At least they didn’t lie about what city we were in.

This post contains a few videos.

Saigon is a city of 10 million people in the south of Vietnam.  

I made some local friends at a coffee shop in an obscure district where foreigners were rare.  Online my hotel had lied about what district of the city it was located.  So my hotel was in a nondescript sort of nowhere area of Saigon.

Click on the video below to see me riding on my friend’s motorbike.

My friend took me to the area of the city where I thought I already was.  It was much livelier and more interesting and most things were open.  Almost every business in my neighborhood was closed for the entire week of Chinese new year.

<img
Click on the video below to see some nighttime traffic as we walked along.

src=”https://personaltravelstories.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/img_2608.jpg&#8221; alt=””> It was a very strange experience to discover that the district my hotel told me I was in, was so completely different then the area it was actually in.

My new friend, my, took me to her favorite smoothie shop located in an alley in the foreigners district.

My and I both need to wear masks on the busy streets of Saigon.

She was surprised when I pulled out my mask.  But after becoming very sick from pollution in the Philippines I never leave my hotel without one.  I was sick for nearly 3 weeks.  Relentless coughing.

My offered to teach me how to ride motorcycle in Saigon.  In a future post I will show you the motorcycle traffic of this city.  You will understand why I did not take her up on this offer.

My Deep Inner Life in Montreal

20140911-154134.jpg
A view from wandering around Montreal.
.
.

Efforts to Make Friends in Montreal, and My Deep Inner Life

I am feeling a bit lonely and am excited to make some local friends my first week in Montreal as I walk through an open door labelled 309. To the left of this door is 309A. I am looking for 309B. The lights are off. It’s an odd place; I can’t tell if it’s a business or a residence. For sure it has served both purposes and it’s in a commercial/residential area.

I’m standing in what is like an open concept, basic, urban kitchen. To the right of the door is about an 8-foot span of wall with makeshift open shelves, a basic counter and sink, a stove and a fridge. The usual details for preparing a meal but not really cooking so much. The shelves are fully stocked, colourful boxes and packages and dishes and cooking implements. Otherwise the room is grey. Grey industrial carpet, grey walls.

There are several tables with chairs pulled around. I feel like this would have been a small living room. It’s an odd space. Do people work at these tables? Are there bedrooms made into offices and this is the common area? I notice a cycling helmet and a jacket have been tossed onto the table closest to the entrance. I can’t say why, but it seems like they were just tossed there moments ago. Perhaps I perceive settling of the jacket but not consciously. Where is everyone?

“Hello? . . . Allo?” I call into the darkness. I hear a stirring but no one answers. “Allo?”

A middle-aged man pokes around the corner, friendly and curious. He is not expecting me. “Roberto?” I ask. “Qui?” “Um, I emailed with Roberto and he said the group would be meeting here?” We stand for a moment, staring at each other. He’s clearly thinking. Who is this Roberto and why would he be having a group meet in my space?

“Oh, you want that one!” he says after a moment and amicably, turning me around and pointing to a third door outside. It is labelled 309B, but was not noticeable when facing the direction of these doors, it corners the left side of 309A.

______________________________

Door 309B leads directly down a staircase. Seems to be the same grey industrial carpeting as in the previous unit. I can hear laughter and friendly voices. It seems more obvious now that this is a commercial space that had perhaps previously been residential. I go through a living room cum storage room following the voices around the corner.

Four large brown rectangular tables are pushed together making one big work surface. The room is brightly over-lit by fluorescent tube lighting so I choose and dawn the appropriate eyewear before even entering. (I am highly photosensitive.) Around the tables sit naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt.

“I’m here to volunteer?” I say with some uncertainty to the first person who looks towards me. A stocky, well-built shorter man wearing a green t-shirt and blue jeans jumps up to introduce himself. He is happy to try a bit of English and I am happy to finally try the only French I know, which is only a tiny bit. Oh, and I was kidding about the naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt. I mean, how would I have even known if they were legal or not.

“I’ll take him over here,” someone calls over, “I’ll show him what to do.” The first guy looks unsure, he was happy to welcome me too. But this other fellow wins-out with English fluency, calling again until the first guy relents and gestures me to go ahead. I have no idea how this works so I just accept being called over. He seems to be the guy in charge.

