Sunday, October 23, 2016

Tense Motorbiking, Poor Connections, And Cheap Technology

Today I went for a long ride on my motorbike into the outskirts of Hanoi and the countryside. My bike has a USB charger and a phone bracket on the handlebars, so I plugged in my phone, mounted it, and put it on Google Maps. But Google Maps isn't bright enough for me to see in the daylight. So I had to constantly stop, turn off the bike, and check where I was at on the map. Not that I really needed to, I could have just driven and checked it out at the end when I wanted to come back. But you know digital culture, it addicts us and mesmerizes us, sucking us all into its demanding bosom, so like an obedient addict child of the the electronic monster, I sucked on the heroin milk of its reassurance constantly. But I eventually switched to, which was much brighter, and which I could see all the time. Problem solved.

I am hoping to get to the point where I am not just a tight ball of stress when riding my bike in Hanoi traffic. I constantly find that my body is rigid and tense, and that I am gripping the handlebars much too tightly, and I have to make a mental effort to relax. Then ten minute later I will notice again that every muscle in my body is rigid again, and I take a breath again, and relax my muscles. But it is hard to be relaxed in Hanoi traffic, especially when I am not all that used to motorbiking. The clutch and front brake (I hardly ever use the back foot brake, but I am trying to train myself to use it more) keep both my hands occupied. And traffic on the streets and at every intersection is just coming from all directions all the time. Nobody stops for any of the intersections, and right-of-way is based on survival of the fittest.

On the way back into town, I stopped at the Lotte Supermarket to do some food shopping. I like to take my backpack into the store near where I live, so I can fill it instead of using bags. But they won't let me do that at the Lotte. I even showed them that there was nothing in the backpack, but rules are rules are rules are rules, I guess. They make me put it in the locker, and they put a cable tie on my fanny pack. Pretty damned paranoid. So I have to get the groceries in plastic bags, beg somebody to cut the cable tie on my fanny pack at the end of shopping, and then repack all the groceries into my backpack. Then I tie the backpack onto the rack on the back of my bike. I have this awesome rack that they installed when I bought the bike for loading up my huge backpack when I eventually travel across Vietnam after my classes are over. But it is just bungee-corded on, so I hope nobody decides to relieve me of it.

Connectivity. I just can't get me much. The internet wi-fi at my apartment is sporadic and usually super-slow. It will often take several minutes to load Facebook comments, longer to load a web page from a link, and I can usually forget audio or video. If I can do audio or video, it is usually two seconds of streaming, followed by a minute of buffering, then another few seconds of streaming followed by interminably long buffering, repeat, and lather. Many times I just give up on try to see comments or likes on FB, links, etc. Or I will just let a link load while I do something else, and come back in about five minutes (sometimes I'll come back a second time in ten minutes) to see if it has loaded.  But sometimes the connection will surprise me and be really strong for hours on end. I had good luck with the wi-fi connection at the French Institute when I first started going there, but then it started being hit-or-miss too.

When I first moved in to my apartment, the wi-fi worked for about a day, then didn't work at all for several days in a row. So I decided to get a Vietnamese phone with a local SIM card, seeing as how I didn't have any data, and texts/calls are supremely expensive ($5.99 a minute for calls, fifty cents for each text). So I got a Vietnamese smart phone which is pretty decent for about forty bucks, and to top up for a month costs a little over five bucks. Not bad. But the phone has very little memory and storage, so I encounter the same problems with connectivity freezing as my phone's brain has little seizures all the time. I just can't win.

And that brings me to Vietnamese technological ingenuity. Vietnam is a fairly poor country; I think I read somewhere that the average salary is about two hundred dollars a month. Yet they mange to build devices that fill the same niche as the devices in the US and Europe for a fraction of the price. My Vietnamese phone weighs a fraction of my US phone, but still is pretty good for what it is, and the price was definitely affordable. The washing machine at my apartment building is another example. It probably weighs about a tenth of what a washing machine in the US does, though it is the same size. It is more like a tent than like a building; though the sides are solid, they are very thin. It is a top-loader with a drum that is like one of the old-style metal trash cans that people used to put on their curbs, but with much, much thinner gauge metal. The top folds and unfolds to cover the drum while it washes. Yet the Vietnamese have managed to design a fairly good appliance to do the job it is designed to do. I hardly ever use it, though, because I still mostly wash my last batch of clothes in the sink; I really just never get to enough dirty clothes for a full load. I did use it once.

So with the connectivity issues I have, I'll post this today if I can connect. If not, then it'll go up whenever it is possible.

Nope, just tried to post it, and got a message saying there is no Internet connection. For some reason my laptop will connect even less reliably than my phone(s). I typed this on the laptop, which is, by the way, a totally crappy laptop and has its own brain freeze issues due to inadequate infrastructure. And I bought it in the US. Cheapo technology, I guess, knows no bounds.   Oh, there it comes.  It just took about ten minutes to load the Blogger page.


  1. Well, post when you can. I love your descriptions of the little knots and trials of living abroad.

    I like this a lot: "But you know digital culture, it addicts us and mesmerizes us, sucking us all into its demanding bosom, so like an obedient addict child of the the electronic monster, I sucked on the heroin milk of its reassurance constantly." It's true everywhere, but it comes into stark relief when you're all alone in a foreign country.

    Only once have I ridden a bike in that kind of traffic, in a large city in China. It was utterly terrifying, a pulsating treacherous spiderweb of death. I think focusing on relaxation is a great way to deal with it. Like in martial arts: relaxed readiness. It will make you much more responsive to sudden events.

    When I traveled in China, I was kind of obsessed with packing my bike. I don't know why, but I love traveling with everything I need to live on the back of a motorbike. (Except of course a connection to the financial system... that all-important little card in your pocket.)

    1. I don't think I'll be as into packing my bike as you were. I'll probably just see it as a necessary hassle. But it is pretty cool to have everything you need in a small package that you carry with you. Right now, I'm not even using a good deal of the stuff I am carrying with me, but what I'm not using mostly falls into the category of winter clothes, which I haven't used since spring in some of the colder climates that I visited. It might have been a better plan to not bring any winter clothes and just buy what I needed, but then I'd have to discard and re-buy as a new year started. Probably better to lug the stuff around.