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Plumbing failure

What’s wrong with this picture?

Good Morning Nha Trang!

Pleasant touristy resort town in southern Vietnam. Right on the ocean. Sorta kinda reminds one a little tiny bit of Waikiki. 

What’s more obnoxious than smoking a cigar?

Answer: smoking a cigar in an enclosed, air-conditioned room.

Now I know. But oh, how I wish that I didn’t.

Contemplative Garbage Man

I started to wonder what he’s thinking about. Then I decided that it’s better that I don’t know. 

Why choose?

When you can have both?

Taiwanese and Vietnamese coffee!

Insert obligatory Robin Williams quote here:

Whiter than white

An Asian concept of beauty is that pale skin is more attractive than a tanned completion. I’ve heard many times that Asian skin care products contain whitening agents. Here’s some evidence:

Extra white, Instant white, and Night white, whatever that last one means…

Language Immersion Trip, part 1

We are in Vietnam for two weeks of language immersion. This an optional part of language training that many language departments at FSI hold. The idea is that we go to the country with one of our teachers, and while continuing our regular course work, we also engage with people in the community and practice using the language to do real-life tasks. 

Seven students and two teachers are participating this time. We have to pay our own expenses (plane ticket, hotel, food, etc), which is one of the reasons that not everyone decided to come. It’s a lot of money, but I have an “evil plan” for this trip. If I can achieve a high enough language proficiency score, then I will be eligible for “language incentive pay” from the Department. I qualified for that when I worked in China. That bonus would more than pay for this trip. 

The trip started out with some drama. We had a very mild winter this year. Then suddenly a winter storm appeared and threatened DC with a foot of snow. 

Our flight was scheduled to leave right in the middle of the mess. Some flights were preemptively cancelled in anticipation of the storm. We panicked for a few hours. Then we looked at the movement and direction of the storm. Based on our experience with weather in Michigan, we predicted that the worst would not hit D.C. 

We were right. By the time our flight left on Tuesday, it was raining lightly, with only a few inches of slush on the ground. 

The last time that I flew on Korean Airways was in 1989. I did not like it.  Back then, KA was a budget-travel airline with old planes and bad food. Since then, they turned around and improved immensely. We had plenty of leg room (we are not tall people), and the service was good. The food was,… well, it wasn’t the worst airplane food I’ve ever had (you win that “honor,” United Airlines). Enough said. 

Once we arrived in Vietnam, things went smoothly. Armed with the experience of having been here before, and with some language, we didn’t have any difficulties. 

There was some minor hotel drama, though. The hotel that we had reservations at had problems with their A/C, so they booked us at a “nearby” hotel. The desk clerk said it was a three-minute walk away, and a bell hop pointed us in the right direction. We started to walk. A minute later, he must have realized (correctly) that two jet lagged foreigners couldn’t possibly find it on their own, so he caught up to us and walked us there. 

We don’t have any activities planned for this first day. We are wandering around the city. We’re delighted that we can read a lot of the signs, and can converse with the local people. 

The coffee culture is well developed in Vietnam. This is iced coffee with a generous shot of sweetened condensed milk.

Thanks for the translation, but I could probably have figured this one out on my own.

I will post later, after I have inevitably done something ridiculous. 

Ah, sweet memories

It was only one year ago today that I was frolicking with the ice penises in Harbin. How time flies. 

What the hell just happened

I just read a good blog post about finishing. The writer completed the Pacific Crest Trail. The blog post is certainly a good read for people who are planning to walk the trail. That’s how I found the blog, actually. But the essay also shares some wisdom that is relevant to anyone on any journey. And since we are all on the journey of life, the wisdom is relevant to everyone.

The One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

The advice is simple, and is probably familiar to anyone who has been on the planet for a few decades: “The finish line, in itself, is not the goal. Enjoy your hike along the way.”

This phrase shouldn’t strike you as a particularly great insight. It isn’t hard to think of several variations of the phrase. Carpe diem. Stop and smell the roses. Every time I fly, the pilot tells me to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.” The message is the same: the experience of the journey is more important than the accomplishment of reaching your destination.

The writer uses the experience of finishing the trail to make the point real. He reminds the reader that the end of the trail, is not like finishing a race. There is no crowd waiting for you to cross the finish line.

“It’s just you, standing there in the woods, thousands of miles from where you started, wondering what the hell just happened.”

That particular sentence resonated with me. I remembered the feeling that I had after I finished my tour in China. Being back in America was significant to me, but not to the people who had been here all along. But while I really like the writer’s insight, the sentence bothers me, too. I think that the writer has a good point, and I don’t disagree with him, but I think that there is more to it than that.

After I returned to the U.S., I spent a lot of time thinking about what happened in those two years. I thought about what I had seen and done, and how I reacted to events. I like to think that I was being mindful at the time. I reflected a lot about what I was doing and experiencing. I wrote about some of those encounters and events in my blog. Even so, after it was all done and I left the country, I still needed some time to think about what the hell just happened. By having some distance from post, I could reflect about the time more objectively.

Maybe the journey is more important than the accomplishment of finishing. But there’s another aspect to consider. After it’s all done, and your are back home, you are a different person. This is especially true if you have been focusing on the experience at the time. The experience is transformative, and a truly reflective person should spend some time discovering what is different about himself as a result. Maybe that’s what resonated with me about the essay. Maybe it’s important to wonder what the hell just happened.

Six months after leaving post, I am deep into the next adventure. Language learning is an intensive exercise, but it’s just the preparation for another foreign tour in another new country. Although I have left the first tour behind, I’m still wondering what the hell happened then. And it doesn’t bother me that I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it isn’t necessary to have it all figured out. Maybe it’s good that I know I don’t really know what the hell happened. Maybe being in the state of wondering means that I am still open to new interpretations. And maybe that means that I can still learn, I can still learn, I can continue to transform.

When reflecting on an experience, the fact that you don’t know what the hell happened doesn’t mean that you don’t know that something happened. Maybe realizing that fact is more important than knowing exactly what that “something” was. Realizing that you underwent a tranformative experience can be an enlightenment, and maybe that’s enough.

As far as we know, we only get one go-around in life. This is it. Reaching the finish line of life with a feeling of wonder doesn’t bother me. In fact, it would be preferable. It would be more satisfying to feel: “holy cow, that was incredible!” than to feel: “yup, pretty much what I expected.” Maybe we don’t have to know what the hell happened. Maybe not knowing what the hell happened isn’t a bad state of mind, because it means that we are still growing.