Well, he wasn’t in charge, he was just bossy. And interested in me. And he doesn’t want to share. Me. He shows me what to do. We chat in English and very quickly I lose all hope of ever conversing with anyone else in the room. I have found much the same in coffee shops here in East Montreal, people shy away from English. They may speak a little but generally prefer not to. And when I try my little bit of French they also reply that they don’t speak English. In this case they may have made an attempt to communicate with me, had I been the lone Anglo guy in a room of Francophones and happy to struggle communicating in my barely existent French some of them might have playfully interacted with me. The desire to communicate can easily outweigh language shortcomings, I have experienced this all over the world. But not in this case, not with the Brazilian fluently conversing. I very quickly became invisible to the rest of the group. The “welcome” switch flicked to “avoid”, perhaps even, “invisible”.

“Where are we going for a drink?” he asks after we emerge into the urban Montreal street. “I’m still going to Chapters, I don’t want to go for a drink,” I reply. I had told him of my plan to look for some specific books this evening after volunteering. He clearly wanted to spend the evening together but I didn’t. “I don’t really drink either,” he says, ignoring my lack of interest,”you know the village better than I do.” That’s just stupid. I’ve been to two bars and anyway, he doesn’t know how well or not I know the village. “Are you going to Beaudry Station?” I ask at the corner of Rue Ste Catherine, gesturing that this is where we part. “No, I’ll walk with you to Berri.”

He walks with me well past Metro Berri and some distance later we come upon a fashion show around the Plaza Des Arts. We wander in and there I leave him, which I have to do pointedly. I am feeling very crowded by this fellow who, in his head, seems to have already settled down and had babies with me. “There’s a station here?” “Yes, right there.” “Okay, I’m leaving you now, it was nice to meet you,” I lied. We farewell and I continue to the bookstore where I can find travel guides in English. I need to start reading about Southeast Asia.

I felt like my chance to meet some locals was hijacked by this friendly Brazilian. “It’s the first time in months that I came to help-out here,” he had exclaimed, suggesting the destiny of our meeting.

If we were meant to meet, then I guess I wasn’t meant to make some new friends that night after all. A group of friends where I was the token English guy would have been fun. That’s what I was hoping for – accept me in your group even though our communication is limited. I might not want to go to a German film with French subtitles, but there are lots of other activities I would be happy to join. I’m used to being in groups where I don’t understand what most people are saying, being the white guy in China and the only non-Japanese in my schools in Japan, I’d be happy to catch a word or gesture here and there. “Ah yes, a tree, I understand fully. . . ” (Really? They’ve been talking about a tree this whole time?) “Yes, tree, ha,ha, you speak Japanese very well!”
(He thinks we’re talking about a tree?)

Happily I have a “very deep inner life” that allows me to enjoy such situations. Sometimes I even do that with English speakers. Some might call it “zoning out” and see it as a defect of having ADHD, but I prefer my view. My internal world is quite developed and I am someone who rarely gets bored. There are strengths to be found in any attribute. I think my former partner may not have fully appreciated that I substituted, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, what did you say?” with, “Sorry, I have a very deep inner life, what did you say?”

The men in my family also seem to share a delay in attention change. If you start suddenly talking to us, don’t expect us to have heard the beginning of what you said. Because it takes a moment to shift our focus from our very deep inner life over to you. We need some advance notice that you are about to speak, how else are we to know that we need to listen? You will most always have to repeat the first few lines unless we were already presently engaged in conversation. Except there’s no guarantee in my case, “Sorry, I forgot you were talking to me for a moment.” Don’t take it personally. Unless you want to, I know that some people love to take things like that personally, keeps life more excitingly dramatic or something. I won’t even talk about our inability to multi task. Another time.

I was very much happy to be alone again. Thankful, in fact. Perhaps that was the purpose in our meeting; I had been feeling a bit lonely. And now I’m just grateful. More space for my deep inner life again.

20140911-154252.jpg
Some views from cycling around Montreal’s port.

