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Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Life in Vietnam. Part 1. Surveillance and monitoring

I don't know what I expected. As an American living in Vietnam, I knew it would not be easy. Although I have never been a violent person, don't like the idea of war, and never wish anything ill on other people, I am a citizen of a country that was in direct conflict 3 decades ago. So I did not know what to expect.

I arrived in Vietnam with some clothes, a laptop, and hopes of making a life as a teacher. Within 3 or 4 days I had a job as a teacher with American Academy in Saigon. I also had a second job with EIV, English in Vietnam. Things seemed to be working out well and fast. Before long I had settled into as a routine. Then the problems began.

Actually, that is not true. The first few months were perfect. I had visitors from Korea, learned to speak a little Vietnamese, really loved the food, and made some friends in my new neighborhood. (see the photo albumn, I live in an alley).

A few months in, my Samsung laptop was hacked. Initially it was a software hack and I am savvy enough to fix that. Then the next week my computer was hacked again. I cannot tell you the days and weeks I spent trying to clean my laptop. Afterall, this one device was everything to me. It contained all of the music I had uploaded when I left America, around 200 powerpoint files that I used for teaching English, and photos from every trip I had taken since I left the USA in 2009. 

Eventually I realized that my computer was hacked in a way that was new to me. It was a hard hack. Forgive me if I don't know the correct terminology, but the device itself was altered so that it could be remotely accessed either via internet or bluetooth. (I know enough about bluetooth to know that you need proximity of about 100 feet or so).  
Basically, the camera and audio system in my laptop could be remotely turned on at any time unless I removed the power supply. Which I started doing when I went to bed. 

Around this time I had a bit of a freak out because this is such a violation of privacy. What did I expect? It is not like I am a spy or that I go around promoting religion or democracy when I teach. Those of you who know me well know that I am a card carrying liberal and I am not ashamed of my political beliefs. But I never directly promoted one form of government in classes. I think my very style and existance was enough to open the eyes of my students, without me violating some unspoken rules of decorum in Vietnam. Yet, I assumed my internet activities would be monitored.

I stopped blogging (In The Moment blogger), and rarely used facebook. I was content to work and live.

In any event, back to the freak out. I was cleaning my room and noticed a camera in the AC unit in my room. I told a few people who thought I was crazy. I even thought I was crazy. 

within a week I moved out of my room in District 1 and into a room in District 3. I had been teaching in District 3 through one of my jobs (EIV) and the building where I was teaching has an open room. Things were good for awhile. Well, mostly good. I could not remove the hard hack from my laptop so in a bout of pure frustration, I thought it best to smash it into little pieces rather than spend another sleepless night trying to repair it. What a relief.

A former student, Bui Thanh, let me borrow her old laptop for a few months while I saved money to buy a new one. I also worked with her to help her edit her dissertation. She was one of my first good friends in Vietnam. (I had other friends who were also foreign like me, but she was my first real Vietnamese friend)

As an aside, I was crushing on her so badly. I cannot help it. She made me laugh and we spent a lot of time working together. She was a student but 26, so don't go thinking that I am some sort of perv. Anyway, this was another period of relative bliss in Nam.

Camera in the AC of my new room: WTF? Really, could this be possible? Am I losing my shit? 

Random students who barely speak any English (adult classes with EIV) showing up for 1 or 2 sessions. As a teacher I try to include everyone in class, but these students were different. I would ask, "what do you do?" They might respond "I am a student." I ask "what do you study?" This last question was always met with a blank stare.

Ok, I get it. Either you are not really a student and you work in a girlie bar and that is not an answer you want to give in class, or you are there to make sure that I am not out corrupting the minds of Vietnamese. Fair. I am ok with either situation.

Ok. This is the end of part 1. more to come.
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