30 June, 2018

Surprised by the Expected

They say "expect the unexpected" and yet we all prepare for what we expect, isn't that true?

As I prepared to move into the tropics - me, a very light-skinned person of northern-European descent - I prepared for the expected. Sunblock, aloe gel for the inevitable burn... I habitually use sunblock all summer against incidental sun. In the States, if I ate lunch outside - 15 minutes, mind you, at 40*N latitude - I would come in with pink on my arm, or my neck or wherever was most exposed.

Shameless plug: I have used Mary Kay skincare for decades, and their Day Solution has an SPF, as does the light foundation and foundation primer I use. For this reason, I never add regular sunblock to my face. Mary Kay is awesome.

Every morning I apply sunblock on my neck and shoulders, collarbones down to my collar line, and the tops of my feet and ears.

Now, the city is very quiet at midday. Everyone is resting. A 2-hour lunch break is standard, so people can rest after lunch, in the heat of the day. I love that and try to adopt it, although I don't always nap. I walk on the beach most mornings, and we walk a short distance for a "lunch" usually midafternoon. Brett teaches from 5-8 in the evening, so we usually grab another bite after that. Sometimes we go out more often or walk a longer distance in the morning to a major shopping center.

In short, I'm getting morning sun, and only occasionally out for a bit during peak hours. 

All this is to say that, contrary to my expectation, I haven't gotten sunburned! I was so prepared to burn. I have been slowly getting just a little bit of color from the incidental sun I get. This is an astounding blessing because my sunburns don't even have the grace to fade into a tan. They peel, and then I go right back to my freckled, mole-y paleness. So I've been delighted with my skin's reaction to moving closer to the equator.

Yesterday I burned.
It surprised me.
I did nothing particularly different, although my morning walk on the beach was longer than usual. But the tan lines around my arms are from the t-shirt I changed into before we left for lunch. We walked about the equivalent of a block and a half and ate under an awning. 
And I burned. 
It was 1:30. 
I had not re-applied sunblock.

All my preparations and in the end the very thing I had been expecting happened anyway. Silver lining: It's a minor burn. I have burned to a blister so often this pink is nothing. Well, it's a surprise, but not a catastrophe.

Incidentally, I've been toying for days with simply writing a post full of my tips for transitioning pale skin into a tropically sunny environment. Maybe I still will. Failure is the best teacher!

Have you ever been surprised by something you thought you were prepared for?

28 June, 2018

Hodgepodge Beyond the Sea

...Beyond the South China Sea, to be specific.
Today I'm participating in the Wednesday Hodgepodge, which has a New Jersey theme on the homepage. I feel I need to clarify that because my answers may seem off-topic. If you'd care to join me in this blog-hop, click the link below the picture.
Click Here

1. Security or freedom? Can you have both? Explain.
Yes. I just moved from a country with tightly restricted freedoms, and I felt I had to look over my shoulder all the time, and speak in hushed tones just to state an opinion. Very oppressive. I feel much more secure when I am free to speak my mind and go where I want without showing my passport.

2. If you could visit any historical American site what would it be? Why?

Now that I live in Vietnam, I intend to take one of the "American War Tours" offered by certain tourism groups. Maybe the DMZ, if there's anything to that anymore. Also, the northernmost US military base from that war is just north of me, and I believe it is maintained as a museum of sorts. Probably all of that.
3. Free as a bird, free reign, be free of, free enterprise, free trip, walk away scot free, free for all...which 'free' phrase can best be applied to your life in recent days or weeks? Explain.

"Free as a bird" or "Free from the daily grind". I am not working right now, and although I'm slowly laying groundwork to start my own business, this tropical lifestyle suits me just fine! Even the work I do,or hope to do, will be done on my own time.

4. Something in your fridge that's red? Something in your house that's white? Something in your view that's blue?

Sting Soda. So help me, God, I love this stuff. It's strawberry, not cherry, and slightly tart.

All the bedding is white. Not my choice. We have a furnished apartment.

I look out the window at buildings painted shades of blue, green and yellow. It's such a sweet change from the grey of Beijing!

