Hitting the reset button – on your career

My new office! An exercise ball and an ironing board.

By Harry Hodge

So reinvention is nothing new for me. I’ve changed jobs more times than people change hairstyles. But it’s taken me a long time for me to get to a point in my life where I can (somewhat) dictate the where and how of my livelihood(s).

Today is the first day of one of my new jobs – as well as a new way for me to do things. Working from home.

Spurred on by my brother-in-law (who lives at the building across from mine) boasting about how he enjoys working from home, and becoming increasingly disenchanted with spending two hours + each day getting to work in Saigon’s notorious traffic, I jumped at the chance to try working from home. My new employer, a start-up based in Hanoi that uses innovation as its hallmark, was cool with me working remotely, bar the odd appearance I’ll be expected to make in person. This includes my upcoming training/meeting colleagues in the capital next week, as well as when the new Saigon office eventually opens.

I’ll also be teaching at a university in my district; lecturing at a college or university has been a goal of mine for some time. It also means I’ll have to spend a few hours of each day on the picturesque campus, so I’ll still have the in-person interactions all extroverts crave.

My new view! (from my bedroom)

The Office Grind

Artificial light. Recycled air. Needing a reason to get up from your desk and go somewhere. These are all things that I feel companies in the 21st century will start to recognize as, in fact, counterproductive. Of course, there are arguments for both sides of this topic.

For: https://www.themuse.com/advice/10-reasons-working-remotely-is-even-better-than-you-thought-it-was

Against: https://www.score.org/blog/working-remotely-bad-your-productivity-heres-why

You can find opinions either way. Even now, as I type this, Granny is playing with the kids to keep them from disturbing me. But she’ll soon be back in the village. And the children will be at daycare.

The main thing that articles I’ve read which argue against working remotely is that it can be socially isolating. This is one of the main reasons why I want to have the university gig, not only to get out every day, but to see people. It’s also another revenue stream.

Trying to distract Daddy.

Distractions

My main distraction at the moment is my children, since daycare is not back in session and it’s me and Granny watching them. She’s been good to cover them, but there are times when both adults are needed. I reckon we will have a family trip to Vungtau this weekend, then I go to Hanoi to train with my new company. And the university position will entail training and in-class work soon thereafter.

My motivation was to have two positions, and if one proves to be too much, unload the other. Right now I’m still getting my feet wet, but having not had to do that Hellacious drive to the airport in the morning, I’m already ahead of the game.

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Year of the Dog will bring changes galore

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One of my new gigs: English lecturer at Ton Duc Thang University in District 7, Saigon!

By Harry Hodge

So I quit my job. But I got two more.

My son will start daycare. My mother-in-law will move out.

We’re going to take the kids to Canada later in the year.

The Year of the Dog is going to be full of big changes for me. Some people don’t do well with change, but I feel like this is a set of new possibilities that I’m comfortable with.

Leaving a workplace behind

This is actually kind of old hat for me; I’ve done it several times in several places. I worked for one company that had to walk me out of the building on two separate occasions (Metro, in Edmonton and Toronto) as well as a school where they handed me flowers in the auditorium and a couple thousand students waved goodbye (Korean International School, here in Saigon). I’ve had jobs  that ended on cordial terms and others that were like I rolled a grenade through the office. It’s not often that these things end well.

In the case of my previous workplace, I’d been there for more than three years and probably could  have carried in my former role. Sitting on the knowledge for a couple of days was, frankly, kind of gut-wrenching, but I knew these new roles would be the best move not only for myself, but my family.

A variety of factors dictated my departure, including: 1. Money. I’m going from one position that was decent, paywise, to two, without necessarily increasing my work hours. 2. Variety: One is a writing position that I can do remotely, meaning in my case from home (with the occasional in-person appearance). The other is lecturing at a university in my part of town – which I think never looks bad on a CV. But the proximity to home leads me to – 3. Not having to drive anymore. Anyone who’s a Facebook friend knows my posts are generally (A) my kids and (B) Saigon traffic. It’s brutal.

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Saigon traffic.

