Back to Being a Freelance Writer (Slacker). It's Deja-Vu All Over Again … in Viet Nam

Water Cooler Fenders Adorn the Giant BowerySo, after much lifestyle and career experimentation, I seem to be reverting to form. To wit: I’m freelance writing again, and I have found a regular part-time gig putting my writing and editing skills to work, as well as my WordPress and search engine optimization (SEO) skills. The pay isn’t great, but it’s more than adequate to live on and save a wee bit here in Viet Nam, and will let me concentrate on other endeavors that are more alluring but not as conducive to income, at least in the short term.

I kind of feel like I just picked back up many of the threads of my former life that I left behind 11 months ago – only those threads stretch across a hemisphere. This is more or less where I left off when I got rid of all my stuff and hauled ass at the beginning of the year. I even stay up late and sleep late, just like the good old slacker days, although I actually need to because of one caveat for my current gig: I need to work North American hours, so as to be available in real time, which I don’t mind at all. Typically I go to bed around 4:30 a.m. and get up anytime between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. — right where I left off.

During the day I do what I do best – run around on my Giant Bowery, run errands, goof off and/or write while hanging around in a coffee shop. Slacker is as slacker does.

Today I actually spent the daylight hours (the few that I have) making some bike-punk alterations to my new bike and adding some fenders because the dry season is apparently never, ever going to arrive. This involved trips to a hardware store for zip ties and two local bike shops in search of old, used tubes. What kind of bike shop sells bikes but doesn’t sell tires or tubes? The kind down the street from me in Biên Hòa; I’m still trying to figure this one out from a cultural standpoint. In the end I bought new tubes from another bike shop farther down the street (trying to convey that I wanted old, worn-out tubes was too much for my nascent Vietnamese and well-thumbed dictionary).

Of course it didn’t actually rain today, for the first time in seemingly a million years. SouthEast Asia, you have me personally, Jeff Chappell – that’s two “p’s” and two “l’s” – to thank for single-handedly ushering in the dry season. You’re welcome.

Warning: Bike Nerdery Ahead. Proceed with Caution or Skip to the Next Subhead

I actually bought add-on fenders at a bike shop in Sai Gon (of course, the Australian-owned bike shop I go to down there was closed for renovations), as well as a cheap floor pump (this after asking at every bike shop in Biên Hòa). The pump barely gets an adequate amount of air into the tires, and I knew the fenders were likely going to need some Irish engineering in order to be mounted, but beggars can’t be choosers.

In the end, the front fender was a no go; the bolt used to attach it to the fork was too big, and the fender’s shape didn’t lend itself to a down-tube mounting with zip ties. The rear one I manged to mount after using the big-ass bolt from the front fender (it seems my 27.3mm seat post was too wide for the mounting bracket otherwise). I added an extension made out of a plastic drinking bottle (a water-cooler-sized one), however, to adequately cover the 700cc wheel.

I should note that I also used the two smaller bolts from the front-fender mounting bracket to attach said extension – so my purchase of the front fender was not in vain. I also used a piece of this water-cooler plastic to fashion a down-tube fender in the old-school way: zip-ties, holes and a couple pieces of cut-up tube to protect the frame’s paint.

No more getting caught in the rain and riding home with road-grit and grime up and down my backside – swamp ass, as I recall, is the term used in cycling circles — not to mention plastered all over my face. Of course, it won’t rain again until next June, now, but that’s fine. Either way, I win.

When I get around to wandering home, though, I’m going to see if I can lay hands on a pair of these Crud fenders made for road bikes. Sweet sickness, that.

Also, since I had the materials and tools lying around, I modified my Converse sneakers and converted them to slip-ons, replacing the shoelaces with long pieces of inner tube. How cool is that? Pretty comfy, too, not to mention convenient. Slacker is as slacker does.

Go to Instructables and you too can do this; it is pretty straightforward and my props to the dude who posted it over there. And it’s a good way to recycle an old tube.

You Can Take the Slacker Out of the Coffee Shop, but He’ll Just Find Another One (with Wi-Fi)

I’ve actually had a lot of topics I’ve wanted to discourse on here lately, but I’ve been preoccupied with creating yet another Website; I figure since I’m going to pursue freelance writing for the foreseeable future, I should separate out the personal blog from the professional stuff – resume and clips and whatnot. Plus, I’ve decided I need a more professional-looking place to repost some clips that are no longer found on Teh Intertubes.

