Tu Hoang parttime Ruby dev, fulltime Bun Rieu maniac

02042017

những ngày mưa ở bá linh, bầu trời trắng muốt và những phiến bê-tông lắp ở chân tầng trệt không mùi vị kéo tôi theo vào vũ trụ vô vị của chúng. phiến bê-tông ở tường toà nhà bảo tàng X ở trung tâm sydney cũng vậy. ở những xã hội này, tôi được mặc nhiên tự do sờ mó những phiến bê tông, trong trời mưa (tháng tư ở bá linh) (hoặc trời sydney tháng ba rất ướt át), và cười ở giữa không gian ấy. ở nhà, chắc ông bảo vệ nào đã lôi điện thoại ra chụp tôi lại, hoặc tồi tệ hơn, ra hốt thằng hâm.

lần trở về sài gòn dịp tết này embodied ý muốn của tôi về tương lai với thành phố, rằng tôi sẽ chỉ khẩn thiết những brief stints để nạp lại nồng độ đường trong máu (#phúc long), và ghé thăm những tiệm sách mới (và những tiệm sách cũ). tôi hoan hỉ với những brief stints (dịch làm sao nhỉ, cuộc chơi chóng vánh), vì những tháng ngày rải rác hẻm này ngõ nọ ở muôn nơi, não tôi scan qua hàng nghìn (hay chục nghìn nhỉ) câu chữ, leaf through mấy trăm trang sách trong vài ba ngày, và mỗi lần về thành phố (sài gòn), tôi đều đặn buổi sáng dắt xe ra đường, đếm số phút cần phải trôi qua để đi lên trung tâm (ngày một tết là 22 phút, ngày hai tết là 32 phút), tạt vào ngô đức kế, rồi dành phần lớn thời gian ở hồ con rùa hoặc rải rác những nơi như indexlivingmall hoặc kafka. ở những chỗ này tôi tốn khá thời gian tìm những quyển sách tôi đã đọc và muốn lưu lại bản cứng, quẹt thẻ (đây là một thành tựu công nghệ ai cũng xem thường, mọi người ạ), và nhờ em gái bán sách hoặc chị gái bán sách (chưa bao giờ thấy ông nội nào bán sách) đem ra bưu điện gửi đến những địa điểm sắp tới của tôi.

ngày ra đi lúc nào cũng được đánh dấu bởi một cuộc cãi vã, hoặc những cái nhìn sắc lẹm mà đối phương không bao giờ chịu đi ra khỏi cái chảo gang của nơi mình ở (the great cauldron) (in retrospect: có khi là tôi).

những ngày này, phần lớn tài liệu đọc của tôi đến từ ông james a michener. ông này có những người viết foreword cho các tác phẩm của mình, hoặc là thời của ổng có quá nhiều tác phẩm kinh điển, hoặc là ổng bốc lộn nhân, mà viết về ổng cực kỳ casual. trong khi tôi lia lịa đánh dấu trang, highlight, chép lại đủ thứ, đặt ổng ngang với hàng tác giả có ayn rand, thì người đương thời praise ổng theo cái cách thanh thiếu niên bây giờ praise một bài blog dài kỳ được in thành sách (insert một cái nhìn khinh bỉ vào nxb tổng hợp). hai ngày trước tôi ăn nằm ở dề với caravans (viết về afghanistan), constant influx of black tea and sweet để mà tập trung đọc từng từ trong 320 trang sách; lúc đọc xong, đồng hồ điểm 4:07am, tôi rảo mắt nhìn ngang nhà như thấy một cơn bão nhẹ tạt qua (bài vở ngổn ngang, chén bát ngổn ngang, và ly tách hốt tứ xứ về ngổn ngang không theo quy tắc thẩm mỹ nào làm tôi liên tưởng tới cánh rừng đầy nấm ở gothenburg), nheo mắt lại bỏ kiếng ra thì nhận ra 48 tiếng đổ lại có một cơn bão cũng đổ ngang tâm mình, kéo theo rất nhiều conventions và prejudices và impressions và … silence nữa. một cơn bão mà kéo theo silence, hay nói để bạn dễ hiểu hơn, tôi thấy lòng dạ mình đổ vỡ hết mà không đưa tay ra làm gì. pillars that i have been leaning onto theo cái mạch không âm trôi đi khỏi tôi như sự bất lực nhìn những đoàn tàu cao tốc thép chạy bằng điện phóng như gió ra khỏi một miền quê. những mối quan hệ mà tôi struggle emotionally (mentally thì không) để giữ gìn theo quan ước xã hội zét hoặc quai nào đó, flashback về một buổi chiều ngồi bệt ở collegestrasse (haha), như cách tôi vẫn nhìn nhận buổi chiều hôm đó: me against the world. bạn có thể sẽ cố dặm thêm tính từ nào đó vào đây, nhưng không, tôi thấy rõ ràng ranh giới trong không gian và thời gian, giữa tôi và tất cả vũ trụ ngoại trừ tôi. điều này tôi nói với sự tịnh tâm, mặc cho vẻ trái ngược bề ngoài của nó, như phạm công thiện đã cắt nghĩa:

sống và chết, một chiếc cầu bắc qua sông. mấy triệu năm rồi, tôi đã hoá thân biến dạng đã trôi qua mấy tỷ nhịp cầu, tôi đã là hạt bụi, hoa dâm bụt, điếu thuốc, khói, diêm quẹt, mực, sắt, đá, than, đất, gạch, nước, lá, cây, trái, chim, nguyên tử, tinh cầu, vân vân. chữ “tôi” hoàn toàn vô nghĩa; chữ “tôi” là cái án tử hình chung thân; chữ “tôi” là thiên đàng và địa ngục.

tôi đang giận xã hội loài người như mark miller giận người tình du mục mira của mình, với những suy nghĩ không xa quá hai ba trăm mét của cô. những hệ tư tưởng mới được truyền đạt cho đám đông bằng những tính từ và những con số vắn tắt; và đám đông, với những tiếng ngáp ngủ trong giờ lịch sử hoặc triết hoặc ngáp ngay trong những giờ thư viện mà mình tự đề ra, làm lơ (nói đâu xa) một trăm năm quá khứ và nhìn về tương lai với một sự lạc quan và tự chủ (hay viễn tưởng tự chủ) không nền tảng; trong những trường hợp tệ hơn và rất tệ, họ vin vào số năm họ sống, hoặc số tiền họ gầy dựng, hoặc đám đông còn lại, để chọn ra một chân lý nào đó.

với một sự nguy hiểm không kém phần nghiêm trọng, bộ phận trí thức chăm chỉ dồi mài lĩnh vực của họ, và (bạn có nhận ra cái vòng quay này không?) cũng tay không leap một cái thật nhanh tới kết luận nào đó. giá thuốc cao, chảy máu chất xám, kinh tế đi xuống, ổn định nghề nghiệp, nợ công, sự “bớt” đồng thuận của đồng nghiệp. tôi nghe họ nói về những chủ đề này với sự tìm hiểu nửa vời, và khi tôi counter-argue, bạn biết chuyện gì đã xảy ra rồi, những bộ não sợ tốn kém nửa tiếng để tìm hiểu trong khi có thể dành vài tiếng cùng một lúc cho những đoạn than thở không hồi kết.

có hai tác phẩm hiện thời tôi vẫn phải revisit thường xuyên of my own accord, đó là (i) thư tình gửi một người, để tự nhắc nhân duyên của con người không phải là thứ kéo dài rột rạt và nhanh gọn như một cái swipe qua phải và hơi thở trong một buổi chiếu phim và những lần lỡ hẹn trong cái nóng và ẩm của TP S., và (ii) caravans (michener), để đặt mình vào một góc nhìn critical hơn, rằng sự hiểu biết là hữu hạn và góc nhìn là chủ quan; mấy trăm dặm đường xa mạc và extreme diet và countless visits trong 20 năm không đủ để tự claim là mình hiểu biết.

