Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Monday, December 13, 2010

a letter to Trinity,

Xin Chao from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Good morning this snowy wintery day. I thank God I am in the tropical weather right now, but I am in for a rude awakening once I return to my family's current home in Atlanta, GA. You can not see it, but Ho Chi Minh City has been turned into a fake "winter" wonderland full of lights, trees, ornaments and North Pole displays. However, I have not seen a nativity set, as of yet. So I pray that, though this culture celebrates the commerce of x-mas, those here that do acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior will remember that He is the real reason for this great gifting season.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

when you can't communicate

I need to vent. Feel free to share your advice.

I don't think I'm a person who is never satisfied. I think I'm a realist, there is good and bad, trials and tribulations in every event in one's life. But I do find it frustrating that I can't seem to find the good in any job I have. Maybe I need to work for myself? I know there are frustrations in everything but it's getting ridiculous. Looking on the positive side, at least I have no one "telling" me what to do or dictating my future opportunities in this field, and at this company. In fact, they like me, a lot. Which is causing the problem of too much work and responsibility. Along with the fact that this organization is soo not organized, and I feel that what I say is usually taken in vain. I truly feel I'd be more effective and comfortable and have more fun talking to students/young designers that speak English, for one, and two, speak with African American kids that have probably never seen a Black teacher a day in their life, and three, not doing it professionally, but as an after school extra-curricular activity for students that actually WANT my advice. Obvious frustrations were to be expected from this international teaching experience, but the frustrations are becoming unwelcoming. It is getting old and tiresome. I do not feel effective. It is irresponsible for this school to allow students with no design skill into the design program. No person and no thing can make you a great designer (not me, not Adobe Creative Suite, not Steve Jobs and his fleet of high polished titanium) you either have it or you don't. It is irresponsible for the school to hire lecturers with no Vietnamese language competency. Yes this is an international school, but 99.9% of our students are Vietnamese. Are staff 85% Vietnamese. Would it really cost that much to provide a language course to your lecturers whom you have recruited from all over the world except Vietnam?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

If there is one thing I love about Ho Chi Minh City. . .

aside from the warm weather, the southerners really love music. Although quite tone def, the Vietnamese love their kareoke. So much so my new apartment comes equip with a kareoke machine, surround sound speakers in the living room, 4 speakers in the office and a subwoofer system. In other words, I'm over here jammin'.

Summertime sleepy

Since I was up late, I figured I should say something in the blog that I have neglected for the past couple of weeks.

To give a quick update: I moved into a new apartment, and finally have internet, yes! It took 3 men and 2.5 hours to get it running plus the help of my IT friend from the states. . . Wow Vietnam, reaaaaal efficient! And that was only DSL, no wireless yet. The new landlord is quite efficient though. Speaks great English and has pretty much done everything he said he would. This has made moving more pleasant, but my issue with security still lingers.

Last weekend, I was almost robbed, and I have been extra sensitive about being alone, traveling alone, and coming home late at night. Knowing that this apartment complex has a team of security guards who know my face has eased my concern, slightly. But, I still remember the force that was used to attempt to take my personal belongings, and it scares me that people can be so boldly violent. In a country where the average monthly income is $200-300 USD and the people face constant oppression from the government directly and indirectly, how can I as a foreigner from the largest economy in the world ever feel safe? How would you feel if foreigners came into your country taking jobs away from you and getting paid triple or quadruple what you make in a year? I know I'd be angry.

It just cracks me up when I hear Ex-pats speak of this country with such adoration, "Oh I love it hear, I feel soo much safer here than in the States." Umm, didn't you just get your necklace snatched from your neck a few months back? How many times have you replaced your phone? Yeah, I see the warmth and sun shine helped you forget about that!
Wake up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

favorite fruits

Baby Bananas are my all time favorite fruit since living in Southeast Asia. Take a regular banana and squish it, but keep the same amount of nutrients, more flavor, same density = a short and super concentrated hybrid of potassium goodness. Regular bananas are dry, Baby Bananas are juicy! Regular bananas are only sweet when brown, Baby Banana are deliciously sweet 24/7. And they're versatile. Leave the Baby Banana fresh for a sweet juicy snack, or grill it for a plantain-like consistency. It's dense enough to handle the flame and pack in the flavor. My favorite is the Vietnamese dessert, of grilled baby bananas in warm coconut milk. You will see the older ladies on the side of a hem, grilling these bad boys, till they are firm. mmm mmm good!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

IF there were reasons why i would NEVER come back to Saigon. . .

#1 hearing the blaring sounds of drums and horns at 4 AM! causing me to jump out of deep sleep, and abusing my ear drums for the next 45 minutes. There are many [what I would call ignorant] cultural practices of the Vietnamese, but this is by far the most ridiculous. I have the off-key drumming and chanting to thank for my headache.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

my rainy season serenade. . . when we let God have His way.

When the rain paralyzes my schedule, I remember a hymn we sang at Highland Crest Baptist church:
Showers of Blessings, 
Showers of Blessings we need:
Mercy-drops 'round us are falling, 
But for the showers we plead.

The verses:
There shall be showers of blessing:
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.

There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

There shall be showers of blessing;
Send them upon us, O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor Thy Word.

There shall be showers of blessing:
Oh, that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!

There shall be showers of blessing,
If we but trust and obey;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
If we let God have His way.

