Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . .

Not really.. . . but, It sure feels like it! Did you know they sell Poinsettias in Vietnam!!! Crazy isn't it! I went to my favorite botanical shop in Phu My Hung the other day to buy another one. There's nothing special about this particular shop other than 1. they are friendly and 2. they do not stare at me crazy, like "Who is this dark-skinned girl". And since they know my face, which isn't hard to remember, I just keep going back. They have the dark red variety, white, a hybrid of red and white so they have a pinkish quality, and they also have a rose-like poinsettia variety that looks elegantly posh. So I bought another pinkish type. I'm getting ready for my mother. She'll be here this Friday! I can't believe she's coming, but I'm really excited. I'm excited to have someone to speak English to, I'm excited to see her face once she's gotten off the plane and spent 24+ hours with Asians, I'm excited to show her the city and alll the places I've grown accustomed to and I'm excited to spend quality time with her beach side facing the Sulu Sea. Ballin on a Budget!

K.I.M. (for you tribe called quest fans)

I can not believe it is almost 2012!!! Why does everyone say that? Actually, I CAN believe it cause this year has been tooo long. Well I may not hit my 100 post marker, but it's all good. I will be posting more photos soon, so look for that. I know the last couple of posts have been quite negative, maybe a bit "bitter". I'm not really bitter, just annoyed. I've come to the conclusion that almost every company sucks. The goal is to hire the best qualified person, to do as much work as he/she possibly can, for the cheapest cost possible. I get it. If I had a company I wouldn't want to spend 50,000/year USD on a professional when I could spend 15,000/year USD on an intern, or 400/month USD on a Vietnamese graduate. And according to RIC, If saving money means no adequate health insurance, then so be it :-/ So, with every job experience you take away the good, the knowledge, the experience and keep it movin'. Keep pushing towards your goal, and wake up one day closer to fulfilling your God-given destiny. "Aint' no time for shuckin and jivin'. . ."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

And so, I'm offering this simple phrase, to kids from 1 to 92. . .

Christmas is not about you.

Last Friday the company of my j-o-b held a holiday shindig in a bar somewhere in central Ho Chi Minh City. Like the graduation show this past year, the party was held at the most inconvenient time, 4:30 pm. Classes are scheduled 3-5pm. Of course some lecturers including myself raised the question of, why? would the party be held this early. And of course the company responds with, "you're allowed to leave at 4:00 pm, you can make up the time at a later date." LMBO, spsssshhhh, ummmmmmmm please explain to me when LATER would be? The last week of classes is next week. I love that they think they can dictate how I spend my time.

Any who, so the kicker (as Nicole would say) to this shindig (did you know "shindig" is a real word?) were the "Raffle" prizes, lol. As our director's way of enticing us to be there on time, he sends out an e-mail, listing all of the prizes we could potential win. As my day progressed I managed to teach my class and cut out at 4:20 pm, but since 4-5 pm is "every-Vietnamese-parent-picks-up-their-child hour" It took a good 35 minutes to get home, when I only live 15 minutes away. So by the time I got ready to head out, the party is now an hour or so finished, and I missed the glorious "Raffle" prizes, when I went outside there was not a taxi in sight (so there goes another 15-20 minutes of waiting), and the cyst on my left ovary was causing some pain, so no, I was not about to intensify that with a bumpy motorbike ride. Besides who wants to be exposed to the elements when you're all dressed up. Needless to say, I didn't make the holi-day par-tay. I later heard I missed out on winning a deluxe-type gigantic rice cooker. OMG, how I needed that :-/ I'm glad I ended up not going. It gave me energy to spend time with visiting friends. Plus, I do not feel connected to this organization. I do not support their philosophy of education, or corporate responsibility. How can you find the money to buy: a Plasma TV, gift certificates, rice cooker, cell phone, and other "Raffle" prizes, but you can't seem to find the money to pay for my HEALTH INSURANCE?!?
Something is not right.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

<)kdfjk.xfbjbxfjfbjkbfb N R(W&Q^Q^ERT&^$%%#^# Q)Q)Q)ER()(E!!!!!!!

I would love to punch the stupidity out of someone right now! And yes I have a few people in mind. . .

Monday, November 7, 2011


There is an online exhibit that hit the web-sphere a few months back called "Make Your Franklin." Anyone with internet and design skill is free to participate. You download the $100 USD bank note .jpg, and then have at it, re-designing the bill to your liking then upload your creation to the site. I had my Photoshop class create their own for extra credit. Since we're having a shortage of USD here in the 'Nam I figured I would create my own currency. Of course my initial thought was to put Obama on the bill to create a "United States of Black America". Sounds nice, but would leave out every other culture that exists in the American population. Then I examined each of the U.S. dollar bank notes and the notes I've collected from other countries. I have a 20.000 VND blue note, two 100 notes from Cambodia (don't ask me what they're called, they're so insignificant no one knows) they are purple brown and green duo tones against cream, I got 1.000 Korean Won note also blue, I gotta Ringget, 1 RM from Malaysia it's also blue, 10 PHP Philipine Peso bill, a burnt orange and cream with brown, and the best for last a 10 Hong Kong Dollars note, the most colorful of them all.

10 Hong Kong Dollars. Pretty in purple.
All of these bank notes have 1 thing in common: they all "pay" homage to a person or place/ monument in the history of their respective country, with the exception of the HKD. The Hong Kong dollar is quite different, at least the 10 dollar bill is. Pictured, it is a beautifully interlaced network of multi-colored ribbons, bars, lines, and Cantonese characters in a split-complementary color scheme of violet, fuchsia, cerulean and yellow. There is no trace of someone's face, no monuments, no land marks, only the design itself. Does it represent the network of cultures that are present in Hong Kong, or its perception of being a place of kinetic commercial and technological energy? Florescent ultraviolet strips of text make the bill difficult to replicate and the watermark is an image of the hibiscus flower, also known as the China Rose. Absolutely beautiful.

. . . Meanwhile the United States dollar gets uglier by the minute, literally and figuratively. There are 5 bank notes in our currency portfolio. Actually the country doesn't own the bank notes, the Federal Reserve does, ain't that some ish. We got Lincoln on the $5, Hamilton on the $10, Jackson on the $20, Grant on the $50 and Franklin on the $100. Sure these men did interesting things and significant decisions that did help form United States of America, but what about everyone else? The slaves? The indentured servants? The immigrants? The Native Americans?

One person cannot take credit for forming an entire nation! Cultures, tribes, slaves, indentured servants, activist, blue collar workers, leftist, rightest, democrats, republicans, everyone in America at this present time is forming America. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes an entire population to help weave the diverse tapestry of the supposed United States of America. To put only 5 dead white men on a bill with disgustingly tacky graphics that illustrate monuments instead of the people that BUILT them is more revolting than any insult.

There's definitely more to this f'd up economy than 9/11. The corruption began when the first set of servants landed on the east coast shores and people were categorized by their skin color. It's weaved in the fibers of the notes themselves. . .

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"The Job."

I think this episode explains how I feel at the current state in time. Nothing is more awkward than not being able to communicate with co-workers. At least hers speak English. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Where is the money?

