Life in Vietnam has become defined by routine. I don’t want to imply that days have become predictable, stagnant or stale, far from it. New experiences and unexpected sites await around every corner, jarring me with how different this land is than any other place I’ve lived and constantly reminding me how far I am from home. Rather, at least for the time being, I have developed a general daily routine which structures my time, and the surprises are found randomly throughout a set daily pattern. With this blog I have decided to not detail an extended period of time, but rather focus on my generic daily routine, to try to give all readers a peak into Thatch in Nam.
The month of May will no doubt be an outlier when this whole adventure is over. Resultant from the fact that I was working a part time schedule in April combined with having taken a significant number of days off for visitors, I am on an absurdly tight budget this month. While I still have some money accessible from my US bank account, I have embraced the challenge of living this month in the most thrifty way possible. Additionally, my “free time” has been slashed drastically this month, as I went from working only three days per week in March and April (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to six (Saturday’s off). With that in mind, let’s delve into a day in the life of Thatch in Nam.
Part I: Waking Up
My days begin lazily around 8:30 or 9am, as I stir from my slumber and realize slowly how firm my mattress is. Though I’ve gotten more accustomed in the 100+ nights I’ve slept on it, the rigidity is still unkind to a waking body and mind.
My Bed. Old Glory hangs to the right of pictures of family and friends.
A millennial to my core, my first tasks of the day are to mindlessly scroll through Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter on my phone, robotically taking in digital representations from the States and around the world. As nearly the whole day in the Western world unfolded while I was curled up asleep, there is often much to catch up on. I am disappointed with myself for the attention I’ve continued to pay the ongoing political chaos in the United States. Though I’m on the entirely other side of the world, the entree of my daily news diet is always 45. I have strong opinions on the President and the administration he leads, but I will not detail them here. I wish I could detach from the constant barrage of chaos, but the whole thing is akin to watching a massive metaphorical car crash in slow motion on a national scale: you want to look away, but don’t have the strength to rip your eyes from the spectacle. That’s all I have to say about that, for now.
Often the timing works out that I’ll rise around the time of the seventh inning stretch of the Red Sox game, if they’re playing a night game in the States. I throw on a stream of the game and leaf through the box score to inquire about what happened in the earlier innings as my mind slowly gains consciousness.
The East Coast is 11 hours behind Indochina Time, so when I wake up around 9am, it is 10 o’clock the previous night at home. I try to take time each morning to FaceTime somebody, whether it be my parents and family or friends. Sometimes if I sleep in I miss the opportunity to contact people, as they must rise early the next morning for their professional lives. This portion of my day is also something I am looking to improve, as I sometimes mindlessly browse the internet, blankly staring at the screen rather than calling and engaging with people. I don’t know why I do this. Even if there is no one I need to talk to that day, I can still be more productive than switching off my brain and watching YouTube conspiracy videos.
Around 10am, I finally escape the mildly uncomfortable yet extremely alluring bondages of my bed. I dawn my motorbike helmet, grab the 500ml water I left cooling in the fridge the night before, and hop on my aging motorbike which recently eclipsed 41,000km on it’s odometer. Half blinded by the blasting light of the Hanoi sun, I ignite the bike and am on my way. I travel south down Au Co, a major street which connects the neighborhood I live in (Tay Ho) to the rest of the city. During my early months in Vietnam, I rarely used Au Co, opting for the far calmer and more scenic roads which wind along the lake. However, by taking the main street I make a twenty minute drive closer to seven, allowing me to get to my destination (almost) on time.
Part II: Gym and Lunch
At around 10:16am every day, I pull up to “The Fitness Village”, a predominately Western gym located on the riverside of Au Co, and rush into my 10:15am yoga class (it’s not always yoga and it’s not always at 10:15, but what the hell, for the sake of simplicity of blog, it’s Yoga at 10:15). Other classes offered here are Pump classes, which are a low weight, high rep hour long workout to the “best” EDM from 2013, and Interval Training which is an hour long circuit training workout to the “best” EDM from 2011-2012. But today is yoga.
The Pool and Back area of the Fitness village. Very refreshing to jump into the pool after a sweaty practice of Yoga.
