part 2: vietnam hat 2014, the magic of flatball, and tat’s first christmas away from mum

* This entry was written in several sessions. I had a lot going on and a ton racing through my mind so I would sit down and write a little at a time. That would likely explain the possible change in tenses throughout the post. I feel like there’s a lot to digest here.

The 10th annual Vietnam HAT has come and gone. Much of my sunburn has now settled into a crispy tan. The rest has long peeled off or flaked away. Gross.

I sign on to Facebook and see a bunch of red flags in the notification centre. They tell me that I’ve been tagged in so-and-so’s photos and such-and-such peeps have commented on them. I also see red flags indicating that I have several new friend requests; they’re all people from the HAT tournament.

My newsfeed is littered with photos of friends and other flatball lovers enjoying themselves at the tournament. There are plenty of action photos but also just as many shots of people smiling, laughing, and generally having a sweet time with one another off the fields. The expressions on some of these people’s faces seems to suggest that they’ve known each other for quite some time and hang out on the regular. The fact is, all of them are spread out and based in several small Asian countries. They know each other mainly from the SE Asian ultimate Frisbee community and usually see each other at scheduled tournaments throughout the year. Some, like myself, have only been around for a year and have only participated in a small handful of tournaments. Others have been around for a few years, and quite a few others have been around for at least the greater part of the decade. We all bring a little something to the frisb community in the Orient. This is the beauty of flatball in Asia.

Only recently did I come to realize how close and tight-knit the disc community in SE Asia can be. All it takes is for you to go to one tournament, talk to one or a small group of people, and suddenly you’re being notified of the next tournament and the next. Suddenly, you find yourself scrambling to save money so you can pack in as many tournaments as you can in your already busy schedule abroad. You go because you want to play flatball, and you want to stay (longer) because of the peeps.

I LOVE Frisbee back home in Canada. I rarely got fed up with playing. Well, maybe towards the end of the summer touring schedule when I was finally allowed to let up on the training and intensity. But for the most part, frisb back home is super sweet. I already went into detail in my last post about how it kinda brought a bounce back into my steps with regard to personal ambition and self-motivation. Keeping up my involvement with Frisbee meant keeping me busy and out of some trouble. It also kept me healthy and in shape.

GT

My first year on Grand Trunk with some stellar dudes.

For all of these reasons, and plenty more, I was devastated when I made the ultimate life-changing decision to pack up my things and move to Asia for a bit. Most of the people I played with on my club team (Grand Trunk) back home were people I first met when I first got into the game. We grew together and got better together. Most of us went through the Toronto system together and started from the bottom. We helped each other improve, picked each other up when we were down, and we fought hard together out there on the fields. Our goal was to play together and eventually reach a competitive level while nabbing some good results along the way. We did all of that. But suddenly, I extricated myself from the system and effectively from this core group of Frisbee friends I have come to love and trust over the short years that I have known them. I wasn’t, however, giving up flatball. No way. I made sure to pack two pairs of cleats and a disc along with some dri-fit/ quick-dry clothes into my backpack. I was determined to play some frisb in Asia.

Before I got to Vietnam, I had already Googled where I could possibly get some game time in. I got some intel that people congregated at RMIT University in District 7 to play this wonderful game. So, within a week of or so of arriving in Vietnam, I got on my new motorbike (a risky Christmas gift from my dad to me), and blazed across the streets of Saigon looking for some green pastures and signs of discs hanging in the warm air. I found what I was looking for, got my foot in the door of the Asian Frisbee scene, and of course the rest writes itself.

Where was I going with all of this?

Oh yeah. Flatball in Asia is the tits. I think I said this before in the part 1 of this 2 part ramble. I love the competitive scene back in North America, but anyone involved in the competitive/touring scene knows often politics and drama can be involved. I’m not saying frisb in Asia doesn’t have that, but I would comfortably argue that the Asian scene is a lot more stripped down from these elements. It is more of a return to the beauty of the game and the people that play it. There is fun bantering from the sidelines and the good-spirited chirping on the field. But once games are done, everyone comes together for a good time soaking in some good weather, sharing some laughs, and taste-sampling some of Asia’s finest beers (most of them are comparable to the trusty PBR of North America).

