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First ever train ride plus I found the "key" to salvation laying on the ground at my feet!
An update on my goings on here in Vietnam
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Xin Chao from Highlands Coffee in Quang Ngai, Vietnam!
I hope you’re having a great day and feeling incredibly grateful for everything you’ve received i the past, everything you have now and everything you will receive in the future. I will expound more on this whole gratitude thing a bit later in this letter.
My Daily Life - Good Morning Vietnam!
Highlands Coffee, where my butt is currently parked for most of today, is Vietnam’s answer to a major retail coffee chain something like Starbucks but unlike Starbucks which can also be found in some of the larger cities in Vietnam, the coffee here at Highlands Coffee happens to be of excellent quality not unlike most of the coffee which can easily and readily be found here in Vietnam. Highands even has almond milk which is rather unusual and very cool for yours truly who avoids dairy but loves cream in his coffee. Fast Fact ( appropriated term from the Office Ladies podcast ): In case you didn’t know, it just so happens that Vietnam is the the second largest exporter of coffee in the entire world! Per capita, there are probably as many coffee shops in Saigon, Hanoi and Quang Ngai combined as there are on the entire face of the planet. I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch either.
Most of my days here in Quang Ngai begin with an early morning meditation practice with my fabulous girlfriend Lien Anh which we do on the rooftop of her sister’s place located approx. 25 meters directly across from our adorable treehouse ( see below ) followed by a healthy, day-starting beverage of ginger, lemon, chia seeds and apple cider vinegar followed by a bit of fresh fruit which usually consists of sliced mango, watermelon and avocado. At some point during that meal there’s the morning greeting of Lien Anh’s younger sister Phuong, Phuong’s husband Viet ( just before he heads off to work ) and their two very cute and fun children Mia who’s 4 years old and Morphle who just turned 2 years old as well as Win the housekeeper. At 8am sharp traditional Vietnamese music begins to fill the air for two straight hours as a lovely background for Lien Anh’s father’s outdoor coffee shop with all the regular characters who come daily to enjoy the relaxing garden environment with the added sounds of Ho Thu’s birds bring the entire experience together nicely. I will write more in the future about Ho Thu, Lien Anh’s father who is an incredibly talented multi-disciplinary artist specializing in sculpture.
All of this is followed by a nice long solo walk usually starting out on the nearby train tracks for a few miles in either direction before getting off the tracks and back onto the streets of some of the smaller villages in the area where I can engage with the locals and and get in some awesome opportunities to photograph people while slowly making my way back in the general direction of home. After returning home and getting a refreshing shower, I check in with the family to see what they’re up to. Typically they’re playing up in the bedroom which is shared by the entire family. It’s quite normal that all family members sleep together on large four inch deep mattresses on a tile floor. The concept of everyone sleeping together used to be rather odd to me, but now it’s pretty cozy and something I’m totally used to doing. I have indeed become part Vietnamese.
After the family check-in, I run upstairs to our sweet treehouse of a place with fantastic views of the lush, tropical garden abundant with fruit tress, exotic flowers vegetables and two ponds full of boisterous frogs and tiny fish, pack up my laptop, headphones and various power cables, throw on my helmet, jump on my motorbike and head off to Highlands Coffee located in the Vincom Center about an eight minute ride from home. This is where I typically come to beat the heat from mid to late morning till the late afternoon. Especially on super hot days which are most of them a this point. All of the staff here at Highlands are very friendly and happy to see me. Because I stick out like a sore thumb as foreigners are scarce in this area, many of the patrons, especially young children like to approach me and ask me where I’m from, what my name is and how old I am. I do use headphones so I can edit my podcast and listen to my own music, but I’m always more than happy to remove them and give of my time to anyone who wants to engage with me.
Speaking of ponds, a couple nights ago when Lien Anh and I were going back to our place from her sister’s to sleep, due to us not turning on the outside lights at our place, I misstepped and fell in the small pond next to her father’s outdoor coffee shop. I was foolishly taking a short cut to try and avoid walking through a pile of sand and slipped on some rocks then kerplunk. In the pond went my one leg up to my thigh. Luckily, I did not get seriously injured other than next day having a sore hand and arm from stopping my fall. After Lien Anh’s initial shock and concern, it was worthy of a few good belly laughs by both of us which continued up to our place and with me alone in the show upon reflection. The levity was definitely needed and appreciated by both of us. We had had a bit of a challenging morning that day, but the day had some nice surprises in store which included the long awaited delivery of a photo book I created for Lien Anh months ago for her 40th birthday which was back in April.
First ever train ride!