tôi vừa phát hiện ra cách làm ly trà béo ngậy và đậm vị ở lưỡi. sau hơn 1.2 ký trà đen và mấy chục ly với mấy chục cách pha (kèm một tá đồ “pha chế”), kèm những buổi chiều cafein overdose vật lên xuống, tôi hồ hởi với cái phát hiện này. tất nhiên là tôi sẽ diếm nó.

Bye, '16.

’16 marks the second year I resolved to use Wally (the personal finance app) daily. What came back at the end of the year surprised me a lot, and I think it’s worth sharing.

House is the single thing throughout the year that most troubled me. I got into pretty bad arguments with my landlord(s), ranging from ”why would you come into my house when I go on trips” to “can I at least put some adhesive on the wall to hang my paintings?”. Admittedly I’m a nutcase when it comes to owning a space that I comfortably settle in; but…

Apart from the emotionally taxing rants that I shared on a monthly basis, I was determined to keep this cost as low as possible. I read somewhere it might/could account up to 25% one’s after-tax income, and the ideal range is 12% - 18%, so year-start I set out to contain this to 10% (insert parrot laugh); partly because I would spend the majority of my time in Asia (where housing is was expected to be cheap and/but progressively horrible the more developed a country you live in; say, Malaysia is worse than Singapore, and Singapore is worse than Vietnam, etc), and partly because I have friends across continents and would like to see to how consecutive couchcampings play out.

Turns out I’m such a noob though.

I ended up spending 25% after-tax income on housing and all things related (that include moving-in/out, furnitures and bills). The one-month stay in a serviced apartment in Berlin was particularly pricey, but I ate up for I was there for an extremely crucial task (couldn’t afford to be distracted by any shenanigan; one month later I moved out to a friend’s place and ended up fighting landlords again mehhehe).

Social causes, despite my year-start resolution to contribute 2.35% my income to, concluded the year at 1.95% my total expenses. Mind the word choices. This is a huge disappointment, to which I can’t make any excuse, and am keen to remedy in ’17. I spent the whole year juggling websites and reports, and could have donated much more by forming a task-force that would build a finance/transparency infrastructure for a local charity. I’m still mid-way judging the immediacy of this contribution, ironically because most charities I reached out to rejected upfront the need for such a thing (Viet Nam, oh Viet Nam). And then a few months back, a celebrity in Viet Nam spent a part of the $1M he got from his fanbase to this particular technological piece. Duh.

FYI here’s the list of causes I’ve been donating to:

  • hieuvetraitim.com
  • luatkhoa.org
  • dantri.com.vn
  • nhachonglu.org
  • vietseed.org
  • VietPride Scholarship

International ones:

Health care is another fun thing to talk about. I remember vividly having insurances on all my trips, a private health insurance during my stay in Viet Nam, yet despite such, I still logged $400 towards health payments last year. Diving deep into those logs, I noticed a brief stint in Berlin, Germany during which scheduling a doctor’s appointment took weeks, and I resorted to #DongXuanMarkt healthcare (read: handing out prescription medicines without … prescription). Well, speaking of travel nuisances.

Gadgets kept on playing a big part in my life, again, despite my initial resolution to keep my belongings lean. Brands that I gave up heart and soul and cash to include: Xiaomi (their Bluetooth speaker is top notch, guys!), Filco (one of those #SantaIHaveBeenGoodThisYear self-rewarding moments), Moleskine, Jaybird. Communication is also pricey; I paid a total of $300 for SIM cards and top-ups.

The only thing that didn’t surprise me along these sheets is my travel expenses. I’m not going to quote any number here, because it hurts. I don’t project much traveling in 2017, apart from a few trips to see my favorite collective of humans on Earth (at Vero).