My teacher Andrea greets me as I rush to grab a mat, two blocks and a strap, and find a corner in the back of the room where the smallest amount of people can see me flail about. Through the approximately one and a half months I’ve been doing yoga regularly, I feel my body getting begrudgingly better. At first, it was a disaster. My practice could still be qualified as a disaster, but less so these days. In the beginning, I could barely touch my ankles, and now I can stretch all the way to my toes. My balance in March would be akin to a drunk toddler on an airplane experiencing turbulence. Now I’d say it’s more similar to a tipsy teenager on an airplane, for lack of a better metaphor, NOT experiencing turbulence. I am still far from being “good”. I have vastly improved my “vinyasa”, a series of four moves which flows with the breath from high plank, to chataranga (which is basically a pushup position but you just go down, not back up), to upward dog where you push your chest up like a mighty vicious cobra, to downward dog where you basically try to fold your two halves into a triangle with your mat providing the base. This is about the only move I can do with proper breath, inhaling and exhaling to each movement. The rest of the lesson I am panting and pouring sweat and gasping for air. As the days have gotten hotter, Andrea has began turning off the fans and air-conditioning. Dear God, I never realized how much I could sweat. Several times throughout the lesson I’ll have to flip my mat, one side having gotten too wet and slippery to hold any pose for any length of time. The practice always ends with my favorite part of the day. After a grueling 55 or so minutes of uncomfortable positions and dynamic stretches, we fall gently onto our backs into what is called a “chervasana”, which is the most idyllic nap time one could possibly dream of. A soft and soothing tune is played loud enough to be perceived by the ears, but soft enough to not invade the mind and dominate the attention. Andrea softly whispers affirmative statements while I gasp for breath and soak in my sweat. She comes around to each student and gives them a little 10 to 15 second head and neck massage with lavender oil. The class is ended with her encouraging us to take the calm and presence of mind we have developed in yoga and allowing it to guide our day. As I said, I am still embarrassingly bad at yoga. I can only capture my breath for one set of movements. I am often panting shallowly like a dog, where the goal is to be constantly taking slow and deep breaths. My mind is often darting from thing to thing, YouTube Conspiracy video to what I thought of the movie I watched yesterday to “hey that girl is attractive” to what my first grade teachers name was to “god damn I’m sweating a lot” and so on. I hope to improve both my breathing and mental focus over the coming months, and arrive back in the States good enough to impress my friends and maybe do a handstand, that’d be pretty cool.
Inside the Yoga Studio
Warning: Fart Joke Story Interlude now
Several weeks ago, I was still a newcomer to the class. I had to go to the bathroom extremely bad, and not #1. We were nearing the end of the lesson and I could see that shining light of the Fitness Village bathroom inching closer and closer. I may have to skip the chervasana today to make it in time, but that’s a price I was willing to pay. We were coming down out of a more advanced pose with one leg splayed forward and the other stretched to the opposite side and back into downward dog. Drenched in sweat and using every ounce of energy not being employed at keeping myself up to hold myself in, I decided to return to Childs Pose and wait out the final minute or two of the lesson before slipping out quietly as everyone else slipped into their chervasana. Thinking to myself that I had accomplished quite a feat given how urgently I needed to use the water closet, I felt quite proud as I lowered into Child’s pose. It was at the exact moment that I had rested my bum on my ankles that critical mass was reached. While nothing physical came out, one of the most forceful and auditorily impressive flatulations I had ever released exploded into the room, popping the peaceful bubble of everyone around me and denying them nirvana. Though I tried to feign innocent, the source of this disturbance was no mystery. I rose from Child’s pose to find every head pointed squarely at me. I still needed to go to the bathroom very badly. There were two other men in the class and then probably around a dozen women. I could feel the blood rush out of my face. Luckily for me, the two guys thought it was pretty funny (objectively they aren’t wrong) and they began to chuckle loudly. Andrea chuckled too, then extended to me a verbal olive branch of freedom by asking if I needed to excused myself from the room. Some of the other women chuckled as I quickly exited the room and fled to the bathroom. Most remained silent. Can’t win em all, sometimes you have to take solace in the little things like not shitting yourself.