A few days ago, for the first time ever in my entire life, I rode the rails on a two and a half hour train ride from Quang Ngai to DaNang, Vietnam the largest beach city and one of the most frequented tourist destinations in all of Vietnam. As referred to before, I’ve been walking on the railroad tracks and taking a ton of photographs along the way as well as many shots of the train station, the trains, the people who work at the station as well as passengers boarding and getting off the train. This incredibly satisfying photo hobby of mine is exercised daily since arriving in Quang Nagi almost two months ago now. So, I’m happy to tell you that after being on this planet for sixty plus years now, I can finally say that I’ve taken a ride on one of the oldest forms of mass transportation in the world and it was a very cool experience other than battling a debilitating allergy attack. What the heck took me so long to take a ride on a train? Doesn’t really matter I suppose. I’ve had a bunch of very cool first-time experiences of all sorts since coming to this fabulous country. Yay Vietnam!
As stated above, I was on the second day of a major allergy attack with immense force to be reckoned with which was the second bout with one of that magnitude I’ve had to wrestle with in the past few months. I had my first attack a few months ago on a family trip to visit some of Lien Anh’s friends who live in the highlands of Bao Loc not too far from Dalat, Vietnam one of my other favorite spots I’ve visited in Vietnam thus far. I hadn’t had any major allergy attacks like these since maybe living in San Francisco to my recollection. Needless to say, I took some mild over-the-counter meds and was able to get a little sleep on the train ride putting my never ending sneezing attacks and watery eyes on hold for a little while. I did my best not to let my condition get in the way of my having a good time on the train as well as not wanting to negatively affect anyone else’s fun on the trip. Upon entering the train cabin, I got vivid image flashes of the Hogwarts Express seeing Harry, Ron and Hermoine eating chocolate frogs and talking about what will happen at school that year. It was cool to connect those dots after reading the book series twice as well as seeing all the movies a few times. Thank you my awesome daughter Zoë!
After arriving in DaNang, we grabbed a few taxis and headed to our hotel, Le Hoang Beach Hotel, located directly located across the street from My Khe beach which is one of the two beaches that line the shores of DaNang. We had very nice accommodations which were all arranged by Lien Anh who had previously been happily enjoying a successful travel and tourism business that she’d built from scratch before Covid came in and squashed all that. To my pleasant surprise, I ended up having a very nice room all to myself with a balcony that offered a spectacular one hundred and eighty degree view of the ocean front and all the goings on. We all went to our respective rooms, dropped off our bags then met up in the lobby before heading across the street to the beach to take some fun photos of Lien Anh and her ladies who all gotten together for this friend reunion trip. Lien Anh’s cousin Pink and best friend Dung ( Yome ) came out from Saigon to join us along with Lien Anh’s friends Nini and her husband Dui and Viet’s friend Song and his young daughter Moon who live right there in DaNang. Kitty and her husband Mr. Toung and their two young daughters Quynne and Thu who also live in Saigon stayed with us in Quang Ngai for a night the day before the trip. It was quite a lively crowd of fun people having a great time traveling around, eating fun food and enjoying each others company.
After playing and taking photographs for about an hour at the beach, we headed back to the hotel, took power naps then went out for dinner. We rented some motorbikes which were conveniently waiting for us downstairs in front of the hotel and headed to a place Lien Anh and I had eaten at twice previously when we enjoyed a two night stay in DaNang for her 39th birthday last April. After a very good dinner of various seafood delights, we all jumped back on our motorbikes and headed for the Dragon Bridge to witness fire coming out of the dragon’s mouth. However, we ended up at the wrong end of the bridge and only saw the fire from a distance which lasted about thirty seconds. DOH! After hanging out and chatting for a bit at a nearby parking lot on the riverfront we again took off on our motorbikes and went and had some amazing homemade ice cream served in hallowed out coconut shells at a street side place run by a friend of Viet’s before finally ending our evening and going back to the hotel. On our way back to the hotel, a fellow motorbike rider warned us of a police checkpoint nearby. My motorbike had a headlight out, so as to not have to deal with the local police and potential fines, we took a longer route back to the hotel.
The next morning, Lien Anh, her cousin Pink and her bestie friend Dung headed to the beach for an early morning swim. They invited me to join them, but I wanted more sleep after a long day of dealing with my allergy stuff. After they returned, Lien Anh gently woke me up and thoughtfully recommended that I take advantage of the quiet beach and decent waves and get in some swimming and potential body surfing. I had had a feeling ( and maybe Lien Anh did as well ) that some time in the salty, ocean water might help with my allergy symptoms and I and or we were right. After my forty-five minutes in the warm, healing and cleansing salt water looking for the perfect waves to ride and getting in one decent ride, all my symptoms subsided and eventually stopped. YAY!!! After I got back from some swimming, we had a nice buffet breakfast on the third floot of the hotel with some of the other people in our party then got everyone together and prepared to head for one of the most colorfully fun and culturally rich cities in all of Vietnam, Hoi An.