It's all about the Ho Chi Minhs, baby.
Hey blog-o-sphere.
Yes I know I've been M.I.A. The holidays are approaching and I've been planning a glorious get-away for moms and I. Island hopping in the Philippines is only a few months away. However I wish I could joyfully anticipate this excursion. Instead I am guilt with worry at the threat of lacking enough dollars. Why should this be, you may ask, since I have a decent paying job. Well apparently there is a shortage of USD in Vietnam. Really? Really. According to the HR at the j-o-b there is such a shortage that they can no longer pay us in USD. So I am now being paid in VND. This wouldn't be a problem had I left the US with zero debts or responsibilities to tend to. However I like saving for my retirement, and my student loans will not do a disappearing act. Well I thought there was a simple solution to this predicament. Just transfer VND into my USD account in the US. My US bank accepts foreign currency, so what's the issue? This alternative will not work thanks to the stringent rules of the Vietnamese government. You don't want your monopoly money leaving your country???  Because it's absolutely useless anywhere else in the world??? Whatever. So I'm forced to ask the age old question I've been asking numerous times since I arrived in Vietnam: What is the solution to this problem? (because common sense logic never applies in a Vietnamese situation).

Hmmm, let' see, get a new job? Because on any given day the bank claims they may, or may not, have enough USD to sell to me. I think this is a load of BSD. (a bull-shit decision) The bank has plenty of USD. Maybe not as much as they would like to have, but they have enough to sell to me. I'm not asking for millions of USD, I'm not making Donald Trump deals! I'm just a poor Black girl from rural Wisconsin tryin to make a dollar. I didn't travel 6,000+ miles to another hemisphere, to crazy weather and cultural traditions to be broke! It's definitely time to go home!
Don't "buy" into the hype, looks can be deceiving.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

oh brother

My brother bid this ballad to me before I decided to abandon the life I once knew. From the book of Acts chapter 7, it reads, "Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you."
Ain't that the truth.

Nothing to lose.

What would you do if you lost everything?

What if all your close friends have moved away? What if your family is too far to reach? What if the internet stops working and you cannot skype and your phone has run out of minutes? What if the television stops working so you cannot receive cable, and your DVD's will not play correctly. What if your computer conks out, or just doesn't work as good as it use to? What if the amount of money you use to make is cut in half and you have little hope of getting that other half back? What if you get caught in a rain storm with no umbrella and when you go home to take a hot shower, the electricity goes out, so now you have no hot water? What would you do?

Believe it or not, people used to live with no electricity, no hot water, no cable, no iphone or iMac, no Adobe Creative Suite or Wacom tablets. In the modern world we designers have become so accustomed to these things. When technology does begin to break down, we tend to do the same. It slows down our productivity. Clients don't want to see a sketch, they want to see smooth crystal clear gradients, shiny computer graphics, the "slick" design. What happened to drawing with pencil and reading from a book? What happened to lithographers, wood cut printers, and sign painters? When everything is stripped away, breaks down, or stops working we'll have to result to this anyway to get the job done. So why not continue using these skills?

Perhaps we're scared that we'll actually have to use our hands. Maybe we're afraid of being labeled amateur (Is this a French word?) But, if everything is gone, broken down and cut off, what else can you rely on?

Only your God given creativity, and God Himself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

speechless. . .

I've had a share of crazy situations and heard some crazy stories, but this by far out weighs them all:

"Lord help these people. So, I was at a birthday party for my friend here from Texas. She is here as a missionary and her clique of Texans are all here with their church doing mission work in secret, cause you can't be too open in communist land. I was on the couch chatting with another lady who is from Arizona originally, and she has the cutest little girl and adorable little plump face boy who is maybe 1 or 2. He's soo plump I can't tell how old he really is, lol. 

Well, the lady from Arizona, told me about how the Vietnamese were "checking" little foreign babies to see if they were a boy or a girl. . . She said it happened to a friend of hers and the friend's child hates Vietnamese now because of it, gee wonder why? So Sarah says it happened to her baby boy one day, out in public, broad day light, they were near the big Notre Dame Cathedral, and this woman reaches toward the boy to reach in his diaper to "check" if he is a boy or girl, Sarah catches her and slaps her hand and says "NO!" really loud of of course. . . but I'm sitting on this couch like WTF, THAT'S MOLESTATION!!! She just molested your child in front of you. The woman wouldn't have a hand left if I caught her doing that to my child, What in tha world is wrong with these people???!?! And it's not a Vietnamese thing because she asked around, and Vietnamese people told her it's not common. I commend this woman for being fairly calm, but I would NOT have my children in this part of the world, Especially if I was white! You are a moving target, and they will kidnap your child and sell them into slavery. People say I'm brave for riding a motorbike? No YOU'RE brave, to #1 have your toddler child playing with these crazy children, and letting every Thuy, Thu, and Ngan touch your child's skin and hair, and . . . #2 withstanding the heat while pregnant AND #3 Actually trusting ANY Doctor over here foreign or Vietnamese to birth your baby properly. . ugh.

Second crazy thing. I didn't see it, but our Brazilian co-worker comes into the office one afternoon, I guess he went out for coffee, comes back and says he just saw a naked woman walking down the middle of the street, in the middle of traffic. He says she was completely naked, just frolicking down the street. Passed the police directing traffic nobody stopped her, no one pulled her to the side to put clothes on her. . . . . what is going on here??!?"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be Simple, Be Proud, Adventures in Black Hair. . .

So, the reoccurring question I received before I flew off for my Asian invasion was,
"What are you going to do with your hair?"

Thankfully I am pretty artistic in all areas of life. I've had practice "playing" with my hair since the second grade. I knew I would have to do my own up keep while living in Asia, because I did my own hair in Chicago. The only time I went to the hair salon was for a trim. However, there is the bigger question of, "Where will these hair products come from, so that I CAN do my hair?" When I arrived in Saigon spring of 2010 I had kinky twist. I made the mistake of leaving them in too long, so upon untwisting the kinks, I also took out my fine hair close to the forehead. *Sigh* Won't be doing that again. Afros, extreme heat, and motor bike helmets do not work well together. I resorted to my method of flat twisting. Dividing my hair into sections, and twisting it back, in a cornrow-like fashion. Again, I know I'm one of few that actually knows how to do their own hair. But, ironically one of the best things you can do to your hair is nothing. Do not over process it with chemicals, do not over comb it the wrong way, do not dry it out with blow dryers and flat irons, do not stress your scalp with tight braids and extensions. Just let it be.

Charlotte Hess, check her out at
I could not not remember my friend, knit wear designer, Charlotte Hess who taught me two lessons on the fashion design trip in South America: BE SIMPLE, BE PROUD. "Usually when I do nothing to my hair it grows", stated Charlotte as she used my Carol's daughter hair oil for the first time. Charlotte rocks a "Straight-Up"afro. I call it "straight up" cause it sticks straight up off her head. On this particular trip to Brazil and Argentina, Charlotte rocked the "straight-up" with long dramatic chunky necklaces, one of African amber, and big Coco Chanel type sunglasses, simple and proud. Did she care that the yellow amber and her deep chocolate skin produced a stark contrast, or that her hair sort of resembles a space ship and caused serious stares from the Argentinians?? Nope. Perhaps being one of artistic taste helps, but the point was she was doing her thing, rockin her style. It didn't matter that she was in Argentina, New Zealand, Florida, the moon, etc. She didn't let American racist ideals or European standards of beauty haunt how she will wear her hair. She let her natural beauty shine.