I hold in my hand a 333. The Vietnamese equivalent of PBR back home. The taste is on par as are the morning after effects,

I hold in my hand a 333. The Vietnamese equivalent of PBR back home. The taste is on par as are the morning after effects.

After the Mekong Cup tournament in Bangkok, a bunch of us enjoy some wobbly pops on the sidelines while watching the finals. During halftime, I get volunteered to take some question liquor shots.

After the Mekong Cup tournament in Bangkok, a bunch of us enjoy some wobbly pops on the sidelines while watching the finals. During halftime, I get volunteered to take a questionable liquor shot. You can see me savouring the questionable liquid in my mouth above.

Asia is a hotbed for ultimate. The skill level isn’t even that far off from the standards set in North America. Remember, ultimate Frisbee is very much a North American export, much like baseball. And the people who helped spread it and are continuing to grow it now and pass it on to the local Asian communities here are expats. It is here, in this hotbed of frisb, that I’ve met some of the most wonderful people in my life. Of course, they cannot replace the teammates I’ve grown up and played with back in Toronto. UofT and Grand Trunk fellas, you always have a special place in my heart. But these new friends and teammates represent all the positives of a new chapter in my life since settling in Asia for the time being. These people, beginning with the loveable peeps from Saigon Ultimate Club and Vietnam’s Vudoo to the countless players spanning from Taiwan to Thailand to Malaysia to China… and the rest of SE Asia, welcomed me into a new but simultaneously familiar community with the biggest arms and heart. It is familiar in the sense that I’m fairly comfortable and used to a Frisbee environment – but also new in the sense that there are new, strange, and loveable faces blending in with some great Asian backdrops.

Team BigEyez at the Mekong Cup in Bangkok. My first Asian tournament that got me into the whole scene.

Team BigEyez at the Mekong Cup in Bangkok. My first Asian tournament that got me into the whole scene.Playing for Vudoo at AOUCC in Singapore. Our first game against Ellipses, the eventual tournament champions from Australia. Playing for Vudoo at AOUCC in Singapore. Our first game against Ellipses, the eventual tournament champions from Australia.I picked up with Southern Spirits on my solo trip to Hong Kong in October. Solid group of peeps. I picked up with Southern Spirits on my solo trip to Hong Kong in October. Solid group of peeps.huckuna2Huckuna Matata at Manila Spirits 2013. I fell in love over and over with these pals and gals.Vietnam HAT. Team Forest-Green. First time as team captain with Daniel Bower. We did an OK job while our awesome team did the rest.

Vietnam HAT 2013. Team Forest-Green. First time as team captain with Daniel Bower. We did an OK job while our awesome team did the rest.

This new community, lovers of the frisb, keep me grounded here. They have the similar positive affects that the Frisbee community back in Toronto had on me. And much like the teammates I have back home, these people pick me up when I’m down, cheer me on from the sidelines, and are willing to shotgun a beer with me and get up to no good (on a wholesome Stand By Me-esque level). We (or most of us) work hard at our regular jobs/lives here in Asia, and then we work maybe even harder to reunite on the fields at various upcoming tournaments. Where was I going with all of this cheezefest love-rant for Frisbee?

I started off the post about signing on to Facebook and seeing numerous pictures from Vietnam HAT. Right. I was getting to the concept of “Frisbee withdrawal”. It might not be as physically uncomfortable as a coffee/caffeine/heroin withdrawal – but mentally, it’s a slugfest. For me, ever since playing flatball back in Toronto, I’ve always showed up to work or whatever I had going on the following Monday (or Tuesday if I was lucky and booked that Monday off) after a tournament weekend looking like hell. You would think that a guy who went away for the weekend and came back looking super tanned would be chipper and ready to roll. No. Not me. Never. That shit sucked.

Frisbee withdrawal is almost always defined by what I would consider going cold turkey, much like any other abrupt stop to some form of addiction. For most of the following week, your muscles ache. You probably feel dehydrated. Your head’s not in the right space, mentally. You don’t want to be where you’re supposed to be (i.e., work or school). You sit and daydream of sweet plays from the weekend and running down hanging discs. There was the hammer that was a good decision but didn’t connect. And the high-release flick upwind that you should never have thrown.