Hoi An is a mere forty five minute automobile ride from DaNang and from my one previous experience in this storybooks city the previous year with Lien Anh, I already knew that I would be guaranteed fantastic visuals to capture. For Lien Anh’s thirty ninth birthday last April, she and I met in DaNang and took a car the second day to Hoi An as part of a fun-filled three day trip which was our one and only time traveling alone together up to that point and ever since. Hoi An is a dreamy, surreal environment that looks like an ornate movie set with all the brightly yellow colored buildings and multi-colored lanterns that adorn this once bustling travel destination now struggling with a sagging economy due to a slow return to the international tourism enjoyed in previous years. It was a super hot day, but we had fun walking the streets, looking into the very cool shops, taking a lot of photos and having a very nice lunch together. Hoi An is by far one of my favorite spots to take photos with all the heavily saturated color, traditional costumes and interesting people both working in the area and visiting. Hoi An is the perfect place to photograph people walking, riding bicycles and taking rickshaw rides in their traditional ao dai ( ow zy ) dresses and conical hats ( also referred to as rice hat or farmer’s hat ). So much fun for me!
We ended the day at a beach resort where most of us went swimming in the ocean and pool before having a nice closing meal together and saying goodbye to everyone who went their separate ways. Lien Anh, Phuong, Viet, Mia and Morphle enjoyed a seemingly very fast two hour car ride back to Quang Ngai. It was a super fun time with some very cool people who are now a part of my experience. Dui, Nini’s husband who spoke perfect English like he was born in California will potentially be a guest on an upcoming C44 Show and talk about this and that. Dui is the first Vietnamese person I’ve met who not only knew about Seinfeld, but is a fan and quoted the show! That will be a fun conversation I’m sure. That’s pretty much it for the trip to DaNang and Hoi An. I plan on taking more train trips in the future as it’s easy and way cheaper than flying if one has the time. Below are a few selected photos from the trip.
I found the "key" to salvation laying on the ground at my feet!
Let me start by saying emphatically that I am eternally grateful for everything I’ve received in the past, what I have now and whatever is ahead for me whether it be deemed good, bad or indifferent as I equate all of it to events and experiences necessary for me to develop myself as a human being. A constant WIP ( work-in-progress ) and invaluable opportunity to contemplate and reflect. As far as the material things I receive like money which is far more than most I’m sure, I realize that I’m being well taken care of by the unknowable and will most likely never starve or become homeless. No, I do not currently have a traditional job like most of the rest of the world in order to survive and many people including members of my own family look upon my lifestyle with disapproval as irresponsible and selfish.
I understand their opinions which are like assholes as everyone has one. However, I cannot nor will not try to appease or convince those who disapprove of my lifestyle choices and will continue to live my life on my terms and contribute to the world in any way that I can. And although I do not have a job that could be viewed as a reasonable way to sustain myself, I feel that I do may part every day to brighten some other person’s day by just being my authentic, friendly and kind self while giving big love to everyone who comes in contact with me. I believe that I am doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in the face of a world that has been programmed to think in ways that keeps most people from being truly happy or fulfilled. The longer I do not have a job that requires my precious time, the more I realize how valuable my time really is and that there is no price one can put on the indescribable experiences I’m having and the value and rewards they bring not only for me, but for those around me.
That said, I was on one of my daily walks a few afternoons ago and scanning the ground as I do when I caught sight of a gold colored key laying on the ground before me. I bent down and picked it up as I do with many unusual objects that appear interesting or noteworthy to me. The key was pretty well worn and looked like a key to perhaps a door to a home that was potentially near by. I picked it up and examined it. There were two letters on the head of the key which were a capital T and a Y next t each other with what looked like two Chinese characters on the reverse side. I instantly knew what that meant ( to me ). Over the past several days, I’d been editing my next C44 podcast episode #107 with long time friend and former show producer Rich Rees. Rich and I had had a conversation two weeks prior about gratitude being the key to true happiness and contentedness and that this simple thing may be the one thing that was missing from his life in order for him to find lasting peace and the self love we all need and deserve. At that time, I had recommended that he read Conversations With God by Ashland, Oregon resident Neil Donald Walsh as this book completely transformed my life and served as the primary source information I needed to hear, feel and see in order to be where I wanted to be.
Last week Rich and I recorded C44 Show #107. Rich will have been a guest on the show four times now. I spoke with great passion to Rich about my being given this profoundly life changing book Conversations With God and how reading the first thirty pages about gratitude unquestionably changed my life forever. This was twenty years ago. I recommended this book to Rich in that previous conversation we had and he told me that he was now reading the book, was about thirty pages in and he too was being deeply and profoundly affected by the words he was reading. I can only hope that this is the magic bullet that gives Rich the spiritual sustenance he needs to carry him through the rest of his life as I feel it has done for me.
Conversation With God Links
Citizen44 with Mark Arinsberg is a listener supported presentation. Thanks so much for listening and being a part of the experience. Coming up next is C44 Episode#108 with Adrian Wilson. A wild and crazy guy for sure. This may have to be a two parter.