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Consciousness and Emotional Intelligence

Once again, it has been a very long time without a post.  It is not that ideas have ceased to run through my head but rather, I feel that blogging has become more of a chore than something I really want to do.

Actually, that is not the case.  I think I have a complex in knowing that people will read it thus I must be careful with the words and ideas that are typed out onto this screen.  It would be much easier if I could just let the ideas flow and my fingers press the buttons.  Then I think too much and decide not to post.

Luckily, a perfect moment has arrived where I’m alone and I simply do not feel like doing anything else but writing.  I do not want to read, nor watch Netflix, nor play any games and I surely don’t want to venture onto any social networks.  I just want to venture into that familiar trance where the rest of the world slips away and I’m alone with my thoughts.

And speaking of thoughts, one of the main ideas that has been racing through my head is this idea of Consciousness.  I have come to the conclusion that we are not fully consciousness   It is like being only half awake or like walking in a fog.  How did I come to realize this?

I’ve found that there are short flickering moments where I look around and really appreciate the beauty of the world around me.  For a brief instant I understand the true value of friendships and the wonderful feelings that connecting with others truly brings.  It is as though I am in contact with the true essence of consciousness, of life, of mind and of all that surrounds me.

Perhaps, living in this beautiful town by the coast I experience these moments a bit more often than most.  Or perhaps, I have simply inundated my brain with so much wine, tea and then exercise that it has short circuited somewhere and thus redirects my focus to the joys of being alive a bit more than usual.

I believe we all have these moments and with a bit of practice such as with meditation can have them with more frequency.  It seems to me that this increased “consciousness” would be a major step forward in human evolution.

As I look around at the world today I do not see this.  I see people walking around in a fog.    They go about their daily routines as though they are programmed.  People live in a closed environment, and this environment is closed by their own choosing whether they realize it or not.  For all this talk of “going social” on the internet I find that most people are not inherently social at all.  If you simply say hello to a stranger these days it would seem more of a shock than a nice pleasantry deserving of a response.

Or perhaps I am more acutely aware of this because I am in the sales profession.  It is my job to connect with people and I’ve become very good at it.  I know how to say the right words, give the right facial expression and how to adjust to different personalities.  I can easily draw people out of their shell and get them to interact.

I think it is possible to develop one’s mind to a higher level of consciousness.  One exercise in which I do not have much experience is meditation and is something I’m very curious about.  I’ve found that I cannot rest my mind for more than 8 seconds before it wanders off onto some common topic or daily activity.  I actually tried to think of nothing many times today only to find myself thinking about certain things the day was going to bring.

And speaking of wandering I believe this post has done just that.  A higher level of consciousness happens when someone dies.  For a few hours or maybe even a few days we really appreciate our loved ones and recognize their value.  But sure enough, these feelings slowly melt away as we return to the daily monotony.

Standing on a mountain with a beautiful view and to realize that we are just organic, self aware beings living on a rock that is flying through space in a universe of perhaps infinite size is a grand thought indeed.  I wonder why we cannot hold onto these thoughts and use them to really appreciate being alive?  How is it that religion has distilled the magnificent into repetitive drudgery and simple fairy tale stories that 95% of the population easily accepts?

Yes, most of us are asleep and I feel that in this moment of time only a select few can make that leap forward.  They are those that can “think freely” and release themselves from all the mental programming they received in their early years.  To truly be a free thinker is a difficult and uncommon thing indeed!

In regards to emotional intelligence I’ve recently realized that most people are not good at this at all!  Perhaps I am being too harsh as it seems to be a skill and thus would take practice.  Being a sales person I have plenty of practice at this as I must do it daily.  But I do believe it is something I’ve always been relatively good at by the simple fact that I like people and I care about others.  Maybe I am just selfish in that by making others feel good I myself feel very good.

Briefly glancing at the definition I can confirm that put simply, Emotional Intelligence is simply being able to recognize the other persons emotions even if they show no obvious outward signs.  Or perhaps I am deluding myself as it is a combination of minute signals that betray the feelings inside.  In any case, I am glad I can read them.

Now for something I cannot understand.  The idea of murder, of killing, no matter the circumstances (war, freedom, whatever you want to call it) is so repulsive and horrible to me that I do not like to read about it, do not like to see it in the movies and sure as shit do not support it no matter what the government says.

Yet, I find that a very high percentage of my countrymen are readily willing to accept murder of others so long as the reason given is plausible.  The only conditions are that they take place far away and to people they have no connection to.

I think that if someone walked into their living room and shot the visiting neighbor in the head (even if they were a bona fide terrorist) than their willingness to accept murder might drastically change.

Yet, when it is far away and for “freedom” then all of a sudden everyone is for more missile strikes.

And this my friends is the reason I do not believe that most people have enough “consciousness” and almost no emotional intelligence.  They walk in a trance, willing to believe almost anything.  Even if that “thing” is the opposite of what the mainstream are believing.  It is as though people need to join others in their opinions and beliefs.  If people were to truly think freely then would it not follow there would be an almost limitless amount of opinions and beliefs in the world?

But no, we have liberal vs. conservative.  Catholic vs Protestant, vs Buddhist vs. Muslim.  And you know what?  My opinion and belief is the correct one while yours is wrong.  Yes, with all the education and seemingly endless list of colleges most of the arguments come down to our own belief being right.  And we KNOW it is right because it was what was taught to us.