"Kareem Abdul-Jabar-Baha" of KL can do my hair any day!
Back to my adventure of tending to my locks. After being in this part of the world for a year and a half I found Kuala Lumpur to be a source of African hair types. On my black girl expedition with Kia we spent a weekend in KL, shopping and getting our hair did. Kia manage to pay only $30-$35 for a shampoo-wash-blow dry that took 4 hours. (Mind you the woman servicing Kia was Malaysian, not Black) I got cornrows which took 45 minutes and paid double. Such is life. I also experienced an African hair braider from Hong Kong who came to Ho Chi Minh to work on some clients heads last year. This lady works in the only official hair braiding shop in Hong Kong called Zucoma. If you're in the area check it out, but they are pricey, for Hong Kong. I had a hard time remembering the url, so instead try this:, they seem to have professional products and a Black man handling a blow dryer. Coming back to Ho Chi Minh I was determined to find a hair braider. With all the African men here, there has to be a woman somewhere doing her own hair. I mingled with the Nigerians at church and got in touch with a Nigerian lady in District 10 of HCMC. She did a great job with braids and has healthy techniques to minimize breakage. No salon for her, I talked to people who know people and met in the room she is renting. But my main concern while living here was getting my ends trimmed. Trimming the split ends minimizes breakage, and minimized breakage = longer hair. Well little did I know my hair adventure was about to take an interesting twist. I decided to try the steamer machine at a local nail salon. In the back of the nail shop is a small hair station with the steamer machines and further back in another room is an area where you can get your hair washed. I used my own deep conditioner and everything was going good until it was time to blow dry my hair. I literally had 2-3 people in my head. The owner of the shop came and asked, "Is this natural???" me,"YEAH this is MY hair!" It really perplexed them to know that someone could have hair as curly as mine. I must say I had fun teaching the ladies at Nghia Beauty how to do my hair, and l loved that they were all eager to learn, and very careful. As I'm sitting in the hot seat (literally with two blow dryers on my head) I notice a Black lady is getting her pedi/mani and looking over at me with a "What-in-tha-world" expression on her face. Once I am finished, they even flat ironed my hair, I'm about to leave, but decide to get a mani and just happened to sit next to the Black lady. I was not going to be social because she "looked" Brazilian. There aren't too many Black American people 'round these parts, so why bother? Well I decided to bother anyway. Turns out she's an American stewardess from Texas, she has been living in Asia for 16 years, SIXTEEN YEARS. Whoa, back up. 16 years. In Hong Kong to be exact.

"I had to go natural because I did not trust anyone to use a relaxer on my hair, and I couldn't find the right products. I noticed you were getting a blow out. There are a few places here that can straighten our hair pretty well, one is real expensive but good, the other cheaper and decent."

Kia explains, "Straighten, with Ce-ram-mic, not Metal!"
Like an angel that had fallen out of the sky, she just increased my HCMC experience by a thousand. I couldn't believe it. She had stop overs in Ho Chi often, so after SIXTEEN years of being over here, I guess I would've discovered and chosen the right salon as well. I should host my own personal training session. I checked out the salon the stewardess recommended, and it is legit, and they definitely know how to work a blow dryer, lol. It's YKC on Dien Bien Phu St. Of course their styling skills need some work, but for a good condition and trim, I don't mind paying 800,000 dong to get my hair right. Below is the result of the scavenger hair hunt in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Big Thanks to Tarek for his Algerian connections!

"Kareem's" salon is male-only, he calls his braid lady. . .
We find another lady, she was okay.

Kia gets a blow out . . .

. . .4 hours later, turns out nice!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

love that hat girl!

For the readers that are not aware, the hat my header is wearing is called a "nón lá" in Vietnamese. It is worn primarily by older women, though you may find some men wearing one while working in a farm. I do not know the history of the hat accept that its style, like most cultural paraphenalia in Vietnam, is inspired from Chinese culture. According to my students, normal people do not wear the nón lá, lol. In other words, the younger generation does not find the nón lá fashionable. But, it has a very practical purpose. It keeps your face cool during the hot sunny afternoons, and it will keep you dry when it rains. I enjoy seeing the ladies in their nón lá hats. It keeps Vietnam authentically Vietnam. In no other country in the world, can you walk through a metropolitan city and see "cityfolk" wearing a nón lá. 

And, about it being fashionable. . . well I'm sure there are many modern examples of Western designers taking cues from the shape of the hat. But I will tell you this story: One day on my way to work I am sitting on my motorbike waiting for the light to turn green. I had just left my apartment and turned right after crossing over the bridge, connecting Binh Thanh to District 1, but still a bit far from what I consider "downtown". I look to my right and spot a young women wearing her nón lá. There are many crazy things happening on the street that can grab your attention, but the way this lady wore her nón lá was particularly funny. Dressed in a typical over-all pajama-like outfit, the lady walks confidently down the street in bright fushia. Atop her head is a nón lá, not plain and covered in plastic like the market sellers, no, she rocks a colorfully embroidered nón lá, like the one a tourist would get in Mui Ne (like the one hanging on my wall, you can see it if you skype me). Let me also mention the color of her pajama-jammy-jam matches the embroidered flowers on her conical crown. Hey, you know what they say, if you're gonna do it, do it with pride!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


 In the new Photoshop CS5 programmers introduced the Mixer Brush, which allows users to replicate intricate oil like paintings on a 2-D digital canvas. Pretty sweet. To test its merits and get my stylus pen dirty I will change up the header of the blog a bit. I introduced the feature to my students in class on Friday. The CS5 book took them through an exercise of painting digital photographs. Photos from Da Lat were the canvas, lets see what they created. . .
cloud break by Artist Seagoat
country side by Bao Linh
meadow by Chi Thanh
house by Sagas Studio

Monday, August 15, 2011

can you accept the truth?

FACT: You are alone and feel lonely.

TRUTH: God will never leave you or forsake you. No problem is too hard for God.

Friday, August 12, 2011

eating habits

a southeast asian orange and custard apples
The eating habits of the Vietnamese youth are so different from youth in the states. This morning in class, two of my students had corn on the cob for breakfast (in my class). Quite random for me. The only time I would eat corn on the cob is summer time, at a barbeque. When have you ever seen a young person in America, walking down the streets of your suburban neighborhood, or in an urban environment eating corn on the cob? or carrying a bag of freshly cut fruit? or a boiled sweet potato? It just doesn't happen.
But could it?

In summer time Chi if you look to the side of the street near the curb you will see a parked wagon full of watermelon, maybe oranges, sometimes strawberries. These are fruits in season during summer months and it's part of the culture to be outside attending festivals filled with food stalls of all kinds. Occasionally you might see somebody barbeque-ing on the corner, but they stay on their corner. You won't see little old ladies rolling stacked trays of ice blocks and fruit down the street. But isn't this the problem? Ghetto neighborhoods have always lacked convenient access to fresh produce, or grocery stores that sell a variety of quality fruits and vegetables. There are efforts to create urban gardens, community gardens where everyone takes part in the up keep of the seeds sowed. But again, these gardens stay on a particular corner. If I live on 109th, I'm not going to travel to the 67th street garden to grab some tomatoes or apples. We got to get mobile. Short, petite little old ladies of Ho Chi Minh City are carrying carts up and down hills, poorly paved roads in the midst of this crazy traffic (cause you can't walk on a "sidewalk," that space is already taken by the mom and her 10 year old chile selling leather belts!) Are you getting my drift? Perhaps the homicide rate in south side Chicago would go down if the youth had their hands on a cart of fresh fruit, rolling by peoples houses instead of driving by with a hand on a barrel. I know what you're thinking, What young adult wants to drag a cart of fruit in the heat all day? Well that's another problem. . . laziness. But they don't have to worry about getting sunburnt, the Vietnamese ladies attach a sun Umbrella to their cart. In the land of milk and honey, opportunity, and free speech I think we can concoct up something with AC, a sound system, and an LCD screen. They can't drive a motorbike, we have age limits on driving in America.
Heck, forget the ice cream man, we need a Fast Fruits™ chain. (dont steal it, it's already trademarked!)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Never say "never"

When it's all over and I return to the U.S., I can say that I accomplished two things I previously said I would never do:
1. teach
2. travel to Asia.