Romans 12:2

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

I think the challenge of any educator is not to simply share information with your students but to convince them that with this knowledge and God given talent they can do great things. I had my senior level students fill out a survey during the first week of classes for the October term. "What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you enjoy about design? Why are you excited to graduate?" These were a few of the questions I asked. "I don't think I'm good at anything, I need improvement in all areas. I don't think my work is that great. I'm not." –was a response I received. Clearly this student needs to be empowered. It's interesting how their personalities show through their work. Just like the somber responses to the survey, this young girl's work made use of various colors of blue. Almost every piece was blue. Along with her colored contacts. Must be her favorite hue. Well, what about yellow, aquamarine, aubergine, or hot pink? If you can not venture out and use different colors to create a harmonious design for your client, then my dear, you will not last as a graphic designer. Hopefully, with some coaching, by the end of the term no hue will go unused in her portfolio and she will boldly express to her interviewers how talented she is.

Who told this student she was not good? Is she overly self critical, or is their a disapproving voice in her ear at home? (Or as Pastor Moss would say, "Stop listening to the Crows in your life".) How has the communist society brainwashed this young girl? her family and friends? As I spend more time in Vietnam I am asking more questions, getting to know various opinions about the way of life in Saigon.

I had an interesting conversation today with a young man, Vietnamese ethnicity, but raised in France. I am not sure how we got on the topic of superiority/inferiority among different ethnic groups in a society but he made an interesting statement, "Some French men, they come here to Saigon because they miss the colonialism," How so? I asked, "They know that as an older French white male with money they will STILL be treated with more respect from most Vietnamese especially in restaurants and bars. So after spending several months here, even the nicest man will turn into an asshole because he is used to the "special" treatment her receives." Hmmmm, so after several years of being colonized by the French, Vietnamese still have a colonial way of thinking, they see French culture as something to be revered.  Sounds similar to the "slave mentality" still lingering in Black America.

My student made a comment about living/working in Vietnam. "I would not work in Vietnam, at least not right out school." Why? "It's just not good there's no film industry here, I don't like living here." So if something about your society is not good, how do you make it better? "Man, only God knows that answer!" I'm starting to feel a trend of hopelessness coming from these students. Can't say that I blame them. How do you transform your way of thinking, your friends thinking, your parents thinking, your neighbors thinking when everyone in your society lives in fear of your government?  What makes Ho Chi Minh City more progressive than ol' Saigon?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

good morning

Every day in Saigon the sun rises and sets in a 12 hour time period, 5:40 ish AM and 5:40 ish PM. Unlike North America, there are no long summer nights, and short winter days. There's no "spring forward", "fall back" time changes. Only a consistent, natural clock giving us 12 hours of darkness, 12 hours of light. The intensity of the sun light in my room tells me what time it is. Faint yellow means 5:55 AM, bright white yellow means well after 7 AM. I have become adjusted to my sun clock. However if my body succumbs to laziness, there is always the rooster down the alley, or the cats in heat to disturb my slumber.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

hassles of the hustler!

My girl kiki mentioned a travel blog with a post describing how the traveler will NEVER return to Vietnam, this is my response to her question, "What is your experience?"

. . . well, as I've mentioned in my blog, if you're American, and for most part any other nationality you do not just wake up one day and say "hey I love Vietnam lets go!" Usually it's a common stop on the "Southeast Asian" tour. Most people, including myself would be more apt to say "I like Thailand", or Malaysia, Indonesia, or Singapore. In my opinion these countries/cultures were the first on my mind when I considered living in Southeast Asia.

I wonder if the author of the blog is American. Most Americans have a sour taste in their mouth when you speak of Vietnam. We all think of a war that was over 30 years ago. The reaction I received from some family and friends: "Why would you move to war-stricken Vietnam??" We forget that real thriving, money motivated people do live in Asia too, and it is possible for other countries to bounce back after being "war- stricken" by their neighbors. The only nationalities that come to Vietnam (because they want to) that I have noticed are:
Young French students or young adult workers
Filipinos, a lot of them are English teachers, and I was surprised to know they make more money here than in the Philippines.

YES, You will get hassled to the core if you are a foreigner here, but wouldn't any country with a large poor population do that? One thing that really gets on my nerves is how much they stare. Native Vietnamese STARE like it's going out of style. They are so "hill-billy country" in that regard. They do not "get out much" leave their country, travel a bit, (but most can not afford to do this, not even travel to the neighboring countries) so anything that looks remotely different from them is a total outcast. It is general curiosity though, especially from the younger generation. However, I have heard from several dark skin people of African decent from France and some from Africa that they were treated so poorly they had to leave, they couldn't stand it. They couldn't take the stares, the touching of the skin and hair, people pointing and laughing. Native Vietnamese are a bit uncouth in this regard, just ill-mannered, they have no concept of what is "rude". In the States we are taught it is rude to point and stair, here they do not care. They do not give warm friendly smiles like their neighbors in Cambodia. Even my Viet Kieu friends (viet kieu: term for Vietnamese who were raised outside of Vietnam) say that Vietnamese are very blunt and too the point, especially when describing how their mothers talk to them.

In terms of the blog author's philosophy on how Western backpackers are treated. . . I'm not a backpacker, so I really don't know. I don't hang out on Bui Vien St and Pham Ngu Lau St., the "back-packers district". Well. . . I take that back, when I first got here I did get into it with a Xe om driver (motorbike taxi) he proceeded to cuss me out because I did not give him what he wanted. I forget to make clear how much money I wanted to give him for the ride.  A Xe om ride should not be more than 20 or 30 thousand dong, he wanted 50, yeah right. What do I look like, Ms money bags? Since the Xe om was making such a scene, this Vietnamese lady came up and I thought she would help, me, instead she proceeds to argue and yell at me. "Where are you from??" umm America why? "Ohhhh America!" And gave me an ugly stare. I stated, "And your point is. . . " And I walked away, after I gave the man 20 thousand dong, lol. Even when I returned to Saigon from Malaysia, the cab driver from the airport thought I said 200,000 dong for my ride, no, I said less than 200,000 dong, and since he was sneaky, with no working meter in his car, he got whatever I decided to give him! not what he wanted! . . . . and I walked away.

