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June, 2018:

Taking a break from cooking

Due to some unfortunate family circumstances, I’ve been by myself at post for a while.  Which means that I have to feed myself.  Cooking for one has a few advantages.  I eat what I want to, for example, and when.  But cooking for one also takes a lot of time, it’s harder to plan, and I wind up with a lot of leftovers.  Luckily for me, there are a lot of other people like me in the city, and the local market has responded.  Enter: meal delivery services!

Unlike food delivery from a restaurant, where you order something from their menu, and the restaurant delivers what you order, a meal delivery service delivers prepared meals based on a preset menu.

I tried one service last year, and hated it.  What I received tasted like the stuff you get on an airplane (note that I did not use the word “food” in that description).  But after cooking for myself for a while, I was really tired of it, and I wanted to free up some time to do more meaningful things.  So I rolled the dice and tried again with  different company.  After one week, I can say that the experiment has been a success.  The service that I used this week is called “SmartMeal.”  They have several options, including “healthy,” “body-building,” and vegetarian.  I opted for the low-carb plan.  Here’s the menu:

Menu for the week. I chose the lunch-dinner option.

I ordered the lunch and dinner option.  I like a plain breakfast, usually granola, which I make for myself.  Every morning this week, a delivery guy came with lunch and dinner.

The delivery guy came to my apartment every morning with this.

The delivery went smoothly, except for Tuesday, when the guy didn’t show up.  I called their “hotline,” and was told that the delivery guy (who, like most other people in the city, drives a scooter) was in an accident.  A different guy stopped by my office an hour later to make the delivery.  My regular guy was back in service on Wednesday.  On a different scooter.  I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that.

Anyway, the meals come in containers of microwave-safe plastic.

One for the office, one for dinner later tonight.

Here’s what I ate this week.  First, lunches:

Monday.  Yes, that’s quinoa!  Hooray!

Tuesday.  A LES in China called those mushrooms “see-you-tomorrow mushrooms.”

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

And dinner:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

The food was very tasty, and the portions were OK.  The cuisine was sort of fusion.  Because it’s Vietnam, there was always a sauce of some kind.  That’s just the Vietnam way, I guess.  There was a lot more meat than I’m used to eating, and less vegetable, probably because of the low-carb option.  But more fish than I used to eat, which is good.  I’ll still have to buy fruit, and I might eat salads on the weekends to balance it out.  I might also try the vegetarian option.  But for now, I think it’s worth trying it for another week.

The price is pretty good, too, if you’re an ex-pat.  I pay 850,000 Vietnamese Dong for five lunches and five dinners, with no charge for delivery.  That’s about $37.  This is outrageously expensive by the standard of the local market.  I could cook for myself for less than half of that.  But by US standards, it’s a great deal.  I’m eating well, and healthily, for less than $8 per day.  Plus I don’t have to shop, cook, and wash dishes.  The company will also take back the containers (I hope they’re recycling them responsibly).

Now that food preparation is off the schedule for now, I have no excuses not to work on my own projects. Onward and upward.

 

Today is my Vietniversary

I arrived a post exactly one year ago today. Time has flown by, even faster than my last tour. Only one more year in Vietnam before I have to leave for my next tour. 😢

Job Title

“Permanent Freelancer”

#ActualJobtitle

Job title

“Eye Professor”

#ActualJobTitles

I’m homeless

I really loved this house.

Some people join the Foreign Service right out of grad school.  For them, living abroad is the norm, and they don’t have a permanent house in America.  My situation is a bit different, though.  For me, the State Department is a second (or fourth, depending on how you count) career.  Which means that I already had a family, a home, roots in my community, etc.  Because I had a house in America, home leave and vacations were easy.  I had a place to stay when I was in the U.S.  For some of my colleagues, it isn’t as easy.  Because they don’t have a permanent house in America, they have to stay in hotels or with family when they’re in the States.  For my friends with big families, home leave is a big hassle.  They have to find someplace to stay for a month while they are between assignments.

