I returned to America on the morning of December 24th, 2018.
My return has felt, in a word, anticlimactic.My final trip around the subcontinent of Southeast Asia – comprising of a week in Kuala Lumpur with my younger brother, an unbelievable scuba dive trip in the Komodo Islands with my father, a week in Bali with one of my best friends and another week adventuring around Northern Thailand solo and with friends – was incredible and unforgettable, but not the focus of this blog.I hope to detail these trips in one or two more final blog posts.
This post is about my reintegration to American society, and the difficulties I have been having.Since arriving in America, I’ve seen countless friends and eaten countless bacon egg and cheeses.I’ve been overjoyed to be reunited with family and friends, enjoyed several trips into New York City, and begun searching for employment in the United States.But It all feels weird.Everything feels remarkably grayer than before I left.It’s not to say that my friends have changed or I haven’t enjoyed the company of familiar faces.It’s that I’ve changed, my world view has changed, my priorities have changed, and I’m having trouble reconciling all of that with the abrupt return to “home”.In a way, it feels like a big part of me has not returned home.
It sounds crazy, because while in Vietnam, especially towards the end I was ready to come back to America, to be surrounded by all my loved ones.I was hungry for something more, I loved teaching my students (well, playing musical chairs with my students) but I didn’t feel particularly challenged or stimulated by the day to day work.I looked forward to launching a fulfilling career back home.
Part of the melancholic feeling must be the inevitable result of returning to cruising altitude from such a chaotic year.Over my year abroad I experienced both the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever known.I endeavored through the lows and delighted in the highs, but each day I woke up on the other side of the world I woke up with a sense of adventure and excitement – whether good or bad, I was not short of emotions.
It also is an adjustment to returning to a life where there aren’t major things to look forward to.The entirety of my year abroad, I was counting down the days til my next once in a lifetime adventure which rarely was more than a month or two away.Whether it was counting down til my parents visited or friends to traverse the countryside or experience things like the Grand Prix with, what got me through all of the lows was the promise of inevitable highs.A weekend trip to New York, while nice, is a more muted goalpost to venture towards than these grand adventures upon which I was embarking.
Back in the States, I also begin to wonder – what is the point?Of all of this?Work hard, get a good job, make money all so I can pay rent?So I can eat?Go out once a week?Save for retirement?So I can get my several weeks off a year?I was bit hard by the travel bug, the sense of how truly big and beautiful the world is and I want to see it.How am I gonna do that with just two weeks vacation per year?
I knew coming back to the United States would be an adjustment, just as I knew moving to Vietnam would be an adjustment.I underestimated both.I was able to find my voice and my footing in Vietnam and make my year abroad remarkable, learn a lot about myself and a little bit about the world, and see some things.I was able to make 2018, while the most difficult year of my life, the best year of my life.The United States and 2019 have shown that they will offer a totally different type of challenge.Whether I can rise to meet it remains to be seen.Whether I even should remains to be seen.Only time will tell if the part of me that has not returned from Southeast Asia will eventually get back here, or if I’ll have to go back over there to fetch it.
As I’m sure you know, you just embarked upon the most difficult and daunting and exciting and amazing journey so far in your life. Still, you are grossly underestimating how much this adventure will test you, teach you, and reward you for taking the leap of faith, for getting on that airplane in New York a little over 24 hours ago.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it – this is going to be the most difficult thing you have ever done. It’s not even close. You’re in way over your head.It’s almost comical.You are 10,000 miles from home in a place as foreign to you as exists on this planet. Over the coming days, weeks and months you will battle with insecurity, self-doubt, and fear. You will fight through several minor physical injuries and one severe one (look out for dogs on highways). You will be confronted at times with feelings of loneliness you’ve never known, with feelings of isolation that can only result from living on the opposite side of the world than your home. Sometimes it’ll feel too much and you’ll want nothing more than to go back, to bail on this seemingly doomed adventure and return to your friends and your family and your home. But you won’t do that.You’ll find the strength to carry on – every time.
It might take a while, but you’re going to find a job. You’ll achieve your goal of becoming an English teacher in Vietnam. Again, you’ll be in way over your head. Far from how you imagine it now, you’ll spend your first several weeks “teaching” just trying to get the kids to stop screaming. But keep at it. Eventually you’ll find your teaching voice and swagger, you’ll find ways to engage the students (and yourself) in the lessons, and you’ll play a lot of musical chairs. There will be days when entertaining a room full of screaming Vietnamese children for three hours sounds like a fate worse than death, but enjoy and cherish all your time in the classroom. Days like that will wake you up to the “run of the mill” days (which in retrospect will have been fantastic days), when you get to play Musical Chairs and freeze dance to the YMCA – and get paid for it. Those kids will look up to you – be a teacher that deserves to be looked up to.
Though at times you will feel bouts of crippling loneliness, when you open yourself up to those around you in Hanoi – you will make friends. Some of these friends will be gone from your life just as quickly as they entered. But some will become great friends upon whom you can rely and in whom you can confide. Most won’t stick around too long, though. Everyone here is interesting and in motion.It’s a town full of rolling stones. Just as soon as you get to know someone, they could very well be off on their next wanderlust adventure. Cherish and be grateful for the people you befriend for however long you have together – you won’t get through this journey without them.
