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Thank You, Vietnam

I found this old post I wrote when I thought we’d stick to the original plan and leave after two years in Vietnam.  We stayed five.  However today I really, actually move on.  In re-reading this, I realize how much Vietnam has grown on me in the past few years.  I like her even more now than I did when I wrote the “letter” below.  Vietnam, it’s been great!

Dear Vietnam,

When we met I was overwhelmed by your frenzy.  I slapped your mosquitoes, hated your heat and feared your scooters.  Time and time again you made me wonder why I’d come.  In our two years together I watched from the other side of the world as I lost two of the dearest people in my life in my first few months here and spent half my salary to fly away from you.  To put it lightly, we were unlikely friends.

And yet, I will miss you.  Our roller coaster ride included so, so many highs.  Never again will I see a beach so beautiful and deserted.  Never again will I be such an anomaly in my own neighborhood.  Never again will my awkwardness and lack of language be so quickly forgiven – and compensated for by those who should resent me.  I will never again meet such purely lovely children who want to learn and love school and work to ridiculous extents just to become smarter.

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Let Bucket Lists Kick the Bucket

Bucket lists are terrible. 100 Things to Do Before You Die must die.  Is this how pessimistic we’ve become? Death is imminent so make sure to have fun!!!!!  How about we change our minds to do what’s fun for you when it’s fun for you?  Yes, we’ll all die.  But, heck, I don’t have a countdown to that super special day.

There’s a point of these overtly obnoxious kicks in the butt.  Many of us are lazy, out of shape and perhaps in search of direction.  A “bucket list” scares us into moving.

But let’s act, not on fear, but on want.  Contrary to fashionable belief, not everyone has to skydive, or learn a new language or even *gasp* travel.  All we must do is be kind and support ourselves.  The rest is incidental.

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Friends

Blood may be thicker than water, but without water there is no life as we know it.  Friends give our lives so much of their meaning.  My friends are just…great.  Today is one of my best friend’s birthdays and also the day of learning about another best friend’s best friend’s tragedy.  The celebration/desperation conflict reminds me that above all else, friends should always be appreciated.  Cliché as this may sound, these pivotal moments in life are what inspire folk tales, puns and clichés, themselves.

In contemplating the value of friendship, I consider that one of these aforementioned best friends I’ve known since Kindergarten; the other I’ve known only 7.9% of my life.  Friendship is that unique relationship in life that wields both shared history and immediate compatibility into its fold.  My golden old friendship runs deep, with memories stemming from before the time when even some of my “thick blood” entered the picture.  My silver friendship has the immediacy of recent choice involved; I found someone I wanted to share time and life events with – and they liked me back.

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Look Me in the Eye When You Write about Me

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How quickly do we take things for granted?  How many years, days, hours before the initial wow fades?  Believe it or not, this isn’t a breakup blog post as Carrie Bradshaw would have you believe.  It’s an honest ponder.  I just wrote about my illicit love affair with the ocean.  Just.  Wrote.  It.  Only to realize the other day while sitting on the beach that I haven’t actually visited her since I’ve been back from South Africa.  Three weeks ago.  I liken it to the grandma you adore, but rarely make it to the old age home to see.

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The Hierarchy of Articulation

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What’s in an accent?  Surely that by any other pronunciation would sound as sweet?

Clearly the Bard was calling on base comedy.  I bite my thumb at thee.  Everyone knows accents are cool.  No, let’s be honest.  They’re dang sexy.  Well except for some.  Sorry, Midwest.  The best ours can be described as is “nasally.”  Not exactly erotic.

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Life Aquatastic

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Living by the ocean is the best.  The intoxicating uncertainty of her moods thrills me.  Will she be blue and calm, turquoise and flirty or gray, rough and full of fantastic anger?

Being near the ocean is an absolute treat.  It centers, grounds me, puts things in perspective.  It is my loyal friend to visit – well, my loyal friend with multiple personality disorder.

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And That’s Why I Blog for America

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Back in my Teach for America days I was fat with self-righteousness, certain that my life was one With Meaning because TFA told me so.  I was the chosen elite; smart enough, brave enough, good enough to save America’s education system!

Now, I don’t really mean to diss TFA.  It’s a great organization.  It means well and it gets results.  But it’s even better at marketing than education.  It convinces 22-year-olds, otherwise set to become Contiki tour guides, that they have a greater purpose.  I’m thankful for their influence.

But now that the un-glamorous glamor of working in America’s worst performing school district has long past, and I am a sell-out, rich-kid teacher at a private international school, I am more cynical.

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A Diverse Reminder

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Southeast Asia continues to splatter Awesome and Weird onto its diverse, fantastic canvas.

Recently in Chiang Mai, Thailand JD and I marveled at ancient temples whilst sidestepping lady boy lookers.  We ate delicious pad Thai with a dessert of tarantula from a street stall next to McDonald’s.  We went whitewater kayaking through proper rapids, and quickly paddled out of the way of elephants bathing in the river.  They waved goodbye to us with their trunks when we moved on.  In the wake of the beloved king’s death, there was no alcohol served, except sangria and margaritas at Mexican restaurants.  In Bangkok, the millions of mourners who flooded in from across the country were met with stands of free food, free drinks and free tea to anyone who wanted it in the spirit of the king’s generosity.  As we learned, we were also welcome to partake.  We bypassed the magnificent paintings of aspiring Thai artists and, instead, bought beetle wing earrings as souvenirs.  We tuk-tuked through alleyways of the Sweet, the Strange and the Sublime.

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What Comes Next?

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Arriving in a developing country like Vietnam can be difficult.  It’s messy, loud; jazz with no rhythm and a coked up bass player.  Street food vendors have rats a-waiting in the wings.  Three-story houses that you could only afford here are subject to weekly power cuts and water shortages that reduce them to stifling cinder block cells.  Local friendliness is more intrusive than calming.

But four years on those nuisances fade to background noise.  What emerges in their absence is the fun of being here.  Even if initial intrigue and cultural fascination wane, homey comforts arrive in a place you never thought you could call home.

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Combating the Dumb Head

2I’m sure I’m getting dumber.  I’ve begun to take for granted that I will always know all things I once learned.  Suddenly I realize I’m not so good at math.  I forget the capital of Vermont.  Even my vocabulary, the party trick of any English teacher, grows dimmer by the year.  Surely working with young children is to blame.  As I aid their developing brains I drain my own?

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