Fourth quarter a nightmare in Heat loss to Dreamers

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SAIGON HEAT

By Harry Hodge

“This is my team!” Not something you expect to hear from a visiting player on the opposing team’s home floor. But this was no ordinary game for Lenny Daniel.

The former Saigon Heat team MVP was in unfamiliar territory, dressed in the white-and-black of Taiwan’s Formosa Dreamers as the opponent for his former team’s home opener. Ahead by as much as 15 in the third quarter, the uptempo Heat were running roughshod over the Taiwanese ABL expansion team. But Daniel’s 22-point effort, including two final free throws in the dying seconds of an 80-75 Formosa win, had to feel sweet against the team that cast him aside.

“This game meant a lot to me, just to win,” he said. “I don’t like beating the Heat, I care about (my former teammates) so much.

“My emotion got the better of me. It was more against one person… He knows who he is.”

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Formosa’s Lenny Daniel, left, tangles with Saigon’s Moses Morgan. (SUPPLIED BY SAIGON HEAT)

Reading between the lines, it seemed a pointed comment at new Heat head coach Kyle Julius, who elected to let Daniel go in a monster house-cleaning as he instituted his new regime. The prime asset the Canadian  bench boss brought in was Akeem Scott, and the American didn’t disappoint in his Vietnam debut. An endless motor saw him darting up and down the court before a befuddled Formosa squad, leading all scorers with 29 points before fouling out with just under four minutes remaining.

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Saigon Heat’s Akeem Scott. (SUPPLIED BY SAIGON HEAT)

This was a turning point for the Heat, who at the time were down 75-73 and also without starter Moses Morgan, who left for the locker room with an injury undisclosed as of press time. Credit for putting the game within reach has to go to Formosa’s Cheng Chi Kuan, who scored back-to-back three-point bombs after Morgan departed.

“It’s just next man up,” said Swedish-Vietnamese Heat star Stefan Nguyen of the losses of Morgan and Scott. “Their locals stepped up.

“I think we controlled (Daniel) pretty well, but we all know how good he is. It could have gone either way.”

Saigon Heat’s Stefan Nguyen. (SUPPLIED BY SAIGON HEAT)

 

The loss leaves a bittersweet feeling for home fans who had been waiting the better part of eight months for ABL action. Some new wrinkles, apart from the revamped lineup, included the bleachers behind the east basket being removed for a “lounge” area for premium ticket-holders. The Heat were also sporting snazzy new uniforms with silver highlights.

Heat owner Henry Nguyen was excited about this latest ABL season, with new teams in China, Indonesia and Thailand in the mix. Nguyen, who’s also steering a new Major League Soccer franchise in Los Angeles, was bullish on new hire Julius, despite the season-opening loss.

“Every coach has their own style,” he said. “He’s tailored the offence to the players he has. We have a clear style, pace and space.”

The Heat will have a week to think about what went wrong; they’ll be back in action Dec. 17 at CIS Stadium in District 7 against Thailand’s Mono Vampire.

THE POINT AFTER: Former ABL MVP Christien Charles, who dealt with numerous injuries last season with the Heat, was in the stands at Saturday’s game. He confirmed he’s practising with the Heat, despite not being signed to the team, and is awaiting an offer from elsewhere in the league. Also spotted sporting Can Tho Catfish gear was Heat prospect Tam Dinh, attending the game with his brother Sang shortly after playing in the VBA Finals. Dinh said he’ll spend the holidays in the United States and join the Heat in January.

 

 

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Misadventures in Vietnamese real estate

In a new subdivision in Dong Nai.

By Harry Hodge

The great Bien Hoa Land Rush of 2017. I was there, and it wasn’t pretty.

The 6 a.m. on a Sunday dragging-of-ass across Saigon to (fittingly) the Zoo, where hundreds of would-be land prospectors were waiting to be shepherded into a fleet of buses. We’d then be shuttled across this great city… Into the next one. Bien Hoa, the land of milk and honey on the other side of the Dong Nai River, home to the future international airport, various industrial parks, and Catholic churches galore! (Don’t tell the government.)