Of all the things you’ve underestimated going into this adventure, perhaps the greatest one is how many friends you’ll be blessed to play host to. I’m not going to ruin any surprises, but the assortment of friends destined to visit you while over here is literally beyond your wildest dreams. Cherish each moment a friend from home is here – these will be your most precious memories at the end of your journey. As cheesy as it sounds, I think I get while they’re called “homies” now. Not because they’re friends from home, but rather because wherever you’re with them, you feel at home. Even somewhere as crazy and foreign and magical as Vietnam.
I don’t want to spoil too much or give too much away. As I said at the beginning of this letter – buckle up, you’re in it now pal. But enjoy the ride, the lows during which you will grow and the highs during which you will delight. Cherish this remarkable journey you are just now undertaking – because before you know it you’ll be sitting on your roof watching your final Hanoi sunset descend over the beautifully smoggy city, writing an imaginary note to your past self in some convoluted writing exercise for your blog.
I have just returned to Hanoi at the conclusion of my last great Vietnamese adventure, a return to the northernmost province Ha Giang to complete a 500 kilometer motorbike loop through the most stunning landscapes this planet has to offer. In the wake of five days and four nights on the open roads, far flung in the north where the road ascends through the sky, I have less than 72 hours left in this incredible country.
Before I get too sappy, I’ll briefly recount this past weeks adventure to Ha Giang. Joined again (somehow) on this trip by friends from home, this time it was a great friend Casey Winslett from Tulane who made the trek to Nam, joined by a fellow Green Wave Cooper Pillot, whom I didn’t know super well in college but have gotten to know in the wildernesses of Vietnam (he also came to Pu Luong last month when Farm was in town).We were joined by a great friend who I’ve made in Hanoi, Kody Batchelor from California. I met him in June and we were fast friends, and this trip served as a cap on his time in Vietnam as well, as he is leaving back to the USA tomorrow.
Ha Giang is something not of this world.The dramatic landscapes cannot be captured in pictures or words.For five days, the four of us embarked on an epic motorbike journey through sunny skies and foggy rains.We rode around 500 kilometers in total over about 20 hours across the five days, gaining and losing thousands of meters in elevation as we traversed the mountainous north.I had been to this place in April with my parents, but we had been driven around in a car.To see it in it’s entirety via motorbike made the whole thing feel a brand new experience.To be able to conquer the loop with some great friends made the whole thing all the more memorable.I even learned and mastered a semi-automatic motorbike on this trip.It is far more thrilling than an automatic, but I’ll stick to my little Nouvo scooter in Hanoi, and still look forward with excitement to the clicking of seatbelts when I return to the states.I don’t think any words I could write would adequately convey the beauty of Ha Giang. Perhaps some pictures will do it at least a small amount of justice…
I have just returned to Hanoi at the conclusion of my last great Vietnamese adventure, a return to the northernmost province Ha Giang to complete a 450 kilometer motorbike loop through the most stunning landscapes this planet has to offer. In the wake of five days and four nights on the open roads, far flung in the north where the road ascends through the sky, I have about 72 hours left in this incredible country.
Before I get too sappy, I’ll briefly recount this past weeks adventure to Ha Giang. Joined again (somehow) on this trip by friends from home, this time it was a great friend Casey Winslett from Tulane who made the trek to Nam, joined by a fellow Green Wave Cooper Pillot, whom I didn’t know super well in college but have gotten to know in the wildernesses of Vietnam.We were joined by a great friend who I’ve made in Hanoi, Kody Batchelor from California. I met him in June and we were fast friends, and this trip served as a cap on his time in Vietnam as well, as he is leaving
Vietnam has been home to me for 45 weeks now (roughly, had a week trip to Cambodia and a couple other trips out of the country). I honestly can’t say at the beginning whether I thought I’d ever make it this far. My “plan”, if you could even call it that (a more apt term would probably be “goal”) was to spend a year abroad. All told, 45 weeks in Nam plus the 5 weeks of adventure to come, I’m gonna round up and say mission accomplished.
I have made no secret in this blog how difficult, at times, living in Vietnam has been. In a way , the trip to Ha Giang was somewhat a
Vietnam has been home to me for 45 weeks now (roughly, had a week trip to Cambodia and a couple other trips out of the country). I honestly can’t say at the beginning whether I thought I’d ever make it this far. My “plan”, if you could even call it that (a more apt term would probably be “goal”) was to spend a year abroad. All told, 45 weeks in Nam plus the 5 weeks of adventure to come, I’m gonna round up and say mission accomplished.
I have made no secret in this blog how difficult, at times, living in Vietnam has been.I have enjoyed an emotional and physical distance from readers at home which has allowed me to be more open than I ever thought I could.I think I have found a strong sense of voice while documenting this incredible adventure abroad.
