Heat lance Knights for first playoff win



By Harry Hodge

So in 2012, the Hunger Games movie came out. PSY was rocking out with Gangnam Style. And the Saigon Heat begin their ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) journey in Tan Binh District at a rickety stadium near the airport.

No one thought it would take so long for a playoff victory. But better late than never.

This year’s version of the Heat has produced in the regular season better than any other incarnation of the franchise, with a winning record (the team’s first-ever) and a club mark of 14 wins. But fans have longed for something to celebrate in the postseason since the team first clinched a playoff berth with coach Jason Rabedeaux and Tony Garbelotto running the bench and names like David Arnold and Justin Williams keying the attack.

On Wednesday night, the team’s long-suffering fans enjoyed a cathartic moment when the team finally broke through with an 86-81 triumph over the visiting CLS Knights, tying their first-round series at a game apiece with the crucial final match in Indonesia in the coming days.

Sure, the confetti cannons showering the court with 15 seconds left in the game were a tad premature. But don’t tell that to Heat fans, who were also showering praise on American Trevon Hughes as he sank a pair of clutch free throws in a monster second half. The Heat rallied from a 42-38 halftime deficit thanks to Hughes’ 24 points in the second half and 30 for the match, while teammate Kyle Barone made some key plays including a clutch three-pointer with under two minutes remaining in a tight affair.

Former Heat star Maxie Esho notched a double double with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while regional stars Brandon Jawato and Wong Wei Long also registered double digits in points in the losing effort.

“(I’m proud) to be part of representing Vietnam,” said American Deangelo Hamilton, who registered 13 points after joining the team when Canadian forward Murphy Burnatowski left the team with a handful of games remaining to return to North America. “You don’t get that many opportunities in your career (to be part of a historic win).”

With upsets and surprises marking this year’s playoffs in the ABL, Hamilton noted it was any team’s opportunity to step up and steal a win.

“Basketball is a game of runs,” he said, with a final chance to make believers of the ASEAN basketball scene coming in the team’s crucial decider this weekend in Indonesia.

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Managing? Or Man Aging? Surviving a heavy workload in your mid-40s

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By Harry Hodge

Teaching is the sort of job where an off day is murder. When a class goes sideways, the students start to murmur and rustle, the ship starts to take on water. You come in unprepared, or even sometimes prepared, and an activity might not go the way you saw. No teacher has ever had a perfect record – there’s always an activity that went down like a lead balloon somewhere in your educational closet.

Add different layers to this. Working multiple locations or companies. Commuting to and from them, especially on a motorbike in a place like Saigon. And compound all of it with a fact you’ve been trying to avoid admitting to for years: You’re getting older.

So how to survive the schedule? Mercifully I only need to do so for the next couple of months, after which I foresee returning to full-time employment at one of my current workplaces. But now as I turn 44 in July, the energy and motivation with which I used to attack the schedule is showing signs of waning. That point in life where you wonder how much longer you see the same routine being acceptable or if something needs to change. Here are what I see as the main obstacles and how to counter them (in my case).

person wearing pair of black hiking shoes lying on orange and gray hammock

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Every job has an opportunity where you “phone it in.” Even a player in the NBA can dog it on defence and watch someone blow by him, which often leads to being cut unless you’re LeBron or KD. Here’s the lesson I’ve done a thousand times, how to keep it fresh? Shopping in a supermarket. Asking for directions. Ordering a pizza over the phone.

The key is to remember it’s YOUR 1,000th time, but for the students, it’s their first (often). I’m still mystified when I teach the “airport” lesson in Vietnam, only to discover many students have NEVER GONE TO THE AIRPORT. You also know which parts can work, or not, based on previous experience. From that standpoint, experience has gotten me through a number of sticky classes simply based on mistakes I committed the first go-round.

All to say, even when energy levels aren’t at their peak, veteran savvy may save the day. But it’s best not to rely on this.

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Turning 40 was eye-opening. Metabolism slows, hair changes colour, a variety of things take place. Teaching little kids becomes tougher as you get more sluggish. Even more so driving in muggy Saigon weather on a motorbike in rush hour, on rutted roads, sometimes 40-50 kilometers a day. In a car in North America, it’s no big deal. But in Vietnam it’s hard driving. You really start to feel it in your back, especially if you’ve been doing it for a few years (four, in my case).