Seriously. I do believe that driving from my home to the airport, and back, every day in smog and just generally lousy conditions was having an adverse effect on my health. I feel like if I’m based in my neighbourhood (and primarily working from home) and making my own hours, for the writing job at least, then I can restore a more healthy work/life balance.

It’s not just about money

Another consideration is the imminent departure of my mother-in-law. Granny has been with us since my daughter Cherry’s arrival, and her leaving is something that was bound to happen sooner or later. A more lovely woman you’ll never find — very sweet and utterly devoted to her grandchildren, even when they drove her nuts. I’ll be taking on a lot more daddy duty with her gone, but at least if I’m based near home I can pick up the kids after daycare (which my son will have to join) and other considerations. Regardless, we will all greatly miss Granny. Con yeu Me nhieu!

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Granny will be dearly missed when she departs in March.

Last – we will take the kids to… Canada for a visit! The passports are getting processed. Look for us in autumn! Year of the Dog will be a big one!

 

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Heat gift-wrap Tet treat in overtime win

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SAIGON HEAT

 

By Harry Hodge

Down by one with under 20 seconds left in the game. Vietnamese national team member To Quang Trung heads to the free throw line.

Regional starter Moses Morgan fouled out with just over three minutes left in the game. Former UMass star Maxie Esho also bowed out, on a questionable call that brought down a shower of boos.

Swish. The game is tied 103-103. Overtime is next.

Vietnamese-American star Horace Nguyen comes up big. Local player Le Ngoc Tu is pressed into action as well. And the Saigon Heat do the unthinkable, using a makeshift, undersized lineup to down the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) champions 118-115 in a watershed moment for basketball in this country.

The Heat saw three players foul out, while the visiting Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions lost one of their own. Refereeing is tough, but calling more than 50 fouls between the two teams is sure to raise eyebrows throughout the region. Fighting through a stout Hong Kong lineup time and again was Saigon’s Akeem Scott, who played lights out basketball with 38 points and six steals. Esho had 27 points, while Michael Williams had 23 and Moses Morgan chipped in an impressive 17, after going scoreless in the first half.

“I just went out there and did my job,” said Nguyen, in his finest game in a Heat uniform. He played the ultimate utility man, with more than 28 minutes of tough defending, mostly in foul trouble. He also hit a crucial three-pointer in overtime and was often matched up against much larger opponents, including Hong Kong’s regional star Christian Strandhardinger in the extra frame.

“The Vietnamese players came up big, it was a total team win,” he said.

Strandhardinger was a force for Hong Kong, with 31 points and 18 rebounds. League stalwart Marcus Elliott had a double-double as well, with 29 points and 10 rebounds.

Scott had been a one-man show in the Heat’s three-game losing streak, with shooting running cold for players like Michael Williams and David Arnold. But Arnold turned in a classic performance in overtime, with the longest-serving player in team history turning in key rebounds and some clutch shooting of his own.

“The (domestic players) were great,” Arnold said amidst a throng of well-wishers after the game. “We fouled out three guys.

“We were playing desperate. Sometimes when you play desperate, you play better.”

The crucial home win will be the last one for the month, as the Heat reach the midseason mark at 5-5, the first time at .500 at this point in any season the team has played. Canadian coach Kyle Julius has seen plenty of ups and downs in his first season with the team, often with fans calling for more involvement from local players.

For many Vietnamese fans, this will provide some vindication. With the game on the line, names like Nguyen, Le and To were on the floor against the best players in Southeast Asia. Emerging victorious was icing on the cake, sending fans home with a Tet gift a couple of weeks early.

 

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Everybody was Kung Fu fighting as Heat win thriller

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SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge

A sold-out crowd, roaring at the top of their lungs. Numerous lead changes in the final quarter. A last-minute steal and bucket to ice the win.

The Saigon Heat and China’s Chong Son Kung Fu put on an epic match before a full house in Ho Chi Minh City Saturday night, and the home fans left with huge smiles on their faces following a 96-93 win in ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) action.