The endless droning at volume 11 of a chipper female MC about the greatness of the Saigon Metro system, yet to be completed and visible for roughly half our commute outside the windows, was punctuated by a rotating cast of agents working the aisle, chatting us up to tell us more or less the same thing in a different voice. Nursing a hangover, it all just became a wall of sound, and I put my head on the chair in front of me, waiting for the ride to end. But once we got to the site, we were dropped directly into the shark tank.

Bedlam.

Buckle up!

“How many square meters will you be buying today? These lots are further from the main road, so they’re X per sq. m. These are right at Highway 1A, across from where the metro extension will end up. Of course it’s going to happen!” (Maybe in 2050.)

“And you’re within spitting distance of the new Long Thang International Airport, ready to whisk you throughout the region as the replacement for aging Tan Son Nhat in Tan Binh District.”

Agents and buyers rode the emotional rollercoaster; from the innocent joy of singing karaoke on the bus (I won a clock) to the pressure-packed hard sell of land lots. Buy it before it’s gone! Agents sweating through their jackets, buyers trying to make sense of all the calculations and figures being thrown at them. A lounge singer in a white tux and his backup dancers gyrating away amidst the chaos. You could be forgiven if you thought you were in 1889 Oklahoma, only with motorbike giveaways and ATM machines.

Another observation, as a foreigner, is that the whole thing was LOUD. Too loud to think. Too loud to ask hard questions. Act and react. Grab the land before the next person does. Sign here and we’ll let you out of this crazy tent. 

Insta-besties.

Why not Bitcoin?

My wife My and I keep looking at ways to grow our earnings, and one way we’ve been doing that is in Vietnamese property. As a foreigner, I can only have my name on the books for a condo or dwelling; land isn’t open to outsiders for purchase in Vietnam. My wife, however, can do so, and we first got into the property game in Binh Duong three years ago. We also got a condo, largely because I figured I’d live here long enough to pay it off and paying rent all that time seemed kind of pointless.

There are other factors at play for me as well; my mother did quite well with property in Ottawa, something that wasn’t lost on me growing up. Also, having moved here from Toronto and subsequently Edmonton, property in Canada is spiralling to unaffordable levels. In a strange way, owning property is “real” wealth to me. Whatever we can hold in our hands or stand upon, that’s real. If I’m a citizen of this world, and there’s some lot somewhere that I own, I own a piece of the Earth. Not an imaginary currency or a share in a company whose goods I never buy; it’s tangible to me. It makes sense.

The condo market, from my point of view, is saturated in Ho Chi Minh City and is a bubble about to pop, whether analysts agree or not. Seemingly every week, a new development is shooting up. It takes 10 years to NOT complete the subway, but Vingroup’s Golden River, a sprawling project with a dozen buildings, etc. is humming along smoothly. And, as I said, foreign money is OK for condos, hence a pricing surge coming from all over the continent. Much ink has been devoted to the influx of outside money from Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul and points in between. If my wife and I, who between us make OK money in Vietnamese terms, consider most condos out of our price range and not worth a look, I can imagine we’re not the only ones thinking this way.

Land is still not really an option, so the prices are (marginally) more within reason. Will Saigon become the new Vancouver, with ghost condos eating up the downtown and locals pushed to the periphery of the city?

Vietnamese folks may have an easier time buying land, even if the condo market is becoming unaffordable because of foreign cash.

Battling buyers’ regret/money is time

My wife and I aren’t particularly flashy people. My motorbike has seen better days, we rarely splash out for unnecessary extravagances and we haven’t even left the country in more than three years (!). So there was a period last night where she agonized about this newest purchase and how it would affect our buying freedom for the next year or so. Having now sunk six figures (in dollars) into the property market in the last three years, I don’t think we can do much more.

This is owing to a number of factors, but mainly because our children will become a lot more expensive in four or five years. At that point, we’ll need to decide if we’re staying in this country (income will be a consideration) and shelling out big cash for international schooling, or returning to Canada where we can get it for free.

The act of undertaking a major purchase is also exhausting. We both view money as units of time and work, as in how long did we have to work to save this amount of money. Spending X amount sets us back a month of savings. Spending Y sets us back a year, and so on. To us, money is time, not so much the reverse.

