Bangalorious

Arriving in Bangalore at the ungodly hour of 5am, I was able to walk to the hotel I had a reservation at. Upon arrival, I was brusquely dismissed. My reservation meant nothing to the night staff because they were sleeping and couldn’t be bothered by me or my pesky reservation.

A rickshaw driver that had been stalking me since my arrival at the bus station offered to help, and within 15 minutes I’d found a suitable hotel nearby that would let me in. It wasn’t much, but had a TV which meant I wouldn’t have to worry about watching the 12:30am World Cup games.

MG Road (Local parlance for "Mahatma Ghandi Road")

Besides getting a feel for the city and keeping up my work schedule, my chief purpose in Bangalore was a presentation I was set to give at “Social Media Day”, an event organized by Mashable.com that featured “meetups” in hundreds of cities around the world. Nat, my good friend and partner on theInteract.net, alerted me to the meetup, and thanks to some fortunate timing I secured the last of three spots for startup presentations.

The format was “Pecha Kucha”. You can read more about it here, but basically the format calls for 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. After 20 seconds, each slide automatically gives way to the next. The idea is to keep the presenter on point and to prevent them from rambling. It seems simple, but truly its a challenging format for presenters, as I found out when I began practicing in my hotel room a few hours before the event.

Nat and I had started working on the presentation the day before, and after maybe a dozen hours of work I thought it was ready. That thought came tumbling down the first time I tried to run through it, when I stumbled all over myself. The slides were going by too quickly, the flow and order of the presentation was a bit off, and I only had two hours left to prepare. Frantically, I edited and reorganized, and left my hotel with time for only one run-through before hopping in a rickshaw and taking off towards the far side of the city. Things were looking grim.

On the way! No pressure...

After getting lost several times, I arrived 30 minutes later than I should have. When I finally arrived, I had time to give the organizer the updated version of the presentation, but no time to run through it.

When the event started twenty minutes later, there were two rooms with a total of 82 Bangalorian Social Media afficionados filling the seats. The startup presentations were first, and I was to go third. The first presentation was particularly interesting; it was by Shufflr.tv, a startup that had launched publicly just days earlier and had recently secured $3M in funding.

View of Room #1 From the Speaker's Podium

The 6 minutes and forty seconds flew by in a flash, and before I knew it I was thanking the crowd and asking for their help when it came time for us to launch. Compared to the terrible run-throughs I had had earlier, it went fantastically well. The crowd atleast seemed into it, and I hadn’t said anything stupid or offended anyone which was good. Being that the crowd were all social media buffs, they were Tweeting about the presentation as I was speaking:

The rest of the event consisted of some short talks by various social media experts. For the most part, they were really interesting. At the end myself and the other speakers fielded questions before adjourning for some “mingling” time, during which I met quite a few interesting people and had a chance to chat with some of the other startup founders.

Chatting After the Event

After the event, a group of about ten of us headed out on the town for beers and food. We had a blast, and got a chance to talk more with some interesting and knowledgeable techies. I can’t even remember the last time I was surrounded by so many other web and tech-enthusiasts, and I had a blast talking shop with fellow tech-enthusiasts.

At a bar after the Social Media Day Event

I found the whole group interesting and likeable. One person in particular I found inspiring: Vivek, an 18-year old who has 30 full-time software developers working for him! Not bad for an 18-year-old! He had a driver, and at the end of the night dropped me off near my hotel. Before leaving, however, we had to take a picture together so that he could prove to his parents that he had a legitimate reason for being out late.

This is the picture proof... It looks kind of creepy actually, but I had to include it!

For the next four days in Bangalore, I spent my days in an awesome coffee shop called Matteo near MG Road. In the U.S., we have MJ, and in India they have MG, Mahatma Ghandi. The main road in nearly every town, no matter how big or small, is Mahatma Ghandi road, or “MG Road” as everyone calls it. I’d spend from 11am to 8pm each night working from Matteo.

My Office in Bangalore

In the evenings would grab drinks with a few of the friends I’d met at Social Media day, especially Preetham, Shyam, and Michael. It was great to meet and hang out with some interesting folks in Bangalore, and we had a good time checking out different spots around the city. I’d make sure to be back at my hotel in time to catch the late-night World Cup matches.

Watching Germany Destroy Argentina's Hopes at the Hard Rock with a Packed Crowd

All in all, I loved Bangalore and had an awesome week there and made some interesting new friends. I had to force myself to leave, but Hyderabad was calling: I had a reserved seat to hear Seth Godin speak in a  few days, and I needed to get there and give myself some time to get ready for it. At 6pm on a Tuesday, 8:30am back home, I was on a sleeper bus headed towards Hyderabad.

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Tales from Pondicherry

Its hard to describe how India has been so far, and anyways I’ve only barely been here a week. Instead, below is a collection of notes that might give you a sense for what its been like.

