Germany, even the Arctic Ice Cap for half a year. Assumptions melted like a popsicle on a hot summer day. One of the aspects of European life that I like so much is the absence of urban sprawl. In some places more than others, particularity so in Germany.

I ended up living in Germany twice, in small German towns, around 2,000 inhabitants. One day while trying to follow a conversation with my neighbor’s daughter and her boyfriend, who was from the next town up the road about 5 km away, I realized he was speaking in a dialect that was even different than the Rhineland Pfalz dialect I was accustomed to and could reasonably decipher. I asked why his speech was so different. Then I learned that was because his town, which I drove thru twice a day, was a “Catholic town”, as opposed to the Lutheran town I was living in.

And because of this difference, there was much less interaction with this neighboring town, than with other towns.

Who knew?

Well, seemingly everyone but me. To this day, I have no idea if this pattern of towns based on region was a regional thing, a local thing, a national thing, or anything at all, (certainly local people have their own biases, which you must be aware of), but I do know never to make any assumptions about anything.

During that same stint, I met a German meteorologist, who was from Northern Germany, but was now teaching meteorology to pilots in Bavaria (southeastern Germany). We met for work, became friends and I visited him often. He told me that when he moved from the north some years earlier, no one would sell him a house simply because he was not local. He began making weather forecasts for the local farmers and after a few years they did accept him enough so that he was able to buy a house.

My take-away from this, just like the different town thing, was that the label “German”, as most labels, is not helpful in understanding personal interactions that take place on an everyday basis on a small scale.

I thought an of interesting way to look at these differences in macro and micro cultures using numbers.

Think of a number line from zero to 10, we’ll call it the Homogenous population.  If we have a population of 1000 evenly spaced between zero and 10, every number is 0.01 or 1/100th apart in absolute numbers. Now, take a different population of numbers, this time from zero to 10,000, which we’ll call the Heterogenous population. Divide by 1,000 again, and every number is now 10 units apart in absolute numbers.  Therefore, to the Heterogenous population, the Homogenous population seems much closer in value in absolute terms, and the Small population looks at the big population and sees far more diversity, since the range is not zero to 10, but zero to 10,000.

But looking at both populations from within, on a relative scale, Homogenous sees a difference of 0.01/10 =0.001; while Heterogenous sees the same result, 10/10,000=0.001. Therefore, even in populations that seem homogeneous to an outsider, to those inside the population the perceived differences are just as great as in a population that is viewed as heterogeneous.

My point is that perceived differences are in the eye of the beholder and that the differences one sees are as great to the Homogenous group as to the Heterogeneous group.

We cannot make the false assumption that populations that seem homogeneous to us, like Germans or Koreans or Italians or Chinese or Vietnamese or anyone for that matter, are in fact, homogenous, because for them, inside that population, they see diversity that we are not trained to see.

Or let’s put it even another way.

I believe that Queens County is the most diverse county in the USA based on the number of different languages spoken at home based on the last census.

So, if I am having a coffee in Queens, let’s say the neighborhood of Astoria, it’s likely that at a nearby table there sits: a Bengali, a Greek, an African-American and a Korean. While they may all speak different languages at home, may be both female and male and of different religions, creeds and colors, they will all know what a “Regular” coffee is.

 

 

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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.

 

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.

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.

Things I Must Do on Dauntless

Upon waking up this Monday morning, as I was organizing my day, thinking about what I wanted/needed to do, I thought about this blog and what to write. I’d like to finish writing about the events of the trip to Vallejo. But as time passes, so does emotion of the events, making it harder to write about in an interesting way. Thus, the main casualty of losing my laptop for almost two months is insightful writing.

This morning in HCMC, writing this post

On my day’s list of things to do was also to refine my plan for the projects that need to be done on Dauntless. Specially, I want to plan, draw some diagrams, for those projects that I want to get done this September, when I return to Dauntless for 4 weeks.

So, why not write about that. It’s current and may be interesting to some.

I’m sitting in one of my two favorite coffee chops in the Bình Tân district of Hồ Chí Minh City, Vietnam. I come here when I want coffee, or a yogurt blended with orange juice, and that’s what I’m drinking today. The other shop I like, when I want a fruit smoothie, usually avocado.

I’m alone, so it’s a good time to write. My girlfriend Trinh (pronounced like Din), is working. Doing my three-month hiatus bringing Dauntless north, she expanded her sub-contracting job and now has 9 people working for her producing marking and ink pens.