How mundane, boring and completely stupid.  Consciousness?  We only receive flickers from time to time.  Emotional Intelligence?  It has been dashed against the rock of cable tv and a couple of generations that only understand two words.   I and me.

 

Importance of an Open Mind

I’m sitting here this morning listening to music called “Ancient Temples” by the artist High Priestess. It is just peaceful music of the fantasy genre and I found it to be a suitable selection for the morning.  I discovered it just the other day through last.fm when I followed a chain of suggestions stemming from The Hobbit soundtrack.

As I drink my tea (high grade from Chinatown) and listen to this soothing music it occurred to me that I really like fantasy and the magical. I like to try and imagine the world from a child’s point of view and how wonderful a world it can be when you use your imagination.

 

Or, for those who take life a bit more seriously, we could frame this is a Zen, universe, theoretical physics sort of way and say we are just opening ourselves up to possibilities! 

I think adults often forget that. The simple magic of being alive and discovery is either completely lost or severely dimmed.  As for me, I cannot say exactly when or where my mindset changed but for the past couple of years I have really enjoyed discovery, trying new things and simply enjoying the world around me.

Perhaps I am taking a cue from my little boy who is interested in EVERYTHING!  I try to imitate his wonder and suddenly realize that I do not know very much about ants, plants, rocks and so on.  He becomes very excited when he finds a new type of bug and it dawns on me that I do not even know what the bug is called!

I’m not sure if I can describe the feeling or these vivid, wonderful thoughts I have when I tell myself to start paying attention and see everything with fresh eyes.  What I can say is that life becomes wonderful, it becomes magical!  Just by changing my mindset I now open myself up to ever expanding possibilities.

To bring this down to earth a little I can tell you that through this love of discovery I suddenly had the urge to buy a mountain bike last week.  Now I find myself getting a LOT of exercise and am really enjoying being able to cover a larger range.  I think it also may help quite a bit that I live in a beautiful place called “Pacifica” where there is plenty to explore.

Now how many adults no longer feel the need to explore?  It is not that you need to travel long distances or live in beautiful places to explore (although it helps.)  As I mentioned above I can explore my own backyard with my little boy as I’m quite certain there are many more bugs out there to be discovered.

It has also just occurred to me that perhaps technology has really encouraged this type of thinking for me.  Perhaps it is not just faerie music and extremely caffeinated tea after all.  My Iphone is a magical device which connects me to all of human knowledge.  Therefore, when I find that strange bug or weird looking plant I can look it up and know what it is!

Yes, yes, that is the magic brew!

1.  Keeping the curiosity of a child
2.  Seeing the world with new eyes
3.  Being able to actually tap into all of human knowledge to really understand what you are  observing!
4. AND faerie music does not hurt.   :)

Believe it or not, this was not my original conclusion or what my main point started out to be.  Sometimes I go in completely different directions and it is a rarity that my posts retain any sort of cohesion.

My original thought was about the perceptions people would have if say, I wrote my profile on a dating site or something like that.

1.  Listens to fantasy music
2. Drinks tea
3.  Likes to explore his own backyard
4.  Previously played too much Warcraft
5. Attends the Renaissance Festival every year.
6. Favorite Book:  Don Quixote
7.  Favorite Movie: The Lord of the Rings

How many responses do you think I would get and what conclusions would people draw about me?

Now I ask myself the same question.  What conclusions would I draw if I were to read a female’s profile of the same type?

(Luckily I don’t need to do this anymore as I’m married and my wife likes to attend the Renaissance Faires with me.  My little boy does too but actually he likes everything.)

I guess in conclusion, keeping an open mind is something everyone says is a positive thing to do but in actuality is quite difficult.  By limiting ourselves to our own biases and set opinions we are limiting the experiences we could have, we are limiting the possibilities!

It would be akin to looking at a menu in a restaurant and that you will only look at the plates with beef.  Not just beef but only beef that comes with sauce.  Not only that, but the price must be above $20.

Terrible metaphor I know but I believe it accurately describes how we go about living our lives.  There is so much to experience (and re-experience) but the main impediment isn’t money and it isn’t time.  It is ourselves.

Graveyards and The Meaning of Life

I wish to share with you a story.  Actually, I’m not sure if it is a story or not but rather an idea.  This idea I had while visiting an abandoned graveyard not far outside Killarney, Ireland.

I. The Graveyards

I decided to rent a bicycle and travel outside the town.  I had gone not more than 3 miles and saw that the city disappears rather quickly and was replaced by those beautiful green fields that Ireland is known for.  Not far from the town I came upon a very old, overgrown graveyard and decided that I should stop and read the inscriptions on the gravestones.

The tombstones were well worn and many could not be read.  Some had completely fallen over and were cracked.  I really wish I had taken a picture and if I had I’m not sure where it is.  But the picture to the left properly represents my thoughts about this particular place.  The difference is, there were many gravestones, close together, all of them weather stained and the grass had grown to where it would grow no more having reached their full height.  I read the inscriptions and found something similar to the following:

1.  Where you are now, I once stood.
- This is actually a famous (now forgotten) inscription on William Caldwell’s Grave who was a revolutionary war veteran.  It reads:

“Remember me as you pass by/As you are now so once was I/As I am now so you must be/Prepare for death and follow me.”