5. July 27th is National New Jersey Day. Have you ever visited The Garden State? If so where did you go? Are there diners where you live? Have you tried Taylor Pork Roll? Do you like to play Monopoly? Salt water taffy-yay or nay? How do you feel about shopping at the mall? Springsteen, Sinatra, or Bon Jovi-you have to pick one.

I HAVE visited the Garden State several times. When I lived in PA, one of my good friends was from there and we went to her parents' house one time. Then I lived in Delaware, and my best friend is from northern Jersey. We stayed with her folks once or twice on jaunts into NYC. Plus, because I was in Lewes, DE, I took the ferry over to Cape May several times. That's a cute resort town. 

No American-style diners here in DaNang that I know of, but many corner restaurants, inside and out. Never heard of Taylor Pork Roll, and I don't eat pork anyway. I think the last time I played Monopoly was when I was stranded in a snowstorm in New Hampshire, maybe 10 years ago? I'm not great at Monopoly. I'm not cutthroat enough.

I can take or leave Salt water taffy, but I often took it as gifts when visiting the midwest. If it's around, I'll eat it, but I don't love it.

Not a fan of malls, but in Asian cities, they make it convenient for us expats!

I gotta pick Bon Jovi. After all, I'm Livin' on a Prayer!

6. Insert your own random thought here.

There will be no Hodgepodge next week on the 4th. That makes me think of July 4ths as an American expat. When I was a kid in Sri Lanka, the US consulate or embassy (I can't remember if we had an embassy there back then) would host a big, traditional cookout with hotdogs, hamburgers, Budweiser and Coke - all luxuries. They'd have a fireworks display after dark.
As a teen in Taiwan, there would usually be some get together with other expats, but I don't recall fireworks.
The last two 4ths, in Beijing - nothing. It's just a day on the calendar.
Here in Da Nang, by coincidence the finale of the International Fireworks Festival will be this Saturday. I will count that my 4th of July celebration for this year!
The Fireworks Festival, as seen from the rooftop terrace of our building.

25 June, 2018

Random or Not

I got back from my morning walk this morning and realized I did not post anything this weekend! We've been busy with actual, official, life stuff lately, so no big adventures to talk about. The good news is, we are getting into a bit of routine. The bad news is, I'm getting lazy.

With no news to share, I thought I'd select a few random pictures from the past week to share with you.

I believe I've mentioned that we live about a 10-minute walk from the beach. Resort area. Danang is split lengthwise by a river and much of the official business and major shopping (to avoid tourist pricing) is west of the river. Because of that, there are several bridges, the most notable of which is the Dragon Bridge. Let me show you.
Approaching the dragon.

Close-up of the dragon's head.

The dragon's body. It goes over the hump of the bridge.

These are not great photos. You can look it up online for a better view. Or wait. Every Saturday and Sunday night the dragon breathes fire, and we'll get out to see it some night! But not this weekend. This Saturday is the finale of the International Fireworks Festival. (I love my life.)

Also this past week, we had the Summer Solstice. There's not a huge lengthening or shortening of days when you live at 16*N, but I took this picture of my shadow around noon on the 21st.

...I was facing south. SOUTH! The sun is north of me for the next couple months! I'm still in a bit of freak-out mode about that. I am currently south of the sun! WHAT!!?!?

Does anyone else get excited by geography? Sometimes it's lonely in my brain.

As an alternative to looking at my feet, I took this picture looking up into the branches of a tropical tree I don't know. These trees look a bit like a bunch of ferns growing out of a tall trunk. I like them. Not all have red flowers, but isn't it pretty?
If anyone has a guess what kind of tree this is, let me know!

How was your week? Big plans for this week?

20 June, 2018

Speaking of Family

We just finished watching the movie Father Figures, which I'd never heard of. (I was living in a very conservative, communist country when it came out, and the subject matter was probably not approved for Chinese audiences.) 
image: imdb.com

Have you seen it? It's pretty cute. I hadn't intended to watch but got sucked in.