I thought I paid handsomely for books, but in reality they accounted for only a minor chunk. That’s surprising, and tells a lot about myself and my choices (duh). A few good ones I picked out last year:

’16 is also enlightening in a sense that I adopted principles that enabled me an easy-led life. They’re, by no means, not controversial and took time, effort, friendships/bossships to solder on.

I started out with “everyone’s entitled to their opinions” and ended up “not really, bruv”.

Two things that I deem sure (and mean) parts of living: wars, and arguments.

Work wise, I learnt gladly autonomy comes at a hard price (cough mental health) but it’s for the best. I managed to put containers to some good use, starting by dockerizing more services at work and wrapping up the year shaving off ~$4000 off a part of Vero’s infrastructure bill. Chatops is surprisingly easy with this new herd of tools in 2016 (thanks to containers, again) and surprisingly crucial to operations (both human’s and system’s). There’s a lot more, and they’ll come gradually in their respective blogposts.

I started helping out local teams and companies in my idle time, too. The transfer of knowledge is tough; sometimes I just wish humans were capable of ingesting (and making out) knowledge unlimitedly. An argument one usually puts up to me is knowledge is general and system is specific, to that I say you cannot afford to be in the unknown.

Oh, also, I also raged war against PMs and SWEs who have no idea what they’re talking about except a few bullet points they absorbed reading Internet articles (ie: microservices, Docker). Yeah, I’m mean.

Reading through this a stranger might take me eccentric. Admittedly I a bit am. Here’s an important point though: I’m fully aware of my wrongdoings and I’m faceless. That’s hard, bruv. Not everyone’s capable of doing that.

Society

There are so many things about this collection of people that I feel uneasy about, but isn’t that a thing about societies? You group like minded people together, and it’s personal that you don’t feel like you can go along with a certain strait of minds.

That’s fine. That’s why I have been traveling. After 5 years of hopping on and off continents, I find that almost all societies are alike.

Out of 100 people, 99 will most likely ask you How old are you and What do you do and stop dead when you tell them something they don’t know (ie: I manage a fleet of machines running various software and I spend most of my timing tweaking .cfg files). I guess that’s why Tinder and its Unmatch feature is such treasured. People oftentimes judge another person by their looks and professions. The same group of people don’t have enough mental attention and capability to take time diving into another’s walk of life. Time is literally worth more than gold for everyone. Everyone. Not just the rich.

I tend to give close ones a copy of The Fountainhead. People either hate it or like it. I always look forward to hearing what they think about this work, because almost always people get very opinionated about it. That’s fine. The point is to hear opinions, though opinions can change. Hence the follow-up discussion. This activity is for me to learn more about people around me. And for them to learn more about me. I’d go as far as saying that the discussion that follows is just as important as seeing whether they have an opinion about the book.

People often get mad at me because I’d like to learn how they arrive at a decision. Take this girl for example, she’s spending 2 years straight out of college to study German so that she can enroll in a master course on finance. I asked what the point of going for a master degree was, how she thought of an opinion that financial (or service, in general) workers are of abundance, how “enriching knowledge” (as per the given reason for going further the tuition chain) helps her in short and (if foreseeing allows) long term.

What I’d like to tell her in the end is it’s fine to not have an answer to all the questions, but she was too mad at me for firing all these questions, she assumed I was such an arse (which, I don’t think applies, because an arse tends to hurt people, whereas I truly tended to learn more about her).

Example above tells how I view the world as of now. Basically:

  • There are too many walks in life and as a mortal, I can’t afford going through all. The act of networking (from my side) is entirely selfish, I get to know you and try to befriend you because: (i) you bring a new set of views into my life and (ii) hopefully I can do the same thing. Be it selfish, befriending someone and taking their time off are critical deeds, ones that I don’t take lightly.

