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My latest obsession

We’ve all been here. You’re in Starbucks, and you hear a song that really catches your ear, so you open the Shazam app in order to identify the song, then you get the name of the song, then you open Prime Music to see if Amazon offers it for free, then you see that no, Amazon doesn’t offer it for free, so you go to the iTunes Store and buy the song, then you listen to that song for the next several days. We’ve all been there, right? Please say yes. I don’t want to feel like I’m the only one who obsesses over songs.

It turns out that the song in question came out a few years ago. It’s called “Summer Sun” by the Ruen Brothers. I highly recommend it.

The song is the epitome of “low key.” Literally. The opening vocal sounds like a Roy Orbison song. Then the instruments join in, all at a low pitch, to match the singer’s baritone vocal range. Even the guitar solo sounds like it was played on the lowest two strings.

The money shot is the climbing vocal climax, that’s reminiscent of the goosebump-rising vocal in “When your mind’s made up” by Glen Hasard (a previous obsession).

Every time the song ends, I think to myself: “What?! Over already? You just got started!” So I have to listen to it again.

This all started on Friday. It’s now Monday, and the song is still in my head. Songs won’t give you cancer or make you fat, so if I have to binge on something, at least there isn’t any physical harm. So I’ll feed my obsession.

Sure-fire diet plan

If you’d like to lose 5-10 pounds in only one week, then pay attention, because I have stumbled on a method to drop weight fast.  For the cost of one low-priced meal, you can watch the weight melt away.  It’s as effortless as sitting down.  And sometimes, kneeling.

Here’s how it works: you eat lunch at a restaurant that looks clean, but really isn’t.  Within hours, you will feel the process begin.  An unmistakable feeling of impending loss of matter from your body will start to percolate in your gut.  Before you know it, your body will begin to relieve itself of parts of you that you no longer need.  You will lose 2-3 pounds instantly. And that’s just the start!

As the days go by, you will not be hungry.  Think of the money you’re saving on food, as you lose that weight!  And when you force yourself to eat or drink something, your body will auto-correct for you, reversing your actions as fast as you can say: “Get out of my way! She’s about to blow!”

I’ve gone through this process three times since I’ve been at post, and each time, I’ve been super impressed by the results.  Sure, some people call me “sick,” or “pasty,” or “at death’s door,” but I think they’re just jealous of my slimness. Even the nice nurse at our med unit was so envious that she wanted me to take drugs to counteract my diet plan.  Just to humor her, I took the medicine, but we both knew that it wasn’t really necessary.

Added benefit: drugs!

In short, if you need to take a few days off work, and catch up on your sitting around not wanting to move, then I can recommend this method. I promise that in one short week, you will be thinner.  You will also have a new appreciation for the simple things in life, like not spending half your day in the bathroom.  The benefits of this plan are almost endless.

One word of caution: while you’re on this diet plan, you can’t trust your own farts. ‘Nuff said.

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.

Reason #736 why I love my job

The Indian consulate in Ho Chi Minh City sponsored a performance of Indian classical dance last night.  The consulate invited the consuls general of the various consulates in the city.  Our Consul General had a time conflict, and so another officer got to accept the invitation.  I was the fastest to hit the “reply” button on the email, so I got the honor of representing America.

I know nothing about Indian classical dance (and after seeing the performance, I still don’t), but it doesn’t take expert knowledge of art in order to appreciate it.  I was absolutely stunned by the performance.  The dancing was athletic, but with very intricate and strictly controlled movements and gestures as well.  The dancers used their eyes to express emotions, it was like their eyes were speaking. The costumes were gorgeous, and I was seated close enough to the stage to see everything in detail.

A few of my counterparts from the Indian consulate sat next to me.  After the first act, one leaned over and asked what I thought. For some reason, the dancing made me emotional.  I wanted to jump up and down, and break down and cry, at the same time.  I was literally speechless. “Oh my God,” I managed to squawk out.  I think he smiled.  I hope he knew that that was a good “Oh my God.”  Because it was.

Curtain call. I was so enthralled during the performance that I didn’t even think about taking a photo.

