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My blog is many things, but useful it is not.  Nothing makes this more clear than visiting that nifty WordPress stats page to figure out how in the hell people came across this little corner of the internet. Mostly by accident apparently, while in search of other, very different things than what Hanoi is doing to Sarah. I’ll present here a quick overview of the wanderers who have gotten caught up in my interweb lately, mostly to be left disappointed by my lack of answers for their internet queries.  When I can, I’ll try to answer some of these questions or to offer useful advice for once.

Vietnam/Hanoi category:  Naturally.

  • “finding America girl living in Hanoi” – Try stalking the embassy, the American Club, and/or your friendly neighborhood expat bar/restaurant. We’re not hard to find.
  •  “vietnam burning shop cleaning” – Is the shop burning or Vietnam?  Someone should get on that.
  • “talktome Vietnamese” – Wish I could.
  • “freaky shit in Hanoi” – Hanoi’s so weird, even its shit is freaky.
  • “happy pizza hanoi” – Those emotional food items.  This is a reference to pizza with marijuana baked into it.  As far as I know, dear internet searcher, this is a Phnom Penh thing.  Am I wrong?
  • “how to say takeaway in Vietnamese” – It took me a long time to figure this one out too. It’s “mang về”.
  • “Hanoi my love” –  Awwww….

 

Travel/expat category: I wrote one entry about Vang Vieng, Laos, and wow, it gets a lot of traffic.  Funny that it’s not exactly a glowing review of the place, but I suppose it offers enough details to confirm its awesomeness or abhorrence in the readers’ minds. So, aside from backpacking in Vang Vieng:

  • “expats are weird” – And how!
  • “Hanoi language barrier” – Is alive and well. Learn this phrase: Không hiểu.
  • “where to eat thanksgiving Hanoi” – Oooh ooh, useful advice: dinner at Green Mango (18 Hàng Quạt) and maybe the Press Club (too fancy for my bones). Also, you can get a fully cooked turkey at The Oasis (24 Xuan Dieu).  Side note: “Turkey” in Vietnamese is “gà tây” or “Western chicken.”
  • “expat salaries in Hanoi” – Considering the cost of living – pretty pretty pretty good.
  • “vang vieng parasites” – Ew.
  • “massa massage Vientiane” – Which one do you prefer?

Sex(pat) category:  I must say, this site must be especially disappointing for people of the sexpat variety.   Well, yes ok, I’ve attended happy ending massage places and brothels myself, but always by accident!  Really!

  • “massage Hanoi happy ending”
  • “massage with prostitution in Hanoi”
  • “brothels in dalat Vietnam”
  • “girls hanoi full service massage addresses”
  • “sex movie for vieng”
  • “tall creepy guy in vang vieng” – Miscategorized?
  • “thats what she said Vietnamese” – Is there a Vietnamese version of The Office these days?  There most certainly should be.  Rife with fruit snack breaks, computer naps, youtubeathons, overtime and underpayment.

Use a condom, massa seekers

 

Sex subcategory: tied up and gagged: Note to self – Be more careful in how you title your posts.  People in search of the tied up and gagged genre are not interested in your fumbling attempts at teaching children.

  • “girls tied up and gagged” – Oh no, what happened?  Scary!
  • “angry girls tied up” – Well, I’d think they would be.
  • “babysitter tied up and gagged” – Darned kids.
  • “advice tied up gagged ask”  – Seems like it might be hard to ask for advice while gagged.
  • “americangirlstiedup” – Oh, now it’s getting personal….
  •  “gagged Vietnamese” – And I guess a little more relevant to the blog.
  • “kid tied up and gagged “- Ummm…creepy to the nth degree. Let’s move on, shall we?

Animal category: Mostly turkeys, with some fish and cats thrown in for good measure.

  •  “how to draw a turkey” – Take hand, add pencil.
  • “how to draw an angry turkey”- Add furrowed brow.  Getting specific, that’s good.
  • “a turkey with a gun to its back and holding a sign drawn colored pictures” – Very specific.
  • “angry turkey sounds” – GOBCHCHCIEKDKKDWW!!!
  • “fish on bicycle”- Fish can’t ride bicycles, sillypants.
  • “i can barely take care of my cat, should i have children” – No.

Kids, harder to take care of than cats.

Perhaps try a mini-dog instead

Sarah category

  • “sarah eats Hanoi” – That’s why she is so bloated.
  • “sarah’s place Hanoi” – And we’re back to creepy.