While my kids were still in school and staying in my house, it was a good situation.  As long as someone was still in my house, I could maintain a residence in America, and have somewhere to stay when I returned for vacations and visits.  I didn’t want to leave the house unoccupied.  Houses shouldn’t be left empty, for maintenance and security concerns.

A blazing fire in this cozy fireplace at Christmastime is a happy memory.

However, change happened, as it always does.  My son moved out, leaving no one to take care of the house.  It doesn’t make sense to try to keep up an empty house, so the logical choice was to sell the house.

I lived in Asia long enough to have absorbed the idea that everyone needs a house.  One of my Taiwanese roommates once told me that he didn’t feel like a grownup while he was still renting a house.  He felt that it wasn’t responsible to get married and start a family until he had a house of his own.  To some extent, I share that feeling.  Everyone should have a roof over their heads.  So this process spurred a big battle inside my tiny head.  The logical half of my peanut brain pushed the rational reasons to sell, but the emotional side screamed that we need a place to store our stuff, goddammit.

The logical side won the battle.  We sold the house.  The emotional side, while licking its wounds, maintains that we will eventually win the war.

My wonderful wife, who is a better person than I am, was in America, and did all the legwork and handled the in-person work of selling.  As it turns out, selling a house is at least as complicated as buying a house.  She did everything, while I was still working overseas at post.

We made this built-in bookcase.  I loved having a “library” in my house.

We closed on Friday.  So now I don’t have a permanent address.  For the time being, my “home leave address” will be my parents’ house.  I am still declared as a Michigan resident, which means that I will continue to pay Michigan income tax.  But I don’t have a property tax bill any more.

Silver lining: I won’t have to mow this anymore.

The plan for now is to buy another place after we retire.  Maybe somewhere near the kids.  Maybe somewhere by a lake (my dream).  For now, we’ll use hotels, Air B&B, and the graciousness of family when we visit America.

This is for the best, the logical half of my brain reminds me.  But my fireplace! My books! My stuff!, sobs the emotional side.

Rorschach test?

This picture is outside the French Consulate.  I think the intent is to celebrate the close relationship between France and Vietnam.  But one could also see something else in the pose.

Is it just me?  Are they dancing, or at each other’s throats?

Fire Cloud

The sun got behind a cloud at sunset tonight.  It was a pretty amazing effect.

From my bedroom window.

China is not popular in Vietnam

The government of Vietnam is considering the creation of “special zones” in Vietnam that would give huge concessions to China, including 99-year leases on the land.  The Vietnamese people, for a variety of historical reasons, distrust China, and are opposed to giving Chinese companies this special treatment.

There was a call on social media sites for a large protest to take place today.  This afternoon, a group of protesters marched up the street right in front of my apartment building.

I didn’t even try to count the hundreds of people who marched in the street.

“Letting China rent land in special zones is selling our country. I protest.”

The protest was earnest, but not violent.  It seemed to me to be a peaceful demonstration of opposition to the government’s plan.  The protesters didn’t seem angry, just resolute.  I didn’t feel that there was any danger of it turning violent.

 

I stood in front of my apartment building and took photos and video.  The people who walked by and saw me filming waved and smiled, and several gave me the thumbs-up gesture.  As a foreign diplomat, it would not have been appropriate for me to have given them a big thumbs-up to encourage them to voice their opposition to an unpopular policy.  I certainly should not have expressed my support to these people’s effort to communicate their displeasure to the government.  It was not my place to wave and smile and give them my moral support.

Avocados are in season!

And they’re wonderfully inexpensive in Vietnam. Even better, I was pleasantly surprised to discover they Vietnamese avocados don’t oxidize and turn brown. So you don’t have to eat it immediately after cutting it open. I can slice one up the night before and put it on my salad, and it’s still green the next day.

In my enthusiasm, I bought too many at the grocery store. They were starting to turn towards the end of the week. I couldn’t eat them fast enough. A spoiled avocado is a very sad thing. So I added a way to enjoy them. This morning I made a paleo breakfast: baked eggs in avocado halves. Yum yum!

My beautiful life: baked egg in avocado.

Where, indeed?!