Anyways, when yoga finishes at 11:15ish (or 12:30ish if it’s Monday or Thursday), I hop back on my motorbike and speed off to lunch. My favorite Bun Cha place is conveniently on the way home from the gym. At around $1.75 for a full lunch of delicious Bun Cha, I cannot resist. I scarf down the charred strips of pork belly and the juicy delicious minced pork shoulder, the broth-soaked vermenchelli noodles and the fresh leafy salad drowned beneath the hunks of meat. If I can attribute my chopstick proficiency to one food, it is undoubtedly to bun cha, as there has never been a nobler reason to learn any skill than to transport the deliciousness from bowl to face.
By this time in the day, the sun is high and heavy in the sky, pounding down on the foggy city of Hanoi, exploding the ambient temperature to flirting with triple digits (Fahrenheit) every day, so long as it’s sun and not rain pounding down on the metropolis. I quickly go pick up some takeout to throw in the fridge for dinner before retreating to the confines of conditioned air in my home. If it’s not absurd heat, I’ll often take the scenic route home along the lake, but if I’m sweating while doing nothing except driving my bike, I forgo the picturesque path and speed straight home, I’ll have enough time to sit in the hot sun on my bike later in the day.
Part III: Open Hours
I arrive home usually around noon if it’s an early day of yoga, or 1:15pm if it’s a late day. The next several hours, before I begin the long journey to work, are the least structured and most open of my day. They are unsurprisingly often the least productive, though sometimes (with the right motivation) extremely fruitful. I have been trying to use this time more to read, to write, to think, and to plan. I too often use it to turn off my brain and stare mindlessly at the internet. However, in the early part of May I have been planning (stop me if I’ve written this in the blog a thousand times before) the trip of a lifetime which is happening in early June, when one of my best friends Cailin will visit me for two weeks and we’ll wander Vietnam north to south. In an earlier blog about Cambodia, I reflected on how I’ve never really been a fantastic “planner” (there are 16 Walkie-Talkies in the New Orleans dump which can attest to that) and how planning that trip gave me a whole new outlook on travel. Compared to this, the Cambodian planning was easy. One person, three different places, nine days. Simple. In the upcoming trip, Cailin and I will bounce between ten different cities on busses, taxis, rented motorbikes, two 12-hour long train rides and one flight over the course of 14 jam-packed days. Researching and organizing and booking all of that has been (at least in my eyes) a monumental task. A lot of this time I don’t accomplish anything and I mindlessly watch stuff. I was able to watch the entirety of Avatar: The Last Airbender over the past two weeks, mostly finding time to binge during this downtime, in-between bouts of furiously planning the trip. I hope to develop the discipline to occasionally pick up a book during this mid-day purgatory. While I have the time to write, I feel there is too often nothing to write about. I need to develop a more keen sense of penmanship and learn to write when an obvious topic doesn’t readily present itself. I bought a yoga mat recently, and hope to start going to the roof to practice tricky moves in a second practice of the day once I get good enough to guide myself through a meditation. These are all things I hope to do with this time in the future, but there will always be another tomorrow. I need to start doing these things today. Well, maybe not today… but you get the idea.
On Sundays in the late afternoon I sketch out my lesson plans for the week. I look at the schedule, see what is to be learned in each class, reflect on where the students were the week before, and develop a strategy to best achieve the goals. Early in the job I would spend about 30 minutes before leaving for work each day developing the days lesson plan, but have found it far more efficient to do the whole week before it starts.
Around 4pm I’ll hop in the shower (if it was an exceptionally sweaty day at the gym, this time often gets bumped up). In order to get hot water, I need to flip a switch to turn on the heater about 15 or 30 minutes before getting in. While this was invaluable in the frigid Hanoian winter (and I didn’t figure it out until several weeks after I got here), these days I rarely employ it at all. The oppressive Vietnamese heat negates any necessity for water which is not chilling to the touch.
