Column #005 – Strange and Good Things

Let me get one thing straight: it is very strange to be on the cusp of thirty years of age, an American teacher and a writer living in Vietnam plopped down on a square stool that barely makes half my calf at 5:17 pm on a Friday with a nose full of puss-spewing scum, a lung or two sore from coughing up bespaked about scum, and a stomach full of banana and pineapple and mango “no sugar added no condence [sic] milk” and also some jasmine tea (I think–at the moment I can barely smell rotten fish sauce, let alone anything less pungent on the dead saviour Jobs’ green earth) in a cafe called “Tin Tin Coffee” (full rights paid for to be sure) whose owner and proprietor has a habit of grilling me in Vietnamese whenever I am there, a habit I appreciate, though today with ears clogged and sinuses akin to bags of milk left out in the sun to swell, I can….


And, so it happens once more. This place is hostile to a consistent thought process. The owner just cornered me into learning “future” or “tuong lai” (accents seem to be a problem for this computer so I can only type the letters) and “hobby” or “so thich” (sounds like saw tick, or close to it). Hobby indeed. Maybe it seems that way at the moment, but not in the future. Not with all that’s happened throughout my twenties. A hobby is something you do for fun, or a challenge. Writing has always been something more. If you’re the kind of person who has for years quietly or riotously entertained the possibility of leaning into that hobby and becoming a professional–don’t hold back. If you’ve sunk half, or even a third of the time in, why keep calling it a hobby? If 10,000 hours makes a master, then somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 probably makes a professional. One thing young would-be entrepreneurs muddled by life events in America, and of course elsewhere, should experience are the young-minded Vietnamese who start up businesses with an inspiring blend of dreams and realistic goals pulling them along like black unicorn-leather reigns strapped to their business or hospitality degrees.


Well… let’s pick it up, shall we? … The UN says nearly 100 Million people could be pushed into poverty due to the ravages of climate change, an event that would heap a lot of burning trash on the already massive industrialized white guilt tire fire. But, a small bit of blessing this week now that the Keystone XL Pipeline is officially dead, ending what felt like years of the ridiculous kind of argumentative bullshit one would expect from a room of drunk sixteen year-olds fighting over the rules of a board game without a manual. I did not expect at sixteen to hear such stupid lines of thinking abound when I reached thirty years. And the plane that went down in Sinai last week from all accounts was taken down by a bomb, adding another terrible notch in the belt of those hideous and pathetic terrorists. Many Russians died in that plane crash, and on top of that terrible moment in history, allegations and investigations are growing that Russia ran a “comprehensive doping program for its athletes”, as reported by the BBC, during the last winter Olympics, which could get them banned from the next summer Olympics.


My throat feels like razor-booted ants have marched through it in a fury after drinking whatever bullshit makes Donald Trump’s hair appear orange. Motorbikes drive by and Europeans walk by and half a dozen Koreans laugh around a table, while Vietnamese bike-security guards lounge across the street perpetually smoking and calm in perpetuum.


At the moment the heat hangs wet and still and I wonder just how long it will be before I hop on my new beat-to-shit Honda Win and ride away without looking back on anything… maybe disappear into a jungle for a few months and turn into one of those folk lore stories you hear about. The kind of story that’s probably half true–you know from experience–but you can’t be sure which half is exaggerated, and sure as hell can’t be sure how exaggerated that half might be. Maybe when this Pelican album stops playing. We’ll see. But, now I know that feeling. Strange and good and a welcome link to the past.


Though I know as well as any human who’s reached a certain age that all strange and good things come to an end. I have been teaching here a long time, it feels. Eventually, I’ll have to give in fully to writing–chase that rare thought that has all the markings of a possible breakthrough to see if it just might be the one that could change things in a small but significant way….


Teaching is full of moments of small but significant successes. Like getting a student to pronounce “th” properly by showing them how to orient their tongue just a tad between the teeth, which is hard because they do not have that sound in their native language.


But more about this new old shit-hound of a Honda Win 100. This bike purrs and growls deeper and prettier than the Honda Wave I’d been renting. The clutch is a bit slippery, though easy enough to fix from what I hear. Next weekend that’ll be a new thing I learn, if time abides and the friend who offered to show me how to do that is able to. If and when you buy one of these things, which you will probably want to do because they look awesome, are reliable and cheap to fix, you’ll find that Vietnamese who you know will say that the bike is very popular with foreigners and that they often find the bike inconvenient in the city because of the clutch, which I can understand, but disagree with.


It has a mutt’s load of parts, and I’ve parked it for the evening. Stay in. Save money. Pay those student loans… the urge to take it out and scream into the wind is a great urge indeed. A long ride. Complications. Drink and smoke. Good times for sure, but with such a fragile work status, and also a nose and lung full of gremlins, it seems just too stupid to tempt fate and kismet and the local gods, Jobs and Buddha just for a night out after sleeping early three days in a row….


Still. It is Vietnam. Many teachers reek of liquor with droopy eyes at 8 am on a Saturday morning. The thoughts in their head, unmistakable: This is okay… there’s no way they’ll notice how fucked I am. God when the hangover hits it’s gonna be terrible. Maybe I should sneak a drink in the bathroom. Yeah, just to keep up appearances and not shake violently in front of the students for three hours straight… Yes, I’ve worked with some true stinkers, so to speak, and some who seem unembarrassed at all to show up in such a state more than a few times in a row. But, you can’t fire a teacher when you need one and there’s no one else around. That’s just poor business sense. I know that much.


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