Random category

  • “iceland hot pools gay cruising” – Yes, please.
  • “hangover burf” – What’s a burf?  Let’s hope it wasn’t supposed to say barf.
  • “beaten businessman in bar fight” – Well, fights are not fun, but I hope he at least worked on Wall Street.
  • “Burning shorts” – For the short-less ancestors.
  • “dang zombies shirt” –Who doesn’t like zombie shirts?
  • “hedonism irresponsible party” – Is there such a thing as responsible hedonism?
  •  “no you run and it’s gone wild” – Haiku?
  • “naked sport bicycle” – Sounds itchy.
  • “never trust someone who eats at their desk” – Noted.  I will eye my coworkers suspiciously from now on.
  • “right. you cant see it for yourself because youre so fat, and because it is curled so tight. i dare say you could play with it, like kitty, when you were a pup, but it must be a long time now since youve” – I’m very confused.

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I recently sent the link to this blog to a Vietnamese friend of mine, Huong.  We started hanging out about 6 months ago, and in that time I’ve grown to heart her oh so much. She’s amaaaaazing, and even though we haven’t known each other too long, I consider her to be a close friend, the near and dear kind.  Despite this, I was somewhat reluctant to inform her of this internet alter ego.  The blog is public and everything, it’s no secret.  It’s just that, when I began writing it, I was writing it with the mind that only my friends and my future self would read it. It took a long time before I even told my parents about it, still feeling like a teenager who could get caught doing something naughty.

I took it for granted that my friends and future self know and love me and would most certainly give me the benefit of the doubt if and when I write things that seem naïve, thoughtless, or downright idiotic.  (Although future Sarah is not always so kind to past Sarah, often embarrassed by her).  Also, they already “get” me, so my sense of humor would be easy to interpret, and I wouldn’t have to incessantly write “Just kidding!” to inform them that I was making a hapless attempt at being funny and/or sarcastic, and no, I don’t actually believe the bizarre thing I just wrote.   That seems to be the tactic employed by this South African sign holder, who felt the need to qualify his sign with “sense of humor” in order to prevent his countrymen from rioting against those darn kidnappy American ninjas.

Taken in Johannesburg by Lanette! (http://backinjoyburg.blogspot.com)

This vague set of people also hold most of the same general assumptions as I, and therefore, I do not need to explain myself all that well; I can make half-assed, lazy assertions and they will accurately fill in the blanks to understand what I meant.  Once I began to learn that a few strangers were also reading my blog, I thought it was exciting, and I didn’t immediately adjust my style of writing.  I reasoned that well, ok, they’re not my friends, but the fact that they’re reading my writing at all means that they must be exactly like my friends, so yay!  But of course, that was a silly thing to assume, wasn’t it?  Yes, Sarah, it was.  Perhaps you should be careful about what and how you write and explain yourself for Jebus’ sake. And maybe refrain from writing to yourself. Righto.

This is something to take into consideration any time you write online, particularly when you make no effort to hide your identity.  But writing about living in a foreign country – especially one with a history and culture very unlike your own – can be a recipe for disaster.   When you add a tendency towards flippancy like mine, you significantly increase the odds of writing something that can be interpreted as stupid at best and offensive or racist at worst. I’m a statistician, kind of, I would know. P-value = like, 0.000001. (Nerdy sense of humor)

It has only rarely crossed my mind that Vietnamese people would read my writing. A mixture of language barriers, the blog’s insignificance, and just lack of interest are sufficient enough obstacles by and large. Had I imagined a Vietnamese audience, I would’ve written in quite a different manner, if not consciously, then subconsciously at least. And I know I still would’ve fucked up sometimes.  That said, when I sent the link to Huong, I felt the need to include a long, self-conscious list of caveats and explanations.  I wrote the following in response to her saying that she was excited to see what I think of Vietnam:

One thing I’ve worried about with any reader, but especially Vietnamese readers, is that some of my sense of humor will not get through. At times I’m being sarcastic, so I actually write the opposite of how I feel. For example, I once wrote something like, “Vietnam Women’s Day doesn’t have anything to do with women’s empowerment or any such nonsense.”  It may sound like I think women’s empowerment is “nonsense”, but actually, improving women’s position in society and women’s lives is one of the things I care about the most.  It concerns me that women in Vietnam are still treated/viewed as inferior to men in many ways, although I recognize that this still happens in Western countries as well and that there are many empowered, independent women in Vietnam.  But instead of going into all of that, I chose to write some short, snarky statements and move on.  Basically, I want it to keep it light-hearted, but often these issues come through anyway (somewhat inappropriately).  