2. In memory of our beloved (Insert Name)

3. Here lies (name), good father, loving husband.

After reading the first inscription “Where you are now, I once stood,” had a profound impact on me . The second inscription also let me know that this person had a family, was once loved and did love.  Yet, the grave stone had fallen over and the grass was untended.  What occurred to me was that this person had a place in this world but over time was soon forgotten by his/her descendants.

This lead me to recall the famous poem “In Flanders Fields.”  Please watch this and listen to the words.

I read these inscriptions carefully and wondered to myself why had the graveyard been so severely overgrown?  Was there no one there to tend it?  They must have lived nearby and been part of a community.  Perhaps their community was small  and disappeared completely or was swallowed as Killarney expanded?  I wondered to myself where their descendants might have gone.  Did they even remember that their ancestors were buried here?  How could an entire graveyard be forgotten about?  Did it have something to do with the potato famine and mass migration to other countries?

Whoever these people were, they most likely had been entirely forgotten about.

Simply writing the sentence above puts me in a very reflective frame of mind.  These people belonged to communities, had families, accomplished, did all the normal things we all do.  But now, they are long forgotten, time continues and the memory of these people being further washed away with each  passing summer storm.

This sentiment is captured in the Irish Ballad “Danny Boy” which has different interpretations.  One is that a man’s son “Danny Boy,” goes off to war, or, he is part of the Irish disapora.  Should he eventually return he might find the father has passed away and the father is asking him if that is the case, please say a prayer and remember him.  Yet, life goes on and it is simply true that some will be forgotten as those who rest below me most likely had.  In this case, “Danny Boy” did not come back.  It was a very moving experience.

This lead me to thinking about my own life.  Does it really matter what I accomplish or what I do?  Will I even be remembered after a few generations?

The people lying in the ground below most likely had children, and their children probably had children.  They spawned others, many of which will have no idea where they now lie.  These people had feelings, drank at the pub like you and I, were sent to battle and eventually died as we all will.  Yet, their graves remained in front of me, untended and broken.

The picture you see to the right is at a famous tourist attraction and would have been the nobility of society.  Therefore, they are well tended. Yet, it is no surprise that most of the graves would be un-attended if they even had graves at all.

So, I spent a while in that graveyard, carefully examining the inscriptions and letting my mind be swept away with images of these long departed people, wondering about their lives, breathing in the fresh country air and letting this peaceful, quiet countryside carry my thoughts away.

I then got back on the bike and took a detour into a national park which I love to visit every time I find myself back in Ireland.  I take the same path every time not only because I know it to be a beautiful path but also to bring back old memories of my previous trips.  The first time I visited this place I was on a tour of Europe during a break from studying in Spain.  So it is not only the memories of Ireland I’m bringing back, but my first experience living in Europe which carries vivid, almost magical thoughts of a time in my own life gone by.

Again, I started to think about how quickly life passes and when I come upon this ruined monastery  with the graveyard out front it puts me to thinking about the impermanence of everything.  Will people remember who we are, what we did?  Does it even really matter?

This question resurfaced with vigor when I visited Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery in London.

As most of us are aware, the ideas of Karl Marx changed a very large part of the world and the lives of millions of people.  His inscription reads:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways—the point however is to change it”

Change the world he certainly did and I had expected this place to be busy with tourists.

There was not a single soul in the entire cemetery and this place is as spooky as a graveyard could possibly be.  There are many gravestones, fallen over and partially buried in the mud, some coffin parts sticking out of the ground having been pushed up by tree roots, and weathered stone angels peer menacingly down at you as if they too might fall over at any time.

 

 

It was exactly like the graveyard in the movie “Interview with the Vampire” and I half expected the eyes of the stone angels to start following me.

 

 

 

 

 

As for Karl Marx, I was amazed that as important and influential as this man was, there was absolutely nobody there.  If we look at the impact a man has on the world, there can be few who reach the heights of Karl Marx.  His ideas spread throughout the world but even he will eventually be forgotten and one day his grave will tip over and crumble as well.

It is a very sobering thought that we all will eventually be forgotten.  I had thought for a minute that perhaps the internet could change all this and perhaps even this post will live forever.  But, the net is a vastly expanding monster full of websites.  Servers fry, accounts become deleted and even if some things do remain it is only the ideas such as Karl Marx with the details and memories of the actual author quickly dying away.

Even memories of great men such as kings and conquerors do not live forever.  How many Kings of England can we name, let alone what they did?  Can we even say what our very own great-great grandfather did or even remember his name?  They are all swept away with the passage of time or pushed away into some obscure reference that nobody has read in centuries.

II.  The Meaning of Life

After my experiences with these broken down graveyards I began to think about the meaning of life.  Here in the USA in school and work we are pushed to continually achieve, “move forward” if you will.  We become wrapped up in our individual worlds and the minutia of daily life.  But how often do we reflect on the mark we will leave in the world and if we are working towards our ultimate purpose?  What is the meaning of our lives?

As I have a lot of experience dealing with business people some might believe that the purpose is to make money, to acquire goods.  I look at executives of major companies which sell trinkets, soda water, fatty foods and wonder if this is something they would put on their gravestones?  Is their work what they would like to be remembered for?