American Akeem Scott made a crucial steal with under 20 seconds to play and converted the turnover with a clutch layup, leaving the Kung Fu squad scrambling but unable to tie it up as time ran out. Scott collapsed at game’s end and was swarmed by teammates as fans and media flooded the floor, in one of the most dramatic home wins in the history of the Heat.

Fellow American Maxie Esho deserves credit for the game even being within reach, putting in a virtuoso performance in his first home game. Notching a double-double with 35 points and 12 rebounds, Esho was electric whenever he touched the ball, hitting long jumpers, reverse layups and thunderous dunks throughout the final quarter.

“Coach (Kyle Julius) has done a good job making it easy for me (to fit in),” Esho said in the post-game swarm, saying his first game experience was “really good” before sprinting for the locker room.

Esho was complemented by teammate Michael Williams’ 24 points. David Arnold, recently granted local player status owing to his Vietnamese lineage, chipped in 11 , including some clutch shooting to keep the game within reach. Regional signing Caelan Tiongson talked a lot of smack but backed it up for Chong Son, leading his squad with 23 points and scoring in a variety of fashions. Kung Fu’s Anthony Tucker had the smoothest shot of anyone on the floor, bewildering the Saigon faithful with three three-point bombs in the first half. He finished with 22 points, while ABL journeyman and former Heat big Justin Howard had 22.

The Kung Fu squad led early on, leading throughout the first half. Howard, Tucker, Tiongson and regional signing Mike McKinney took turns amping it up for the Chinese side in their first season in the league, keeping the Heat on their heels.

If there was a fly in the ointment for the Heat, it would be the local talent had little impact in the contest. To be fair, Chong Son also maximized the minutes for their imports and regional players. But as far as entertainment value goes, this may have been one of the most exciting home games in the ABL’s sixth season in Vietnam.

“We wanted it more,” said Swedish-Vietnamese sniper Stefan Nguyen, who logged substantial minutes and was a playmaking force throughout the first half. “No team in the league outworks us.

“Basically we ran them out of our house.”

After a late start to the season and a revolving door on their roster, the Heat are set to get Vietnamese basketball fans fired up all the way to the Tet holidays, with three more home games in the next three weeks. Check the league website or visit the Saigon Heat Facebook page for more information.

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The Heat Is On – Word Vietnam 2018

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New coach. New players. New season for the Saigon Heat. Words Harry Hodge

After three seasons of making the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) playoffs but failing to go beyond the first round, the Saigon Heat may be poised for a breakout season.

Out with the old, in with the new. Gone are former bench boss Tony Garbelotto, star player Lenny Daniel, former league MVP Christien Charles and many of the team’s domestic players from last season. In come Canadian coach Kyle Julius, import players Travele Jones and Akeem Scott, and numerous call-ups from Vietnam’s domestic VBA. And after their first two home games of the season, it looks like it may all come up roses.

The home opener against Daniel and his new team, the Formosa Dreamers, was going well until the team fizzled out in the fourth quarter and dropped an 80-75 decision. While it was an entertaining affair, Julius acknowledged the season had started with the team behind the eight-ball.

“Some of the stuff that went well for us during the game was the simple fact that I was able to experience some the ABL character and culture that I was not able to prepare for,” Julius said. “Things like officiating and the way the Saigon Heat is viewed and treated will now allow me to better prepare the team moving forward.

“We only dressed seven players and that was our first real competition after having a short handed training camp so now I have a better feel for the entire process.”

“I don’t think we competed the way I wanted to for 40 minutes so that was disappointing. However, fatigue and lack of substitutions attributed to fatigue and a lower battle level than we had hoped for”

Their next game was against Thailand’s Mono Vampire, and it was a statement victory as the Heat unleashed an array of three-pointers, making a league record in the process.

“The first win is good because I was hard on the guys,” Julius said. “We worked hard I constantly challenged them and pushed them. We didn’t skip any steps and they responded.

“I’m happy for the guys. There were no adjustments made. We just did the same stuff much better.”