It got me thinking how blessed I am with family. And how appropriate, since Father's Day was this past weekend! So, here's to family! The good, the bad, and the ugly. Because let's face it, all families have a little of each.

Are you close with your family? I used to think my family was pretty close-knit, but I don't know anymore. We definitely come together for each other when needed, and I'm pretty sure I could count on one of my siblings for a kidney if I needed it, but what constitutes close?

I have 4 siblings. At different times in my life, I've been closer to one or the other. (With the exception of sister 2. We have fought like alleycats my whole life.) I'm the only one of us who made the trip to visit our brother in Turkey when he lived there. For a while, I was the only one who saw our youngest brother often enough to know what was going on in his life. Now, I don't talk to either brother. Not by choice. There's just no effort. However, my eldest sister plans to come visit me this winter! I talk to her a couple times a month.

I really have nothing to compare against. I grew up an expat kid, going to boarding schools most of the time, where you no longer sit for meals with your siblings, but they are there in the background for support if you need it. I think this was good. I think by spending more time away from my immediate family, I got to experience a broader range of cultures and lifestyles, toys and foods. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe it's just what I know.

For the majority of my adult life, I never told people about growing up "overseas". Because there is one question that every single person who didn't do it ALWAYS asks. Say it with me: "What was it like?"

Here's the answer: "I don't know." 
What was it like growing up where you grew up? Can you define it?

When we're growing up, we're kids. Our world view is forming. I don't have a background to judge against, so I have no answer. I know my upbringing wasn't "normal" but it's the only one I know, so what can I say?

PRO TIP: If you come across someone who had an unusual upbringing, do them a favor and ask a precise question. "What was the best thing about living in a dorm / abandoned ghost town / puppy-mill?" "Do you think you got away with more or less by being away from your parents / the living / the pig overlords?" "Did you learn to love spicy food / bats / dog food?" Anything besides "what was it like?" That question now makes me want to stab people with a fork. 

Which I why I just stopped telling people about my past. 
It's easy when you move around. People in Pennsylvania knew I lived in Chicago before that. When I moved to Delaware, I was transferred from PA, so most people didn't even ask. Co-workers in Indiana were content to consider me from Delaware. If you don't tell, most people won't ask. 

Family, though. They always know, don't they? They know exactly where you come from - geographically, emotionally, spiritually - It's why and how we have inside jokes. It's also sometimes the cause for division, which is sad to say. 

I'm grinning at my sibling rival.
I really feel I'm blessed with family. I know not everyone does. I have parents who love me and whom I am close enough to that we can enjoy a card game together when I visit. I have a sister I do not get along with although we both love each other and laugh together at times; I also have a sister I talk with often - we have coffee and wine together (timezones, you understand). I have a brother who refuses to talk to me - I think my words hurt him one time (he never explained, just unfriended me on FB). And I have a brother who is just about the best friend I could have ... if he ever had the time to talk. But with the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with family, all in all, I think I made out okay. 

I hope everyone has at least someone in their family they can trust. If not in their biological family, that they have created a valued family of friends. Because sometimes, that's the best there is.

17 June, 2018

Three Weeks Down

I'm still unsettled about a Sunday catch up or wrap up or what have you. I don't have a title idea, and it's different every time.

Tonight I'm running later than I prefer. I almost totally forgot to post, until Brett was in class, and when he's teaching, I try not to use the internet. If I accidentally slip into streaming mode, it could affect his connection, and that's his job. So I opened my blog to write, and thought, "Oh crap! No!" and shut it down for three hours, and then a storm came and then we went out to grab supper, and now it's almost 9pm and what am I doing still online?

Oh! My computer will update in 15 minutes, so I'll make this quick.

Well, we've lived in Vietnam for 3 weeks now. We've started taking evening swims after Brett finishes teaching (so, after 8pm) and that's a great habit. 

Friday we rented a motorbike and explored some of the areas beyond our walking distance. Tourist places, you know.

Da Nang, from the Son Tra Peninsula

This is the largest marble Buddhist statue in Asia.

The backside of the peninsula. No more view of Da Nang!

Hoi An river, in historic Hoi An

Anyway, we are getting used to life here.

