The Futility of Writing Letters

Every year or so I blast out a message online asking if anyone would like to receive a letter or postcard in the mail, the condition being that they need to send me a response. Usually people say they would love to get one and promise to reply, but the replies never come. Or if they do reply, it’s one or two at most and then they dry up forever. There have been a few exceptions to this, but not many.

So why don’t people write letters? The most common response is probably, “I’m too busy.” That’s a pretty lame excuse. How much time do you spend every day playing with your phone, on Facebook or watching TV? Seriously, it doesn’t take much effort to shave ten minutes off of some time-wasting activity and scribble out a few lines on a piece of paper.

Another excuse that I’ve heard: “I don’t have stamps” or “The Post Office is so inconvenient.” Baloney. If you live in the U.S., or basically any other developed nation, this is not a valid excuse. Do you know how easy it is for you? Do you know the gigantic network of people who are ready to serve you by mailing your letter? You can put money in your mailbox and receive stamps the next day! You can put a letter in the mailbox six days a week and it will be taken care of!

Try living in a developing country. The postal service here in Vietnam seems to consist mainly of languid bureaucrats opening packages and soliciting bribes. Receiving mail here is a luxury for most people; it is not delivered daily, there are no regular carriers coming to every residence and there are no neighborhood post offices. I’m relatively lucky working just a few blocks from the central post office in town. If the post office wasn’t nearby it would be a nightmare getting things in the mail.

Back to letter-writing though, it seems mostly like a exercise in futility for me due to the limited responses that I get. I’ve heard of people looking up random addresses and mailing Christmas cards there; maybe I should try something like that with letters… I might get some responses.

I guess the gist of these paragraphs is this: take a few minutes every week to write a letter or postcard. They are rare and invaluable items in this day and age and show an immense amount of care to those that receive them. Also, if I write to you, write back.


Pictures from the Saigon Tweetup on November 25th, 2014

Just a few pictures from our merry little Tweetup last night at Game On in downtown Saigon.

2014-11-25 21.03.12
The Saigon Tweetup!
@layered, @LeHaTu, @jon7b, @ericburdette and @ChristophK2003 (more active on @evecoo). Thanks to @CotterVN for snapping this pic!
2014-11-25 20.03.22
@layered, @LeHaTu, @sapuche, @dfgvietnam and @lienh.


Getting Over Another Bout of Writers’ Block

Once again I have slacked in blogging. Everything online now seems like you have to post it in order to manage your personal brand, which is exhausting to me. This is not one of those posts. I’m just going to write about a memory that I had, and how it was jogged, and how it still relates to how I feel today.

This is a powerful song by Bob Dylan when he was recording gospel music. Listen to it if you can. It’s called “Pressing On.”

Now, I’m not much of a gospel music listener, but this song is powerful and I’d grown up hearing my parents listen to it.

One day back in late 2007, my time as a volunteer was winding down. Most of my close friends had left the country. I was still there. I woke up one morning and groggily turned on my computer to check email and hit play in iTunes. And this song came on. And I started crying.

At the time, I was in the dumps about my friends not being around and soon leaving the beautiful nation that I’d come to call home. But the song was my encouragement to keep pressing on. I knew it would be tough, but as the same time, I knew I could eventually be able to get through it all.

Fast forward to today, this afternoon. Again, I find myself sitting at my computer. This time, I’m sending out job applications. I’ve been unemployed for months. Once again, I’m in the dumps. And I listen to “Pressing On.” A few tears rolled down my cheek. I know I’ll get through this bad time and on to something new and better. In the song, there’s a line that says, “Shake the dust off from your feet, don’t look back / Nothing can hold you down now, nothing you lack.”

I’ll keep pressing on. And when I’m past, I’ll shake the dust off of my feet and won’t look back.

Trying to be profound at the age of 30

I just turned 30 a couple days ago. I thought that I’d have something utterly profound to write about as this milestone approached this month, but nothing specific emerged from my pondering. Then I thought about lists. Easy to write and sometimes profound. I began to wonder what I’ve done with these thirty years, which ten years ago seemed an eon away.

Some things I’ve done in 30 years:
-Stayed alive (I wasn’t always sure I’d make it)
-Completed a BA and an MBA
-Gotten married
-Learned a second language
-Started smoking, then quit smoking
-Started jogging
-Lived 14 of my 30 years in foreign countries

Some goals for the next ten years:
-Get a stable job/career
-Run several marathons
-Live more years in foreign countries
-Continue to travel the world
-Get my pilot’s license
-Get a Ph.D.

So there, that should keep me busy for at least ten more years. Maybe when I blog again on this subject at the age of 40 I’ll have something more profound to say.

2012: The Year I Became a Runner

Summary of my running accomplishments in 2012.

I started running with the intent to improve my aerobic performance for badminton. However, at this point in my life, running has taken over as the main sport in my life. And this past year, 2012, is when it happened.

In the latter half of 2011 I started casually jogging around a track that was across the street from my office in Saigon. On my first day of running and walking, I wasn’t sure if I could complete one lap of 250 meters. However, I surprised myself and was able to do it.

It took me six months to work up to running 5km nonstop. On February 23rd, 2012, I finally accomplished this feat, the day before my 29th birthday. On February 27th was the first time I timed my run and started recording times and distances to track my performance. I continued tracking times and distances for the rest of the year.

So here are a few stats from the data in 2012, the year I became a runner:

  • Total recorded distance (actual higher): 492 miles (792km)
  • Longest run: 13.2 miles (21.3km)
  • Fastest time: 7:30 per mile for 3 miles (~4:40 per km for 4.8km)

As we’re getting into this new year of 2013, I’m happy to say that I’m going stronger than ever. I’ve registered for a half marathon here in Eugene, and I’m thinking about running the Seattle half marathon at the end of the year as well. My goal is to run a full marathon in 2014.