Time will bear out whether these moves were profitable or ill-advised. But don’t expect me to take any buses to Dong Nai anytime in the near future.

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I didn’t own a computer or smartphone until 2015… and I miss those days

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By Harry Hodge

Yes, you’re reading a blog about not owning a computer.

No streaming songs or movies. No playing computer games. No online banking. No selfies (I know!) until maybe the last few years. If I wanted an airplane ticket, I’d walk down to Flight Centre and tell the nice lady what I wanted and she’d get it done for me.

“But she commands a fee for doing that service for you!” I’m sure that’s what you’re screaming your mind as you read this. But I was still saving money by NOT PAYING CANADA’S OUTLANDISH INTERNET AND PHONE FEES. For more information about the price of being connected, check out this Vice article: Crazy Internet!

So yes, my self-imposed exile back to the stone ages was mostly a question of economics. When I was scraping by working as an assistant sports editor in Northern Ontario, I walked to work and did without extravagances of any sort. If you are making $28,000 Canadian a year, that’s  about $24,600 after taxes, or roughly $2,050 a month. That would be US$19,400 yearly, or $1,616 US monthly. I simply couldn’t justify the cost of having anything not go to rent, food, or much-needed escapes from Timmins, where I didn’t see grass between late October and late March because of all the snow.

 

Not having doesn’t mean not using

Now, it’s not like I went without using a computer during all that time. I worked on one every day at each of the newspapers that employed me, and would find an Internet cafe or use one owned by a friend if I needed to. But it was funny; when the work week ended, I found I only really needed Internet for about an hour or something. Bear in mind when I lived in Ontario, I didn’t have cable or Internet until a former roommate got them bundled together when we shared a place 2007-2009. That said, I still didn’t own my own computer, but he let me use his whenever I wanted. He also had a Nintendo Wii, but I had gone so long not playing computer games I was never any good at it.

The prohibitive costs of phone fees also meant I went for the cheapest actual phone possible, which meant no camera, Internet connection, etc. Despite the most aggressive tactics of mall employees across the country, I was steadfast in my refusal to join the 21st century. And when I moved to Alberta, my employer provided me with a laptop and Blackberry and the company picked up the fees. I did splash out for cable from my landlord, but for movies I watched them on a DVD player.

Even when I came to Vietnam, I did a lot of web stuff on my iPod or the computer at the guesthouse. I’d buy a $15 Nokia burner phone every few months when I’d inevitably drunkenly leave it at a bar or forget it in the cupholder of my motorbike, where scavengers would grab it. But then, I’d just get a new number off the cigarette lady on the corner and buy another $15 burner and text everyone my new number.

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Being nostalgic for those simpler times

So why is all this of any interest to anyone? Because I wanted to show it’s possible to NOT BE CONNECTED ALL THE TIME. I’m guilty of this now more than most people. I never took photos of my food or checked sports scores whenever I felt like it, because I physically wasn’t able to. I HAD to interact with the people around me and make conversation. Strike up conversations with strangers in line. Wait until I got home to see what emails I missed or who won which game.

Things were much less URGENT. If I didn’t reply to a message right away, I’d say I was out of credit or my battery was dead. Now God forbid you don’t reply to that thread about that thing with those people.

Now, I’m admitting that I do several of these more vain pursuits I’ve mentioned. But I still don’t really do anything financial online; I don’t play games at all (never really have); and I don’t stream movies or music. I think it helps having two little kids that I don’t really have time to do any of that stuff. The closest we get is firing up Youtube and watching weird English nursery rhyme videos, where all the speakers seem to have heavy Mumbai accents.

All to say the less connected I was, the more chilled out I probably was. “The more stuff you own, the more it owns you” is actually pretty true. All that time between maybe 1999 and 2005 I didn’t really own any furniture either. Every place I lived had furniture provided. When I left Canada in 2010, I was able to pack everything I had with me in Edmonton into three or four boxes, which I sent to my mom on a Greyhound bus.