Other industries I really admire.  Those that work for peace, heal the sick, explore space and really add something to humanity.  These things have real meaning unlike the selling of soda water or simply trying to make more money off fellow human beings.

After thinking about this for a long while, the only real conclusion I come to concerning the meaning of life is simply taking care of fellow human beings.  Working for peace, helping those in need and simply living a good life.  As long as we are working for the greater good then I think a good life has been lived even though society tells us differently.

As morbid as it may sound, spending time in a graveyard is a great way to really remember what is important in life.  Suddenly, trifles such as wearing fashionable clothing, acquiring more than the neighbors or even being  a King suddenly seem not very important.  Grave inscriptions that read “Helped others,” or “loving father,” seem so much more important than “was the CEO of a fast food chain.”  In fact, I cannot recall ever seeing such an inscription.

Why is it that in death, we suddenly recall what is most important in life?

No matter what you do for a living, how much money you make, none of it matters in the end.  If you are kind to others, appreciate being alive and strive to live a good life then it can be said you lived a wonderful life.

Life Currents – A Reflection

After a particularly intense day of work I set down my bluetooth, close the laptop and take a minute to let my mind slow down.  I found myself staring at a piece of art called “Heart Lake” by Jane Kiskaddon which we purchased from the artist on Union Square.

 

Heart Lake

 

I’ve inserted it here (with the rights to do so as I own it).  My intention was to just meditate for a minute as I’ve got a slight headache from multitasking for the past 4 hours but found myself thinking about the currents of life or simply “life currents.”  My meditation cut short and my mind being filled with many different questions and thoughts, I thought I’d take a moment to post these thoughts that have obtrusively entered my brain.

The lake in this piece put me to thinking about water, rivers, streams and how they simply flow to their destination.  This led me to consider that some people perhaps go through life on a sure and steady stream and life goes rather smoothly for them with minor bumps along the way.

In fact, from the time we are born until the end of High School and perhaps university our path is pretty much laid out for us.  We are required to attend school, learn things and at the end either continue on the stream or reach an abrupt end.

I have always thought that at this particular time, life was easier for those who studied a specific discipline.  If you studied medicine then the next step is to become a doctor, no real hard decisions need be made.  If you studied accounting then it is natural that one would seek employment from an accounting firm.  Life continues at a leisurely pace and the stream carries them along.

For me, my stream came to an abrupt end with my graduation from university.  I was a business major and this field is much more broad in scope than someone who has specialized.  I remember sitting in my university apartment while others packed their bags to continue with their lives in previously arranged jobs.  The majority of these were the people who specialized in something.  I felt as though the boat had left and I was stuck looking for a life raft.

My main goal was to work abroad and this seemed like a pretty tall order and to put metaphorically the large determined current I had been riding was now dry and I was looking for a very tiny stream.  Yet, with the internet now in full swing I utilized its potential and was able to find my stream which led me to English teaching in Japan.

I didn’t know it when I first joined as it seemed a path with very few take, but what I learned is this stream would turn into a river with expatriates from all over the world taking this opportunity.  As I learned my way around and how things worked the current became comfortable and I was tempted more than once to just stay put and let it take me where it may.  I learned to tread those waters very well and could have made my life in Japan.  I know many other English teachers who are still there to this day!  But I looked downstream and saw that my options would be very limited and most likely not take me where I wanted to go.

Therefore, I climbed out of that current and moved to Vietnam.  To abruptly change ones situation like that can be a bit frightening and usually one has no idea what lies ahead.  Again, I thought I was taking a path that not many take but was once again surprised to find more than a few expatriates who had made Saigon home.  Again, the stream seemed small to find but turned into a river as many others were already there and a life could be made.

I loved life in Vietnam for the time I was there and thought more than once about staying.  But yet again, I found myself looking far down the path and not seeing it taking me where I wanted to go so jumped ship again.

It has now been four years since I arrived in San Francisco and find myself being swept along by the current and life becoming easier as I have learned how everything works.  The problem is that due to my past experiences I have a certain itch, a nagging desire to jump out of the current again to explore something new.

I would describe it as feeling “wrinkley” from staying in the water too long and having the urge to climb out and let myself be chilled by the cold chill of the unknown.  Perhaps from my past experiences it is a pattern, a habit I have developed to continually feel restless after becoming too familiar with my surroundings.  Maybe I am addicted to the natural high of having my senses stimulated with unfamiliar surroundings?

Yet, at 33 years of age I feel it is time to let myself be swept along a little by the current and build a solid base.  For this to happen I’ll need to “institutionalize” myself a bit more and take opportunities as they come instead of forcefully creating them myself.  I may need to stay in one physical location for quite a long time and thus purchase a house for practical reasons.

For most, this might all seem quite normal but for me, it seems like a very large anchor which limits the range of movement.  It seems like it is almost taking away a very large degree of freedom which most people might not even think about.

I wonder if other people who have lived in foreign countries feel a bit like this.  To “settle” is seen more as a burden and the accumulation of things as a very heavy chain.  If one is to settle, does the constant urge to travel continually gnaw at them?

For me, I have thought about all these things.  Yet, I take comfort in the fact that I chose San Francisco as the place to be weighed down among all the others.  I enjoy being close to the ocean, I enjoy the diversity and all the diversions that this area has to offer.  In fact, I really can think of no better place to be if one must stay in one location for a very long time.  Therefore, I can deal with my cravings to travel and subdue them to a point.

