What’s new? (Spring 2015)

I guess it’s just about time for an update. Where to begin..? How long has it been..? Tet, I guess.

In late February we did the Tet (lunar new year) thing here, and rang in the year of the goat (or sheep if you prefer). Winter felt surprisingly mild this year, with more nice, sunny days in January and February than I think there usually are. Aside from visiting friends and family, we didn’t do much during Tet. I was nursing a lower back injury. I had tweaked my lower back muscles playing ball hockey in late January, and I thought it would be better fairly soon.

Going into March, my back did feel like it was getting better — until it got worse, of course. This wasn’t just lower back pain, which I’ve felt with a few times before; this was pain in my lower back with pain radiating down the back of my right leg. (Sciatica?) So I went to see a doctor, he sent me off for an MRI, and it confirmed that I had a herniated disk (L5/S1) which was compressing the S1 nerve on the right side. The doc gave me pain killers, NSAIDs, and set me up with the physiotherapist. All of these things helped, but now it’s late April and I’m still not completely over it yet. Which really sucks because it has derailed my daily exercise routine(s) and makes life difficult in general. Even the simplest things – like putting on a pair of pants or tying shoelaces – can be quite the chore on a bad day!

The timing of my lower back problems was pretty bad, as my mum and aunt came to visit us in Vietnam for three weeks (late March to mid April). It was unfortunate that when they arrived I had to leave the city tours and other sight-seeing and shopping excursions to Hien and Jane, while I rested my back in a hotel room, went to physiotherapy, etc. Anyway, on my good-back-days, I was also able to join in the fun. In the end, we managed to take them to some fun places in Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, and Hoi An. Things even worked out that they were able to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding in Ninh Binh and Thai Binh!

Group photo
A rare group photo of us during the three week visit

Since my mum and aunt flew back to Canada (two weeks ago now), I haven’t been doing a heck of a lot. Watching baseball, getting a few things done around the house, and waiting on my next contract.

Speaking of my next contract: It looks like I will (maybe?) be working with Uniterra in Vietnam for one more year. I haven’t signed anything yet, so who knows, but that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m just patiently waiting on everything to be sorted out over in Ottawa.

Sneeze related injuries

Back in late January I tweaked my lower back muscles while playing ball hockey. It took more than a month to get almost back to normal. It was a long and often painful time that involved a lot of “taking it easy” (when possible), and doing lower back exercises and stretches. Late last week, not long after I had just started getting used to being more or less back to normal, my seasonal allergies started flaring up. On Thursday evening I was walking around the house, and I sneezed. While sneezing I felt the most awful pain in my lower back, and my legs almost came out from under me! Great – time for a few more weeks of trying to get over lower back pain.

It was only a couple weeks ago that I had a chuckle at the expense of Kevin Pillar, as he was sidelined during Spring Training by a sneeze. Turns out, sneeze related injuries can happen to you too!

It also turns out that this most recent back problem is different from before. The injury back in January was muscle pain, but this time it’s nerve related (an MRI revealed that today). This is probably going to take a bit longer to completely recover from. I’m not sure if I can blame the sneeze alone for the nerve compression that is causing the pain in my lower back and down through my right leg, but it makes for an interesting story anyway?

Forgive me, Tux

MacBook Air
I bought a Mac!?

I’ve done a bad thing. Well, not that bad – I didn’t buy and install Windows! But I’ve been in the market for a new laptop for a while, and after a lot of shopping around and some careful thought, I decided to get a MacBook Air. I’m going to give OS X an honest try and see how I like it. If I eventually decide I can’t stand it, Linux ought to work well enough on this thing. Ideally, though, everything will “just work” and I’ll be happy with it.

These days I do most of my work in a browser (Gmail, Drive) so the only truly must-have things for me are functional wireless and an up-to-date browser. Wireless drivers are often the problem in Linux. At least I know with a MacBook that has OS X installed on it, these things will work out-of-the-box.

My old laptop (netbook actually) was a Lenovo Ideapad S10. I bought it in December 2008, and used it as my main computer for most of the last 6+ years. It held up impressively, though I did have to change the HDD once. It still works, but as browsers and web apps get more sophisticated, the poor little netbook gets more and more sluggish. We’ll keep it around until it finally dies; Hien wants me to install Windows XP on it and give it to her to play around with. I’m going to miss the Ideapad… but I won’t miss all of the trouble wireless drivers (Broadcom wl mainly, but others before it came around) gave me in Linux. Ugh.

Time to spend a few days learning how to use a Mac. This might actually be kinda fun! I need to learn how to live with this multi-touch touchpad, figure out the Mac version of all of the keyboard shortcuts I’m used to using, etc. Wish me luck.

How to not do NYE

I don’t even care much about New Year’s Eve. In recent years I haven’t even bothered to stay up until midnight. This year, though, I was thinking I’d stay up, have a few drinks, and maybe watch some year-in-review show on TV if anything interesting was airing. I took a train home from Hanoi to Ninh Binh on New Year’s Eve and got there by 10pm – just enough time for a few drinks while waiting for midnight! – but…

The house was a mess, in the middle of a paint job. The painters started on December 30th, and didn’t finish until January 3rd. On New Year’s Eve, the living room still hadn’t been done yet, so all the furniture was gone and it was a dusty mess. I spent my New Years long weekend moving furniture and cleaning the house, along with everybody else. Boo! Even if I had stayed up late on New Year’s Eve, there would have been nothing to do – so straight to bed I went.

Happy New Year! Bah humbug…

Looking back on 2014

Well, that’s pretty much it for 2014? Christmas is over and done with. Just under a week until 2015 starts.

