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Posted by on Jul 29, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 2 comments

Lessons Learned

My motto in life has been, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I guess that sounds bleak because when I say it I often get a funny look, but for me it works. It reminds me that difficulties also bring blessings and growth and opportunities that you might not of found otherwise.

An example is when I was a very young, single mom of three very young children ages 2-5. A busy and difficult time when making ends meet was almost impossible. One Saturday when I was in the middle of the weekly laundry the washing machine made a funny noise and stopped. I felt as though I had no one to call, no money for a repair person and a pile of laundry to do. First thing I did was break down and cry, and then I opened the machine and took a look. Somehow I was able to figure out that an important screw had become loose. It screwed it back together and it worked! Never have I felt better about myself and 30 years later I still remember that evening so clearly.

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As a single mom with my three kiddos, my grandfather, who rescued me too many times, and my uncle.

I got tested again big time when I arrived at the airport last week to head back for a long anticipated trip to Seattle. It had been 8 months since I had last seen my family and friends in the USA, much longer than I had planned on being away. The only downer was a couple of days before I left we found out that John wouldn’t be able to join me in 3-4 weeks as we had hoped, but it might be 8 weeks before he was able to get home. The news was weighing heavily on me. Being together in Vietnam is great, but being alone is difficult. The days drag by and the evenings are harder. My heart hurt for him being alone for so long.

Back to the test, the short story is that my visa had expired and I couldn’t leave until I pay for the time I have been staying here illegally. When living in a country that you aren’t a residence of, a visa is so important. Only the most daft person forgets to renew her visa.

And now for the long story. My visa expired on April 1, 2015. Somehow both John and I thought we had renewed it to correspond with his B1 work permit which expires in December. I checked my visa about 3 weeks before I was to fly and realized that I had not renewed the visa as I thought I had. This started a long chain of events. To make things more difficult I realized this right before we moved to a new home, and because we have to have a permit for the new house we were a little nervous about trying to explain the move along with getting my visa extended without complicating the permit for the new place.

Once we got the moved settled, John went in to talk to the immigration department here in Hai Phong. They were tacking on a bunch of fees which were probably legit but it seemed like they were just trying to get as much extra as possible. Things are different here. It isn’t so much that they have the extra fees, but it is the way they ask for them. There isn’t anything written down on what the fees are; so it feels like they decide case by case how much they will charge.

After doing some research online and realizing that I could get a 3 month visa on my return which would expire at the same time as John’s 12 month visa, John asked the head of the department if it was ok if I just left the country, and got a 3 month visa instead of getting the annual visa. Our thought was that it would be a little bit cheaper that way. This is where the communication broke down. The official said that would be fine, but he failed to mention that I would still need to back pay for the time I was here without a visa. It all makes sense now – of course I need to pay for that time. Unfortunately we only heard, “Sure, the 3 month visa is fine, apply for that in the US before Dawn returns.”

How did this all come to a head? I left our home in Hai Phong after a long sad day of saying goodbye to John around 7:30 pm for the three hour drive to the airport. Halfway there I realized I was still in my slippers, leaving my only pair of everyday shoes at home in the teary blur of goodbyes. Arriving at the airport I got my two large suitcases and two carry ons into line to check in and waited about 30 minutes to work my way to the front. Once there I realized the agent was going over and over my passport looking at the many visas I have and not finding what she wanted. I tried to explain the situation but she said I needed to talk to immigration. I still had 90 minutes before the flight left so I felt we could work things out. That was not the case. The immigration officials were very appalled that my visa was that far expired and wouldn’t hear of allowing me to pay my fees there, even after pleas from my husband and the US Embassy. Once again I had a good cry and then found a taxi to take me for the 3 hour taxi ride back to Hai Phong.

Things happen for a reason, right? Although this was all my fault I have learned a lot already from the experience. I think there is some reason I am supposed to be here for a few more weeks. John and I have been enjoying the surprising cool days as the monsoon season sweeps in and I have had a huge lesson in humility and learning to abide by the rules.

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Enjoying a glass of wine on the roof tip while watching a storm roll in.

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Posted by on Jul 18, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 0 comments

Learning to walk slowly

 

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Taking the “road less traveled” in Sapa, Vietnam

Learning to walk slowly is certainly a metaphor for the way of life here.  People seem busy as they race by on motorbikes, but in reality the speed limit is very slow and I know my memories of the traffic will be how slowly it moves compared to what I am used to.  In fact, the pace of life is much slower here.