NYTimes Photo of Pondicherry, along one of the main north/south roads

Pondicherry is not a beach town, but its definitely an ocean town. There’s a constant breeze from the ocean that reminds you of its presence.Its not the “real India” in the sense that its not very representative. Poverty isn’t in your face, the streets are relatively calm and manageable, and there aren’t throngs of people all about. The NYTimes wrote an excellent piece about Pondicherry that I read only after leaving and that struck me as spot-on to my experience. Read it here.
Yesterday as I exited a bank I was approached by a beggar asking me for money. Generally its my policy not to engage or give money, especially when there’s not an obvious physical impairment, so I proceeded to get on my rented motorcycle. At the same time, a kid who I’d seen around selling little cloth bags approached and said “hello”.
He was watching my interaction with the beggar, and said to me “This guy is crap!”. Naturally this enraged the beggar, who started trying to hit him! The kid jumped on the bag of my bike, and we roared off together with the beggar still trying to strike him! I couldn’t help but think that it was like something out of a movie.
We had a good laugh, and I drove along the beautiful beach road before dropping the kid off. One of the bags was a beautiful blue color, so I gave the kid $1 for it with the intention of keeping my camera in it.
I met a guy named Rob who is starting a SCUBA school in Pondicherry and he invited me to go surfing with him the next morning. I fell asleep the night before around 8pm, curled in a ball on my bed writhing in pain emanating from my stomach. I woke up at 5am feeling better, and killed time working. At 9am, after getting quite lost, I found my way to Rob’s house and we packed up the car. The car had a flat, but after fixing that we were off. It was only the third time I’ve been surfing, and there weren’t that many waves in the semi-dirty water, but I was able to stand up once, which was a first.
The night of the World Cup match between the US and Slovenia, Rob and I decided to head to a local bar to watch it. He was going to pick me up from the coffee shop I was at around 6pm, but at around 5 it started raining. Raining HARD. There was an unbelievable amount of rain, and the water was coming down in torrents. By 6pm, it had turned into a flood, and the water was knee-high on the street! Rob dutifully arrived at 6, and I ran out and jumped into the car.
We made it about 100ft down the street before the engine died. We looked at the engine, which was flooded. Rob noted that “We’re done, screwed” as he realized we’d have to abandon the car. We pushed it down the street to a safe spot, and then hopped on my motorcycle to get to the bar.
There was a question as to whether we should just walk, but when I thought about it for a second, there was no way I was going to give up an opportunity to drive a motorcycle through a flood. We hopped on my bike which I’d planned to leave at the coffee shop and made our way slowly and not-so-surely to the bar. If we’d have hit a hole or lost our balance and fallen over, we would literally be submerged. Considering that my laptop was on Rob’s back, I couldn’t let that happen, so driving through the flood was a bit like walking the highwire. It was the first flood I’ve ever been in, and I gotta say it was pretty awesome, especially since safety wasn’t really an issue.

Not my photo, but the flood was similar to this, though there was less light outside.

– Pondicherry is a pretty small place, so most of the foreigners know each other. I kept on running into people I’d met before, usually in the company of someone else I’d met separately, only to find that those people already knew each other. It was eerie how often this happened. It made Pondy seem welcoming, and it was nice to meet some travel companions, if only for a few days.
After six days, I was content with my time spent in Pondicherry and anxious to get to Bangalore. On a Tuesday night, I hopped on a half-sleeper bus for the 9 hour drive to Bangalore. The World Cup had thrown my sleep schedule off, so I was only able to sleep for the last two hours of the trip. At 6am, the driver’s shrill voice awoke me from my slumbers and informed me that I’d made it to Bangalore.
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Welcome to India (or, This Guy Was No Prabaker)