I wonder how far this current is going to take me and where I’ll end up career-wise.  I would hope that I am able to recognize new opportunities and find new experiences although they may not deliver the rush of international living.  Or, will I just drift into a sleep and let the current take me where it may?

Life in Vietnam Video

This is a snapshot of my life in Vietnam from 2004 – 2006.  Things have changed tremendously and I miss those years a lot.  I thought I would post this video and add some information for anyone thinking of exploring Vietnam.

1. We start off in the countryside.  I really have no idea where this place was, it was just very beautiful

:13 – This is in the Dalat highlands.  Foreigners are only allowed to visit here with an “official” guide if you get my drift.  The reason is that the CIA tried to recruit here during the war and therefore the government is very mistrustful of what foreigners do here.  As for me, I just wanted to enjoy the culture.  ’

:18 – We met some very friendly shop keepers and their super cute baby.  If you look at the expression on the mothers face she frowns a bit.  This is because our “guide” tried to say a word in their native language (not Vietnamese) but messed up the pronunciation.

:34 – The young lady laughs because I wasn’t sure how to catch her.  I need lessons

:43 – This is at Cao Dai .  They have their own religion which focuses around the all seeing eye .

:50 – We were invited to a festival and the young lady in blue is a member of the communist party.  She was very friendly and an excellent host.

:54 – The way to get around Saigon is by motorbike.  To get to the other side of the street you have to pass right through the traffic.  The best way to explain how is like a school of fish.  You honk your horn repeatedly and the mass will swarm past you just like a school of fish would.  It’s really not difficult to do.  People on foot cross the street this way and the trick is to just walk very slowly and steadily.  Don’t make any sudden movements!

1:30 – This is “round-a-bout”  Again, like a school of fish, if a larger group is coming you stop and let them go first.  I was the last to pass by before another mass of cars/motorbikes joined in and took a bit of a risk here.

1:35 – The bow is because I didn’t get us killed at the round-a-bout.  :)

1:45 – I’m wearing a wig because was recently at a costume party.  I went as an “american from the 70s.”  I saw my friends that night and most didn’t even recognize me.  Some guys from the US consulate (who also were on my darts team) looked at me like I had three heads.  ROFL

1:59 – I give a kiss to Claudia.  She is a Viet Kieu which means a “returning Vietnamese.”  During the war so many left but now are returning for vacation or to live but all to discover a bit more about their home country.  It’s so amazing because these people relocated all over the world.  Some speak German, some French, some English, basically they are coming from everywhere.

2:11 – Back in Dalat and a really cute baby is loving the music.  It’s when you see like things like this that you really start to detest war.

2:17 – On the “party boat” in Nha Trang.  This ride is completely awesome.  We always drank beer, then snorkeled, then did jumps off the boat.  They also create a “floating bar,” in which a crew member goes out in an intertube with a lot of bottles of TERRIBLE wine from Dalat.  We didn’t care that the wine is awful because we were pretty drunk anyway.  I remember speaking with a Viet Kieu from France and it was her first time back to Vietnam since she left as a baby.  Just so amazing to meet those people.

2:21 – Notice my Vietnamese buddy unknowingly “flips me off” English style when trying to give the peace sign.  ROFL!!!!  :)

2:31 – We were invited to the house of a gentleman who was an officer in the North Vietnamese army.  We drank and had fun communicating through our translators.  Again, war is stupid, people are people and everyone just wants to enjoy life, no matter what side you are on.

2:36 – In the jungle in a creek.  This is Mui Ne , a very beautiful beach side resort with amazing sand dunes.

2:37 – We met a bunch of kids who were very interested in us.  We bought them all coke and played a few games with them.

2:45 – This is Octoberfest which is a HUGE party at one of the hotels.  Basically, you drink beer, eat German food and drink some more beer.

2:50 – The dancers are entertaining us at a fund raiser for a local orphanage.  Very important to donate to these causes.  All the dancers were orphans. (5th of May School)

2:55 – This was the British Ambassador to Vietnam

2:57 – We were at the St. Andrews Ball.  They even cut the haggis !!  This ball is the most exclusive in Saigon and a ticket runs about $100 US Dollars.

3:08 – Myself in front of Ben Than market.  This is popular with the tourists but frankly, there are other markets further out with better prices.  They would always ask my wife “O’ne-san, O’ne-san, nani hoshi??”  – Big Sister, Big Sister, what are you looking for?

3:13 – Cu Chi Tunnels –  These are the famous tunnels which the American Army unsuspectingly build a military base right on top of.  Now, it is full of tourists.  In the past, you were allowed to shoot kalashnikov rifles for a dollar a bullet but it was discontinued because a Korean committed suicide there.  Not sure if they allow this now since it was quite a while ago.

3:36 – Darts!  Most bars in Saigon have their own darts team.  I was the captain of mine and the team members belonged to companies such as BP, Conoco-Philips, Canadian Consulate, American Consulate.  We also were at the top of the league for a while.

3:56 – A beautiful sunset.  I really love Vietnam and hope that one day I’ll be reconnected with that country.