fear factor

It's like I'm experiencing a real life episode on fear factor, amazing race or road rules-real world challenge. "Cruise through the hem on motorbike past the river of doom. Trapes through the murky water to your final destination. Grab the red flag and pull the bell to win the race!"
Too bad there's no Million $ grand prize at the end of this journey. . . I need dollars, not dong.

how much "ish" can you take? cont'd

The guest preacher at Trinity mentioned in his sermon 3 entities that can keep you from a healthy relationship with God:

Naturally - forces of nature (bad weather), or even deterioration of your health due to age or genetics
Internally - you are angry with God because you think everything wrong is His fault
Institutionally - organizations that do not have a Godly foundation

There are many things, many negative forces that can weigh on a person's spirit. I'm sure many of us deal with the institutional negativity from our jobs or government. Unfortunately I've had to deal with a natural negative force, the debilitating disease of psoriatic arthritis. Of course being a person of gumption, I will not let much keep me from doing what I want. So instead of staying in America where I think I could be safe, and continue to fight this demon, I decide to travel abroad anyway. Now with my new environment, I have new demons to face, one of them being the weather and the effects of such. I had the pleasure of experiencing a side effect of heavy continuos rain fall, which is the flooding of many streets and hems (alleys) through this horribly planned city. If, the situation is perfect, I am at work, I can be prepared for any flooding with my super savvy Target galoshes. However, this was not the case on a Sunday evening out and about with friends. As I'm pushing my motorbike through a foot of nasty, murky, trash-filled, rat infested, urine laced flood water, negativity shows up causing me to shout loud expletives, and express extreme distaste for this culture that is so foreign to me. Let me take a moment to describe to you the insanity of the situation I was in.

For a while, I have had a spirit of negativity cast over my thoughts regarding the current environment I chose to live in. As stated above there are many things that contribute to a bad attitude, despite I do continuously think positive, but it never ceases to amaze me the amount of bull I am served everyday. Here is a brief anecdote of what happened this particular Sunday:

A Viet Kieu from America asked to meet with me regarding a possible freelance opportunity for his construction business. We sit down at a local cafe, L'Usine, start making small talk about each other's weekend. I get to the point and ask "Do you need graphic work for one of your businesses?" He gives this lofty answer of needing someone to produce concepts. Okay concepts for what? "Well what is your design background have you designed any interiors?" No, I am a graphic designer. (If you had asked me this last weekend when you introduced yourself to me, while I was hanging with my American friends, you would have known this information) "So you did graphic design, but can you create a concept for an interior space?" Now this statement tells me this person has no knowledge of the diversity in disciplines of design. No big deal. What's pissing me off is that as I am talking, he's interrupting me, leaving the table, answering his phone. And asked me 2 or 3 times in a bit of a rude tone, "can you create a concept and apply it to real agency work?" Dumb ass, I'm not in school, I teach at a school, have you listened to anything I just said? I guess not, because you're soo busy running your mouth you have no desire to hear what I have to say. So, please tell me, why am I here? Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, now he gets to the point. So after he realizes, he has no use for my graphic design skill, he proceeds to fish for information about my American girlfriend who is an officer at the U.S. Consulate and drift to a story of his cousin who can not get a visa due to some issue her mother had 10 years ago, rambling off political immigrant law jargon that I have no desire to know of. Because, "The people who work at the consulate are such idiots, I can't stand them!" but you think because I know one of them, and you paid for lunch and 20 cent parking, interrupted me while I was talking, insulted my intelligence and left the table for almost 15 minutes,  I'm now suppose to hook you up and you're richy rich-can't-get-an-American-visa-because-of-K1-cousin? mmmmm, maybe she should try Australia. . .

Moving on with this day, I try to run my errands, but need some cash. No ATMs are working, so I was told, plus the most reliable looking one, ANZ, was not working. So, I call my other girlfriend instead and meet up with her friends, whom I met last night. It was cloudy most of the day, but no rain drops just yet. After walking through Saigon Square, the friend of a friend needs to find a spa, so I drive her around town on my bike, until we find one that's open and not crowded. I was reluctant to join her because I had grocery shopping to do, but the steam bath is good for my achy joints and she convinced me to join her, so I did. Bad idea. Once we were finished it was later in the evening and pouring buckets outside. She had to leave for a dinner. I stayed at the spa to wait out the rain. I think I was there a good hour more when I decided, I'll just bare it. Despite the fact that I just paid for a scrub, had two showers, now I get to go outside and get wet again, and dirty. I stand outside for a bit waiting again for the rain to die down. The doorman is looking at me, asked if I had a rain poncho, in Vietnamese. I understood through his motions what he meant, yes I have a poncho. So now he's looking, like, "what are you waiting for?"

Okay this is where I digress, because where I come from, we drive cars. It's not a freaking luxury to drive a freaking car. Honda Civics don't cost $40,000. You're stupid for accepting a 60% tax rate on a car. I wouldn't own one either if I had to pay double. To my students, a car is a toy. I'm not talking like these are irresponsible teenagers crashing cars. No, these spoiled brats show up in a different car every term, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus. Now if a Civic costs 40 grand. . .  The whole dichotomy of rich and poor in this culture is insane. We can complain about all the rich people in America who get tax breaks, but at least we have a middle class, upper middle class, lower middle class; there's a middle ground. Yes some of us Americans do show off our wealth when we have it, but depending on the state or city, most people dress normal and comfortable when they go outside. Most women do not wear 2 inch heels to the grocery store. Anyways, the people in this culture that I'm currently living amongst who do have money are some of the most disgusting people I've ever encountered. Case in point my rainy situation. So, I couldn't leave my bike in the parking lot all night, I'm renting, and I do not want the risk of it getting stolen. I know that my area gets flooded during heavy rains, but I can not predict how bad it will be. Sometimes part of the street is wet, while other parts are okay. Some parts are deep, and some shallow. The last few times I had to drive my bike through water, I made it through okay. Unfortunately this wasn't that time, the water was soo deep and covered the entire width of the street, my new Attila rental just couldn't hang. Usually I pray and keep driving, hoping the bike doesn't stop especially if I'm not wearing my boots. Because if the bike stops, and I'm not wearing boots, I have to stop, which means my feet have to touch the ground, which is buried in a pool of polluted water. Today I'm wearing sandals with a low heel. So to give you a visual: It's raining, heavily. I have on the poncho and my helmet, walking next to my bike with water past my ankles. As I'm walking some bikes are still working, so people are driving past me, splashing more polluted water all over me. And now, my favorite part. The cars. So a Car #1 is coming, weaving his way through the scattered motorbike drivers who are walking in this flood. The car is headed my way, going the opposite direction. Does he move out of my way? NO. I guess I have to move, my body and bike, in a wet poncho and a foot of flood water, just so I can avoid being run over. Lord Jesus, please be with me. Car #2 comes along, after I spotted a wet but non-flooded piece of street, roll over there and get my bike to work again. I drive out into the flood, because I have no other way of getting to my apartment complex, this jerk in a little smart car behind me proceeds to honk at me because I guess he's in a hurry to get back to the apartment too. Not once, or twice does he honk, but several times, getting louder and louder. Are you kidding me? I can barely grip my handle bars because they're WET and I have arthritic knuckles, there is a foot of water on the ground so my tires can't get any traction, so now I am stuck for a minute. Still driving slow because THERE IS A FOOT OF FLOOD WATER AROUND ME, and all you can do is honk your horn because I'm in your way? How about helping me get out of your way since you're in such a hurry? This is so insulting, and embarrassing, and upsetting. From the way he was driving, it was clear he didn't care about anyone else stuck in the water as he sped ahead the maze of people stranded.

