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Co-working

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My dog Marmalade and I have taken to having long conversations in my home office. I sit down with a cup of tea, her with the latest bone she’s working on, and we discuss work.  Sure the talks are kind of one-sided, but her eyes tell me what she’s thinking – unfortunately they are usually saying “let’s go for a walk” or “feed me” rather than “great article” or “that chapter needs more work.”

I love my work. It affords me ultimate freedom and every week I learn a little more about Hanoi and Vietnam. But there are days, when my entire to-do list involves desk work, that I miss the interaction and stimulation of an office environment. That was until I discovered Hanoi’s very own co-working venue, ClickSpace, and realised I was not the only independent worker to feel this way.

From the outside ClickSpace looks like any other house in Hanoi’s Tay Ho area. But inside the pale yellow exterior, the building has been transformed into three floors of office space where anyone and everyone, no matter their profession, can rent a desk and get to work. “Co-working is a social activity,” says ClickSpace founder Jason Lusk, “and Hanoi-based freelancers and entrepreneurs are discovering co-working in a big way.” It allows independent workers, like myself, the opportunity to be part of a group.

With increasing numbers of jobs offered online, many people around the world are finding they miss the companionship and inspiration of an office environment. “You don’t join a co-working centre because you need a desk. You co-work because you enjoy meeting interesting new people, finding new collaborators, eating lunch with new friends, and – most importantly – feeling some peer pressure to get some work done,” explains Lusk.

After a quick introduction from Hai Anh, ClickSpace’s bubbly operations manager, I make my way up to the second floor. The “productive area” Hai Anh explained. Surveying the large room filled with desks, power outlets and Wi-Fi signs, I set up at an empty space near the window. Except for the sounds of clacking keyboards and the whir of the air-conditioner, my workmates are quiet.

The great thing about freelancing is that you can make your own hours, and as long as you meet deadlines, nobody cares when or where you work. There is no one hovering over your shoulder making sure you don’t slack off – although on the flipside there’s no one hovering over your shoulder stopping you from slacking off. On the introductory tour, Hai Anh showed me a large kitchen where people can hang out and drink, and I briefly contemplated checking out the beer-stocked fridge, but decided that’s a slippery slope at 11am. Opting to wait until ClickSpace’s weekly Friday happy hour that evening, there was nothing else for me to do but work.

On a break in the small outdoor area that doubles as scooter parking, I chat to a few people casually standing around sipping Diet Coke. “I’ve been working at ClickSpace for about three months now,” says Cuong Ha, the managing director of Insight Frog, a new responsible tourism group. “It really cuts down on start-up costs and gives us a place to work together until we’re more established.” When I arrived earlier that day, three members of the Insight Frog team were holding a meeting on the couches of the ground floor.

One of my favourite things about working as freelancer in Hanoi is all the interesting people I meet. As cliché as that sounds I really feel that the city is a hive of creativity and constant inspiration. Spending a day at ClickSpace reinforced this feeling. Lusk agrees: “Hanoi is brimming with software engineers. It has thousands of creative workers. Moreover, it has become a top destination for foreigners and digital nomads who like the city’s chic, gritty energy.” I left ClickSpace that afternoon not only feeling decidedly cheerier than I do after a day in my home office, but also feeling more productive.  I guess my long chats with Marmalade will be coming to an end.

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This article originally appeared on the AsiaLife website on October 7th, 2014, click here to see the original.

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My Designer Dog

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I open the bedroom door with trepidation, preparing myself for the worst. Peering cautiously around the doorframe I see her sitting patiently on the floor, tail gently wagging, a slight drool of excitement emanating from her thick, pink tongue. I notice the picture, previously leaning against the wall, now knocked over but luckily still intact. Relief washes over me as I make my way gently towards her, no sudden movements. Her dark eyes fixate on my sleep-crumpled face and I swear she is smiling as she slowly stands, stretches and proceeds to release a steady stream of urine onto the wooden floor boards. And so commences another day of Hanoi puppy parenthood.

Marmalade has now been part of the family for a total of seven nights. That makes it one week of living my lifelong dream of owning a puppy and one week of running around after 22 pounds of slobbery, stinky, hair-shedding, paper-chewing, golden retriever mess.

Recently, Marmalade and I ventured out to the nearby park for some serious puppy socialising which, according to Ceaser Milan, dog whisperer and my new guru, is essential puppy protocol. My neighbour, veteran dog owner and all round canine expert, fills me in on the comings and goings of the park. “It’s not just about the socialising and exercise, it’s also about showing off your dog,” she says. This becomes apparent as we are approached by a woman and her two daughters. “What is she?” she demands, her daughters gleefully descending on Marmalade who is chewing her way through the wire fence. “A golden retriever,” I reply, watching her abandon the fence in favour of rolling in the mud. The woman nods in approval, looking at the rolling muddy mess, “very nice, very nice dog”.

photo(3) A few months ago, in my pre-puppy days, I met a college-aged girl walking her Siberian Husky. His name was Lam she informed me, short for Lamborghini. As I glanced around at the other dog owners assembled in the park, I realised that buying a dog in Hanoi is much like buying a new car, only the car won’t chew your furniture. I had entered the world of the designer dog, where the big and fluffy take the bone.

First up we have the Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinchers; like a reliable Hyundai, the pups are compact, convenient and low maintenance. These dogs enter into the dog world with minimal fuss and money required.

Then there are the Poodles, energetic, dependable and the most common canine to roam the grassy slopes. These breeds are the high-end Hondas of dogs. They show a certain level of prestige and status with the right touch of fun.

Moving up, we have the mid-size breeds. Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Huskies. These fluffy, playful mounds of happiness are like a nice Mercedes. Dignified and classy, but with plenty of torque, they attract all the right attention.

For the macho types there are the shepherds and pit-bulls. Nice-looking dogs with a quality build and unparalleled strength, these are the equivalent of the Hummer.  Unnecessarily large and powerful, they are tough, they are alpha and they want to make sure everyone knows it.

Finally we have the rare and expensive breeds, the Rolls Royce of the Hanoi dog scene.  “I saw a Tibetan Mastiff once,” says my neighbour, “rumour has it they go for over a million dollars in China so imagine how much they cost here.” This breed is all about show and the high price tag ensures they are always top dog.

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As I sit here finishing this column, my phone rings and my husband’s frantic voice comes through from where he’s walking Marmalade. “She’s eating plastic, what do I do?”  After some fumbling on the other end of the phone, the line goes dead. A few minutes later he calls back. “Crisis averted, I got it out”, he says proudly. “Oh no, wait a sec, Marmalade, no, stop that, gotta go.” Shaking my head as I hang up the phone, the status associated with Hanoi’s dog scene makes me laugh. In the end a dog is a dog, no matter the breed they are always going to wee on the floor.

This article originally appeared on the AsiaLife website on July 3rd, 2014, click here to see the original