In Ha Giang, Casey asked me what I am going to miss most about living in Vietnam.It was a fantastic question and one I have not pondered much yet.My initial response was, of course, “bun cha”.The more I think about it, however, the more I realize how much I’m going to miss the sense of adventure, whether the day to day adventure of living in Hanoi or the constant promise of once in a lifetime trips on the horizon.When my parents came in April, I knew that in early June Cailin would arrive for a magical trip down Vietnam.By the time Cailin showed up, four of the eventual seven friends who were to come in August had already booked flights.By the time Margot left in mid-September, Farm and Casey had both booked flights, and now the entire last five weeks of my journey offer incredible people joining me in unbelievable places.It’s going to be hard to get super excited and look forward to a three day weekend after this year.
So though I am excited beyond measure to return home, to see my friends and family and dogs and to eat my bodyweight in American treats I’ve been so deprived of out here, it is with a sense of knowing this incredible adventure and all the memories it has provided me is coming to an end.But I cannot wallow for it being over.Every story has an ending.The story of my incredible, year long journey abroad is coming to an end soon, and it is up to me to make the ending as epic as possible – an ending worthy of an adventure this epic.
I am flying for the last time (for the foreseeable future) to Noi Bai International Airport. Lucky number 7th time flying into Hanoi.
I am coming from Hong Kong, where I was fortunate enough to spend an incredible weekend with my mom exploring the massive metropolitan maze and enjoying my mothers company for the first time since April.
Hong Kong was in a word: overwhelming. No matter where we were in the city, it felt like midtown Manhattan. Of all the cities I’ve ever been to, Hong Kong no doubt reminds me the most of New York City – from the colored subway lines to masses of people you have to weave through along the sidewalks to the abundance of stores from high end to street vendors. It is such a massive city and my mom and I only had two days to explore – I imagine we barely scratched the surface.
I arrived Friday afternoon but was exhausted from a late night in Hanoi the evening before, so I casually strolled along Victoria Harbor, the body of water separating the part of Hong Kong I was staying in, Kowloon, from Hong Kong Island, and watched “The Symphony of Lights” while delighting in some delectable street dim sum before turning in relatively early.
My mom arrived to the hotel Saturday morning at around 7am, too early. After a quick hello, I slept for another hour before we had a proper hello at breakfast. From there, we were on our way by 9:30. We walked back down along the harbor, and then took the ferry across from where we were staying to Hong Kong Island. Without much of a plan, we hopped on one of the double decker busses for a tour of the city. We drove around the dense metropolitan area which makes up the Hong Kong skyline, and then around to the southern part of the island to a district known as “Stanley”. There, we shopped and ate the best dumplings I’d ever had (which were usurped the following day). We made our way back into downtown Hong Kong, where we explored Hong Kong Park for a while before taking the tram up to Victoria Peak to delight in the stunning sweeping views of the city.They even had a Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant at the top!We walked down, wandered around the city some more, and ended up back at our hotel where we got dinner before collapsing from an exhausting but exciting day of adventure.
Sunday we took it easier, a later wake up and a less ambitious plan for the day.We stayed in Kowloon, exploring some of the famous markets (Ladies Market, Bird Market, Flower Market, Fish Street, etc.), eating some famous dumplings, and enjoying a foot massage after two days of intense walking. We ate dinner atop the famous Peninsula Hotel at Felix, where I enjoyed the best tenderloin I’ve had easily since arriving in Asia. The view was spectacular. We walked back to our hotel and my mom had to leave quickly for her flight to London. It was great to see her, I cannot put into words how great it was so I won’t try.
In many ways, this trip to Hong Kong marked the beginning of the end of my time in Asia, the commencement of my grand final adventure. It is with pride that I start this adventure, having conquered (or survived) the most difficult task id ever undertaken – moving across the world by myself and living out here for a year.From here on out, it is nothing but adventure until I get home December 24th.
In short, I will travel to Northern Vietnam, Peninsular Malaysia, Bali, the Komodo Islands, Bali again, and Northern Thailand before returning to suburban New England.I could go into details about the unimaginable assortment of friends and family lined up to visit me on this final journey, but I hope to continue to be updating the blog throughout, though it will likely become shorter and less reflective as my computer will be shipped home and I hate typing a lot on my phone (this post was written on my phone – can you tell the difference?).
Though never easy to say goodbye, it was much easier this time than in April to bid farewell to my mother, knowing that seven weeks from today she will pick me up at JFK in New York.
As I fly into Hanoi for the seventh and final time, I can’t help but think back to 43 weeks ago today when I first flew into Hanoi – scared shitless and with every reason to be. But like I said, I did it. Though at times it got rough, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and managed to survive a whole year on the other side of the world. If that doesn’t fill me with confidence that I can conquer anything life throws at me when I return stateside, nothing will.
Though my feelings are certainly a bit bittersweet. As difficult as it was, I’d say this has been the best year of my life in many regards.The sense of adventure, of waking up each day on the other side of the world from home, is something I’ll have to get used to waking up without (though I think I’ll get used to the lack of roosters crowing at 5am quite quickly).My mother and I talked and talked a lot all weekend (as naturally we had a lot of catching up to do) and I would think the conclusion I realized most is it was certainly the friends I made out here and the friends who visited who made this year what it was.Without both friends made here and visitors from home, I wouldn’t have made it.It is with slight apprehension that my excitement to return home grows.
