My Tabs 3-5-17

I have been feeling guilty about not blogging, but I have three or four hobbies that require more of my attention than I am giving them any given week. I consider cutting back, but limiting myself to just one goal at a time only guarantees I will waste more time watching TV or fucking about on Facebook. At least now when I am not writing, I am reading or hula hooping or playing guitar.

A much more successful woman than me once wrote that you ought to blog consistently so that your readers can learn to depend on you; that you ought to be the kind of friend you would want to have. That was my goal for a long time, realized now and then in brief spurts at the expense of everything else I enjoy doing, until I recognized that I have never been that kind of friend to anyone, and I don’t even appreciate that kind of friend. There are very few people I want to see regularly, and even fewer people that I want to see often. And it’s been my experience that the most dependable and reliable friends are the ones who demand dependability and reliability in return, which is fair, but that yoke chafes. I’ll take my chances with the flakes and the free spirits, knowing that my husband, my mom, and my siblings are never more than a phone call away.

A friend suggested that I do a kind of link round-up with all the things I have read. I took it as a compliment, with maybe the implication that I am posting too damn much on Facebook. Fair enough! I’ve tried spreading it over Instagram, Twitter, and my Facebook pages, but the tendency only seems to increase with the number of outlets. Somebody just needs to pay me to curate content. Until then, here is my latest version of a link round-up: all the tabs that I have open on my computer and phone, and maybe a few of the best things I’ve shared on Facebook or seen elsewhere.

Beautiful Taiwan, #nofilter #taichung

A post shared by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

This is the first iteration, but I can’t promise it won’t be the only one. I can guarantee it won’t reappear at regular intervals.

      • I enjoy everything I read on Avidly. I just found this link to their stories about teaching. I wonder if I could submit something there? Anyone want to hear about the trials of being an introverted teacher with ADHD who is hypersensitive to noises?
      • Is everybody getting these Master Class ads all over Facebook now? I finally clicked on the one for James Patterson’s class. (This is not an affiliate link; I don’t make any money from anything on this site.)
      • Then I found this article written by writer Joyce Maynard who took Jame’s Patterson’s Master Class, James Patterson Teaches Writing. It didn’t compel me to sign up for the course, but it was a fun read.

        One woman wanted to know how she might protect herself from the danger that someone, seeing her writing on the site—including Mr. Patterson himself, perhaps—might rip it off. Having seen her work, I might have told her not to worry.    

        See how mean I can be? James Patterson would never say anything like that to one of his students, or dampen, in any way, their aspirations. To James Patterson, any one of us out there taking this class may be the next James Patterson. And if we aren’t… well, you don’t have to become Jimi Hendrix to get some joy out of fooling around on the guitar. And let’s not forget, Buddy Holly only played three chords.

         

      • I’m watching the 2014 movie Somewhere, Anywhere, Nowhere on Netflix. It’s a Taiwanese movie about two friends who spend six months traveling around the island. Here’s a review from the Taipei Times.
      • I always have a Goodreads tab open these days. I am trying to read 110 books this year. I’ve been two books behind for a couple of weeks now, but it’ll be okay.
      • Texas is often stereotyped as a bastion of the backward and conservative, a state where oppressive “family values” reign supreme, but things are starting to look left, according to this article from Harper’s.
      • Deeply disturbing: a black Muslim teen disappeared from his home in Seattle and was found a month later, hanged from a tree. With no history of mental illness or suicidal tendencies, the family is struggling to find out what happened to their beloved son. kuow.com
      • Jeff Sessions is a liar who never should have been confirmed in the first place.
      • The French are laughing at our ridiculous president. I want to join them, if they’ll even let my American ass in after all this.
      • When you see a human being like Alicia Keys doing this musical impression game not only with Jimmy Fallon but also The Roots, and they have all these gigantic arsenals of talent, knowledge, and experience, cultivated over a lifetime…I am not sure that all humans are the same species. Or some of us should really just have gone to vocational school. Maybe I should be a truck driver. Hey Mav, you know the name of that truck driving school? Truck Master I think it is. I might need that.
      • In her essay We Brown Women, Miriam Rahmani unpacks the bigotry and hypocrisy in the language of the executive order/Muslim-ban “PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES.”

Who, after all, doesn’t want to be protected?

I don’t. My sisters don’t. Not this way, not by this administration, not by the white man.

    • 8 Feminists to Watch in 2017 from Mic.com
    • I am wading through Simone de Beauvoir’s little book The Ethics of Ambiguity now, and I’ve queued up some supplementary reading for when I’m done. It’s been a damn long time since I’ve read a straight philosophy book and it is not like riding a bicycle. Having spent nearly a decade teaching ungrateful tiny people their ABCs has not been sufficient to keep my brain in peak form.
    • Knowing that Ruth Bader Ginsberg not only takes time to work out every day, but also could probably kick my butt, does not make me feel good about myself.
    • Whenever I want to start working out, this is where I have to start: 5 Simple Solutions for Anterior Knee Pain. (Apparently, I need to activate my glutes. If I am not actually a lazy ass, I do have one.)