I’ve had an itch to go to India for several years, the beginnings of which I can trace back to when I read Shantaram for the first time. Shantaram is one of my favorite books of all time; incredible story based loosely on real-life events, incredibly powerful writing, and an epic scope that touches on all of life’s grand themes.
It seems like everyone who comes to India nowadays has read and been inspired by Shantaram. I’ve heard two people disparage the book because they hate the expectations it creates; they say it paints of a rosy picture of India that just doesn’t exist in reality. I’m not in this camp, but I thought it was interesting to hear of Shantaram spoken that way.
In the story, the protganist escapes from prison in Australia and makes his way to Bombay (which today is called Mumbai). When he first arrives, he immediately befriends a rickshaw driver named Prabaker. Prabaker helps him get settled. I can’t do him justic here, but Prabaker is an unforgettable character, someone you’d love to befriend you if you arrived in India with no friends.
Which brings me to my arrival in India. After landing in Chennai, I took a cab to the heart of the city to try and find a hotel. The cab ride was 45 minutes through intense traffic, and the air-conditioning and cleanliness of the taxi did little to prevent me from quickly being overwhelmed by all that was going on.
My first impression was “this is crazy!” So many people dressed in fantastically colored costumes, farm animals wandering the streets, trash EVERYWHERE, and signs in English and Tamil advertising a ridiculous array of products.
When I stepped out of the cab, two backpacks in tow, to the locals standing around I must have looked like a giant bag of money ripe for the taking. After checking three hotels that were fully booked, I knew that some assistance would be required if I were to navigate the craziness of Chennai and find a decent hotel.
Enter Raja, a rickshaw driver who seemed less-sketchy than the four others that approached me and promised he could find me a decent hotel. I liked him enough, but I had a gut feeling that he was untrustworthy. But I didn’t have a choice, and I’d have to trust someone, and Raja was all I had.
For the next three days, Raja and his cousin Sadha would be my companions. One of the first things I realized upon arrival was that my plan of working in coffee shops each day to get internet wasn’t going to fly. All of the work I do is over the internet, so I needed to find another solution.
That solution took the form of a 3G Photon USB drive that basically gives you internet access anywhere in India. Long story short, after several consultations with telecom beaurocrats, I was informed that I could not acqure this or even a SIM card for a cell phone without a proof of Indian address. A passport won’t do, so basically if you’re just traveling in India you (ahem) “can’t” get one.
The logic is that in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last year, which were coordinated using cell phones, the Indian government wants to keep tabs on all electronic communication. Find idea, but identification doesn’t get more legitimate than a passport, so it was a little frustrating at first.
Sadha solved this problem for me by registering a SIM card and Photon under his name. Phone and internet-equipped, by the second day I’d cleared a major hurdle for my plans here.
Chennai doesn’t really have a lot of tourist attractions per se, which was fine by me. I’d only flown there because the only flight to India from Penang was to Chennai, so Chennai was just an entry point. For the three days I was there, I mostly worked  from a few restaurants, picked up a few pounds eating the amazing food, and watched the World Cup.
Three days was more than enough, and on the third day I arranged to take a four hour bus ride to Pondicherry, a former French colony and seaside town that promised to be more manageable and less intense than Chennai.
Raja and Saddha came to drive me to the bus station. Before we left, I put my backpack in the rickshaw before running across the street to grab a few waters. At one point I looked across at the rickshaw, and saw Raja and Sadha quickly look up at me. This was the only time in three days that the backpack had been out of my sight, and while their reaction seemed odd I didn’t take much notice.
There was insane traffic getting to the bus, and I arrived two minutes late. Over the three days, I’d given Raja and Saddha almost $70 for their troubles and paid for two meals with them (the Photon drive is so critical I’d have paid $500 to get it, so the $70 was justified in my opinion). Not bad for these guys.
Sitting on the bus, I thought back to when they had suspiciously looked up at me from across the street. I remembered that they had also seen me take some money from the passport holder on the backside of my backpack, which still had $100 in it. I reached over and pulled out the passport holder, hoping that I was wrong. I wasn’t, and to my dismay the $100 was gone.
Lessons learned:
1) Trust your gut. I’d had the sense that Raja wasn’t the most straightforward of characters, and it cost me going against my gut.
2) Trust no one. Actually I’m kidding. You can’t live that way, especially traveling. Sure, be careful who you trust, but I’d rather live as a trusting person and get burned every now and then than go about living treating everyone I meet with suspicion. Maybe just don’t trust Indian rickshaw drivers is a better rule.
3) Don’t let anyone see where you keep your money.
So, Raja was no Prabaker. Then again, I’m not living Shantaram; this adventure is all my own.
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My Bags are Packed, I’m Ready to Go

The day before I left Malaysia, I unpacked everything I had and laid it all out. As it was, my backpack was packed to the brim, and that simply wouldn’t do. Much easier to have a little extra space, because 1) I don’t have to pack so neatly to make sure everything fits, 2) this would make it lighter, and 3) would help me avoid baggage fees in airports.

So, after sending a package home that included 6 tshirts, an external hard drive, two books, and a few small trinkets, I took inventory of what remained:

Everything I'm Taking with Me to India

Here’s a list of all I have:

  • 1 pair of blue jeans
  • 2 pairs of lenin pants
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 small towel
  • 11 tshirts
  • 8 dress shirts
  • 1 semi-functional flip camera
  • 1 digital camera
  • 1 camera tripod
  • Sewing kit
  • 7 note books (3 normal-sized thin ones, two medium-sized moleskines, two small moleskines)
  • 2 backpacks (1 large, 1 regular)
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses
  • 2 man bracelets
  • wallet
  • computer lock
  • Amazon Kindle
  • cell phone
  • headlamp
  • graphic design pen
  • passport holder
  • EN90 (Engineering 0090: Engineering Your Dreams) course packet
  • Lonely Planet India
  • Hindi Study Book
  • Two novels
  • Toiletry bag
  • Laptop
  • Bunch of plastic bags
  • 1 pair of Topsiders, 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair tennis shoes
  • 8 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs boxer briefs
  • 6 pairs of boxers

So since you were dying to know, there you have it!

I would have asked “What do you think I’ll lost first?” at the end of this post, but that would be cheating since I already know that answer. A mere 24 hours later my digital camera would be gone. C’est la vie.

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Malaysia, Truly Asia?