But in the mean time, my excitement for the rest of my adventure out here – basically five “once in a lifetime” trips back to back to back to back to back – is undeniable and completely justified. Stay tuned for updates from my “victory lap” of sorts around Asia.
I taught my last class on Friday evening.It was bittersweet walking out of the classroom, saying goodbye to many students whom I’ve grown to be quite fond of, and likely ending my last work day ever which will end with a game of musical chairs.But more on the last day later…
Over the past nine months, I have learned more at the front of the classroom than I did any individual year of schooling behind a desk.I learned so much about myself, so much about how to problem solve, how to work with others, and how to be a leader.
Teaching is different from any other job.Many other jobs you can show up and go on autopilot and complete the day.Mindless tasks, busy worker bees, cogs in the machine (think Fight Club).Teaching is not the same at all, especially teaching English in Vietnam.
Each day, I have to capture the kids attention and fight their microscopic attention spans to impart upon them a distinctly foreign language which has no overlap with their native tongue.The kids were compliant at best, often disinterested, and at worst malicious with their disregard for what I was trying to do up there.But, I can sympathize with the kids.Back in elementary school (and middle school… and high school…), I was a menace.I had to be bribed with Yu-Gi-Oh Cards to behave, and I was learning in my native language.These kids taught me patience.They taught me how to not get overly frustrated when someone isn’t doing what you told them.Perhaps most importantly, they taught me that no one will ever willingly do something they are not ready to do.Half of my job was convincing these kids they wanted to learn english, because once they wanted to learn, teaching them became quite easy.
That was perhaps the biggest revelation I had which improved my job performance.“Tricking” the kids into wanting to learn with games, offering candy as prizes, or just developing lesson plans which appealed to the kids mentalities.It reminded me often of giving a dog a pill – they aren’t gonna take it willingly, so you have to hide the lesson in a nice exterior of white bread, metaphorically speaking.
I learned so much about how to work with others.Whether It was the parents whom were asking me for exercises their kids could complete at home to continue improving, my Teaching Assistants who served as the bridge between me and the students for many lessons when I was explaining decently complex grammatical concepts to the older kids, or when I was telling the younger kids to turn to page twenty and they didn’t know what “twenty” meant.
I had to keep the TAs involved and had to learn how to lean on them to bolster my lesson plan and fill in gaps which I couldn’t teach the kids.Though proficient in English, there were often times whenmy TAs didn’t understand fully what I was trying to tell them, and again this taught patience.Working with an individual who speaks a little of your language to teach a lot of people who speak none of your language to speak your language – you learn to rely on that person and depend on them in many ways, so you have to make yourself as approachable to them as possible.It was the first time in my professional life I’d ever had someone who’s sole responsibility was to help me complete my task.But they aren’t there to complete the task for me.It took a couple weeks to find the balance, but once I was able to figure out how to effectively utilize the TAs (and got to know them, they were outstanding young Vietnamese women attending the University of Hanoi), my classes improved dramatically.
I learned humility.I like to think I am great with kids and have always considered myself to be so, likely because in many ways my humor and other parts of my personality are young.This, mixed with the fact that my father was a teacher and I had volunteered at a couple of schools in New Orleans, lead me to believe I’d come out swinging and hitting nothing but homers.Quite the opposite, for the first couple months I was in way over my head.I didn’t know how to get the kids attention, couldn’t get them interested in the lessons, couldn’t get them to stop screaming.Many times in life, before Vietnam, when I faced a task this difficult, I bailed.
Not in Vietnam.I was knocked down a few pegs, but I endeavored to become a better teacher.It’s not like I had much of a choice, I was quickly running out of money.But I really worked at it.I asked friends I’d made out here who were teachers for their teaching advice.I sat in on a couple of my bosses classes.I watched YouTube Videos and read blogs about how to be a better ESL teacher.Like Tom Brady, I filmed myself at my craft and then watched the tape.I experimented with different methods and games.In the end, I found the most effective method of being a good teacher was (big shocker) actually caring about the kids.If they believe you want them to learn English, then eventually they’ll want to learn English too.It also helped once I figured out they had an OBSESSION with “Musical Chairs” and I used that to bribe them to paying attention and get through the lessons so we would have ample time at the end of the lessons to play.
Being a leader, being a teacher, isn’t telling people what to do.It’s showing them how to do it, and getting them to want to do it.This lesson I will take with me throughout my life, and I think It’s applicable to so much more than just teaching.Instead of telling kids to do the exercises on page 22, I would do the first couple examples with them, on the board and acting excited about the lesson.I have no doubt all I learned teaching little Vietnamese kids about the letter “F” will be a bountiful fountain of knowledge for all types of scenarios going forward in my life.
On Friday, as I finished a rousing game of Musical Chairs with my favorite class, the Bright Falcons (Friday 7:30-9, Sunday 5:45 – 7:15), it hit me for the first time that I was about to be finished teaching.I’d known obviously the date was coming for several months, since I started, but now it was here.The final student sat down, and my teaching career was over.I normally end class by shouting “Goodbye Teacher, See You Again!” which all the children chant back in unison before running out of the room.Not today, I gathered them all and led them out of the room for my boss to take one final picture of us all.Though I had told the students leading up to the class it was going to be the last time I saw them, I don’t think they understood until we were taking pictures.Afterwards, unprompted they all gave me a big group hug and thanked me for being their teacher these past eight months.I was shocked I didn’t cry.I can think of no word other than bittersweet to describe the feeling of watching these kids run out of my life, hoping that I had made a positive impact on theirs.