And I’ll stop here. This list is actually only the tabs I had open on my computer, but I have about 50 open on my phone (don’t you judge me!) and this has already gone on long enough.

Last Friday night

When February second became February third, I was at River with an old friend drinking vodka tonics. We met in 2004, a couple of wild English teachers getting into boy trouble. Now we’re both married, and she has a six-year-old daughter. Her daughter is one of the coolest little people I’ve ever met, but nobody gets wilder after they have a kid.

Chinese New Year sparklers

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

She claims that she lost her groove somewhere along the line, but she found it that night. “Usually I feel drunk after one or two drinks anymore, but tonight I feel great!”

“Go back towards the light!” I wanted to say. “Don’t follow me down this dark path!” But it’s always best to let friends do what they want. Don’t stop them from jumping; just tell them you’ll be there if they fall.

I’ve caught up with enough old friends now that the initial conversations have become familiar, like so many others scripts in our relationships. Remember when we used to be wilder than we are now? Remember when we never had hangovers? Remember when nothing ever hurt? When we hadn’t gained any weight? When nothing had consequences? It’s like the years want to chain you down as much as anything else. Even out here, doing our damnedest to opt out, we still feel the drag of time.

I didn’t get to sleep until 4:30 in the morning, but I didn’t have to work until 1:00, so that was fine. It wasn’t great: I didn’t read or write, I didn’t play the guitar or practice with the hula hoop. I passed out and got up with an alarm at 11:00 a.m. But I made it to work on time, with lunch, coffee, a liter of water, and loads of little snacks. Sometimes you can’t expect much more from me.

A third-grader wanted me to tell her what she had got stuck in her hair, and help her get it out. It was most definitely a booger, and it had gone all hard. Nope. Wordlessly, I handed her a tissue, and when she said she couldn’t get it out herself, I asked my pet to help her. “It’s not a booger!” I heard her say, but I pretended not to. My pet followed suit and returned to her chair, unmoved.

I take the trash out every Friday after work when the garbage truck comes round at 6:10. The new elderly neighbor woman from the third-floor accosted me: Where were we when she came to knock on our door during the vacation? She came twice! (One of those times I was home, but I had thought she was knocking on the neighbor’s door, though even when I realized she was looking for me, I remained quiet until she went away.) This is the stuff of nightmares, old ladies trying to enter my sanctuary without warning, without invitation. Worse yet, she asked us to dinner, specifically on Saturday, February 18. Now we have to move.

Only about half my friends understand why we can’t live here anymore. The other half are friendly, generous, and tolerant, which is why they have a friend like me when they could do so much better.

After work I went to dinner with old friends and new. They didn’t mix so well–was it because some of us hadn’t seen each other for so long and meeting new friends and catching up with old ones was too much for one meal? Was it because a gaggle of Western women was too much for a Western guys who are used to not having to fight for the floor? Was it too much for people facing big life transitions to chat about recent vacations and the pleasures of a drunk weekend?

Friends come in flavors and even if you like them all, they don’t always meld well together. Roasted garlic ice cream might be a lovely surprise, but chocolate-covered pickles are not.

I lost everyone I’d started off with along the way, but I made it to the bar eventually and immediately made new friends.  One was stumbling into a taxi, but invited us to any and all future barbecues he had, and for drinks the next night. We exchanged Line IDs, and then on Sunday exchanged pictures of our dinner. He grilled pork belly; J made a tray of seaweed chicken wings.

My friends and I spent the night smoking, drinking, and racing each other to the bar to pay for drinks. We were 23, 24 years old again, and we didn’t have husbands or kids, or even shitty boyfriends or Saturday classes. I told the bartender “I need four drinks” and she said, “A vodka soda, rum and coke, gin and tonic, and a Taiwan draft.” I was so impressed. You can’t just tell somebody how to be a good bartender. Some people are just smart and personable and attentive. I would be a terrible bartender.

Around 3 o’clock, we started racing across the crosswalk. You’re only allowed to touch the white stripes. I don’t remember who won, only that drunk and on a street in the dark, I felt like a kid on the playground in the spring sun.

Despite being such excellent customers, they kicked us out at 4 a.m. My friend inexplicably had a bottle of red wine in her purse, so we popped the cork and took it to the park. Her husband passed out in the grass and we listened to music on YouTube with a Canadian friend and his brother. The brother had a smile so sweet I would have liked to bottle it up and spray it on myself like perfume. When the sun came up and revealed a circle of early-morning walkers and dogs spinning around us, the guys and I watched my friend kick her husband awake on the grass. We didn’t think it would work, so when he stood up it was like seeing Lazarus come back to life. The brothers and I went to the breakfast shop. I realized I was crashing the last few hours my buddy had with his brother before the latter returned to Canada, so I took my leave and stumbled home in the soft, enthusiastic early-morning light, still listening to Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself on my phone, no headphones.

