Pokemon Go in Saigon – all day and all night

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This photo is from an article on the web site Voice of Vietnam about Pokemon Go during the recent Autumn Festival in Vietnam. All photos in this post except this one are my own.

Anyone out there into Pokemon Go?

I’ll pass on my feelings about the game by way of a childhood memory. When I was around six years old, while most other boys were watching cartoons, playing video games and terrorizing small animals, I got really into chess at the after school day care I attended. In fact, I was playing chess regularly before I could pronounce it. Here’s a mortifying exchange I remember with my mother:

The author at 6: Mommy, can we play chest?
Mom: [big laugh] No, honey, no chest today.

Laugh away, mom, but I was beating you regularly by age 7.

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In praise of silent mode

Suggested musical accompaniment to this post. I have no doubt Marvin Gaye’s phone was was in silent mode when he composed this masterpiece. 

When future archaeologists reconnect ancient servers and digitally excavate early 21st century life, I hope that at least one of them chronicles one of our great social afflictions – the scourge of people who use their phones throughout dinner parties, dates and other social occasions.

In my romantic history, there is an entire subset of flames that fizzled because I couldn’t stand the way they kept their phone on the table on dates and grabbed for it at every beep and flash. If a guest at one of the dinner parties I host spends most of the night on his phone, I’m certainly not going to curse his house with a plague of locusts or even delete him on Facebook. He is, however, much less likely to get invited to the next one.

Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, Japan. The people who built this and other great Buddhist temples did not compulsively check their iPhones as they worked.

I’m not likely to get into politics in this blog but on this point I have no hesitation in taking a stand – unless a member of your family is dying or a new one is coming into this world, it’s bad manners to spend much of a date or dinner party or the like on your phone. I think that the way many people miss out on actual life while their faces are stuck in their phones is in fact one of the great social afflictions of our age. While it may not be a global problem on the order of climate change or poverty, the world would be a better place if people didn’t do this.

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Thoughts on keeping fit (on a Vietnamese noodle shop napkin)

Yes, it’s a bit glib, but that’s the point. I think that fitness, personal finance, happiness and other big life goals can be a lot simpler than we often make them.
All photos were taken at and around Nam Vang Hu Tieu noodle shop in Saigon on Aug. 28, 2016. Hu Tieu are a style of noodles popular in the south of Vietnam, and Nam Vang is the best I’ve tried in Saigon. For those who would like to visit, the address is on the shop awning in two of the photos below.
Nutrition experts recommend that half our meals consist of fruits and vegetables. Yet with western diets, few meals even come close. One reason I love this photo is that it’s a vivid example of an everyday meal that is actually over half fruit and vegetables. This popular local noodle dish is also cheap and delicious. Let me emphasize that this is not “health food” – other than the fresh vegetables and garnishes you see, everything is cooked in pork broth and the dish is topped with three different types of pork (though quantities are extremely modest). Meals like this though, heavy in fruits and vegetables and low in carbs, along with lots of physical activity (more from manual labor than from the gym) are a big reason that obesity is extremely low in Vietnam compared to the US and other western countries.
The interior of the shop
The noodle stand in front of the shop. The bowls of noodles are served from this cart, which is only about 1 x 2 meters.
A partially assembled bowl of noodles
Garnishes on the noodle stand
Some take-away customers order from their motorbikes
The seated man is a motorbike parking attendant working in front of the shop. Motorbike theft is a huge problem in Saigon and I’ve been told thieves can break the most advanced locks in 10 seconds. In exchange for a small tip, attendants like this man watch customers’ motorbikes in front of most Saigon shops.

(Above two photos) The front of the noodle shop.
A building near the noodle shop
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A visit to a Bangkok fresh market (a photo essay)

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By Steve Fisher

I’m in Bangkok for a week and I hope to do 2-3 posts on local life here during and shortly after my trip. I lived in Bangkok and Hua Hin (a beach town a few hours south of the city) for about a year before Vietnam and have also traveled extensively in Thailand. Bangkok is one of my favorite cities in the world and I try to get back here once or twice a year.

Thoughts on lifestyle design: creating a great daily routine 

I typically travel between two and four months a year, and before each journey friends often wish me a great “holiday”. While I sincerely appreciate the kind words, I don’t think of any of my trips as vacations. Mostly, I’m just doing my work and other regular activities in a different place.

If we think about it, for most of us, life is full of a very large number of regular days and a much smaller number of holidays and other special days. So to my mind, what we do on the typical regular day is much more important than how we spend relatively rare special days. I try to create an appealing everyday life and work style that I have no desire to escape from with holidays and vacations. I care a great deal about the shape of my regular days, and don’t worry that much about what I’m doing for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, my birthday etc. (I think that these festive occasions are actually often a source of unhappiness and disappointment, because of the huge, frequently unsatisfied expectations built up around them.)

Whether I’m in Saigon or Bangkok or Barcelona, and whether it’s a weekday or a weekend or Christmas, my typical day is in many ways the same. My work is entirely location independent (Mac + internet + good coffee = office), and I finish before lunch on most days. Lunch is typically the amazing local street food they have in Saigon, Bangkok and many of the other places I’ve lived and traveled. After lunch, I’ll typically do meditation, message friends and set up plans to meet, and then go swimming or to the gym. At night I’ll meet up with friends, go to the spa or read. This routine is flexible, of course. Most days, I do my work first thing in the morning, but on the day I visited the market in these photos, I headed out as soon as I woke up, without a shower or breakfast, as these local markets are much more interesting in the morning.

Wherever I am and whatever the day, I try to do “happy things” (exercise, meeting friends, spending time outdoors, meditation etc.), and avoid “unhappy things” (working too much, stress, driving in city traffic, negative people etc.).