Julius said it’s important for the team to improve and continue to work with that same energy daily.
“We are officially two months behind the rest of the league,” Julius said. “Every other team has had exhibition games and much longer preparation.

“As a result we need time to continue to get better.”

For info on the next Heat home game, check out their website or visit their Facebook page.

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2017 – a year of accomplishments or unrealized potential?

Every year is a series of checks and balances. I used to sit back around this time every year and weigh up whether it was “good” or not, in terms of career success, relationships, health or sporting achievements and the like. When you have two little kids running around, just getting to write down what happened feels like an enormous accomplishment. So I felt like jotting down some thoughts as the New Year looms.

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The bad, the good and the ugly (or not-so-ugly)

Let’s start with the bad, regardless of what people think. I consider myself generally an optimist, so I’d like to think this section will be shorter than it might be for some people. I think the bad stuff, my friends already know. Our company has moved to a new part of town, and this has added to my endless commuting. I thought I had a couple of decent opportunities slip through my fingers. One I can recognize what I did wrong, one I feel I really hit it out of the park but didn’t get the result I wanted. Like hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and losing in extra innings. Some things just weren’t meant to be, at least at this moment.

Old me might have dwelled on what could have been, but I really do feel like moving to Vietnam has brought me hustle I never had in Canada. While I had a couple of things fall through I’d been hoping for, I had some other things offered to me that, in hindsight, were right to turn down. There were a couple of periods where health concerns for my family, some land deals we looked into, and some personal projects that were either shelved or pushed back. But I didn’t bust my face in a motorbike crash this year, so there’s always the plus side.

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The pretty decent

If I was annoyingly cryptic in the bad part, I can be highly specific in the good. My kids are coming along happy and healthy, although my wife and I are still getting our heads around this parenting thing. Our in-laws have been beyond helpful and made a number of things possible for us, like saving enough money to buy more land. This seems to be the gamble I’m banking on for the time being, having missed the cryptocurrency boat. But overall we feel pretty good that these purchases have been good strategic buys.

I’m due to have a new basketball book out in the New Year, which will be a personal achievement for me, whether it’s lucrative or not. Since I was in high school I’ve wanted to have my name on the cover of a sports book, and being in Vietnam covering the Saigon Heat since 2012 has made that possible. Producing comics and a couple of ebooks along the way has opened my eyes to the reality riches do not await all writers, and that the backing of a strong marketing department is probably the only way I’ll get my voice heard over the thousands of indie writers out there. Watch this space.

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The (not-so) ugly

A lot of the things that were really brutal this year happened back home in Canada more than here. At some point, we’re going to return to Canada and give the children a chance to spend more time with the grandparents. The accelerated decline of the news media has only reaffirmed that being pushed out in 2010’s wave of cuts was probably a blessing in disguise, especially with the closure of 50+ newspapers in Canada in the last two years. What I’ll end up doing when we get back I’m not entirely sure of, at this point… But I’ve certainly learned a number of skills outside the country.

The upshot of all of it is, the odd setback aside, I’m flexible with employment in this country, we’re not bleeding debt for our investments, and our kids are happy and healthy. Pretty hard to find anything to complain about, really.

Here’s hoping for a “little” bit more good fortune, but you know someone always has it worse than you do. Happy New Year to all of you and continued success in 2018!

 

 

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Recapturing the art of the self-scrutiny (or: Accountability need not be shameful)

 

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By Harry Hodge

So I used to work in Beijing. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… It’s a good one. I was employe by the China Daily, a propaganda outlet for the Chinese government as a “foreign expert,” employed to make the content more readable/digestable/palatable on behalf of the nation’s regime in getting their message across. Helping to take headlines like “Taiwan must cease splittist activities and admit it’s illegitimacy as a nation” a little more … readable. I’d love to tell you this ate away at me inside, but really… If it wasn’t me, someone else would have done the same job. Possibly better.

