Evening Barbeque

Evening BarbequeThe food in Vietnam is wondrous.

The other night we went to Ben Thanh night barbeque and ordered up greens, elephant ear fish, mussels and shrimp.

The shrimp were very fresh and were displayed around a fresh coconut with the heads turned out. Paraffin wax was placed around the coconut and set on fire, blazing the shrimp. When the wax died out, our waiter came by, and one-by-one removed the shrimp, peeled it and then placed it inside the coconut with its fresh coconut water. More paraffin was placed around the coconut and lit on fire so that the heat would cook the shrimp in the coconut juice. When the fire died out, the shrimp were done and ready to eat.

Scrumptious!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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Living with a Roommate Could Just Save Your Life

Guest post by Karen Venable, Founder, Roommates4Boomers

To read an interview with Karen, click here.

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Chances are, if you’re a Boomer and you’re living alone, you like it that way. You love your independence and your ability to totally control your life. Why would you want to give that up?

Benefits of having a roommate

There is in fact a darn good reason for giving up your solitary lifestyle: Living with a roommate could very well save your life.  I don’t mean just the difference between life and death in an emergency situation – a sudden illness or injury – I’m talking about literally living longer, and healthier, and happier than you are likely to do if you live alone.

Consider this statistically proven fact shared by Suzanne Braun Levine in her keynote address last July at Women At Woodstock: Men who live with a wife or female partner live longer than men who do not. Women who have girlfriends live longer than those who don’t. In other words, having females close to you to share your life or your home may literally add years to your life.  (Suzanne is the original editor of Ms. Magazine and author of several books including You Gotta Have Girlfriends).

Cooking

So why is this so? Consider how you eat, for one thing. How many of you have felt concern for a mother or an aunt who lives alone and almost never cooks any longer? It’s pretty common to hear these women say that they don’t care about cooking anymore – or it’s too much work – or (perhaps unspoken) it’s just too depressing to prepare a meal and then sit down to eat it alone. Packaged instant meals or even junk food may become their main sustenance, and if you’re honest with yourself, you may see yourself traveling that path in the future as well.  Many women in shared living situations have reported that they cook far more often than before they moved in together.  One may love to cook, and now is motivated when the cooking is for two. Or one may feel she can handle cooking when she knows someone else is going to clean up after. Or one may hate cooking, roommate or not, and reap the benefits of living with someone who loves to create in the kitchen. These women literally eat more nutritious food than they did when living alone.

Cuddle hormone

When women spend time together, they produce more of the hormone oxytocin – sometimes called the cuddle hormone. Says Dr. Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, “There’s a very clear mapping from positive social relationships back to health.” More oxytocin, he says, means less cardiovascular stress and an improved immune system.  Women, and the hormones they cause you to produce when they are with you, are literally physically good for you.

Positive considerations

Of course, taking on a roommate does mean giving up some autonomy. Your kitchen will not be exclusively your own, nor will your common living areas.  But what if you and your roommate moved together into a larger home than either of you could afford on your own?  Many Boomer women have actually pooled their money and bought a new home together, with enough square footage for each of them to have her own private suite, or at least a private bedroom and bathroom.  A larger home too will mean larger areas for hanging out, entertaining, cooking, and eating, and possibly a bigger lot as well. With an expanded home and grounds, roommates have often found that contrary to feeling hemmed in or crowded by their shared living arrangement, in fact they feel less constricted than before.

This larger space can foster a renewed interest in entertaining, too.  Suddenly a garden party is possible, or a dinner for six, or a birthday celebration. There’s room for it. And, with the enthusiasm and shared responsibility of a housemate, planning and hosting social gatherings is just plain more fun than it was before.

Solutions to challenges

The downsides too have so many workable solutions. If tastes in television are disparate, roommates can record their shows and exercise their “viewing times” separately – or they might have enough space to have televisions in two separate rooms. If they have something of a Felix and Oscar situation with regard to clutter and cleanliness, they might be able to hire a housekeeper to come in once or even twice a week to do some light cleaning and straightening up. If family visits are a problem – with noise or grandchildren perhaps impinging on the other’s peace and quiet, they can agree on alternate locations for get-togethers with their families, or they can set certain dates and times when one roommate can entertain the little ones while the other finds another activity outside the home.