The first two weeks of 2014 were the tail-end of our winter (Christmas) holiday in Canada last year. What fun that was! Hien, Jane, and I were all missing Canada during Christmas this year. Christmas in Vietnam just ain’t the same without all of the little family traditions back home, not to mention the family. (At least I was able to find tasty meat pies in Hanoi this year, though!)

When we flew back to Vietnam halfway through January, it was just in time to get ready for Tet (the lunar new year) which in 2014 was around the beginning of February. So… we left our Christmas holiday in Canada to come back to Vietnam for another holiday! Not a bad deal. I ate a whole lot of bánh chưng (traditional Vietnamese sticky rice cake) and other Tet specialties, and drank a whole lot of rice wine. :)

After Tet I got started on my job search, as 2014 was supposed to be a year of change and growth… But at the beginning of April I wound up taking another volunteer posting with Uniterra. So much for change! But it was very convenient to do one more year with Uniterra, as I enjoy the work and like all of the people I work with – and there was a little bit of a change, as my mandate was less focused on IT skills and more focused on soft skills and career development.

Work has been part frustrating and part satisfying this year. I’ve been working with teachers to develop lesson plans for them to help their students further develop their soft skills (communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, stress management, etc.) and get ahead in career development (CV and cover letter writing, job interview skills, etc.). It’s been more of a challenge than things I have done previously, which is nice. I really haven’t a clue what I’ll do once my contract is up in March 2015 though. Try to get back into IT? Teach English? (Both things in enjoy!) Something completely different? I don’t really feel like thinking about that right now, though…

Jane has continued to grow up fast. She’s changing all the time, and always surprising us with the things she says. What a difference a year makes! She was much more interested in her birthday this year, not to mention Christmas. She’s totally bought in to the whole Santa thing, which is fun. I wonder how many years that will last for…?

I can’t think of much else to add to this little look back on 2014, so… a belated Merry Christmas! And best wishes for the new year!


After lots of time considering my options, I finally pulled the trigger on a digital subscription to The Globe and Mail. I subscribed to Globe2Go, which is a digital replica of the paper, rather than getting a digital subscription to TGAM’s website. So far it’s great. I can download the digital replica on my tablet and read it on my commute – no Internet connection required. Subscriptions to The Toronto Star or National Post would both have been cheaper, but I still prefer the look and feel of the Globe. The digital replica on my tablet is the next best thing to actually having the paper in my hand (which, of course, is impossible living in Asia!).

Jane’s first day at school

Yesterday was Jane’s first day at pre-school! At 2½, we figured she was ready for it. She’s been getting more and more clingy to Hien and her grandmother at home all the time, and it the transition to going to a pre-school was only going to get more difficult the longer we put it off. Hien asked for registration information at the school near our home, and found out just the day before yesterday that Aug. 1st was the day to go in and sign her up. One of Hien’s old primary school teachers is the principal of this pre-school, and one of our neighbours is one of the kitchen staff that prepares lunches and snacks for all of the kids, so Hien felt more comfortable putting Jane in this particular school.

Anyway, things got off to a pretty good start yesterday morning. Hien and her mum brought Jane in and she started playing with some of the kids there. They showed her where her spot on the shelf was to put her bag and hat.

Once the registration stuff was all done, Hien and her mum left while Jane was busy playing; the teacher apparently didn’t want Jane to see them leaving, hoping she wouldn’t notice and just keep on playing. Eventually Jane looked around was quite alarmed to find that her mum and grandmother were nowhere to be found, and we later found out that she cried quite a bit as a result. But eventually the teacher got her to calm down.

At lunch she didn’t eat much—apparently she told the teacher she didn’t want to eat and was afraid if she ate more then she might throw up!—but once she got up from nap time she must have been feeling hungry because she ate two bowls of rice porridge. Hien was worried she wouldn’t eat, but I think that once she’s hungry enough she’ll just go ahead and eat anyway.

When Hien went to pick her up in the afternoon (~3:30), Jane started crying right away when she saw Hien! Hehe. But overall, she did quite well on her first day at the school and in the evening she was still feeling pretty good about going to school again the next day.

This morning was a bit of a different story, though; Hien said she was quite insistent that she didn’t want to go to school anymore. But she had to go anyway, and she cried, but I’m sure she got over it quickly enough and went back to playing with her new friends there.

I’ll have to call Hien during lunch to see if she has any updates from the teachers there on Jane’s second day at school!

When I come back from the south next weekend, I’ll definitely be bringing a nice, big gift for Jane for being so brave going to school and being a good girl for her teacher!

Quick summer update

I think a quick summertime update is in order…

I’ve actually been pretty busy around here lately! Work has been good; I’m getting things done at my partner school—well, slow and steady—and I’m also doing some working trips to other partner schools. In June I spent a week at a college in Hanoi training some IT teachers how to build websites using Joomla, and later this month I’ll embark on a three week trip to three colleges in the South (one week at each place). It should be fun.

The other big-ish news recently is Jane’s bout with tonsilitis, but she’s getting over it now after a few days on antibiotics and Tylenol. Last weekend she was especially grumping—feeling not well in general—and unwilling to eat. She didn’t even want to drink milk, her throat was so sore! It also didn’t help that we had to take her to the clinic, as she can’t stand seeing the doctor. But once the check-up was over and we brought her home for some rest, she started to bounce back pretty quickly.

We were planning for Hien and Jane to come to the South with me later this month for one week, they could play around on the beach and have fun while I was working. Now we might not bother, but it depends on how Jane is feeling (and how afraid Hien is of Jane randomly getting sick again). It sounds like Jane is nearly back to normal now – she just needs to finish her antibiotics prescription (you’re not supposed to stop taking them early, right? Gotta finish them?).

I suppose that’s about all for now. I’ll try to take some new photos to share soon.