I hope through teaching I learned to be a bit kinder, a bit more patient and more humble, a bit better at working with others, and a bit more fun.I know for a fact I got a lot better at musical chairs and hang man.It’s amazing what kind of learning can actually take place in a classroom.
This doesn’t have anything to do with the Teaching Blog Post, but for all my non-Facebook linked readers, last Thursday I was attempting to start cleaning my room and pack up my stuff as I only have just under two weeks actually left in Hanoi, but that was making me sad so instead I made this montage of some of my favorite photos from this epic journey I’ve been on.
Sorry if this blog is poorly written and with grammar mistakes and run on sentences, I am quite ill at the moment of writing and publishing and want to get back to sleep.
At the end of the last blog post, I made a commitment to holding my head high and triumphantly spending my final days in Hanoi exploring the city and enjoying my time abroad.I did so for almost a full week, again being joined by another great friend from home and several others for a trip out into the Vietnamese countryside.I learned how to ride a semi-automatic motorbike, and rode one for over fifteen hours without crashing.I watched Inception for the first time ever, and everybody in 2010 was right, the movie’s great.I then got really, really sick.My triumphant conquering of my final weeks in Hanoi has taken a pause as a stomach bug which had been going around my house hit me particularly hard these past two days, so hard that I am just now finding the strength to hopefully quickly jot down some highlights and passing thoughts from the past week before taking an early bedtime so I can (hopefully) wake up at midnight to watch the Patriots game.
Wednesday before last, two kids who I knew but didn’t know at Tulane arrived in Hanoi, Cooper Pillot with whom I had taken some classes and was on a casual-conversation basis with his friend Adam Levine, who’s name I recognized but couldn’t honestly pick him out of a lineup.We spent a couple days hanging out in Hanoi, as they are both on grander journeys around Southeast Asia and the world.On Monday, a good friend of mine Zach “Farm” Jaffe showed up, along with a friend from his youth Brogan “Blue” whom I had met before – at Mardi Gras, so not the best time to meet someone and remember them.Blue’s friend Warren also joined.Thus the six of us rented bikes and hit the road, seven and a half hours out into the Vietnamese countryside to a place called Phu Luong.
It was a gorgeous but treacherous ride there, my butt falling asleep by hour two and being in intense pain by hour five.What would’ve been some of the most gorgeous views in Vietnam were blocked by heavy dense clouds as we ascended into the mountains.There were times when you couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead of you.Coming down the mountain, we wound through tight turns past rockslides that looked like they could’ve happened yesterday, or even fifteen minutes ago.Somehow, by the grace of God, we all pulled into the Phu Luong Retreat after almost 200 km of driving just after sunset on the evening of October 16.We ate and drank and played cards and hung out and it was great.The beds were the softest I’ve yet to encounter in the countryside, where you’re usually lucky to sleep on anything more than the floor.
Wednesday began slowly, as the clouds from the day before had made no advance nor any retreat, rather parked themselves heavy over the mountains.We rode down into the small town which was about 7 kilometers away, and ended up doing Karaoke at a gas station with some locals.You can’t make this stuff up.
Afterwards, we drove around until we found a little place which had these bamboo rafts.An old man emerged from the house connected to the rafts and offered us tea, and after we were able to communicate to him we wished to take the rafts out he beckoned two men from the rice fields to escort us along the river for a scenic albeit cloudy cruise.It was a helluva time.
Once we returned to our hostel, It was getting dark and we were all exhausted from a long day of Karaoke and boating.After a nice dinner and some more cards, I fell asleep one of the earliest times in Vietnam for me so far – about 11pm.
The next day we woke up and drove the seven hours back to Hanoi.Taking a different route, we avoided the winding narrow steep paths of the mountains and traded them in for the long sweeping pavement of the Ho Chi Minh Peace Highway.The view was fantastic throughout, though obstructed at times by clouds and the like.Again, somehow none of the six of us crashed during the journey and we made it back to Hanoi collectively in one piece.
Farm left Friday morning, it was a very quick visit from a very good friend.I was sad to see him go but no where near as much as in the departure of other visitors, perhaps because he was here for such a quick time and we made the most of it but maybe because I’ve trained myself in a way and learned from the lows after other departures.Though a low has certainly hit during this illness.
I was hoping to get a lot of footage during our trip to Phu Luong and mix It all to “Back in Black” by AC/DC creating the most epic rock music video ever seen, but GoPro is a terrible company which makes unreliable products which malfunction out of nowhere.Thus, I leave you with the pictures above and the stylings of AC/DC below, you will have to imagine them mashed up with high quality footage of all of us driving around.
I want to again apologize if this blog isn’t up to snuff with my normal blogs, but my mind is mush as my stomach descends further into chaos.I thought I was over the worst of it last night, but that apparently was hubristic thinking.