It’s still the good old days, maybe even a little better.

2017 New Year’s Resolutions

From my bullet journal:

Read 110 books
I read 100 books last year, so I don’t think this will be impossible. If you sign up for the Goodreads challenge, you get a handy little meter that tracks your progress and tells you when you’re ahead of or behind your goal. If you’re trying to read at least two books a week, this is invaluable. Also: short books are books, too!

Complete the Yale lecture series on The Novel: 1945-Now (read all the books and listen to all the lectures)
I followed the Yale lecture series on Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner last year and it was really enriching. Definitely put me on track in terms of trying to read the “American canon”, whatever that might be. I mean, whatever it is, The Great Gatsby, something by Hemingway, and something by Faulkner are on it. I have high expectations for this series and the books I’ll be reading.

Complete the list of 100 things to do in Zhongli and all blog posts
Why? I don’t know. It’s fun for me, gets me engaged with what’s going on outside, and gives me something to say when partypoopers say Zhongli is boring. It’s not Tainan or Hualien or Taipei, but we have a good time.

Plank for two minute every day (even if it’s not continuous)
Um I am already failing this. It’s not too late to get back on track, though. Just I’ve been having these lower back pains…

Stick with yoga 2-3x a week; if class with Neil ends, enroll in a yoga gym
My buddy has been showing me some of the ashtanga yoga moves and we’ve been meeting up to go through Leslie Fightmaster’s 50-minute ashtanga yoga video three days a week. I am worried that taking Chinese class might make it easy for me to find excuses not to go, but so far, so good. It feels great and I know it’s good for me in terms of mindfulness, too. (That back pain tho…)

Keep hula hooping, even if it’s just five minutes a day
I wish I had some people to hula hoop with because having someone show me what they know would be so helpful, but until then me and my exercise hoop can spin around the living room in between classes. I’m not really committed to the every day thing, but I learned a lot last year just by hooping every couple of weeks, so I want it stay on the menu.

*Pay off all our student-loan debt
This would be so great, but unless we make it absolutely our number one priority, I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t want to teach more than I have to, but I want to the go to the U.S. to see my family this year. Also I want to take Chinese classes at the university, J has some trips in mind, and my scooter is possibly dead now, so I think the realistic thing is just to keep on paying and saving what we can.

Resume studying Chinese with a tutor or at the uni or a language exchange partner
So right before the end of 2016, like literally the last Friday of 2016, I enrolled in a Chinese class. So I have eight hours of Chinese every week now, and I am considering upping it to 12 or 15 hours a week next semester. I know that I always get excited at the beginning of new projects, but I am especially excited this time, and as long as the enthusiasm’s there, why not ride the wave? Also, tutoring is way boring in comparison, and I kinda sorta don’t love language exchanges as they usually end up being either free language lessons or you spend like two hours a week chilling with someone who isn’t actually your chosen friend when you don’t even have enough time for your real friends.

Get back on the Wahls Protocol diet-HFLC, organ meats, no dairy, limited alcohol, lots of fruits+veggies
So that probably isn’t exactly how Dr. Wahl would have described her diet, but that version of it was working really well for me and J in the beginning of this year. We both lost weight and every day it was like a competition of who felt better and had more energy. We rode that wagon until June, when we went to Thailand and Cambodia and decided nothing was off limits. Now we’re back to chasing that wagon as it rolls down the road. But now that holidays are over, we have no more excuses for making or eating hash brown casserole, and I feel like there’s a better chance we can stick to it.

Play the receipt lottery
So in Taiwan in order to encourage businesses to actually provide receipts (and thus keep their books in order and pay their taxes), the government came up with a plan to provide lottery numbers on every receipt. So every time you buy something, you get a lottery ticket. J and I have never really participated, but it seems like you can win a little bit of money quite often, and who are to throw money away? The Rockefellers? Maybe some of that can go towards our student loan payments or helping someone in need…

Give charitably every month
We haven’t figured out like life insurance or our retirement funds yet, but we have more than most people on this planet. I wish we were better stewards of it, to give ourselves a more secure base from which to help others…anyway, start small. Maybe sponsor a grandmother in Cambodia? Donate money to build toilets in India? You really gotta do your homework, too.

Re: writing = measure activity, not results
Yeah I am getting sick of myself talking about writing, too, except that I do write a lot, whether it’s this blog, short stories, memoir, or in my diary. I beat myself up regularly for not finishing more things, for not submitting anything, for never really being published, but all I need to do is write, and anything that gets in the way of that, including self-flagellation, has to go.