I'm not even going to go through my list of "whys", like this one, "If it's 2011, and your office buildings have large LCD screens on outside panels, WHY isn't there a better drainage system to prevent flooding during a rainy season (season meaning this happens every single year)? I'm not even going there. . . it's not worth the space in this blog to ask questions no one has the answer to.

Instead, lets look at the positives. Though I was wearing sandals, at least I was not wearing my clog sandals, which would have weighed down my feet and made it even more difficult to walk in flood water. Through I am always concerned that I may step on a crack needle, knife, a dead rat with teeth or any other sharp object, nothing pierced through my skin causing bacteria to get inside my system. Although I did step into a pothole, which I couldn't see because its dark and the water is opaque brown, I didn't fall, and my bike didn't fall. I got out of the flood water alive and in one piece and back to my apartment. Thanks to the heavy rain, there is never a shortage of water, so I could take a hot shower for as long as I thought I needed to scrub the grimyness away. I have a lovely fully furnished apartment with a washer, so after my shower I can chillax on my sofa read a verse for peace of mind and wash my dirty clothes for free.
And, as we say in the US, "It could always be worse." I mean at least this wasn't Katrina. . .

how much "ish" can you take?

I probably should've titled this post with a positive religious verse, "God will never put more on you than you can bare", which in fact, is a true statement. However, I'm not feeling too positive right now, so excuse me while I be human for a few paragraphs.

I feel that living in the craziness of this culture is more or less a test of one's endurance. Especially for someone, like myself, who has grown up with the conveniences of modern America, living in a less desirable atmosphere and under developed environment is a test of one's gully-ness. (Gully meaning "gutter" or grimy or grittyness. I remember the scene in "Brown Suga" when Mos Def asks Taye Diggs if washing his taxi car windows is too "gully" for him.) Can you roll up your sleeves and get dirty, or be carried and waited on with the privileged class?
It's the Southeast Asian bootcamp:
How much sun, heat, humidity can you take. . . before you wine for AC? (my students even complain and they grew up here!)
How long can you walk through crowded stalls, markets, alleys, grocery store aisles, sidewalks etc. before you develop claustrophobia?
How long can you breathe in exhaust from motorbikes, cars, trucks, rickshaws, tuck tucks and second-hand smoke before you develop bronchitis? (16 hrs/day? 7 days/week? 52 weeks a year?)
How long can you yell in a hot humid classroom at students who continue to give a lame excuse for not doing what you ask, before you develop laryngitis?
How long can you continue to function working in a 90+ degree day forgetting to drink water, before you get dehydrated?
How much hacking, spitting, and "ahemming" can you hear from old men and drunkards before you hate to walk outside for fear of what you'll step in?
How many incriminating stares, points, prods and examinations can you take, before you bark at anything that glances at you.
How much nodding (mmm hmm) can you take from non-native English speaking people when you ask then an f-ing question, because they're too prideful or stupid to simply tell you, "I do not understand."
How many times can you get stuck in the rain while on your motorbike before your entire body looks like a prune?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

not so bad?

Once you get use to a place, you begin to appreciate the benefits of your surroundings. Looking at where I will be in the next few months, the possible financial armageddon of the US economy, fear of drought, cold weather conditions. . . hmmmmm, maybe VN isn't so bad after all. Well except for the compromise in health care, lack of cultural activities, lack of diversity, horrible infrastructure, crazy traffic, government restrictions on the music I have access to or the church I should go to. . . hmmm but who needs all that? toi.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our modern day griot

"The worst thing is to be too timid in life," says 81 year old Maya Angelou. "Life is about saying here I am, so LET'S GO!!"

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

six terms down, three more to go. . .

My student, "Ms. T you only have 3 more terms to teach me everything you know about Adobe Creative Suite!"
Me, "Are you counting down?"
My student, "Yes, I'm crying."
I must say, teaching is a great experience. The relationship between student and teacher I'm sure can be compared to that of parents and children. As a teacher you want the best for your students, you want them to try their best, and when they fail you are upset. As a retired teacher in southern USA said on the news "You learn so much from the student." It's a reciprocal relationship. The students remind me that hard work still pays off, they remind me that drawing is still important,  they remind me to keep my skills fresh before I get snubbed by the next generation, and it has been a preview of how much fun I will have with my own children. I am sure when the time comes for me to leave Vietnam, I will be overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of not seeing my students grow and develop. But I hope that they know, they can always count on me for any advice or reference they will need. They will always have a place in my heart and a spot in my home for a visit to the US.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

cai du

I don't know the word for rain, so I settled for "umbrella", as the title of this post. Speaking of, I have yet to buy a "cai du" even with all the terential storms we receive.

I will miss the rain of south east asia. Here in Saigon the buildings are so old, so worn by the weather. They age beautifully. The color of the "weathered" cement is intensified when it rains. The deep gloomy blue-grey sky with thick dark clouds sitting behind a landscape of brightly colored buildings, painted with soot, mildew and mold may not sound appealing, but the contrast produces a beautiful scenery rich in color. It is something to see. . . in person.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

2011 Asian Adventures-Malaysia, Singapore, Bali

Continuing where I left off, my friend Kia and I took a two-week excursion around Southeast Asia in celebration of my birthday. After our extreme peaceful stay at the Crown Lanta, we ventured to the colorful city of Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of the Muslim country Malaysia. KL is the largest city in Malaysia and, in my opinion, with Bangkok being second, the most diverse city in Asia. I'm sure there is someone out there ready to prove me wrong, but like I said, it's my opinion based on my travels thus far. The mere fact that Kia and I could get our hair done in KL is evidence alone that this city has a varied collage of cultures that call Malaysia their home.

With Malaysia being a predominantly Muslim country I reminded Kia; many women would be fully covered. However, do not be fooled, "Muslim women be shoppin!" You will see these women dressed to the nines, fierce shoes, bags, the whole fit together with the matching veil to top it off. I noticed in general Asian's like to shop . . . . a lot. KL is no exception with a shopping mall on every street corner it seems, and it felt as if most malls were connected, so you don't have to go outside and bear the heat. Aside from good shopping, Malaysia is a beautiful country. It's well organized, clean, beautiful beaches and countryside. After the weekend in KL we took a coach bus to Singapore, and I enjoyed the car ride scenery; pineapple tree forests, so sweet. Of course no trip to Malaysia would be complete without trying the food. If you do not have a taste for Indian food, then you will not enjoy Malay food. Fortunately, I love food regardless of the country it's from. My favorite Malay dish: Roti Canai ("chanai"). You can eat it with sugar in the morning, for lunch with peanut sauce, or with curry sauce for dinner. The bread alone can be a bit bland but with a little sugar, or salt, or curry it's delish. I enjoy watching the creation of roti as much as eating it. If you live in a diverse city, find a Malay restaurant and get some roti!

We only spent the weekend in KL so we had to make the most of our time, but with our flight times being early and staying up late, we were exhausted the first night. The car ride from the airport to the city was enough for me. I refused to use the squat toilets, (except the one and last time in Bangkok) so my bladder was not happy. Kia was barely hanging on. She may be a closet narcoleptic cause in every car ride she was knocked out. Regardless, we did manage to see Arab Street, then grab Persian food. Many thanks to my pal T for showing us around and being a great host. I know it was a lot to put up with two prissy women. That next day just happened to be Mother's Day, and a horrible day to eat out early, no brunch started before 11 am, uggh. So the scavenger hunt began for some food, not Chinese or Malay food, American bacon and eggs, hot cakes, french toast breakfast food. Mission: unsuccessful. So we settled for stir-fry and European pastries. The rest of our day was filled with electronics shopping, clothes shopping, flat iron shopping, hair care bargaining, hair treatments, exhausted feet, Petronas Towers! and a bomb a*# view of Kuala Lumpur from the highest point in the city called Ampang Look-out Point. Definitely a must see while you're in KL.