14 June, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge

I've seen this link-up on a few blogs, so this week I decided to take the plunge. It's still Wednesday in the US, so I figure I'm okay. It comes from From This Side of the Pond.
I can't make the button link, so here's the link.
So, here goes. My answers to the six questions of the week.

1. What happens to the mail at your house? 
We just moved to Vietnam, so I have no idea. Since we live in a small apartment owned by the guy who owns the coffee shop on the first floor, I would imagine that any mail would come to him and he will give it to us when he sees us. Or bring it up to our door. We shall see!

2. Something you always splurge on? Any guilt associated with the splurge? 
The first thing that comes to mind is wine, but I don't really splurge. I'm happy with the cheap stuff. Probably croissants. I have found that a proper croissant is a delicious breakfast, but they are hard to find here. Guilt came when we lived in Beijing and I had croissants delivered regularly. Guilt from calories and from the expense. Not here though. I can't get them as often.

3. There are many, but what are two important questions you think every bride and groom should ask/answer before they plan their walk down the aisle?

*blows on fingernails* 
NUMBER ONE! Discuss having children. This is not just a question, but a heart-to-heart, and BELIEVE your S.O. whatever he or she says. If you are not on the same page about having children or not, DON'T DO IT! How many stupid people have I seen get married thinking the other person would change their mind or get on board with the idea, then crash and burn. And I'm not going to soften that word "stupid". To not adequately address this subject before marriage is the definition of stupid. Just don't.

TWO is somewhat related, but broader: What habits does your S.O. have that raise red flags? Ask yourself if you can live with that for the rest of your life. Chewing with their mouth open? Sounds petty but if it will grate on your nerves every day, forever, it's not worth the commitment. Do not expect or hope they will change in conjunction with your wishes. People may change, but you cannot force it.  

4. What's the best advice your father ever gave you?

One time I was planning something and debating whether to tell the other person about it because I wasn't sure it would happen - an outing or party, or something - and my Dad said not to "deprive them of the joy of anticipation." He was very animated about it. Especially since I wasn't sure I could pull it off, at least letting the other person know I was thinking of doing something special would make them smile. I love that. 

5. Your favorite movie where a father features heavily in the storyline?

There are two that came quickly to mind:
Dead Poet's Society (Remember Kurtwood Smith's character?) He's a minor character, but pivotal.
Field of Dreams - I'm not actually sure about the "father" part, but wasn't the whole point his connection with his dad?

6. Insert your own random thought here.

I'm seeing a lot out there this week about failure, or feeling like a failure, or quitting (my own post). I think failure has become a dirty word, but we need to flip the script. Last night I was overcharged for some food from a food cart, and I felt terrible later ... like I had personally failed because I didn't bargain them down. 

Flip the script.
It's not failure on my part or a con on their part. I simply paid extra for a late night purchase when they were closing.
Or, I paid extra because I can. 
I am doing my part to improve their services.

How will you flip the negative script that runs in your head when something bad happens?

13 June, 2018

Easy to Quit

So Easy to Quit.

I started studying Mandarin last fall. I live in Vietnam now. Everyone is surprised that I'm continuing my study of Mandarin after moving out of China, and my response is simply that Mandarin is a good language to know as long as I'm living anywhere in this part of the world. I believe that.

Now that I'm here, it would be so easy to quit.

I see a few shops that have Chinese characters on their outdoor signage so I know there's some Mandarin presence. I don't have any way to practice it daily.

It would be easy to quit.

But I won't. I know so many bits and pieces of other languages, I want to finally become fluent in one. I can count to 10 in 10 languages. I had the Japanese exchange students at my high school teach me an impressive sentence (while my classmates were learning curse words). Often, common sayings pop into my head in German instead of English. But I can't converse in anything but English. I'm getting there with Mandarin.

Quitting is always an easy option, isn't it?

I have no set "job", although I am still doing bits of work for people I worked for/with in Beijing. My business idea is just that. I am learning/deciding how to set it up, and trying to find information on business laws here. I want to do it properly from the get-go, and that will take time. I know that, for a professional business with a professional webpage, business cards, etc., there will be a capital outlay, and we don't have that yet.

