American Scooter Culture

by Angie Hilbert
( July 4th, 2014 )

Genuine Scooter Company Buddy 125Last month, I shared how I got hooked on Vietnamese scooter culture in Saigon. American scooter culture is a bit different. In the USA, scooters and even motorcycles are usually looked upon as toys or passionate hobbies. But after my trip to Vietnam and seeing first hand how economical, useful, and practical a scooter can be, I was sure it could work for an environmentally aware couple as a serious transportation choice.

Did we really need two cars? I work from home and Dearest works about a mile or two up the street. We have a 2013 Ford Escape for road-tripping. Our second car was a 13 year old Ford Ranger (that was giving up the ghost.) Faced with a $1800 repair bill, we knew we had to make some decisions about our transportation needs. My mind kept coming back to scooters.

In Ohio, a scooter is treated just like a motorcycle for license and registration purposes. So my first stop was the Ohio BMV to take a test for my motorcycle temporary learner’s permit. 20 minutes later, I was officially allowed to ride (during the daytime only and with a few other restrictions.) It was time to go visit Capital City Scooters in Columbus Ohio to see if American scooter culture would suit me as well as Vietnamese scooter culture had.

Capital City Scooters

I had done some research online and thought I knew what I wanted in a scooter. I even researched a particular make and model that interested me. Caitlin, the owner of Capital City Scooters, happened to have one for me to look at but now I wasn’t so sure. I asked her to tell me a little about her favorite models. She carries scooters made by SYM and the Genuine Scooter Company with a few vintage Vespas on hand for good measure. So many different scooters to choose from. The playful and retro feel of her shop was welcoming and friendly. Caitlin was sweet but really knew her vintage scooter memorabilia as well as her modern scooters. She made it a pleasant experience to learn and explore American scooter culture. Then it was decision time!

This was a very important choice. This scooter was going to be my main ride since I work from home and Dearest would be taking the Escape with him to work all day. Caitlin listened to me and helped me work out what my transportation needs really were. Then with a knowing smile, she introduced me to a lovely little piece from the Genuine Scooter Company, the Buddy 125.

When I first saw her in the showroom, I knew we were meant for each other. Her head (light) was turned shyly to the side, almost flirting with me. She was a delightful sea foam green. Her wheelbase was smaller than the other scooter I was considering promising nimble handling. She even had that petite, curvy retro look I adore. It was love at first sight. I bought her and named her “Pearl.” Our first ride? To the library, of course! Pearl has a lovely little cargo bay under the seat perfect for books and sundries.

Me and my Buddy 125

Since part of getting a motorcycle license in Ohio is taking a Basic Rider Course, Caitlin put me in contact with a trainer who has a  scooter-specific class. Pearl and I have been practicing in the library parking lot after hours. We’re getting ready for our skills-test. She is as graceful and nimble as her looks promised. Once Pearl and I pass that basic rider course, our riding restrictions will be lifted. We will be fully licensed. When fully licensed, I will be allowed to take passengers. The first thing I’ll do is put Dearest on the “cupcake” seat and take him to Graeter’s for ice cream. Now that’s classic American scooter culture!

Library tripTurns out, I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on Pearl. Even my parents are thinking about buying a pair of scooters for driving around town. I know just where to send them.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander

~Angie

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How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia

by Angie Hilbert
( June 23rd, 2014 )

How Does One Dress to Buy DragonfruitHow Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia edited by Shannon Young

Unlike expat women, I have had no trouble being a visitor abroad. I have always enjoyed meeting locals who are generous of spirit. When you visit with an open heart, any social faux pas is laughed away as unimportant and easily overcome. Is it inappropriate to wear this color to this ceremony? “Would you like to wear my shawl?” Did I just cut in ‘line’ because the queue protocol is unfamiliar to me? “Don’t worry about it, dear. Enjoy your visit.” All I’ve had to do was be sincere and genuine in my interest and everywhere I have gone, people have been kind and helpful. I am sure there are many reasons for this but one of them is that my presence is at most a temporary inconvenience.