  • One needs to do things wholeheartedly. 99% of the society will tell you it’s not worth doing so, and you can hear feedbacks, but the decision is yours. Once you have decided, go all in. Don’t be half arsed. Hopping is fine, as long as you have given it your all before moving on. Don’t compare, because comparison is always subjective. It’s not absolute, hence it doesn’t weigh much in your decision. You can blame family and finance and residence status (this doesn’t apply for people living in warzones), but here is a fact: there’s no free lunch. Those people with a supporting family and readily available finance, why do they have to do with your decision? Living your passion (or trying it) is not easy, not because the environment isn’t always supportive (though sometimes they can be greatly not), but because it’s given. As given as being mortal. You can live in a hut off Son Doong, or you can stay at a penthouse in Mitte, life is always tough bruv. Power through.

That said, given I have been in it for some time, people often ask me for opinions. What’s fun is, this is not the act of me beaming my experience all over you and demanding respect, so don’t take it that way. This is me sharing my findings along the way and sincerely hope you can give me yours some other time. What’s even more fun, I half expect you to fire back at me, at how I arrived at those myself. The core of this is my absolute belief in performing good work. It’s mutual. Friends usually get surprised when I talk and discuss, work wise, to people I am extremely against. But then I reply: why does my personal feeling have to do with the good work itself?

Shower talk

I started thinking about writing this whilst taking a shower, at the time the idea of it sounded more like a retro. Then upon getting out of the shower I realized how my apartment was full of turtle shit (literally speaking); so I figured it’s better talking about how things are going in my life, because it’s been a while since I last talked to fellow humans about that topic.

Now before you move on clicking on blinking links on the right as a dear friend just surfaced and you dearly want to talk to him about Phuc Long being spectacular these days despite their significantly decreasing customer base, there is only one important thing here: to be content.

I believe I manage to hold a strong command of that phrase, and that I understand it to every bit, I’ve been counting it off in every decision during the last two years.

Giang asked me recently whether I still have a coffee friend (well, to frame it more properly: a milk tea friend), and that without one would I feel OK? Well, no and yes. The folks over Mac Thi Buoi are getting used to me ordering one cup of tea lately, and has long stopped asking why I am not with another one like I used to. I also long ago stopped thinking about me being actively acquainted with another human, for the sake of not being a loner, and start to digest the fact that I pull strings off just fine by myself, talking to myself throughout the day is absolutely under the line, and sometimes treating myself to a nice dinner at a dimly lighted restaurant with a paper will not put me in constant embarrassment.

At work I slowly transition myself to tasks that aren’t always customer facing. Ping me with this two years prior and I’d go crazy over the prospect of it. I’m the kinda guy who wants to see stuff I build being used by others. A lot of others. Now I see to tasks that may involve no one, sit unattended at the back, or talk to distributed systems scattered around dry data centers over continents but humans.

Or as a senior put it: It all gets to be technical in the end.

I still hold faith. Friends that have drifted away are a given. The seek for (new, reconnected) friends isn’t a bed thought anymore. I find myself reading more. Offscreen, how the congress is acting on, and Dan Brown.

I travel more and pause whilst traveling more. Sight seeing usually isn’t the thought top off my mind, but sitting reserved at a vendor somewhere looking at how people interact. I catch up with people quite at ease, often do I find myself talking to guards and street workers, leading them on random stuff like why their kids should learn the craft of making things, or putting a dent in the universe and putting a dent in Bai Dai sound equally awesome, or bột hôm nay chiên vàng ươm, dì bán phá lấu kế bên ngồi tấm tắc khen, nước tương của con đừng bỏ ớt trái nha dì.

I love how two years ago I stepped on a plan to a strange land, interacted with people who speak Balkan languages, walked the Ohrid lake side streets hundreds of times, feeling more conscious of myself all along. It excites me the moment I tell people I have a Muslim friend, who is young and always acts like a rascal, drives my to crazy religous discussions at 3AM which last till morning.