Life in Tokyo vs. Life in Saigon

——Due to it’s popularity, this is a repost of a previous entry. Hopefully soon I’ll think of something interesting to write about ——————-
Life in Tokyo vs. Life in Saigon
I’m baaack!! Long time without a post here but I felt a little like an outsider since as most of you know I’m taking a hiatus from Tokyo life and living here in Saigon, Vietnam. But I have often had to explain why I moved to Vietnam if I loved Tokyo so much. Therefore, I thought I would put my explanation here for all of you who are curious about life in other Asian countries and considering leaving Tokyo for a bit.
The MAIN reason I am taking a break from Tokyo is I was afraid of Corporate Japan. I spent three years teaching English and two learning the Japanese langauge and culture and then I up and left! Why did I do this? The answer lies in the quality of life….
I had just finished my Japanese studies and was offered a job in a Japanese company where I would have been the only foreigner. I had established my relationship with this company by teaching the employees English at night. When they heard I graduated from the language program they offered me a job as translator / foreign liasion since they dealt with Spanish/English speakers very often.
However, I began thinking about what my life would be should I take it. I would have continued to pay my rent of $770 a month and worked 9am to 7pm everyday. I could just see myself getting on the crowded trains day in and day out and my main source of entertainment would have been drinking with my co-workers. Granted this would have been more fun than in the USA because I could practice Japanese and further integrate myself. I could see the years slipping away and moving up in the company would have been difficult due to my foreigner status , limited Japanese and the hierarchy of the Japanese system. This still appealed to me more than life in the USA which would have been buying a house, car, being in debt until 50 and joining the rat race. Also, the business environment is so much better in Asia and America better brace itself for a loss of even more jobs as Asian countries continue to join the WTO.
BUT, I took a vacation to Vietnam and found the country to be so much more relaxed and much different from what I had imagined. To me, Vietnam was not a war-torn country but rather a country starting anew with the excitement of a brand new economy and new businesses. I could see myself networking much easier and obtaining jobs that I choose instead of hoping employers would choose me. But without further delay, let’s do a compare and contrast:
Tokyo Life vs. Ho Chi Minh City Life
1. Working Environment
Winner: Vietnam
Vietnam has a relatively new economy and everyday new business are opening up. The elite of the city consist of young rich Vietnamese and ex-pats from MAJOR international companies such as BP, Nike, Unilever, etc. The ex-pat community is also very small so meeting the expats is not hard to do since most of them are very colorful and can be found at the local bars pounding beers just like the backpackers. If you want to meet the elite Vietnamese they will be at the local trendy bars which are wayyy too expensive for most of the population. They are starting businesses and are out to have fun.
One can network at all the business / diplomatic events and secure themselves a job by attending said events. In Tokyo a membership to the American Chamber of Commerce costed around $650 and every event was about $150 and up. Here, to join most chambers costs less than $100 and events are rarely more than $20. Also, non-members can often attend said events for a cheap price. In Tokyo, the elite are definately in the stratus-sphere and it is very difficult for normal folk to come in contact with them.
If a young person has a business idea here it can be done much easier than in the developed countries and simply takes a little capital or connections with the young elite.
2. Social Life
Winner: Tie
One can explore one single block of Tokyo for three weeks. The sheer immensity of Tokyo cannot be beat and it has an excitement to it with all the blinking lights, beautiful people and fabulous clubs. For high-culture and Metropolitans, Tokyo is the winner. But, the price of this entertainment is horrible and a good night out can set you back $200 easily. For the top clubs it will top $400. But then again one can come in contact with the cream of society and simply watching the bar patrons is excitement enough.
Saigon on the otherhand is very small and the best you can do for the club scene will be at the Sheraton bar which is mostly old fat westerners with young beautiful Vietnamese girls. However, since it is small you will get to know literally everyone and every bar you enter will seem like a “Cheers” episode. I cannot walk more than one minute between entertainment spots without seeing at least 5 people I know. For some, Tokyo is just overwhelming and this community atmosphere appeals to them.
So if I want to be out for an amazing night and am on the hunt, Tokyo wins because everyone I meet will be a stranger and what happens that night will disappear into the immense annals of Tokyo nightlife. But in HCMC everyone knows you and your history. Must not go crazy at night because everyone will talk about you forever and the history never dies.
So to recap, which is more important for you? Having a small group of friends that you take on a huge megaopolis with, or having a small city of friends / acquaintances that you take on around 60 entertainment establishments with?
3. Quality of Life
Winner: Vietnam
Life in Tokyo unfortunately is not going out everynight and being able to explore city blocks every week. Your wallet will be empty before you can bat an eye. Life is characterized by long working hours, long train rides and spending your hard earned dough on about 3 vacations a year.
In Vietnam you can take a trip to the beach or Spa every week. A round trip plane ticket to Nha Trang costs $70. Hotel; between $10-$400 but a nice room can be had for $20. Perhaps it is the warm weather that makes everyone so relaxed here. A smile will get you anywhere and is practically essential. Salaries for ex-pats are very high and I can actually save more money here than in Tokyo. Here I am among the rich but in Tokyo I am a pauper.
4. Personal Development
Winner: Tokyo
To integrate into Japanese society can be very difficult at first. The language is really tough and not many people can speak English well. So to simply integrate into society will change a person so radically that upon returning home they will find themselves bowing to everyone they meet automatically even if they try not to. Also, the langauge is seen as so difficult that if you can speak even a little bit, you will command respect and be perceived as smart.
In Saigon most people can speak English and it’s very easy to become part of the community here. It is a little difficult to integrate into Vietnamese community since the language is also difficult but there are so many English speakers that you will feel more included than in Japan. Also, Vietnamese are not timid about approaching foreigners and will come up to you unlike in Japan.
So is there a better place to live? I think the answer that it’s all relative and based on perspectives. However, it is important to break out of our comfort zones and get out into the world. Unfortunately, not a lot of people do this and therefore it is no surprise that people hold the ideas of the community around them. It is much better to live in as many places with differing ideas as possible. It just depends on finding out what is really important in life and which location these goals can be achieved. Perspective is also an issue since everything is realtive or based in perspectives. There is no inherently better place to live if you follow me.