I have just one week of work left, but only two days of actual work.Tuesday and then two final classes Friday, and then the time will come for “Goodbye Teacher”.I will be sad to end my time but I am also ready to move on.I am not a destined to be a teacher of young children, that is the main thing I realized while teaching.While I love the kids, feigning enthusiasm for the letter “F” has been getting more and more difficult with each passing day.
I hope to get better, healthier this week, hopefully make It back to the gym to begin doing at least some elliptical work while my wrist keeps me off the yoga mats and away from other exercises.I hope to watch the Red Sox topple “los Doyers” in what is sure to be a fiercely fought fall classic. Two weeks from today, I will be in Hong Kong with my mother, departing back to Hanoi for a final time the next day and launching into my final adventure.I will then arrive home on Christmas Eve, which naturally makes Christmas Eve the real Christmas this year.
More updates and musings to come once my stomach gets right.Go Pats Go Sox.
*Meant to post this last week (October 12), thought I did. Oops. New Blog coming tomorrow or Sunday about the adventures previewed in this more somber post*
Mixed emotions don’t make for great blog posts.Muddled thoughts, conflicting mentalities, confused souls, all of the above contribute to what might be a disconnected rant.Apologies.
I’ve never been good at times of transition, I don’t think anyone is great at them.I like to find my comfort zone and stick there.Ever since I came to Vietnam, I have been on a yearlong search for a comfort zone in a distinctly uncomfortable setting.I have found it in fleeting moments, mainly when visitors are here but several times I’ve captured it on my own or with friends whom I met in Vietnam.
As my time in Hanoi winds down, a pervasive melancholic feeling has chased me around these past couple of weeks.Events have been no remedy, as within the past week I have almost had two terrifying motorbike crashes and a wrist injury has ended my yoga practices for the rest of my time in Vietnam.Luckily I am safe, did not crash in any significant way, and my wrist will heal but it feels in a way as though I’m limping to the finish line in Hanoi.
Thus are the feelings that capture me as I again spend days without much to do, unable to go to the gym and longing for friends from home.On Monday, a great friend Zach “Farm” Jaffe will arrive for a four day visit and some countryside adventures.We will be joined by two more people we knew from college and two of Farm’s friends from home, so once again I will have a deep squad rolling around Northern Vietnam.I am very much looking forward to that.I am also looking to getting out of Hanoi.As much as I enjoy the city, the bun cha, the mango smoothies, I’ve noticed a distinct thing which happens as I spend months at a time in Hanoi: I get cabin fever.I haven’t been out of the city since I returned from Singapore on September 17, so I can feel myself getting claustrophobic.Certainly contributing to the “low”.
Part of this melancholic feeling might just be from a fatigued heart.I have been gone from home for over nine months now.I feel as though part of me, my being, is just extremely tired and ready to return home.This part will have to trudge through remainder of my time abroad, and I will have to endeavor to not let this longing to be home sour any of the remaining adventure.
Part of this melancholic feeling no doubt comes from uncertainty about returning home.Will I get a job?How quickly?How will I readjust to America?Will the lessons I learned here be applicable in any major way?Will this whole year abroad have improved me as a person, or did I just take an extended vacation?Such questions have begun to keep me up as my days in Hanoi wind down.
A friend recently told me that changing and growing is painful but “if you don’t change that means you’re not going anywhere so you have to remember change is a reflection of growth and embrace it, as painful as it can be”.Wise and helpful words from an unexpected source.Hanoi no doubt changed me, and I felt the growing pains throughout my time here, especially in the early months and the month following my the motorbike accident in June.One thing I never want to be is stagnant.I feel as though at the moment I have stagnated in Hanoi, ready to move on but not yet at the date in the calendar to move on.Stagnation is a melancholic comfort.The transition period I will enter upon the completion of my contract in just two and a half weeks will also be painful, as I say goodbye to this city which I have come to be very fond of and say goodbye to the great people I’ve met here whom are still around.
I will be lucky to have one last great adventure around Asia, comprised of five(ish) smaller adventure portions.It’ll be a transitory period, but a fun one, a true adventurous vacation, with more emphasis on the vacation than at any other point during this journey.And I will work to enjoy every second of it, and hope to learn from my travels as I have learned from living in Hanoi.But I know what awaits at home, after Christmas and New Years, after everyone has been said hello to and glorious reunitings have taken place in abundance, the dust will settle and I will enter another transitory period of rapid change when I will be forced to grow: the beginning of adulthood, but for real this time.I’ve learned so much in Vietnam but will It apply to the “real world”?Will I be better off wherever I end up for having come out here?These are questions I have not had to face in a long time, which have reared their ugly head these past couple weeks.
Perhaps the melancholic feeling is from thinking too much.Whenever I overthink, I get into trouble.My mind too often creates worst case explanations for how I got to where I am and envisions worst case scenarios for the future.I didn’t really think when I came to Vietnam, I just did it.Had I thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have done it.Maybe such is the approach I ought to take with my return to America, though it is hard not to think about something so monumental and exciting and soon.While I know many of my fears are misplaced or baseless, reasoning away emotions with logic has never been a skill of mine.
