spinner

My wheels are spinning

Cognitive load is real

A virtual meeting with 60 colleagues.

But keep your distance, y’all.

Plenty of gratitude and smiles, and a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ fuel me for a while. It’s not the same as being together, in a real room, but it’s better than nothing.

After that, team meetings and planning. All, exclusively, behind the keys, staring, staring, staring at the magic picture box.

We’re focused, productive. We’ve been through this and are getting better at it.

But it’s still exhausting.

I leave my team and take care of my own to dos. Powering through on our video message, first steps modeling a research summative.

The work, when you’re in a classroom with kiddos on the daily, feels endless. When you’re implementing Distance Learning, it actually is.

I’m not great at setting limits. Self care is an after thought as my head still spins. Seconds hurtle into minutes, minutes to hours. I pause, check the time.

Shit, after 4 already

I could push through, keep going, as I do.

But a voice of reason creeps into my head.

Stop spinning

Maybe a ride around the lake

I check the AQI and think better of it.

Instead, I haul the trainer and bicycle upstairs, making a conscious choice to shun any device, even for music. It’s just me and the bike, now. I throw on my Ghana kicks, hop on the rock hard saddle

Is the saddle really that hard or is my behind just too soft

I throw my legs in motion. Slowly but surely I find a rhythm and the sound of the rear wheel against the training guidewheel kicks in, sliding throughout the stairwell

fffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz fffzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

And as I spin my wheels, the sweat glides down my cheeks, grounding me, settling me, bringing my spinning wheels

To a stop.

social distancing

I’m living in a 2-dimensional world.

The keys clack gently and I respond to another thread.

Thread.

What’s the plan for Inquiry next week?

Thread.

Can you respond to that parent email?

Thread.

We need to strategize to streamline our communication.

All consciousness, all ideas, all trapped in a 13-inch screen. Unraveling, before me.

And I realize before too long that I’m not feeling so hot.

Threadbare.

Don’t worry friends, it’s not COVID. There’s just no pep in my step.

Week 7 of Distance Learning on Monday. The novelty is gone and the ups and downs of this wave take their toll. Three weeks ago the promise of kids, in class, together at last.

But now as the first cases have been identified here, DL continues, and the school, and the world, have withdrawn.

Streets, always bustling, lay dormant.

People draw in.

Of course, in a city of 9 million, there will still be people about. And in a city of 9 million, for the overwhelming majority, life goes on.

I’m craving people, real people. Real life. Not the kind trapped behind this screen.

So I close it.

Stand up.

Open the door, and step outside.

With one breath and three steps, the gentle breeze teasing the tree above me, the neighbor’s dog growling his usual gentle hello, and the children passing on bikes reassure me.

I’m living in a 3-dimensional world.

it’s these moments

Elephant nestles in next to me, that ‘just showered’ smell lingering throughout his room.

Excuse me

he says after gulping down the rest of the water

It is in these moments, before sleep, making sense of a busy day, when his train of thought steams up and sets forth from the station

Papa

did you know that in some countries, I can’t remember which ones

burping is a sign that you liked the meal. That it was good. In some places it’s a sign of appreciation.

Uh huh.

I respond, looking him in the eye.

The train gathers speed and continues down the track. Next stop, mastication station.

What happens to gum when you swallow it? Is it okay to swallow it?

Gum is hard to break when you’re chewing it. It’s easier to break when it’s new. You just break it off. Clunk, like that.

<pause>

He rolls over and faces me. Extends his finger, starting just beside my ear, tracing a gentle arc down my chin, below my mouth, and up the other side.

Papa, this is your beard line.

He extends both hands, rubbing them on my cheeks, a smile appears on his face. Continues up, peeking at the peak.

And it goes up to your hair line! You’re bald!

He says with a giggle, this revelation seemingly fresh, novel, despite telling us something we both already know.

A moment of connection, on a day of disconnect. Rare on today, a day of impatience, overload, too many thoughts and not enough time.

And I’m grateful I took a moment to catch his train

bike pedaler

Mr. Dung’s shop is waiting for me, again.

I pass it every day. And every day I vow to go to another shop, a place where I might get better parts, better prices. But, when I think about it, probably not better service.

Nestled quietly between the temple and the most impossible tiny corner store (more on that later), his shop is not always open.

