Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Family and More Memories

So I'm going to cheat.  I've been home (which is the USA for you tea party people) since the 20th of July but I'm going to pretend I'm still in VN so I can finish up this blog.  Thus, I must ask you to suspend belief and imagine real hard I'm still back in Vietnam, forgetting the fact I have been stuffing my face with high fructose corn syrup and processed foods for the past week.

Done?  Okay.

I finished up my stint in Saigon for about 6 days.  Now, if you have heard me talk about my family in Saigon, it may seem like I hate them--and to an extent, I do in that they suffocate the hell out of me and as DJ Jazzy Jeff would say, they "just don't understand" or get me, mainly my sarcasm, and this results into them thinking I am the dumbest person in the world.

Example:  I leave the house without permission to walk around.  Now understand, this is after I have lived in Hanoi practically by myself for 10 months.  They call me a couple of times and I just tell them I'm walking.  I'm hungry and buy a sweet bun.  I return home and my aunt looks surprised I can feed myself. 

"How much did you buy that?!?!" 
 I reply, "300k [15 dollars]." 
I have a blank stare.  "You know 300K is 15 dollars.  Who would buy a bun for 15 dollars?" 
"I didn't really buy it for 300k..."  Sigh.  I spend 10 minutes trying to tell them I was joking...

Example 2:  I go for another illegal walk.  I return.

"Where were you?"
"Do you even know where you are going??!?@!"
"Nope.  And by walking down the street, I was mugged, lost my cell phone, and had to eat a dead rat on the street to survive."
"WHAT?!@?!  You got MUGGED#!@!!??"
"OH MY GOD, and YOUR PHONE!@!??"
"No..."  Another 20 minutes there.

Example 3:  There is an ad in VN TV and movie theaters that show a white couple screaming at a spider.  A white girl pops in and googles on her phone how to kill spiders.  However, she does it in Viet. 

I say, "Wow, her Vietnamese is really good.  Even better than mine!"
My cousins looks at me.  "No, they use computer animation to do that.  You see, she really doesn't know Vietnamese..."
"I know...I was joking and trying to make a comment about race and advertising in VN....you know what, just FUCK IT and everybody get a sense of humor!!"  (This was a boiling over point--And the f--k it part was in my head)

Another thing that bothered me was really a translation issue.  Now I can almost eat anything.  My limits include dogs, cats, and durian (sau rieng).  Other than that, I am good to go.  My family would try to feed me every 2 hours (see post about food/eating).  As a normal person, I don't eat that much so I would politely decline if they offered food because as an adult, I have learned to understand signals my body gives me, such as "I'm not hungry right now."  Yet, when I decline food, they say khong biet an, which translates to "I don't know how to eat that."  As a person who ate a rat on the street to survive, I find that really condescending and it always pissed me off because I don't want to be labeled as the pansy "I like my lettuce e coli free" fancy-pants American who is afraid of oriental food.  I can and have eaten almost every major dish of Vietnam.

The phrase "khong biet an," however, does mean something a bit different than its literal translation.  I know this but it still angers me for the reason above.  It usually means that a person doesn't prefer to eat a certain food, as in I don't favor this specific fruit.  This complicates things as when they say that, they decide I'm still hungry, they just recommended the wrong dish and still push food towards my digestive system, not understanding that I don't eat because I'm NOT hungry.  It also angered me that none of them recognized that nobody in the family wanted to eat every 2 hours, showing that NORMAL people don't eat this much.  Yes, I get they are trying to be nice, but please leave me alone. [Slams door, listens to Nirvana with my lower lip out]

Yes, looking back, I was a bit of a cranky pants to my family, but I did cool off, at least I tried to, at the end of the week.  And yes I do sound like a 15 year old teenager with a bad tude because my parents never did this to me during my teen years so here was my chance to be a rebellious teenage at age 24.

Still, I like my family.  If you think about the situation, I guess I can understand their position: 1) They are responsible for me in a "foreign" country and have to answer to my parents 2) I'm kind of a big deal, 3) and here is the toughest one, I probably will not make it back to VN before some of them die.

