Idiot Boy Makes a Real-Life Escape Room

I considered packing my Leatherman multi-tool (thanks again, DW, best Christmas present ever) when I came to Taiwan for this little vacation. But I decided against it. Because I am an idiot.

The AirBnB that I’m staying in here in Taipei is a small studio apartment. The door lock is a Korean electronic lock that you open with a smart card. Pretty modern and convenient. and foolproof. But not idiot-proof, as I proved.

I have to say from the outset that this is not entirely my fault. It’s mostly my fault, but I can share some of the blame. I blame physics. Doors that are opened too quickly have a infuriating tendency to slip out of one’s grip and slam into the wall. Is that my fault? I think not. On top of that, fast-moving objects, like door handles, have the bewildering tendency to break when they slam into a wall. While I admit responsibility for starting the door in motion, can I be held responsible for the laws of physics? That’s a little unfair.

Oops

Now, I’m pretty sure that the engineers anticipated a lot of eventualities in the process of designing this electronic door lock. They clearly did not consider the idiot factor, though. That’s where I come in.

From the inside, you have to use the door handle to open the door. There is no other way to open it. I know this, because I was trapped inside the apartment while I tried to figure out how to open the door without a functioning door handle. Turns out, that’s kinda hard to do.

None of the “tools” in the apartment (forks, chopsticks, clothes hangers, zipper pulls, electric appliance plugs, paring knives) would fit into the hexagonal hole in the door mechanism. I was completely trapped inside. On top of that, it was a national holiday, and the service center was closed. The landlord was out of town too. It was a perfect storm. I was on my own.

After an hour of increasingly panicked head-scratching, I decided to think outside the box. Using a table knife as a screwdriver, I removed the screws holding the bathroom doorknob on.

I could jam those long screws into the hexagonal hole. But I still couldn’t turn it.

So I used the knife as a lever.

That worked.

Once I was out, I ran to the nearest hardware store and bought an Allan wrench. It worked like a charm.

So now I’m paying for my idiocy. Literally. A repairman is currently replacing the whole mechanism, and I am paying for it.

Next time someone suggests that we play escape room, I will cheerfully suggest that that someone kiss my butt. I played escape room for real. I won, and it only cost me $80 for a new lock. Even better, there was no guarantee that there was a solution to this one. I’m an idiot, but I’m a resourceful idiot.

Call me MacGyver. Idiot MacGyver.

And from now on, I am taking my Leatherman with me on every. single. trip.

This can’t be good

Saw this car parked outside my building today. Should I be worried?

I feel very lucky that we’ve had almost no problems with pests in my apartment since I’ve lived in the building (knock on wood). That fact is especially remarkable, considering that this is a tropical country, with all of the little nasties that you usually find in tropical climates.

Good morning Tuy Hoa, good night Saigon

For the last few days, I was on a business trip to the small town of Tuy Hoa. I had a great view of the ocean from my hotel room.

I woke up this morning just before 5:00, and this was what was waiting for me outside:

When I got home to Ho Chi Minh City this evening, this sunset was waiting for my outside my bedroom window:

If I were a philosopher or a poet, I could probably come up with some deep meaningful statement about sunrise and sunset symbolizing good beginnings and good endings or some nonsense like that.

But, being the Philistine that I am, I’ll just show these photos and say: “golly, that’s pretty, isn’t it?”

Reason #428 why I love my job

It’s been a stressful couple of weeks. We hosted the commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, who visited Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. My team organized a press conference for the Admiral. I’ve been working with many of the journalists for nearly a year now. I encourage them to be more assertive and ask follow-up questions. To my delight, many of them did so.

The next day we hosted a CODEL (Congressional Delegation). Nine senior senators came to Vietnam for several days. They were mainly discussion “war legacy” issues like dioxin (“agent orange”) remediation. Again I was the press officer. There was a big ceremony to mark a cleanup project at a nearby air base.

For security reasons, everyone at the airbase had to have a badge. The Defense Ministry didn’t know what to do with me, so I was a “reporter” for the day.
April is the hottest month in Vietnam, and the airbase is a huge area of concrete runways. Tents could shield the CODEL from the sun, but we couldn’t keep them out of the heat.

The Bien Hoa airbase is the biggest remaining “hotspot” of dioxin contamination. It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of time for us to clean up our mess. But I’m proud that our country is fulfilling our moral responsibility.

You don’t need to read Vietnamese to know that this sign is a warning that the entire area is contaminated. If this were in the U.S., we would be wearing hazmat suits.

This isn’t my first trip to the airbase, but I hope it’s my last. I later heard that just being there is dangerous exposure to Agent Orange.

You’d look angry, too, if your job was guarding a field of poisonous dirt.
A symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony. That’s Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow second from the right!

When we were planning the events, I pushed for as much press access as possible. The local reporters really stepped during the interviews. The lead question was about the next generation of U.S. advocates for Vietnam war legacies. After the death of John McCain, we don’t have any more Vietnam vets in Congress. However, there is a Vietnamese-American congreswoman. Could that be the new direction in U.S.-Vietnam relations? From war legacies to people-to-people? The Ambassador and Senator Leahy were great on camera, and had a good rapport with the reporters. During the interviews, I had a nice chat with Mrs. Leahy, she is sharp-minded, strong, and pleasant.

How funny is it that I felt proud of the reporters for asking good questions? I guess I’ll always have the teacher mentality.

There was a short unstructured time period when reporters could do pull-aside interviews. I advised reporters about which Senators are on which committees, and told them to go hunting. Many of them got good one-on-one interviews, and they were thrilled. Vietnamese politicians don’t like to talk to reporters, whereas American politicians love it. So the reporters had a nice cultural experience as well as getting good stories.

I orchestrated a pull-aside interview with Debbie Stabenow for a local reporter. Stabenow is on the Agriculture Committee in the Senate, so she is influential in policies that directly affect Vietnam. But mainly because, you know, Debbie Stabenow. She made a great impression on several female reporters.

We were out in the heat all morning, and my the time I got home, I was beat. I wanted to take a shower and go to bed. But that wasn’t the end of my day. I decontaminated my clothes as best as I could, then I had to go on a field trip. But this field trip was not just work, it was a pleasure, too.

I’m on the program and entertainment committee for this year’s July 4 event. The theme is “Jazz in the Park.” My job is to find suitable jazz entertainment. Lucky for us, we have a connection with the best jazz musician in Vietnam. I went to his club to meet with him, and ask him to perform for us.

Yes, he’s playing two saxophones at the same time, and yes, that’s his daughter playing next to him. They put on a great show.

As luck would have it, I recently helped his daughter with some student visa advice, so we already had a good relationship. We came up with a great idea to have an interactive jazz performance. I was so excited that I got goosebumps. It’s going to be a really great event.

This job is never the same two days in a row. It’s usually exhausting, sometimes exasperating, occasionally baffling, but never, ever, boring. I can’t believe that I have to leave this country in only a few months. Just when I’m starting to feel like I’m not completely incompetent, that I understand more about the culture and society, I have to prepare to pack up and say good-bye.