Filling in the blank spaces – Coehlo’s “The Witch of Portobello”

To be honest, Coehlo’s “The witch of Portobello” was a disastrous let-down after how much I had enjoyed “the Alchemist”.

Coehlo said he was trying to understand his spiritual side in this book and truthfully, that might have just been its problem. It had too much “sermons” and straight theoretic talk on spirituality and religion, and within the context of such novel about love and finding yourself, many other things would have been of more interest.

On the other hand, it offered ideas which I liked. It was a long story, whose details I would not like to get into, perhaps another time. But the protagonist talked about one particular thing, and that was the idea of ‘blank spaces’, and that we all have them.

People who are missing something in life have many blank spaces, these are the moments between the words that we utter, these are the moments when your thoughts are for a second outside of your mind, these are moments of ‘out of it”s when you’re in the middle of doing something, but you suddenly feel like you’re at a lost…and you don’t know why or maybe you do…but these are the “blank spaces”.

I try to fill these blank spaces with constant things to do and that is because blankness brings in thoughts that I would more often like to block out of my head. And it’s funny because, the protagonist says that the only way to effectively fill the blank spaces is to confront those thoughts, or whatever it was that created that hole, and gap in the first place. But if I were to do so, I wouldn’t even be writing these lines.

And so I continue to work, I continue to read, I continue to write because it helps me to not think about the things that make me feel sad, and alone in the world….and because it helps those blank spaces to go through me more quickly.

My favorite quote in that book because I think it’s true for me and all of us,

“- Q:’Are you happy’

– A:’Yes’

– Q: ‘Do you want more?’

– A:’Yes’

-Q: ‘Then you’re really not happy..?”

And this is exactly where the blank space is –  at our hesitation to answer this last question.


[Inspiration] The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I finished the last few pages of “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” last night or this morning, I should say, at 4 am.

I have this tendency to do what my mother says is ‘ a case of extremism’. I just think it’s memory loss, I’m afraid that if I don’t read it all at once (it was not too long or hard to read of a book) then I might lose the pace, the special flow of the story if you will. Or you could just say, I had a morning off today so I decided to push my limits. Anyhoo, the memory loss thing is no lie, I read things, and soon enough it just slips off my brain cells like a dog’s feet first time touching ice. I’ll find myself in situations where I try to describe something I had definitely read before, and with much interest, but then I just stop on brain-freeze, because I’ll only remember part of what was actually important. So I’ve decided to write things down, things I can go back on, drawings I can refer to should I forget this quite brilliant story that I just put down. Maybe you’d find it interesting too and have a look at it, it’s quite a short read.

‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is a light, handy, orange, paper-back novel with an up-side down poodle on the middle of the front cover. I had found it in a quite dusty corner of Bookworm on Nguyen Thai Hoc street on Tuesday, and remember clearly that upon my removing it from the shelf, the owner had said “now that’s my kinda pre-sleep read right there, because then I won’t have to sleep”. Being there the first time ever, I wasn’t really sure if he truly liked the book or if he was just trying to get me to buy it. But my gullible nature surpassed any suspicions, and the preview in the back was quite catchy, so I gave in and the British (I presume) owner was quite pleased, and even gave me a free communist-themed bookmark.

The read was a new one to me, it’s written in a very simple manner,  but very, sometimes too logical and detailed that you get weary. But that’s just the point, the protagonist also narrator is a 15-year-5-month-n-2-day-old (at the beginning of the book) autistic boy. He doesn’t like talking to strangers because he believes in stranger danger lessons at his special needs school and also, being autistic, he just doesn’t like interacting with new people in general. Yet, he thinks in the most logical and concise manner that you could ever imagine. And he talks in this way: His favorite color is red, his most loathed color is yellow, and for that reason he thinks seeing 4 red cars in a row signal a super good day, while 4 yellow cars in a row mean a black day. And he knows all the prime numbers up to 376547898 and all the countries in the world, with their respective capitals and their respective populations. When he’s scared of being claustrophobic, he does math problems like multiplying 2 by itself until he gets to the hundreds of thousands, his record so far is 2 to the 52nd.

He thinks everything should follow patterns or some kind of rule…and he doesn’t believe in generalities. If I were to see a field of several cows, I would say it was a field with several cows. But he’d be able to say the exact date, and time at which he saw this field of cows, what hue of brown and green the grass was, what hue of blue or grey the sky was, how many cows there were, the patterns of black and white on the cow’s body …etc. And after a while, you get tired of his continuing on like this as you probably have with mine. And then something happens, the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime, of course…the poodle living across the street from Christopher, the boy, was killed with a garden fork.