To get from Hanoi to India, you can fly through either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. I’ve already been to Bangkok several times but have been to Malaysia only once, which made it an easy call. Since I had to book a separate ticket to KL and India anyways, I decided that I’d spend a little time in Malaysia on my way to India. Not to mention that my close friend Nat was going to be there, plus that someone I’d met a few weeks before had offered a place to stay if I ever came to Penang.

So off to Malaysia I went. As my plane left the ground in Vietnam, part of me expected something a little more profound than what actually occurred. I was neither over-excited nor worried; instead I was acutely in the moment and mentally strapping my seatbelt for the ride. But it felt good and right. At last, the plans I’d been laying for the last several months were bearing fruit, and I was off on a new path.

I spent the next three days taking advantage of the amenities of the Shangri La Hotel. I hardly made it a kilometer from the hotel, instead working from the room during the day and running small errands, or spending time at the bar during the night with Nat. Nat is my partner on theInteract.net, and after several months of working via Skype we utilized the time we had together to make some serious progress on the site, which we did. (Expected launch date, early August.)

Nat and I Doing Some Intense Negotiations over Skype

After three days of peace, quiet, luxury, and relaxation, Nat had to fly back to Australia and I to Penang. I had only heard of Penang maybe once or twice prior to booking a ticket there, but I knew I had a place to stay and that it was an island, and that was enough. My host, Sev, was a Canadian I’d met at a party in Hanoi. Engaged to a British chap who is living in Italy, she’s one of the crazier characters I’ve run across, albeit the good kind of crazy.

View from the apartment I stayed at in Penang, Malaysia

On my third night, Sev and I headed to a posh bar in the Batu Feringi area of Penang, which is the rich area of town. The swimming pool was both inside and outside the bar, and was built right next to the beach.

Sunset swim and cocktail in Penang

Swim inside if you want!

In short, Penang was fantastic. The title of this post comes from an ad campaign from “Tourism Malaysia” that is played in the planes when you land is a little bit ubiquitous. I’ve embedded below just to save the extra-curious folks the time, but really don’t watch it. Its just tourism-propaganda bullsh!t.

But Malaysia isn’t really like Asia, atleast the parts of Asia I’ve visited. Granted, I haven’t been to the city-monstrosities in China or Hong Kong, but I have been to Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, and Malaysia didn’t strike me as typical at all.

Malaysia is not like the Asia I’ve been to because it crosses a threshold when having the kind of amenities you probably take for granted. The streets are clean, drivers courteous, and traffic manageable.

As I said, the people were friendlier than almost any place I’ve ever been to. Friendly in a way that is genuine and also is sincere in not wanting anything in return, which was just so odd. To give you an example, twice at 3:30am I was riding my rented motorcycle back to the apartment after watching the World Cup and got lost. Both times, when I asked someone for directions, they insisted that they escort me the entire way back to make sure I was OK. You may be able to find such help in other Asian countries in the middle of the night, but usually it will come at a price.

Besides working 12 hour days in coffee shops in Georgetown in Penang, on Wednesday I rode 40km to the national forest and took a two-hour hike through the jungle to Monkey Beach. I was intent on seeing some monkeys, but also wanted to make sure I didn’t visit a tropical island and miss the beach. I only saw two monkeys, but at least two is better than zero. Once I made it to the beach, ominous clouds were gathering, so I took a quick swim before hitting the trail in an effort to beat the rains.

Monkey in the Wild on the way to Monkey Beach

Rain threatened my visit to Monkey Beach

After the hike, I packed my stuff before getting in one last work-session at the coffee shop that evening. I returned to the apartment at 1am, said my goodbyes to Sev, and closed my eyes for a few hours. At 5am the next morning, I was in the taxi and finally on my way to India…

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On Leaving Vietnam

I came to Vietnam expecting to be there for just three months before leaving for Thailand, but it wasn’t until 18 months later that I finally said my final goodbye’s to a city that can be charming, frustrating, colorful and off-putting at the same time. Consider this a farewell post, if you will, a hodgepodge of thoughts and reflections on the city where I’ve lived nearly a third of my adult life.

First up, a video I played at my going-away party. This is just a collection of photos and videos from my time in Vietnam, and I had it projected on a wall during the party. Its a little long and wasn’t intended for this purpose, but maybe you’ll find it interesting:

Why I Left Vietnam

I left Vietnam for good June 8th, am currently in Malaysia and headed to India in two days for the next six months. I spent a year and a half working for V-TRAC, which was the first American-owned company to start operations in Vietnam immediately following the trade embargo. I worked as the Marketing Manager there for nearly a year before transferring to work exclusively on Business Development issues. What is “Business Development,” you ask? It basically meant working directly with the CEO and Chief of Staff on just about every type of management issue you can imagine, from financial planning and forecasting, developing deals with external partners, and developing organizational changes. Due to the nature of what I was doing I can’t be more specific, but I had a fantastic time, worked with some amazing people, and had a lot of opportunities to develop a pretty wide range of skills.

