Friday, March 11, 2011

Walks, Looks and Drives Like An Ace

Driving in Hanoi is a constant adventure. It’s a test of coordination, navigation and quick reflexes. Things that I generally lack but seem to oddly possess when it comes to driving. Perhaps because if I didn’t I’d be in the hospital or mangled on a daily basis.

Ironically, I had planned to write a post about the perils of driving and the day I planned to do so I get into an accident. (I’ll discuss my crash a bit later.) This keeps happening to me, maybe a sign from some higher power to STOP planning my blogs but just write them on a whim.

While the roads themselves are a picture of utter chaos, there does seem to be some kind of sense to it all. Yes, there are always motorbikes whizzing past you but the drivers seem to be in control. When I am walking, I rarely try and navigate myself around the traffic but tend to walk right through it, confident that it’ll bypass my body. I’m usually correct.

There are some glaring issues with the traffic here, mainly being that there aren’t many rules that are upheld. One way roads are simply a suggestion, sidewalks serve as an extra lane if traffic becomes too congested, red lights are actually just stop signs, and honking is more of an identification rather than a warning.

I must admit that I partake in breaking these rules; I have begun driving on the sidewalk when I didn’t want to sit in traffic, I don’t take the long way around if I can just drive directly the wrong way to my destination.

I don’t have an issue with these things because I truly believe most people riding motorbikes have a sense of what they’re doing. My issue is with the cab drivers and the buses. Who are, in my experience, among the worst drivers I have ever seen in my life. Period.

The buses have little to no regard to anyone around them. They seem to operate with a Goliath mentality, they can beat you so get out of their way. They don’t slow if they see a pedestrian or a motorbike in front of them. At a red light they don’t mind squeezing a parallel biker off the road to a scary degree. I’ve witnessed and been privy to a bus hitting someone and carrying on as if it’s the injured fault. They should’ve moved faster. I am genuinely frightened of buses simply on account of their lack of regard to anyone or thing around them.

Taxis are another story. They know what’s going on around them, but they still seem to be completely inept at allowing traffic to flow around them. They’ll run you off the road, and at red lights (when most motorbikes zip through the cars to inch to the front spaces) will block access. This doesn’t make sense to me, if there is a massive space for motorbikes in front, why block access to it? It doesn’t allow them to proceed to their destination any more quickly, it just seems to lack common logic. Instead of allowing more people access they’d rather “prove” to their passenger that they’re ready to go by moving a few inches, thereby denying anyone else the opportunity to move. I was stuck at a light for five minutes as a direct result of this. If only the cab had given me a tiny space I would’ve been able to go right through, but no, they didn’t, so I had to wait for two sets of red and green to finally make my turn. AGGRAVATING.

I’m a pretty good driver, if I do say so myself. I can drive in stilettos, carry 200 pound men and zip in and out like the best of them. Most of the time anyway.

Today was one of those days that reminded me, once again, that I am not invincible, and no matter how adept I think I am becoming at driving a motorbike in Hanoi, that it’s still a learned skill, by no means second nature.

On my way to work, I was driving down a one way road and out of nowhere someone comes from a side alley speeding in the wrong direction. Shocking, I know. Normally I’d be fine with this, but due to the rain, it was slippery and I hit the hand brake and skidded, and went down. Partially my fault, I should have mastered the foot brake but still stupidly use the handbrake 98% of the time.

I’m not hurt, really. Only my left side is damaged. Bleeding and cut/scraped up and my pants are torn. My only pair of leggings. I’m trying to mollify myself by saying it’ll make me look rock and roll but the truth is it actually makes me look trashy. Leggings with holes = not cool.

I did however appreciate the men who rushed to my aid. Picking me and my bike up, stopping traffic as I got back on, and making sure (using charades) that I was ok. I was fine, shaken up and the rest of my drive to work was a daze but no permanent damage, aside from that to my ego. Now, I’m in a degree of uncomfortable pain. Not unbearable but just annoying. Like I just got stitches or something. Also my wrist from a previous injury is now resurfacing. I can tell I’ll be really sore tomorrow.

I had been so good. When I first started driving (Jan 2010) I had a bad record, an incident a month until July, which was my first clean month. After July I was in control and golden (apart from the time I was mugged and pulled off my bike to the ground but I don’t really count that since it was extenuating circumstances and not in the least bit my fault/in my control) and now this. TARNISHING my almost year long streak. Typical.

