When I came to Vietnam, I was preparing for a year abruptly abroad, absent of many visits from friends or family. I figured my parents would come out and visit once, maybe my brothers would make it out here, and maybe I’d be lucky enough to have some friends pass through Hanoi for a night or two on grander travels. What has actually happened is beyond my wildest imagination.
Within the first two weeks of my arrival in Hanoi, a great friend and roommate Quintin Baxter visited on his journey across Southeast Asia. He was in Northern Vietnam for four days and we hung out in Hanoi and took an amazing trip to Ha Long Bay. I honestly cannot say for certain if I’d’ve been able to weather those chaotic and jarring first couple weeks without Quintin’s visit.
February and March were devoid of visitors, and I was overwhelmed much of the time by the isolation I felt from home. I was rattled by how new and different everything in Vietnam was. I questioned whether I could stick it out. On February 4th, a good friend of mine Adam Kalina gave me the biggest vote of confidence I’ve ever received and booked a plane ticket to Hanoi for late August. Keep in mind, I hadn’t been in Vietnam for a month at that time. I was all over the place. The confidence gained by having a friend believe in my ability to figure it out and get settled here was invaluable. A couple weeks after that, another good friend Jack Barry was in talks to visit and I was able to convince him to overlap with Kalina. Within two months my older brother Nathan and a good friend from high school, Aubrey Carter, had booked flights out for late August as well. Mad, right? But the madness doesn’t stop there.
In mid-March, Cailin O’Brien booked tickets to come out and visit me in June after she graduated from USC. In early April, my parents visited and we took a fantastic trip to the northernmost tip of the country and we discussed many of the things which I had been having trouble with being so far from home. I would not have been able to make it further in the journey without insights from my parents at this time. In late April, my friend Harry Skinner came through Hanoi for several days after visiting his brother in Hong Kong. I reflected on how nice it was to sit back and shoot the shit with a world-class shit-shooter such as Harry in a blog back in April. Both of the visits in April were incredible.
Then June arrived, and so did Cailin on my doorstep and for sixteen magical days we galavanted across this great nation, from the northern capital of Hanoi all the way down to the great southern city of Saigon. It was an adventure beyond my wildest dreams, one which I detailed (with a lot of detail) in a blog in June.
Coming off such a high, I crashed (literally and figuratively). I was broken and alone. But I knew in the distance I had four familiar faces coming in just nine weeks. All I had to do was make it those nine weeks. I wasn’t sure I could.
I was visited by Danielle Berg and Scott Ballan in the late parts of June / early parts of July, but I was still so banged up and rather out of it from the crash I may not have appreciated the visitors or been as good a host as I might’ve been in healthier times. It was still great to see these two friends and they helped a lot in the immediate aftermath of a dramatic crash.
It is at this point when shit starts to get really crazy.
On my birthday, July 17, I received a FaceTime from Margot Palandjian, one of the best Johnson’s I have the pleasure of knowing. While we were catching up, she casually mentioned she didn’t have much in the way of plans on the horizon, so I began lobbying for her to come to Vietnam in late August. Within 48 hours, she had booked a one way ticket to Hanoi.
So five friends coming out at once – that’s gotta be it right?? I mean, I’m waaaaaay out here. On the opposite side of the world. The only place further from home I could’ve gone was Australia. So having five incredible visitors at the same time has gotta be the maximum, right?
That’s when the Kook Monster swooped in. Another great friend from college, Jack Rekucki, shocked the world by booking a ticket which directly overlaps with Adam Kalina. SIX!
As if that wasn’t enough, another friend from college Jimmy Ferrare contacted me and said he’d been living in Japan for several months, and was gonna swing through Hanoi before heading back stateside and was wondering if I would be around. The dates he was coming: the last week of August, overlapping perfectly with everyone else.
And thus I present to you the squad of seven I am beyond blessed to have descending upon Hanoi starting in a couple hours when Jack Barry arrives. For the next two weeks, I will be overwhelmed with all the visitors and home friends I have been missing for so long. But the best part – the wildest-dreams scenario does not end there.
After we have a great bit of fun and cause some chaos across Northern Vietnam, the visitors will have to unfortunately return to their lives. On August 31st, Kalina, Rekucki and Jimmy will depart followed by Nathan, Jack and Aubrey on September 2nd.
Margot’s sticking around. In buying a one way ticket, she gave herself the option to hang for a bit and she’s taking advantage of it. Until the 14th of September, I’ll be lucky enough to have a partner in crime to take on the city of Hanoi (and any trips into the countryside we are able to make as well), as well as an eager TA and new Musical Chairs contestant.
This is where it almost seems to jump the shark.
On September 14th, Margot and I will depart for Singapore (ostensibly for my last Visa run). While there, we will take in the Formula 1 Grand Prix at the famous Marina Bay Sands Circuit. Let me say that again: Margot and I will be going to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore. I told you, this stuff is beyond all imagination and explanation.
On September 17th, I will return to Hanoi with empty pockets but surely a renewed enthusiasm for adventure. I will then have about eight weeks to finish out my contract, enjoy the presence of friends I’ve made here, eat as much bun cha as humanly possible – all while spending as little money as I can and attempting to regrow one arm and one leg spent in Singapore.
In early November my teaching contract will end and I will set out on my final journey of this unbelievable year abroad. Over six weeks in November and December, I will travel Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Tentatively, I will start with returning to the northernmost parts of this country, revisiting the Ha Giang loop which I took with my parents in April by car, only this time conquering it via motorbike. I will then head to Kuala Lumpur and spend a week in Malaysia, before continuing on to Bali before perhaps the thing I’m most excited for ever in my life: a week long live-aboard dive boat trip through the Komodo Islands. After this incredible journey, I will return to Bali to relax for a week before flying up to northern Thailand to put a stamp on the damn thing by doing the Mae Hong Son Loop. I will then fly out of Bangkok on December 23rd, arriving to New York City the afternoon of Christmas Eve.
I don’t want to jinx anything, but I am in the works of having at least one friend or family member from home traveling with me potentially every step of this final journey. The only times I’d be without friends or family would be on the flights in between places. Some fellow travelers are already booked, and I am trying to lightly nudge the others towards booking. Filling the entire schedule with companions is a long-shot, but crazier things have happened (did I mention I’m going to the Grand Prix in Singapore?).
When I came to Vietnam, I was preparing for a year abruptly abroad, absent of many visits from friends or family. The early part of my journey followed largely as such. In that time, I was able to truly understand how important friends and family are, as the people with whom you surround yourself are the most important things in life. How lucky am I to have this lesson proven time and again by amazing adventures with unbelievable visitors? How lucky am I to have all these incredible people in my life willing to travel halfway around the world to come see me? If I’d come to Vietnam with the expectation that what is set to transpire was always inevitable, I’d have been crazy! So many visitors, so many adventures. Not even in my wildest dreams could I have wished for something like this, and yet here we are. How lucky am I…