But my true passion is for startup-entrepreneurship. I love the challenge of taking on an idea that’s never been done before and finding a way to make it work. I love the responsibility of being in charge of managing a project, and being personally responsible for its success or failure. I need the freedom to be my own boss and to make my own schedule. This hardly means working less hours; in fact, I’ve never worked harder or longer than I have since becoming my own boss. I want ownership in my work, to be personally rewarded for its success or to go down with the ship if it sinks. Most importantly, I want to work on something that truly inspires me and that I’m passionate about. With all this in mind, I started laying plans to pursue this dream, and now six months later, its on.

Top Five things I’m Going to Miss About Vietnam


  1. My expat friends. One thing I’ve learned from traveling is that the architecture and sights and sounds of a city are only the skin-deep qualities of a place. The people are what makes a city a home and what constitutes the vast majority of life in a placee. I met some amazing people in Hanoi, both expats and locals. Expat-wise, you can certainly meet amazing people anywhere, there are certain self-selected qualities of expat Hanoians. Hanoi is a tough place to live. The traffic is madness, the language vexing, and the logistics of living complicated enough that even the simplest errands can turn into escapades of boundless frustration. There aren’t thriving clubs, there’s no abundance of social activities, and the revolving door of expats makes lasting and meaningful friendships difficult to find. Yet those that choose to come in the first place and perservere are of a certain mold, and truly  I have some great friends in Hanoi that I’ll miss being close distance-wise to.
  2. My Vietnamese friends. I’m not going to sugar-coat things to avoid offending people, so truthfully I’ll say that in general, Vietnamese people are not as friendly and warm as their Thai and Malay neighbors, atleast when you first arrive. I think this probably has something to do with a long history of violence, foreign occupation, and  history of poverty that is both a result of these violent struggles and the fact that only in the past twenty years has Vietnam made economic reforms conducive to economic growth. But once you get to know Vietnamese individuals, once they see you’re not a douchebag tourist, the bounds of their friendliness can be limitless. My co-workers showed me endless care and concern, and over a year and a half I had the chance to become close with quite a few locals that I can’t help but smile when I think about.
  3. Riding a Motorbike. I love motorcycles. So much so that I got my motorcycle license when I was 20, even though I had never ridden one before and wasn’t going to own one anytime soon. What a pleasant surprise when I arrived to find that motorbikes ruled the road in Vietnam. I found it thrilling to weave through traffic, tear it up bombing down the highways, and cruising around with a passenger on the back in the uniquely-intimate form of travel that a motorbike provides. I seriously thank my lucky stars that I was able to escape Vietnam without any serious accident-related injuries, as I’ve got more friends than fingers that haven’t been so lucky. But I’ll always miss the freedom and thrill of motorbike riding in Hanoi.
  4. Speaking what little Vietnamese I can. Vietnamese is a damned difficult language to learn. I think it took me three weeks to remember the trifecta of “hello”, “thank you”, and “where is the bathroom?”. I ended up studying witha  private tutor one hour a day, five days aweek for nine months. I got to the point where I could understand maybe 40% of what was said to me (not 40 of the language, 40% of what was said to me), could basically make most basic points, and even toy around with a little humor every now and then. After all that work, it was satisfying to be able to speak a little. In my mind, it made me different from the aforementioned douchebag tourists, helped me to connect with locals and gain their trust and respect, and made life their much easier. I’ll miss having the chance to speak the language going forward. Now I just have to learn Hindi!
  5. Cheap and easy travel. I had the chance to visit ~19 cities in Vietnam, as well as take trips to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Myanmar during my time in Vietnam. Tickets were rarely over $150, with relatively easy access to most destinations. As Julia put it, in the U.S. maybe you take a trip or two each year to a ski resort or a beach while paying several hundred bucks for each trip. Not so in Vietnam, and I’ll miss the cheap and easy access to some awesome vacation destinations.

Four Things I Won’t Miss About Vietnam

  1. The noise pollution. I dare you to find peace and quiet in Hanoi. Everywhere you go, the incessant horn-honking follows you around like a ghost that’s cursed you, and the madness of the roads only heightens the feeling of overwhelmingness that accompanies the constant racket of life in Hanoi. I’m not sure India will be any better, but I can say I won’t miss that aspect of Vietnam.
  2. The “foreigner tax”. Everywhere you go, people are trying to hustle you. Bargaining is a fact of life, and being a foreigner means that people will try to take advantage of your perceived relative wealth. I don’t blame them, as I’m sure I’d be doing the exact same in their shoes, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
  3. The absolutely terrible service. Having been a waiter myself, typically I’m full of sympathy for wait staff at establishments. It was hard to have sympathy in Vietnam, because 4 times out of 5 the service would have been pitiable if it weren’t so frustrating. Basic service conventions are absent, and getting the attention of service staff requires shouting across the restaurant or waiving your hands frantically. At every meal, you’ll have to repeat your order four times, usually to two different people. Part of it is the language barrier, but the majority of it is simply apathy on the part of the staff. The root cause of this is the absence of a tipping culture, and the root cause of that is the history of poverty in the country. Whatever the cause, I won’t miss the poor service.
  4. How hard it is to find the simplest of items. There are no Walmarts in Vietnam, no fully-stocked general stores. You can find probably 50% of the items you can find in the U.S. in Vietnam, but it won’t be easy. Want paper supplies? Find the paper stores, and god knows where they are. Need some tacks or a whiteboard? Godspeed. I’m sure the locals findstuff easier, but as a foreigner I wasn’t alone in having difficulties getting what I needed. Personally, I think its a great business opportunity for someone who wants to start a service that as a catologue and hires locals to track down and deliver the items you need.