Christopher jumps into this detective mission of his own, using all his logical alerts and know-hows…Father prevents him from “poking his nose into other people’s business” but he said that’s not clear at all – “people’s business”. He meets with other people and join in their “business” all the time, and it’d be impossible not to poke his nose into other people’s business. Slowly the story progresses, and the curious incident of the dog takes Christopher in stories of his father and thought-to-be-dead mother that his logical mind cannot quite comprehend. If I tell you all this part, then it really takes away the crux of the story…but it unravels beautifully in what would seem very touching for us but very disordered and unstructured for Christopher. As he finds his mother in his journey to London and goes out of his hometown of special foods, red, and yellow cars and known spaces, you understand the internal workings of how the autistic boy reacts to all these changes, to the parts of life completely unexposed to him, and how he surmounts his restrictions in social interaction abilities.

Again parts of the story are very detailed, with even drawings, and mathematical graphs and figures to demonstrate, you sometimes would stop on a page for nearly half an hour just to work out the math problem Christopher was talking about it. After reading this book, you’d think about how precise and meticulous his mind was, and for at least a day afterwards, you’d start to look at your surroundings this way, and you have the tendency to carry on your sentences until no detail was left untouched and untold. And that’s why I like the book so much, not just because you see into the workings of an autistic-savant* mind, you start to cherish too, the importance of intricacy in your surroundings.

* Now upon starting to read this book, I had no understanding of what autism was and what it meant to be an autistic-savant. Looked it up afterwards, and here’s the scoop on that: autism is a case of disorder in neural development, where the person has an inborn restricted ability to socially interact. About 10% of autism cases have savant abilities, which means they have extraordinary talents and knowledge such as Christopher: the ability to do mathematical problems up to endless numbers within seconds, the ability to memorize exact dates, time, years, cities..everything possible. The percentage of people who have these abilities in the normal population is only about 1%. These people used to be called “idiot savant” which in french, meant “unlearned skills”, but there, I’m guessing, later for the easily misunderstood terming, it was changed to autistic savant. Apparently there’s a movie called Rainman also about an autistic-savant and I’m curious to see it..but it is said that after seeing the movie, many people  presume that all autistic people are savants, which is not the case (only roughly 10% are, as said)

Apologize for the wordy description, I’m normally redundant in words but that has become more true after reading this book. Hope you’ll check it out!

[Babbles] June June I croon!

3 years of using the VNPT service and this is the first time I’ve seen them decide to completely divert the blocking attention from Facebook to other forms of social media like WordPress and Blogspot. Why? who knows, maybe one day they just thought, the brain of the guy who sealed himself shut in his room, carefully scripted out the different interminable blog posts about the most inconsequential nonsense, must be a bigger threat than your average schoolgirl who refreshes her facebook profile every 20 seconds in anticipation of a new comment on her recently updated wall photo.But where would we (and Mark Zuckerberg and Matt Mullenweg (yah totally googled that one ) ) be otherwise? so really VNPT, what’s the point with trying to “tỏ ra nguy hiểm” as the colloquial slang goes?  Turns out all I had to do was add an “s” to the http and my “devastation” of being forever estranged from my already abandoned blog was completely dispelled. Yes, call me the prehistoric goon.

[Hanoi] The Great Return

It’s been 4 months and 3 days since my last post, a whopping 1/3 of a year gone in a blink of an eye.

My dear Benji graced the skies with his presence just a month after his first birthday, leaving our family, Sparky included, distraught. We miss you everyday precious, keep that free-spirited soul of yours roaming across the clouds up there 🙂 Perhaps no single dog would ever have the effect Benji had on Sparky. It was like chocolate, sweet and savoring while it lasted and bitter when we * flashback* think of times the furry giant bombarded his lesser-giant “grandfather” with his massive body. He was our oversized baby and I’ve decided to, instead of digging my head in the rubbles, celebrate the short yet carefree and joy-filled life of Benji – our 6th family member.  As the fam is looking to welcome home yet another rambunctious pup like yourself soon, Benji, our fam is growing once again with you and Nick and of course, much older canine relatives on a cloud just above us. Don’t forget to howl your heart out the way you do when you get excited, I’d like to hear you in the whooshing of the wind 🙂

Hanoi is still Hanoi minus or should I say, adding the outrageous percentages of increase in petrol and electricity prices. If I could, I’d drop everything now and just travel before the energy crisis falls upon us all and it becomes financially or resource-wise impossible to take the plane, hop on a bus or even drive a car. The truth is, unless they get solar, wind, nuclear to work quickly and widely, travel in the fossil fuel-based economy we thrive on today, is only going to get more and more exclusive to the ultra-rich or well, just become non-existent. Such a selfish and cynical advice coming from an environmental advocate, considering the size of the carbon footprint you’ll be stomping on the world each time you take a plane for example, but travel when you can, before it’s too late.