Health and as we age

And the obvious life-saving and health-preserving benefits are not to be ignored. Someone will be there with you if you become suddenly ill, or you injure yourself, or you could just use some TLC when you come down with the flu. You won’t have to hope that you are able to make a phone call if it’s serious and you need immediate help. And, let’s be honest, as we get older we do become somewhat more forgetful, which can cause some danger long before we approach anything like dementia. If you leave the burner on in the kitchen, a roommate will likely see it and turn it off. Or if you put something down in a now-forgotten location (can we say reading glasses?), she may know the answer to that frequently asked question, “Where did I put my…?”

We Boomers have always forged our own paths – it’s what we do – and now that we’re entering our second adulthood, millions of us are defining our own self-arranged communal living situations, rather than depending on family or moving into retirement communities.  More power to us.

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Having Healthcare Needs Met Outside the U.S.

Q: What do you do about healthcare needs while traveling outside the US?

A: We have been traveling the world for over 2 decades now and have had very good care in Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam and Guatemala. If you are traveling off the grid, you might need to travel to a larger city to receive this care as smaller towns may not have the choices you would find in a more populated area.

We pay out of pocket for care in foreign countries as, in our experience, it has been affordable.

As we age, the health conditions might be more serious or acute and I understand the fear over having adequate health care when traveling. However, Billy had acute care in Guatemala City, Guatemala (we had to travel there after seeing local doctors in Panajachel) and in a separate incident I had emergency care for a de-gloving incident involving the ring finger on my right hand. I received good emergency care in Antigua and then did follow up and surgery in Guatemala City.

In some respects the care we have received outside the US has been superior, more user-friendly and more affordable than that which we would get in the States. At this point, since we are “going naked” when we travel to the US we take out traveler’s insurance through World Nomads to cover our time being there.

Again, I want to say that I respect the fear that surrounds this issue, especially as we age. But on the other hand, must it come down to a choice between holding this fear and an adventure to a foreign country that would enrich our lives?

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Crossing the Street in Saigon, Vietnam

Just walk right into traffic!

Just walk right into traffic!

Did you ever think crossing the street could be an adventure?

In Vietnam it is!

The traffic is so continuous in Saigon that in many locations, if you want to cross the street, you must walk right into the moving cars and motorbikes.

No kidding!

If you want, you can put your arm up high and make a slight chopping motion which notifies vehicles that you are entering the fray and crossing the street. You must not, for any reason, make any sudden moves because this is all an orchestrated chaos. Everyone times their speed and movements according to everyone else. Jerking or dashing would ruin the flow and cause danger to others.

One must also be careful of the city buses and never cross in front of them as they don’t play the “crossing the street game” and you could end up injured or worse. Most cars abide by these unwritten rules, but you must be on alert in case someone doesn’t modify their speed or direction.

For the most part, it is safe to cross the street even with all the bedlam!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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U.S. Expat Taxes – An Introduction

Guest post by John Ohe, IRS Enrolled Agent and chartered Financial Analyst.

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American expats are subject to U.S. income taxes regardless of where they live and where they make their income. For tax year ending 2013, individuals with income over $10,000 USD (see chart below) must file a federal tax return. However, self-employed people have a much lower threshold. They are obligated to file a tax return if they have $400 USD or more in earnings.

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Over the past few years, the IRS has been increasing its scrutiny over U.S. expats. As such, “better safe than sorry” is fast becoming an applicable quote if you are an American citizen living outside the United States. Note that there are penalties for not filing.

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For many people, a trip to the dentist is preferable to preparing a tax return. The good news, however, is that many U.S. expats end up not owing taxes because of certain exclusions and credits available to the expat community. The most important of these are the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) and foreign tax credit. With the FEIE, up to $97,600 of foreign earned income while living abroad is excludable from federal tax. The $97,600 USD works in conjunction with other deductions. As a result, one can have more than $100,000 USD in income, and pay no taxes. With a working spouse, the excludable amount is doubled. In order to qualify for the FEIE, one must meet be either the bona fide residence or physical presence test. With the foreign tax credit, taxes that are paid to a foreign country offset U.S. tax liabilities. The foreign tax credit is normally utilized when one has paid income tax to a country with a higher tax rate than that of the U.S.