When a woman actually lives abroad, the patience of the locals can wear thin and the novelty wears off. “At some point you would think she would learn what is appropriate attire for visiting the market!” It’s that in-between place, when you start to feel comfortable, but not really, where most of the stories in this book take place. Each of the authors communicates their love for their adopted culture even while expressing their sense of “otherness” in it. Some are funny, others poignant, but all of them are instantly relatable.

In Gods Rushing In Jenna Lynn Cody beautifully articulates her skepticism even as she honors her unexplainable experience, and instead of a contradiction, it’s kind of the point.

In How to marry a Moonie Catherine Rose Torres confronts the expectations surrounding her international marriage and resolves her own expectations, cultural and personal.

In Our Little Piece of Vietnam Sharon Brown gives birth to her daughter abroad and experiences motherhood for the first time.

In Waiting for Inspiration Coco Richter struggles until she laughs with the complicated employment situation in Hong Kong.

All of these women speak in their unique voice but each express what every woman has felt. You don’t have to be an expat to relate to their stories but the multicultural layer of their experience opens a window to understanding a different world.

What Wander-Readers will Love:

Vivid descriptions of life in many different Asian countries

Nuanced explorations of an aspect of each culture

No obvious, predictable cultural misunderstandings (a personal pet-peeve of mine)

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit has been my favorite summer read so far.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander

~Angie

 

 

 

 

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The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman Living in Vietnam

by Angie Hilbert
( June 8th, 2014 )

The House on Dream StreetThe House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs was the first book I read in anticipation for my own trip to Hanoi. Wanting to soak in everything I could in my short time there, I first absorbed Dana’s memoir of living in Vietnam.

The title comes from the unofficial name of her street address. Since there are so many scooter mechanics on her block and the most popular and coveted scooter at the time was the Honda Dream, it came to be known informally as “Dream Street.”

In The House on Dream Street, Dana gave me a wonderful orientation to living in Vietnam. Starting with navigating the trials of transportation and then getting to know her landlord and the family and then friends of the family. Early in the book she shares her first major culture shock.

“It would be more dramatic to say that my first major crisis in Vietnam occurred with I was accosted by a gang of drunken war veterans, or when I was suddenly overcome by a life-threatening disease, but it didn’t happen that way. This small and nonthreatening confrontation with a tiny, semi-developed bird felt like disaster in my mind, and my new found sense of oneness with Hanoi suddenly shattered. I held the small pottery bowl in my hand paralyzed.”

Balut (Living in Vietnam)Dana had been given balut, the number one most terrifying food in the world. It is a fertilized duck egg hard boiled and served peeled on a bed of greens in a small bowl. It was also a dish I wanted to try.

I was excited about leaving my cultural prejudices behind and trying strange new foods. Even so, there was another dish I knew I would be unable to face: dog. I wanted to open my mind and respect the culture of my host country. I wanted to to try everything but my body physically rebelled at the idea dogs could ever be considered food. Again, Dana came to the rescue.

“Just in case I found myself face to face with something I absolutely could not eat, Tra had taught me the Vietnamese way to avoid anything unappealing. ‘Just say, “Không Biét ān’ she instructed: ‘I don’t know how to eat it.”

The House on Dream Street had given me the secret code! apparently, “không Biét ān” was some sort of epicurean safe-word when living in Vietnam! Thanks to Dana, I could refuse dog in a culturally appropriate way. I could face the Hanoi food stalls with confidence to seek out my little bowl of balut.

Where the Story Takes You:

Dana lives in Hanoi and though she does take a few side trips, most of the action takes place in the city. When I arrived in Hanoi, I found her descriptions of riding the rivers of humanity were right on the money! Bicycle, pilgrim, scooter, there is a communal sense to Vietnamese life that is hard to describe. Dana does it beautifully.

What Wander~Readers Will Love:

Experiencing the story simultaneously through Dana’s western eyes and the eyes of her Vietnamese friends. It’s like a cultural “he said – she said” that really informs your perspective.

By the way, if you are curious about my own experience with hard-boiled fertilized duck egg, that link will take you to the video on my Facebook page. After an appetizer of silk worm salad, I get down to some serious duck egg business! Oh, and here’s a recipe if you want to try it at home.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander

~Angie

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