It’s funny how having a friend from (what oftentimes feels like) another life visit you in a new place can provide new perspective, a chance to see your new world from an outsiders point of view, and, coincidentally, a respite from a never-ending onslaught of “new” (example of never ending onslaught: this sentence). My friend Harry visited me for three(ish) days last week, and It was a blast to spend time with an old friend and adventure around my new city. Though the weather didn’t always cooperate, we were lucky enough to experience a totally new place but not forced to be constantly pedal-to-the-metal. Harry’s time here was filled to the brim with racing around the city as tourists, checking off museum after museum, taking in (almost) all the major monuments and sites in Hanoi at an awe-inspiring speed. It was equally filled with relaxing interludes during which we could catch up. I got a much-needed update the on the state of all my friends who are living in New York City, he got to see an abridged version of my routine. An old friend of five years got to meet my new friends of not yet even four months, and we got to bounce around West Lake and Truc Bach, and every minute was enjoyable.
Me and Harry in front of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
April was a month of visitors for me, a much needed chance to restock my drive going forward on this long journey abroad. As mentioned last blog, my parents visited allowed me to fully decompress, unbottling overwhelming emotions which had been building the duration of my time abroad. I was able to discuss with them strategies to better prepare myself for the challenges I have been facing and continue to face in Vietnam.
Harry’s visit allowed me to escape from all that. Several times throughout his visit I forgot I was in Vietnam. I was transported back to a comfortable couch in New Orleans or New York, just sitting around and shooting the shit with an old friend. As much as I love learning about foreign cultures, the mannerisms and intricacies of people from the world over, it can get exhausting always talking about something “new”. I was afforded in Harry’s visit some much needed reminiscing time as we exchanged memories that started with different variations of “Do you remember that time when…” and ended with a mutual hearty laugh. Reminiscing on good memories is sometimes as fun as making new ones, especially for myself, having been in the moment with difficulty escaping to the past since I arrived in Hanoi in January. After Harry left, due to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to virtually attend the Fourth Annual Wines of the World celebration via FaceTime. Almost my entire grade of friends from Tualne descended upon New Orleans last weekend for Week 1 of Jazzfest and, more importantly, the fourth annual gala which showcases the finest wine from around the world. I woke up at 9am and thanks to the series of tubes which comprises the internet, arrived at 9:01 the previous evening in New Orleans to be passed around on an iPad like a nice bottle of Pinot. While I have been able to keep up with my friends pretty well over in Vietnam, it felt great to see them all in one place, and to be there in some small way, taking part. It also meant a lot to me that my good friend Jack Clarke went through the effort to tackle the logistical difficulties of getting me there virtually.
Virtually attending “Wines of the World”
Anyways, as April turns quickly to May, I continue to settle into a “routine” of sorts. Two more roommates moved out this morning (May 1), as their year in Hanoi had come to a close and they departed for a Chinese vacation and then back to England. It truly makes me sad to see them go, as they offered quick and lasting friendship from the second I moved into our house at 483 Au Co til the final Sunny episode finished last night. I will hope to see them again at some point, and with any luck I’m sure I will.
My teaching schedule is about to pick up dramatically. Where for the past two months I have been working a leisurely three days per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), starting tomorrow I will begin working every day except Saturday. Don’t mourn for me too much, my daily working hours still only span 3 hours each evening, so I don’t think I’ll be overwhelmed by the workload. However, having to be in Hanoi 6 days per week will lessen my ability to travel, so the past two weekends I have taken advantage of my remaining freedom and escaped the city for cleaner air and clearer skies.
Two weekends ago I drove to a small town about four hours southwest of Hanoi called Mai Chau. It was a charming little town, and the drive was so scenic I almost forgot about how much it hurt my butt. The town itself offered not too much in the way of scenery, but no matter. I was only in town for one night, but Vietnam is always full of surprises. Coincidentally, right across the road from where my friends and I were staying, a celebration / festival / party / rave of epic proportions was thrown in an open field well into the night. I am unaware of any holiday or event the people could’ve been celebrating, it seemed to me as though it were a “Because we Can” party. Vietnamese of all ages danced to music of all kinds. It seemed as though the elder generation dancing vigorously around the fires were equally as fond of progressive trance as the teenagers blasting the tunes from massive speakers which they had wheeled in. Upon entering the field, my friends and I became quick party hits, as apparently being over six feet tall is an impressive party trick in Vietnam. Everybody wanted to take selfies or dance with us, from attractive young Vietnamese women to balding middle-aged men. They implored us to share their drinks, which were surprisingly strong. Ice cream was being sold for 25 cents. I spent a dollar fifty. The experience was truly unlike anything I’d ever known before, surprising and exciting and confusing and over in the blink of an eye. Goes to show that even out in the remote mountains of Vietnam, a mere fifty kilometers from the Laos border, people are still getting down. I take comfort in that.
Locals getting down at a rave(?) in Mai Chau
This weekend was my last non-working Sunday, but I also got Monday (Reunification Day) and Tuesday (Labor Day) off. After my appearance at Wines of the World Sunday morning, I set off for Ninh Binh, a place I had gone five weeks earlier and will return five weeks from now. A quick two and a half hour drive straight south of Hanoi, the route is nowhere near as scenic as Mai Chau, but the considerably shorter length leaves the bum feeling considerably less sore. Expecting not to be too surprised, I explored for the second time the magical park of Tam Coc, hiked again up to the Hang Mau Pagoda, and stayed at the Hoalu Ecolodge owned by the notorious Badman, the most badass Vietnamese person I have yet to meet. I went with some friends from South Africa, one who is headed home soon and another who will be sticking around Hanoi for a bit. At night, we feasted on a magnificent home cooked meal of rice, rice wine, rice crackers, rice cakes, salad, snails, pork, beef stew, and even some fried chicken (!!). After the meal finished, we took advantage of the $1, 0.5 liter beers which you don’t have to pay for until you check out anyways, so It almost feels like they’re free (at the time, I can assure you that they are not free forever).
My Friends Matt and Cherer looking out over Ninh Binh from Dong An Tiem Pagoda
Monday afternoon I returned to Hanoi to spend one last evening with my roommates Jamie and Becky before they moved out Tuesday morning. The calm, quiet evening was a great way to spend some time with them before they left, and provided a bit of a breather for my wallet as I move into the month which will be the tightest budgetary month in my year abroad, what with having taken quite a few days off in April to accommodate some much-needed visitors. If there’s ever a place to try to live on $12 per day for a month, Hanoi is it.
Planning for my many upcoming adventures continues. The most imminent is a month away today, when I will be joined by one of my oldest friends, Cailin, and we will traverse Vietnam from Hanoi all the way down to Saigon over the course of two weeks. The other trip now which commands my attention is the cumulative trip I will take in November and December before getting home (Merry Christmas America!). The foundations for that trip have been laid, some stakes put in the ground and some dates set in stone. It is these future adventures, and many others, which have been extremely useful in battling through any passing “lows” which have happened upon me in recent weeks. Things in Vietnam seem to finally be feeling someone normal, and Hanoi is beginning to feel like a place where I can feel comfortable getting a good nights sleep (I could still do without some of the chicken squawking at 4am, but I’ve even gotten used to that, for the most part).
As always, I hope everyone at home is doing well. As always, if you ever want to reach out and contact me, my email is working and even with my increased workload of 17 hours per week, I’ll find the time to respond.
Roll Wave. Roll Wines. Let’s go Pels.
My (I guess now former) Roommate Jamie riding a bike in Mai Chau.