The hype in the past weeks has nevertheless been more outer-space than your everyday energy problems, it has been about the AG5 – that’s an asteroid that has been making as many headline titles here in Vietnam as some of the scandal-breeding celebs. “A 140-m asteroid to hit earth” reads some online news-flash. With little to nil scientific credibility, some headlines have even confirmed that this ‘bombshell’ would explode onto earth’s surface by 2040. Not stabbing my own career in the back or anything, but I think false information for the sake of views to this extent is just sheer BS. According to NASA, while the observations made so far imply that the asteroid would meet earth in 2040, the chances of this happening are 1 in 625. Each observation will yield new information as to how and if the course has changed. The earliest date for the next observations of the asteroid will be Sept.2013 and then better ones will come in 2015. Let’s continue our lives, make the observations and logical estimates, rather than fool people with crash-and-burn threats. To those checking off bucket lists in time for the end of the Mayan calendar this year, it’s never too early to start, end of civilization or not, bless ur hearts 🙂

Courage out to the Japanese people today ❤

[Hanoi] Tuesday Rant

—- Doggone way to start a day

I am convinced that there is something up with my neighbor. Most mornings for the past months, it has been of habit that I scramble out into my yard at approximately 8h20, crossing my fingers that I’d make it on time to work at 8h30 (that’s what you call a race against the clock right there). Anyway, this neighbor of mine is a retired man and just happens to have a fascination for using the appearances of my dogs, Benji and Sparky as a “muse” to get his granddaughter to chug down some breakfast milk. See, I have no problem with that. It’s just I’m in this chaotic state, right? and then I swing my gate open and his first reaction would always be “Look honey!!! the dog!!!”. That I do not appreciate *blank face* What should I do now? Train Sparky to open the gate?

—- The brotherhood of the traveling Great Grandfather Tortoise and Uncle Ho

An alum from MHC came to Hanoi and during our conversation, she asked about the mysterious tortoise residing in Hoan Kiem lake which everyone was talking about in the beginning of year. I told her, of course, about the legend, about how Vietnamese people regard him as the Great Grandfather Tortoise and how his health had been declining, and how honestly I thought nothing really effective was being done about it. It’d make sense to the take the tortoise to an oceanography institute rather than give him treatment in the already-ghastly condition of the water. But no one was going to take Great Grandfather Tortoise out, for superstitious reasons. My friend scrunched her eyebrows and said “Well that’s oddly contradictory, I tried to visit the HCM Mausoleum today and they said it was closed. I looked it up and found that every year for two months, Uncle Ho gets sent to Russia for ‘maintenance’ “. Now this was information I’d never heard before, and I have no real way of confirming its truth, so don’t take my word. She ended everything by saying “If Uncle Ho can travel to Russia every year, then Great Grandfather Tortoise sure heck can take a vacation to a treatment facility”

—- Halong Bay – hooray?

Today, I was coerced into sitting in on and talking at a rally for votes for Ha Long Bay to become one of the next 7 natural wonders of the world. I felt a little hesitant because I can’t help but feel, we were using national television to just push and push people to vote and vote, without really carrying through the message. Don’t misjudge my patriotism here, the whole thing about the country having a natural wonder – dandy and I did call for people’s support publicly :|. But let’s take a few steps back shall we, what exactly is this going to mean? There is no doubt about Ha Long Bay being a natural beauty queen, but honestly you can’t rely on looks in this race. If you were thinking on that alone, then every one of those final 28 deserves to be recognized, because you simply can’t put uniquely geographical, historical and cultural beauties and stack them on a ladder, one on top of the other. The world is not a pyramid, be it social paradigms have led us to think so.

If you are voting, think about your own experience in Ha Long, think about what further could be done to make that experience the next time you do have it better. Because as far as my experience goes, there are as many hurdles in environmental, tourism and public space management in Halong as there are hills of riveting beauty across this precious bay. Yes I voted once and today my co-worker says, “you know you can text as many votes as you want and you can also create new emails to vote more”. What is the point of voting, if you’re going to manually multiply your own support? It’s becoming a race of who’s got a bigger population and who’s going to spare more time.