Write for myself every day
For me, this kind of means journaling, but also not wondering what anyone else thinks about what I am writing. I mean, blogging, obviously, somebody might be reading it, and I’d like reading it to be a good experience, otherwise I am an asshole/sadist, but anything else, man, worrying about what people think before I’ve even started writing is creative suicide.

Make writing a priority: first thing every morning
Okay, so, no, ten days into January, still not good at this. I am still figuring out how to make time for Chinese class and Chinese homework, so I am not going to beat myself up. However! I know that I am quick to discover things that will distract me from all the complicated feelings I have about writing/not-writing or will substitute for the sense of accomplishment I get from writing, so no excuses: writing has to come before anything else.

Say yes more often!
If it’s not obvious to you, I am generally anxious and always worried about the consequences of my actions, which makes for a very boring day/year/life when you look back on it. I hemmed and hawed about taking Chinese classes for like a year, but so far, I am so glad I just made the impulsive decision to sign up. What else has this year got in store for me?

 

Taiwanese strangers

My scooter won’t start, so it’s in the shop. That meant J and I had to do some maneuvering on Friday so he could teach his high school classes and I could go to my Chinese class. I ended up with his scooter. After class, when I had to dash across town to hand it off to him so I could get to my next class in under an hour, I couldn’t get the seat/trunk to open.

I fought and fought with the key, tried pushing and pulling, twisting both ways, turned the key around and tried that, and nothing was working. Called J, but he got all stressed out, so I assured him I’d figure it out and be on my way asap. I knew in that busy neighborhood I could find somebody to help me if I asked, and even if I just stood there and looked sad, somebody would eventually stop and give me a hand.

Because Taiwanese people are maybe the kindest people in the world.

Eventually, a middle-aged dude on a scooter pulled up and asked me if I was trying to leave my parking spot. I told him I would, if he could help me get the trunk open. He tried for all of thirty seconds before deciding he couldn’t do it, but he tapped in an adorable college boy before he left. That guy probably wished he hadn’t been standing there across the street at just that moment, but he dropped whatever he was doing and spend a good fifteen minutes working up a sweat trying to get that trunk open. I tried telling him I would just call a cab, tried telling him I would just get another helmet and drive the scooter back to my husband for his magic touch, but that guy wasn’t having any of it. He fought with that key until it finally gave in. And then I didn’t know what to do. This stranger had just worked up a sweat for me, refused to give up the challenge until he was successful, and had really helped me out. I thought about giving him money, but really, Taiwanese people are quite proud when it comes to money and I would have hated to embarrass him right after he was so helpful. (Seriously, some people here can get offended if you give them a tip, like you think they need charity.) But I didn’t even get his name and I had no idea what was appropriate besides chanting “thank you, thank you” until it was awkward.

And like a month ago, my scooter wouldn’t start in front of a breakfast shop. I knew the owner was noticing, so I tried to push it down the street a little and fight with it. But the breakfast shop guy came out, and the woman who was there, and then two people from the flower shop next door, and eventually four total strangers were discussing what I should do and also taking turns trying to kickstart my scooter. Eventually it started, and I said thank you, and they waved me off like superheros who had to get back to work.

That reminds me of another time a Taiwanese friend offered to drive her boyfriend, me, and J to a campsite where we’d meet up with a bunch of other friends. But on the way, her transmission died. Two Taiwanese friends on a scooter caught up to us, and refused to leave us even as we waited for the two truck and then got towed to the mechanic. All in all, it was like four hours until we even got home. J kept saying that he and I should take a cab to the campsite and figure out how to get home in the morning, which made sense to me, but if those other women who weren’t even in the car were insisting on being there with us, I didn’t see how we could leave without being assholes.

I didn’t see how six of us needed to hang out together waiting for the tow truck, but I also didn’t see how we could leave.

To me, that’s so Taiwanese. You rise to the occasion, you support your friends and family, and if somebody reaches out for help, you roll up your sleeves and get in there…

…until they get on a scooter or behind the wheel of a car. Then Taiwanese people become finely-honed murder bots, or recklessly oblivious to everyone else on the road. 

And that’s where I am at right now, trying to reconcile how incredibly kind people here are with how incredibly dangerous it is to drive here.

I see accidents or the immediate aftermath almost every day here, and I only drive five days a week and never for more than twenty minutes or so.

Anything goes: double parking, random U-turns, rights and lefts on red, driving on the sidewalk (when there is anything like a sidewalk), running red lights. Cutting people off is as normal as farting.

I have literally had to link arms with school staff to make a barrier to protect children on a crosswalk because even though there was a crosswalk full of children, drivers were trying to edge their scooters and cars around the teachers instead of waiting one minute for the kids to get safely across.