Part IV: The Commute
Around 4:50pm each day, I set out on the hour-long commute to work. I live in Tây Hồ, the northeastern most district within the boundaries of the city of Hanoi. I live close to the northernmost tip of this district. My job, however, is down in the Hà Đông district, one of the southwestern most points in the city. The distance between my house and office is a little over 15 kilometers (9.33 miles) as the crow flies, or about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) as the bike rides. Unfortunately, by leaving my house around 5pm each day I face the full brunt of Hanoi rush hour. I’ve read that there are four million motorbikes in Hanoi. With an urban area of around 400 square kilometers, that averages out to 10,000 motorbikes per square kilometer. I’m not convinced there aren’t more. On top of that, there are cars, trucks and busses which must be paid constant mind to. Motorbikes are no doubt the lowest on the food chain in the wild streets of Hanoi. As such, it is the duty of the motorbike driver to remain in a constant state of acute active awareness to their surroundings. I still manage to listen to Podcasts.
Aerial shot of traffic on commute to work (via Google Images, not my phone)
Driving to work is always a challenge. The weather is defined by extremes. Almost every day resembles either a preheating oven which isn’t quite all the way warm yet but screw it you can toss the cake mix in there because it’s hot enough, or it resembles a ferocious and unrepentant shower who’s nozzle has been broken off at the highest pressure setting. Usually it is the former, which is only slightly less discomforting than the latter.
My route to work takes me first around the lake (by choice, driving this way adds about 3 minutes to my commute) which isn’t so bad. I get to the Dragon Statues and turn right. I go to the second light and turn left. This is where the commute leaves the relatively calm streets of Tây Hồ and I jump immediately into the frying pan of Hanoi rush hour. I follow a road called “Võ Chí Công” south for about 3.5 kilometers, where it turns into an elevated highway which offers me a brief reprieve from the stop-and-go chaos. At some point, this elevated highway turns into “Đường vành đai 2” (Meaning Outer Ring Road) which quickly turns to “Đường Láng” as the elevated highway dips down, dumping me back onto the crowded streets. There’s a huge pothole at the end of the off ramp leading back to the street which I always have to pay mind to.
Once back on the street, I inch along between a stream of motorbikes flowing around slower moving barges of cars and trucks and busses. To my right is the Tô Lịch River, though to refer to it as such is insulting to the term. It is a stagnant, thin pond of gross liquid filth which aggressively attacks my olfactory system throughout the duration of my 2.5 kilometer ride along it’s banks. I have taken to calling the muck (which is right up there with Bourbon Sludge as the grossest liquid I’ve seen in this lifetime) “Shit River”. Three traffic lights stand between me as I come off the highway and my next turn right. Perhaps one of the only things I like about driving in Vietnam is the red light timers. Next to each red light, there is a countdown clock informing drivers of how much time until the light turns green again. On the best days, I catch the lights at the perfect timing and drive through them by only slowing down slightly and weaving around a couple cars. On the worst days, the traffic is so severe that I can spend upwards of 5 or 10 minutes inching towards each light, waiting for the demigod of the intersection dressed in his brown traffic cop uniform to beckon me forward and allow me safe passage across the harrowing crossroads.
Shit River looking way nicer in this picture than it does in person.
Finally, at the third traffic light, diagonally across from the KFC, I turn right onto Lê Văn Lương, crossing over Shit River and finally being able to breath in fresh air which smells only of motorbike exhaust, scorching pavement, smog, and the dozens of various other unpleasant indistinguishable smells which make up Hanoi’s odor (but hey, at least it doesn’t smell like shit water AND all of that!). I follow Lê Văn Lương, which becomes Tố Hữu, which becomes Yên Lộ, for almost 9 kilometers. The road is one of the arteries of the city which stretches directly from close to Hanoi’s center all the way to her outskirts. I haven’t found the right way to describe the long corridor, but the best term I have yet come up with is “pre-post apocalyptic”. While almost every building along the route is under construction (as is much of the city, as is much of the country), were It devoid of people it would look like a map ripped straight from the impending Call of Duty game.
Panoramic Shot of the one rice field which flanks my commute to work. Normally, the road to the left is stop-and-go traffic, but this shot was taken on Sunday, when the roads are clear.