We take advantage of the slowness by including more ‘us” time.  Part of changing our lives is changing our lifestyle.  Mornings have become a time to meditate, to reflect and in the way of our new country to exercise.  I love seeing the public spaces here and how they become a third place, where everyone gathers to exercise, visit and gossip.  We haven’t embraced the public display of exercise, opting instead to do that in the privacy of our home. I have never yet had the courage to jump in with a group of ladies here while they do jazzercise or group exercises, unlike my two friends who did just that in Hanoi.

Robin and Cheri enjoying morning exercise in Hanoi.

Robin and Cheri enjoying morning exercise in Hanoi.

My favorite type of exercise is walking. I love to walk. I love to explore while walking through the city, checking out small streets, discovering trails in city and out of the city; hiking, finding new places and spaces. As I meander along I am finding it hard to walk here in my new city only because it really isn’t a city meant for walking.

Walking can be a dangerous sport in Vietnam. The sidewalks here are not meant for pedestrians. Instead they are a convenient place to park or to set up a sidewalk business. Walking the two miles to downtown becomes a game of watching carefully for cracks, large holes, bricks and other debris in the sidewalk. Also watching for motorcycles or bicycles and occasionally a taxi taking a shortcut and dodging the sidewalk cafes, tree branches and brush fires. It is easier and safer to walk on the street which I often do, hoping that the motorbikes are paying attention behind me.

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I don’t think we are really supposed to use the crosswalk. It is a little tricky climbing over the pile of branches that gets left in the middle of the crosswalk.

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There are small bits of sidewalk so I can sometimes get off the street to walk.

For 7 months of the year I fight the urge to always use a taxi and try to walk or bike whenever I have the patience to do so.  For the other 5 months, May – October, it is too hot.  The humidity along with heat makes the “feel like” temperature well over 100 degrees from 5am until around 9pm. I try whenever possible, carrying my umbrella to shade me and my water bottle to hydrate while I attempt the 10 minute walk to the supermarket or the 25 minute walk to the outdoor market.  I can usually handle the supermarket, but walking to the vegetable market, negotiating prices and then hailing a cab back is too much.

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When I do walk I need to walk slowly as I have learned from my Vietnamese friends. Taking time to view life from this perspective takes practice and patience slowly moving one foot in front of the other. It isn’t easy to slow down, especially for someone like me, but I do the best I can while trying to adapt to the culture and the heat.

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Posted by on Jul 5, 2015 in Life Reimagined, Vietnam | 2 comments

Happy Fourth of July!

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Being away from “home” is certainly more difficult on important days. Especially during our kids birthdays, holidays and when exciting things are happening at home with our friends and family. For some reason the Fourth this year was difficult for both of us.

Growing up the 4th of July was always at the beach on Lake Sammamish, rain or shine. We would swim, picnic and have an awesome fireworks display. When our kids got older and we had wonderful neighborhood BBQ’s, I would worry constantly about fingers being blown off and was secretly happy when they outlawed fireworks in our town. When that happened it led to a job where planning for a city Fourth of July event took up most of my year, which was always a long day but a wonderful feeling of community surrounded by thousands of people celebrating our independence. For me the Fourth is a time for family, friends, food and fun. A wonderful holiday with many, many fond memories.

Living in a country with a socialist government makes us more and more grateful for the freedoms we are afforded at home. It makes us appreciate and more aware of everything we took for granted.

Although living abroad can be difficult it is not without it perks. John got to participate in a Fourth of July event at the embassy in Hanoi with a surprise guest, President Bill Clinton. We ate delicious hamburgers at the bargain price of $5. We came back to Hanoi and watched the sky light up with a magnificent lightning storm.

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The historic event also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam

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Ambassador Ted Osius, his partner Clayton and President Clinton.

To top things off on the morning of our Fifth of July our daughter called us from New York so we could watch the fireworks via her cell phone. It made me think – I could have each of the kids call us and share their 4th of July fireworks in Arizona, Idaho, Vancouver Wa, and Seattle; but that would take all day.

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Our oldest and youngest daughters, celebrating the Fourth in NYC.

No matter where you are, I hope you had a wonderful holiday and take a moment to reflect on the reason why we celebrate.

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For which we are so grateful.

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