A similar situation happened with some traveling friends of friends. They wanted to get into a shady looking cab, which I could sense was trouble. When the driver stopped at De Tham Street, after driving around the corner from Ben Thanh Market, we realized his meter wasn't working, the man wanted 90 000 dong! I said "Get out of the car now!" So we got out and walked away. Of course he chased us, I said, here take it or leave it, and threw 30,000 dong on the street for him to pick up. ----- So as you can see, I don't take no mess from the Vietnamese :-)

The blog author does have a point. Cash rules everything in Vietnam. For this to be a "communist" country they sure love capitalism! I've said many times when I get frustrated with this place, they are "greedy sons of Buddha." But if you learn a little Vietnamese and ask "Bao nhieu tien?" Instead of "How much is this?", then repeat the numbers they said, and maybe ask for a lower price in Vietnamese, you will get a lower price.

I personally think my skin tone and look has helped to prevent being robbed, or motorbike-jacked. I'm not obviously white with blonde hair and pale skin, like the European and American travelers. Most people think I am from South Africa or Filipino (i.e. I am not wealthy, or as wealthy as a "White" foreigner), and I got New Zealand the other day, lol. When I ride my bike I have a helmet and face mask, so I "look" Vietnamese.

But, will my experiences in Vietnam keep me from coming back to the country? Not exactly. There are many beautiful aspects of the culture, great food, beautiful textiles, and a tropical flair that can only be experienced while basking under the Saigon sun.

Be Ab-Original cont'd

I had an earlier post about my interest in the Aborigine culture, and meeting an orginal Aboriginal.
I think I had a close encounter with one, one night on my motorbike, I passed the movie theater and he was crossing the street. But like most of my interesting finds, they go as quick as they come while I whiz by on my two-wheeler. 

Well, I was able to get a slight taste of Aboriginal culture through the show "Living Black" on the Australian network. Like most disadvantaged indigenous cultures, Aborigines are suffering from alcoholism, low employment rate and second rate education. The show also touched on the gang violence that arose recently. In Chicago Puerto Ricans and Mexicans got beef, in Darwin Aboriginal boys don't like African young boys. . . Can't we all just get along!?

On a positive note, Aborigines do excel in sports and dance. . .  sound familiar? Ben Barba is doing well on the national rugby team, and Damian Smith has received acclaim as one of the world's premier ballet dancers. The Aboriginal culture is also great at artistry creating beautiful paintings and crafts. But it seems to me that little effort has been made over hundreds of years to incorporate this indigenous culture into modern Australian society. 'Course it may be hard with the language barrier, and stark cultural differences. To stay up to date on what's going on with Black folk "down under" check out: Living Black. And keep checking into the blog as I continue my search for an original Aboriginal.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

its a rainin' men, hallelujah, its a rainin' men. . .

I wish! It is raining like cats and dogs though.
I don't understand how a perfectly beautiful day, clear blue skies, not a cloud to be seen for miles can turn into this horrible mess of ugly gray mass. I've gone through 2 ponchos in the six months I've been here, ruined shoes and soiled the end of jean from this rainy season. I need a super heavy industrial automatic rain cover to hover over me while I'm driving.

And don't let there be a traffic jam. I don't know what's worse, being stuck in a traffic jam from O'Hare to downtown in the middle of winter with 4 feet of snow around me, or riding in the rain on a motorbike drenched, wind and rain in my eyes, dirty water spraying up in my face from the bike in front of me, going 1 cm every 20 minutes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What up niggah!

I would like to discuss a word, I have heard, in use since I have been on the other side of the world. Yes, I know, I know. I've been asking my self the same question. Why would Vietnamese have use for a phrase like, "nigga please."

Well, they don't, and, they won't, unless they are reciting somebody's lyrics. It has been my Français amis, who used this 'dis. My suspicion tells me French African rappers frequent the "n" word in their music, I don't listen so I do not know for sure. What is true indeed is the use of the word from American rappers and the effect it has on those across the globe who "love" hip hop culture. I hung out with my French friends the other day. We were sitting in Tuan's apartment when Bobby walks through the door and greets Tuan with, "What up niggah!" matter of factly.

Of course we all laugh. And though I was slightly disturbed that this French-born Vietnamese knew the use of such a word would bring about humor, I said nothing. It was later in the evening when I became more disturbed.
Would I get the same response if I walked through the door addressing my girl Linh with,
"Whaddup chink!",
 Maybe, if my name was Dave Chapelle.
Hmmm, what do you think?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

speaking of cats. . .

Mèo, mèo, mèo, mèo, mèo!!
After coming home from having a delicious French dinner with my friends from work, I open the front door of the house so I can put my bike away. As I start to move my bike forward, one of the many cats in heat in my alley decides to run into the the car port. Though, this one was just a kitten so probably not too hot just yet.

Mèo, mèo, mèo! . . .  mèo, mèo, mèo!!! The Vietnamese lady across the street decides to tell me what I already see. And may I add it is 12 AM. WHY are you on a balcony at 12 AM washing clothes???

Well, sometimes nosy neighbors really do come in handy. I'm sure she will inform my host family about her exciting night.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"curiosity killed the cat"

It was a rainy evening in Saigon, last night. I was tired from teaching these non-designing designers how to design, and still getting over a cold. All I wanted to do was sleep. But my girl had invited me out to dance at the "studio" she attends weekly to practice her hip hop moves. Sounds like great exercise, I thought. So after my nap, and the thunder storms calmed down I took a cab to the dance hall.