Anyway, this is not the point of the article. The thing I learned in Beijing was that the Chinese were big on face. You know, like never owning up to your mistakes, saying you were in error put you beneath those around you, etc. This impacted the workplace in a number of ways: Since it was 2003, the impending Olympics were a big deal, and I saw in our schedule of stories (the “sked”) that three different sections had a story about the Birds’ Nest Stadium. Sports, business and Page One. How did this happen? Talking to other sections about their story lineups was beneath most editors, so it rarely happened. Only when the lao wei (white ghost/devil (foreigner)) noticed it would it become an issue.

Yeah yeah, get to the point, I hear you asking. I’m writing today because I had to perform a “self-scrutiny” while I was there, and only realized it once I left the country. In a society where admitting you’re wrong is tantamount to social suicide, the notion is so terrifying to most people that they’ll go their whole lives without ever doing it. While working there, I read a book called Red Dust, written by exiled poet Ma Jian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/jun/10/travel.travelbooks

A fascinating read. This guy was an artist who was basically subverted to the nation’s sizable propaganda machine, and forced to be accountable for any “wrongdoings” that others reported about him to his superiors. He then basically faked a sexual illness and took off to wander the nation.  But what I carried with me to this day is the idea that using your mistakes against you was considered the best method to control the workforce. This couldn’t be further from the truth; its value lies in improving the workforce. China is onto something; they’ve just been applying it the wrong way.

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My missing identity book

During my time in Beijing in 2003/2004, I got glimmers of this concept of “face” and “self-scrutiny.” I heard about something occurring in another department, where an editor learned he had printed something either factually inaccurate or politically inconvenient to the government, which of course ran the paper that employed us. He was forced to “admit wronghood” to his department, akin to career suicide in a place like China.

It only touched me as a “foreign expert” working there when I drunkenly misplaced my “identity book” less than a month before the completion of my contract. It’s like an ID card, with your name translated into Pinyin Chinese in case you are ever somewhere you’re not supposed to be. I discovered I’d left it somewhere, and in a city that could be anywhere; an alley, the hot dog stand outside a club/brothel near the Workers’ Stadium; on a subway train. Who knows?

I was told to go to the police station to sort it out, as I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country without dealing with not having an identity! So when I got to the cop shop, I was handed forms that detailed the disappearance of the document, time and date, etc. And I was asked to sign this one particular form, which made me cock an eyebrow.

ME: “What’s this one for?”

OFFICIAL: “Oh, that’s your apology. It’ll run in every paper in the country.”

ME: ” Say what now? Apology for what?”

OFFICIAL: “For losing your book.”

This is when I lost it. I howled with laughter, incredulous. “Are you serious?” I asked. The official clearly couldn’t have been more serious. And not only was I going to sign it, I was going to be billed $50 for the privilege! For the chance to be shamed in publications across a nation of a billion plus people? Awesome, where do I sign?

Misunderstanding its usefulness

Right then and there, I understood that my hosts had been doing it all wrong for generations. Now, hear me out on this one. How many times in the past have we known that if someone had just owned up to their error, we could have saved considerable time and money not only correcting the issue, but looking at how other individuals, groups or nations are making similar mistakes. 

This isn’t a vice; this is an undiscovered goldmine!

Imagine all the times in the past you did some dumb-ass thing! That ugly “Chip and Pepper” T-shirt you bought – you could have returned it and got your $30 back and gotten a new shirt. But your pride got in the way and you wore it, no matter how ugly, impressing no one but your ego in justifying your purchase.

That’s on a personal level. Imagine if private individuals, companies, or nations had a “self-scrutiny” arm to call them on dumb-ass decisions and shutting them down before getting any further? How many lives could benefit? How much money and time could you save?

I’m not joking when I talk about this; I believe this is a career of the future. This is the sort of thing that can save companies billions of dollars and minimize “loss of face.” Only in the last year or so have I recognized the value of what a self-scrutiny can do on a personal level.

So I’m putting this out there as a call to firms and nations around the world. Think you mighta fucked up? Hire me as your agent of “self-scrutiny” and I’ll turn your sinking ship around before it hits the iceberg of “pride” and becomes the Titanic! Holla at yo’ boy at @hodgedude on Twitter or message me here. You won’t be disappointed!

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