Note: Not much change has happened the past couple weeks, I have been going through my daily routine of teaching, lounging, yoga-ing, sleeping, and Netflix-ing, with the occasional foray into socializing. Thus, this post is far more reflective and less anecdotal than posts in the past. If you want to skip my incoherent ramblings, there is a fun video at the bottom of my trip last weekend to Ninh Binh.
I feel as though I’ve begun so many of my reflections with some variance of “Vietnam continues to be difficult…”, “I still have yet to feel fully settled in Vietnam…”, etc. etc. In a strange way, I am realizing that I have felt this way my whole life. The unease I feel all too often in this country is but a cousin of the doubt and insecurity I have wrestled with my entire life. By coming to Vietnam, I have lurched myself into a lifestyle where this doubt is ever more present and pressing than in my previous life, and my normal outlets for dealing with these insecurities are unavailable. In the absence of old friends, loving family, good doggies, and New Orleans I worry that I have begun to turn inward. I seek refuge in takeout and movies. I find deliverance in delivery and Deliverance. There is nothing wrong with seeking refuge in this way from time to time, it is when introversion becomes unquestioned habitual routine that it must be internally challenged, if not done away with altogether.
When confronted with an individual challenge, a dichotomic decision needs making: do something about it, or ignore it. While at points throughout my life I have deferred too often to the latter, I think I have usually done enough to check the “did something about it” box. However, the slow and arduous process of becoming an adult, taking responsibility for my every action, and holding myself accountable to myself is not an individual action. It is hundreds of choices made every week and every day. It’s the choice in the morning to get up and hit the gym instead of the snooze button. It’s the decision to forgo bun cha and eat a salad for lunch – EVERYDAY (well, maybe not every day). It’s pausing a movie, finding somewhere quiet and spending time reflecting on what I’m doing, and what I could be doing better. It’s countless other split second decisions made and forgotten, forming habits and informing character without even realizing. To become aware of the omnipresence of such decisions isn’t even close to half the battle. The self-discipline to hold myself accountable to myself for every decision I make must be developed, practiced and executed all simultaneously and all the time. Famous 20th century French biologist Alexis Carrel once said “Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.” I am still so far from where I want to be in terms of health, diet, routine, priorities, and so much else. However, through self-reflection and holding myself accountable to myself, I’ll have a pretty good idea if I’m headed in the right direction or not. My journey of self-improvement did not begin when I landed in Vietnam three months ago, nor will it end when I depart approximately nine months from now. I’m just now realizing it’s a odyssey I’ve been on my whole life, too often dragging my feet. This journey has no destination. How strange that I had to move half way around the world to realize that.
It can be easy to get lost in the day to day hustle and bustle of Vietnam, but when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the absurdity of my current situation is always all too obvious. Never in my life did I expect to (attempt) to learn yoga in the Far East. Not in my wildest fantasies did I ever conjure visions of myself weaving through Hanoian rush hour towards my job as an English teacher. Nor did I ever think I would find myself at an Italian restaurant in Vietnam, sipping Caribbean rum mixed with an American soft drink bottled in China, surrounded by Brits, French, Germans, and South Africans discussing who in the world knows what. Yet this, or something similar, is the situation I find myself in most nights I go out.
I don’t want the beginning of my reflection to suggest that I have become entirely a hermit. I still break bread and clink glasses with friends and strangers several times per week. I hope and plan to continue doing so the remainder of my time here. Friends in Hanoi come and go. A roommate who I had grown quite fond of moved back to England several weeks ago, but a nice German man named Nick quickly moved into his room and it has been a pleasure getting to know him. At the end of April, two more roommates will move out, and while I will miss them I look forward to the potential new friends who will take their place. Hanoi is not home. The friendships I make here won’t have the time that friendships from childhood, high school and college did to develop and strengthen, and I ought not expect them to. I need to gleefully accept these new friends for what they are: fellow travelers with whom I am fortunate enough to share an amazing, chaotic city in a beautiful, exotic country, for however long our journeys overlap. Once I am able to fully do that, I feel as though shedding any hermit shell I have developed will be easier.
I must also begin to appreciate how fleeting my own time in Vietnam is. January 10th, the day of my arrival to Vietnam, feels simultaneously half a lifetime ago and as though it were only yesterday. Next week, my parents come to visit and I can honestly say I have never been more excited to see them. Once they arrive, friends will visit with such regularity that there won’t be a two month period when I don’t have a visitor for the remainder of my intended time here. I could write a whole other post about how fortunate I am to have friends with not just the means but more importantly the desire to visit me halfway around the world. I am acutely aware of how far from home I am, so it is not lost on me the effort and expenditure made by visitors to come see me. The adventures I will have and ability to share the wonders of this country with friends and family from home are the things I’m most excited for. Those will be the moments – shared with others – which will be the most memorable of this whole entirely unforgettable year.
That just about sums it up: I am becoming more aware of the overall life journey I am on, working on developing friendships to elevate my experiences here, while eagerly and excitedly awaiting visits from family and friends. This upcoming week will mark the approximate quarter-way mark of my planned year abroad. It has been turbulent, challenging, stressful, chaotic, unpredictable, and extremely rewarding. I would be a fool to expect anything different from the remaining months.
P.S. Because I live in Vietnam I can do some dope things. The below video are several of my favorite shots from my visit last weekend to Ninh Binh, about three hours south of Hanoi. Sorry about the video quality, my GoPro has been malfunctioning so I had to use my phone camera.