When it is, this tiny patch of sidewalk arrays second-, third-, and fourth-hand bikes of all colors, shapes, sizes, and states of disrepair. Greasy, remodeled, eyeing potential buyers like puppies, they cry out for love.

Pick me

His prices vary. For me, an obvious visitor, they go up. We don’t really haggle, and usually our moments end with a “too much” and I walk away. But we usually both smile.

We have an understanding.

In early days, desperate, I acquiesced and bought a second-hand mamachari – black basket, sturdy back rack, and twinkle bell adorned with an “I love Hanoi” sticker. It’s my sweet, sweet ride, and I probably paid too much.

Nah, I definitely paid too much.

These days, my red Klein is decked out with pro clips, fitted for sturdy bike shoes, way too technical for me. I grabbed it off the Want Ads at a good price. It’s designed for a real rider, someone who wants to lean in, to go pro, to fly by.

That’s not me. But like I said, the price was right. And now I need pedals, cause I sure don’t have the shoes.

I type ‘pedal clips’ in and click to find an image to show him.

Do you have these?

I ask, in perfect English.

He shakes his head, says something along the lines of “nah, none of those, sorry”, in flawless Vietnamese.

He retreats behind the green, corrugated wall featuring an extreme variety of pegs, chains, tires, sprockets, locks, and who knows what else from the world of bikes. All of it ancient, full of grime, hanging, forever.

He returns, a couple pedals in hand. No clips, but they’ll do in a pinch.

He swings the wrench around with flair. The pedals are on in a heartbeat. He services my chain, charges me way too much

And smiles because he knows I’ll be back.

do caution

The workers lazily amble back from lunch.

It’s Sunday for us, work day for them.

Do they ever get a day off?

The corrugated, graffiti’d walls tower over the sidewalk, masking the monstrous new edifice on its way to our hood. Stretching for hundreds of meters, the block is blocked from view.

Except for the entrance gate.

Uniformly attired in green jackets, jeans crusted and browned with dried soil. Every worker with a hard hat. Drones, funneling into the hive, toothpaste squeezing back in tube.

The woman who wanders past has her helmet perched higher. It wobbles, more accessory than safety.

Why is it so high?

She must have a bun up there

Why is there such a queue?

The foreman, checking returnees with a digital thermometer (touch- free, natch). One by one, they make their way to the gate. A couple seconds to pause, they pass.

No fevers here, yet.

It’s an unusual measure. And an unusual measure. I don’t imagine this is standard workplace procedure.

But here we are, in place and time.

What if

The heat is coming

I can already sense a difference. Three days ago, a chill winter day with a cool, wet breeze. I bundled up on the ride home but still caught chill.

Today’s a different animal. Humidity and heat peek through the hazy sky and, frisbee tucked under my arm, sweat leaking, I make my way home.

The boys run ahead, they’re trying to get a workout in. I hang back, watching the local couples strike a pose next to the lake. And I step onto my mental soapbox.

If you need a blankety-blank Day, or Blankety-blank Month, chances are you’re doing it wrong the rest of the time.

Instead of International Women’s Day, how about International Women’s Year. Decade. Century?

Men have had a long run in power, and I can’t say it’s going particularly well.

I round the bend and run into my neighbor with her daughter.

Happy IWD!

Thanks. Apparently it’s a big deal with the Vietnamese.

I instantly worry, and make a mental note to text T, T, and H with a special wish.

But if I buy into this superficial day aren’t I just enabling the entrenched patriarchy and its band-aid lip service?

I add on a pact with myself – to empower the little ones I work with to make the world better. I know it’s not the answer to systemic inequity,

but it’s a start.

So, while I’m at it.

J, Mom, sisters, grandmas (rest in peace), aunties, nieces, colleagues, bosses, mentors, teammates, friends, students, children, icons, role models. I’m so grateful for you all.

You are change makers, stalwarts, and superstars. Here’s to taking the sentiment of today and making it real, broader, better.

And permanent.

be flat

Elephant nestles between my shoulder and ribs

Papa

Yes bud

The hierarchy goes like this

I instantly wonder if he knows what a hierarchy is.

I gaze at the ceiling fan as it drifts slowly to a stop, and I pause to hear myself breathe. It’s been a day. Too much to manage.