A walk in Khlong Toei fresh market

On my first full day in Bangkok I decided to visit Khlong Toei market, the largest fresh market in the city. Visiting local markets has always been one of my favorite things to do when I travel, and a long morning walk around this massive market seemed like a great way to get some exercise, and hopefully take some great photos for this blog. (Since starting this blog, I’ve found that I enjoy photography even more knowing I have a place to share any good shots I come up with.)

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Scenes from Saigon’s Chill Skybar (a photo essay)

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All photos taken at Saigon’s Chill Skybar on Aug. 19, 2016

When my friend and I first arrived at Chill Skybar, just before sunset, we loved the bar, but I wasn’t particularly happy with the images I was getting. Most were conventional “wow look at the pretty lights!” shots like the one above. Blah. Boring. Blah. To get more interesting images, I staring looking at smaller details in the bar and in the surrounding cityscape, and I share a few of my favorites below.

I think that if we look at the world with the right perspective, life is full of moments of interest and beauty. One of the things I do in this blog is try to suggest helpful alternative ways of looking at life and the world around us.

And with photography, depending on our way of seeing the world around us, the images we take from a given place and time can be beautiful or ugly, full of interest or boring, optimistic or gloomy.

With my photos, and in life in general, I’m looking for more beautiful and effective ways of seeing the world, and I share some of the ideas and images I come up with in this blog.

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Smiling at strangers as a social experiment

Authors: Fisher, Stephen Martin

 

 

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All photos taken in Tao Dan Park, Ho Chi Minh City District 3, Aug. 13, 2016

ABSTRACT: As a social experiment, the author tried smiling at strangers during a morning walk in Ho Chi Minh City, and observed the resulting emotions in both the subject and himself.

Methods: On the morning of Sat, Aug. 13, 2016, the author took a two hour walk in and around Tao Dan Park near his apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and smiled at a random sample of strangers (n smile = ns = 23).

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In order to avoid experimental bias and long interruptions to the research, the author assiduously avoided smiling only at pretty girls. Every effort was made to keep the group of subjects as diverse as possible. He smiled at old men with canes and old ladies with missing teeth. He smiled at cheerful, laughing children and bad-tempered ones as well. He smiled at young scouts pitching tents and tying knots in the park. (The author would have been way more into scouting as a young boy if girls and boys mixed together as they do in Vietnamese scouting groups. What’s the fun of roughing it in the woods with a bunch of teenage boys?)

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Be a long term investor in life

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“Bird is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” From my street in Saigon. Apologies to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

By Steve Fisher

A Tinder Breakup

While the people of Vietnam are among the world’s most friendly, I sometimes get some serious hate on Tinder here. When angry words and evil emoji are let fly by girls who were unfailingly polite and well-mannered in person, my offense is always that I don’t reply quickly or chat long and frequently enough.

Here’s the way it typically goes. The following scene takes place three days after meeting for coffee for the first time (names changed):

Me: Hello, Angelina, how was your weekend? [Chinese and Vietnamese who work with or socialize with foreigners often take on English names]

Angelina: Just stay at home

So bored

How about you?

Me: Oh no you need a nice boy to take you out [flirty emoji]

Angelina: Yes, need a warm heart

And you?

[In retrospect, I think she was just asking how my weekend was, but at the time I interpreted it as “And you? Do you need a warm heart too?”. As I’m not particularly sentimental, this turn in the chat momentarily short circuited the (probably underdeveloped) part of my brain that processes emotions and social relationships. I sipped my homemade chai and wondered how to respond. Apparently for too long.]

Angelina: [long, sad sigh emoji] Maybe you’re busy? [In Japan and some other Asian countries, this is a polite way of saying you’re taking too long]

[A few more seconds pass]

Angelina: I hate the way you interrupt! [I gather that she means my delayed responses. This wasn’t the first time. My phone is always in silent mode as I dislike the way the sounds and flashes chain us, like Pavlov’s dogs, to a useless cycle of stimulus and response.]

[Some more seconds pass]

Angelina: I hate you!

[This is followed by a stream of more angry words and evil emoji from Angelina, who in person I should note was sweet, well-mannered and feminine even by Vietnamese standards]

[Seeking shelter from the venom, I close Viber and run off to pound spices for another chai in the heavy Thai stone mortar and pestle I bought in a Bangkok market]

Here’s a video of women’s hilarious responses to men’s bad behavior on Tinder

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Reasons to be happy in Vietnam (or wherever you are)

Don’t pursue happiness, simply be happy
 
How to be happy? It’s perhaps the most important question we all face. Should we actively pursue happiness, seeking the spouse, job, possessions or other life circumstances we believe will make us happy? While this is the conventional approach, a growing body of research and writing suggests that the “pursuit of happiness” actually makes us unhappy.
 
According to this intriguing new perspective, actively seeking happiness actually creates a feeling of dissatisfaction with our lives. Rather than actually being happy in the present with what we have, we focus on the future and what we want. The conditions we believe necessary for happiness may never be achieved. And, even if they are, we often begin to take these new circumstances for granted and yearn for something else. Not long after moving into a beautiful new apartment or home, we long for a bigger and better one. All too often, this cycle of deferred happiness repeats endlessly. As a result, rather than actually being happy, we continue to pursue happiness by seeking the perfect job, home, spouse, etc.
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Perhaps we’ll be happier if we find ways to be happy with our lives as they actually are? Of course, we don’t want to stop setting goals and growing as people, but we shouldn’t make our happiness dependent on an uncertain future. Instead, we can focus on things to be happy about in our lives as they actually are. Right now.
 
With this thought in mind, and as a personal challenge, I went to my favorite neighborhood cafe here in Saigon and over a Vietnamese iced coffee (okay, three of them ;), I made a list of 101 reasons to be happy in Vietnam.

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