Reduce your spending footprint. Increase your lifestyle and financial longevity.

On a very practical note: many people with modest income do not file tax returns (e.g., not required to file because their income falls below the dollar thresholds). However, they are losing out on valuable tax credits that are fully refundable. For example, the Child Tax Credit is worth up to $1,000 USD per child. There is a good chance of qualifying for this credit (if you have a child under the age of 17 that is a dependent) as long as earned income is at least $3,000 USD.

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Lastly, the U.S. government is increasingly interested in knowing about the foreign assets held by its citizens and residents. The FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report) is one of the key reporting requirements that Uncle Sam utilizes in its monitoring efforts. FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act) is a second and distinct requirement. U.S. expats often get these two confused with one another. With the FBAR, the reporting threshold is met if the aggregate balance (combining all the accounts) exceeds $10,000 USD at any point during the year. The second report is Form 8938 (FATCA). The threshold is much higher. For expats filing an individual tax return, it is $200,000 USD aggregate balance on the last day of the year, or $300,000 aggregate balance at any point during the year. For expats who are married filing jointly, the threshold is double.

The penalties for failing to disclose are onerous. With the FinCen 114, failure to report carries a penalty up to $10,000 USD. Willful non-compliance potentially raises the penalty up to $100,000 or 50% of the taxpayer’s foreign assets (whichever is greater). With FATCA, The maximum penalty for failing to file Form 8938 is $60,000 USD for each foreign asset that you failed to report (even more onerous than for the FBAR).

If you would like to submit a tax-related question, please visit us: HolaExpat.com .

All responses are provided by John Ohe (IRS Enrolled Agent and Chartered Financial Analyst).

Hola Expat helps Americans living abroad with their U.S. tax returns. Our professionals are IRS Enrolled Agents with expertise in expatriate tax return matters. Take a look at our fee schedule. We offer the most sensible pricing among our competitors.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this article are for general information, and should not be construed as personal tax advice. Tax laws and regulations change frequently, and their application can vary widely based on the specific facts and circumstances involved.

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Chased By a Hippo…and Lived!

Guest post by Stacey Ebert. Stacey is a traveler at heart who has visited over 50 of the world’s countries and met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. An event planner by day, she is creative with a love of writing, travel, the beach, yoga and all things chocolate. Always ready for an adventure, she believes that any day by the ocean with her toes in the sand is a great day! Check out her blog at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com.

Bio Photo for Articles“Run, Stacey, run!” Maria screams in my ear as we jump out of the mokorro. Grabbing our bags, we follow the polers to higher ground jumping over trees that block-in the hippo pool.

My husband and I were on an adventurous trip in southern Africa. After traveling from Capetown up the Skeleton coast through Namibia, we arrive in Maun, Botswana to spend two nights in the Okavanga Delta. At the Delta Station, much different than the likes of Penn or Paddington, we meet our transport that will take us on our journey. Local transporters are known as polers. These men and women stand at the back of the mokorro (boats from hollowed out trees-now there are some of fiberglass) using a very long pole to literally push the boat through the delta.

With the hard work of Samuel, our poler, we reach our destination in just over an hour. The ride takes us through reeds, riverbeds and many water lilies saturated with the ever-present African flies! We have on our long pants, long sleeves, hats, sunscreen and bug spray and clasp our constant supply of water as this journey is in the direct sunshine.

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We aren’t just passengers in this mokorro. When the water level is too low, it takes all of us to keep the boat from dredging. Strategic maneuvers are often implemented since every reed that Matthew can block snaps back as he passes by and then hits me. After awhile I learn to scoot down really low so some of the reeds pass over my face.

Our mokorros

Our mokorros

We have three days living among nature in the environs of the Okavanga Delta. We set up camp, dig our toilet, cook over an open fire and are gifted with incredible sunsets, astounding wildlife and Ouma Buttermilk Rusks that when dunked just right into a cup of tea make the morning that much more perfect.

On our last evening in the Delta, we take a sunset cruise and a get a chance to see hippos in their natural habitat. We find hundreds of birds, a sky filled with multiple hues and a family of hippos on their way to wherever it is they go. We’re reminded never to use our flash when photographing. Sitting in the hippo pool, one swimmer allows us to get close enough for great photos. He is the most dangerous animal in all of Africa and we are sitting just feet away from his wide, strong jaw. Amidst many camera clicks, my heart beats loudly.