So while I wished they would be more considerate of what I wanted--for example, just room to breathe--I do realize VN is not a yearly trip for me and I have only meet my family 3 times in my life.  I don't like to think about this stuff, and I'm sure most don't, but it is something I need to recognize and accept.  A week of being sheltered isn't so bad in the long run, considering these may be the last moments I spend with them.  It was nice to share that time, even if it wasn't very pleasant for me, but you got to be less selfish when it comes to stuff like this.

To pump up my ego even more, I also recognize that from my dad's side, my two sisters and I are the future of US-VN relationships for the family because my dad is the only member here in the US.  This might complicate things in the future in terms of money (see Daughter From DaNang--also an example of suffocating family life, though I'm not a big fan of her actions.  Also, right now, money isn't a big deal as I am still a student, thus I am POOR.  Please donate to my bank account.), but I do feel I should have some connection to them presently and in the future.  And to be realistic, if I was getting older and towards the end of my life, I would want to spend as much time with Tony as possible.

So there are some memories of my family life in VN.  Again, messy yet loving.  So, you know, like every family in the world.  I know I have become negative Nancy again, but good times include really good food (when I was hungry), fun conversations, and sad, yet meaningful goodbyes.

More quick memories:

The airport security stopping me in Saigon for my 300 pirate discs.  "Well the American shows are okay, but we're going to have to take the Vietnamese films."  That comment was surprising to me--last time, it was the American DVDs causing problems, not the VN films.  After some haggling, I was let through.  Don't tell the dude this, but I was on the verge of giving him 20 bucks, with the upward limit of 75 dollars.  Informal Economies.  It's for Research.  Learning about piracy culture.  Pick one of those excuses and don't judge me.

Seeing a European tourist cry because she was being honked at too much when crossing the street.  This is why I believe when the nuclear Apocalypse comes, as foretold in the book of Sarah Connor, people from third world countries will do MUCH better than us wimpy first world peeps. 

Another example.  Seeing a small kid, maybe 5 or 6, pick up a leaf.  I'm thinking, Oh that's cute.  Him eating the leaf.  Oh shit.  Seeing stuff like this has made me much more humble and now I have this nasty habit of labeling things "first-world" problems and "real" problems.  Don't get me wrong, I still complain a lot about stupid things, but I try to be more aware of real problems.

Example of "first-world" problems:  Oh man, Netflix is now 15 dollars.  I have to pay so much to stream movies through my xbox.  Oh geez, life is hard.

Real problem:  Shut the fuck up.  I just ate a leaf from the street for lunch.  Take your twitter problems and shove it up your ass.  [This is why this is a nasty habit]

Post is getting a bit long.  Save more for later.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Countdown to the end...

Please play this song when reading this post.  Unless you live in the USA then play the second song.  Yes, I take blogging to the next dimension.

So I've been accused for painting a negative picture of my "homeland," but only from one person and her opinion doesn't really matter anyways.  Looking back, I would say yes, the term Hanoian Assholery could be taken as a less than positive term and there are some posts about the more darker sides of the Vietnam.  Still, I stand by my blog (unless later on I get called out, then I will deny, deny, deny) because I feel I defend VN a lot in many ways and (hopefully) don't illustrate VN in terms of black and white, but messy, conflicted, and complex grays, perhaps similar to the way I see and feel about VN as a person who straddles the line between local and foreigner.  Plus, if I only did positive posts, wouldn't that make me a communist propaganda machine?

As much crap as I give Hanoi, I really enjoyed my time there (turn the music up if you are on track 1) and it was a pretty sad time to leave (I left two days ago).  It was much harder than I imagined to "chia tay" (literally split hands but used as semi slang for breakups/leaving relationships) with people, though I blame all these people for giving me gifts that made me go over the airplane weight limit by 50 kgs.  (However, I was only charged for 30 because either I was cute or the woman behind the counter was really bad at math.  Considering she's Asian, the only logical conclusion was that I was so cute, she saved me 40 dollars.)