The cab started to slow down, and pulled into the drive way of this large shopping complex, and in the middle was a dance hall full of Vietnamese doing the tango. Behind the building were open fields for soccer, but at this time of night, the Karate kids were out practicing, actually they were probably doing Vietnamese Martial Arts called "Vo Vi Nam." On the second floor up the stair case, was ball room dancing, and down the hall from that right above the tango session was the room designated for hip hoppers. I assumed I was going to a dance lesson, or at list a freestyle session of some sort, but in a real dance studio with mirrors. I would watch my friend's moves, and practice in the mirror just like I did at Dance 411 in ATL. It was a long day of teaching, so I was looking forward to the work out. I was assuming the role of the student, not teacher, performer, or Black spokesperson. . .

Poppers, Breakers, and Hip Hoppers
Upon entering the room I was stunned by the blaring of the Gap Band, or maybe it was Cameo, no, it was Roger and Zapp, by the dance instructor, while a perfectly aligned row of Vietnamese youth practice their "popping" moves. It was a sea of robots coming to life by remote control, actually a bit scary. Wow, they have to practice popping? Cold calculated moves from left to right, rigid short staccato jerks of the neck and limbs. Quite the scene.

Moving further into the dance hall, (which by the way was more like an old high school auditorium, not a real dance studio) were the breakers. They were off to the left side of the space, twisting and turning on these blue mats that they brought from who knows where. Keep in mind none of this is a formal paid lesson. These kids just want to have fun.

Lastly were the hip hoppers practicing their choreographed moves. My friend introduced me to one of the young girls who comes to the dance session regularly.

"So what kind of dance do you do?"
My friend, "She knows Beyonce's dance."

Ummm, correction, I do not know Beyonce's dance moves. I learned them once while taking my Go Go Stiletto dance class, but without her music playing, or the "single ladies" video in front of me, I could not tell you anything. I don't dance on que. I am not a robot.

"Sorry without the music I can't teach you much."
"Can you show me some of your moves?"

*Sigh* Look kid, this isn't beat street, and/or "Save the Last Dance", I didn't come here to teach you anything, I came to exercise.

"How long have you been dancing?"

At this point I'm highly annoyed that I'm not in a formal dance studio, but mostly that I'm being pushed into this "teach your culture" session. So here's your Black history lesson of the day. Most Black folks don't have to study dance moves, or practice calculated steps, we just listen to music and feel it. Besides, I couldn't dance in the studio space if I wanted to, because all 3 groups had their own music blaring soo loud on cheap speakers, it was a cacophony of mess. As far as how long? I've been dancing to the beat of life. Music is always played in my household. I can't remember a time when we didn't listen to music, dance at parties, or sit around the TV with popcorn waiting for the "world premiere" of the new Micheal Jackson video to begin.

Though I appreciate the pure curiosity of the Vietnamese youth, I will admit I am a person who gets a bit offended when I'm put in the spotlight to "perform". "It's all positive, all coming from positive vibes," my friend assures. Yes, yes I know, but for one day can I not be reminded of how foreign I am?

Anyways, check out the little rascals practice their moves, notice, nobody is dancing with the beat. . .

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

somethin i've never ate before

So I just had dinner at the house again. What was on the menu. . . . ?
That's pretty much how it goes. And usually there are some leafy green vegetables to balance it out. The soup usually comes last, to cleanse the palette. It also will contain some leafy green veggie and a protein, sometimes crab, or pork. The rice sits on the table in the rice cooker, unplugged, the fish in a serving bowl, the veggies on a plate, nasty fish sauce in a small dipping bowl, and the soup in a larger serving bowl. Fortunately tonight's soup contained shrimps and my favorite vegetable! . . .can you sense the sarcasm. . . that's right, the Bitter Melon. Yuummmm. And it tastes exactly how it sounds. It actually has a bitter, unflavored, no sugar, extra-watered-down-boiled-coffee after taste to it. Doesn't that sound delightful?

Of course like most old people, the maid proceeds to tell me how "good" it is for me.
"Es gud for yuu. Make yuu smalla."
Umm, what you trying to say granny? Let me note, this was after she slaps me on the behind for using my own plastic dish to eat my food—my Vietnamese mother, lol.  (Did we forget roaches come out at night in the kitchen. . . yeah, Tiana will use her own dish, thank you very much.) So after she dumps my rice into a new bowl (giving her more dishes to do, but whatever, the woman lives to clean) she plops the tail end of the fish on my rice. Now, normally we would think, oh great, tail end, not enough meat. Wrong. I don't know WHAT type of crazy super fatty organically-grown-from-the-terential-rain-shower-fish this is that we eat in this house, but it definitely ain't lacking in bone structure. A whole fillet could satisfy even the biggest appetite. (Cory, Craig, Brother, my Dad) So my tail end had lots of fatty fishy goodness all drenched in yellow curry sauce, mmm mmmmm. The fish we eat is sooo thick, it will trick you into thinking you had chicken.

Since the bitter melon, also known as khổ qua, is soo good for me, the maid proceeded to pile a few pieces of that on top of the fish as well. Okay, okay, I'll eat it like it's medicine for the soul, I don't like it, but it'll do me some good. Well, come to find out Bitter Melon could do some Black Folks A LOT of good. Bitter Melon has been known to treat diabetes, malaria, help with digestion, and help with the side effects of HIV! Shoot forget the apple, "khổ qua a day keeps the doctor away!"

Here are more foods that tickle my taste buds:
Custard Apple
Baby Bananas
Water Spinach
Boiled Chrysanthemum Bulbs

Thursday, July 29, 2010

you are the example!