If you are voting just because simply you’re Vietnamese and you must vote for Ha Long Bay – If you are voting just because a world natural wonder title is a must-have – If you are voting now and are going to forget about what’s going to happen to the bay the day it does get to that top 7-list – then with all due respect, your votes, be it 150 text-messages are empty.

If a vote and the title mean that somehow, finally more attention would be given to rid the waters of floating cans and plastic bags, ensure that overnight boats are truly safe, that the tourist spots won’t be riddled with okay to mediocre service, and that a plethora of other issues, which I won’t go into, are resolved – then by all means, vote and text your hearts out.

No hard feelings, and the best be it, not for the title, not for the country’s pride, but for the bay 🙂

[Paws on the News] Mr. Dirtbag greets September

In the spirit of awaiting autumn

With autumn spiritually and with much anticipation, here (the weather begs to differ with its fits of humidity and extreme lashes of heat-waves), we decided to do some work in the back yard, re-green the grass-bed. So the whole yard is now dug up, awaiting my father’s gardening moment later this weekend.

Harassing his grandpappy brother

Sparky, of course, being the over 70-year-old that he is , couldn’t care less and have yet to venture out into the mess, reserving his potty time to much more discrete and leveled ground. Little Benji (yes, we still call him that, because despite the massive fluff of ball that he resembles, he’s only 10 months old), on the contrary, is fascinated with this new terrain and has been scrummaging about, chasing unearthed beetles and closely nosing worms, and of course, triggering waves of outburst from my mom with his mud-ridden paws and dirt-drenched mouth. She literally would immediately grab the nearest possible towel and start scrubbing him down only to see Mr. Dirtbag reappear again, paw-printing on her kitchen’s window pane.

Mr.Dirtbag smiles Dirt

It’s entertainment to the purest, the dynamics between him and my mom. A vignette of mom’s market trip home:

” Mom pulls into the front gate, a defeathered chicken fresh from the butcher sulking in a nylon bag clutched to the side of her motorbike. The indomitable giant Benji races towards her from nowhere, lunges dauntlessly in, and rescues Princess Dead Chicken from the choking villain that is Sir Nylon Bag. And away goes our hero Benji, off into the sunset of my backyard, locking nozzle to beak with Princess Dead Chicken … Mom’s voice shouting ‘Nooooooo’ faintly fading out….” (July 26th)

With licks of love and wags of tail,

Sparky and Benji

[Stop n Shop] Velvet Vintage Retro Trash Fashion – Hanoi

A dress from Velvet Vintage Retro Trash Fashion

I’ve never been one to know much of or be able to write about shopping or fashion but if you happen to be Hanoi, looking for a unique and timeless sway to your closet, do check out my pals’ Velvet Vintage Retro Trash Fashion collection. The name gives you a gist about what it all offers…unlike clothes mimicking the vintage effect out there, these are actual vintage pieces, truest to its sense, in the fact that yes, they are second-hand, age-old, amazing-quality, rustic and at times, haute-couture, brand-name pieces. The girls who take charge, Joelle and Virginie , respectively from Lebanon and Quebec, Canada have hand-picked the pieces, both clothes and accessories from a wide range of markets mostly in London and Paris and other places across Europe. The whole operation isn’t quite settled yet, as they’re trying to tidy up a nestling adobe for the shop in Hanoi. Yet they have successfully launched the first collection and are about to come out with a second in the next week or two. J and V are awesome expats to chat with and have definitely taken those first steps at addressing the ever-thirsty-minded concerns of vintage lovers out there. Here is their website with pictures of the first collection: Show your support! It’s fashion, it’s recycling to the purest, it’s a time capsule that has chic written all over it…(dig my PRing?)

Above is the dress I had gotten from the first collection, which I absolutely adore and also re-modeled here for J and V as their August Velvet Girl. Check out the Velvet Girls in vintage fashion and tell me if I should get that second dress: If you’re wondering about the backdrop, it’s the Love Chocolate Cafe, which I’ll blog about in a Cafe Comfort session soon enough…if u have the hots for chocos, this is heaven in Hanoi.

On a side note, I’ve chopped off half of my hair and so no longer will be able to pony- tail as seen in the picture. Besides the fact  that I now look like a 7 year old to many (why? I don’t know, people’s eyes are infantizing?) , the 2-minute-shorter showers feel like a blessing, no combing necessary (I’m a bum, you don’t sayy…), and voila, out of bed, swift of hand, and there you have it, my pre-school hair-do! (literally, to some…)

I am so so soooo dreading work right now, the weather is horrid (okay maybe it’s not that bad…but summer stinks) and I am stuffed, congested, sick and sleepy and yes, I complain too much. Mucho love! I sleep!