Mom has stopped putting me against walls for a few years now, 99 out of 100 times listen peacefully to my rambling. She wants nothing but health for her children. It took me a few miserable months to consciously accept the idea of moving away. Wasn’t that me 5 years ago who talked non stop about having a house of my own up some hill, realizing Mom got off her hill 18 years ago for me to be exposed to a more social, fledged, fulfilled world?

Doing business in Viet Nam

Upon writing this, I can’t help thinking back this time 7 years ago. I was a business student back then (another bedtime story), and I together with friends held a workshop on doing business in Viet Nam. Topic of the year was groupbuying, so we naturally invited a groupby executive who spent the majority of his time telling audiences how cool his business was. They ceased operations shortly after.

Fast forward to 2014, I pulled up a license just to look legitimate in the country. I still remember vividly how I had to wait 4 hours at the Department of Planning & Investment just to lodge my application. The air was humid, the ceiling fan didn’t work, the 40 meters square room was packed with sweaty businessmen in shirts and businesswomen with ridiculous makeups in skirts. I had to revisit this room for a few times mostly because the staff there wasn’t feeling particularly pleased with my application’s wording. So I smarten’d up and wore khakis and pulls from my second time, always taking a book and water with me, and somehow mastered meditation while waiting for my name to be called.

Not to mention, Charity Map being translated into Vietnamese sounded weird. I flushed a few times because people then would just stare at me for some sweet minutes because of the name.

And that wasn’t at all a hassle. Every month I had to contract someone to file a financial report for my entity, in person, at the local tax department. They also asked us to visit the local treasury office to pay for yearly license tax and everything, each visit consumed a few more hours. I had never felt more of my life coming past me at the time, feeling utterly useless and idle to some unbelivably great extent.

Above all, the (then) enterprise law dictated that you could only do businesses on categories that you were given written authorization to. That’s just another fcking bummer. The (updated) law tells you can do whatever the laws don’t see as illegal, which for sure opens up more freedom for the national business(wo)men to try out new waters and squeezed out some tiny chunks of corruption. Funny how people had to bribe to do business lawfully.

So it also came to be that I had to close my first and only business in the country. It hasn’t been a business per se, given we haven’t booked any active revenue. We didn’t do recruitments either, I was the sole legal representative cum CEO cum principal employee. That being said, on paper we looked like a ghost lingering for breaths and opportunities. That has been really the case here. I’m not going to be in the country for some time, so I think I need to close it down, to avoid complications. Once I heard they stopped a lady from traveling aboard because she neglected her tax duties. She forgot paying $100 or something, but that’s another story. I need to close this paper business down. And I’m glad to find the experience (after 3 years) has been way better.

First, I need to fulfill all the tax duties, that include submitting all the accounting reports on the entity’s income and VATs. That’s easy. What’s startling me is that they have pulled up an online system to let these reports be submitted online, securely and all. Heck, they (the tax department) even sends reminders on late submission. I was able to have direct communications with my tax officer, and the lady was giving prompt answers and above all, she was friendly.

Second, I need to pay some fees, and what startled me even more was I could do this online, from my bank account (using a different bank to the department’s bank), and the tax officer went out of her way to confirm those financial transactions. This saves me a bunch of travels, in Saigon’s heat. It’s just evolutionary, that’s what I’m thinking it is.

Third, admittedly closing down a business takes some talking back and forth, and going to places to return the stamp and everything, but you can always contract someone to do this for you, at an affordable price. I was referred to Gia Cat, and they charged me $75 for the complete package. That involves closing the tax account at the tax department, returning the stamp at the local police, and filing for closure at the department of planning and investment. What you’d be given in the end is a paper that tells you have creased your whole business, which means ultimate soul rest. I found Gia Cat a real lifesave, their staff even visited my place (which is 30 minutes away from their office on bike) to collect my signature for some missing papers.

All in all, I’ve ceased my business doings in Viet Nam but I’m hopeful about coming back.