Stickman Readers' Submissions April 24th, 2004

Busier Than A One-Armed Taxi Driver With Crabs

Responsive to the recent Weekly's highlighting early-retirement, I’m advising, as always, the ignoring of members of the discouragement fraternity, for they are full of baloney. I’m talking about those, who’ve been heard from all my life, eager to dissuade retirement. Fortunate to be able to fulfill a lifetime dream of early-retirement, my concise take on it is:

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I thoroughly recommend it. It's like a 3-day weekend every 3 days. (And the 3-day weekend is the ultimate relief and pleasure for all workers.) Retirement is the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it. And finally, work is over-rated; big deal – you typically get up at 6:30 every morning to go sit behind a damn computer in a damn office all day (an existence, not a life).

Let’s expand. It's a coincidence that the morning of the day I read the narrative, at this Stickman website, on early retirement, I was sitting in my usual French-style outdoor tea/coffee cafe near where I drop my 3½ year old daughter off at the French School, and I'm sitting there thinking how fortunate I am not having to work and am wondering whether it can last? My answer to myself was yes – my annuities keep coming in until death. And then I wonder whether it’s deserved and how did I pull it off, particularly considering I’m relatively young. The cafe is shaded by many trees, it's tucked in a cove away from that obnoxious horn noise I hate and which saturates Hanoi (and how we appreciate during visits to Bangkok the lack of honking there), the waitress is one of those owner daughters who has incredible appeal – a beautiful 18 year old thin body decked out in ultra-tight jeans displaying magnificently her perfect little butt – she's a masterpiece I literally can't get enough looks at, the Viet coffee is outstanding (but international coffee experts and traders say it’s flawed using four different criteria) and costs little more than nothing, and the weather has been perfect for seemingly months. (I’ve thought for years that Hanoi’s climate is deplorable and so do others, even described as the worst in Vietnam, but have been lately re-evaluating this; it’s been, the last several months like the US’ Southwest in the winter, just delightful.) I'm sitting there sipping Vietnamese “ca-phe den nong” (hot black coffee), and have a huge Viet-English dictionary (dammit – if I look up a Viet word I don’t know (a third of them unfortunately), I want it to be there; hence, I’m willing to lug around a dictionary half the size of a peck basket) for translating a Viet newspaper article that caught my interest (coverage of Hanoi’s precedent-setting WalMart-like store, every bit as big as the biggest in the US, and a store the Viets just do not find very Viet, do not find polite, and do find perplexing; well so do I for that matter). The tall young man working at the cafe, who is from a nearby province (Vinh Phuc) of mountains, is a gentle man, and we enjoy talking to each other – in Vietnamese. I have fun making him sheepish by asking him, “Nguoi Vinh Phuc co nguoi cao dep khong?” My Hanoian wife overheard bystanders, at a beach on the coast we were visiting, referring to her as “cao dep” (beautifully tall), so I was taking the expression I’d learned from that and asking the young man if the people of his home of Vinh Phuc were “cao dep” – beautifully tall, and he picks up on the real meaning of what I’m saying and becomes shy, and it’s fun.

Across the narrow quiet lane from this cafe is an internet cafe run by a lady I call "me" – “mother” in the Northern Vietnamese dialect; she has two young sons helping her run the little venture. The ambiance – including her, the trees outside, and the quiet of that part of the neighborhood – is enjoyable. She has good equipment including nice, new, big monitors; and "me" shows what she thinks of me by sharing snacks and drinks with me, but with no other customers. And, of course, I reciprocate. (She showed me how quick her mind is by responding, to my inquiring of her oldest of young sons (Virgin Boy he calls himself on the internet) taking off to HCM City to meet his internet sweetie named Vy, “Sons are like that – they leave their mothers; you left your mother, didn’t you?” Well, come to think of it, I guess I did.)

And what’s beyond this little cove? – All kinds of interesting little sights, pleasures, and markets, a function of the crowded humanity in Asia. That 90 minutes of exercise I want to get every day comes easy when long walks are actually a special delight.

Before early-retirement, I noted a 36-hour day was needed to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. Well, that hasn't changed. Although retired, I could still use 36-hour days to get done what I want to get done. For example, I would like to learn French; not knowing it has possibly held me back in at least one respect, particularly big-time financially. And my long-stagnating Vietnamese needs time spent on it. There's a huge stack of not-yet-read outstanding books, subject mostly SE Asia, that I don't have enough time to read 3/4ths the time but absolutely thoroughly enjoy when there is time. (I picked up about 60 counterfeits cheap in the backpacker sector of HCM City plus some good reads on Khao San Road and along Sukhumvit Avenue.) (Bangkok’s Jake Needham got a kick out of my telling him that his novels must be better than sex, for while I'm lying in bed next to my wife, reading “Tea Money,” she became in the mood, but then I'm thinking, "Damn, I don't want to put down this novel, I’m totally absorbed in, for mere sex.")

Further, all the issues of Time, Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, and The Economist deserves reading, but, although retired, half the time, I don't have the time. And finally, I have a good idea for a book, the accomplishment of which, when and if the time is found, will mean going deep into a lot of remote areas.