But this is a moment to put some space, between.

And there’s no space, between. We’re snuggled in together, bugs in rug, those enchanted moments prior to sleep. Teeth brushed, jammers on.

He slows down. And so do I.

His chest rises and falls, his soft, fine hair curling against my shirt. It’s getting long, but he’s expressly said he wants to let it go.

He’s growing up so fast

His arm bends, suspended parallel to his chest.

It climbs, still horizontal, reaching up incrementally towards the now-stationary blades.

Mama is here, at the bottom

Then Rhino

His arm demarcates each level with precision, intent.

Then you

And I’m here

I wonder what he’s describing, how this hierarchy he’s talking about has come to be, and what exactly he’s attempting to quantify.

So I ask.

What hierarchy?

And he responds.

It’s the smelliness of our farts

He says with a giggle, and I join him, and suddenly we’re just a couple snickering ninnies, together, in the dark, thinking about farts

He definitely knows what a hierarchy is

circuit

We travel as I imagine electrons might

through a cord wrapped around a thousand corners. Aligned, flowing, sparking, ensuring power.

The route is windy, and windy. But purposeful. There’s a here to there here, and people travel with the end in mind.

I follow my friends on their classic hog, looking like an advert for Cool Biker Couple Abroad. Sporting black masks and a jet matte helmet for him, her unprotected dirty blond hair tied back, gazing at the lake beside, unfazed and unflappable.

It’s fun, this commute.

We weave our way between school and home, darting through narrow stretches, guessing at which lane belongs to us, skirting safety with a beep here and there. Oncoming traffic darts, bops, bobs. It all seems chaotic, disordered.

But there is a logic to it. And people find their way.

My bike is not nearly as cool, not nearly as burly, not nearly as much bike as my buddy’s, but it gets me here and there. A tiny e-bike, I take pride in its lack of emission, and lack of power. But it keeps the pace just fine. And today I open it up a bit, enjoying this play and pretending that I’m actually, just a little bit, as cool as my friends.

I feel the breeze

Air’s not as bad as I thought

Maybe I should pass on the inside

Why are there so many cars stopped?

I approach the traffic jam, oblivious to anything apart from my desire to get home and a bit of annoyed that I have to slow. Cars are backed, three deep, and scores of bikes weave their way between.

I think nothing of the extra traffic and choose a path at points just wide enough for myself and the driver on the bike next to me. We make timid eye contact as I let her sneak between the vehicles ahead.

I decide to poke around the static hatchback in front of me, tentatively wheeling into the oncoming flow when I realize that no one is coming.

Instead, I notice the concerned faces, huddled around the woman in the purple sweater. Laid out in the middle of the road, she's in tears, pointing to her skull, a man cradling her gently and reassuring her with quiet speech. Others huddle close, in silence.

An accident has happened here

Was she hit by that car?

How did it happen?

Was she on her motorbike?

Is she going to be okay?

I don’t see any blood.

I pass the scene, guilty of rubbernecking. I have many questions.

She seems to be in good hands

I pause for a minute. Take a breath. And continue home. Only this time, a little bit slower. This time, I take it cool.

greatest of all time

Dog Poop Park is packed today

It’s the usual, glorious intersection of humans that gathers. Local families and their kids, elderly exercisers swinging on futuristic (but simple) machines, young footballers knocking about a too-hard plastic ball, ex-pats and backpackers taking a breath

And a collection of dogs and their owners, who think and act differently. Laid back, unconcerned, not a care in the world, it’s clear this crew knows how to take it easy.

Why does being from another country make it okay to not pick up your dog’s crap?

I ask a friend.

Well, carrying along a plastic bag and picking up poop isn’t very Bohemian

He responds, with a chuckle.

I meander across the mine field, eyes wide, alert for the all-too camouflaged nuggets that are just waiting to smell up my walk home. I contemplate saying something to the too-chill dog owners but hold off.

Nah, too soon

That’s when I spot the goat.

Normally sequestered at the side of the road, today he’s taken centre stage. Wandering across the tiled path, pausing to nibble on reedy weeds, he’s grabbed the attention of a crew of boys and girls, toddlers to teens, trailing him like newborn ducks after mama. Falling over one another and giggling to get closer. Mr. Goat obliges by leaning in. Clearly, he’s been through this before. Kids are old school.