His mate, the next hippo to pass by isn’t as agreeable. As we get close, some ‘tourist’ snaps a picture with a flash and the hippo loses it. She gets angrier and more frustrated by the minute. Most of the mokorros in our group make it safely through the weeds that separate the hippo pool from open water; but two are stuck with a thrashing hippo charging.

Hippo pool with hippos

Hippo pool with hippos

This is not my mother being worried about me traveling to far off places; when the polers freak, you know it’s real. With panic-stricken faces they paddle to the edge as fast as they can and frantically gesture to us to get out of the water. “Follow me and run-run, fast!” Samuel yells, and we do as we’re told. Maria’s Portuguese accent behind me bellows, “Run Stacey, run!” as we leap over fallen trees while dodging droppings of elephant dung. As they keep running, the polers look back and shout, “If she comes on land, we have to climb a high tree!” Now I’m really rattled!

We run until Samuel tells us to jump back in the mokorro. We’ve reached a point where they think we are safe and past where our deadly stalker can break onto land and charge. We fling ourselves over the edge and Samuel and his mate pole as fast as their arms can carry us. Through the darkness they stealthily maneuver to find their way threw deep brush getting us back to land unharmed.

Sunset on the delta, Botswana

Sunset on the delta, Botswana

Shaking with adrenaline we make our way back to camp to retell our harrowing tale. After sharing dinner and introducing s’mores to our poler saviors, we finally stop shaking and realize this is one of those stories to wait to share with our parents until they can count all of our fingers and toes right in front of them. According to the polers, it makes sense that the momma hippo rushed. They believe there was a baby with her and as so many know; there’s nothing more ferocious than a mother protecting her young.

The Okavanga Delta is just one of the many brilliant gifts we were given on this African journey. We’ve seen wildlife, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, landscapes that make you sit up and take notice and a had a chance to commune with nature as a humble guest. We used a ‘bush toilet,’ practiced being a ‘poler,’ hiked past elephant bones and really listened to what the Delta had to teach. A few days of bush camping in the Delta are definitely worth the stink that all of us have been covering with baby wipes and powder.

If you are lucky enough to visit, please remember the following three rules: take out whatever you bring in, never use your flash in a hippo pool, and if that hippo comes on land run as fast as you can and head up the highest tree you can find.

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Sashimi Anyone?

IMG_9083aYesterday we went out for an evening of sashimi. There is a Japanese restaurant within a block of our residence at  Compass Living, so at about 6 p.m. we took a short walk and arrived a few minutes later.

The first thing we saw was fresh sushi and sashimi on small plates that were traveling on a moving transport system up and down the sides of a counter. All the restaurant seats were lined up at this counter so if you wanted an appetizing dish you simply took it off this moving belt.

Menus were given to us right away. There were so many choices and it all looked so scrumptious it was hard to choose. We ordered a plate of sashimi and began taking plates off the conveyor system too. We wanted it all!

Our tea arrived and we dove in on our plate selections with gastronomic pleasure. Excellent!

After half a dozen dishes our bill with tip came to 500VNDong or about US$25. We couldn’t have eaten this amount of Japanese food for as low a price in the States. What a deal!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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Growing Up Dangerously

Guest post by Laverne H. Bardy whose humorous, often irreverent, slant on life in general, and aging in particular, draws a large readership. She has been syndicated with Senior Wire News Service since 2004. Her book, How The (Bleep) Did I Get This Old? was released in January, 2012, and is a compilation of the best of her columns.

LaverneI was four years old when I started kindergarten. My mother spent two weeks walking me back and forth to Hamilton grammar school the summer before school opened. The walk was every bit of a mile long and included crossing a busy thoroughfare. The only instructions I had, or needed, were:  look both ways when crossing the street and don’t speak to strangers. At the end of that two week rehearsal I was sent to school all by myself. I followed my mother’s directions.

Incredibly, I lived.

I remember being in the house and hearing friends outside shout, “Heeeey, Laverrrne.” I have no idea why they never used the door bell or knocked, but when I heard them call I ran outdoors to play with them. We’d leave the house early in the morning and wouldn’t return until dusk. We rode double on our bikes without helmets, precariously balanced ourselves on monkey bars, climbed trees, hid in open sewer pipes, lay down in tick infested fields, while we licked Good Humor ice cream bars and discussed boys. My mother never called the police, even though I’d been gone an entire day, without a cell phone.