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Family life and having more stuff

Getting married and having children is obviously an eye-opening experience. In the process, we’ve got a lot more stuff. Furniture, toys, TV… and yes, a computer. Two actually. And we love being able to Skype with grandparents in Canada, look up where the kids can run around to play, check if the Senators beat the Leafs, etc. I think it’s important to find a balance of how much to be online vs. offline, something my wife would debate that I’m on too much already. That said, good luck getting me on there between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. when I’m in ‘net lockdown. (sleeping)

The upshot of all this is I know how much we rely on the Internet, but sometimes you need to cut out the noise. I truly feel I was more relaxed and enjoyed my free time more when it didn’t involve tech so much. I’m not sure going back to those days anytime soon is possible, but it’s kinda nice to reminisce about the old days.

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What I Learned from Pulling Rickshaws

Portrait of the author as a young man, circa 1997 in Ottawa, Canada.

By Harry Hodge

So you wouldn’t know it meeting me now, but I used to drag humans around for money.

We’re talking 500 pounds of dead weight up Parliament Hill on Canada Day. And down again. And up again. Or from one province to another, running from downtown Ottawa across the Alexandra Bridge to Gatineau, Quebec. I did it for parts of three summers, and only on later reflection has it shown me what tools I took from it.

That’s right: I used to pull a rickshaw.

As summer jobs go, it was a job I sort of fell into. Make your own hours, independent contractor, get fit. This was more or less how it was pitched to me. At the end of the day, without any better option presenting itself, I said “F&ck it. I’ll try it out.”

Everyone needs a celebrity passenger from time to time! Dan Aykroyd was more of a Brews Brother when he sat in ol’ blue!

Be different or die

If you were in the Byward Market in the 1990s, you couldn’t walk from one corner to the next without being badgered by a rickshaw runner. They were literally everywhere. And some were more “normal” than others, myself included. Guys with nicknames like Stitch, Shakes, Pousse-pousse, Sidewalk, the Enforcer, Tornado. Some I’m still friends with today, some I’ve got no idea where they ended up.

The point was, not being “normal” was actually clever marketing. When you walk into a shop and are faced with 15 different soft drinks, and you have no idea about their individual merits, you go for the one with the loudest, most colourful packaging. Selling people a ride around the neighbourhood in a human-powered contraption takes some showmanship.

In my case, I was the master of the “pitch.” If I saw a couple walking by and one was smoking a cigarette, I’d venture “that looks heavy. Let me give you a lift.” If a late teens/early 20s woman walked by, I’d often mistake her for Britney Spears and offer her a (1%) reduction on my fees. I’m pretty sure any of my old coworkers reading this will agree I was good for the snappy patter.

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Talking a good game

Not only did pushing people into a ride they probably didn’t need require snappy pick-up lines, but also solid debating skills. If a potential passenger said they were too heavy, a popular counter was “nonsense. You’re light as a feather, and twice as delicate.” Outright lying also worked; I’d often say “there goes med school” when refused a ride. Then I’d have already moved onto pitching the next passerby with similar gusto.

For some, constant pitching was mentally exhausting, as well as the inevitable refusal rate being pretty high. The physical demands carried all the predictable ailments; sore back, shin splints, etc. The contraptions themselves went through considerable wear and tear, like flat tires, stress fractures in the metal frames, warped rims and the like. But having people tell you “no” day after day was far more draining, compounded if the guys around you were making more money than you were.

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Peaks and valleys, highs and lows

When your tuition for next semester is based on your earning power in a sector like tourism, you are at the mercy of several elements. Weather is a major factor; oversaturation of the marketplace (in this case, too many runners); things like injuries or mechanical issues. It also helped to maintain good relationships with the people around you, which I think most of us were overall pretty good at. I’m told other markets, like Toronto, were a lot more cutthroat and less collaborative. For example, if there are four people in a group, and I can only take two, I pick the closest guy OR the guy I get along with the best to share the fare.

As well, my time doing this particular line of work opened my eyes to different methods to attack obstacles.

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Climbing the mountain vs. beating the clock

I used each of these strategies at different times, and have continued to do so to this day. “Climbing the mountain” was effective for me when I was running a daily newspaper, but can be applied to any situation, like a student ploughing through term papers to finish their degree. I treated different days of the week as more or less profitable, and set goals according to expectations of how much I could earn. Making $80 on a Wednesday in May was fairly ambitious; making less than $400 on Canada Day would be disappointing.