The show was amazing, and it was such a treat to represent my country there.  Before the show started, I met and talked with a number of Indian diplomats, and several members of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam.  It was also fascinating to witness international relations between two other countries.  The protocol was very similar, the structure of the diplomatic part of the event would be familiar to any American diplomat.  Dignitaries from both countries said nice things about each other’s country, and praised the great relationship between the two nations.  But the content of the remarks was very interesting, too, in what they did and didn’t talk about.  They emphasized cultural exchange, but not some areas that the U.S. emphasizes in our diplomatic work, like education and security.  The nature of the relationship between Vietnam and India is just different from the relationship that we have with Vietnam.

So this was another terrific experience.  Next time I see my boss, I’ll have to thank her for being so busy that I could take her place at the event.  And I’m very grateful to the Indian consulate for being so graciously welcoming at the event,  and for sharing some of their culture.

If I get Shingles, there is no justice

There is a new Shingles vaccine, that is recommended for people who are over 50 years old (ahem).  The health unit at post HIGHLY recommended the shot to those of us who have reached that milestone.  So last Wednesday, we were all scheduled for the shot.

My first warning sign should have been when the nurse told me I had to wait in the office for 15 minutes after getting the shot.  Actually there was an earlier warning sign.  Getting the shot HURT.  I’m a wimp when it comes to needles, but I’ve developed some coping strategies.  Still, that stuff was really painful when it went in.  It’s been four days now, and my arm is still sore.

Some people get dizzy right after getting the shot, the nurse said, and some people faint.  That’s why we have to wait in the office after, so the nurse can monitor our condition.  I didn’t feel anything right away, so she let me go back to work.

About 30 minutes later, when I was back in the consular section, interviewing visa applicants, the dizziness hit me hard.  I couldn’t focus, and felt a little fuzzy mentally.  I felt that in that condition, deciding if a person could enter the United States would be counter to our nation’s national security interests, so I took myself off the line and sat down.  About an hour later, I was back to normal.

Later that night, the fever and ache kicked in.  It felt like I was coming down with the flu.  I went to bed as early as I could, hoping to sleep it off.  The next morning, I woke up with a splitting headache, stuffy nose, and aches.  I called in sick (I hate to do that) and rested up.

This was the worst side-effect of an immunization that I’ve ever experienced.  Unfortunately, that was only one of a series of two shots that are required for the vaccine to be effective.  So another round of this torture is waiting for me in two months.

I feel justified in making this demand of the universe: this vaccine had better work!  If after enduring this, I still get Shingles, I will be entitled to a refund for the pain and suffering.  I will demand that the universe refund those two days to me.

At the very least, I will be entitled to a popsicle.

So, this happened

And of course, because it’s me, this happened at the beginning of the work day, not at the end.  A quick trip to the men’s room with a stapler patched me up so I could get through the day.

Good thing I was wearing black underwear today, and not tighty-whities.

I’ve heard a lot about the great tailors in Vietnam.  Maybe this was the universe’s way of suggesting that I visit one of them.

Insert fart joke here.

 

peek-a-boo!

221 pages of pain

I finished reading my second book in Vietnamese today. It was, without a doubt, the hardest book I have ever read.  With the exception of classical Chinese, maybe. It took over four months to get through this skinny little book that only has only 221 pages.

Even the name of the book is confusing.

The book is a collection of essays, social criticism of modern Vietnam. The author has a PhD from a University in Austria, and is clearly very, very educated. He returned to Vietnam after living abroad for many years, and writes essays about his impressions of Vietnamese society.  My teacher says he publishes online.  Probably because the newspapers (they’re all state-owned here, and very un-free) would never publish his stuff.

All of these notes, and I still can barely understand what I’m reading.

As I was reading, I had to look up a lot of words that I didn’t know. It was not unusual for me to have to look up 20 or 30 different words on every page. It would take me about an hour to read one short essay.