Incredibly, we lived.

When I was eight and my brother was four, we traveled alone, by bus to the movies, every Saturday. We’d get off the bus in the middle of the bustling town of Elizabeth, and head straight for the bakery where I would buy us each a Charlotte Ruse. I can still taste that wonderful sponge cake piled high with fresh whipped cream. We would eat the cake as we walked through town to the Ritz Theater, where for a twenty five cent ticket each, we’d watch Perils of Pauline, a double feature, three cartoons, a newsreel, and a brief stage act. Nobody yet knew words like “abduction” or “child molestation”, so nobody worried.

Incredibly, we lived.  

Do not let Fear make your decisions for you. Risk has a price and so does security.

When my grammar school principal punished me for carving my and my boyfriend’s initials into my desk, my mother never sued the principal for hampering my creativity. She backed him up by further punishing me at home.

Incredibly, I lived.

Returning from high-school in a public bus one day, I looked to my left and  realized that an elderly neighbor of mine was exposing himself to me. When I got home I told my mother who explained that Mr. Drake was an old man who didn’t realize what he was doing and I would be wise to steer clear of him. Then she told Mrs. Drake. No police were involved. No lawsuit occurred. No psychological treatment was required.

Incredibly, I lived.

Not only didn’t my mother bleach the cutting board and knife after she cut up raw chicken, but when I was in college she regularly send me CARE packages that included fully roasted chickens she sent via regular mail. Sometimes they took three days to arrive. My three roommates and I sucked every bit of meat from the bones of those chickens.

Incredibly, we lived.

And when I became a mother I was equally as reckless. I drove three kids around in a station wagon and none of them wore seat belts. They jumped up and down, fought over whose turn it was to sit by the window, and climbed over the seat to the back of the station wagon where they stretched out on their stomachs and colored. Today I wonder how they managed to keep from flying around the car and out of windows.

Incredibly, they lived.

I sat with two of my grandchildren the other day, ages 9 and 11, and listened as they told me about all the horrors that go on today – horrors in the TV news, in the headlines, online, discussed in school, and reinforced by their parents in the names of Enlightenment and Protection. These children were worried in a way I could never have imagined when I was their age. They had lost their innocence.

I wish they could live the magical childhood that I did.

Other posts by this author

Watching Real Beauty

Hell, Not on the Map, but I Was There

Cellulite: A Rite of Passage

Camping: Not for Sissies

Don’t Count Me Out

Aging, Not All Fun and Games

Challenging My Legacy

Behind Closed Doors

Battle of the Bulge

How the Home Shopping Network Turned Me into a Zebra

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Coffee in Saigon

coffee in SaigonCoffee choices are everywhere here in Saigon. No matter if I want a traditional Vietnamese iced coffee served in a tall glass with condensed milk and an iced tea spoon or whether I want a Western version of cappuccino with the foamed milk on top I can pretty much get a cup of coffee anywhere.

We even make coffee in the mornings in our residence at Compass Parkview. But for this I need freshly ground coffee beans.

Billy and I discovered several shops that sell coffee beans and tea, and I purchased 500 grams of Arabica beans for 175,000 dong or $8.22 for 1.1 pound of coffee. Since we drink coffee every day, I soon needed to replace my supply. However since I was shopping on a Sunday, my favorite coffee shop was closed. So I made a visit to my neighborhood Starbucks coffee shop to purchase beans. I purchased 250 grams of Columbia coffee for 200,000 dong or $18.80 for 1.1 pound of coffee!

Even though I enjoy the Starbucks brands of coffee, I think I will stick with my favorite local brand!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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Box Lunches

box lunchOne of the things we like to do while staying here in Saigon, Vietnam is go out for an hour walk around the city, just to see what we can find.

The other day we saw these stacks of box lunches that were being delivered to a construction site! I love these things! They are all stackable and easy to transport.

In another area there was a woman filling up these plastic boxes with food and two construction workers stacking them up to take them off to the other workers.

Lunch time!

For more stories and photos of Vietnam, click here.

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