We Made a Mistake Choosing a Home in Ho Chi Minh City

I’ve played casual witness of House Hunters International for years. I’d watch, and sneer, over the buffoonish who disingenuously search for a home around the world – then curiously make a life-altering decision based on the first three options they face. I’d yell at the screen during set-up scenes where you can practically hear the TV producer chiding them, “OK, repeat that with more feeling!” or “talk more about space for entertaining as episodal house-hunters pretend they don’t know which one they’re picking, if they pick one at all.

It’s nice to see homes around the world, but everyone knows how to do this, right?

So when we moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in December, I felt pretty confident we could make the right call. We searched a couple AirBnb options, then found a realtor to show us a handful of options. And then we made a dumb mistake.

This is what we were looking for

  • A house not an apartment in a tower in District 2’s Thao Dien

  • Budget: $900-1000 a month

  • Short-term lease, ideally three to six months

  • Three to five bedrooms, allowing a couple for offices

  • A comfortable common area with AC

  • Didn’t want cookie-cutter layout with bare tiled rooms separated by central stairs

This is what we got

A realtor took us to seven options. And within a couple days, we promptly signed up this:

  • A house in District 2’s Thao Dien (yay)

  • $1250/month, not including Wifi, water or electricity

  • One-year lease

  • Five bedrooms and six bathrooms!

  • A common area with weird sofas and no AC

  • A cookie-cutter layout with bare tiled rooms separated by central stairs

Within a week, it was clear a mistake had been made. We’d hole away in our respective air-conditioned rooms and offices, spending most of the each day in utter solitude in a four-floor home connected by a dusty stairwell that never cooled off. It was sweaty to cook in the kichen, and the living room was never used. We could barely afford it (our electric costs broke $300/month mark, double what we paid in Oregon).

Fortunately, the monsoon saved us.

Our rooftop deck that we loved on inspection – then barely used (a hammock we bought for it, limply sat on the ground for months) – got hit with a deluge of hard rain. It quickly flooded sending torrents of water down the stairs in funnels, eventually flooding all four floors. If we hadn’t been home electric outlets for computers and lights and fans, camera equipment, camera batteries, my record collection would probably have been lost.

We got out of our lease early.

So here’s the obvious thing.

Don’t rush finding a house in a new place. Use AirBnb rentals to settle which neighborhood you’d like to stay in. Then use a realtor, but also allow yourself to keep a DIY open eye for options – using Facebook groups or literally watching for signs on streets you’d like to stay in. Realtors can be very helpful, but are only likely to sign up for longer-term leases, and higher rents, so that landlords can justify their fee to realtors. Find something with the right Feng shui for you, and something you can afford, and that feels like home, not too small and (this I didn’t realize) not too big.

Do not rush.

We moved to a short-term serviced apartment for $650/month on the exact street we want to be on. It’s a wider building, so the layout discourages hermitism. It’s better air-conditioned and cleaner (staff clean our floors and take out the trash thrice weekly!), and the rooms feed into a common living room/kitchen .

Now we finally feel at home in Vietnam.



How to Lovingly Hatewatch the defunct TV show Nashville


The wildly popular and frequently maddening American TV show Nashville — first airing on ABC then demoted to CMT — has finished its run after 124 shows. Which means one thing: the time for Hulu-and-chill binge sessions has just begun!

Why watch? To resurrect this crew of misfit country singers at various stages of their careers via the power of online streaming. See them barge into each others’ kitchens unannounced. And get into sudden fist fights, occasionally suffer random violence (or death) – or take long, meditative strolls at the Tennessee capital’s most Instagram-worthy sites. Then cap it all by monitoring the steady decline in music quality, punctuated by the single-most clumsy series finale in TV history.

We’re pretty sure you’ll end up getting swept away into The Nashvillegeist. (Note that fans, even when angry, are called “Nashies.”)

The  Nashville  season finale breaks the fourth-wall and becomes a live music show at the Grand ‘Ol Opry’s Ryman Auditorium.

The Nashville season finale breaks the fourth-wall and becomes a live music show at the Grand ‘Ol Opry’s Ryman Auditorium.

But to binge this show right, you’ll need help. So we’ve assembled this Nashville Watching Guide Tipsheet, including handy nicknames for key characters and drinking tips for team-play.

First we need to address the cow’s milk.

SO. Much. milk.