Knowing this, when we planned this move, Brett based our financial expectations on his expected income. He started working this week, but won't see a paycheck until next month. He did not figure any income from me into the plans, because we don't know when or how much that will be.

He believes that we will be able to live comfortably on his income.
I don't need to work. I don't need to start a business of any kind.

It would be so easy to quit.

But I won't. Not only am I not used to not working, I believe what I have to offer has serious value in my new home city! I have certain skills and abilities that I need to exercise. If I fail, I fail, but I won't quit.

I'm curious to hear of your almost-quitting stories. Have you ever been tempted to quit something, but stuck it out to a positive result? Have you stuck it out, but realized you should have quit while you were ahead?

10 June, 2018

Time LInes

Trying another Sunday reflection-type post, but I have a focus today.

Today I have been in contact with several friends and contacts from Beijing, and it got me thinking about how long it took to connect with these people.

I've lived in Vietnam for 2 weeks (not counting the short trip when we basically found our apartment and started navigating the neighborhood). I already have four expat friends, and three Vietnamese friends - by this, I am counting people whose name I know and with whom I have held multiple legitimate conversations longer than "Good morning" or "how much is that".

Two weeks.

When we moved to Beijing, we knew one expat and had been in touch with a few Chinese nationals who were helping get us situated. Of those initial contacts, I am really only still in touch with two. The people I've been talking to in Beijing today include:
  1. The mother of the little girl I tutored. And the little girl.
  2. My primary boss, whom I love and can't praise highly enough.
  3. A contact at one of my very last jobs, sweet girl, although not a close friend. 

1. Actually, the mother's contact information came up on my phone, but she was letting her daughter talk to me. So sweet. I met this woman after we had lived in Beijing for a little over two months. Their family became good friends with us, treating us to dinner several times, and helping us with our Beijing apartment search this past winter. (Which culminated in our moving to a different country. OOPS!)

2. A month or two after I met (1.), while we were still out of work, the expat friend we knew before moving to Beijing connected me with this person, knowing she needed someone to be an on-screen face for the English language books and videos she was trying to produce. She was a great boss, and I consider her a friend. I hope to continue working with her from here.

3. This was a business contact. I took the job in the spring, when we thought we'd be moving later in the summer, and haven't been paid for my latest work. I reached out to check on that.

So, timelines. Two of my closest work connections happened after I had lived in Beijing for over 2 months. We've only been in Vietnam 2 weeks. I need to chill.

Oh, chill about what? Didn't I mention that? This business idea of mine feels like it's stagnating - but with perspective, I realize that I only made my intentions public here days ago. Literally days ago. I need to cut myself some slack. 

What are you being too hard on yourself about? Lean back, take a deep breath and consider the entire picture.

06 June, 2018

Welcome to the Inside of the Joke

You know how families are. There are jokes that no one gets except for family. The "You had to be there" kind of thing.

I have a big family, and there are lots of random inside jokes spanning decades, some of which apply more to certain family members than to others. Because "you had to be there." I want to share one of those stories.

A few years ago, at my parents' house in Indiana, my sisters, mom and I were working in the kitchen. Maybe it was Thanksgiving time or something. I was making a pie from a new recipe I found.  The others were working on different tasks.

This recipe called for toasted coconut to be sprinkled on top of the pie. Knowing there must be a set temperature and time for making the toasted coconut, as I spread it on the baking sheet I asked the room, "How do you toast coconut?"

Without missing a beat, one of my sisters raised her wine glass, said, "To coconut!" and continued what she was doing.

O.M.G. The laughter.

From that day on, whenever the family gets together, we always toast "To coconut!"

My brothers were both in other countries, so they missed the moment, but they participate now.