Regarding the working all day behind a computer (the typical job the last 10 years), one thing you can get out of it is symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome – and what a horrible way doctors have of checking for it. They put needles in your nerves and then apply electric current. When it was done to me, the doctor responded that indeed some people couldn't tolerate the excruciating pain from that test. No surprise there. Where I worked upon retirement, carpal tunnel syndrome was so common that we euphemistically just called the corrective surgery, including the slit of the wrist, "The Operation."

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Sometimes I wonder whether my life is not exciting enough, but then read accounts of what famous rich athletes – tennis players and football (US) players, for example – say they will be doing now that they just retired: “I want to chill out with the family; I want to go with the family to the mall; I want to take my kids to school; I want to cook for my kids.” Makes me feel good – what these rich and famous guys want to do now that they finally have time to do what they’ve always wanted to do is about the same as what I’m doing.

Enjoying early retirement can, of course, depend on the individual. I have three college degrees, meaning not that I’m better or smarter than anyone else but have many interests, one heck of a lot of interests. A friend was able to early retire (he talks like he somewhat was forced into it by his boss), and doesn't like it so much. But he's one of those who seemingly have never read a book or even a magazine. He never attended college, meaning few interests, at least in his case. He’s bored a lot. Often he comes across as sophomoric and having all the maturity of a 15-year old boy who has just discovered sex (not one of those 15 year olds with such maturity I'd recruit them (and have) to lead a youth soccer team – one thing I noted observing youth soccer is there are mature 15 year olds and immature 40 year olds). For example, I receive juvenile emails from this early-retired friend titled “Tits,” “Orgasm,” and the like, but despite his obsession with sex and young Asian females, he can’t carry on a real relationship for any length of time. (Unbelievably almost, he has an ex white (US) wife, an ex Viet wife, an ex Japanese wife, an ex Korean wife, and keeps debating whether to shed his present wife, a simple young Filipina, and wants me to advise him on whether he should shed her; I don’t know.) The guy has been trying to find a job, but with nothing but rejections, recently gave up. US private enterprise has no respect for government workers and he retired from the US government. And retirement in Las Vegas has resulted in gambling, over-eating, and health problems, hence also a stress problem. And sadly, wouldn’t you know it – the guy whose one-track mind and total interest is pretty much pussy is the one who succumbs to prostate cancer and at a relatively young age. Were I to recommend he take a college course, an excellent idea, likely he’d tangentially respond that he already knows it all. But part of the bottom line regarding the dude is he’s an earnest and honest good guy who’d give you the shirt off his back. Often he’s bright and perceptive. If I was in Las Vegas, I’d be effective in making happen his securing that second career job he wants.

A division within a ministry of Vietnam has selected me as their translation editor for their publications. This work is part-time on a recurrent basis, and I further spend a lot of time tutoring a Vietnamese candidate for a University of Hawaii – Hanoi Executive MBA. What’s my point? It’s that those pursuits are not needed, for "boredom" is never part of my vocabulary. Sometimes I find myself envying myself; as I sit idyllically in the shaded outdoor cafe, surrounded by an example of outstanding eye candy of the female type, wondering why some Viet guys haven’t left yet for their jobs although it’s 9:30am, I note I don’t even have to leave for any job, and then there’s a smile.

I should be forthright though, but the following does not discount what’s set forth above. I did have the world’s greatest job out here. Yes, there was sitting behind a computer for hours and hours in an office performing as a translation editor (turning Vietnamese funny English into real English or trying to; sometimes it was hopeless; either the Vietnamese’s English was so flawed or else even they didn’t know what the heck they were saying, but I didn’t learn the latter until after I’d left) for what was then one of Vietnam’s foremost magazines, but the hours were nice (not that it always mattered, for if you like your work, you don’t care when you leave the office). I liked the actual work, and thoroughly enjoyed the unsurpassable view through the glass wall I faced – a view of all these incredibly beautiful young Viet female reporters. Their fax machine was placed directly across from me so that when they bent over, their hips, seen through their tight jeans or what have you, could change your breathing pattern. I could tell you who was wearing thongs. (And our office (of non-reporters) had a couple or so beauties, one an exquisite little beauty queen.) Sometimes I’d travel out deep into the provinces and write a story on the experience and the magazine actually liked what I’d written and paid pretty good extra money for such articles. But with it being Vietnam, a very high ranking official within the ministry we fell under needed to take care of a home-province (Nghe An) friend and old classmate whose English-language magazines had failed, and gave him the title of our magazine, leaving us with nothing but offices and computers. We, a very profitable business in the form of a magazine, were out of business. A dud of a magazine, run by a failure, is now carrying the name of our magazine.

And there is one disadvantage to early-retirement out here. In the eyes of my Hanoian wife and therefore probably speaking for her culture too, your job is who you are, meaning I’m a nobody (if I’m perceived as not having a job). On the contrary, in the US, one who can early-retire rates envy.

Stickman's thoughts:

Good on you. It is great to hear about people who are living their life how they want to live it, and not forced to live in a way that they really would prefer not to.

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