No TV show that we can think of has had a more prominent or consistent dependence on generic cow’s milk than Nashville. Milk is always near. Running through all six seasons, characters reach for milk, drink it whole, add it to coffee, clutch it by the carton, use it for mid-day cereal snacks. Yes, the dairy lobby is strong with this one.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: DRINK whenever you see a milk carton, AND/OR give yourself a point if you spot milk first. There are many chances. Always watch for it…

Sometimes the milk is front-and-center.

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Sometimes it basks in golden light.

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Sometimes it creeps up on you.

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Sometimes it tries to hide behind cereal.

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Sometimes OJ tries to distract you from the milk.

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Sometimes it gets its own sporty milk-cam.

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MEET THE key CHARACTERS

The actors try hard. Even when they’re asked to wear absurd hats. But the names for most of the characters were clearly wrong. We’ve corrected that.

“MUMBLES McGEE” (Scarlett)

We’ve long wondered if Clare Bowen, the charming Australian actress who plays Scarlett O’Connor, puts 12-16 marbles in her mouth before every shot – whether at a show or helping troubled youths with horses. Turns out, it’s just her thing. She mumbles. You be you, Scarlett/Clare.

  • Tendencies: Moping. Slurring syllables. Whining. Drinking cow’s milk.

  • Most maddening moments: Never calls or texts, just shows up at places.

  • Weird lapse: She bangs a British sleezeball in a hotel room for about 11 hours, breaking Emo’s heart and getting pregnant. Then thinks about marrying him. 

  • #Hatewatching game tips: Drink if she completes a scene without lecturing someone.

“EMO” (Gunnar)

It might not be kosher for Nashville hatewatchers to play favorites, but ours is definitely Emo, the correct name for Sam Palladio’s Gunnar Scott. The British actor plays the off-and-on again love partner for Mumbles, and her bandmate for much of the series. When they’re together, he mopes. When they’re apart, he mopes. 

The funniest moment of the series comes after roomie “Gay Will Hunting” chides his songs as ‘emo,’ and Emo (with new frost-trips hairstyle) runs off, “I’m going to make a sandwich. Being this EMO makes me hungry.”

For the record, we’ve been calling him Emo long before Gay Will did.

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  • Tendencies: Moping. Drinking or pouring cow’s milk.

  • Most maddening moments: Says “you know” to start half of his lines. Folds arms.

  • Weird lapse: Every few episodes, Emo flashes a “Boner-Grin” of out-of-place confidence or joy. Spotting The Emo Boner-Grin remains one of the show’s greatest rewards.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: Boner-Grin equals two shots. Folded-Arms equals one.

“DUD ADAMS” (Avery)

No offense, but actor Jonathan Jackson’s face appears magically perma-stuck in the infancy of a pre-beard. Odd glitches of hair appear in spots on his face, or ‘patches,’ usually before the character gives a shrug of exasperation or goes searching for Cultilocks in their oddly 1990s bachelor-pad home. We called him Patch Adams for several episodes before realizing the inescapable conclusion that the character Patch is simply a Dud.

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  • Tendencies: Searching house for Cultilocks. Talking under his breath. Slight nods of disapproval. Drinking cow’s milk.

  • Most maddening moments: He sighs before speaking. Staying with Cultilocks. (He clearly is meant to be with Mumbles.) Wearing black v-neck shirts.

  • Weird lapse: None. Like we said, Dud is a Dud.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: When he’s calling out for Cultilocks (usually at home), drink up or give yourself two points.

“CULTILOCKS” (Juliette)

The diva of the show, Juliette Barnes-Barkley (played by Hayden Panettiere) is a rising star who is willing to steal, co-opt, back-stab to further her career. She nearly dies in a plane crash, then joins a cult, builds some homes, makes an album with an African American church choir that actually sounded good but flopped for no reason, and learns she was prostituted as a child by her mother. Then goes to Bolivia. Because that’s what happens on Nashville.

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  • Tendencies: Back-stabbing. Stomping around. Pouring cow’s milk. 

  • Most maddening moments: Every moment with Dud.

  • Weird lapse: Joining a cult.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: Drink or give yourself a point every time she seethes.

“GAY WILL HUNTING” (Will)

Will Lexington, played by actual musician Chris Carmack, wears cowboy hats sometimes. We love that Nashville has a major character that came out as gay on a country music TV show — and occasionally shows man-on-man sex scenes too. Also, we really love how Will mocks “Emo” for being emo.

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  • Tendencies: Mocking his roommate, Emo. Pouring and drinking cow’s milk. 