Why is the driving culture so different from the culture of kindness and generosity that you see when you’re walking, when you’re stranded? It would be a silly question, except that driving makes me so angry and anxious that I avoid it, which means I sometimes avoid leaving my house so I don’t have to deal with crazy drivers. It’s a thing.

So if a driver here knocked me over, would they stop to make sure I was okay and stick with me til I was back on my feet? I definitely don’t want to find out, but who knows.

Signing up for Chinese class

Am now enrolled and attending Chinese classes at CYCU here in Zhongli, and it’s awesome and I am having a great time. I was so glad that I was able to get into a class studying nearly the same chapter of the same book I was using when I stopped working with my tutor like…a year ago? Almost two years? I can’t quite remember….

Anyway! Before I joined the class, I had to meet with the head of the Mandarin Learning Center, and she had to assess me. We were grooving, no English necessary, sorting out the details. She asked me to read from the textbook, and I did, and I sounded like a semi-literate adult, which I am in Chinese, but it was all good. Definitely gonna get into the class. Then she drops this on me:

請問,大概幾歲?

And I have no idea what she said, so I asked her to repeat the question, and she did, and I still didn’t catch it. And then she’s like, “幾歲? How old are you?” and I realize now this woman has to decide whether to admit me to this class of people who can speak Chinese and I can’t understand her when she tries to politely ask my age.

So that’s my Chinese level: I can have a fifteen-minute chat about my life experiences and goals, but I can’t answer the question, “How old are you?”

That was embarrassing, but I outdid myself the next day. I sat in on the class for an hour and loved it. The other students were like oh my god, your Chinese is awesome, there’s a competition in February for foreigners who speak Chinese, you should totally join, you could win, you’re so great, and I’m like no, no, teehee. But secretly I am like, “I AM THE QUEEN OF THE WORLD!”

So I wasn’t sure that morning how it would go, and I wasn’t sure what they would charge me entering mid-semester, so I had decided not to bring a pile of cash. But I went immediately to the director to confirm that I wanted to join the class asap. I asked her if it was okay if I paid tomorrow, “我今天可以付錢嗎?” which if you know Chinese you will see the problem right away, but let’s keep going.

So I asked her if I could pay tomorrow, and she said it was okay. And she had me fill out a registration form, and she photocopied my passport and my ARC. I was feeling kinda stupid for bringing all that, but no money, so I asked again if I could pay the next day, “我今天可以付錢嗎?” and she smiled and said that was no problem. She calculated how much it was going to be and I wrote it down. We went to the registrar’s office and they put all my info in the computer and then told me that I needed to pay, NT$7000.

“現在嗎?可是我要今天付錢…” And then when they looked at me like I was an alien, I realized that after having living in Taiwan for eight years, after having studied Chinese off and on for ten years, after having a few chats with this director, and getting praised by my new classmates, I still confuse “今天” and “明天”, “today” and “tomorrow.”

I had asked this woman multiple times if it was cool if I paid “today”, and she had confirmed it was very cool, and then when she asked me for the money, I had said, “Now? But I want to pay today,” which made them look at me like I was nuts. Obviously. That is a ridiculous thing to say.

And then I said, “Oh my god, no, sorry, 明天, 明天!” the director and the clerk looked at me like I was a piece of shit, but only for a second, and then they recovered, smiled very gracefully, and said there was no problem, I could certainly come and pay the next morning, and then they nodded their heads and went away.

I will never, ever stop cringing when I think about this day. With any luck, I will also remember how to say “today” and “tomorrow” from now on. But that’s it, that’s my Chinese level: I can converse, I can read and write some, I can order a meal, but don’t ask me how old I am or whether anything is happening today or tomorrow because I will disappoint you.

Take classes at a local university

Adding to my list of things to do in Zhongli…

One of my 2017 resolutions was to study Chinese more. I have tons of textbooks, access to the wealth of resources online, loads of free time, and I fucking live in Taiwan, but somehow every single day goes by and I don’t commit any time to studying Chinese.

I do speak a fair amount of Chinese while I’m teaching at a certain school, which is not at all how I think these things should be done, but since my coworkers there cannot speak English very well, the whole thing is kind of a shitshow.

I digress: I only wanted to point out that I speak Chinese sometimes, but not in a context where my language skills would improve.

So on an impulse (yay ADD!), I decided to give up all my free mornings and sign up for Chinese classes at the local university.

They were actually really accommodating because I don’t need to have a student visa. I opted for the two-hour sessions instead of three, and because I teach Wednesday mornings, I can’t go to class, but then I don’t even have to pay for those sessions. That seemed more than fair to me!