I have learned the flow of traffic along this road, as it follows a similar pattern day to day. I know when vehicles merging from the right will cause a slowdown on that side of the road, and I weave to the left. I know when vehicles waiting to make a left turn in the face of oncoming traffic at a busy intersection will be forsaken by the traffic demigod and clog up the left side of the road, and I weave to the right. I know when the road becomes so jammed by an influx of cars that the only vehicles constantly moving forward are the motorbikes bouncing along the uneven sidewalk, and I join them. In Vietnam, sidewalks are a privilege bestowed upon pedestrians only during times of steady flow on the road. During peak traffic hours, the sidewalks become but a fifth lane of the road, exclusively for motorbikes. As I bounce along the sidewalk, I pass to my right a sculpture yard with statues of Buddha and other Oriental symbols. Proudly fixed in the middle of it all, caste in beautiful marble and standing resolute is Lady Liberty, left hand clutching that famous book and right hand defiantly reaching skyward, alabaster flame held high. Bringing two fingers to the brim of my helmet, I salute Her as I ride by.
My commute comes to an end after a tricky roundabout which dumps me mere minutes from my place of work. I pull into the parking garage, park my bike and am on my way.
Part V: Teaching
Teaching English in Vietnam is an exploding industry right now. Twenty-somethings around the world are realizing they can come to Vietnam to make good money while live cheaply. There are several huge companies which run English Schools growing with exponential speed, such as APAX and Apollo English. I do not work for a company like this. The center I work for, “Happy Learn English”, is a tiny, one location operation with one woman, Miss Linh, pulling all the strings.
The “school” is in a converted apartment, and as far as I know (or would assume), every student lives in the surrounding apartment complex. The “Sparks” complex consists of 10 building complexes, with two to four towers making up each individual complex, each building having 25 stories and (at least from the floors I’ve been on) about 8 apartments per floor. The first floors of the buildings contain a variety of grocery stores, gyms, laundromats, hair stylists, English schools, Vietnamese schools, anything and everything you could imagine. The space between the buildings is very communal, with fitness playgrounds for young and old alike, soccer fields and basketball courts, picnic tables and more dotting the massive conjunct courtyard. It is a self contained city. I get the sense that, apart from work, people who live in this complex would never have any reason to leave it. A trip to the grocery story can be completed via an elevator ride and a quick stroll. The movie theater is in Building 2, showing all the latest releases. Playdates happen nonstop across the playgrounds and soccer fields and basketball courts. After getting a bottle of water from the Circle K next to the parking garage, I ascend to the fifteenth floor of building seven and begin my work day.
Teaching is chaotic. Teaching is unbelievably challenging. At it’s worst, teaching can make you infuriated with a small Vietnamese toddler. At it’s best, teaching is infinitely rewarding.
I work from 6pm to 9pm every night, Sunday to Friday. The children are learning English in the evenings, supplemental to their primary schooling during the day. The three hours are split into two ninety minute classes. I work with kids ranging from four and five all the way up to nine and ten. The classes are roughly organized by age group and English ability.
The 6pm-7:30pm class is always younger kids who have at best, a loose grasp on the Vietnamese language, so trying to teach them a whole new language is an immense challenge. Covering anything beyond the letters of the alphabet, sounds associated with those letters, and short words that start with those letters is an exercise in futility. Some days it feels as though even teaching them the letters and sounds is futile. However, the kids are adorable and full of life. I’ve never met a more receptive audience for my slapstick humor. If I walk into a wall, fall out of my chair, make fart sounds with my armpit, or basically do anything goofy and unexpected, the kids double over with laughter. It is a fine line to walk, however, as the kids are quick to jump at any opportunity when I get too distracted and too playful to take the class entirely off the rails. Before I know it, I find myself surrounded by a dozen screaming Vietnamese toddlers, an indifferent Teachers Assistant sitting in the back on her phone, and the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme playing in my head. Sometimes I try to calm them down by playing a game of Freeze Dance. I once tried to play musical chairs with them, but the first kid who got out couldn’t handle the emotional distress of waiting until the next round and started bawling. For the rest of that class, we played a version of musical chairs where the number of chairs and the number of players was equal, and the kids gleefully all kept sitting down whenever the music would stop. The only reliable method of calming the children down is honestly the saving grace of my job: Gogo’s Adventures in English. This animated cartoon depicting a magical dinosaur-dragon hybrid and his exploits has a 100% success rate of calming the calamity in the room. Each video is about 5 minutes long. There are 40 videos in all, and by now I’ve probably seen them all more times than I’ve seen Rick and Morty (dozens). After one or two videos, the kids are usually calm enough to continue the lesson. I also use it as a bargaining chip, telling the kids at the beginning of class that if they are good and work hard that day, we can watch Gogo at the end. While working with the youngest kids is certainly challenging in ways which test every ounce of patience I have, their unbridled energy and genuine demeanor makes them a joy to teach (usually). Additionally, while day to day they do not demonstrate much improvement in English, I am starting to see after several weeks, something clicking in (some) of the kids and their comprehension, speaking, and writing abilities getting stronger.