Dauntless under cover in Vallejo

I can’t complain; I do like women who like work. Ultimately, my breakup with Julie was because she picked work over me and D. Why it will be different next time is not in the scope of this post, but one day I’ll write about it. I will say it’s more a cultural thing than a personality thing.  I’ll see Trinh later this morning and afternoon.

During the time on Dauntless, I started to make a list of the things that needed to be done on Dauntless at some point. I hate lists, as they remind me of all the stuff I still must do, but in this case, it’s needed.

Dauntless under cover in Vallejo

My biggest problem when cruising alone (in the sense of not having a long-term partner with me) is that when I arrive wherever, I’m tired. I don’t have the will or desire to sit for the next X number of days and fix, repair, replace, modify what needs to be done.

Of course, I’m fixing things that must be fixed, but no more. I may do some half-assed job just to get going, but I know I must come back and modify it.

One of the big attractions of the marina in Vallejo is that I am in a covered slip. I don’t have to worry about working in the rain or worse, in the sun. I’m looking forward to it.

My current list of projects includes everything that must be done before September 2019, once in Southeast Alaska. Obviously, some things are more critical than others, e.g. I don’t need the diesel heater until Alaska. Other things are conveniences, but on a boat, conveniences are important. So, one of my first projects next month will be to move my fresh water tank selector valve so I don’t have to go under the floor in the guest cabin every xxxing time to change water tanks. Along with that, I will also clean out the water tanks and reseal the inspection ports and install a baffle on the Maretron ultrasonic sending unit. This should be a day’s worth of work. If Trinh was with me, probably half-a-day, since she’s always busy like a bee. I’m more like a sloth, so it will probably actually take two to three days.

Here’s the current Dauntless Project List:

System Item  Problem/Issue/Goal Notes, parts? Est Completion
Engine Change Oil

R&R Impeller Cover

 

Been leaking for 2 years

 

 

Done 6663.88 hrs.

April 2019

H2O Move tank valves

Reseal tank fittings

Replace lines, one-way valves,

Check and redo all clamps

Place caps on Maretron tubes

Make external filter system for tank fill

September
Water Pump pressure switch Adjust ?
Mount Spare pump?
Transmission Real seal leak Check engine alignment?? ?? April 2019
Fuel Sight tubes Put LED strip behind tubes

Bundle wires on port side

Watermaker R&R Seals with kit

Add three-way intake valve

September
Generator Oil & filter

Install Battery

Check remote start switch

Install Perko switch to house?

Check Charger to Gen

 

 

 

Nice not to have to get out jumper cables?

September
Bow Thruster R&R broken gear Would be nice to use again, OTOH I’ve done wo for 3 yrs.
VHF’s ICOM 304 Internal relay?

Handheld

Chinese handheld

Send back to ICOM

Needs battery

Figure it out

September

April 2019

April 2019

Salon Hatches Add hinges to middle two Get someone who knows wood September
Outside Hull R&R rub rail

Touch up paint

Cap Rail refinish

With Stainless steel (CI Hbr) September

April 2019

2019

Ext Doors Touch up, Tung oil 2019
Fly Bridge Water ingress Where? Rail fittings? 2019
Windlass & Anchor Lube windlass

Re-mark Anchor chain

September

2019

Solar Panels Re-wire controllers, fuses, switches

Add array over dingy

Replace terminal blocks and fuse holder September
Purisan Controller corroded Return to Raritan September
Pilot House Electrical Add capacity Run additional cable, pos and neg from ER distribution Sept or April
Paravanes Get two new 28”, Use current as spares

Make holder

Reduce excess lines

April 2019
Boom Winch R&R April 2019
Mast Make New Bracket for Instruments

Get 25’ NMEA 2000 cable

Re-attach spreader lights

September
Diesel Heater Complete Wallas installation 2019
Hookah Face mask and compressor 2019
Hydraulic Fittings

Octopus Pump & Capilano piston

Standardize all fittings

Rebulid

Spare?? 2018 -2019

 

I’m tired just wiring this list. I think I’ll rest now.

 

 

Don’t Miss Great Foods Because of Bad Translations

A little background. I came to Vietnam with some trepidation. I don’t like hot climates, hot weather or most foods that they produce. I came to meet my special person though I had an open mind. In the early days, I made the mistake of saying I didn’t particularly like “Hot Pot” as Lãu is translated in English (and my spelling here is not 100% correct, as I can’t find the correct accent for the “a”.

Vietnamese Lẩu. This a fish version that both Trinh and I prefer

A very bad translation at that. I, of all people, should have known better.