It’s the first time in forever that I’ve been a student in a classroom environment, and the first time since my very first semester of Chinese that I’ve been around other Chinese learners. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much like a fish in water, and so fast. The other learners are very young, college-aged, and from other countries: Vietnam, Indonesia, and Russia. Chinese is our lingua franca. We don’t share another language, so we have to rely on Chinese to express ourselves. It makes my heart skip a beat to realize that because of my years of half-heartedly studying Chinese, I can not only communicate with native Chinese-speakers, but also people from other countries.

via GIPHY

My classmates are awesome! They are chatty and curious, unafraid to ask questions, intent on learning the language, and enthusiastic. And we can make jokes! I haven’t been in a class like this before, where we can make each other laugh in Chinese. Sometimes the jokes are intentional, sometimes somebody has a cold and says something ridiculous like “my nose is sick.” Good times!

Anywho, it’s been a wonderful first week. We have a test coming up on Tuesday, and I’m not really sure what to expect, but I feel so good about this. I am doing something useful and constructive with my time, I am meeting new people, improving my language skills, getting out of the house–all wins!

 I am taking my Chinese class at Chung Yuan Christian University (CYCU) because it’s not far from where I live and I know the neighborhood. There are like half a dozen universities in Zhongli and Neili, and I know of foreigners studying at CYCU, Chung Yang (National Central), and Yuan Ze (where we play kickball on the first Sunday of every month). Coming from the States, the cost of tuition here is crazy low. I’ve also seen that there are yoga classes and cooking classes at CYCU, and I’m not sure about enrolling in anything else right now, but how fun does that sound?

Vietnam Trip, Day 2: Exploring Phu Quoc

In the morning, we rented a scooter and at the hotel staff’s suggestion, headed north along the scenic road that followed the coast. If it had been up to me, we would have spent the day like a couple of crabs on the beach nearest out resort, but J’s first task is always to orient himself. So I sat on the back of the scooter, and even had to give him my sunglasses because he was driving and didn’t have his on, and he drove us up the wicked dirt “road” that was all poitholes and mud. It wasn’t at all comfortable and barely safe, but I enjoyed it more than driving fast along the main road with the other scooters and heavy construction vehicles roaring past.

At one point, the road was cordoned off with a rope and some white plastic tassles: just past that, it had been washed away and there was a span of perhaps 60 feet between us and the rest of the road. But there were motorcycle tracks down to the beach and we followed them to a silly little bridge made of sticks spanning a stream of water flowing down to the ocean. We supposed that a local man on a scooter could have ridden across, but even I alone am bigger than a local man, so the best thing to do was for J to walk it across. He swore; the effort was all on him, but I took picture that will grow funnier in time.

the gap in the road
the gap in the road
it was a pretty big gap
it was a pretty big gap
we didn't think the bridge would hold our weight, so J walked the scooter across
we didn’t think the bridge would hold our weight, so J walked the scooter across

After a few hours on that road, we were worn out, J from dealing not only with potholes but the prolonged uncertainty about if we’d find a way back to the main road, or would we have to drive back along the same road that was only taking us further away from the hotel; and me from the stress of being the powerless partner on the back seat. We eventually found the main road, which went through construction sites of new resorts and even an amusement park. We hadn’t eaten at all that day, having started off assuming we’d “find something”, so we had some Vietnamese food at a nice restaurant overlooking the ocean. But we got turned around in the town and couldn’t find the beach the blogs promised would be there, so we just went back to our own neighborhood.

We stopped for another Vietnamese coffee at a little cafe near our resort. We were quickly developing a taste for it: black and thick as oil, but incredibly smooth and chocolatey and not at all bitter. Of course, we still preferred it with a bit of the condensed milk to make it extra sweet and creamy. From our bench on the patio, we could watch the children at the local school enjoying their recess, and noted the wild mess of cables handing from the telephone pole across the way, in front of the produce stall. Ong Lang, that little neighborhood in Phu Quoc, brought back a wave of memories of the year my family and I lived in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, when I was 13. The bad roads, the loose chickens, the  baguettes, the fried spring rolls, the shacks nestled in among the hotels and resorts, the kids balancing on too-big bicycles being passed by Lexus SUVs…

The cafe owner told us that this time of year, the beach at Ong Lang was the cleanest and most beautiful on the island. And when there are no clouds, the sunset is the most vibrant. There were clouds that evening, but it was still very lovely, and I was hugely grateful to finally get into the ocean after such a long day. The water was so clear and calm that I waded into until I was up to my shoulders, and I could still see my feet. Unfortunately, it was clear enough to see that there were not really any fish or anything worth gearing up for a snorkel for.

a very polite dog looking for scraps at the barbecue restaurant
a very polite dog looking for scraps at the barbecue restaurant

We ate at a barbecue restaurant that night. The prices were good enough that lots of Vietnamese tourists and other folks who I took to be locals were also there, but also many Europeans and north Americans. We had grilled pork belly, shrimp, squid, a whole red snapper, beef rolled up in betel leaves, mojitos, and beer. It was a gorgeous spread. When we finished, we went back to the cafe from the afternoon and drank US$3 mojitos and US$1 pints until we were drowsy and full, then it was time for bed.