  • Most maddening moments: Dating the horrible head of the record company, then refusing to get over a horrible relationship.

  • Weird lapse: Taking steroids, then having a roid romp with a new gym buddy.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: When he laughs at Emo, you will drink / give yourself a point.

“ARMS-OVER-HEAD” (Deacon)

We love the temper tantrums of this recovering alcoholic dad, Deacon Claybourne, in all his flannel-and-denim glory. But the best moments are his moments of exasperation, as rendered by Chip Esten. Watch! And if it’s more than just a milk offense, he’ll often place an arm, or both, either directly over his head or just behind his head — thus his nickname.

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  • Tendencies: Raising arms in the vicinity of his head in moments of trouble or frustration. Looking for cow’s milk.

  • Most maddening moments: Fake southern accent by this Pittsburgh actor.

  • Weird lapse: Eating all of Reneggy Sue’s ice cream during their sex-less, condom-free night on her living room floor.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: Down your shot when arms go up; if he punches someone make it two.

“RENEGGY SUE” (Jessie)

Arms-Over-Head’s late-series love interest (after the show kills off its lead character and needs a girlfriend for her grieving husband) is Jessie Caine — played by Kaitlin Doubleday, which is the only possible more fake-sounding name than Jessie Caine. Sparks don’t exactly reach the rafters in their slow-brew flirtations. And then after she escalates things, she changes her mind — she “renegs” it. When she suggests they have sex, neither have condoms. Arms-Over-Head suggests they get some, but she immediately changes her mind. “Or we could not have sex.” Then they’re on-again-off again and she either shows up with coffee or deftly rebuffs his advances.

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  • Tendencies: Renegging. Complaining about ex husband. Making sandwiches. Pouring milk.

  • Most maddening moments: Awkwardly dropping off a care package for Mumble’s house, a person whom she doesn’t know, after Mumbles had a miscarriage.

  • Weird lapse: Singing. She sang once then never again even though she’s trying to make it as a singer.

  • #Hatewatching game tips: 180-degree plan-change equals a drink.

BRUNETTES & MINORITIES

Even though Tennessee has a diverse population, this show is all about the trials and lives of light-haired women and buff ‘corn-fed’ men … who else would drink that much cow’s milk?! So, when brunettes appear, or an African American love interest comes along, or a non-white friend from church drops by — be sure they’ll be marginalized, kicked off or killed outright.

#Hatewatching game tips: Whenever you see one get the boot, weep for America and take a drink.

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OTHER CHARACTERS

Raynasplainer (Rayna James) The show’s lead Connie Britton is known for offering “inspirational quotes from the South” and seeming out of place on a stage or with a mic. Then she’s suddenly killed off after her daughters sing to her. Despite their grief, viewers are over it in about one minute.

Marsha Brady (Maddie Conrad) daughter of Raynasplainer & Arms-Over-Head. Fun fact: actor Lennon Stella is actual sisters with her on-screen sibling, “Jan Brady.” She ‘Miley Cyrus-es’ her way through the whole series, often sporting a doubtful resting face. Her songs with Jan Brady are often a musical highlight of the show.

Jan Brady (Daphne Conrad) Few notice it, but the younger sister is actually the heart-and-soul of the entire show. When she delivers a moral message, it comes with a Jan-style punch. We love you, Jan. (Disclaimer: We may or may not have actually called her “Runt” for the first few seasons.)

Jail-Ted (Teddy Conrad) Jan’s real dad, who’s briefly mayor then goes to prison.

Swan Dive (Jeff Fordham) The manager everyone despises inexplicably saves a seriously stoned Cultilocks from self-imposed death by an inexplicable kamikaze fall off a rooftop.

Actual Country (Luke Wheeler) He wears a cowboy hat (a surprising novelty on Nashville), and totally fits into his scrappier George Strait role.

Boy-Band Girl Purple-haired member of the Dud/Emo/Gay Will power band. Emo falls for her (brace yourself for Boner-Grin drinks!), but somehow she falls for a self-absorbed Dud.

The Goatee/Toupee Manager Situation It’s very hard keeping the two main managers straight. Rayna’s, who sobs on a sofa after she dies, has a goatee. Juliette’s manager, Bucky (seriously his name is Bucky), has the worst toupee we’ve seen on TV.

Lump Dud and Cultilocks’ kid appears drugged. She never speaks. If you hear a murmur from her, bathe yourself in alcohol, Nashies!