Precedents; it's what my students ask for. It's what I've been looking for while researching for my company so I don't do the same ol' ish. It's what we tend to rely upon when trying something new.

But to make history, to be revolutionary, evolutionary, transitional and contemporary you have to look left when the rest of the world looks right. I spoke of the Bauhaus school this past week as a reference to a project I created for my basic Graphic Design class. One major aspect of the success of Bauhaus becoming a major factor in Modern design history was not-teaching history. The instructors at Bauhaus did not want their students to know what was, they wanted them to create what is, and what will be. They expected the students to challenge the traditional views of their society, and the result was avant garde thinking and a new style they could call their own.

So I am challenging my students to challenge the traditional rules of graphic design. Quite frankly, I don't think it is fair to teach a Westernized view of design to students that use characters and extra symbols in their writing systems. Vietnamese does use a Latin alphabet, but with extra letters and an embellishment of accents. But even when I clearly state to my students that they are free to use Vietnamese words, they instead choose to use all English words, even making up words that don't even exist all in an effort to "please the teacher." Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this?

Fortunately, some of the students are brave enough to challenge the norms. One girl in my graphic design class decided she did not want to inherit her family's business; art school was her alternate choice.

"My parents are getting older, I'm an only child, and they want me to inherit the business. But being a businessman in Viet Nam means being sneaky.  I've seen a lot of shady things happen under the table, and I don't want to be that type of person, I don't want to run a business that way. So, the family business may have to close down."
"What do you want to do?" I ask.
"I want to work in advertising, just do something creative."

Well, at least she's willing to be the change. . .

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2nd Day of my 2nd Term. . .

So in my beginner "Graphic Design" class I had my students write 5 words that best described themselves as designers. Then they are to create idiographs, or simple graphic symbols that visually describe the words they choose. I'm having them reference Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Saki Mafundikwa's book Afrikan Alphabets.
Here are my top 5-fav attributes listed:
5. creative (well, I would hope so, otherwise choose a different profession)
4. patient (yeah, you'll definitely need that when dealing with clients)
3. freely (had to ask the student what this meant, he was trying to say "easy", hmmm maybe easy-going)
2. laborious (LOL, I think he meant he pays attention to detail, meticulous would be a better choice)
1. single (because I guess being married sucks your creativity dry! . . . . hilarious)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

where are you from? (cause it's not America. . .)

This is a common question most ex-pats receive and ask as they travel about the city and meet new people. I have been asked this question many times. However last night I got an interesting response from a young man spending a semester in HCMC. His roots are in Cote d'Ivoire, but he will be going back to France after his term is up. We met him while eating at the kebab place on Bui Vien.
"Where are you from?" he asks in his french accent. "Are you from Cote d'Ivoire too?"
"uhhh, no, I'm from Chicago."
"Oh," With a scrutinizing look on his face, "but where are your Parents from? You look like you're from somewhere else."
"ummm, St. Louis" (LOL, must be the freckles)

This isn't the first time I am assumed to be straight from the mother land, but know one has gotten soo specific and ask where my parents were from. Another evening while I was out, and rocked the afro for the first time, my waiter asked if I was from South Africa.  So after eating our kebabs, my Viet Q friend asks in his french accent, "Well, do you know your origins??"

Unfortunately, no. And Mr. Cote d'Ivoire is probably right. Most African slaves were taken from the western cost line. I may have some Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia running though me. One day I do hope to do some investigating of my heritage. But I find it interesting that I am no longer viewed as AMERICAN. Nobody looks at me and says, "hey, there goes another American". When I say I am American, that does not satisfy their thirst. No, I am something other than that. They see the heritage, but why don't Black people see it. Why don't we challenge each other to find out our true origins. Unless we hear an accent in the speech, Black people will never ask other Black people:
"What country are your ancestors from?"

Even with the knowledge that most of our ancestors were not immigrants by choice, and with new technology in genealogy studies, most Black Americans do not take the time to investigate, What tribe am I from? What language did they speak? Where is my last name from? I personally think it would be extremely self-empowering for young children, boys and girls to be raised knowing that they have a unique history and blood line.

It's as if being "Black" is good enough. Yes, we're proud of how we look. But can we really say that we're PROUD of our heritage, when we don't know what it is???  My Viet Q friend Ludi, who has Vietnamese origins but was raised in France, is partially in Vietnam so she can feel Vietnamese. So she can feel this side of her heritage, so she can feel connected. She knows what it means to be French, to be a minority and to be in that "other" category based on her looks. But she does not want this for her children. She wants them to know what it truly means to be Vietnamese.

As you pass on knowledge to your children about financial health, lets also pass on knowledge of our rich cultural past. I challenge myself, my family and my friends, as we progress into the 21st century as Americans with an African and American president, lets search and find our true heritage.
We know it didn't start in America, so why should we stop there?

i see vietnamese people

I'm realizing that there haven't been a significant number of Black folks living in Vietnam since the Vietnam War. So I decided to travel back in to time. . . To the museum that is.

The War Remnants Museum is rated number 1 on Lonely Planet's "top picks" for Ho Chi Minh City. Though my main purpose for going was to educate myself on the travesty, I secretly hoped to see some Black people touring the city, and seeing the sights like myself. Upon arrival to the museum via my xe om driver, I saw many tourist emptying tour buses, and carrying back packs. Indian, Australian, Filipino, Korean, Taiwanese perhaps. . . Nope, no Black people. Well, maybe next time. . . .