Fast Forward to 2018.
When my family shared a photo online of Easter dinner with everyone toasting coconut, I thought of buying 2 coconuts from the market in Beijing and sharing a picture of Brett and I actually toasting with coconuts, but it seemed extravagant since he doesn't really like coconut milk.
Now in Vietnam, coconuts are everywhere. Bars at the beach serve drinks in them. Bunches of coconuts rest in the doorways of coffee shops and tiny side-street restaurants, and the idea I had in Beijing is stronger. Now that one of my sisters is planning a visit later this year, the idea gained momentum.
Our view across the river in Hoi An at supper last night.

Last night, I did something about it. Brett had taken me down to Hoi an, an historic city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and we found ourselves grabbing supper and large tropical drinks in a river-side restaurant. Another of those places with a random pile of humongous coconuts sitting on the floor near the bar. When a small family nearby ordered coconut milk from the coconut and I saw just how huge it was, I had to do it.

It was the size of a basketball!

We ordered the giant coconut solely to get a picture of the two of us drinking from it so that I could share my "To coconuts" picture. (After a first sip for the photo, we had them add some rum to make it more palatable.)

No one else thinks this is a funny joke and I know that, but I love it. What about you? What do you do or say with family that no one else understands?

03 June, 2018

Sunday Reflections

Well, if I'm going to get into a scheduled blogpost routine I guess I'd better start.

I'm going to try my hand at a catch-up post. Maybe that will be my Sunday routine. I'm not following a prompt or anything, but it's been a big week!

One week ago today, we boarded a plane from Beijing to Da Nang, and that was that. We arrived after midnight Monday morning and breezed through immigration and customs. I couldn't believe it. We were home! As annoying as it was to do the move in two trips, it felt good to just arrive, and catch a cab to the apartment we would unpack into. Home sweet home.

The next several days were a blur of unpacking, walking on the beach, and finding the places we need. We now know of one major Walmart-style store that's about a 25-minute walk from home (a different, bigger one is further away). We found a fruit and vegetable market about 10 minutes away, and we've checked out several restaurants. I managed to navigate the pharmacy situation when I fell in the street and gave my knee a nasty scrape. (It's still oozing. Gross.)

Brett and I both agree that, although we notice that we're sweating, it doesn't really feel hot. People who live in arid climates and say "at least it's a dry heat" must be crazy. That's the hot heat! This is just delicious. But to each their own.

Saturday was another installment of the International Fireworks Competition, so we had some friends over and watched the fireworks from the terrace upstairs. It was pretty cool. It's amazing to me how quickly we have friends here. The fireworks were also a good opportunity to meet more of our neighbors who live in this building.

Today was rainy, but I took a walk on the beach anyway. I enjoy the rain, especially near the water.

01 June, 2018

Calling on Anyone With an Opinion!

I need to clear the cobwebs in my brain, so here I am.

I want to start a business to help correct misprinted English signage and marketing at businesses here. Da Nang is hitting its stride as an international tourist destination, so I think if businesses want to take advantage of that foreign market, they should have proper English. Most western tourists will speak English so it will expand their customer base if they can cater to that. (I know that in Beijing, as much as I do not like Starbucks, I found it an easy place to go because the staff there knew their menu in English as well as in Chinese.) 

Right now I'm preparing a facebook business page so that I can link into some of the facebook groups here, but I need a name. While marketing and written English is my forte, I intend to partner with an English teacher to provide English training as businesses may require it.

With that in mind, I was thinking of naming my business something to imply we offer both written English marketing and spoken English training: 
All-in-All English 
English 360, or maybe 
Pinnacle English (has a more business-y sound, maybe?). 

Then I got to thinking about the culture I'm moving to - a beach city in SE Asia, tropical climate, relaxed living - Lotus English was my favorite for days. There's just so many ways I can go with that concept. But after being here a week I've noticed that the Lotus is a commonly used symbol for many businesses. Lotus English would not stand out.  
Bamboo English maybe.

But since I don't want to be mistaken for an English training center or school, I think I should choose a name that will entice business owners. Something implying wealth or growth:  
Golden English 
Crystal English or ... I'm back at "English 360", "All in All English", "Pinnacle" or maybe  

Help? Do you like any of these ideas? Does anything else come to your mind? I still need to try to figure out the meaning and value people place on names here, but I'm open to ideas!