That fatigue can carry over to your time off, where you just want to laze around when you get a free minute. This is an area you must show some discipline. Try to still go running before work, as often as possible. Get the missus to work on your back every now and then. I’d love to say I do yoga and drink healthy smoothies, but really I still cling to the odd cocktail and only do basic stretching. Longevity requires some form of plan, and this is an area I am looking into.

black chimpanzee smiling

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For my inner curmudgeon, this can be a bigger struggle than the others. It’s easy to dwell on stuff that makes you crazy: This city is too hectic, my employers keep pulling trapdoors from under me, my students are lazy, whatever. Being the victim is the simplest narrative.

But if you stop and look around every now and then, reasoning why you’re doing all this work can bail you out. I have a lovely wife, two beautiful kids. Land. Condo. No snow. All of this was not even on my radar in Canada. I have so much to be thankful for. I got cut loose from a newspaper with TWO WEEKS severance. For real? I turned things around and I deserve a pat on the back. And if no one will do that for me, I’ll do my own.

Keeping up a hectic schedule for years and years on end is unwise, but if you know you just have to suck it up and get sh#t done, try and remember the point of it all and attack that mountain of work with a smile (and the odd latte).

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Tet à Tet: Reflecting before the Year of the Pig

pink paper origami

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By Harry Hodge

One thing about the holidays in Vietnam: You always have a lot of free time.

Gyms are closed. Coffee shops closed. Hotels and flights are all booked. Your kids’ daycare is closed. You may as well try to relax because… What else is there?

Since New Year in the West is typically a day off, two weeks seems to me like an eternity every year. Why so long? I used to get frustrated and angry about it, but no point in getting upset, since there’s nothing I can do about it.

This year, I feared I’d be watching my kids solo for two weeks with my wife working at the hotel. Once they saw they’d be paying a manager double salary through the holidays, they scrapped her remaining days. This was good as I’d not be solo for two full weeks (it has been a week already, though) but bad they decided to do it so late it’s difficult to really go anywhere.

Staycation it is.


Reflection time and looking ahead

I had a few things that ended up disappointing me in 2018 and I just rolled with them, knowing good things would be happening as well. Canada for the first time in four years was a high point. Some minor things like a longstanding book deal being squashed became an annoyance, but it had been pushed so far back it seemed inevitable anyway.

As the (Lunar) New Year was drawing to a close, a new business opportunity has presented itself. I’ll provide more detail on that one when it becomes more concrete, but it could change my day-to-day drastically. Last year was about me proving to myself I could still make a buck and not be tied to any one employer, in so doing having more free time for other pursuits without taking a major financial hit. That calculation didn’t include all the driving I had to do, of course. It’s a work in progress.

Hopefully this year, I can make use of this flexibility and work on the new opportunity before me. I’m also going back to a former employer, Ton Duc Thang University, so as to be a short drive from my place two days a week, half the distance as was on my previous schedule.

Avoiding the trolls

I’m trying to make my time online more practical when possible, and not get myself drawn into useless arguments with keyboard warriors I’m unlikely to ever meet in person. I’ve taken myself off pages that trigger me, and generally give Twitter a miss these days anyway.

Being physically present with my children when I play with them is increasingly important as they become more aware of day-to-day things, so this past year of spending much more time with them has helped our relationship. They’re both getting pretty quick on their mini-scooters, and are super-inquisitive. Questions, questions, questions.

I turn 44 this year, and can see my window to generate revenue starting to narrow. For some people, they’d say that their working days are half-over. Making a decent profit off a recent land sale was exciting, although I still find real estate transactions ridiculously old school in Vietnam. But money’s money; even if you have to drive with 40 large in cash through the dark in the Vietnamese countryside!

Positivity. Streamline stresses and commutes. Avoiding triggers. Showing some gumption and taking some risks, and worrying about the outcome later.

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2019 – Stay the Course or Man Overboard?

Reflecting on 2018, there were some pitfalls and paydays. Betting on yourself, this is often the case.