I also treated my lease on the rickshaw itself ($1300 for a season, which in my case was May-August) in this regard. I chose to pay the entire amount in the shortest time possible, even though it was normal to pay a payment each month; the cost wasn’t higher to do it that way. In my mind, it was a mental obstacle to overcome, and the ensuing revenue I generated was profit.

“Beating the clock” has actually been a metaphor at different times in my life. In my mind, the clock is about to strike midnight and my carriage is about to revert to pumpkin form. We all do this, whether we know it or not. Trying to buy while the market is low so we can sell when it’s high later; using connections to get front-row seats to a hot ticket event; waiting in line to buy a phone at midnight (which I still don’t understand, frankly).

Whether you’re aware of it or not, many of you have been doing these things your whole lives. What pulling a rickshaw did for me, despite what a strange job it sounds like, was teach me: The importance of relationships; maximizing my time and knowing when to cut my losses; the ability to deal with the unexpected; and the art of persuasion (in certain scenarios).

It’s funny, though. I still can’t fix a flat tire.

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SPORT IN SAIGON: Heat face learning curve while awaiting reinforcements

 

The new-look Saigon Heat feature a lot of new faces to complement veterans Moses Morgan, David Arnold, Stefan Nguyen and Horace Nguyen.

By Harry Hodge

Earlier this week, the Saigon Heat introduced the 2017-2018 edition of their ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) squad to the media, but… It looked like there were still a few spots remaining on the bench.

This is because the current training roster doesn’t include four ballers still playing in the VBA Championship game. Tam Dinh, Justin Young, Dinh Thanh Sang and To Quang Trung were all in the thick of the title tournament and skipped the presser, and Nguyen Huynh Hai was at a family function and was absent as well.

“They will have to learn the system and fit in as best they can in a very short period of time,” said new Heat head coach Kyle Julius, playing the hand dealt him by the scheduling gods. “The current squad is a work in progress.”
Depending on your perspective, more like a major overhaul. Gone are fan favourite Lenny Daniel, former ABL MVP Christien Charles, Olympian martial artist Nguyen Van Hung and most of last year’s domestic players. Imports Travele Jones and Akeem Scott are expected to make a major impact from the jump, with Scott and Julius having familiarity owing to their time together on the London Lightning, which competes in Canada’s National Basketball League.

Manager Connor Nguyen, left, and head coach Kyle Julius have two-and-a-half weeks to get a squad ready to face the Formosa Dreamers in their home opener.

In an interview weeks earlier, Julius had told Sport In Saigon he foresaw having “… a player pool of 17 players we’ll use to pick the team.” Obviously, the missing players will be in game shape when the VBA Finals conclude, but will they have time to gel as a unit when the Dreamers come to town? And who’s notable on the Taiwanese team’s roster? Former Heat MVP Lenny Daniel, who’ll hope to make his return a nightmare for Saigon.

Get your popcorn ready! The Heat’s home opener is set for Saturday, Dec. 9 at CIS Stadium in District 7.

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Middle age. Now what?

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By Harry Hodge

According to the Daily Telegraph, middle age begins at 35 and runs into your 50s. So it stands to reason anytime from 35, the inevitable “mid-life crisis” will kick in. Some of you are nearing this event; some of you have sailed right through it and some will never have it. Bought a fancy car lately? Working through a divorce? Waking up to regrets that are years after the fact?

I refuse to look at it in this regard, but rather as a moment of clarity. Early 40s and onward is around the time it seems to kick in, because you’ve spent the previous four decades doing all of these things: Competing for your career; stressing out over how to afford a mortgage or accumulating wealth; wooing a mate; and various other undertakings. And then you hit a certain age where things slow somewhat, and you can pause and look at the carnage you’ve left in your wake to make it to this point.

So you’ve arrived, and you face that existential question: Now what?

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Competition ceases being motivation

Welcome to the realization you’ve been waiting for: You’ve been in a competition since you were born. Whether it was doing the most push-ups in gym class, outshining other suitors for that hottie at school or beating out some other bozo for acceptance to the university program of your choice, all you’ve done is compete. This isn’t a condemnation of the system; don’t hate the player, hate the game and all that.