Thus, the Gecko’s bark will soon get it’s own lil’ domain name, while JeffChappell.com will transform into something else yet again. I figure this is a good way to show off my mad WordPress skills, too; it’s amazing how many freelance writing gigs want experience with WordPress these days. JeffChappell.com Mark III will look very different from the Gecko’s Bark – which is kind of the idea.

Actually, while it’s a lot of work doing this (mostly getting all my old clips into the database and formatted correctly is what’s taking up the bulk of it – the “content” in today’s vernacular), it’s been fun – but then I’m both Web geek and writing nerd.

So what happened to teaching? It looks like that’s a no-go, at this point. I did have a private tutoring gig lined up, but when I factored in the commute time and lesson planning time, it just didn’t seem worth it. Better to put that time towards doing what I want to be doing.

While there were times that I really enjoyed teaching, at least certain aspects of it, I think at this point it’s safe to say that I tried it on for size, but it just didn’t fit. I like children, but I don’t want to teach a classroom full of them. I don’t have the skill set, and don’t want to put the time and the effort to acquire that skill set. I didn’t enjoy it that much. Even teaching adults – with the exception of the more advanced students – I simply don’t have it.

So, like I said at the beginning of this post before I got off on my bike nerdery, I’ve come full circle. It’s kind of ironic, because many people have remarked over the years – bear in mind I’ve been telecommuting in one capacity or another since 2001 – that I could do what I do anywhere in the world, as long as I had an Internet connection. Well, it’s not quite that simple but yeah, I can. I am.

I think that’s part of the teaching failure as well. It required just a little too much structure – and rightfully so – than I am capable of dealing with and providing, at this point in my game. I’m used to being fairly autonomous, working odd hours as it suits, etc. I made things work in Thailand, but I wasn’t happy – and back here in Viet Nam, as I’ve remarked before, the private language school was a much better situation, but at the end of the day, I still felt “meh” toward teaching there, once I had started.

Queue the Doogie Howser Closing Theme

Doogie Howser: Doctor, Proto BloggerSo what have I learned? Here’s some neat bullet points for your edification:

  • You don’t have to stick with what you know when you pursue a life/career change – but it helps to have a fallback/failsafe to something you know and you’re good at – and enjoy, at least to some degree.
  • If you’re a cycling nerd of some description, and you’re picking up stakes to a developing country, unless you’ve got money to burn, ship your bike over or bring it with you on the plane. Yeah, it will cost you, but the cost of finding the kind of bike to fit your rather specialized needs and tastes – in both dollars and frustration – as well as the gear that goes along with the cycling life, will add up to much more. Trust me on this one.
  • Same as above, but instead of “cycling nerd,” insert “gaming nerd,” and instead of “bike,” insert “gaming rig.” Everything here is cheap, yes – except for Western-style road bikes and leading-edge computer parts. Whatever you do, check out prices and import fees. I paid double of what my current ride would have cost me in the United States, because of Viet Nam’s import laws (and no, I don’t blame Viet Nam, it is a developing country after all). It looks like I will pay more if I buy/build a computer here, too, compared to what the same computer/parts would cost back home in the United States.
  • Once you’ve tasted freedom, it’s difficult to go back to the pen.

Eh, live and learn. I’m still new to this expat thing. While traveling abroad changes you for the better, I guess I didn’t realize that in many fundamental ways, I wouldn’t stop being me and should have taken that into account while planning out this open-ended escapade.

While foreign lands and cultures provide endless distractions, at the end of the day, I’m still several varieties of nerd and geek. Faced with the option of learning to ride a motorbike, always taking public transportation and taxis, or bombing around on a bicycle – I’ll opt for the bicycle. After 11 months away, I should have known that I’d be jonesing for video games – both console and PC/online.

But I can’t complain. In retrospect, 11 months ago the only thing I was really eager to change about my life was the fact that I wasn’t traveling/living abroad. So, problem solved, in that regard. I’m still a telecommuting, freelancing, coffee-shop lounging slacker – I’m just doing it now in an exotic locale that is also dirt cheap. Excelsior!

I’ve got the bike replaced, got the freelance gigs lined up, now I need to start thinking about a nerd-gasmic computer. As Apu Nahasapeemapetilon would say, thank my various Gods that I didn’t sell my camera equipment – I’d have to be replacing that, too. Speaking of which – camera equipment would segue beautifully into another anecdote about expat life – the $200 flash bracket — but I’ll save that for later.