I’ve now developed a flexibility I may not have had a few years ago – I now feel like I can be dropped into any situation (teaching-wise, anyway) and come out the other side. I was tasked with a 60-hour course with a useless book for content that none of the students bought anyway, and found myself scrapping it and throwing together six-hour sessions from scratch. When you’re standing in front of a class, that’s a lifetime. Jumping through mental hoops was trying.

person swimming on body of water

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Sink or Swim

That may have been the toughest test I’ve encountered yet, so I had to get creative. I found myself moving classes around to buy myself time and come up with stuff for them to do. Sandwiching in material from a crappy book none of them even had was another test. Also, try keeping a room of late teens engaged for six hours a day…. On any subject.

I give them credit, they clued in that all wasn’t right but stuck with me anyway. Barring a couple of exceptions, I left the experience with more positive feeling than negative. But this “baptism by fire” approach in Vietnam will either test your resolve or leave you broken.

In the end, I refused that there was a no-win scenario and pulled a Kobayashi Maru (Star Trek fans know what I’m talkin’ ’bout) and toughed it out. Going from that to teaching noisy six-year-olds how to make snowflakes at Christmas is now relatively painless, and I may yet seek out another full-time gig in a real bricks-and-mortar classroom setting.

abstract art blur bright

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Embrace the 21st Century

More and more last year, I tried to sort how to join the rest of the world and get into modern technology. I started teaching students online, doing copywriting for websites and a POS (choose the acronym you feel is most suitable here, haha) company, completed an online course with the University of New Brunswick. I even pop up in the odd podcast! (after the 16-minute mark) https://saigoneer.com/saigon-arts-culture/arts-culture-categories/12572-saigoneer-podcast-episode-4-u-23-pride,-bubble-tea-madness-and-the-saigon-heat

I used to boast about not even owning a computer for years, although most people thought that was more ridiculous than commendable.

There are arguments for live teaching and the online option, which may explain why I’m trying to blend the two. I really need to invest in a more modern piece of equipment, as the one I have has difficulty with large files, the battery dies quickly, and I’m at the mercy of Vietnamese Internet providers and power cuts. This has resulted in a rocky relationship with my Chinese employers, sit-down chats with techies about how to proceed (get a new computer!) and bailing on a few classes. Taking a month off to go to Canada also disrupted a few, although I tried my best to stay teaching while I was there. There’s no shortage of companies like the one where  I work, the time may have come to look around at my options. https://oetjobs.com/list-online-esl-english-teaching-jobs/

Regardless, New Year’s talk is just that. Let’s touch base in a few months and see where we’re all at. Happy New Year everyone!

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2018: Being a nomad in my own city

desert caravan dune ride

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By Harry Hodge

Tan Binh. Binh Thanh. District 2. District 7. All points in between.

That was this past year for me, working all over noisy, screwy Saigon.

Around February I decided to try my luck as a “free agent,” not tied to any one employer on a full-time basis. Sure, there have been a few stints where I was working full-time hours. But for the most part this year it’s been doing four or five different jobs, often in different parts of town, in the same week.

Has it been a wise choice? It depends on your point of view. Obviously having ample time for self-reflection and “recharging my batteries” after six straight years of full-time office hours, preceded by roughly six years (with a year-and-a-half of uneven scheduling) has been good. But financially have I come out ahead?

money pink coins pig

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Analyzing the numbers, the differential is based on hours worked versus revenue generated. I was recently offered a position with one of the larger educational providers in Saigon, but they presented what all new hires get, per their policy I’m sure. I doubt having eight years experience matters much when you have a surplus of applicants – you simply choose the ones that agree with the standard contract.

But back to them: The original deal was presented as X, but became Y after tax. Then it became Z after tax and without a Vietnamese income tax number. Divide that monthly figure by 160+ hours spent in the office/actual teaching contact hours, and it’s a pretty low hourly rate. The argument made is that “you’re not really teaching, most of the time you’re in the office.” Marking papers, lesson planning etc.

But to me, this is not the right way to look at it. It’s extra time driving across the city, extra pay to the daycare my children attend since the company won’t change its going-home time, and hours spent hanging around when all the lessons are planned and tests are graded. That’s fine for some, but it’s dead time to me. It’s time that could be allocated to chasing up more corporate training jobs, private clients. Having free time to go for a jog. Whatever it is.

If the hourly wage is this amount and I don’t see my family from 7 am to 6:30 pm, it’s not ideal. I essentially turned down the full-time offer because, after eight years of living in Saigon, I gambled I could do better than that hourly rate and still have time left over.

