I discovered an interesting site a few days ago. Carrot Ranch Literary Community is a boon to the writer. The site is a place to submit work and see other writers’ work as well. I entered the recent Flash Fiction competition and had it published here, though you can read it below.
Ethan was walking to the office and was listening to a podcast: “Global Meltdown.” He loved his new noise-cancelling headphones. They made everything around him seem insignificant. The world is coming to an end! That Swedish girl is right, and no one is listening to her, except Ethan, Ethan was all ears. Behind him, a driver was unloading Red Bull from a truck when he fell off the ramp, spilling cases of the drink all over the street. Ethan didn’t hear the crash nor the sound of the exploding cans as the carbon dioxide gas released into the atmosphere.
My wife and I spent two weeks in Vietnam and China recently. Below are some images from the trip. The main part of the vacation was in Vietnam. The time in Beijing was a stop off on the way home to visit with our son, his beautiful wife and their adorable two daughters.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
There is almost no semblance of traffic control in Vietnam: no traffic lights (except for the very rare ones on large streets); there are no crosswalks nor indicators for pedestrian crossings. Scooters outnumber cars and trucks 10 to 1. It is controlled chaos. Pedestrians cross streets when it looks safe and the scooters ride around the pedestrians like water around river rocks. Even the sidewalks weren’t safe. Scooterists helped themselves to use what we take for granted as walkways part of the road as well as scooter parking spaces. As fun as the three cities we visited in Vietnam, it took a toll on us. We were exhausted each night when made it back to our hotel. The weather had us in shorts and all I could think of is getting clipped in the calf, chin, or Achilles’s heal by a scooter’s foot peg.
My first authentic banh mi. I was worried about eating pork due to African Swine Fever which hit Vietnam back in 2017. Still, I ate pork three times in first two days. I worried about drinking water. This was remedied by always drinking bottled water (assuming the local bottlers were properly filtering their product), and I worried about drinking any iced drinks since it was highly likely the ice came from non-filtered water. As it turned out I drank four drinks with ice in them. So much for being cautious.
We took a Mekong Delta tour where we visited the Tho Xa My Phong; Vinh Trang Pagoda, drank coconut juice right from a coconut with lunch–just like an obvious tourist. We also watched caramel candy being made, visited beehives, and a honey bottling operation.
The following day we visited the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden. We skipped the animals. Too depressing. We toured the Palace of Reunification where–before Saigon fell–the building used to house the South Vietnamese President.
Nha Trang is an international vacation spot where English takes a rumble seat to Russian. In fact, most of the non-Vietnamese we heard was Russian. This goes back to the Soviet Union days where Soviets vacationed above the 17th Parallel. After the reunification, Russians started vacationing further south. In some ways, this is their Mexico–a relatively close, cheap, and warm place to kick it. A lot of cigarettes are sold here, sometimes via “cigarette girls” walking the streets. Russians obviously didn’t get the memo on the health hazards of smoking. Russians can pick people like us out–holding hands while crossing the street, sometimes frozen in the middle of the street in fear. One Russian snapped at us mid-crossing, “Cross with confidence!”
These are common images. People sitting or lying on their scooters. The guy on the left is one of many Grab riders–Asia’s answer to Uber. There are supposed to be Grab taxis, but all we saw were scooters. The picture on the right was taken in Saigon.
I was enjoying vacation so much I forgot politics and political podcasts and just deleted my alerts. As of this posting, I’m still not listening to most of them. It feels nice. The whole time we were in Vietnam and Beijing Sacramento was experiencing some serious rainfall. I’m glad we got the rain and even happier that I dodged it.
A word about Vietnam (and as I would find out later) Beijing napkins. They don’t offer very big ones–very skimpy ones, to be honest. However, every meal comes with a wet nap. I would open them right away and place them on my lap which was awkward–especially when we were in Saigon and Nha Trang since I wore shorts and could feel my shorts getting damp as I ate.
The first 24 hours in Hanoi were fun. Our hotel was near St. Joseph’s Cathedral. I had hot and iced Vietnamese coffee quite often while I was Vietnam. The fourth and fifth images below are from a walking street food tour we took on the second night. The pho was good, but I didn’t feel well after eating the meat in it. For our last stop we had Vietnamese coffee with a whisked egg yolk in it. It was the best coffee I had the whole trip, but thinks didn’t feel so good in my gut by this time. A couple of hours later I was tossing everything up I had that day and then some. I spend our last day in Vietnam retching and praying this all would be over by the time I got to the airport. It was, but that was a horrible 24 hours.
Here are more of Alanis. (I guess the secret is out, I’m a proud grandfather.) The last one is of Alanis and Grandpa, Bin Man’s father.
Only a couple of things left to do before leaving Beijing for home:
Funny thing is, Peter had a concern about me walking around Tiananmen Square with a sheet of paper with words on it–as if it could be interpreted as a protest sign to someone of authority that doesn’t read English. Seconds after raising the harmless sign for the picture, I was confronted by someone from–I think–the People’s Liberation Army, but he just wanted me to move along and was quite polite about it. I shuddered later thinking it could have been someone pushing me into a paddy wagon!