I’m just bothered by the fact that I can’t seem to stay uninjured in this country. I always have some kind of affliction, and as soon as I start to heal another one crops up. My trips back to the US serve not only as visitations but also recuperation.

While driving here can be painful and exasperating, for the most part I love it. The motorbike experience is one of the things I adore the most about living in Hanoi. I love the feeling of being on the bike, the freedom it offers me, and the sense of accomplishment I feel when I drive somewhere successfully without incident. And it makes me look so damn cool.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You Paint Me a Blue Sky and Go Back And Turn It To Rain

I have a bad habit of forming completely incorrect first impressions regarding the men I am interested in. I’d venture 75% of the time I am off base at first. The men I think are players and to be wary of turn out to be kind, loving and loyal while the nice, harmless guys are the snakes who leave me wounded.

Most of my bad luck as arisen since my arrival in Hanoi. I think it’s because the men here are just worse than anywhere else in the world that I’ve seen. There is no right way to say this, no way that it going to keep me from scrutiny or from receiving comments about being bitter. I don’t care, I’m going to say it anyway. There are very few eligible men in Hanoi. Hanoi (and maybe other places in SE Asia) changes people relationship-wise, often times for the worst.

Classic Hanoi Man Syndrome (CHMS). Here's how it happens: Ordinary/average/uncool unattractive men move to Hanoi. Experience a rush of attention from gorgeous, intelligent Vietnamese and foreign women. Believe the hype. Become miscreants. Treat women as if they are expendable. Experience no repercussions. Repeat process. Then go back to their country. Think the same rules apply. Reality hits hard.

I have seen men arrive here being wonderful and idealistic and then getting caught up and turning into a complete slimeball. One they have success with one hot girl they turn into a monster. Yet that has little to no effect on their “pulling” capability. They can be as terrible as they want and still have women crawling all over them.

I don’t think this makes me a bitter expat. I’d feel the exact same way if I noticed a man (or woman) behaving that way in NYC. Shabby treatment of people is inexcusable regardless of how “wonderful” or “attractive” you are led to believe you are. In fact, the more blessed you are, the kinder you should be to others. (Example: I know a man, who is breathtakingly gorgeous. People have been known to actually drop their jaw and lose their train of thought when meeting him for the first time. This man, however, is charming, humble, considerate, and COULDN’T be any nicer. Seriously, he’s so nice it can actually be annoying. If HE can behave like a stellar human being, so can everyone else)

While the men have it golden, the women who come here find themselves having to lower their standards if they want any chance at a romantic life. They find themselves getting involved with guys they’d never normally look at and putting up with situations they are much too good for simply because they have to. Because that’s the way it is here.

I don’t date out here. Not really anyway. I had one involvement(yes we all know about that) and after that I stopped. I have claimed it’s to get over him but it’s really because there is no one I’ve met here that I’d consider. Unlike so many women I’ve seen here, I am not going to lower my standards for a little bit of romantic attention. I’m perfectly content with my friends, hobbies, job, and Skype dates. I've relished in taking this time to be “single”

*I am only generalizing. I by no means think every Hanoi expat male is like this. It’s just some casual observations shared among others. I think there are a lot of amazing men out here, and am friends with many of them.


Despite my modern lifestyle, many are surprised to discover that deep down I am, in fact, quite traditional. It displays itself in small ways; when I write a thank you note (or letter), my desire that a man I date isn’t lazy in his courtship, my strong sense of family, and of course the traditions. Like religion.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m at church every week. Or that I agree with everything the church stands for. I am, by admission, a cafeteria Catholic, which will make me subject to remarks, I am sure, that I have no right to consider myself a part of the faith

However, I was raised in the Catholic Church, my entire family on both sides, is Catholic and always has been. While I may not show up to mass every week, and disagree with some of the politics of the church I find that I am pretty passionate about a few things regarding the church…and one of them in Lent.

Maybe it’s because Easter is my favorite holiday, or maybe it’s because the whole concept of suffering and sacrifice goes from a notion to something we can actually put into practice. It’s difficult for me to use my imagine and think about what it was like to suffer, it doesn’t resonate as much as saying “Ok for 46 days I am not going to do X” (I say 46 because unlike many people I don’t allow Sunday to be a “day of rest”)
I also don’t think it should just be a time of sacrifice but also deliverance. I try and take this time to be a better person, to be kinder, to do something nice every day.