My Four Favorite Places in Vietnam

  1. Hoi An. This sleepy little beach town in central Vietnam is just an $80 RT ticket from Hanoi and offers the serenity of an island paradise, culinary delights that comfort the soul, and reasonably high-quality and super-inexpensive tailored clothes.
  2. Phu Quoc. What can I say, I like the beach. Despite the grueling busride to get there, Phu Quoc is an island off the southern coast that offers miles of empty beaches, beautiful water, and a large interior perfect for exploring.
  3. Sapa. Sapa is located in the mountainous northwest of the country, and is a hotspot for tourists looking to ogle at the hill tribes. Personally I found visiting the tourist-oriented hilltribes to be pretty off-putting, but climbing Mt. Fancy Pants (Fansipan) was quite a rewarding challenge.
  4. Hanoi. If you’re choosing between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, in my humble opinion there’s no question. Yes, Ho Chi Minh is more modern, has a better nightlife, and maybe the people are slightly friendlier. But its ugly, there’s not that much going on culture-wise, and its a concrete jungle. Hanoi has the charm of its 1000 year old history, the benefit of a relatively small population, and indispensable lakes scattered throughout the city that break up the monotony of concrete and dirt. The absence of a huge nightlife scene keeps the expat scene rather intimate, with less drunken one-night friendships and a more real sense of community.

Five Things I Learned in Vietnam

Below are five realizations I’ve had while living in Vietnam. That said, its hard to say if they’re from living in Vietnam or just living on my own as an adult for the first time. Without psycho-analyzing myself too much, here they are:

  1. There’s a big difference between “travelers” and “tourists,” and you should aspire to be a “traveler”. The big difference is that tourists go to a place because they like the idea of going there, but have no sincere interest in the culture, the people, or the nuances of where they go. Being an expat, you run across a lot of “travelers”, and generally have a self-righteous (but semi-justified) contempt for the willfully-ignorant and disdainful tourists.
  2. Go with your gut. Both professionally, romantically, and generally, your gut is absolutely an ally when making difficult decisions. If your gut is telling you something’s wrong or right, then you should take that into serious consideration.
  3. The physical attributes of a place aren’t nearly as important as the people there. Dirt is pretty much the same everywhere you go, and architecture can be an aesthetic plus, but these pale in comparison to the importance of who you meet and know in a place. People turn a city into a home, or a “paradise” into a wasteland. Don’t forget to engage them.
  4. Living abroad is good for the soul. I always hated the term “expat” because it made me feel like I’d betrayed my home country and abandoned it for good. That’s just not true, and I can’t wait to return home semi-permanently some day. That said, living abroad gives you a perspective on your own culture that is both healthy and challenging at the same time. Specifically, it shows you that many of the things you take for granted shouldn’t be taken for granted.
  5. My true passion is entrepreneurship. I’ve known this on some level for a few years, but for some reason it really clicked with me while I was in Vietnam. Its not just that I detest the idea of a 9-5, its that I love the responsibility, uncertainty, and opportunity of taking ownership of an idea and doing whatever is necessary to make it happen. This was a major impetus for me leaving, and for at least the next six months, I’ll be pursuing entrepreneurship full-time. But having this realization and accepting whole-heartedly has been a major transformation that I’ve experienced and is a huge motivating force for me going forward.




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Third Crime’s a Charm?

There are few things more frustrating than having your possessions taken from you, especially when they’re valuable.

Like the time when I was an up-and-coming sophomore living in D.C. and had my laptop stolen out of a dorm room on American University’s campus that even had guards posted at all the entrances. That time I lost everything I had from high school. Papers, speeches, some weird psuedo-journal I wrote some notes in every now and then. And of course all the *brilliant* work I did freshman year.

Then there was the time in Pai, Thailand. I’d just spent a week in a hospital with one of my best friends who had been in a serious motorbike accident. He was going to lay up in a hotel for a few days, and I was anxious to get out. I decided to drive the four hours to Pai from Chiang Mai on a motorbike, fulfilling those romantic notions guys sometimes get about motorcycle trips. My ass was killing me by the end of it, but I will say it was a beautiful, serene, and scenic drive through lush tropical mountains. I gave my laptop to another good friend to carry with him on the bus, which made my drive a little comfortable. On the return back, someone went through the bag I’d given to my friend and confiscated the second laptop I’ve ever had stolen. That time, I’d backed up its contents prior to the trip, so the biggest loss was the 400 pictures or so I’d taken so far on the trip and the $600 I paid to replace it. Life goes on.