I ended the email with a statement like, “Sorry if I’ve written anything stupid about Vietnam,” knowing well that I have.  She was probably thinking to herself, “Sheesh Sarah, chill the fuck out already.”  It was overkill since she does fall firmly into the friend category. Plus, she works and hangs out with a lot of foreigners and therefore knows our clueless ways.  But to her I say, read this story about Tabitha’s experiences writing for a Vietnamese website.  Somehow a seemingly benign column about the travails of being a vegetarian in Hanoi elicited a maelstrom of negative reactions from Vietnamese readers.  While I don’t fully understand what happened in that case, I can easily see how it would happen due to the differences in cultural assumptions, ways of thinking/expressing oneself, etc.  Also there’s the fact that: a) we expats have no fucking idea what’s going on most of the time; b) we still have an opinion about it because we have opinions about everything; and c) too often those opinions run along the lines of, “Vietnam, you are doing it wrong. In my country…huff huff huff.”  And then in a full-circle response, expats turn on each other and assert, “No fellow expat, you’re doing it wrong…huff huff huff.”

No stupid foreigner! It's a mosquito net, not a kitty cat net.

So, it can be quite tricky writing about a culture/country not your own.  It’s only natural that we latch onto and discuss the differences between our homeland and Vietnam. When people back home ask me about Vietnam, they want to know how it’s different, not the same.  If I only wrote about how Vietnam and the US are similar, it’d be rather boring (Did you know that Vietnamese people eat and sleep and go to work?!  They fall in love and get married and have babies!!  They like Michael Jackson, Tom and Jerry, and Mr. Bean, too!)  But to some, simply pointing out differences is interpreted as criticism.  For example, if you point out that most Vietnamese people drive motorbikes whereas most Americans drive cars, people may assume that you’re making fun of how poor Vietnamese people are because most cannot afford cars. Which would be an asshole move, but it’s unlikely that’s what was meant. Acknowledging difference does not necessarily imply that something is better or worse.

I know what you’re thinking, though. “Sarah, sometimes people point out differences, and they really are making a judgment.”  Fair enough.  This is where it gets slippery.  Unless you’re a robot, chances are that you’re going to see or learn things about Vietnam that are unpleasant or that you disagree with or disapprove of.  Should you just chalk it up to cultural differences, shut your mouth, and move on?  Or state your opinion, even if it’s not 100% informed?  To give an example: It’s always very difficult for me when people talk seriously about visiting fortune tellers and planning their lives around superstitions.  Do I just nod my head and say, “Very interesting,” or should I say, “You know that’s a load of bunny poop, right?  You shouldn’t waste your money on these scam artists.” (Albeit in politer terms).  I do not doubt for a second that I would believe differently had I grown up in Vietnam, but that doesn’t change the fact that people cannot see into the future, read your fate, or talk to dead people. They just can’t. I wish they could as it would be a really awesome superpower. But seeing that they can’t, it frustrates the hell out of me that people are taken advantage of in this way, particularly people who don’t have a lot of money to throw around.  Is it disrespectful of me to point this out?  I wouldn’t hesitate to point it out to people doing the exact same thing in America.  (And they do.)

It’s one of those things that I think is always going to be hard to navigate. It goes without saying that we foreigners should take care to try to be respectful in these conversations.  We should attempt to take into account not only what the differences are but why they are that way.  This doesn’t mean that you must agree with the Vietnamese way of thinking or behaving, but perhaps just make a greater effort to understand it.  It’d be nice if that was returned in kind (i.e., efforts were made to be open-minded to our crazy Tay ways).  Few people do this well, and I admit that I’m not one of them.   As alluded to above, this blog isn’t really geared towards that.  This entry is the most earnest I’ve written in a while.  And earnestness is good at times, but not very fun, right?  (Aside from the ninja sign and floating cat, you’ve probably smiled zero times reading this.) I write about serious, often heartbreaking issues for work everyday. HIV, malnutrition, and cancer = buzzkill.  Outside of work, I prefer to use the remaining scraps of my brainpower only to scavenge for food and entertainment.  Which of course leaves me a little stumped on how to continue.  The best I can do is to keep on my clumsy way, trying to be honest without  being an asshole.  Poking fun at both myself and my present surroundings in a way that isn’t mean-spirited. And I know I’ll fail sometimes because that’s what I do, but I hope that at least it’s entertaining to watch me do so!