My husband and I both have ADD: Here are our tips for traveling better together

Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the options when traveling. (Photo credit J Gunden)
Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the options when traveling. (Photo credit J Gunden)

J and I both have ADD, which always makes things interesting, but can especially challenging in a new place. Not having a routine can be difficult for us: we lose time trying to figure out what to do, and being in an unfamiliar environment can make us uneasy. My goal is to outline and develop habits that will make sure we make the most of our traveling time.

This was my first trip with my bullet journal, and I used that resource to write down some ideas for best practices for the future trips we will certainly be taking.

  1. Splurge on tours or classes. 
    There’s lots to be said for going on your own and getting off the beaten path, but sometimes J and I get so overwhelmed by the options that we spend more time before and during the trip thinking about what we could do than doing anything. But taking a street food tour in Saigon or a cruise in Krabi gave us the opportunity to explore without the additional worry of trying to plot our own course. Paying someone else to worry about the details lets us hyperfocus on having fun.
  2. Follow in the footsteps of the ones who’ve gone before you.
    This is the free version of hiring a tour guide. J was chasing his tail coming up with the best possible itinerary for seeing the sites in Saigon. I suggested we just follow somebody else’s walking-tour itinerary. We hit most of the stops, saw a lot of the city, and it only took about ten minutes of research. One word of caution, though: make sure you pay attention to the details about what to visit when
  3. Prepare and maintain a master packing list. 
    I started writing down what I needed to remember a few weeks before we left on our last vacation, and while on vacation, I made note of anything I wished I had brought or could have left behind. This list is in my bullet journal, too. If you’d like some ideas to get started, there’s a printable master packing list at ADDitude Mag.
  4. Plan some time alone each day. 
    In our daily lives at home, J and I do a lot on our own, but on vacation, we shadow each other 24 hours a day. J gets hyperstimulated and wants to talk about his impressions of everything; I get drained and overwhelmed by the newness of everything and being around him all the time. Planning solo coffee breaks or even splitting up for the morning gives us the little mental break we need to refresh and look forward to sharing our experience.
  5. Make sure you both have money in your wallet.
    This might be the most personal tip on the list, depending on how you and your partner run your finances. J and I usually mingle our money, but when we’re out or traveling, he carries the cash in his wallet. I don’t like having to always ask for money; he doesn’t always want to buy souvenirs or gifts. Making sure I have money in my wallet every morning will reduce some of the potential friction between us.
  6. Decide on how much money, if any, you’re willing to give to beggars or touts.
    This is another question without a clear answer. It’s hard to know what’s right or helpful to do to help other people, but I can’t stand sitting there drinking my fancy margarita and ignoring the people trying to sell me a bookmark for a buck. Having to ask J to open up the wallet every time can complicate matters, so if we agree that I can spend US$5-10 a day on souvenirs from little old ladies, then it’s one less thing that needs to be discussed at length.
  7. Don’t count on having time to do something later.
    There’s been a number of times where we’ve procrastinated on doing something or buying something and in the end, left without doing it. Procrastination is a really big problem for anyone with ADD, so it’s hard to to just say “don’t procrastinate while traveling.” I hope that if we have it written down as one of our best practices, we can keep it mind.

Any folks out there with ADD have more travel tips to share? I’m certainly looking to for ways to keep improving our experiences. I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Vietnam Trip, Day 1: First Impressions of Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City too late to do–or eat–anything interesting. It was a Saturday night, so we thought we might go to a bar, but by the time we got our bearings, it was midnight, and the bars were closing. I was glad for it, because I was wearing my comfortable clothes from the plane, and the women leaving the bar were dressed in little black and red dresses. J was disappointed, but we went to the Circle K and it had WiFi. We ate instant noodles and shrimp chips and looked up articles on the best beer to drink in Vietnam. We liked the Saigon Special better than the 333.

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

Our hotel room at the Iris was small, but fine for the night. We only needed it to be near the airport. There were plenty of pho places around, but we didn’t know how to order and I was worried about getting food poisoning before our flight to Phu Quoc, after what happened in Cambodia. (I got food poisoning and was wretchedly sick for 24 hours.)

The next morning, the cafes were open all over the neighborhood. We asked for a suggestion from the front desk and she said the place across the street was excellent, and offered the security guard’s services to help us cross. There were no traffic lights and not a little traffic, but J managed to get us across just fine. I had a baguette with fried eggs and J had the beef and green peppers with French fries. We each had coffee and it was excellent Then we crossed back again and walked down the street to another cafe where Jeremy ordered an iced coffee while I finished my cigarette. When I got inside, I realized we were in the same franchise we’d just left, just a shop on the other side of the road. The coffee was really that good.