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An example would be an acting opportunity I turned down. It worked out to 8 million Vietnam dong ($400 US, thereabouts) to do a deodorant/soap shoot out of town. I was like “OK, how many hours?” They said 40. Huh?

So $400 divided by 40 is 10. Which still would have been, well not fine but acceptable if I was single. But with two kids, I now have to justify the amount of time against the compensation. Having also been involved with Vietnamese TV shoots, there is a lot of time sitting around/drinking coffee/checking your phone. Spending two solid days doing that would have been soul-destroying.

Anyone who has read anything I’ve posted in the last 10 or so months can see that my motivation is about working smart, not long. All of these part-time positions still entail driving all around a huge Asian city, often in rush hour. The effect on my health may or may not be seen in the years to come. Being beholden to the elements and pollution are aspects of the choices I’ve made.

A funny bit of happenstance took place yesterday at one of the schools where I do a few hours a week; the company that made the full-time offer also had teachers working there. I was already working at the same place I would have ended up anyway, but avoiding the trek back to the office to “lesson plan” when I could just go home at 4 pm. I also know now that my threshold for teaching younger learners is much lower than it once was, maybe 8-10 hours a week is all I can stomach.

accurate alarm alarm clock analogue

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One recent revelation has been that my wife and I are eyeing a move to Canada within 20 months. I simply need to buckle down and kill hours and generate revenue until that time. The employment landscape will be totally different in Canada, as well as adapting to my return and her relocation, getting our kids into school, etc. I’ve had little time to devote to the blog the last little while, but I see knuckling down and attacking my work hours being the reality for the next 600+ days.

Updates when they arise, but the future is bright. I’ll master this work-to-life balance ratio yet, and my family will be the ones to benefit.

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By Harry Hodge

It’s 9 a.m. on a Thursday. I was busy like a madman 2.5 weeks ago, teaching summer school science in the mornings and ripping around Saigon for different tutoring clients in the afternoon. Then pick up the kids after daycare at 5 p.m. Some nights I’d hit the pillow and it was lights out.

Towards the end of the summer school, I had an interview and, eventually, an offer for a full-time (F/T) position which would have meant I’d be in training this very minute, prepping to start teaching this coming Monday. But I ended up turning it down, as well as the chance to take on part-time (P/T) hours at my old university lecturing gig.

Knowing I hadn’t been back to Canada for more than four years, with two grandchildren who haven’t met the family in the Toronto area, I figured the time home was needed. I also find now that I’m 43, I still have a fairly high motor, but it doesn’t rev like it did 10 years ago. Teaching classes full of hormonal teens demands energy, and I’m drifting closer to avoiding burnout than boredom. Or so I thought.


Get those hours up!

Apologies if the focus here drifts somewhat; today I’m just offering views on the F/T set schedule vs. the freelance “easy rider” method. I can see the pros and cons of both at this point.

The worry when you’re freelancing is that (A) you won’t get the same hours/work as if you had a permanent employer; and (B) what happens when your students cancel. No play, no pay as they say. I left my office gig in February feeling like the drive across town and the general tedium that the position started to bring outweighed the (decent) salary, freedom to choose holidays, etc. This coming after I worked at an international school where paid holiday time was the main draw, making up for what I considered wasted time “lesson-planning” all day just to keep you on the school grounds after you’d taught the requisite 18 hours of classroom time.

The beauty of those full-time posts were having daily social interaction and feeling “anchored,” as in when you told someone “I work at ______” it equates to some degree of professionalism, work stability, whatever you like. The number of times I’ve meet other “freelancers” in Saigon (usually writers) and left the conversation having no real clue what they did or who paid their bills left me more bewildered than envious.

The gamble for me at this point is, of course, financing our family unit. We have land payments, condo payments, daycare payments. Usually I just hand cash straight to my wife and watch the mountain crumble away. We still live comfortably enough, although before the summer school gig and after a copywriting post dried up, I had a month of “reflection.”


Idle hands

That time, as now, left me with a few side-gigs that ensured cash flow hadn’t completely dried up while I sought out replacement revenue. In Saigon, if you’re a foreigner with voicework, writing/editing/proofreading and teaching experience, as well as a decent network. you don’t need to worry (much). In fact, as long as no one cancels, I exceed my income at that old international school job, quite easily in fact. However, it’s the solitude that I struggle with.