The 7:30pm-9pm class is always full of stronger English speakers. Usually ranging from age 8 upward, the kids in the later classes have been learning English for several years. They can understand complete sentences such as “Take out your Phonics Book, turn to page 32 and do exercise D” and they can express themselves in full ideas such as “Teacher, I left my book at home.” There is still a big discrepancy of skills from class to class, day to day in this time slot. Some are learning what vowels are, and how they sound in their short form. Others are learning how the letter “E” can make a vowel “long”. Others still are learning the different sounds that consonants make when they are blended together in familiar patterns. It is much easier to be engaging rather than mindlessly repetitive with the latter class. Where as at 6:15 I am drilling “B – ba – big” over and over again, at 7:45 I am writing “Wave” on the board and asking kids to come up with other words that have the same A_E letter sequence. At 7 I am helping kids color a banana yellow or an apple red, at 8:30 I am asking kids about their favorite and least favorite foods, what they had for dinner last night and are going to have tonight, and other far more complex things. Where extra time in the early class is devoted to Freeze Dance or Gogo Videos, extra time in the later class can be devoted to exploring an concept such as alliteration, metaphors, playing Hangman or other quiz games, or actually playing Musical Chairs because the kids are emotionally mature enough. The discrepancy of skill level within a class can often be quite high. When that happens, there’s usually 3 or 4 kids out of the dozen who breeze through the exercises before I can finish explaining them. I usually attempt to employ these pupils to help their classmates strengthen their English. Often times a struggling student will learn far more from their peer than their teacher. The late class is not immune to veering as drastically off course as the early class. The boys are at the age where they want to punch things. They pretend they’re Spiderman and jump up on their desks. The girls will do subtle things like hide or deface each others books. There is no Ace up my sleeve to pacify the later classes the way Gogo Videos immediately befall a calm on the earlier classes. If these kids decide they’re actually done learning for the day, there isn’t much I can do. My job is to keep them engaged for as long as possible and to instill in them as much as possible during that engagement. If I can do that for about 70 minutes of the 90 minute class, I’ll call It a successful day. Time for Musical Chairs.
Presenting the “Brave Bears” class with certificates for having completed the 3rd level Phonics book (Long Vowels)
Overall, teaching is extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. I have taken to liking (almost) all of my students a great deal. They are goofy and adorable and bursting with life. At the same time, you aren’t allowed an off day. You can’t show up to work and hide inside a cubicle and wait for the clock to release you from your bondage. You have to stand at the front of the classroom and command the attention of 12 excitable but easily distracted little kids and direct that attention and energy towards learning a new language to which most of them would be indifferent without the reward of stickers. I think I’ve best summarized my teaching experience in the following way: There are some days when I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do what I do. There are other days when I am getting paid nowhere near enough. I can only hope that the majority of my 120(ish) days of teaching left fall to the former. I strive to get better as a teacher, to be able to more completely and competently capture my kids attention and embed in their minds the foundations of the English language. I have a lot of work to do in order to become the best teacher I can be, in order to make my students the best they can be.
I need to enjoy it while I’ve got it, though. I doubt when I get back to the “real world” that many workdays will end with an enthusiastic game of Freeze Dance to the Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party”.