We’ve been going over the essays in my one-on-one Vietnamese class. My teacher, who has the patience of a saint, explains the author’s prose, and the events that the author writes about. It’s a great way to learn, and I did learn a lot from the book, but it was also a very humbling experience. If you want to feel stupid, try reading something way above your reading level in a foreign language.

Cheeky Barista

When baristas at Starbucks ask me for my name so they can write it on my cup, I don’t like to give my real name. It’s a personal quirk. As a small token of rebellion against the system, I give a fake name.

Usually I’m “Phil,” for some reason. Today, though, I decided to be Ed, because I was in a hurry, and I figured that it would be pretty hard to mess up that name.

“My name is Ed,” I said as clearly as I could, thinking to myself, “that should be easy.”

Boy, did I not expect this. Did he think I had a cold?

2017 challenge: met. I win.

After my run today, I met my goal of 2,017 kilometers.  It was a tough year of running. Sometimes I could run outside, which is actually enjoyable.  I ran in Virginia, Michigan, and Vietnam.  Most of the time, though, I had to run inside.  Running for more than five miles or so on a treadmill is incredibly boring.  I don’t think I would have been able to keep going without something to distract me.  Thank you, Kindle Fire tablet, for providing some entertainment while I was running in place on a treadmill.  Action movies, especially zombie apocalypse shows, helped to keep me motivated.

The year was hard on my feet.  I lost many toenails to the dreaded “black toe” syndrome.  My knees held out pretty well, though.  I don’t think that the additional running burden caused any lasting damage to my body.  The challenge pace is not sustainable, so I will adjust my running back to a more sane regimen of 15-20 miles per week, instead of the 25+ miles per week that the 2017 challenge required.

Even though I won’t set an exercise challenge for 2018, I like the challenge idea.  I will think ofanother challenge for 2018.  What can you do 2018 of in 2018?

I finally found my barber shop

You might think that male pattern baldness would make going to the barber easy.  Less hair to cut should mean an easier haircut.  Apparently, it is, as long as you’re in America.  For some reason, while living in Asia, I’ve had trouble finding a barber who can give me a decent bald-man’s haircut.  Most of the places that I’ve been to have either trimmed around the edges, making me looking like Bozo the Clown, or have shaved me almost bald, which I don’t mind, but which my wife doesn’t like.

Not the look I was going for.

Again, I’m a bald man, and I don’t have very high expectations.  “Handsome” is something I’ve given up on a long time ago (I don’t even think about “sexy”).  Nowadays, my standard is: “not ridiculous.”  And yet Asian barbers can’t seem to get up to that level. Far too often, I’ve walked out of an Asian barbershop disappointed. It could be me, I don’t know.

Since the time of the smartphone, I’ve kept photos of a good haircut that I got in America. I show the pictures to barbers when I visit.  Again, American barbers see the pictures, and can give me exactly what I want.  But Asian barbers have difficulties.

In Vietnam, the first place that I went to gave me a so-so haircut, but it was really expensive – about US$15.  That isn’t a bad price by American standards, but it’s way more than I think I should be paying in the Vietnam economy.  And it wasn’t a great haircut, just so-so. When it was time for my next haircut, my wife took me to the place where she gets her hair done.  They did an acceptable job that time.  But the second time I went, it was Bozo the Clown again.

That’s why I was so happy with the place that I went to today.  Brothers Barbers is a real gem. It was a little hard to find.  We had to walk through a clothes shop to get to the staircase in the back alley. But when I saw the place, I knew it had promise.

This is what a barbershop should look like.

The shop is like a combination of man cave and barbershop.  While you’re waiting your turn, you can enjoy a single-malt whisky from their selection, or smoke a Cuban cigar on the balcony.

Would you like a whisky while you wait? Or maybe a coffee?

As soon as Mr. Quoc started on my hair, I knew I was in the hands of a real barber.

You want to go to this barbershop.

It was pricey, about US$17, the same price that I usually pay in America.  But I’m happy to pay it.  Mr. Quoc cut my hair exactly the way I wanted it (i.e., not ridiculous).  Plus his place is really classy.  And their website is cool, too.

Get your hair cut here. You will not regret it.