So special shout out to my research peoples, who considering the nature of my research, were surprisingly really open about their work and literally took me in as family.  Another to people who helped me out with my Viet, get settled in with research connections even before I got here, and took me out to see the city of Hanoi.  And last in my monkey sphere (not really an academic source but good enough for this blog) are the people who introduced me to the concept of the monkey sphere slash jump until you want to vomit and pass out club (a special post will be dedicated to y'all later).  And thanks for the shirt, as I have a pair of cutoff jeans that would totally rock that look.

Ummm, so in dedication to the special city of Hanoi, I will try to list some of my most memorable experiences there, good and bad.  While filled with Hanoi Assholery, there is much charm and a different kind of friendliness that accompanies the assholes.  I would definitely visit it again and if things work out, perhaps live there for an extended amount of time again.

One of the first memories I have of Hanoi is the bus system.  Standing one day by a bus stop, a bus pulls up and does the normal "I can't fully stop or the bus will explode!!" routine and seeing a pregnant woman, I'm guessing 6 to 8 months, waddle-run while using her hands to hold up her stomach as the bus was creeping away at a fairly fast pace.  Yeah, this isn't Kansas anymore--unless the pregnant woman was black, then that probably happens all the time in Kansas.

Another bus story involves the great navigation of VIP in a bus in Thanh Hoa.  Visiting her family in the countryside, we were on local bus that goes near her family's house.  She asks the bus worker we needed to get to this stop and it seemed like everything was set.  Until about 20 minutes (longer?) later, she asked when the stop was coming.  Hah, the look on that guy's face.  It kind of said "Shit, I forgot you guys were there!"  It turns out we missed our stop by a bunch of kilometers and the WHOLE bus was laughing at us city-folk (or at least they were in my head).  We got off and we had the option of walking to the next bus stop to retrace our route or call her family.  However, at least the weather was nice and cool and the views of mountains and the green farms pretty relaxing.  This was perhaps due to being in the city too long but it was eerily quiet and if we were minorities (which we kind of were), we would have been murdered Texas Chainsaw style.  Fun trip, considering VIP was very consistent in her ability to get us in the wrong direction (we had another bus incident in the morning).

 Another "first" memory was my first time going to the market to buy veggies.  After selecting about 3 kilos of food, I asked how much and the lady said 16,000 dong (80 cents).  Now I really thought my Vietnamese was crap because there was no way that was correct and was somewhat bummed because I thought I at least mastered numbers.  Turns out, I did know my numbers and that was the correct figure.  Gosh darn that's cheap. 

And that's with me not even trying to bargain.  One time, I was trying to buy toys for Christmas and I only had 300K.  So in my mind, I was like "Let's do this, under 300k!!"  So I picked out like 5 toys and I asked a very generic how much, expecting some relatively high price for VN, around 500K and I was planning to HALF that as my goal to get under 300k.  How much?  220,000.  Oh.....I'll take it.  Damn.

Two more quick points.  I have learned that here in VN, you should NEVER go to the movies by yourself.  I needed to see Rio, the Vietnamese VO version to compare it to another translation of the film.  I managed to catch it on the last day it was playing, which was like a Tuesday and there were only 2 times: 9 am and 11 am.  Fair to say, it was a random movie at a random time and I felt like some fun "Tony" time.  So I went to Megastar and brought a ticket.  The girl behind the counter asked, "Just one?" and gave me a puzzled face.  I said "Yup."  She laughed at me.  I then went to the person that collects tickets.  "Just you?"  "Yup."  She laughed at me.  When I left the room, the people who clean up the popcorn laughed at me.  I told a friend about this and she said, "You went alone...?"  And then she laughed at me.  "WHY?"

Apparently, you are suppose to go to movies with other people so afterward, you can chat about it.  It's like a tradition or something.  So I tried it with my cousins and they picked the wonderful Transformers 3, though you have to give the Bay credit, he certainly can film an action scene.  My impressions of the film:  I found it amazing that Rosie Huntington-Whitely survived the last hour of the film (which was one huge battle scene) in heels.  She ran across Chicago while it was being devoured in heels.  Anyways, this movie led to the funniest/weirdest quote I've heard in VN a la my cousin:  "It had too much talking!"