When you enter the museum grounds you are surrounded by old military tanks and planes. Go back a little father and you'll see some heavy artillery guns as well. But of course to lighten the mood there is an old Vietnamese lady selling cafe sua da right next to the M.41. Inside, three floors exhibit grotesque effects of agent orange, destruction across the tropical lands and villages and bloodied artifacts to let you know this really happened. At the end, on the top floor, images of hopelessness are rounded off with the before and after photos of the new Ho Chi Minh City reviving itself.  

Having know idea how many people the Vietnam War actually affected, I had a new friend put it in perspective. Mr. Thao is the secretary general for The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai's of Vietnam. I decided to stop by Mr. Thao's house after my museum visit, since I was out and about. After the heavy rain storm, the streets in District 3 were flooded. But we got to Mr. Thao's house which sits above his wife's beauty salon. He invites me into his parlor/living room area, and we have a Coke with ice. Seeing as how I am not Baha'i but only know a few facts from my friends in Chicago, I start asking Mr. Thao about the Baha'is in Vietnam, how they are treated, and what type of activities they have for the community. I then asked if there was a house of worship in Asia. He stated that they have the Lotus Temple in India, yes I completely forgot. "However," Mr. Thao mentions, "they were suppose to build the Asia house of worship here in Vietnam. But with the war and fighting going on, it was postponed, and India was chosen instead." Straight from the horses mouth, wow. "In fact, after the war, since the government won, they took control of many religious properties, including a building the Vietnam Baha'is were using as a meeting place and several Christian churches." After my visit to the museum, Mr. Thao's story has much relevance. This was a perfect ending to my much needed lesson on the history of this IndoChina culture.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just when life starts feelin mundane. . .

I step outside. Step outside my comfort zone, step out of the box, step out on a limb. Or literally, step outside. . . . . and feel the 95+ degree fahrenheit heat burn my skin.

Did you forget where you are Little Bee? This isn't Kansas anymore. No need to day dream, there's no time, the dream is now. Go out and live it.
I finally have a routine. A day to day program, a way to get to work, a 9-5 schedule. But having a "regular routine" in a not-so regular environment is becoming a bit scary. This place that I knew nothing about, the language I can't understand, the culture that makes no sense is happening everyday. If it happens everyday, it will eventually begin to feel normal. Can that happen? In a city with no family, no college cronies, no macaroni and cheese, where they eat fruit with salt, where the river is filled with trash, where old ladies sell food in conical hats, and have 50 thousand ways to create soup with noodles, how can I expect this to feel normal?
Well, not having my family and friends around is something I'll never get used to, but waking up to the sun at the same time every day, 365 days, to go to a job I enjoy, that's something I can accept. But if it's normal, it becomes routine, and routine leads to monotony, and monotony leads to boredom and boredom leads to me needing to change, and . . . . . . Oh wait . . . did I forget where I am? This isn't Kansas, or Georgia, or Illinois. There's no time to day dream, the dream is now. Let me step outside and live it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Don't you love them?
I think it's a universal role of grandmas to take care of their family. Regardless of the ethnicity or country. Grandmas will be there to feed the baby, help with laundry, cook dinner. The grandma of the house is here. She pops in every once in a while to help her daughter with the new baby boy. I didn't know she was home today until she crept up behind me in the kitchen, wondering what I was doing. Of course she started fussing, and then laughed, cause I'm clearly not fluent in Vietnamese, yet. I usually scavenge the kitchen for any left over food. I know, I'm horrible. But according to the maid they spend too much money on food and I should eat what's left, so I do.
So as I'm waiting for my water to boil (because there's no microwave) and eat my pathetic concoction of rice and broth, grandma comes over with a large pot of "beef stew" I didn't notice. She tips the pot over so I can see what's inside. I nod in agreeance that it looks edible. She heats up the soup, then places the hot bowl with a regular spoon on the table. "There!", she says. Awwwww, thanks grandma. or "Cam on," the Vietnamese phrase for thank you. Not sure what the leafy green stuff was, but it was tasty!

Monday, June 7, 2010

are you up for the challenge?

Just had a lovely evening with some ladies from work. It is Gen's birthday so we went to get our "junkfood-on" in Vincom plaza (Imagine Lenox Mall in Buckhead, but smaller). In our Vinasun taxi ride there, we got into a conversation about living here. I learned that Gen has lived in HCMC for 4 years. wow.

"People ask me why do I like living here?" Nicole stated, "Because everyday is a challenge."

True indeed. It is said that if you truly want to feel alive, you should live in Vietnam . . . . because you're life is on the line everyday. If it isn't the nasty street food that keeps you running to the toilet, it's the motor bike robbers trying to steal your backpack, or the city bus determined to not just run you over, but kill you in the process. While basking in some beach sun this past weekend, my friend Ludi (a Vietnamese-French VietQ beauty) mentioned that the Vietnam law states, if you injur someone in a motor accident, you must pay for all their medical bills, for the rest of their life, but if you kill someone you only serve 5-7 years depending on the situation. Hmmm, let's see, if I were poor which consequence would seem less threatening to my well being. . . kill someone? or paralayze them? you decide. Not to mention the language barrier. Luckily the Vietnamese language does not have characters but the 4-5 tones are crazy difficult!

Any ways, back to our food adventure. So Nicole describes the restuarant we're going to as Carl Jr.'s, "they have the best burgers!" Never heard of it. But in my mind, I'm thinking this will be a nice sit down restaurant, fancy tables, nice lighting, I mean we are going to Vincom Plaza, everything in there is high-class. After strolling around 3 floors of the mall, window shopping in Western brand names (Doc Martin, Nike, Ecko, Accessorize), Viet-style high class fashion stores with outfits too tight for us and drooling over sexxy NineWest shoes that were waaaaay over priced, we get to Carl Jrs.

"This is it??" That's Hardee's!" I said.