The news from Mother Jones doesn’t surprise me. All “smart” devices have the ability for others–including the government–to accidentally or purposefully eavesdrop on your conversations. I’m especially creeped out by Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers.
In case you needed another reminder that Amazon’s Echo, an internet-connected recording device designed to listen and respond to verbal commands, can pose security and privacy risks for you and your loved ones, here you go. “Unplug your Alexa devices right now…you’re being hacked.” A family in Portland, Oregon contacted the company recently to ask it…
I just got back from a vacation in Vancouver British Columbia. I got to see my son, his wife and their daughter. They live in Beijing so it is a rare treat when we can meet. There was some business the young family had to conduct and we were happy to offer any service possible to make their visit a pleasant one. Below are some images and words describing my part of the stay. (My wife is still there.) This post is a test: about half of it was done using WordPress’ mobile app. This post is also an example of just how far I had fallen from the days when I had an SLR, multiple lenses, and a portable darkroom. Sorry about that.
Packing the Night Before
Sacramento International Airport
SeaTac car rental
Okay, I see one-third of a breakfast sandwich here
Vacation house for a week
First Meal in Vancouver
Vancouver International Airport
Loonies, Toonies, and different chips
Getting Settled In
Site Seeing Over the Week
Throughout my week, we drove around town to various offices so Bin Man could get her paperwork done and also had lunches and dinners at different places. A couple of years back I took a passive interest in the winter sport of curling. I still don’t know the rules, but find it fascinating. On one car ride, I saw the Marpole Curling Club! I wonder if Rachel Homan plays there when she is not on Canada’s Olympic women’s team. (I kind of have a crush on the lady.)
The Medicated Traveler
Getting Ready to go out
Peter and his daughter Alanis.
The Crystal Mall
If the reader has never been to Vancouver, they might be surprised the city has hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Canadians. This market caters to many of them. Think of a farmer’s market, but inside a building and seemingly endless. I have yet to go to China, but I am told that this market (among others in the city) is just like the kind in Beijing. All you would need to do is quadruple the number of people. The top left image is of a woman creating my Chinese pancake!
Chinese New Year Dinner
Sorry, no pix of the family dinner, but that’s a good thing, right? I didn’t sit there taking pictures while we were having a nice family dinner. My daughter-in-law cooked an excellent meal. I sat across from Alanis and felt a little more like a grandpa. It’s hard to get into that kind of mode when I see her as rarely as I do. At this stage, she has not warmed up to me, but that’s okay.
Fun at the (excruciatingly cold) Kitsilano Park
We went out to the park near our digs in Kitsilano located (sort of) across English Bay from Downtown Vancouver. Alanis had a great time. Growing up in Beijing, she thinks 35 degrees is nothing. My teeth were clenched the whole time so I didn’t rattle the fillings out.
Idle Time with Alton
The flights home
The only other time I flew on a commercial prop plane (top right image) was when my family and I flew from Acapulco to Cabo San Lucas back in 1977. (I remember we landed on a dirt runway!) I don’t have a fear of flying, but the Airbus Air Q400 and the choppy Northern Pacific sky made the one-hour flight nerve-racking. The landing was so rough the entire cabin burst into applause when we finally came to a stop. The trip from Seattle to Sacramento was also on an Airbus, but this bus had jets on its wings. I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The vacation is not over for my wife or me. She is still in Vancouver for another week and a half. I’m now at home with one more week off–a staycation albeit with a long honey-do list.
In the summer of 1977, I floated down the American River with my friend Dave. This was a horrible moment in my life and I almost forgot about it until it came to me recently while sitting on a mat listening to a yoga teacher talk about dignity, contentment, and gratitude. We were about to go into some breathing exercises when asking myself how well I have lived by these values the event popped into my head and I nearly broke down and cried. I realized it was on that trip down the river I started making fun of myself in a very self-destructive way. Something very different from the values dignity, contentment, and gratitude.
Dave and I had launched the raft at Sunrise Boulevard with provisions of soda and snacks and were on our way when Dave took off his shirt and I noticed his body was bronzed and muscular. No, my dear reader, I am not gay, nor do I have a problem with somebody being gay. It was more of a reckoning. The Dave I was looking at was no longer the kid that I remembered in elementary school–the misfit, like me. He was no longer the kid that seemed to always be squinting in the sun with his mouth open, bubbles of spittal collecting on one side of his mouth; the only boy in elementary school who didn’t wear white sweat socks with expensive athletic shoes like Puma and Adidas, but funny colored hosiery with oxford-style dress shoes. He was terribly out of step with the rest of us. Now–stripped-down–he was a very attractive man: perfect white teeth, a perfect body, a dark tan, and a deep voice, and the clothes? Well, he was in a swimsuit.
It was painfully obvious now, looking at my phosphorescent blob of a body through his mirror sunglasses, Dave was beautiful and I wasn’t. Dave was dating one of the most beautiful girls from our high school, I hadn’t had a date since my disastrous Senior Homecoming. Dave was the human equivalent of the Ugly Duckling. I felt like that story in reverse–sort of.
