As my time abroad marches on, feelings of homesickness are beginning to become more acute as the memories which tether me to home slightly fade. Despite my last blog detailing a semi-productive daily routine which I have developed, and the fact that the “lows” which I had discussed two blogs prior have lessened in both frequency and intensity, my enjoyment of Hanoi and Vietnam is still subject to discoloration at times by intense homesickness. I sometimes feel like a tree whose roots still burrow in Connecticut and New Orleans, but whose trunk and crown have been transplanted to faraway soil. Wistfulness can be brought on by anything. The other day I saw a Red Mercedes SUV which reminded me so much of a vehicle my friend Natalie drove in college that for a moment I thought it was hers, down to the Alabama plates. A few weeks ago I saw a dog which looked like It could’ve been my border collie Callie’s cousin. I pulled my motorbike right over and gave it a big old hug, potential fleas be damned.
The thing I miss most about home is obviously the people, be it family or friends or dogs. I have learned while on this journey that at home, it is not the places where home exists which I think so fondly of while away, but rather the people which make the memories worth remembering. I miss the picturesque Long Island Sound sunsets while sharing some drinks and blasting tunes with friends far more than I miss “The Stinkpot”, the 19-foot Mako which allows such times. I miss the friends I surrounded myself with and grew to depend on over my four years far more than I miss Tulane, though I do miss only having class on Tuesday and Thursday. It is memories and people which I miss most, shockingly not flavor blasted goldfish.
I have made and continue to make friends in Hanoi, but it is difficult. It is not easy to grow new roots. Often times I would rather stay in and watch a movie than go out, and I have to fight these hermetic impulses (sometimes). When I do go out, the social scene is sectioned off by the fact that most Hanoi bars are dominated by large tables hosting one friend group each, and there are few instances to run into new people. Most new people I meet these days is through someone I already know. I have what I believe to be a strong nucleus of friends, mostly Brits to whom I was introduced by my former roommates. There’s no shortage of fun activities for a day off. A waterpark just a quarter mile from my house costs around $6 dollars for unlimited access to 13 slides (which are actually half decent, even compared to American waterparks), a lazy river, a rope swing, a high dive, all with very relaxed security and safety standards. A slow kid walking up the stairs is the longest line I’ll encounter. The adjacent amusement park offers the most terrifying rollercoaster I’ve ever been on (strictly for the fact that it’s a Vietnamese rollercoaster), Bumper Cars without bumpers, and a Ferris Wheel which I thought offered the second or third best view of the city I’ve seen so far. Other days, a bit of a drive away is a fantastic pool attached to the Intercontinental Hotel, conveniently located next to a driving range which plays directly into the lake. Undoubtedly a premier spot to spend an afternoon or early evening.
My roommates Nick and Kenjah are great as well. Nick is a very well traveled German working for an Environmental Lobby (as far as I understand), trying to get Vietnam to shift towards a more sustainable future. Kenjah is a French Musician who was big in Japan, where he lived for 10 years before moving to Hanoi just recently. I have had the pleasure of watching him play live on stage twice, and in my living room around a dozen times. Kenjah’s worldview is very French and very existentialist, and he takes many conversations in unexpected and fascinating directions. Another roommate, a Vietnamese man named Johnny (who went to University in London and speaks English better than me) has joined us recently, though unfortunately my late work schedule and his early work schedule do not allow much overlap in free time, though he seems great from the interactions we’ve had, and I look forward to getting to know him more.
April afforded me necessary visits from my parents and good friend Harry. I have made no secret of how cathartic and essential I felt those guests were. The last five weeks have stretched on devoid of foreign company, and have felt longer for it. Obviously I knew moving to Vietnam would remove me from seeing friends and loved ones for extended periods of time, but I’ve never been away from EVERYONE at the same time for so long, and it is admittedly more difficult than I anticipated.
The comfort offered by a familiar face in a foreign land is indescribable. This Friday, one of the most familiar faces I know, belonging to Ms. Cailin O’Brien, will arrive at the doorstep of 483 Au Co, fresh off 20 hours of flying from Los Angeles. On Saturday morning, we will depart for a two week adventure down Vietnam. We will begin to the East, traveling to Cat Ba Island just south of the famous Ha Long Bay. From there, we will travel to Ninh Binh to see miraculous karst caves and grottoes, before continuing South to the Ancient capital of Vietnam, the Imperial City of Hue. We then will motorbike seven hours down the Vietnamese Pacific Coast Highway, arriving in Hoi An, supposedly one of Vietnam’s (not so hidden) gems. We will visit Danang, the third largest city in the country and the Northernmost base of operations during the American insurgency. After another overnight train, we will spend a day relaxing on the sandy white beaches of Nha Trang, nicknamed “Little Moscow” due to the supposed abundance of Russians. I will make sure to keep my wits about me. From there, we will take another six hour motorbike ride West into the interior of the country, traveling along QL27C as it traverses the Annamite Mountain Range, rising and falling 1500 meters in what I’ve been told is the most beautiful motorbike route in Southern Vietnam. We will arrive in Dalat, an old French town from the Colonial era. Surrounded by rice fields and dozens of waterfalls, we will take a day “canyoning”, meaning Cailin will scale 18 meter high rushing waterfalls while I struggle on the 14 kilometer hike to and from the rapids. We will then travel to Cat Tien National Park, which although was devastated by the American War and later by predatory logging, still boasts some of the best biodiversity in Southeast Asia. The final leg of our journey will be to Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam. I am eager to visit many of the sites from the War, along with see what another huge city in Vietnam is like. Far more westernized than Hanoi I’ve been told, but I can’t wait to see for myself. We will have one day to travel down into the Mekong Delta and see the famous floating markets and silk factories. After 11 destinations, 2 overnight train rides, 10 hotels, 15 motorbike hours, 5 busses, over 2000 kilometers and 14 unforgettable days we will fly from Saigon back to Hanoi late on June 15. We will have the 16th of June to explore Hanoi and do a bunch of tourist stuff before Cailin departs the morning of the 17th. I am unbelievably excited to travel around Vietnam. What I’ve done in Vietnam so far would be akin to moving to New York City, traveling around New England, New York State, and maybe some of Jersey and Pennsylvania, and saying you’ve been to America. The vast majority of the country I’ve yet to experience – this two week, pedal to the metal, no holds barred adventure will offer me a brief but beautiful glimpse into people and life across this great land. The fact that I’ll have a pretty kick-ass travel buddy accompanying me makes it all the better. After all it is the people and not the places which most color a memory.
When Cailin departs I am not for want of company for long. Recently graduated friends travel across Southeast Asia at this very moment, and have fortunately worked their itinerary to visit Hanoi just days after I return from the south. More visitors are expected to come in late June. This upcoming month promises to be filled with familiar faces and unparalleled adventure. Just in time.
So that is where I am as a prolonged and busy but productive May draws to a close and an adventurous, filled-with-friends June patiently waits to begin, before it will no doubt fly by in the blink of an eye, packed with memories and visitors and great times. My homesickness does not diminish with time, but I am confident that new visitors will again renew in me the strength to continue on this epic year-long adventure.