I still don’t think I’ve said what I want to say in the way I wanted to say it in this blog.I don’t want to paint a doom and gloom picture of a hermit Thatch locked away counting down the seconds til I depart Hanoi.Though I am in large part ready to leave Hanoi, I know I will be sad on the actual day of departure, for this city and country have come to hold a special place in my heart and as part of who I am.There are people I’ve met – friends I’ve made here whom I have no doubt I will remain in contact with, faces to visit on travels later in life.I am excited beyond measure to return to the States, which is tough to reconcile with the fear I have for what will happen once I get there.With each passing day, as all friends from home get closer and closer, I miss them more and more.I thought the distance would get easier as time went on, and for a while it did (mostly because such a big squad of them came out here for a time), but nine months is far longer than I’ve ever been away and this is far further away than I’ve ever been.It feels further and longer every day.
If this were last January Thatcher, he’d spend another couple paragraphs droning on about how much he misses home and how moving to Vietnam was (here’s a shocker) very difficult.But October Thatcher will do no such thing.
I will not limp across the finish line.I will not be defeated by a melancholic daze.In these last weeks, I will hold my head high.I will use all Hanoi has taught me to make the most of my remaining time here.I will enjoy the company of those friends I have who are still here, I will cherish the company of friends coming to visit from faraway.I’ll continue writing and making t-shirts and eating bun cha. I will do now what I can to get the pieces in place for a smooth (ha as if it’ll be smooth) transition to the real world, and then once I do that I will endeavor to not let any thoughts of dates past the first of January into my mind until the second of January begins. I will walk out of Hanoi triumphantly.I will then enjoy every second of the fantastic journey which is set to serve as the culmination of this incredible adventure.I will give this story, my story of my year abroad, an ending befitting the story of the adventure of a lifetime.
Margot’s departure, and the end of that friend-filled month, marked the distinct end of a chapter in Hanoi.There is one chapter left to be written in Hanoi – the final one.I can already feel myself hurtling towards the end of my time in this beautiful and unique city.
I was lucky enough to have another old friend, Dave Katz, roll through Hanoi last week on grander travels around Asia.While a mixup with his Vietnamese visa limited his time here to just a couple of days, it was fantastic to see an old friend, albeit briefly, so quickly after the departure of so many other great guests.
The other day I was informed of a heavily reduced teaching schedule for the month of October.As my contract is scheduled to expire on November 2, less than five weeks from now, I am slowly being replaced.As students and classes come to natural stopping points – chapter breaks or semester tests – I will slowly begin to hand my classes off to the teachers who will work at Happy Learn after I depart.Already this has worried me, as I budgeted the rest of my trip as though I would be working the entirety of October.Now, instead of 24 days I will work about 16.I’m not super worried, I’ve figured out how to deal with far worse already out here.
Sixteen days.That is how many days of teaching I have left.In a way, I was kind of over teaching when I returned from Singapore.Don’t get me wrong, I love the kids and I think I would make a good teacher (someday) – about something I’m passionate about, and if we’re being honest, elementary level phonics doesn’t get my heart pumping.Still, I enjoy the company of the kids, the games we play and the enthusiasm they exhibit for everything from Musical Chairs to stickers.I will no doubt be sad when Teacher Thatcher hangs up the red pen and the sticker packet.I doubt my next job, whatever it may be (eek) will typically end with a game of musical chairs or a fiery rendition of the YMCA.
I have a month to get this crazy business idea I’ve had off the ground.In Vietnam, the shirt printing is cheap enough and I love making shirts enough that I’ve had the rough idea of a business called “Re:Define Shirts” which attempts to take the dictation of what we wear on our clothing out of the hands of big corporations with their boring logos and return it to the people who will actually be wearing the shirt.Though still in the early fetal stages as a business idea, I hope to use my last several weeks out here to test the market and see if this is something that I could do as a side hustle in addition to my real job, whatever it may be (eek) when I get back to the States.
In a way, I’m getting to the point where I’m ready to leave Hanoi.I’ve seen every museum (that has English translations) in the city multiple times.I’ve eaten at over fifty different bun cha restaurants and feel very confident when I say I’ve found the one which stands head and shoulders above the rest.I’ve had over fifty different mango smoothies, and while I have a favorite I am less assured in my conviction about it.After having so many different visitors here for so long, the city feels a bit empty.My roommate Nicholi, whom I had grown very fond of during our 6 months sharing a residence at 483 Au Co, left the other day.While I still have friends here for whom I care deeply, their numbers are dwindling.My desire to get back to the USA and see my whole squad, deep and in all their glory, was renewed when I was reminded how much fun it is rolling around eight deep when all the visitors came in August.
There is still much to be done.I am going to do the market test for my business (contact me if you want any t-shirt your heart desires, whether it’s your dog or your face or anything in between, I can make it happen).I still want to try a couple of other bun cha places.I want to enjoy as much as I can my remaining time with my remaining friends in Hanoi.I want to plan a fantastic trip to end the whole thing on a high note.
My final trip has to be grand and insane to even compete with the year and adventure for which it is serving as a culmination.I think I’ve got a pretty good schedule lined up.