I’ve gotten this far with the support and encouragement of numerous friends and family. Thank you; you know who you are.

On Being a Millennial in America

I am subscribed to Harper’s Magazine and enjoy reading it every month. One of my favorite sections of the publication, and the item that drew me to the magazine when I was a teenager, is the Harper’s Index. In the Harper’s Index, they list off a number of statistics in a manner that usually come off as surprising and humorous. For example, here are two statistics from their January 2013 issue:

Average salary earned by a full-time-employed male college graduate one year after graduation: $42,918
By a full-time-employed female graduate: $35,296

What they’re doing here is highlighting the difference pay for men and women and how women still aren’t treated as equals in the workplace.

But then I started thinking about my own situation as a member of the millennial generation, and here are some of my own statistics, presented in the Harper’s Index style:

Number of years since I’ve graduated from college: 8
Number of masters degrees I’ve obtained: 1
Highest hourly wage that I’ve earned in the U.S.: $11
Average annual salary amount this translates to: $22,000
Percent lower than the average female salary one year after graduation from college: 38
Percent lower than the average male salary one year after graduation from college: 49
Number of months that I’ve had health insurance in the U.S. since graduating from college: 3

As a person born in the early 1980s, I consider myself to be of the so-called “millennial” generation. Like many of my generation, I did everything I was supposed to do: I went to college, I got my degree, I volunteered abroad for several years, I got my MBA, I worked in a field I enjoyed, etc. Then in September 2012, I found myself looking for a job in Oregon. And I couldn’t find any full-time, stable employment. And I still can’t find any.

So what’s going on, America? I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Where is this well-paying job that I should have, according to Harper’s Index? Well, the same Index also has this item:

Rank of “attire” among the leading reasons “millennials” are unsuccessful in job interviews: 1

To which my response, in Index style, is:

Number of tailored suits I own: 2
Approximate number of ties in my closet: 20
Approximate number of tie knot styles I have memorized: 3

My qualifications are sound, I know how to dress and present myself, so what’s going on, America? Why can’t I find a job? Is it because nepotism, cronyism and corruption are just as prevalent here in the land of the free as they are in third-world countries? Is it because that, no matter what the job reports and economic forecasts say, the American economy is dying a slow death?

For such a large nation, an incredible amount of the U.S. economy is based on personal debt. You want a college degree? Here’s your debt. You want a car? Gotta take out a loan to pay for it. Want a house? Gotta get a mortgage and pay back your debt for 30 years or so. Well America, you tricked me into the college loan debt, but not the other stuff. Here, let me present it in the Harper’s Index style:

Number of cars I’ve owned in the U.S.: 0
Amount of real estate I own in the U.S.: 0
Number of cars I intend to buy in the U.S.: 0
Amount of real estate I intend to buy in the U.S.: 0

And it looks like I’m not the only one. Increasing numbers of my generation are not buying cars and owning a home is becoming a more unattainable dream. Good for us! If the American economy is suddenly faced with a generation of people who refuse to buy into these lifelong debt schemes, change might actually occur.

Allen Ginsberg wrote: “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” I’d like to amend that quote for many people of my generation: “American I’ve given you all and you’ve taken more.”

As this year of 2012 draws to a close, here’s my favorite statistic, presented in Index style:

Number of years until I will go back to Vietnam: 1

Yes Vietnam, where jobs are plentiful, rents are low and you don’t need a car.

Tics of Twitter

I never really used Twitter much before moving to Saigon in 2010. Before that, Twitter was mainly my medium for updating my Facebook status from my old (and decidedly un-smart) phone via text message. Over a couple years in Saigon, however, I came to rely on Twitter as a place to get recommendations on where to find things and how to get stuff done. One specific example is this: In the midst of one workday, I felt like a turkey sandwich. Don’t know why, but I just felt like one. I posted that thought on Twitter, and a few people got back to me about where they’d found decent turkey sandwiches in Saigon, and that evening I had a turkey sandwich for dinner.

Being in another country and culture, Twitter was a way for us expatriates in the city and the nation converse with each other about our ups and downs and where to find a decent hamburger too. It was pretty nice tool for a place with no large online resources and a culture where a substantial amount of getting things done relies on who you know.

With an above average number of intelligent and tactful users, Twitter for expatriates in Vietnam was great. And when we learned that we would be moving to the U.S., I was hoping to find a place in the Twitter community in Eugene, Oregon too. I started out by following a few folks I found through searching, including a few local companies too, but there is a completely different attitude regarding Twitter in the liberal Northwest in the Land of the Free.

My takeaways so far have been this: There are a lot of people who call themselves “social media experts” and seriously just flood Twitter with posts, retweets and links so that it just clogs up my flow and I can’t stand it. Being in a university town, there are lots of college students on Twitter too. Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t have Twitter when I was in college, otherwise my silly moodiness would’ve been captured forever by the Library of Congress. The local companies that I tried following just further flood Twitter with links and stupid questions in the lame attempt to “engage” people through this medium.

What was a very helpful tool in a foreign land is exactly the opposite in the land where it was invented. There seems to be a purposeful effort to not engage with others on Twitter without ulterior motives and I have yet to find a community of users even slightly like what I experienced in Vietnam. Oddly enough, I now use Twitter to keep up with people in Vietnam more that I use it to find out what is happening around me locally.

So there you have it. A common online service which became immensely helpful as I explored the largest city in Indochina has become basically a tool for keeping up with those awesome users back there who initially drew me to Twitter in the first place.