We’re all guilty of perpetuating the system. You are groomed to compete from Day One. Even my ridiculously cute kids are already at odds for toys, neither of them has turned 3 yet. It’s part of evolution. The problem is the day you wake up and discover it no longer motivates you.

I played sports at different levels, notably football. I was never a gifted athlete, but made it as far as university-level (briefly) and a season playing under-22 in Montreal. I figured I must be “competitive,” but then I played with dudes who clearly wanted it so much more than I did. When I reflect back on it, I realize I just enjoyed the violence of the game and that I liked to hit. I revelled in contact more than wins or losses. Sure, the initial euphoria of winning a game was fine, but later reflection revealed I could have cared less about the outcome. In my case, competition was outweighed by the opportunity to dole out punishment and not be prosecuted.

I ran cross-country as well at Concordia University, almost by accident, and wound up securing the top rookie award. While my results were hardly stellar, it was here too that I figured it out; I’m someone who just likes to get things finished. No medals ever came my way; I raced to get it over with and say I was a varsity athlete. Competition didn’t drive me like it did the guys on the podium.

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So why are we doing what we’re doing?

By this point, you’ve figured out this isn’t a blog about getting ahead in your career! Rather, it’s about middle age and re-examining what it is we think we’re competing for. When I ran a daily newspaper in Edmonton, it was hammered home ad nauseum that we were going after the competition! Who were they, exactly? The city is not a big place, so I met journalists from other media outlets at press conferences, at social events, etc. This is my competition? I’m trying to put this dude that just bought me a drink out of business?

My current field, educational publishing, is no different. We’re going to “drive the competition into the ground.” Who are they? Do they have kids? Have I met them around town? What music are they into? In reality, they’re a bunch of logos and websites, and I’m a cog in an office churning out more or less the same thing they are.

This is when the “mid-life crisis” often sets in. Either you’ve come to the realization that the position you currently occupy is in small or large part owed to throwing others under the bus “on the way up;” or being a victim of it yourself at some point in the past. I’ve been complicit in one and a victim of the other, both on multiple occasions. You take it in stride at the time and justify it as a necessity; only later, often in your 40s, do you reflect back and feel regret or embitterment, based on which role you played.

The point is focus on why you’re doing this job or action, whatever it may be. We’re all motivated by money, to varying degrees. Power and the chance to climb the ladder? Some of us, yes. Many no. And this is not an indictment: Some people are wise to the pitfalls of management, and would rather enjoy their lives more with less responsibility.

Are you actually enjoying a fun job? Are you making an impact in peoples’ lives? Is it making our world better or worse to live in?

Obviously, every field is different. If I’m talking to a professional basketball player, he’s looking at me like GTFO and I’ve lost my mind. Every game he faces a real, living and breathing person who wants to posterize him and make fat stacks. But knowing there’s something empty about the whole thing (in fields outside of pro sports) actually opens your eyes and leads to some interesting questions. What do I, personally, get from the demise of my adversaries? More money? A better title? Does the absence of one competitor not simply free up room for another? Will I simply be given more work to do?

At the end of the day, the “do what make you happy” argument doesn’t pay the bills, and I’m not the sentimental type to lead you down this path. I thought the same with journalism! What I’m saying here, as I edge closer to 43, is look at where you are and where you’re going. Look at how you’re motivated by your family, your employer, your partner. Everyone has an agenda, and they’re not all bad and they’re not all good. But going through life with blinders on isn’t sustainable. One morning, you’ll wake up, and wonder what all the fuss was about?

 

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Letting go of expectations

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By Harry Hodge

Let me be clear: I don’t meditate. Or read self-help books. I’m one of the millions of Saigon residents who gets on the motorbike, dodges the crooked cops/mafia/deep-fryers to and from work on a daily basis. I clock in with a fingerprint. I have a lanyard with one of my stock photos serving as ID.