Friday, July 8, 2011

My Potential Mistresses

Awhile back, I was asked by my uncle if I had a girlfriend in Hanoi.  Of course, I said no (wink, wink EAG) and he replied, "Tại sao, cháu sợ?" which translates to "why, are you scared?"  This comment, however, was translated in my head as "Why not pussy, you scured...bitch?"  And to that, I responded, "Psh, I'm playin' fool, I gots so many hoes, I don't even know what to do"--this was in Vietnamese, of course.  [Editor's note: Yeah, surprisingly, the last comment did not happen.  I know, shocking.  What really happened was a weak "noooo..." was stuttered and a sad walk out the room, a la Arrested Development.]

Apparently, this is a very popular question and has been posed to me by my Xe om/motorbike taxi, who recommended I go to the countryside because it is "easier" to get women there (ya'll know how them country girls are) or the Philippines (yeah, don't ask because I don't know either), my other uncles, some male students, some female students (one which will be further discussed below), my landlord, and my neighbors.  Now, I think some were just joking, but some others were a bit harder to discern their true feelings over the subject of having multiple "lovers."  And honestly, I really believe that some of them endorse the notion that, in my case, it is okay to have a Vietnamese wife in VN and another wife (race is flexible here but Viet is preferred) in America.  It is just the natural desire and virility of the Vietnamese MAN, so sorry EAG, it's in the genes.  And in her jeans, and her jeans....[Ah, see what I did there.  Poet, I be.]

With that inspiration for this post, I will list some potential mistresses here in VN, in no particular order because ranking them would be a bit sexist and degrading, which does not happen ever in this post.  No pics because that's becoming a stalker.

The Nursing Student in Saigon
 I met her in a cafe in Saigon around the time of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.  Normally a nursing student, but since everyone was off for holiday, she was helping out at her distant relative's cafe.
Pros: She is very hiền (meek, gentle), which is a nice change of pace from EAG, who has learned this nasty habit of showing "independent thought," which ladies, is kind of a turn off, FYI (I think I used this joke before...sorry).  When I asked her what she does for fun in Saigon, she said, "Oh, I like studying, checking blood, running tests, helping people who are sick, etc."  And the crazy thing is that there was no ounce of any sarcasm or joking, and she said it in such a soft voice, it was ridiculously innocent and pure.  And a person in the medical field that cares about patients?  Psh, that's why VN is still a developing nation.
Cons:  I don't like to give blood for tests so I would imagine Friday nights of her taking my blood pressure and drawing blood from me a bit scary and boring.
The Film Student
 I probably shouldn't write about students, but I'm going to because this is pretty funny.  Met her at one of my schools I work at in Hanoi.
Pros:  Very friendly and pretty.  Straight to the point in many subjects.
Cons:  Maybe too friendly.  Said I'm too young to be in a long term relationship and that I should break it up now because it would be easier now than later.  Asked me what chance she has with me, in front of the entire class (maybe this is a pro--initiative?  She got ovaries of steel, as I could never do that.).  The other male students in the class told me to be careful and that she is called "Da Spider" and let my imagination determine what that nickname means.

The Highly Priced Makeup Salesperson
I walk by this store to go do research and occasionally make eye contact with her.
Pros:  Very Pretty.  Has a job.  Knows how to do makeup.
Cons:  She is what some Viet people would call điệu, or "high maintenance," and that sometimes comes with an attitude undesirable to me (but maybe good for a mistress...).  Stealing an artistic concept from John, I think with the amount of makeup she wears, if she ever does leave the air conditioned store, she would literally melt her face off.  And we all have seen "beautiful" celebrities with their makeup off, so who knows what lies beneath.  Yeah, I'm vain.   

The Tour Guide in Dong Hoi
Umm, she was the tour guide we had in Dong Hoi.  Met her on the tour.
Pros:  I think most people on the tour (Fulbright Peeps) totally knew I was severely crushing on this lady.  Cute. Cute. Cute.  Cute shoes too.  Can't really explain it, she was just adorable like a puppy rolling in spring grass.  I'm sorry EAG but I think I love her in the way only 1990s R&B Boy Band sensation can describe:

*But don't worry EAG, I still love more, via the better 1990s R&B Boy Band Sensation Boyz II Men:*