Sure enough, it was the same Hardee's Star character, same Hardee's burger taste. Well, tomatoe, tamato, the burgers were good. Can you believe we also saw a Popeye's Chicken? Don't worry it was still called Popeye's. Now if I see a Chic Fil-a, I KNOW I've seen it all!

Friday, June 4, 2010

where am I?

So I mentioned on my Facebook page, a while back, about a guy I met from Chicago. A friend of mine had mentioned that she knew this man from Chicago living here in southeast Asia and, being that we are both Americans kissed by nature's sun, thought we should meet up. Fortunately we happened to be in the same place one particular Friday night. It was a hip hop party, well French hip hop, but that's another story.

Being, that he was the only "brother" in the establishment, I noticed him right away. Please don't misunderstand, I am not interested in dating this man. The interest is similar to when we moved to Wisconsin; any new Black person in the area stirred up excitement. But this isn't just a case of finding brown skin and curly hair. This man is American, and one of the very few that I've met 2 months into my exile. I don't think it is unnatural to assume that two Americans of African decent would want to network with each other. To my chagrin, this man did not share the same assumption. In fact he had other business to attend to. A smorgasbord of International fantasies were waiting for him across the club, Why waste any more minutes talking to the "one of hundreds of Black women" from your hometown living in HCMC? *rolling my eyes*

This leads me to my next point. Ho Chi Minh City reminds me of the South (and West) Side of Chicago, which is pretty sad considering Vietnam is a "developing" country. Let's compare and contrast:
1. South Side of Chi has streets filled with trash, consisting of used diapers, junk food wrappers, condoms / HCMC has streets filled with trash consisting of used diapers, plastic cups, rotten fruit, and other unidentifiable objects
2. In the South Side of Chi (I will shorten to SSC) you will typically see grown men standing around, doing nothing in the middle of the day / In HCMC I see grown men, usually sleeping, in the middle of the day
3. While strolling along in SSC, you can find women with rollers in their hair, going to the grocery store / in HCMC you will see Vietnamese women wearing a roller in their hair, to the market, from the gym, on their way to work. . .
4. On the streets of SSC there are men selling socks, bottles of water, and in the summer time possibly barbeque / In HCMC you will see men and women selling fruit, strange dried sea food, face masks, or grilling unique asian culinary delights
5. In the heat, SSC dwellers are known for blasting their music in all hours of the night / in the heat, which by the way is 24/7/365 my alley neighbors in HCMC do this as well, starting at 10 pm ish till 12:30 am ish
6. In SSC you may get hit with a stray bullet / in HCMC you may get hit by a bus
7. In SSC prostitutes are seen on the corner, sometimes they were there at 6 pm when I got home from work, though I never knew they were prostitutes / in HCMC male prostitutes from Africa are hired to please the Vietnamese women, though most African men will lie and say "they are here to play football."
8. Most folks from the SSC stay on the south side, and may even resent those that get out of the south side and move to the north side of the city. / Similarly folks from the southern part of Vietnam do not interact with folks from northern Vietnam. If you live in the south, you stay in the south, forget those north-siders, they're too uppity anyway ;-)
9. Women on the SSC where weave that doesn't match. / Women in HCMC wear weave that's either too straight, or the wrong color, or just wrong, lol. and they wear rollers in public. . . nuff said
10. Lastly, you think ghetto negros are the only ones who stop on the side of the road to pee? Welp, Vietnamese men do it too! This is why I will never be caught in a flood. . .  ewwwwwww.

This juxtaposition may seem extreme. What's more extreme is how in a "civilized" nation, areas of poverty, illiteracy, war-like violence among the youth can still exist. . . and what do we do? travel the world, praised for getting out, more concerned with selfish desires than with uplifting our own community.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

i keeps it real. . . real creative

What's wrong with student work? It's not real. It has no substance, no solid foundation from which students can speak about. This is partly why it is hard for students to talk about their work, and get the job they want. They want to be honest about what they did, but in their honesty they forget how to creatively express what it is they did, and how they did it. Well, lets give them something to talk about. Professors, teachers and lecturers have the responsibility and power to provide their pupils with projects that not only teach them technical skill, but provide exposure to client/designer relationships, all while improving their community.
-me, a lecturer that keeps it real, see who else kept it real

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gender Psychology

Where are my psychology majors at? I need your expert observations and knowledge.

Is there something in the chemical DNA of the male gender that causes males ages 18-22 to have Attention Deficit Disorder, or at least start showing signs of this disorder once they enter a classroom setting? My "color for designers" class is majority guys, only 4 girls out of a class of 20. I speak to the class loudly, and clearly, I have power point slides, and I write on the dry erase board for the students that read English better than verbally comprehend it. Yet, still after all of the explaining I do, and repetition of phrases, "This project will be turned in at the end of class", or "Only use A3 size presentation board for your final work," most of the guys still don't get it. If I say a project is due at the end of class, they mess around for 70% of the time remaining, and then scramble at the end to finish their work. Can't they just shut up and work? And follow directions! My girls on the other hand, well 2 of the four are my star students. Always neat, always on time. They ask for the power points after class, so they can study and actually get a good grade on the quizzes I give.
Is it just me or are guys naturally inclined to selective hearing?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

English Names

I've told a few people about the English names the Vietnamese students give themselves. It helps the lecturers remember who they are, and it is easier to pronounce. I don't pressure my students to give an English name. I try to learn there real name, and pronounce it correctly. Most of the names I've heard are common; Tommy, Katie, Kevin, Mike, etc.