This scene could play out any number of other places I’ve existed (minus the motorbikes and deep fryers), like Toronto, Beijing, Edmonton, etc. I’m not grousing about it either, before anyone jumps to that conclusion. The point is not the drive, or the timeclock, or what I get for lunch or any of my routines. It simply is how it is.

What prompted me to write today (having neglected my blog for quite some time) is more to do with expectations, goals, and achievements – and how their importance has gradually lessened for me over time. In another phase of my life, these same things were all I thought about. I pinballed from city to city and country to country more or less after graduating from university; if I thought it would accelerate my newspaper career, I’d make the move. In terms of my relationships, I had them; but I considered them secondary to career pursuits, justifying it with “if I’m not happy with my life and career, then I won’t be much fun for someone else to be around.”

I set these nebulous benchmarks for five-year intervals. By age 30, have a salary of X or higher and be employed at a daily newspaper in a major metropolitan city. I achieved this in Toronto. By 35, be in a management position of some sort in the industry, and set about finding a serious relationship. By 40, married. Home ownership, children. Secondary goals were things like being a published author; travel to X number of countries; have a column of my own.

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In spite of myself, these things have more or less come to fruition. Around 35, however, the great media purge in Canada really went into overdrive, and I found myself a casualty of this as a managing editor in Edmonton. To be honest, I’d seen enough backstabbing and office politicking in the companies I’d worked for that my “downsizing” was actually welcome… At first. The beauty of being set adrift in your mid-30s is that you’re in that gray area where you can still shift gears and try something else, provided you’re single and not weighed down with a lot of stuff.

This moment was actually pivotal, when I look back on it… Because it was unexpected. I was not the first person the company let go, and certainly not the last. I’m pretty sure the people that had to come in, sit me down, hand me my letter and take my Blackberry and laptop back are gone themselves now. I was in a town that I was OK with, but not in love with… Doing a job that sounded decent in terms of status, although the details of it had become increasingly distasteful to me.

Reinvention was freeing, to a point. I could go anywhere I wanted, within reason. My severance package was a pittance, but I didn’t have a car or furniture or big-screen TV to unload, per se. I just knew I wanted some place with no snow where I could score some kind of work using my English language skills fairly quickly.

I’ll skip ahead a bit here; I’ve been in Vietnam for almost seven years, and I’ll admit that when I first arrived, things became apparent to me. My every-five-years-plan would have to be reconsidered, since I basically had to start some sort of new career from scratch. How can you start over and still get a house/job/write books etc? Unthinkable.

And yet, here we are. Married to a lovely wife, two cute little kids. A condo in a major Asian city and some land outside of it. Name on nine ESL books and some smaller vanity projects. Called pro basketball games and wrote a sports column for the last few years. And yet; nagged by some need to pursue more.

What is it? A sexier title? Generate more revenue? Increase personal fame? Are these the things that got me into this mess almost seven years ago?

The thing that moving to Vietnam has enabled me to do is let go of expectations. This is partly a manifestation of my location; Saigon is chaotic, nothing is ever executed on time, and often things are not what you wanted or expected.

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So what do you do? Become consumed by rage when someone does some bonehead move in traffic? Or stop and take the photo of the guy walking  his pig down the street or giving away 50 kg of bananas? Be angry that your flight is late? Or have another beer and wait it out? Be dismayed that a job you wanted was given to someone else, or re-examine whether it was a position that truly suited you? Were you applying to just have something new to think about?

In short, I doubt that the place my head is at now would have come about if I were still in Canada. The need to put up appearances and impress people still exists here; just I’m less beholden to it as a nguoi nuoc ngoai (person from another country). It’s actually quite freeing when you’re in a place that’s so strange and random, because to the people here, I’M random and strange. This can actually be quite marketable, if you spend a bit of time building up a network.

The point is the moment I stopped trying to will things to happen is when it all turned around. I no longer agonize about where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing at 45; the idea of not having something lined up would have terrified me 10 years ago. But why live years in the future when you have no idea what’s coming tomorrow?

So like I sad; I’m not advocating some new philosophy. I’m simply observing that the moment I let go of pursuing all these things is actually when a lot of it started to land in my lap. Enjoying the journey, not the destination, always kinda sounded hokey to me; but it’s ended up getting me where I wanted to go.

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