Cons:  Works in the tourism industry, though this would be good for me if I ever did marry her because of my English skills, I'm sure I would be a popular guide for English speaking tourists.  Plus I can say, "I don't care what Lonely Planet says, I'm Vietnamese, are you telling me I'm wrong??  Anyways, as I was saying, after Ho Chi Minh defeated Hitler and killed 32,195 Nazis in 1975..." (It's okay, I'm a product of Texas Public Education).  Yup, she's close to perfection

And no EAG, this is not a warning.  Just step your game up is all I'm saying.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock and Reflections on my journey *eye rolls*

So, long time no see.  Well, my time in VN is coming to a close as I leave in late July, so after that, I'll probably put the blog down because I will no longer be worthy of having a blog.  It's not like anyone can just blog--that's a bit vain don't you think?

This blog with be a hodge-podge of recent events.  Maybe I'll do it in the future but there were some blog posts I planned in my head but never felt like actually writing them.  They include a tourist itinerary for a home stay with me, a graduate student (yes I hate tourism industry here), so you can experience the traditional life of a minority student in the US and a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) Driver love advice column, based on real advice my xe om driver has given me over the last 10 months.

Okay, let's map this out, mainly for me.  1) My quick trip back home to Texas for my sister's wedding (click for pics) and 2) Some reflections on my stay here in VN.

In May, I flew home to Texas for a nice and hearty 5 nights.  Let me tell you, try to never fly that much in so little time.  23 hours to DFW and then 22 hours back.  From Tokyo to Hanoi coming back, I was literally freaking out and going insane from a combination of boredom, jet lag, and lack of sleep.  Yeah, would not recommend.  Being home was nice, if a bit surreal at times.  Even a simple trip to good ol' Walmart was an assault on my eyes.  I think we have a few of these supermarts in Hanoi but I have never been to one, sticking with the smaller markets, but it is just insane how much crap Walmart has in one building.  I just can't explain how it feels to see all of these things laid out in a harshly lit warehouse.  Basic things like driving and going to the mailbox were so eerily quiet.  You just don't know how goddamn loud Hanoi is until you walk outside in Texas.  It was peaceful but I think parts of me was wondering when the cars were going to hit me. 

Apparently, according to EAG, I now drive much more aggressively.  Usually, that wouldn't take much change as my mom says I drive like a old lady, but EAG felt her life was in danger.  At first I thought she was joking but it turns out she was not.  Hmm, Hanoi has rubbed off on me a bit. 

The Hanoian Assholery, it seems, has also seem to have an affect on me.  The wedding was in a small town, Marble Falls, Texas, and due to a "small" mix up, I was in the local Walmart. (*Side Story:  So my mommy was in charge of my groomsmen suit and bringing it to the site, since I would be just flying in 3 days before the wedding.  Anyways, the suit was misplaced and I didn't bring anything else to wear, so after a brief brouhaha, the only option was to, well, go to the local Walmart for a suit.  Turns out, the suit was there all along and was in someone else's room.  Hah Hah)

So while there, I got stared at a bit, and by a bit, I mean people would gaze at me for several seconds and follow my movements.  Being in a country where you are the majority, even if there are days where I stand out (though many days I do pass as Viet), for 9 months and coming back to small Texas towns is pretty jarring, as I am now clearly an "Other."  I think I straddle the line of normal and other here in VN, but it is pretty clear-cut in Marble Falls, Texas.  Also, I think pent up anger of foreigners staring and taking pictures of me here adds to this particular situation.  There was one cowboy who I thought was a bit over doing the "let's stare at the Asian guy" that I said out loud if he "had a problem, cowboy?"  Now, EAG was with me and bit mad at my loudness and attempt to "start sh*t," which I responded, "Am I the first Oriental he has ever seen?" to which she replied, "Probably, yeah."  I think the older version would be less angry and aggressive in tone--I would have probably said something but in a lighter, joking tone--but it seems the hard streets of Hanoi have made me rough and abrasive...so hard that I'll blog about it!  I also think I less patient and more likely to get mad at things.  Oh Hanoi.