Which brings me to last week. My friend Dobbs from school was traveling through, and he stayed at my house Monday and Tuesday nights. He took a trip to Ha Long Bay for a night, and I had loaned him my digital camera with him. On Wednesday morning when I woke up, the first thing I noticed was that my laptop wasn’t on the desk.

Weird, I thought. I absolutely remember it being on my desk, because I drifted off to sleep listening to music from it. Shit.

A sinking feeling came over me as I was forced to face the fact: my laptop had been stolen from my room. I checked my bedside stand: my iPod and cell phone weren’t there. And where was my wallet? My Nook (Kindlesque e-reader)?

Double shit.

I roused my roommate Matt from across the hall, mainly to inform him of the situation but also with the faintest of faint glimmers of hope that maybe Matt had drank too many beers the previous night and for some weird reason had my laptop. Obviously, this wasn’t the case.

I headed downstairs. In the kitchen, in front of the fridge was my backpack, nearly empty. No doubt the thief had used the light from the fridge to rummage through it. The thief had brought my bag down and emptied it of valuables, including my Nook. Atleast he left the bag- I’d just gotten it before returning to Vietnam and have grown pretty fond of it.

I dallied into the living room downstairs. Underneath the table was my wallet and Kodiak zi-8 camera (like a Flip). I’d just gone to the ATM, and I always withdraw the maximum in Vietnam to avoid the heavy fees charged by the banks on both sides of the ocean. And darnit, I’d just gone that day and was now missing about $300 (5,000,000 dong). The camera had a scratch on the lens, so I understood why they left that.

Well, I thought. I really like that wallet, glad I don’t have to replace that. And my credit cards, atleast he left those. Okay, I’m downgrading this back down to just one “shit”.

At that moment Matt comes ambling down the stairs. “What about your motorbike, man?”

Back to double shit status. Make that triple shit. I guess I should go look.

Sure enough, I step outside to find my motorbike missing. [Content removed due to foul language.]

So my bike was missing, along with my beloved blue helmet and the lock to the gate.

Atleast it was a safety-conscious thief, taking my helmet and all. Bastard.

The people at my work were very helpful. A nice lady named Hong drove me around to a handful of different police stations before we found one that was the “right” one. It was a pain in the ass, and I really wasn’t in the mood to waste time on a lost cause. But Hong insisted, and despite my bad attitude we successfully filed a report with the police.

I must say, I got a little bit sick of being chastised by various folks: “Why didn’t you lock the door to your room?”. Uhh, because I didn’t expect anyone to sneak into your room while I was sleeping. Anyways, I’d rather take that small risk of happening than live my life so paranoid that I lock the bedroom door in my house that already has two locks to get through before my room. I got burned this time, but let’s just chalk this one up to really bad luck.

EPILOGUE: A Few Days Later

It turns out I was atleast somewhat lucky.

My Nook was actually on my desk at work under a stack of papers (which I found four days later), so thankfully that was one less thing that was stolen.

Also, I had a backup of my laptop from a day earlier, so was OK in that department as well. Seriously though: go buy an external hard drive (you can get one for less than $100) and back up your files. Mine does it automatically, which is the only reason that I didn’t lose the last month’s worth of work.

Ultimately, the theft set me back about $2,000. $600 for the motorbike, $800 for the laptop, $50 for the phone, $300 cash, $300 for the iPod. $1.50 for a new, albeit less safe, helmet.

A $2000 loss really hurts right now, especially in the midst of a move to a new country and a time when I’m looking to fund some personal projects. But I’ll be OK: just a “flesh wound.”

At the same time, I can’t help but put my loss in the context of where I am. In Vietnam, the average income is a little over $1000 per year, and in Hanoi its only double that at $2000. In a sense, I’m lucky to even have $2000 worth of stuff to be stolen, much less not to be devastated by its loss. So there’s that to consider.

Still pisses me off though.

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Some Micro Updates

Blog posting has been a little sparse lately, so thought I’d give you a few micro updates on things that are happening and things that are about to happen:

1) Will shortly update on a trip to a national park on a rented 250cc motorcycle- it was a blast, but now my Honda Wave feels like a child’s toy. Will post this once I get the pictures from my friend.

2) Just got back from 6 days in beautiful Phu Quoc island, a quiet but large island that should have been Cambodia’s. Update on this once I get the pics.

3) I’m moving to India in June! I’m leaving my job, will travel a bit in Vietnam and then Malaysia, and then headed to Mumbai. More details on career change soon, but big changes ahead. Can’t wait to share more.

4) Impending launch of new blog June 14th. Keeping the name and topic a secret for now, but will focus around entrepreneurship. Don’t fret: I’ll keep CarpeMinutam as my personal blog for friends and family!