But occasionally I will get a student who decided to get "artsy" with there name change. For example, I have a girl named "Po". I'm not sure how she came up with this nick name, but she definitely looks like a "Po", with her cute round face and button nose. She got excited when I shared with her my friend's handbag website Po's ace boon coon is a girl named B.C. Not sure where this came from because her real name starts with an "H". Then there's the best name of all "Princess". Her reasoning for choosing this name is that if her real name is mis-pronounced, it sounds like a negative word in Vietnamese. Okay, good enough reason. So, Ms. Princess is quite prissy, always late, always dressed up, never hands in projects on time and after cutting her hair to a short bob, she recently got some new weave put in (crimped tracks glued in).
No, I'm not on the south side of Chicago, this in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fight the Powers? Stifling, Isn't it?

After viewing the post on KissMyBlackAds about Shepard Fairey, I'm thinking of how his work would be influenced by Vietnamese culture or lack there of. . . Does street art exist in Ho Chi Minh City? Not that I have seen. Today was the first day I saw true graffiti, an oblong cartoon shape with x-ed out eyes. The only stencils I see are numbers on the buildings. Perhaps the authoritative government, or the majority religion has something to do with the lact of an original artist culture. Yes, there are a plethra of galleries and "artist studios" on the streets, but, these are tourist driven, and most canvas works are a copycat of what someone else did. Vietnamese are great at copying, but like I tell my students, I respect originality.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I would say I didn't sign up for this. . .

but technically I did. . . :-/
The man and woman who BLAST kareoke type music in the house across the alley from me. . . I'm sure the rats & roaches love to hear your voice, but I have an early morning ahead of me, I need peace and quiet. Please.

The rats and roaches. . .

The ornery, old, never-satisfied divo at work who can't get over the fact that I used his plastic bowl for my oatmeal, and got his papers wet after I cleaned it. You asked me to wash your bowl didn't you? Ask, and you shall receive. . .

The lazy mentality of my students. Is this a Vietnamese thing? Yall make me sleepy, and I teach the class. Can I get a little enthusiasm, please. . .

The "OMG IT'S A BLACK PERSON!!!" stares I get, sadly enough, from the same people I pass everyday, as I make my way through the alley from my house, to the main street. Yes, we come in ALL shades and tones.

to be continued. . .

Friday, May 14, 2010

Be Ab-Original

I've always had an interest in Australia and the people of this part of the world. I knew of the Aborigines from geography class, and Janet Jackson's song "Runaway". But it wasn't until a friend of my cousin Kai, mentioned his experience in Australia and the surprising connection the Aborigines felt to the Black experience in North America. Now I am on a mission to meet an original Aboriginal. I'm curious to know what they eat, how they style their hair, do they know where they originally came from?

I found this photo on, circa 1988 in Sydney, Australia. 20+ years after we began to fight for our civil rights, Aborigines were fighting for theirs. Today the fight continues, to stop discrimination against our brown skin Australian counter parts, and make them healthy active participants in Australian society. United States may have our first Black president, but Australia just gained their first Aboriginal Olympic gold medalist, Cathy Freeman, in 2000. Let's not forget about our Aboriginal kin, and I'll keep you posted on my search for an original Aboriginal.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Be Careful. . .

HCM is a city of motorbikes. Imagine everyone in the city of Chicago driving a motorcycle, or Vespa to work everyday, with a sprinkling of Toyotas, BMW's, taxi cabs and CTA buses that won't stop for anything, not even pedestrians, running through the chaos. Also, imagine nobody follows any rules of the road. . .
Don't stop for traffic lights. . .
Dont yield to pedestrians, EVER. . .
There's know clearly defined turn lane. . .
Nobody yields to oncoming traffic. . .
Nobody uses turn signals. . .
You can drive on sidewalks, gas station lots, public parks. . .
I could continue but I think u get the point.

And surprisingly, with all the chaos I have not seen a major accident, yet. But I do see my students everyday except for the days when they're absent. . . due to an accident. . . and then come back to class with gashes on their forehead and badages on their arms. poor things!

Monday, May 10, 2010

If you want to play the game, you have to know the rules.

So, I've realized these students aren't as focused as my coharts and I were back in the good ol' days at Miami University's Heistand Hall. They lack a sincere interest in the professionalism of their projects, and showing respect in the classroom. Understanding that the school gives them no set of standards to design by, I now have to proclaim a list of "rules" for classroom conduct and project expectations. What?!, you don't know what "critique" means??? okay, okay, let's just start with the basics. Here are my top five:
1. Turn OFF your cell phone in the class room. This is not your personal business hour, even if it is your family business.

2. We LOVE to speak English. LOVE IT, or leave my class room. I wasn't hired to be an ESL teacher.

3. Always ask questions.

4. Always carry your sketchbook.

5. Come to class on time and ready to work. I couldn't believe how many students came to class with no pencil, or paper. What are you here for? And who's money are you wasting?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

1 Month in, 23 more to go

May 8th, 2010

It has been 1 month since I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. The strange thing is, I feel like I just got here. It's a weird feeling knowing that my "overseas travel" is no longer a 3-week long college study, but a 2-year long college lecture. And since I'm not here to be a tourist, my days and weeks are not jammed packed with touristy things to do: I get up, go to work, have lunch, work some more, come home, eat dinner, prepare for the next day, go to sleep. Wow, doesn't that sound exciting!!! Of course along the way I see and smell the culture. Pacing myself is key to having a successful Southeast Asian adventure, and key to keeping me sane. I'm taking it all in one day at a time. If I skipped my lectures and saw everything in a month, I'd have nothing left to do but work. However, since this is the reason why I'm here, this blog will focus on my successes and pitfalls as an underdeveloped, overworked, purpose-seeking lecturer of visual communication and as artist of the word, (otherwise known as a graphic designer).