If you’re someone who just happened upon this blog without knowing me, you’re likely unaware that I’m an extrovert. This is probably why I got into journalism, and teaching. I talk, I express opinions. I like having people around (generally). Working from home has perks and cutting commuting time in Saigon has been good for me health-wise, there’s no argument. But it’s so … QUIET. I live in one of the noisiest cities in the world, and yet my fingers tapping on the keyboard is echoing in my condo right now.

So when our whirlwind Canada trip wraps up in late October, and we return to town, I foresee getting back into the game full-time. Industry? Employer? Salary? Unaware at this point. I’d love to know those answers myself, but life has been so interesting getting this far with no clue where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing week to week, year to year. I can see until September 23rd, when my family boards the flight to Vancouver. After that, let the chips fall where they may.

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Coping when Revenue Streams Dry Up

By Harry Hodge

As I near my mid-40s, I have become accustomed to hustling for work. Over a lifetime of relying on writing and teaching as revenue streams, you (luckily? sadly?) develop a personal process for what to do when work dries up.

The best approach is to not have any one source of income; that said, many of us still have a MAIN one, which generates more cash than the others. When that happens, the traditional ideas are to (A) get more work from the other streams; or (B) find a new MAIN, whether it’s temporary or permanent.

I’ve been good since moving to Saigon to always have a hand on one branch as I swing to another. A recent roll-of-the-dice crapped out for me with a writing gig, meaning I needed to get my head in the game and find new work pronto. With a trip to Canada with the wife and children four years(!) in the making, we’ve come too close for a hiccup in revenue to be an issue. So the typical process, based on my experience, goes as follows:


(1) The initial surprise and annoyance.

There are two ways to deal with this one. Sit and dwell or get on the job search ASAP. Luckily, there are generally a lot of job postings in Saigon in April and May for Summer Studies. This is good because my university teaching gig seems to dwindle around that time, and pick up steam in August. Within a week or two I had half-a-dozen interviews lined up and a couple of offers. There were also some chats about online teaching, but I’d like to give my thoughts on that industry in a different blog post.


(2) The wait and keeping costs low.

So, now that you’ve got an offer, it may start right away… or in a few weeks. In the meantime, you’re hoping there’s cash coming in from your other streams. Like I said, I was still at the university until about two weeks ago, with a trip to Nha Trang in between. As well, tutoring at home, a gig teaching staff at a shipping company and a couple of writing gigs have meant that the cash flow hasn’t actually stopped, it’s simply decreased for a (roughly) four-week period. Compare this with people who spend months looking for a new job, like in Canada for example. I’d lose my mind, no joke.

Keeping costs low means doing away with craft beer, sharp imported cheddars and all the other stuff you enjoy when you’re flush. You start to seek out free stuff too; I went to a gym near our place simply because I had a three-day free trial voucher. You go to The Coffee House where a ca phe sua nong is 28,000 VND instead of Starbucks where a short fresh brew is 42,000 VND. You have instant noodles for lunch more. You walk 10-15 minutes up the street for 25,000 VND broken rice because the guy at your building sells it for 36,000. You take a trip and stay with in-laws over a hotel and buy ice cream to eat on the sand instead of paying triple for it at a coffee shop.

In short, you go into spending lockdown. Everything becomes a luxury. Essentials like baby formula, dish soap, paying for daycare and the cleaning lady (she is an essential, trust me) all take precedence. Your phone stops working but you put off buying a new one. And all this is going on while you have a fair amount tucked away in the bank! But that’s for trips abroad, future real estate purchases, and general rainy day stuff.

The fact of the matter is, it’s also a form of self-punishment. How did I allow this to take place? I need to pay for my shortsightedness, relying on “shady company X” when that has rarely panned out in the past.

Also, I’m not gonna lie: When you have a shortage of work, boredom sets in. Especially when you worked like a maniac for the last three years solid, and steadily for the past six. You drop the kids off at daycare, your wife goes to work, and BOOM! You are on your own. But you don’t wanna dip into the cash for outings to the casino or swanky spas. You go running, get back to that online course you’ve been neglecting, read a bit. Funny it took so long to blog about it!

Your focus is getting back to getting back to something like what you were doing two months earlier. It’s difficult to wrap your head around.

The only thing I can really say about it is I’m thankful that Monday, I’m back to being as overworked as ever.

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