Having spent the last 40 years in and out of Europe, if I venture into a place that even has a menu in English, I always ask for the native language, be it Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch or German. Why? Because generally, the translator is trying to put the food into a familiar concept, when no such comparison exists. Sometimes even the literal translation misses the mark widely.

One time in Wissembourg, an ancient French town along the French-German border, after a typically simple, but exquisite French dinner, the dessert offered was “frozen omelet”. We passed, but on walking out, we realized what they were offering was Baked Alaska, (whipped egg whites surrounding a block of ice cream that is browned in the oven) one of my favorite desserts.

The recent home of the fish before he made it to the pot.
The restaurant will grill the half the fish, with the other half going into the Lẩu

Fast forward 40 years later and my ill-informed comment about Hot Pot, had me missing a Vietnamese specialty for months until the confusion was cleared up. But why such confusion in the first place?

Because the Natives are trying to put it into a context we understand. The problem is that there are 500+ Chinese who also have a thing that’s called “Hot Pot” in English, which is totally different that the Vietnamese version. Even the Koreans have a version, which they call Shabu Shabu, which in my mind is better way to handle different foods that don’t translate well.  If I go to a Korean restaurant and see Shabu Shabu, I know exactly what I am getting. When I see “Hot Pot” the only thing I am sure of is that a pot is involved, and it will be hot.

Even the Google Translation of Lãu leaves a lot to be desired. Their definition, “a casserole of meat and vegetables, typically with a covering of sliced potato”.

The grilled portion of the fish

Who came up with that definition? A twenty something person who read about ancient life in the Midwest?

 

Café Culture

I have two favorite cafés in Ho Chi Minh City, Bui Van Ngo Coffee is larger, fancier and also has some baked goods. Café Thuy Moc is smaller, homier and they make killer smoothies, my favorite being Sinh To Bo, an avocado smoothie.  They are also on a busy street corner that I can watch fascinated how crossing traffic manages to crisscross in a smooth ballet of traffic.

Sunday morning, 08:00, at Bui Van Ngo Coffee in Binh Tan, HCMC, Vietnam

Sunday mornings both places are full, which goes to my observation that about 40% to 50% of the population have Sunday off, at least partially.

I haven’t been to China yet, but having spent time in Korea, Japan and Vietnam, the Vietnamese work the most. Japan and Korea (South Korea of course) being closer to a more western life style with more time off.  My friend Sam, married to Bac, who wrote the book, For Two Cows I Ain’t Half Bad, remarks that when he arrived in Vietnam in the late 1960’s, the Vietnamese had a life style that had hardly changed in the last few thousand years. 90% of the population were agrarian, farmers, and farmers are renown the world over for one thing, they just want the powers to be to leave them alone.

A page from the menu of the popular cafe

I blame the U.S. State Department for most of the post WW2 debacles. Full of ivy league graduates who think they know everything, but, know nothing about the places in which they are supposed to be experts. They lurch from one fiasco to another. Acting when they should sit on their hands and being still when they should act. How is Iraq any different than Vietnam? Ok, basta, enough.

Café Thuy Moc, smaller. The owners, the couple on the left and their one year old daughter, who just learned to walk on the right.

Having been on Dauntless for the last three months, the first week back in Vietnam was a bit strange. Probably jet lag as much as anything, though I did, or I should say, Trinh did, change my apartment for a house.  I like my new neighborhood better, it is less industrial, than the previous one. Even though I had a 10th floor apartment the amount of dust that filtered in every day was astounding. Most probably from the large apartment complexes being constructed nearby. Now, almost no dust.

My German neighbor back in the day said I had an empfindlich stomach. Google does a good job of translating that to mean: sensitive, delicate, touchy. That’s certainly my stomach. But it really likes Vietnamese cuisine. Maybe even more than I do. I was surprised these last months being in the USA and Mexico as to how much I missed the food and as to how much I didn’t like most of the offerings in the U.S.

Coming up, Foods to Die for

Update, I just recently discovered cappuccino in Vietnam. My hard and fast rule is never, ever get  a cappuccino outside of Italy, as it is just awatered down, over milked version fo the real thing.

But coffee in Vietnam is always strong and good, so I thought I’d spend the big bucks, 49,000 VND or about $2.20 US and give it a try.

I’m so glad I did.  As good as in Italy. Perfect in fact.

Thanks Vietnam

cappuccino
Sinh To Bo at Café Thuy Moc
Avocado smoothie