Part VI: Post-Work, aka “The Chill”
While my commute to Happy Learn takes around an hour of weaving through the dense rush hour traffic, by 9pm the roads are nearly empty and my voyage home takes little more than a half hour. Of course, this can be longer if rain is pouring down, but apart from a few return journeys the skies have been kind. Shit River doesn’t smell nearly as bad as it does in the midday sun, instead of podcasts I listen to various genres of music ranging from Rock Classics to todays hip hop, blasting my vocals for the world to hear. This serves a threefold purpose: 1) It’s really fun driving a motorbike around nearly-empty streets while belting Billy Joel; 2) Vietnamese drivers, either confused or off-put by the white kid tone-deafly shouting in a strange language, give me a wider berth as I pass them or they pass me; and 3) I need practice if I’m going to redeem myself from the last time I tried to do karaoke and puked rice wine on the stage before reaching the second chorus of Chicago’s “Saturday In The Park”. One artist I’ve had to remove from my driving playlists is Ludacris. It is simply too dangerous to have the possibility of “Move Bitch” or “Get Back” coming on while I’m driving home, lest I lose all sense of fear and begin carving up the road like a madman with a death wish.
I usually get home around 9:35pm. Obviously I’m not going to eat dinner before 6pm, so by this time in the night I am ravenously hungry. I have discovered that, in the fervor of hunger, even vegan food can taste good. Upon returning home I kick off my flip flops and swiftly move to the fridge. I take out the bag of take out I had put in that afternoon, rip open the plastic bag, open the Styrofoam containers, and dump the contents (rice, fake chicken, some sprouts, and fried potato slivers) into a bowl. I throw it in the microwave for three minutes, stopping after ninety seconds to mix up the contents a little bit with chopsticks. After the final beeper, I quickly move the scalding bowl from the microwave onto a plate, and bring the whole thing up to the second floor living room. Often my German roommate Nick or my French roommate Kenjah will be on the couch watching TV or a movie, or listening to music. I take my spot on the left side of the couch, douse the contents of my bowl with soy sauce, and dig in. You’d be surprised how good fake chicken can taste.
Vegan Chicken, some green leafy thing that I’m not sure what it is but it doesn’t taste horrible, some rice. Sure there are french fries, but they’re vegan french fries.
My roommates and I usually watch a movie or a couple TV shows while exchanging good conversation and (especially ever since Kenjah, who is a musician and an existentialist in that order, arrived two weeks ago) complex ideas about philosophy, government, history, and the world. Sometimes I think we’re great minds comparing notes from different cultures and different upbringings, exchanging ideas and knowledge and views of the world. Other times I think we’re pulling stuff from our ass. Maybe it’s both. Whether we are engaging in high-minded philosophical repartee or buffoonish banter, I always find the discussions to be enjoyable.
Around 11 or 11:30, belly full of fake chicken and rice, I make the arduous twenty foot journey from the living room to my bedroom. I shut off my computer and take out my iPad, opening up Netflix and throwing on something, anything, but usually Rick and Morty. As hard as I try to fight it, I still too often succumb to the allure of a midnight snack. Pringles are the only widely available Western chip in Vietnam. Sometimes I’ll splurge on Goldfish, though the fact that they haven’t discovered “Flavor Blasted” technology in this part of the world leaves my heart aching for more. A delicious treat has presented itself to me in the form of bite-sized Kit Kat balls, which are unbelievably delicious. If I’m super hungry, sometimes I’ll go downstairs and make a grilled cheese. I need to stop, or at least severely cut back, these midnight snacks.
After I’m done stuffing whatever snack into my face, I brush my teeth, turn off the air conditioner, cut the lights, and try to fall asleep. Most of the time I leave Netflix playing very quietly, but I need to stop doing that. I try to reflect on the day in it’s dying moments: looking back at the things I did well and the things I didn’t, and think about what I hope to accomplish and do better the next day. As demonstrated by the frequency I’ve said “I need to do this” or “I need to stop doing that” throughout this blog, there is much room for improvement in my day. I also take a moment to reflect on where I am, out in Vietnam, halfway around the world from my home, my family, my friends, and my dogs. And I think about how far I’ve come in the time since I arrived here, which feels so long ago but also only yesterday. I made no secret of how difficult the first several months over here were, how at several times I doubted my strength or will to persevere, how I thought I might falter and have to return home long before completing my intended year abroad. I now feel like Lady Liberty, steadfast and resolute. I have conquered the original shock of moving to Vietnam, along the way developing a productive routine and meeting many new friends. If all goes according to my plan, I have about 180 days left in Hanoi. While this routine will not remain stagnant, I hope to improve upon it day by day, reading in the afternoon and cutting out the midnight snacking and becoming a better teacher, and in the course of doing so, improve myself.