20140911-154341.jpg

20140911-154401.jpg

20140911-154434.jpg

20140911-154449.jpg

20140911-154518.jpg

Click on the videos below to play them.


Cycling across the Jacques Cartier Bridge:


I had one song stuck in my head all day, so you might notice me humming it in these videos. The next one, for sure. (Maybe called, “This Land is Mine”, I might share the video sometime but some might find it offensive even though it isn’t.)

20140911-155231.jpg

Making Friends in Richmond, Week Two Report

20140128-170119.jpg

The Handsome Virginia State Capital in Downtown Richmond. I pass this way three times a week nowadays, walking to my chiropractor. Yes, that is snow you see. I am told this is an unusual winter.

_____________________________________________

Richmond Week 2 Report

By the end of week one, I was seeming to discover a barrier between me and mainstream Richmond. I had been finding interesting social activities where I could meet new people every day, but I was not having success of making friends outside of groups. Except when it came to the LGBT community. I was finding this community to be uncommonly accepting and inclusive.

I had made personal contact with several people and I came-out to them. Then they disappeared. Some days later I re-contacted them to ask whether I had offended them by being gay, or if they were just too busy to reply. On Sunday, the first guy I had contacted, fully a week previous, finally replied to let me know that I had not offended him. Clearly not an offer of friendship, but he was clearing-the-air as we were to be attending the same meetup event later in the day.

The girl who had given me her card with an offer to meet from her nearby work, I never heard from again after mentioning being gay. The young man I was to see a matinee with on Wed finally replied to let me know that he simply hadn’t checked email all week. This would seem a good reason not to reply if we had not been planning to attend a film the day after we met and only had email contact with each other. In that case, does he still want to go to a film sometime afterall? Well, I guess he hasn’t checked his email for the past 8 days because he again disappeared. So some Richmonders might not want to make gay friends, but they also don’t want you to necessarily feel rejected. They may not want to know you once you tell them you’re gay, but they don’t want you to feel badly about it. It’s like, they know they are uncomfortable, but they also know that they shouldn’t be. They watch tv, things are changing.

Apart from my chiropractor, who I am now visiting every-other-day, week two presented me with few activities to meet new people. Not because it was a slow week, but because I had already made some friends. Sunday I enjoyed meeting the film group to see Jack Ryan and for BBQ afterwards. It’s a nice, social, friendly group. Monday I met friends for dinner, the male-male couple newly from the mid-west. Really sweet guys. Tuesday events were cancelled due to weather and I found myself on the phone getting to know people and making future plans. Wednesday I met someone for a drink around the corner, the kindly fellow I went out with on Saturday. He’s native to Richmond but has real Southern Charm, which is generally not so notable here, in spades. Thursday I met three black gay guys for dinner and drinks. (Why am I pointing out that they were black and gay when I’d usually just say that I met three guys? Because the gay/straight divide has become a surprising topic of my writing here.) Great guys, the couple who had a tropical wedding and another Richmond newbie. Friday I went to DC with one of them for the weekend, so week 2 in Richmond was cut-short.

I do not think that Richmond is a homophobic city. But I do think it may be a segregated city. Honestly, I have not conducted this natural experiment other places so I cannot provide a good comparison, it just happened here. It seems like there were natural social filters working that after a week I found my place and that was of having only gay friends. This is completely new to me. My usual comfort-zone is of being the token gay guy, which is probably a factor of where and how I grew-up. This might say nothing about the community around me at all, or it might indicate that the gay community is very inclusive because they need to support each other. People accept each other readily when they know what it is to be rejected. Not in a brutal way, but in a kept-at-arms-length sort-of-way. Summarily, based on one trait.

For the rest of week two, stay tuned for my upcoming DC postings: DC International Auto Show and DC House Party.

20140128-170236.jpg

This modern sculpture of a police man’s head adorns the station near my sublet.

20140128-211521.jpg

My old hobby of going to the chiropractor M-W-F has forced itself into my Richmond routine.

Follow my blog by email and don’t miss a thing!
It’s as easy as a click to follow, and the same if you change your mind.
Thanks for reading!