In Asia, Frisbee withdrawal is most definitely worse. At least… 5.34 times worse. I think it is because the seriousness and intensity of competition is scaled down while the factor of community and social gathering is dialed up. People often treat it as a major social event – and it is. What follows is tons of people taking great pictures of friends, capturing silly moments, and immortalizing an amazing tournament weekend on their cameras. All of these pictures get dumped onto Facebook almost immediately and people aggressively tag and comment on these photos. They are forever a reminder of how much fun you had that weekend and what you wish you were still doing. Then you get teammates messaging you telling you how much fun it all was and you guys talk about how much you’ll miss one another. You inevitably make plans to reunite at the next tournament. This is all great. But all of this exacerbates Frisbee withdrawal to the nth degree. You command all the strength you have remaining to get through the week meanwhile daydreaming about the next relapse.

Pictures like this make me feel super happy.

Pictures like this… make me feel super happy.jvdb cryBut then I get hit with frisbee withdrawal and feel like this.

Despite this unforgiving hangover after a tournament, I love flatball here in Asia. These are reasons why I love the people who play this ridiculous sport here in Asia. They’re also reasons as to why I’m willing to put aside a significant enough amount of my income for it with no regrets. The frisb has had a tremendous positive impact on my life when I first started playing it around third-year university and it continues to have that impact on me now. It has introduced me to some of the best mates I will ever know and now it’s providing me some good excuses to travel to some interesting locations.

After a tournament, why not go with a few friends to check out the Taal Volcano in the Philippines.

After a tournament, why not go with a few friends to check out the Taal Volcano in the Philippines.We're all having a good time. We’re all having a good time.

Just a bunch of grown-up guys being boys.

Just a bunch of grown-up guys being boys. Daniel (2nd from the left) is a teammate and one of my best pals from back home. He met up with me here in Saigon.

Speaking of sweet mates, Christmas 2013 was my first ever Christmas that I would spend away my family back in Toronto. I’ve always spent Christmas with my mum, my sister, and my aunt. But this year, partly due to bad planning and partly due to expensive airplane tickets, I decided to stay in Saigon for Christmas. Christmas isn’t a big thing in Vietnam. As many of you know, I had to work on the December 24th and Christmas Day. Things were looking a bit bleak but thanks to the sweet pals I’ve met playing Frisbee in Asia, I was able to have a pretty awesome Christmas Eve dinner at Cuc Gach restaurant with some great peeps who stayed around after the Vietnam HAT tournament. More reasons why Frisbee in Asia better than Wonderbread.

Christmas Eve dinner. Not so lonely after all.

Christmas Eve dinner.

What also made this Christmas particularly special was a special Christmas present I received from friends back in Toronto. Many of you know that I lost most of my photography/videography/camera possessions in Manila prior to the Manila Spirits tournament. Well… shortly after that, Rosie went behind my back and organized a group effort to pool together resources and get me a replacement GoPro Hero 3 camera to replace the GoPro Hero 2 camera that was nicked from me. Jason, who came in to Saigon from San Francisco brought the package over and handed it off to me. He told me specifically that I was not allowed to open it until Christmas Day. Big mistake, Jason.

My new GoPro Hero 3. A Christmas gift from many awesome friends back home.

My new GoPro Hero 3. A Christmas gift from many awesome friends back home.

I went into blackout mode the minute I brought the present home. Before I knew it, Christmas wrapping lay scattered on my desk and I was holding my unwrapped GoPro camera. This happened on the night of December 20th, five days before Christmas… the day I was suppose to open it on. You just can’t say things like, “Oh, Tat, you’re not suppose to open it until Christmas” and not expect me to go nuts. Don’t dangle a carrot in front of a donkey and not expect the donkey to move.

Anyway, seeing the Christmas messages and well-wishes from those who contributed to my present was the sweetest gift itself. I was so touched that people got together to help replace one of my most beloved toys. It was all unreal. Oh, on top of this, I also bought myself a Christmas present. I replaced my stolen Canon 7D with a full-frame Canon 6D, which an awesome friend of mine (Andrea Hitchman) from Toronto hooked me up with from her camera shop. Big ups to Jason once again for muling that beast over along with the Christmas present from friends back in Toronto. You’re prime real estate, brother.