*Another quick story--I was in the hotel near the wedding site and was getting my free waffle breakfast and at that time, I was then only Asian person there and getting stares from a bunch of old white people.  Then Mrs. Moosa, a friend of my mom who was helping out the wedding, says in her really loud voice, "it's Tony!  He just came from Vietnam!"  Yes, that was true, but now it seems I just arrived here by boat.  I speak English I swear!!*

As for emotional reflections, the way my parents raised me has basically limited my ability to reflect emotionally as we don't do that "white people" stuff.  I don't know what to say.  I've never been one to say that this is my motherland and I don't really have deep issues with who I am or where I belong.  VN has been great so far and has really changed my life, but the weird thing is, I'm not exactly sure what those changes are yet.  No offensive but I've seen other FB talk about how they exhibit growth in this and that (ability to learn, think, understand that there are different cultures (damn, it took a Fulbright Grant and thousands of taxpayer money to learn that!)), but it all sounds like fluff and stuff you say at job interviews.  I guess I have to think more about this part, though I may just keep it to myself, because it's my personal growth, not yours.  Get your own.

I'm really mean now.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The BEST way to ruin a mood in VN

So I was in a pretty good mood--we (VIP and I) had just had sushi and were on our way for a possible dessert course (Sorry EAG, it was totally a date).  While we were walking, we arrived in front of Highway 4 on Xuan Dieu road, which wasn't our dessert destination but came upon an event that changed my mood.  A drunk man was chasing and beating his wife (presumably) in the street with about 4 or 5 male onlookers.

I saw him throw her into the street and pull her hair, while attempting to kick her in the head (he barely missed).  He was then somewhat restrained by the onlookers, but the woman continued to berate him, saying things like "he always seems to have time to go out to drink and that he goes out too often."  After a few comments, he ran around the onlookers holding him and continued to chase her, attempting to slap her (some landed) and pull her hair.  When her hair was being pulled, she did scream, but after he was restrained, she continued to talk to him.  And so, this was repeated several times.

Now, in theory, anytime a person is being beat, no matter what culture you are in, it is wrong.  And, again, in theory, if you can help you probably should.

But I didn't really help or intervene that much.  Here is what my brain said: 1) I actually raised this question during a Fulbright Orientation and this bad-ass, ex-military security dude said do NOT get involved in the situation.  2)  I don't know the full extent and details of this situation, mainly, I don't know if the onlookers are siding with a particular person and if I do get involved, what they would do to me, and possibly VIP.  3) He's drunk and like everywhere in VN, there are rocks and sharp things that can easily be used as weapons and can escalate this situation.  4)  Let's say I do manage to restrain him--now what?  Calling the cops in VN is like rubbing raw chicken into a open wound--it's not going to do any good, will probably make things worst, and is just dumb as shit.  Hey, I love a Vietnamese man in a ugly-ass uniform, but honestly, they are corrupt and don't do squat (Hah, of course I'm joking you silly censors!).  So anyways, yeah he'll continue the beating until he stops. 5)  This is a different culture--I can't just come in and impose my will and expect things will all be dandy.  Familial relationships operate differently here.  Sounds dumb but you really can't just apply western notions over here, even on seemingly clear cut issues of abuse.  6)  The presence of the wife would not make things better.  I'm not saying she deserved it, but she did nothing to remedy the situation, i.e. walk away!  As long as she was here, the fighting would not stop and I would be there for a long time.

Okay, so I think all of those points are valid and reasonable and logically, I did the "right" thing.  But my gut and heart say those are just excuses and I'm not better than any of the other guys who just basically stood around and watched.  The only time I somewhat got involved was when she ran towards me and I held back the husband for a little bit.  But then she continued to run and he continued to chase.  And I held him a bit more, along with the other guys.  I think as we left, the other guys were trying to calm him down, or at least get him out of the area.

I feel guilty because I think I could have done more--as anyone who knows me, I really like to flex my hyper-masculine muscles through various means, mainly by dominating other humans and animals all the time, but considering he was drunk and from what I experienced holding him, I felt I could have "taken him."  I'm not sure where I would have "taken" him, and, again, after that I wouldn't know what to do.  Still, apparently a woman dies of domestic abuse every 3 days in VN.

And so I sit and think about her.