Political correctness in Vietnam

 

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Emotiblogging

I’m over it now, but a couple of weeks ago, I had a strong urge to break my number one blogging rule – never emote and blog.  I suppose I do indulge in some emotiblogging of a sort from time to time – some emotional outpours seem more internet-appropriate than others.   Those falling under the category of “romance or lack thereof” are immediately vetoed for obvious reasons…emotions are at an extreme and unmanageable level often altering one’s judgment and sense of reality, and then there’s other people’s privacy to consider as well.  The latter makes blogging about my friends or friendly relations in too much depth off limits too.  Then there’s the murkier ground of confessing to certain insecurities or difficulties that are solely personal in nature.  I tend to put that stuff into the more cautionary zone…you may write but only very carefully.  At least 3 proofreads are in order.  My #1 blogging rule seems logical and easy enough to adhere to, so why the impulse to chuck it the second I’m experiencing any kind of emotional strife?  I get plenty of venting done with my poor, bored-by-now friends and my endlessly generous sister.  I do think I vent better in writing as I can neatly arrange and tally my list of complaints so that they form a coherent picture of both the causes and effects of my unhappiness.  It makes it all seem more manageable.  Speaking about such things can at times render me autistic for some reason.  That doesn’t explain the need to broadcast my bullshit on the internet, though.  People do this all the time and I usually mock them for it.  I actually had a rather fun time recently berating a girl who laid it all bare on her website, having a virtual temper tantrum for strangers like me to read and laugh at.  I’m not completely insensitive, but we often are pretty ridiculous and melodramatic when we’re hurt.  Once you’ve been properly distanced from it, it can be hilarious how seriously we take everything.  So, why do we do it?  Are we crying for help?  Are we emotionally stunted animals who turn to machines rather than real people to make a connection?  It’s maddeningly one-sided.  I have little idea who reads this and if they’re actually relating to it or not.  Or is it just another product of our self-absorption?  We like talking about ourselves, and our dramas seem to be of utmost importance (and they really are in our worlds), so what’s more appropriate than making a record of it and sharing this important news with others – yes, even strangers should know about the gravity of my love and the loss to the world now that it’s gone…sigh.  Perhaps all of the above.  I like it all, though.  It’s nice peering into people’s thoughts a bit and letting them catch a glimpse of mine.

That being said, I now have an irresistible urge to do some mild emotiblogging myself.  Heh.  Although today it’s hard to remember what I was feeling so negative about before.  The sun made an appearance (it’s been elusive as of late), prompting me to bike to a café in Hanoi called Love Chocolate Café.  They take their chocolate-lovin’ seriously.  I ordered a drink that looks like it came from some romantic, cupid-filled fairy Cinderella land.  It has heart-shaped ice made from frozen coffee for God’s sake.   The waitress is wearing an apron and a flowery headband and she’s smiling too much at me.  She’s smiling too much in general.  It’s making me uncomfortable.  She’s cute really.  Maybe it’s the apron.  Back to reality: yes, I was going to write about my tendency toward slumps.  Slumporama.  I generally experience these states of vague bored dissatisfaction more than I should. Do I simply need a hobby?  Would this end if I took a cooking class? A shift in schedule? Prozac? For fuck’s sake, my life isn’t that fucking difficult.  It’s rather easy.  Too easy?  I’ve been entertaining life-is-meaningless thoughts more than usual lately, but that’s not to be mistaken for a bad or even dramatic thing.  It’s quite liberating in a way.  It means you can’t fuck up, right?  Not quite, but sort of.  This line of thought isn’t going anywhere, and I’m wondering why I even began it (for answers, read above paragraph), so I’ll end it now with this quote I’m snagging from another blog I ran across.  Snaggety snag:

“Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”  Robertson Davies.

Go pluck some treasures people.

 

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Introduction

This is my first attempt at a proper blog. Proper meaning that the writing will primarily be my own as opposed to reposts of others’ work as I’ve leaned towards in the past.  Thing is, I’m used to journaling and have been chronicling my life and thoughts somewhat regularly since puberty, but I’m not 100% comfortable making these ramblings public (if I let you read my 13 yr old writings, you’d understand why). It has an air of self-importance but more importantly, it’s a privacy issue. I would occasionally wander into this territory on myspace, where I’d get emotional and write something personal.  It would generally stay up a day or two before I would realize what I’d done and promptly remove the post.  That may happen here, but I’ll do my best to be open and genuine without crossing my own boundaries.  Most of all, I want to stay connected to the people important to me who are thousands of miles away right now, so that’s what this is about. I miss you all dearly. Or maybe I’m just vain! My life deserves internet attention!  Enjoy.

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