At this point, I should clarify something. The young man sitting across from Dave in the raft was not fat–not like I am now (hovering around 210 lbs. at 5’6). I was husky most of my life before college. If you compared me to my brother and the kids in my neighborhood I was definitely thicker. If you asked me if I was fat back then I would have replied with a resounding affirmative and that is a goddamn shame because I could have had a happier childhood if I didn’t walk around so uncomfortable in my own skin. By the time my wife convinced me that I wasn’t fat–going through old pictures and home movies–a desk job, two kids and three squares followed by desserts, lots of desserts had made me become fat.
On top of this feeling that Dave had really blossomed and I was, well, the unattractive guy in Dave’s sunglasses, I felt I had this coming. Childhood can be vicious. Dave was often the object of many jokes–most of them behind his back. I think it is fair to say that before getting into that raft I had a pretty low opinion of myself. The reason Dave and I were friends was because we were both members of the same untouchable caste. I wasn’t completely shocked that Dave was such a good looking guy and I wasn’t: in the last couple of years Dave was spotted by our high school’s expert skiers–a cliche of attractive students. Dave had been skiing for years and could keep up with these people. Dave had also been interested in weight training throughout high school. Me? I spent most of my high school years in my room.
So, I should have seen this coming. Still, the physical superiority on the other side of the raft shocked me, especially against my own mediocrity. So, somewhere down the river, staring at Dave, I began to hate myself and that hatred manifested itself in cracking wise about my weight, my burn-and-peel fair skin, my height, and my physical weakness. Like I was afraid Dave would take this time–now with a captive audience–to call me out on all the back-stabbing and tell me how great it is to be him and ask how much pussy had I’d been getting lately, knowing the answer was zilch.
I don’t think we had beers, but we both became drunk: I on spouting self-deprecating humor and Dave on laughing at it. I vaguely remember even cracking a joke about my seizure disorder. Something about how, years previous, my best friend, Jesse–in an attempt to defend me when everyone else was laughing at how I royally sucked and some game–shouting at my attackers, “He can’t help it! He wasn’t born right. weren’t you?” The only way to back up my buddy backing me up was to confirm my lameness. I fancy me saying something like, “Yep, Jesse’s right, gents. Take it easy on me, I’m a complete retard!”
Though I believe good ole Jesse was only asking for mercy amongst the neighborhood kids, I probably had a more universal interpretation of “wasn’t born right.” After all, in addition to sports, I also wasn’t very swift when it came to scholastics, and I had a stutter at one time. So, when I had a seizure in in my backyard in front of all the neighborhood kids it only validated this feeling that I was less than the rest of them.
When I got home after the rafting trip, I felt sick to my stomach. I quietly walked to my backyard, and right where I had that seizure in front of all my friends seven years earlier, I threw up. Following the rejected soda, chips etc. came the tears. I’m sure there was a physiological reason for the vomit launch–being under the sun for that many hours can take its toll. I like to think it was a psychosomatic response to the nuclear attack I launched on my self-esteem.
If treating myself as an enemy combatant was the reason for the vomiting, I can say it never happened on this scale again. What I can’t say is that the self-deprecating jokes stopped, all together. From that point on the jokes were a bit more conservative. Call them drone strikes. It’s important we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes I might go a little overboard with the “it’s important to laugh at yourself” idea, but for the most part I keep the values of dignity, contentment, and gratitude close.
Over the forty years since the dreaded raft trip, I would graduate from college, get married, have kids, and hold down a respectable if not an exciting job. With age, my health would begin to fail and I would find myself on this yoga mat and that trip down the river would pop into my head. An unfortunate moment. Breathe through it, Jack.
Recently, I received a cushion from one of my female yoga teachers. A purple cushion. Let it be known, with my red, pink, salmon, and other bright-colored oxford shirtsleeves, I am pretty secure in my sexuality. Still, the color of this cushion is emblematic of American yogic culture–overwhelmingly feminine. But hey, aside from it being a little small for my wide ride it suits me fine. Besides, I’m using it in a class that is almost completely comprised of women.
And that’s the thing about yoga and the male–and especially the older male: in American, he is a minority. When I started this thing a couple of years ago the male to female ratio didn’t matter to me: I was in it purely for my health–like taking a pill. Then one fateful Sunday afternoon the usual teacher didn’t make it and the sub introduced me to what yoga could be for me. Yoga changed for me right there. Since that time it has been an awkward, sometimes frustrating, but rewarding journey.
Mind you I don’t have a problem with two of my four teachers being female. In fact, one of them has on more than one occasion said that yoga magazines and online sites do a great disservice to the male yoga practitioner. Unless you like all the feminine hygiene ads, female models, postures that emphasize benefits to the female body, and articles titled “Any man who wanted to be with me wouldn’t be conflicted” and “Five Ways to Make a Man Feel Really Loved,” the male yoga reader has to wade through a lot of tall grass to get to the practices and other pieces that apply to him.
So, I sit on my purple cushion every Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by women. Sometimes I envision what would American yoga be like if it appealed to men like Crossfit does, or–Hey, wait a minute. Would if us guys all wore kelts!