Why I'll never return to nomadicmatt.com again

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On January 30, the Huffington Post sent Vietnam into a spiraling bout of depression by re-publishing a lengthy blog item entitled "Why I'll Never Return to Vietnam."

"I can't believe it," said Liem, a 28 year-old graphic designer in the central historic town of Hoi An, upon reading the bit.

Liem could not understand what would inspire a professional journalist to pen a sputtering condemnation of his homeland. Nor could he understand why the Huffington Post, which he mistook for a prominent newspaper, would publish such a thing.

Liem was not alone.

Last week, Vietnam's national newspapers and a variety of government ministers felt obligated to answer for the whingeing of a half-bright American blogger named Matthew Kepnes.

Back in 2007, Kepnes stopped in Vietnam for a three-week tour. He was just 26 then and he had a bad trip.

Kepnes' ordeal festered within him for three years. Then he decided to write it all out on his website nomadicmatt.com.

In the first incarnation of his rant, Kepnes claimed that a Vietnamese woman had not given him the correct change. Another grabbed his shirt. And a cab driver overcharged him.

How could such terrible things happen to Nomadic Matt?

After a moment of introspection ("I began to wonder if it was just me") Kepnes' piece devolves into a colonial Passion play starring western backpackers and English teachers.

"We all had to struggle for everything," he wrote. "We never felt welcome in the country."


Traveler's rant a wake-up call

To make sense of these trials, Kepnes turns to an anonymous English teacher he met in Nha Trang as an authority on the Vietnamese and their mysterious psychology. The teacher tells us that Vietnamese have been taught to believe that "all of their problems are caused by the West - especially France and America."

"[Vietnamese] expect Westerners to spend money in Vietnam, so when they see western backpackers trying to penny pitch[sic], they get upset and treat them poorly."

Kepnes does not bother to investigate this claim. Instead, he feels satisfied to merely publish it. In Kepnes' mind, the entire nation has been hopelessly brainwashed into believing that he owes it money.

And that's pretty much where he left things.

In September of 2010, Kepnes published the piece on his website. That same month, he sold his piece to the web aggregators at Lonely Planet's website.

Lonely Planet's press liaison could not provide an explanation as to why the company, which sells a popular guide about how and where to travel in Vietnam, chose to run a piece advising people against traveling here. Instead, she sought to distinguish him from the company.

"Matt Kepnes is not a Lonely Planet author, rather a member of our blog community who own their own views," she wrote.

When the Huffington Post picked up Kepnes' rant and published it again, on January 30, it was already two years old and full of grammatical errors.

So they decided to spice it up.

In the revised edition (now a whopping 1,055 words) Kepnes added an anecdote about how his friend Sean humiliated a beggar on a bicycle.

"When [the beggar] came to my friends, they asked the Vietnamese woman if she could afford such a nice bike, why couldn't she afford food? "˜That's my sister's bike,' the woman said. Sean looked at her and said "˜Then she can pay for your food.'"

The Huffington Post's cynical bid to score web traffic paid off in a hideous comments war.

For his own part, Kepnes declined to explain why he waited three years to write down his thoughts and feelings about Vietnam. He declined to be interviewed or respond to a list of written questions. He's busy, at the moment, finishing another book about the world.

The Boston-born MBA once dreamed, as a child, of one day becoming Indiana Jones.

Instead, he became an authority on cheapness.

Kepnes is at his best when writing about how to scam an airline out of frequent flier miles. Most of his work focuses on promoting the worst brand of travel: a westerner's guide to a four-month frat party in Asia attended by 20-somethings hunting for cheap package tours, drink and late-night Indian food.

The rest are the thoughts of a self-proclaimed Dave Matthews Band super fan who spends his off hours streaming episodes of True Blood on his laptop from exotic locales.

Kepnes has managed to turn his brand of pituitary writing into a lucrative career"”one that's brought him $7,000-8,000 a month according to an interview with the New York Times.

Inspired by Kepnes' success, I decided to pitch a blog item to the Huffington Post entitled "Why I'll Never Return to Canada."

The piece promises to be a vague rant about a nation and its people based on a few minor slights and inconveniences I suffered during a trip I took years ago.

I'm still waiting to hear back.

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