My new DSLR - Canon 6D. Back in the game and this time I got full frame. Even Dexter Morgan is in awe.

My new DSLR – Canon 6D. Back in the game and this time I got full frame. Even Dexter Morgan is in awe.

Well, I guess that’s all for this latest entry. I’m finally wrapping this post up after spending a few days adding to it. In case those who are wondering, the next major tournament where most people plan to reunite is Bangkok HAT on the weekend of February 8th. It should be amazing if I can solve my current passport expiry dilemma.

Oh, one final thing worth mentioning: January 3rd marked my one full year in Asia. It was a very strange feeling standing in front of my class one morning, writing the date on the board, and then realizing this fact. I think I’ll give my thoughts on my one year in Asia at another time. I have devoted far too much time rambling about my love for Frisbee.

Looking at the word count for this entry, it’s as long as any of my first or second year history papers at U of Toronto. My liberal arts degree continues to haunt me.

*** Note: a bunch of photos were taken from a bunch of people/photographers. In fact, most of them except maybe two. If you own one of these pictures and are reading this, please let me know if you would like the photo(s) taken down. Thanks.

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it seems like I don’t post as much. why?

I’m not posting as much. It’s true. 

A number of things were going on recently that I couldn’t put much thought to paper (computer screen?) and get it all out. I did put out a new video postcard recently, as those who are following may have noticed. 

Some things to jot down in quick point form since the last substantial posting:

– work permit application process in Vietnam is the absolute worst. I say this because since trying to get it done in early March, it wasn’t until two weeks ago that everything was finalized. Much appreciation goes out to the Asian International School for being patient and sympathetic with the grind that we experienced. If anyone from Canada needs help on getting a work permit as a teacher, I can probably say I’m well versed in it now. That said, rules here change, and it was due to a more recent rule change that made it much harder for Rosie and I to get everything done. 

– a number of friends of mine from Canada have come on over to visit me. It’s been incredibly nice. Particularly a friend whom I haven’t seen in a couple years when he took off to Australia to work abroad. 

– I went back to Nha Trang for a more local experience. The gist of that can be viewed on my video uploaded to Vimeo and posted on the previous blog post underneath this one. 

– I also returned to Phu Quoc Island to meet up with one of my friends from Canada, who came to visit me. One unfortunate thing about the trip to Phu Quoc Island this time was the fact that a storm was passing nearby. As a result, we got a lot of rain at least half the time. That said, we still got to explore the island on motorbike, which was excellent. 

That’s all I will write for now. I hope to get more time to update. 

A video postcard of the Phu Quoc Island will likely be the next project. 

Until next time!

it’s been awhile….

It’s been awhile but here’s my next video postcard. It took a bit of time to put this together. Hopefully, those who are following will enjoy it.

I learned quite a bit from putting together my first video postcard and I tried to apply that here in my second video postcard.

In this video, we return to Nha Trang, the location where I shot the clips for my first video postcard. This time, however, we are treated to a much more local experience.

The following is the description I wrote taken directly from the Vimeo page:

My cousin has a couple of friends in Nha Trang. They’re fishermen and aquaculturalists working offshore from the mainland. We were fortunate enough to be able to spend a full day with these guys on their houseboat, which is normally off limits to tourists. They let us check out their aquaculture business, took us on a ride on their ridiculous rounded canoe(?) type boats, encouraged us to snorkel and swim around their property, and asked us to eat and drink with them.

These are some of the nicest guys I have ever met, and the experience can’t be matched. I wish I had more footage of them but I didn’t want to appear intrusive pointing the camera in their face and shooting their every movement. I wanted to become friends with these guys first, which panned out because I’ve been invited back whenever I’m in the area again.

Everything was shot handheld on a Canon 7D with 17-40mm f/4 lens and a GoPro HDHero 2 and put together on Final Cut Pro X.

Music: The Album Leaf – San Simeon

this week will be bad.

This week will be bad.