Life in Saigon

It’s been a while since my last blog simply due to my own lazyness. Here in Saigon it is easy to become lazy and lethargic.
It is common knowledge that most people who come to live for any amount of time in Asia never want to go back to the rat race of the West. This applies mostly to men since the women are very nice and easy going here. Also, men can be in control since they will definately be richer than the woman and perhaps many men still need to feel in control of the relationship.
Saigon is a very small town and the business environment is unique. The Chamber of Commerce directories read like an old acquaintence book and from the outside it seems impressive since most of the long term ex-pats are here to lead their international companies in this market.
For me, I work at the Town and Country Club and it is my job to go to all the events and try to get more members for our club as well as more business. However, as most business people in medium size towns know, these events can seem boring after a while since you see the same people over and over again. On the other hand, you’ll always have someone to talk to. There are also so many young business people here and most of the Vietnamese Entrepreneurs here are also relatively young and rich. So it’s all very exciting for a while, but after a while going out all the time gets old like anything else.
Here is a snapshot of my usual week for those curious about life here for an ex-pat.
I go into work for a few hours and follow up with prospects for the club. Usually I’ll have a few lunch appointments during the week where I bring people in to the Town Club, have lunch and explain what the club is about. Then Monday night is either spent at home or playing darts. On Tuesday there is the darts league which is about 150 players and 12 teams. Everyone has their home bar and we play at different bars around the city. My team is the “Really Rottens” and we aren’t doing to bad at the moment. On Wednesday I usually hit the gym or go to the pool in the evening. Thursday is golfing night where we play under the lights at Saigon South on a short 9 hole course and of course there are usually beers afterwards. Friday is like Friday anywhere, and there might be a party at one of the bars around town where you go and catch up with the people you may have not seen in at least three weeks. Saturday I sit on my computer most of the day and surf the net. On Sunday morning/afternoon there are buffets at the three biggest hotels for US $21 which is a nice treat.
I’m getting bored just writing this blog, but it was mentioned that others might be interested in seeing what life is really like for us here. It isn’t terribly exciting, but where else can you meet the whole town and always know people wherever you go who also happen to have a nice position in some international company. It is not luxurious in the least bit like Paris, Madrid or Tokyo but Saigon has it’s own charm. Everyone will smile at you here if you smile at them and finding a girlfriend is as easy as picking up a loaf of bread.
If you get tired of talking with the same people, the tourists also add a little spice to the mix. You can always go to a bar and meet someone who still thinks of Vietnam as exotic and be part of their experience. There aren’t many American tourists here yet, but plenty of Australians and Japanese. It’s always interesting to see what brought them here and what their lives are like back in their home countries. For some reason they all say we have it made here.
Their daily experience and mine are also quite different. I’m usually in suit pants a tie and on a motorbike. So I’m not bothered by all the vendors trying to sell their items like the tourists are. Should I walk outside in regular clothes and without my motorbike I too will be treated like a tourist and be bothered. But if you live here it will go away and become a rather pleasant place to live.
I really cannot express just how kind the Vietnamese people are. As a tourist they might seem a little pushy trying to sell their goods, but when you are not a tourist you can see just how great they really are.

Trouble in Roppongi

Trouble in Roppongi

By tok_matthew

July 30th, 2005 @ 6:43 PM Life in Tokyo

Every month I receive an update from the American Embassy about Visa info, security situations, etc. I usually never read it since the visa info doesn’t apply to me and the rest just tells us that the rest of the world is still unhappy with America and it is in our best interest to lay low. However, the “Incident in Roppongi” caught my eye and I just couldn’t resist reading to see what happened. I had imagined that some young drunk American got in a fight or something like that but this one was a little different. Here is the report:

Incident in Roppongi
——————————————————

The US Embassy has received another report of an incident in Roppongi. An American citizen recently reported that he was drugged at a Roppongi area bar and his credit card charged $7,000 for drinks he has no recollection of ordering.

As always, persons are strongly advised to exercise caution and common sense when frequenting Roppongi at night.

———————————————————

Now for us long term Nippon residents, we most often do not go to Roppongi as it is really does not reflect Japanese culture and we have integrated enough with the culture that we don’t need to go there for fun. However, I have been there quite a few times and have noticed a disturbing trend. It seems that there are now much more aggressive scouts (most likely of African origin) trying to pursuade passers-by to go into the sex and strip clubs or buy drugs. When I first arrived in Japan I could actually walk to where I was going without being bothered once. But now, these guys will walk with you and refuse to leave you alone after you have already declined their offer countless times. The last time I was there, I felt a little uncomfortable with all these guys harrassing me, that I really have no desire to go back there again.

