28 November, 2018

In Defense of Americans

This is NOT a current events post. Go elsewhere for that. I won't have it here.

As an American Expat traveling the world, I have heard and read various views about Americans in general, some earned, some debatable, some apropos only to the current moment and mood. 

There are two specific views - typically held by Europeans, as far as I can tell - that I would like to address. I'm pretty hot about these two. You've been warned.

1. Europeans* seem outraged that we call ourselves "American"

First off, what do you care? Calm down already.

"America isn't a country! It's a continent."
"You're not from 'America'; you're from the U.S.A."
"You can't claim a continent."

Okay, "America" isn't a country. It is also not a continent. North America is a continent. 
South America is a continent. 
"The Americas" are a super-continent, if you will. Like Eurasia. 

HOWEVER, you pompous Euro-imbecile, please tell me: What other country has the word "America" in its name? 
What's that? None?

That's right, you ignoramus. None. 
If you are annoyed that we call ourselves "American", what is your suggestion? "United States-ians"? "States-ers"? There is no other sensible name by which to call ourselves, and since no other country claims the word "America" in its name, "American" ours, thank you very much.

We are from "The United States OF AMERICA". 
We are "of America". 
We are American. Fight me.

This first issue was broadly complained about throughout a blog post by some Irish dude whose name I will not promote. The blog post was all about things he didn't like about the US. He claimed that he "liked visiting the States, had before and will again, but..." Kind of like the person who says, "I'm not a racist, but..." and then launches into everything wrong with people of a certain race. I've heard this view elsewhere, but he was pretty angry.

2. Americans never learn a second language.

I first started hearing this complaint about "ignorant Americans" when I was kid, going to an international school in India. It wasn't until I was older, living in the States, that I figured out the answer.

Yes. I know. Most Europeans know at least two languages. Yeah, yeah. It's all over the movies and TV, and in all my travels, it has been infrequent that I met a European who didn't speak at least a modicum of English - THE most widely spoken language in the world, including Chinese, which is primarily spoken by Chinese people, not a significant percentage of a significant percentage of countries.

Europeans kind of have to be bilingual. Europe is a continent filled with 50 countries all squished together into a space roughly the same size as the US. Of the three countries that comprise North America, two speak primarily English! For most Europeans to visit any place of a different culture from their own, they kind of have to know a different language.

At least Europeans travel, you say? Thank you for illuminating your ignorance once again. I'll call that point "2a".

Most Americans can't afford to travel to other countries, because most other countries are so far away! If each State in the US was a country with its own language, for sure we'd be learning languages all the time. Well, except maybe Texans**. The smart American traveler allows a day to drive across Texas. If Texas was a country, It's citizens might be given a pass on the language thing.

When I lived in the States, it took me a long day of driving (11 hours) to get from my home on the East Coast to my parents' house in the Midwest, and that was a straight shot on clear highways. STILL, I was only 1/3 of the way across the country. 

Most Americans do travel, to a certain extant. Our single country includes such a variety of geography and history and yes, culture, that we can go long distances and speak English the whole way.

On a personal note, visiting another country doesn't make one American better than any other American. Again while State-side, I once had an employee who, when he could, vacationed in Italy. He was almost disgusted that I took my vacation to drive out to my parents' house in Indiana. He had never even crossed the Appalachian mountains. Even if I hadn't grown up overseas, the fact that I've been to 47 of the 50 States makes me more well-traveled than that particular American who had visited the US Northeast (assuming that he probably left Delaware occasionally) and Italy.

Even still, most Americans do study another language for a while in school. There is just no need to practice it. I would venture a guess that 100% of Americans know some basic Spanish, whether they want to or not.


*Yes, I'm generalizing about Europeans. Don't tell me, "Not this European". I know it doesn't carry to all of you, just the vocal morons.

**I know, Alaska is bigger than Texas, but its population is not. I'm discussing people.

13 November, 2018

Insane? or Effecient?

I haven't been around much lately. I've gotten lazy.

Well, lazy in some areas. I spend ample time on my computer, and I'm doing well in my NaNoWriMo word count. But this isn't about that.

I've gotten so lazy, yesterday I didn't even do my morning yoga. I guess that was the final straw for my psyche. Finally last night, I plugged in my phone downstairs in the living room, so that I HAD to get out of bed right away in the morning. But this isn't about that.

They've been working on the drainage ditch all down our street for a while now. Presumably ahead of the rains. (Mind you, we're in a drought, and the rainy season should have started by now.)

This is about that.

On Thursday, they reached us. Suddenly we had a trench about a meter and half deep and a meter across in front of our gate.
The view from the front balcony.

Fortunately, our front yard is attached by a small gate to our landlord next door, so while their front gate was unlocked, we could come and go that way. I don't think we left home that first day, though.

SIDEBAR: That first day, they were jack-hammering away the pavement, and Brett went out around lunchtime when no one was working, just to see what was going on. One of the workmen saw him and came over. They exchanged some charades and suddenly the dude picked back up his jackhammer and kept working. OOPS! Vietnamese typically take about 2 hours at lunchtime to include a rest time out of the heat. Like a siesta. We wondered if somehow he misunderstood Brett's curiosity and started working because of it.