So as I mentioned earlier we traveled to Singapore from KL via the coach bus of Transtar. This was a great way to travel and see the country side of Malaysia. As our chariot awaits, Kia and I realize we are the only people on the bus, along with one woman. A whole bus all to ourselves, finally! Not only do we have personal service from the concierge, the seats have built-in massagers, a TV with American movies is at hand, I can put my feet up and recline my back, receive a free meal and unlimited coffee or tea. Perfect. However, it wasn't so perfect to stand in the heat for 2.5 hours waiting for my friend's roommates to open the door. (Note to self: find out if hostels exist in Singapore) Since we had some issues with where to put our luggage, my friend T came through again. He introduced us to Zazaaa, another Algerian brotha who just so happens to work for DKNY. He let us keep our luggage in his office while we shop along Orchard Road. We're in Zara trying on dresses, when Kia realizes she lost her iPod touch. Obviously upset, she was reluctant to continue exploring. Luckily I convinced her to get up and out. So we visit the Marina Bay Sands, "the most spectacular hotel in Singapore." We take some breath taking views of the skyline from the top of the hotel. Later that night we decide to check out the Sky Bar of the Ku De Ta lounge and run into a quirky crowd, the cast and crew of the Justin Bieber tour. . . yeah it was an interesting night.

The next morning we leave the Marina Bay Sands, go back to get our bags and rush to the airport to catch our flight to Bali. Yes, we spent the night in "the most spectacular hotel in Singapore" for free. It was grand. The AC in my friend's apartment wasn't working, so we couldn't boil to death in our sleep. Needless to say, we have some priceless video footage. Well, the end of our trip was near and we arrived to Bali on a Tuesday afternoon. The airport was packed, and customs was a biatch. Not only did they detain me for an hour or so, since I was running out of space in my passport, but the custom's officer also had the nerve to ask for a bribe so he could put the sticker in my passport. A bunch of crooks I tell you! The rest of our stay in Bali consisted of more locals trying to get as much money out of us as possible. They also need a lesson in customer service from the Vietnamese. It seemed that every interaction with the locals was rude and curt, not friendly and inviting. I would advise if you are some who does not like crowds, do not visit Kuta Beach. But lets focus on the positives, since this was our last stop.

Bali seemed to be a hub for the product development of glass wares, wood carvings, bamboo mats, bronze sculptures, batiking, and metal smiths of silver and gold. If only I had more money. . . There was literally a Fed Ex on every corner it seemed. I acquired what is probably the best jewelry discovery of my travels to date: a sterling silver locket, shaped in a sphere, with a brass chime ball inside. It was all of $4 from the Ubud Art and Craft Market.Gorgeous. We also saw lots of silk and dyed goods, but this market was not as inexpensive as the markets in Vietnam. I can sense I have been spoiled. Well, Bali, Kuta Beach area is now spoiled with toooo many tourist that the charm of being in a tropical paradise has dissipated, or covered in trash. The best food we had was at a cafe near the Ubud market. We ordered spring rolls, and the presentation was unique. Later we tried Indonesian food. Mmmm, not a fan, not a fan at all. There was nothing interesting or tasty about it. But they can make some great spring rolls. Well, if Bali hadn't been annoying enough, on the way out of the country, we also didn't get on our plane (running very late for a 6:30 AM flight) and we forgot there is an "airport tax" due once you leave the country. We tried to side step and get past this, but we were stopped at the gate by the customs officers. Dang! They got $50 out of me to cover for me and Kia, way more than we should have paid, it was again, another bribe. Needless to say, I won't be back to Bali, ever.

Lesson Learned: Do ALL the research you can about the country you are visiting, especially Visa fees, taxes, etc. and talk to as many people as you can that have already visited the country and cities in that area. If they say "stay away", heed the warning!

Friday, May 20, 2011

a quick shout out. . .

Today is the 2011 Raffles Ho Chi Minh City Graduation ceremony with the theme MOMENTUM.
I had the pleasure of art directing this years theme and with the help of my very talented illustrator / student volunteer, Artist Seagoat, we created a mystical futuristic brave new world. Below are the creations of our dynamic collaboration. Have a look inside the graduation book. . .

3, 2, 1 Blast Off! 
As you read, the Coi Carrier is floating in outer space.
Welcome to Planet Lotus.
Inspiration: Voltron and his teacher
Inspiration: Video games and Avatar
Inspiration: Graffiti
Inspiration: Architecture training, his hometown, and his girl
Inspiration: Janelle Monae

Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 Asian Adventures - Thailand

We spent one night in Bangkok. Definitely not enough time for Kia to really experience the city, but she got her taste of the rude cab drivers. My biggest regret is not remembering to take her to Sirocco Sky Bar for a breath taking view of the skyline. Well, we got our view in Singapore, but more on that later.

After filling our bellies with Indian food, viewing the debauchery of Khao San and a good sleep at the swank hotel of Citrus Sukhumvit we had another early morning ride by taxi to the BKK airport to continue our journey to the southern Thai city of Krabi. Their airport has got to be the smallest airport in the world. Of course the day would not be complete without arguing, I mean bargaining, with the travel companies on a decent price for transportation to the island of Koh Lanta. Here we go with another joy ride. A small van cramped and packed with people. This time a woman just gave birth to a baby and apparently has car service. We had to go back to the hospital to pick up the rest of her stuff. Then we stop in front of a bus stop, mind you we're NOT in a bus, this is a van, and pick up a hefty girl carrying two full bags of food. I only comment on her size because it is not too common to see a large Asian woman, and as much as I've been picked on in the 1 year I have lived in this region, I don't see how this girl could have survived growing up. Once we got to the second dock and onto the 2nd car ferry (yes, we took 2 car ferries), the driver decided to board, with HALF, yes half (well the back end at least) of the van hanging off the back of the ferry. This is when hefty girl made me nervous, all I could think was don't move, don't breath.

Lesson Learned: If you want to ride in peace and in a timely manner, take a cab from the Krabi airport to Koh Lanta Island. It will cost you, but you save time.

We arrived to our resort early evening on Wednesday May 4th. The Crown Lanta, sits on its own private peninsula which is connected to Koh Lanta island. If you're traveling to this area, Koh Lanta is much larger than Koh Phi Phi, but a warning, don't expect a lush large beach. The beaches are quite narrow in this part of Thailand, and filled with rocky limestone cliffs. Great scenery for a photo shoot though. The resort was lovely. Absolutely peaceful. On my birthday I chilled pool side, ate seafood, then had a free mini cake and bottle of wine delivered to our room. Kia also got me a gift, a stuffed teddy :-) We enjoyed the scenery of Koh Lanta and of the resort. They provided a free golf cart service to take you from your hotel room to the dinning room. Since the terrain is a bit mountainous the resort is full of steep hills. Riding the carts was like driving through a theme park. Our time in Koh Lanta was cool, but ended sour when our snorkeling trip was canceled due to rain. We planned to travel to 5 different islands and the emerald cave, booo hisss boooo. Saturday was the last day in Koh Lanta, and for our transport back to the airport we took the hotel shuttle bus. It set us back 1,000 baht each, but we road in style and comfort listening to the penguins in Happy Feet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

2011 Asian Adventures - Cambodia

Well. Today was quite the adventure. Let me back up. My friend Kia and I are traveling through Asia, so she can get a taste of each city, and accompany me on my birthday. Our travel route takes up through Cambodia, Thailand, down to Krabi, then Malaysia, Singapore, Bali and back to Vietnam.