They can’t get enough of him, he’s the greatest of all time.

The tallest girl, being the tallest, takes charge. She’s holding the remains of a loaf of bread, and the goat is hungry. She indulges him, tearing off small pieces and leading the hoofer along the trail, a Gretel without witches or ovens.

I’m enjoying the spectacle, just me and my boys, enjoying a goat. As one does.

Papa, it’s like she’s trying to leave a trail!

Rhino notices.

Don’t think it’s going to work though.

Can we pet the goat?

Elephant asks

And for the first time since seeing the goat, a bit of paternal instinct kicks in and I find myself wondering

Do goats bite?

Are they ever rabid?

Can they get aggressive?

Am I forgetting my job as Papa?

I snap back to reality and assess the situation.

There’s really no danger here, it’s clear from the smiles on the faces of the kids, and the slow, steady calm of Mr. Goat, that this is not a moment to worry.

In these times, the zeitgeist is about panic, worry. Alarm. What could go wrong? Are we in danger? What do we have to fear?

Instead, I tap into my Bohemian instincts,

and don’t give a crap.

navigation

The family didn’t have to help.

I’ve wheeled my packed cart outside, trying to make sense of the flow of traffic. An ocean of cars, scooters, and trucks, a steady, rhythmic wave

Everyone honks

There’s purpose to it all. it’s more than a parking lot, not quite a thoroughfare, and somehow people make their way

I’m not quite sure how to make mine.

The Grab has been ordered, the taxi on its way. And thanks to location services and satellite magic, I can watch the driver weave his path straight to me.

Only, he’s not sure where to go.

I see his progress, and lack thereof, clearly, and for whatever reason he comes to a dead stop 500 meters south, behind the building, on a road most certainly to nowhere.

As the blackbird flies, it’s not bad. But from where I stand and wait, with this cart full of supplies, it might as well be Timbuktu.

I’m not going to make it home.

Outward, I’m calm, all under control. But inside, I’m flailing, desperate.

A call comes in, and for a moment I feel hope.

But that’s where things get tricky. It’s still early days. I speak exactly two words of Vietnamese, he speaks fewer words of English. The conversation goes nowhere.

I’m not sure who hangs up first but it’s a mutual breakup.

I’m not going to make it home.

The lady and her two kids standing next to their small motorized scooter nearby seem to notice me, but say nothing. Wearing their best, headed to dinner, a boy, maybe 7, and a girl, skirting her teens. They make timid eye contact, curious about this nerved up foreigner.

All around, chaos, organized. Shoppers, bags loaded, hop on bikes, step into cars, wave down taxis. I don’t know exactly where I live. But I am amazed at exactly where I find myself.

It’s still early days.

And this family decides to help.

The daughter has a bit of English. She approaches.

Where you go?

I show her my phone

Your driver has arrived and will wait for your

Arrived where? And for what?

Luckily, it becomes clear that I have an ally.

She takes my phone over to her father, just arrived, carrying four shopping bags full of veggies and soups. He comes to me and asks a couple questions in Vietnamese. I smile and shrug, but show him the phone.

He calls the driver. A patient back and forth. His voice is raised, but not in anger. In urgency, in haste.

Because he wants desperately to help. A random, strange, hapless foreigner he’s only just met.

He hands the phone back to me with a smile. Success. I pay him back in kind with what must be the biggest relief on my face.

Cảm ơn.

I say thanks with the only words I know. This family of four, who don’t know me, who I can only assume are not unique in this compassionate, layered, complex city of millions, decided to help.

I watch the four of them take their full load of shopping over to their bike, Surely, they’re going to a car parked nearby. Perhaps a driver is en route to grab them, too.

Instead, they open the bike seat, deftly arrange their goods to fit in the compartment below. The leftover items remain in bags, laden over shoulders.

Papa hops on first, he’s driving. Behind him sits Mama, and her, the teen. Last, the boy turns around, waves goodbye to me with a smile, and sneaks in.

The final piece of the family’s Tetris puzzle, nestled just behind the handlebars in front of Pop and tucked next to a vibrant bag of greens. One small scooter, an impossible amount of groceries, and four neatly dressed passengers.

And I watch, with reverence, as they ride off into the night.