Note:  highway 4 had nothing to do with this...just felt like advertising.  Never eaten there.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to make Sapa Better

[Sigh, remember to read the note to the Right in the About me section.  This post is a bit aggressive in tone and language.  Read at your own risk.  Word of the post: sarcasm.]

So I actually went to Sapa last November and been meaning to write this for awhile but just never got around to actually sitting down and typing this out.  As you can see, Sapa, a mountainous region close to Vietnam's northern border inhabited by several groups of ethnic minorities and a large tourist attraction, is somewhat nice--if you like nature.  However, after hearing a presentation about "eco-tourism," I was inspired to improve the tourism and overall experience of Sapa.

From what I can remember, the basic tenets of eco-tourism are 1) Protect the environment while conducting tourist activities and 2) Respect all inhabitants of the area of the tourist site.  More specifically in the case of point 2, "respect" only means through monetary means--at least that was the only thing mentioned and stressed in this presentation.  So in other words, pay more money to see stuff and as long as you dish out the dough, you can do whatever you want.

So here, in no order, are my suggestions on how to make Sapa and more tourist friendly place.

1)  The Ethnic Minorities here should be more authentic!

Whats wrong with this picture?

Exactly, those socks and color combination are clearly not traditional!!
Look, let's be honest--I don't really care about these people or their history and if anything, I'm only vaguely interested in how they live.  But, when I take the time to visit these people and bless them with my money, I expect the "real" thing and by "real," I mean my uneducated imagination of non-western, oriental savages covered in filth and dirt that I have gathered through various forms of discourse and media. I don't care that culture is in constant motion, incorporating new aspects every second, or that certain "modern" things have become part of your daily lives (and thus becomes YOUR culture), I want the ancient traditions that I make up, which you probably don't even do anymore, with dirt and poverty so I can pretend I am being educated about your shit and pat myself on the back for being cultural back at my hotel.

Umm could you hide that shit?

So it bothers me to see any form of "Western" culture or any sign of upward mobility.  Part of the charm is to see how much more advanced I am compared to your kind.  I was also disturbed to see many tour guides, who are people from various ethnic minorities, be asked to take pictures and they did it without any problem--it is like they knew what a digital camera was.  What would make this experience much better is if these guides would be like "Oh, what  this shiny box that shoot light??" or "Oh this little nugget let you talk to spirit voices??"  Of course, they should only do this for like a minute and then just take the damn picture but this would make me feel like I'm just discovering this tribe, right before I give them smallpox. 

So while eco-tourism supports giving more money as a reward for being "real," I want the money earned to be spent as it would back in the good ol' traditional times--on sticks and mud or something like that to make a hut or something.  Don't get a toilet or medicine for your kid (unless it's traditional medicine) and DON'T even think about sending your kids to school and moving.  Who are my grandchildren going to take pictures of and feel superior too?  Speaking of schools....

2) Make this school less boring.

For some God only knows reason, this school is built on a popular tourist trail and is actually part of the tour.  It is a very new and clean school and clearly shows the Vietnamese Government cares these attractions "people" and their future and I think it balances out the various human-rights issues.  But what is most important is Vietnam cares about what foreigners think about how the government helps those most in need, and to be blunt, foreigners are more important because we have money.

And the school is a great place for tourist.  Never mind that a class was in session because we all know kids learn best when a bunch of white people take pictures of them.  Research from MIT and Standford has proven that--Trust me, I ask.com it.  And it is amazing that these savages can actually be taught something besides making crafts.  Ignore the fact that many of these local tour guides can speak multiple languages (I heard Vietnamese, English, German, French, and their native languages) fluently, I found it wonderful and uplifting that the dregs and shit at the bottom of the barrel can work real hard while I take pictures of them.  Cute kids. I almost donated 50 cents.
With that said, I found the school overall to be a bit boring.  Considering most kids drop out to become tour guides or make cultural stuff for hipsters, I found that two rooms for classes to be excessive.  Empty one out and put in a bar or club.  And I think a Ferris wheel would really take it up a notch on the fun factor. 

3) Could people lighten the fuck up?