Rosie and I are on the last stretch to push for all our documents to be sent to us in order to get the work permit process started. If this does not happen, we run the risk of losing this job for a bit before we can reapply. Rosie is waiting for her degree to come in from Toronto, and it is currently being held up at customs in Saigon but she cannot obtain it yet. Meanwhile, both our TESOL certifications have been reissued and expedited this time around so we hope to hear that it will land here by tomorrow.

Once we get these last outstanding documents, we need to find a lawyer to notarize it, then rush it to the Canadian consulate to get it “consularized”. In other words, we pay $50 bucks for them to simply stamp it. Kind of a pain.

One good news is one of my best pals from Toronto, Sebastien, will be in Saigon in the next few days. Probably by the end of this week. He bought a motorbike out in Hanoi back in the middle of March and has been making his way slowly towards the south. I’m extremely jealous because that’s a trip I really want to do one day. FYI, the run from Hanoi to Saigon and vice versa is about 1,700 kilometres. The topography of Vietnam can be crazy and the roads can be a bit hairy at times, especially in the central highlands (I hear), but that’s one adventure I’m down for.

Anyway, I can’t wait for Seb to get here and for this administrative nightmare to be over with. First video postcard will probably be delayed a bit longer.

Until next time!

my demo class.

I realized that I forgot to write about my experience with my first demo class that helped me land a job at the prestigious International Primary School. 

So two weeks into my TESOL course, Josy gets a call from Ms. Diep, the manager at the IPS. Ms. Diep was looking for native-English speaking teachers. Josy recommended Rosie and I for an interview. By the third week, Rosie and I went through an informal telephone chat followed by a in-person discussion. At the discussion, Ms. Diep asked Rosie and I to do a demo class the following week. The idea of a demo class is for the prospective teacher to be evaluated by the manager, director of studies, or whatever high-up position at the school. It also helps determine what kind of salary the prospective teacher can command. 

So Rosie and I worked hard on our demo classes with a lot of help from Josy to make sure we were prepared. We felt good showing up the following week to strut our stuff. I was first to be called in to do my demo class. What happened in literally the next minute seemed to be a page torn from a terrible TV sitcom. I entered the class, waved my hand in a highly animated ‘hello’ gesture and enthusiastically bellowed out, “Hello class!” Great start, yes? Well it would’ve been if the kid in the back right corner didn’t decide to projectile vomit on to his desk. That’s right. The boy in the back spews his breakfast on to his desk and gives me a panicked look. And I just continued with the class as if nothing happened. 

Some of you might wonder why I did this. Here are the factors that raced through my head when I tried to decide how to react.

– Ms. Diep, the manager of the school, glanced over at the boy then back at me as if nothing major happened. She looked at me expectantly waiting for my next move.

– Each class has a teacher’s assistant to help manage the class effectively and for any necessary translations to ensure lessons go smoothly.

– This demo class is an evaluation of my capabilities as a teacher – it determines whether or not I am hired and what my probationary salary will be.

With these factors in mind, I briefly asked if the boy was OK and returned to my planned lesson immediately. I gambled on the idea that the TA would be there to assist with situations like that… even if it involves a boy projectile vomiting on to his desk sixty seconds into class. I was correct in my assumption, so that was very good. I also played off Ms. Diep’s reaction and facial expression – she did not look worried  and seemed to wait for my next move. It was as if she planted the soon-to-puke kid there to see what I would do….

Fortunately, my decision to do what I did paid off. I scored a 19/20 on the teacher’s evaluation and Ms. Diep was thrilled to sign me on as part of the faculty at her school. I was stoked that the class went well because I thought for sure the puking kid was a bad omen of things to come. I even got the kids to chant and cheer “cucumber” and “potato” as if they were at a soccer match heckling. What caught me by surprise and made me incredibly happy to see was how well the students behaved and gravitated to you once you got them engaged with the lesson. Granted I gave each of them a piece of candy at the end of class, but when I was about to leave the school they made efforts to catch my eye and say, “Bye, Mr. Alex!” 

All in all, I’m extremely happy to be starting my first teaching job at this school. The facilities are top-knotch, the staff are friendly, the students are incredibly well behaved. It’s probably the best  possible start for a guy like me to ask.