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Unintentionally Funny & Intentionally Obnoxious Facebook Link

On my brother’s Facebook page, I saw this rather curious “like”:

I couldn’t resist seeing what this was, so I clicked on it, only to discover how truly insidious this was:

Wow. What a perversion of the “like” button. The point of it is to share things you find interesting with your friends. But this sneaky little use of it uses a cliffhanger to get you to say you “like” it. At the same time that you satisfy your own curiosity, it tells all of your friends about itself, using the same cliffhanger to get them to “like” it.

I laughed when I saw it because of the absurdity of this. Maybe its just my own sense of humor, but I thought you might think it was funny too.

I originally refused to click the button to see the answer. But, since I started writing this post, I went back and clicked on it.

It gives you a link to a blog that has the answer, but that blog has since been taken down by Blogger. A whole lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding this ridiculous item.

So what’s the answer? Unsurprisingly, not as life changing as you might have imagined:

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Obama Rules, Drudge Drools

Let me just say this right now: Obama has been kicking some serious ass, and I love him for it. There are people on the right and left who have expressed disappointment with him (nevermind the Glenn Beck honkeytonks and uber-liberal fantasy-landers), but frankly he has walked a high-wire act so challenging and so perilous that if he weren’t the man I had hoped we elected he’d have stumbled all over himself many times over.

In just a single year in office, he’s reformed healthcare, overhauled student lending (makes me wish I’d been born 10 years earlier), the stimulus bill (do you really remember how pessimistic EVERYONE was during that time?), initiated serious financial reform, established the Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights, forced emissions standards increases, ended of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, guided GM & Chrysler through bankruptcy…

He’s also done the best with Afghanistan and Iraq that you could hope for if you agree that America chose to give itself responsibility for transitioning those countries to a democracy. Not to mention a first step in nuclear arms reductions through a treaty with Russia, doing what can be done to hold Israel and Palestine to their commitments, and standing up to China. Those are just the major accomplishments. Don’t forget the minor ones (check here and here for starters).

There have been some controversies, but in my opinion few of them were avoidable. American public opinion is schizophrenic and it is literally impossible to please everyone all the time. The Economist recently did a poll, and they asked people which budgets should be cut to reduce the deficit. 71% of Americans said foreign aid should be cut, but of 17 other categories, no more than 27% of respondents said that any other particular category should receive less funding. Read that last sentence again.

In the same poll, only 5% said that the government should raise taxes.

Everyone wants the deficit reduced, but 95% of people don’t want to raise taxes. That leaves cutting budgets. But for nearly every single budget, less than 27% of people want to cut that particular budget.

This is just one example of the schizophrenia of American politics. You absolutely can’t please everyone even most of the time, but Obama hasn’t let that fact stall him into inaction. That’s called being a leader. The best part is, he has been extraordinarily pragmatic, open, and well-intentioned with everything. And politically smart and effective.

What’s frustrating is to witness the media coverage of most of this. It seems as if some members of the media are literally rooting against America. Really, they’re rooting against Obama, dismissing him out-of-hand on every single issue. See John Stewart’s piece on Reagan and nuclear arms:

The real issue here is that so many non-political things have become political. Why is an increase in Pell Grants and a reorganization of student loans that helps everyone except big banks something that Democrats AND Republicans can’t get around? After over a year of debate, can not one single Republican vote for a bill that will help insure over 30 million Americans? Do 31 Senators really think that Sonya Sotomayer is not fit to be a Supreme Court Justice? Really? Is there a good reason why the average delay for confirmation of an Obama nominee is 214 days? At what point is this no longer surprising?

Remember the stimulus package? Remember how dire the forecasts were? Not a single Republican house member and ONLY 3 Senate Republicans voted for the bill. And yet here we are, our economy intact and even growing. Let me guess: that was somehow despite Obama’s intervention. Right.

Frankly, much of the media has not been cooperative. Matt Drudge is perhaps the single most influential person in media, and its a shame he’s such a self-serving whore. I don’t know what he gets his high from, but it definitely has nothing to do with reporting legitimate news. That’s a shame too, because there are points you can look back at where he wasn’t such a profiteering bitch. I’ll save a full Drudge slam-down for another time, but check HuffingtonPost.com for every time you check DrudgeReport.com and you’ll survive.

I did want to leave you with this screenshot I took of the DrudgeReport a few days ago. It was so sickeningly hilarious that I had to get a picture of it. Apparently, Drudge gets his news from Newt Gingrich (ha!), Sean Hannity (haha!), Rush Limbaugh (hahaha!), Liz Cheney (hahahaha!), Michael Savage (hahahahaha!), and Sarah Palin (HAHAHAHAHAHA!). And some dude named Mark Levin that I don’t know.

If all I read was Drudge, I’d swear the sky was falling:

How can you meet in the middle with that filth? That’s not news, and its charitable to stop at calling it “sensationalist”.

The joke’s on us. The poisonous political atmosphere is divisive, unproductive, and silly. “Shameful” comes to mind also. With such serious issues facing the U.S. (deficit, two ongoing wars, startling decrease in competitiveness, economic crisis,  blah blah blah), I’m stunned by how partisan politics is.

At least it can’t get any worse. Can it?

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