With these repeated incidents being reported, it seems that Roppongi is actually becoming a little dangerous which is extremely uncommon for Japan being the safest country I have ever visited. Also, some of the popular bars such as gas-panic have come up with ridiculous rules like you must always have a beer in your hand and be drinking or else you get kicked out. A further annoyance is a few bars are charging outrageous entry fees for their crappy little venues such as Lexington Queen. This bar has a reputation for attracting East European Models which is partly true but the fact of the matter is it is just a small dirty little bar trying to charge too much.

Anyway, for those of you who are new to Japan, Roppongi is worth one look around and then should be forgotten as it does not reflect Japanese culture what so ever. If you read a little bit about this history of the place, it used to be a barracks for American military personel during WWII. The bars spung up to cater to them and it has remained a night spot for mainly foreigners.

For those of us who really love Japanese culture, Roppoingi is quite an annoyance since there are quite a few bad foreigners there, and when they act up it reflects poorly on the rest of us.

Perhaps one of the most exciting, yet least attempted things to do while visiting Japan is climbing Mt. Fuji. It is quite close to Tokyo and only takes about an hour and a half to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji by bus from Shinjuku Station.

I attempted the climb and succeded in the summer of 2003, and it is something I will never forget. We started the climb at 10pm and made it to the summit in six and a half hours but had gotten there too early and were exposed to the freezing winds at the top which we were totally unprepared for. I also caught the chills and couldn’t stop from shaking violently until we were half way down the mountain. Unfortunately, we were only able to catch about a minute of the sunrise before it clouded over for the rest of the morning (picture is not mine but of my cousin).

At the summit there are three areas of interest: the temple, the crater, and the vending machines. The vending machines sell hot coffee but the cost is a dollar fifty to four dollars for a very small can. The reason for this is that it must be transported on foot since no vehicles can reach the top. There is also a small restaurant which sells expensive, mediocre ramen but is really good for warming up.

Suprisingly, many of the climbers are older Japanese folk who see the climb as a religious experience since Fuji-San has played a deeply symbolic part in Japanese history. These seniors are pretty in shape but still must book one of the small hostels about midway up for a nap and then continue the rest of the way. There are also some young hung over tourists who make it about an hour into the climb before they give up and start heading back down.

In total, our trip took 6 and a half hours up and just over four back down. If your thinking about climbing the mountain, make sure to take plenty of cash, warm clothing (even if it’s hot down below, it will be freezing on top) a headlamp and a ton of stamina. Also, be sure to not leave any trash on the mountain to keep it beautiful.

Japanese Youth and Manners

Japanese Youth and Manners

By tok_matthew

June 3rd, 2005 @ 12:13 PM Life in Tokyo

Everyone knows that the Japanese are the politest people on the face of the earth. I was completely amazed when walking into even a McDonalds in Japan and having the employees bow to me. In the trains I quickly learned to not talk to loud and turn my phone on mana- modo and if I was rude enough to answer to cover my mouth and quickly tell the caller to call me back because I’m on the train to which they would quickly understand and hurridly say “ok ok,, call me back.”

However, it would seem that these manners are quickly slipping among the Japanese youth. This however can definately not be compared to the rudness of youth in other countries since Japan is in it’s own league when speaking of politeness, but it seems that the youth are bringing it down just a notch.

When I first arrived, I was unaware that the young girl putting her makeup on in the train was being rude….

but when she continued to concentrate on one eyelash for five minutes (not exaggerating) I smiled and mimicked her to one of my gaijin friends. Unfortunately, she noticed and gave me a super evil stare. As time went on, I learned what the do’s and dont’s were on the train and became so accustomed to the life that I actually began to see those eating and talking on cell phones while on the train as rude. It began to annoy me when people’s cell phones would suddenly interrupt the silence and I would be awakened to loud jabbering. Then I found out what a Shibuya girl was and how being rude was part of their identity. Once on a train near Shibuya there were a group of Shibuya guys and girls playing their cell phone ring tones super loud and dancing to it!!

It seems now that the international media has picked up on this phenomenon and I recently read an articleabout how manners are slipping among japanese youth and wondered if it was due to the influence of the West or simply young Japanese trying to find their own identity by rejecting the social mores of their parents. The article now mentions that there are Sesame street posters which tell you to “Please fold your paper so it doesn’t take up too much room.” Does anyone have a picture of these characters? The last effort I saw from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in trying to control behavior was directed at the Chikans that depicted angry women and police nearby.

日本人と外人の関係について

日本人と外人の関係について

By tok_matthew

May 29th, 2005 @ 5:35 PM Life in Tokyo

私は三年間東京住んでいました。その時に日本の文化、言葉と生き方についてたくさんならって、日本の生活たいしてすごく住み心地の良いになりました。でも外人に対して日本で住むことをあまり住みやすくないんです。

日本で住むことを始まる時に外人が日本の文化と言葉、についてなにも分からない。そして日本人とあまり連絡をできません。色々日本人は英語をしゃべれる、だけどまだ日本の文化についてよく分からないで誤解がたくさんがあります。

例えば:

1.日本人にはじめてと日本人よくLets go to the Izakaya sometimeを言っています。外人はこの文を聞くと本との招待だと思っています。そして、外人の答えは、

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