The cheapest way to venture to Phnom Penh is by bus so we did that, but we also decided to bus it to Bangkok. I did not know at the time of booking that the drive from PP to BKK would be over 12 hours. Being misinformed and not doing my research, we settled on the bus ride regardless. Hey, we get to see the country side right? So the first leg of our race against time was okay. We got to PP in about 6 hours, went to the Russian Market and found our tuk-tuk to take care of us for the whole day in Phnom Penh. Though he was stalking us, found us in the market, (the only bougie black girls bargaining on leggings). I guess he thought we wouldn't pay. I found my Cambodian weaved scarves that I love, and more silk for the women in my family. Also introduced Kia to the Cambodian delicacy of friend rice pancakes with spring onion. I'll have to research the real name for it. We also ventured to the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh. Quite sad and dramatic to know with real evidence that human beings could be so cruel, especially to people of their own culture. We prayed for those people whose lives were taken from them and for the families who were affected. Our day was quite full and we did not make it out to eat or party because of the heavy rain storm. However, jet lag and exhaustion allowed us to sleep through the night.

So now we're at this morning, Tuesday morning, 6:30 AM. After taking breakfast to go from Hotel Cara, we get to the bus station hoping we don't have to settle for a greyhound-like bus for the treacherous 12+ hour drive. . . we are sadly disappointed that not only is the bus greyhound quality, it's packed with people. Great. The ride through Cambodia was filled with frequent random stops to pick up "Slatum" and his crew or drop people off in front of their home.  . . I'm sorry, is this the community city bus or a personal tour bus??? Other highlights from the ride: a spider creeping up on me, and bus stops at the creepiest pit stop places with crappy food. The climax was arriving to the Thai border and to our chagrin having to switch vehicles. Now the 9 men and 4 women left going to BKK, are to squeeze into this white cargo van, like an ex-pat circus act, ughhhh. The driver seemed to get a kick out of driving so fast our bodies were thrown about like loose marbles. When we finally get to BKK, to Khao Son Road, the driver would not stop. It took me yelling at him to finally stop because he passed the backpackers "district".

Lesson Learned: do not take a bus from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, just fly, Air Asia is more comfortable

Saturday, April 16, 2011

SoulFood in Saigon take two. . .

Last year, my friend Erica came to visit Saigon and check out what life is like in Vietnam. While here, I promised my foreign friends some good ol' fashion soul food and had Erica whip up some seafood gumbo, Viet style. She didn 't have all the ingredients she would normally have, like chicken broth (we just couldn't find it). This caused us to settle for a strange powdered substance that is is commonly found in Viet grocery stores like Co-OP Mart and Big C.  We did not know how much to use and how much water mix with it. So the gumbo, though quite delicious, was extremely salty. Regardless of having to drink two large gallons of LaVie water after eating, everyone loved it and craved for more.

So fast forward to now. AFter several people asking me to make more gumbo, and after moving into my own apartment, and after coming back from Singapore, I said, why not? So I invited the crew over, and went shopping. This time I didn't want to run out, and I didn't want the batch to me salty. The resolve was:
4 chicken breasts boiled
4 bags of shrimp
3 crabs
1 pack of 4 spicy sausage links
2 packs of fresh baby corn
1 pound of okra
2 cans of stewed tomatoes
2/3 pack of Bacon fried for a full glass of grease
about a cup or 2 of flour to burn for the roux
1 really LARGE aluminum pot
1 extra pot for the spill over

With so many ingredients I needed more water. So the new problem was, not salty enough, lol. But guests could add whatever they wanted to make the stew taste to their liking. Thanks to my girl Evelyn, who was at the last gumbo dinner, we finished not too late, just after 9 pm. She remembered all the steps. I was a bit clueless. Only knew what went in the gumbo, not how to make it look like gumbo. Cooking for others is fun. I'm sure once I get married and have children this may seem like a chore, but I hope not. It's another way to be creative with my innate artistic self. Luckily I have a posse of friends who love to cook. Especially Julie Child herself, Adeline, the Viet-French version. I just came back from a barbeque at Adeline's place and tasted many of her concoctions. This night's dessert delight was a Banana Toffee Creme pie. Toffee was home made from Vietnamese condensed milk, mmm mmmmm. If you don't have friends from a variety of cultures, I'd recommend it. Your tastes buds will never be bored.

my favorite toy from Singapore. . .

the x mini speaker!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I realize that I have neglected to talk about my travels to other countries while I continue pushing through this exile of mine. It is easy to become complacent to the Asian way of life because I see it everyday. But this blog was started for the friends and family back home who unfortunately cannot be here 365 to see, hear and smell what I experience. So let me begin, "Tiana's favorite things," with a recap of my Singaporean adventure.

For those that are unfamiliar, Singapore is a city/state/country of its own off the coast of the Malay pennisula. According to Wikipedia, it was taken over by the British, then Japan, then the British again, until it gained its independence somewhere around 1965-ish. The ethnic background is Chinese, then Native Malay and Indians. There are 4 official languages, but I only heard two: "Senglish" and Chinese. If you plan on visiting Singapore, be ready with pockets full and bank account plentiful with cash; Singaporeans love to shop. This is the highlight of Singapore. If I had to rate what I liked best it would go:
1. everyone speaks English
2. the weather is gorgeous, steamy hot!
3. I can shop till I drop, and my bank account won't stop
Everything is in Singaporean dollars. So, even if I buy products at regular Singaporean price from the Origins counter in Robinsons, which I did, my bill may look high, but ends up being $20 cheaper after the conversion to USD, whoot whoot! If shopping is your thing, and it should be to visit Singapore, then head down to Orchard Rd. You will find an ample amount shopping centers, plazas galore. The whole city is filled with them, but this is the hub of high class shopping. If you want a discount, don't worry, there is room for that too. Just look for the smaller shops that are tucked away, like the Camera Comp. Specialist store I found at 220 Orchard Rd. near to Center Point shopping plaza. You can find a guy named Eugene who will try to talk you down to the lowest you allow him to get to. There is also Lucky Plaza which I heard was cheaper, but never got a chance to visit. There were a few surprises in the Orchard Rd. area. We spotted the "Charlie Brown Cafe", AppleBees, TGIFridays, Melaleuca store, Famous Amos Cookies! and, wait. . . is that what I think. . .oh shoot, it's Cold Stone!!!! yes there is even a Cold Stone Creamery in Singapore, finally someone was thinking! As you shop till you drop and eat your ice cream you can dance to the music being played outside and inside the mall. Nothing too crazy, just pop hits and techno beats. (My travel buddy Tarek and I heard Soulja Boy in
AppleBees.) Unfortunately as I later found out, this is the same music played in the club, unless you like the pop sound, to each his own.

Once you're sick of shopping and want to enjoy the sun, the only place to go is Sentosa, the Southeast Asian "Six Flags". You can get there two ways: drive, which I don't recommend or train it. Tarek and I traveled in his car, and consistently got lost the entire weekend. There is a monorail-type train to Sentosa from some sort of mall that is down town. We caught the Singapore subway train from Orchard Rd. and connected a few times until we arrived at the correct stop to exit; we then walked to VivoCity to get on the Sentosa "express train." The Sentosa train is about $2 Sing dollars. If it's the beach you crave, then get off at "Beach Station" the last stop. From there you can walk, or take a golf cart to any beach of your liking. We watched the stars in Silosa Beach at Cafe del Mar the first night then lounged like a celebrity on Saturday afternoon at the Tanjong Beach Club. If you want a cushion seat there, make a reservation, bring your swimsuit, and just chill. But this is a popular place, so be ready to people watch as well.