It was hot. Super hot with that noon sun beating down on the poor guy who should have been resting with his colleagues. I said I felt like we should offer him a beer, but who knew if that was appropriate? So Brett took out a cold bottle of water and a cold beer to offer. The guy took the beer and now we're all buddies.

As we had seen happen at every other home and business along the street, they placed some boards across the ditch so we could come and go.
Not my feet.

I have vertigo, so this was a wobbly walk for me, but I made it! We came and went to the market, to the corner stores, to supper at night, and I never once fell into the concrete that had been poured into the trench.

It was quite intriguing to watch the step-by-step. They stored a pile of shaped rebar just inside our gate, and the next day the rebar went into the trench. That night we noticed bags of concrete inside our gate. The next day the new trench was formed and squared off. Finally as of yesterday, we have a ramp up over the now-deeper drainage trench and back down the other side.

Look how nice! I think the boards are now removed and today we might take the bike out and cross town for lunch.

Now, I worked for a civil engineering firm in the States before moving to Communist Asia. In China, we repeatedly observed small shops reduced to rubble on one day, and a new business built and operating a week later. No notice. People don't have a choice. Same with roads and walkways. The government decides something is to be done and it's done. It's not always nice for the people involved who lose business or have to move and start over.

I don't know of things like that happening here, but I am struck by the contrast. In the civil engineering world in the US there is often public inquiry, and even beyond that, there are many stages to road work - flaggers and roadway roped off a certain distance before and after the construction, traffic diverted...

Here, they just start work. The traffic is diverted by the piles of dirt in the road from the uprooted vegetation and the mini-concrete mixer. They place one sign at each end of the area they are working, but drivers are expected to be smart and alert to avoid the workers and their motor scooters and the piles of equipment. It's a bit inconvenient, but man, in less than week, they are out of our hair!

06 November, 2018

Could you Live LIke This?

Now that we've lived in our gorgeous house for almost three months, time for a reality check. We had a visitor recently who commented that our landlords must have a lot of money to have built this place (yet they live in the smaller house next door). I'm sure it cost a pretty penny to build a nice, 3-storey house, but we have found some places where corners were obviously cut.

First thing Brett noticed the first day is the kitchen faucet. It's a nice, tall faucet, but it's a bit loose at the base. We haven't asked for it to be fixed, because it isn't leaking, and we're trying to establish that we're low-maintenance tenants. Don't lean on it or push it too hard and it's probably fine.

The faucet is across from the pointless stove hood.

Also in the kitchen, the hood over the stove-top isn't connected to anything! It's like they installed it to impress foreigners, but don't understand its purpose. There's no ventilation at all, just a light and a fan.

Then it was the internet. They hooked up the exact internet Brett needed for his online teaching the day we moved in, and he can hard-wire into it from his office. The smart TV was connected via Wi-Fi. However, I had no internet access in my workspace. When we called the guys to fix the internet, it turns out the ports in the walls weren't even connected! Just a bunch of loose wires in there, while cosmetically, the rooms look wired up!

There are several places where loose wires are coming out of the wall, waiting for a new light fixture. Not that we are lacking for lights, but why all the wiring without a light? Doesn't matter. The house is only a year old. It allows for modification.

Next, one night I noticed a puddle on the floor of the living room, near the plumbing wall. We have four bathrooms, that are all somewhat lined up so that the plumbing comes down through a central location. In fact, there are two ceiling patches that clearly indicate there has been leakage before. We guessed that it was the shower in Brett's office causing the puddle we'd seen, and with three showers, he just stopped using that one. No problem. No more leaks. If it happens again, we might talk to the landlords about it.

So, they didn't finish the wiring, they short-changed the plumbing, and they skimped on the kitchen.

The front door isn't flush. It's just a bit too tight, so you have to pull it hard at night to get the top lock to slide up.
But it's such a lovely front door!

One tiny, cosmetic thing I've noticed, too. All three floors use the same white tile, with lovely black marble trim. However, the top floor is glazed to a mirror-shine. The top floor is basically laundry and storage. Why polish it? The living floors have no wax, no polish, just raw tile. I don't know if that was a "ran out of money" situation, or if, maybe, possibly, the top floor is polished because it's right under the roof and in the torrential rains of the coming season, water might find it's way to the floor?

There haven't been any puddles, I don't believe there is a roof leak, but the roof-tiling here is kind of open. I think for ventilation. One time I was doing my yoga up there  inside because it was raining, and I could occasionally feel  tiny droplets of water. I determined that, in the gusty winds, sometimes drops landing on the roof splashed inward under the overlapping tiles.

I have a friend in the States who would never live like this. She complained and had her kitchen re-tiled when it came out crooked, and she has never gotten over the fact that one of the corners of edging around the floor is slightly askew. 

We have a beautiful home that we love. I think, if a person can live in Asia happily, a loose sink faucet is a reasonable compromise.