Okay, I'll be honest again--I don't like people who take pictures of me.  I am outside eating some food at a stall and some tourists come up and take a picture of the stall with me, a "real" local eating (Hah, the joke's on them!).  Or one time I was at a temple attempting to pray (or something like that) and a tour group came in and took pics of me.  Sometimes I have a "fuck you" moment and sometimes it is just whatever, I'll track YOU down one day at church and I'll take photos of you (Actually as a joke, I was thinking of taking Asian tourists to various places like Churches, trailer parks, suburban areas to take pictures but that's another post--OHHH, he's mowing the lawn!  Just like in the 50's!).  But that's different--I'm American.

So she's (in the pic above) probably thinking, "What is this a zoo?"  and I would say YES, it is clearly a poverty zoo!  And at zoos, the animals act cute and stuff.  They LOVE it there!  So why don't you just smile?  You know I'm going to show this to my friends, right?  Could you pretend you want to be in this picture?  How about a funky pose?  This is probably why you're poor because you are lazy.

YAY!  Culture!

So in conclusion, while sapa is a huge natural site of beauty, the human factor is kind of lacking.  Step it up guys.


Sunday, March 6, 2011


So apparently, soccer is very popular in the world, you know, except in the US.  I believe the only time Americans get excited about soccer is during the world cup, which I think is kind of a "jump on the bandwagon" time created by marketing and hype of the event.  Since being in Vietnam, I have watched more soccer games in the past 6 months than I have the previous 24 years in the US because my landlord and my neighbors are huge fans and occasionally invite me. (Little cute story: every time there is a game on, my landlord scarfs down dinner as fast as he can and keeps an eye on the clock so he doesn't miss a second of the game.  He's like 60ish but he reminds me of 8 year-old catching his favorite TV show.)  So now that I am a super-expert fan in the art of football, because we snobs know this is the real football, I have decided to support my teams by capitalist methods, mainly buying team clothing.  So not only am I supporting my team, I can also become a walking billboard for their sponsors.

Chelsea sure looks good on a Sony, I mean, Samsung TV

Naturally of course, I am very selective in choosing my favorite teams.  The process goes like this: 1) Who has pretty colors in their Jerseys.  That's it.  Does this make me a woman?

So far I like Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool because I think their jersey designs are neat.  As far as the actually playing, it is okay and sometimes even exciting, though I have no idea about the standings or rosters.  However, those concepts are for the brutes, as I am more specific in my entertainment and tend to appreciate the more shallow and materialistic side of football.

In my quest for clothes, I decided I should start with the "official" avenues of acquiring merchandise and visited the Nike and Adidas stores.  While the selection is great, the prices are a bit out of my spending range, starting from about 30 dollars to 75 dollars--which is not too bad but that is way too much for a sport that honestly bores me 97 percent of the time.  What confuses me is that most of these clothes are made in Vietnam so you would think shipping would be cheaper, thus resulting in a lower overall price.  Also, considering I have never met anyone who works in a clothing factory to be rolling in cash, I would think the labor would be more exploitative  cheaper.  Not a business person but I don't think that is how it works.

Anyways, I then visited a....let's call it an "unofficial factory-direct outlet store for damaged soccer merchandise" to see if I could get anything cheaper.  Now these places are fun--part of the game is to find the defect and haggle your price down.  This particular store would be an extra challenge since it was located in a heavily tourist area so you know the markup would be higher than usual.  So I go in and look at pants and ask in Vietnamese what the prices are.  One pair is 160k.  I ask for two pants and get it down to 240k, or 120k each, roughly 6 dollars for a pair Chelsea and ManU pants with just some loose threads and ripped labels.  Now considering these "real" versions are like 50 dollars in the US and the Official stores, I say that's a deal.  But I was wondering if I could push harder and save 2 more dollars.

But then some tourists come and ask in English the prices of some shirts.  300k for a shirt.  I ask the lady how much that shirt is for me and she said, "for you, 110k."  I then decided I'm just going to quit while I'm ahead and brought the pants...though they did make fun of me because I brought two rival teams (Though the way I think of it, when both teams play each other, I always win).  For you Americans, it is like buying a Cowboys shirt and a Eagles shirt at the same time.  Yes, I think I will stick with the more complicated though less action version of football...