After Vietnamese coffee, I was most looking forward to a real banh mi sandwich. The were available the Circle K between six a.m. and ten p.m., but I didn’t think that a convenience-store banh mi ranked as an authentic on, even in Vietnam. When we landed in Phu Quoc, we had another coffee at the airport cafe, and ordered a banh mi sandwich to go with it. It was made with lettuce and mayonnaise, and they microwaved it, and it was horrible and I was mad that we’d spent any money on it at all.

A photo posted by Keili Rae Gunden (@amateur_vagrant) on

J had booked us a room in a beautiful little resort that had a number of little bungalows around a pool. It being the end of the off-season, he got the room for very cheap. I message them ahead of time to let them know it was J’s 40th birthday, and when arrived, they had prepared a mango panna cotta and written “Happy birthday, Jeremy” very inexpertly. Because you can’t stick candles in panna cotta, they were stuck to the table with a bit of melted wax in a ring around the dish. It was all very cute and the extra effort was much appreciated.

That night, we ate dinner in the resort restaurant. Afterwards, we drank the mini bar beers and beers from room service. Everything was so cheap that it felt like we were rich and famous.

Winter is Coming, Zhongli edition

Winter is coming. We tell people in America it gets cold here in the winter, and they are sympathetic. They know cold. Cold is not great.

“How cold does it get?” they ask.

We cringe when we tell them it gets down to 50°C (around 10°C) because we know they will laugh.

“That’s nothing!” they say.

Yes, but: the houses here are built to be cool in the sickeningly hot and humid summers. So they are built of concrete, often with tile floors and even tile walls. The windows are often big to allow for creating cross breezes, and the ceilings are high. The kitchens are tiny in the newer houses, because nobody wants to be stuck inside cooking in a hot kitchen when you can get dinner outside for cheap.

There are often air conditioners in the apartments, but never heaters. The weather starts to get unpredictable, from day to day, then hour to hour, then one day it starts raining and doesn’t stop raining for two weeks and your clothes and the linens and the bathroom start to smell of damp.

The cold seeps into the wet concrete walls and settles on the ceramic tiles. You want to cuddle up for warmth, but keep your icy feet to yourself if you aren’t wearing socks. You can see your moist breath in the living room. You hang your clothes, but they take three days to dry. By then they are stiff and they smell weird. Room temperature water is cold, and even if drinking cold water weren’t culturally proscribed, it’s hard to do on a cold day. Stick to tea or coffee.

There’s no hot water in the taps to wash your hands. You do it anyway, bracing yourself, cursing if a drop gets on your sleeve. The students’ sleeves are wet and dirty all day. Your contact-lens solution is cold. The toilet seat is very, very cold. The shower is hot and you never want it to end because when you step out it will be cold.

It also starts getting dark earlier and earlier, so that the sun is rising with you in the morning and sets by dinner time. If you’re working 9-5, you might miss it.

You know how in the U.S., if you’re lucky enough to have a car, and lucky enough to have a car-starter, you can stand in your living room, drinking your first cup of coffee, and turn the car on by pressing a button, so that even if you have to move some snow to get to work, it will be melted by the time you get outside?

Yeah, well, in Taiwan you drive a scooter, rain or shine. You don’t want to get wet at all, because any part of you that gets wet on the way to work is going to be wet all day, and cold. You put on rain boots, rain pants and a giant poncho over your winter coat. You don’t want to wear the kind of gloves that will get wet, so you wear big waterproof winter gloves (they are never really waterproof though); or you put industrial rubber gloves over your nice woolly ones. Then you do up your poncho over your scarf, and then put on your helmet, visor down. That’s how you drive to work. In the summer, you would have stopped on the way for a coffee or a sandwich, but in the winter you’ll have to take off half your gear just to go in the store. Then it’ll get wet and so will you, so no coffee today, no sandwich. Just drive in the cold rain, your nose running and your hands too encumbered to wipe it.

You take off your rain gear when you get to school. But not your coat, your gloves, or your warm rubber boots because even if you have a space heater at home, there’s no heater in the schools, and you and the kids are all bundled up for the whole class. (Some of the babies will come to class in so many layers of shirts that they get damp with sweat in the cold and can’t move their arms very well, so out of compassion you and your co-teacher remove three or four undershirts and only put them back on again right before Gramma comes back to pick them up.) It’s too cold these days for the kids to go outside, so we all stay inside, locked up germ-incubators, always sputtering and coughing, red-eyed and hoarse, until spring.

“You think that’s cold? Back in Russia…”

Okay, yes. But it still stands that 50°F is a lot colder here than a crisp autumn day is back in Pennsylvania…