Whatever it is, Lent is something I take seriously. I go to mass. I ACTUALLY give things up and stick to it. I don’t eat meat on Friday. I fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I take it seriously.

So what am I giving up this year?
1. Chocolate. This will be excruciating for me. I tried giving up chocolate for a week once and got the shakes. But I need to push myself. It’s the only thing in my life that is really a sacrifice to abstain from.
2. Alcohol. This is kind of a fake one. I don’t really like drinking much anyway. Yet somehow get pressured into engaging in it when I’m out. Now I have an excuse to not partake. I’m ecstatic
3. A decidedly pointless and unhealthy relationship that I’ve been engaging in for entirely too long. It was fun at first, and there was reason for it. Now it’s just routine maintenance on account of boredom and distraction. Relationships should mean something, and upheld for a purpose. This is a “clearing my head” break. Can reevaluate in 46 days.
4. My bad habit of smoking when drunk or bored. I don’t like it, or enjoy it or need it. So I’m going to stop it. Simple.

I think we are so saturated with messages that we can do what we want, whenever we want that taking some time to “deprive” ourselves can only serve as an important lesson. This culture that we live in cultivates a sense of entitlement, and instant gratification. We (or at least I) often forget how lucky I am, and don’t take the time to appreciate life’s little blessings (like chocolate)

Going without is never easy, but I hope that doing so will allow my a better perspective of what thousands of people endure daily and also bring me a better sense of the meaning of Lent/Easter allowing me to appreciate the “haves” when I am allowed to indulge again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Splish Splash: The Benefits of Eating Alone

As I was walking solo to lunch, I began plotting a blog post about the joys of eating alone. How in the US it's not something I would feel comfortable with but that in Vietnam it's common place. That here, I don't feel like a loser for eating alone.

However, the blog Gods intervened, clearly realizing that such a post would be boring and preachy. They decided to put me in my place, and remind me that I am a loser and a failure, regardless of what country I am in.

Fail #1-I was looking for this delicious bun cha place near my work. I wandered around looking for it, positive that I'd find it. I didn't. I opted instead for this nice looking pho place.

Fail #2-I sat down and indicated that I'd like a meal. It was the kind of place that options are limited and I didn't care what they brought me. I also said I wanted iced tea. I was ecstatic that they brought it. woohoo. I did something right. Turns out, that's the only thing I did correctly. I sat and waited for thirty minutes. I even made eye contact with the waitress and she made a motion like "one" and I nodded enthusiastically, thinking this was confirming my order. It turns out they thought I only wanted tea. Defeated, I shuffled out paying my 2,000 dong (10 cents) for my tea and started a dejected trek back to my office.

Fail #3-I passed a bun bo place and figured I could get this one right. They serve one thing...and I am clearly there for it. I confidently point to the bun bo sign and sit down. I order yet another green tea and I sit down. My food arrives and it looks delicious. I did have a slight incident with an old man clapping me on the shoulder and smiling and talking to me in Vietnamese to which I tried to explain, "I'm sorry i don't understand." For some reason that doesn't seem to deter people from continuing on a conversation where they are clearly asking you questions that you simply can not answer. That aside, things were looking like they were taking a turn in the right direction.

We all know (or anyone who has spent any time with me consuming food) that I'm not the daintiest or most delicate when I eat. I try, really I do, but somehow I always manage to make a mess. Whether it be crumbs on my clothes, rice and veggies fallen off of my plate, or chocolate on my cheek, I inevitably leave the table looking like a two year old. My friends at home used to smile and laugh at me in a nice way, leading me to believe this deficit was somewhat endearing, but really it was detrimental to my growth as a normal human being. People I meet out here aren't as accustomed.

I digress. Kind of. My third fail is a direct result of my inability to function properly at a table. As I was eating, the chopsticks splashed some of the spicy broth into my eye causing me to flail and grip my eye, in the process knocking over everything on my table and sullying up my table and my clothes. EPIC FAIL.

Perhaps it is better that I've learned how to eat alone. Clearly it's best that I keep the witnesses to my destruction at a minimum.