I will not discuss the night life, because it sucked. I'm sure there are parties at Sentosa's many beach clubs. Cafe del Mar has a lovely DJ booth, and nice beats on a Friday night. So bring a group and make your own party. If you want a club head to the Clarke Quay area. Again, if you like to dance, go to BKK or Seoul, but if you want to pose, then Singapore is your city. Visit the Marina Bay Sands hotel, or a bar called Altitude to get breath taking views of the city.

We found plenty of places to eat. Again, getting lost cut into our eating time, but we still managed to find great food. If you can, head to Epicurious. I found this spot on the ladyironchef blog while craving for pancakes Saturday morning. I needed to find a non-chinese eatery. It's delightful. If I lived in Singapore, I'd be a regular. The staff was friendly and diverse, the juice freshly squeezed and our table sat right next to the river at Robertson Quay. And, ironically, we saved the best place to eat for last. Marche is a Swiss themed restaurant with a market atmosphere on Orchard Rd. inside the Somerset. (Lots of restaurants sit inside malls for some reason.) We were pulled in by the smell and sight of the pastries on the first floor. We noticed people going down stares so we followed suit. Ooooo Ahhhh, food everywhere. You're handed a Marche card and charge everything you take. Be careful, or more like, be aware, you will spend a good $20-$30 for your meal. It's vacation, so go for it. Just make sure you eat one thing at a time. We had soo much food, we almost couldn't finish and that's money wasted. There is pretty much everything from fresh juice, salad, salty crepes, sweet crepes, pizza, polish sausage, roast beef, chicken, all kinds of bread, fruit, desserts, parfaits, ohh and a Chocolate Fountain :-) The only thing I couldn't get was an omelette so T found this dish: fried egg that sits on top of hash browns, even better!

I enjoyed Singapore and miss the "pleasant prairie" atmosphere. It's like Paces Ferry in Atlanta, or Columbia, Maryland times 1,000. Immaculate. However, this super clean, super corporate uber business landscape screams BORING. I, along with other ex-pats living there agree that Singapore is perfect for a family with children, extremely safe and extremely diverse. Just make sure you and yours have a 6-figure job to support your child's Cold Stone habits and their interest in the $50-ferris wheel ride (hey it's the largest wheel in the world). 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

for Japan

 In light of the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster that has devastated Japan, The Design Society has created 8 T-shirt designs to help raise money for the victims. Support the people of Japan and help Design Society raise over $30,000 (Singaporean dollars).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hip Hop in Ho Chi continued. . .

This is for real. A real music video from a real hip hop artist from the streetz of Saigon. It doesn't get more hood than old folks playing Chinese chess on plastic chairs, chickens in the hem outside your crib and toothless men selling lottery tickets. I met the young man in the hat once in a club. As soon as I read his style, I exclaimed to my friend Linh, "Awww shoot it's the Viet T.I.!!" From the video you can tell this boy is serious about his craft. Although I can not decipher what he is saying, according to my Vietnamese linguist source he is talking about the reality of living in a poor Vietnamese community. No different than what Biggie or Tupac, or T.I. himself have to say in their music. Again, I admire his adoration for hip hop culture. He is shaping the new generation of "Youth Music" as the communist government calls it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

the Bastardization of Hip Hop

Proper language usage can get lost in translation. Symbolism may get reinvented when taken out of its original context. I went shopping with my home girl and boy the other day. We hit up every hip hop shop in Vietnam on a quest to find birthday gifts and the perfect b-boy hat. Yes, there are hip hop shops in Vietnam. Imagine a Harlem store front, or 47th street shop in Chicago, with all the same hood-architecture and decoration (Cue the old sun-washed posters of the game, snoop dogg, and ciara), but a little less authentic. The store that did manage to have a "Vietnamese" flare to its design is Peace United, owned by Viet Max and his crew. Cue the "Vietnamese hood" props: Organized inside of a typical Vietnamese style house, with motorbike parking in the front. Shoes must be off before entering this "kingdom of hip hop." Inside of the small show room, graffiti coats the walls, tees, hoodies, sneakers and of course baseball caps adorn the shelves. At first glance, I'm slightly impressed, they have the look down. However, with further examination I realize, like most creative endeavors taking place in Saigon (especially my classroom), instant gratification is key, no real depth, no authenticity in the work at hand. Rap lyrics are taken out of context and slapped on t-shirts; leading to highly offensive content (ex. "Let's Get High Niggaz!" is on a shirt) Is that an appropriation of Ludacris? I doubt they got his permission. AND, in case I truly forgot that this is not Bronzeville or Lenox Ave, but the land of bun bao and spring rolls, there is this cat straight chillin in the back of the store. . . literally. . . a pet cat, chillin; well here, just look for yourself.

(please excuse the "noise" on the photos, my camera is broken)

excuse me?!@@#$



Friday, March 18, 2011

truth be told "they" really do love us. . .

No Vietnamese were harmed in the making of this photo.
New Negro.
A term popularized during the Harlem Renaissance, it was first used by the scholar Alain LeRoy Locke. To have used the term "New Negro"(because no one in the 21st century uses this term except these people) was to imply a more outspoken advocacy of dignity and a refusal to submit quietly to the practices and laws of Jim Crow segregation. Most Black people "up on their history" know this already. What I'm trying to figure out is, why a group of designers from Japan felt it necessary to use this term in their brand. I mean, Black people don't even say this anymore. It's 2011 ASIAN PEOPLE!!! WTF Did you miss the memo??? Black people don't dance around in top hats and black paint; Black people don't wear hip hop gear and call themselves "new negros", because there is nothing "new" about wearing hip hop attire, and no one has used the term "negro" since 1975. I admire the flattery. I appreciate the infatuation. But I find it troubling that my culture is being taken out of its context. Take for example the "New Negro" brand. I have noticed this baseball cap for a while. It adorns the shelves of two of Saigon's hip hop stores. After seeing it a second time, I had to do some research.

New Negro Group Co.  [I don't see anything "Black" or "American" about this logo.]
"We are not just a clothing company. . . Our intention is to change the mind of the person who wears our clothes [i.e. Vietnamese boys?] and everyone who sees them. [Riiiiiigght, cause Vietnamese actually know where the heck the phrase "new negro" comes from] When you wear our bold collection you are refreshing your mind to a possible new world. [Are Asian's the new Black People?] We are the Defenders of the Dream of Unity. [I assume ref. of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech] Spread the word: "Peace, Love and Respect, by showing your true color [Again, if your audience is Asian, then that color would be "yellow" not Black] . . . New Negro." Our clothing expresses the "New Mind" we feel when dressed for the New Life of Respect for Everyone.

Innocent enough, the overall angle seems to be based on positive vibes. I still have no clue if the company is run by real live Black people, or a group of Japanese staging as such, or others. Why does it matter you ask? The problem is this: When you come to America, you will NEVER find Black people participating in the commerce of goods and services that are based on another culture that is 180 degree difference from their own. If you go to Harlem, you won't find a man selling Puka shells on the street and calling it "The essence of Filipinos." When you go to Chicago you won't see Black people in China town selling whitening cream. We don't bastardize other cultures. We don't try to take hold of someone else's cultural practices and make it our own. But maybe we should? Perhaps we should start to participate in the global economy, educate ourselves on the practices and customs of other cultures and based on supply and demand take part making millions off of the needs of these foreign customers.
Korean's have it down to a science!
Shouts out to the My cousin's Martial Arts Academy!!