I will finish teaching ideally late October.Hopefully, I will fly to Hong Kong the first weekend in November to meet up with my mother, who will be in this part of the world on business but will conveniently have that one weekend free, and the easiest spot for us to meet up is Hong Kong.I will return to Hanoi one last time, not to teach but to travel.Again joined by friends from Tulane, Casey Winslett and Cooper Pillot, I plan to do the Ha Giang loop – which I did via car with my parents in April – only this time I hope to do it via motorbike.November is supposed to be the best time of the year to complete this loop, so I am extremely excited to finish out my time in Vietnam on what is sure to be an amazing adventure with some amazing friends.I will depart from Hanoi and from Vietnam on November 18, flying to Kuala Lumpur to meet my two younger brothers, Josh and Sam, for a week of exploring peninsular Malaysia.While we won’t have a lot of time in Malaysia, any chance to explore such a distant part of the world with my brothers will be a blast.Hopefully we can find some turkey in the predominantly Muslim country to celebrate Thanksgiving.After Malaysia, I will fly to Bali to meet my dad, where we will have several days to lounge before heading to the Komodo Islands for an eight day live aboard dive boat.Yes, I peaked in Singapore, I will probably peak again in a different way in the Komodo Isles.After that, my dad and I will return to Bali where another great friend, Westley Wilson, will be waiting, having arrived a few days earlier.My dad will stick around for a day or two, and then Westley and I will have about a week to explore the island before I fly to Chiang Mai on December 15, where I have not scheduled any adventures yet but have some rough plans in my head about what I want to do.One of my first friends from Hanoi will be living in Chaing Mai by that time, so I certainly hope to see him.And then finally on the morning of December 23rd I will board a flight from Chaing Mai to Bangkok, onwards to Tokyo, and finally to JFK the afternoon of December 24th.
I realize that when put like that it sounds like a lot, but I have no doubt I’ll blink my eyes twice and my plane will be landing in New York.There are parts of me that are extremely ready to come home, but I know once I get home there will be parts of me itching to get back out on a grand adventure.Once home, the plan is to be at home (hopefully move into NYC) for the foreseeable future, to get a job (eek), and to begin in earnest my adult life.So while there are parts of me that are ready to be home, I need to focus on enjoying each and every second of adventure I have left, because I have no doubt this whole year abroad will be the greatest adventure of my life, and who the hell wants to rush through that?
After two weeks of fun blogs recounting amazing voyages, a self-reflective blog was inevitable.I apologize in advanced for my incoherent ramblings…
Last week, for the first time since before Jack Barry got here, I was able to talk with both my parents at length on the phone. It was great – I caught them up on the best month of my life and they caught me up on all the boring stuff everyone else has been up to (just kidding, kind of (they’re not doing overwhelmingly boring stuff but my stories are objectively better)). At the end of the conversation, they told me our cat, Sox, had begun to lose his appetite and they were going to take him to the vet. I didn’t think much of it.
Two days ago I received a text saying Sox had been put down. Once I got over the initial sadness, a more melancholic feeling set in. We got Sox in the spring of 2004 when he was a kitten – I hardly remember a time before he was part of the Gleason family. Losing childhood pets is always tough, this one felt especially so for being way over here. It really drove home a realization I’ve flirted with but haven’t faced head on, as my time in Vietnam draws frighteningly close to an end and home draws terrifyingly, excitingly ever closer: everything has changed.
When I arrive home, I will arrive to a different place than the one I left.Everyone will be a year older and a year wiser.Everyone will have changed and grown.I have done what I believe is a good job at keeping in touch with most people, but I still know all my friends and family will not have been stagnant at all during my time abroad.These are exciting times in life.My friends are young and hungry.Some will be making moves in their careers.Others will have changed paths entirely.From the sounds of it, others still are setting out on journeys similar to mine.America as a whole is changing, hopefully we can get more of that “hopey-changey” stuff by the time I get back, but that’s neither here nor there.Everyone will have a year of changing and a year of experiences that I will have to catch up on.
And I have changed too.I can already feel it, feel myself a different person than the one who arrived in Vietnam almost nine months ago.Will the Thatcher who arrives at JFK on December 24th be the same one who left on January 8th?Like the Ship of Theseus, will I become someone new?Will old Thatcher get lost along the way?As I change parts of myself, am I just becoming more well traveled with an expanded palette, or am I becoming a new person entirely?Will the person I have become out here last long in the States, or will I fall back into my old ways?
Sometimes in Vietnam, I’ve wanted to pause a moment and exist in that moment, unchanging.I felt that way when Cailin was out here, and then again when Squad showed up and also when Margot stuck around.Ephemeral moments of perfection during which I’m on a grand adventure doing incredible things surrounded by people I love.But that’s why it’s called a “moment”.If you could hold onto something forever, would it be worth holding onto at all?Is it not the immediate and infinite fleeting which makes the moment itself so valuable?
I look at the things which I’ve learned out here.I’ve come to know my internal strength to get through the most hopeless of situations, scenarios which would’ve left American Thatch crippled on the side of the highway with no way home.I’ve learned of the external push I can get from a bevy of amazing friends and family who will support me from half way around the world, support which American Thatch might not have reached out for.I’ve discovered how delicious bun cha is, how much I love mango smoothies, that not all new food is gonna taste bad. I’ve learned of the loneliness which comes with being so removed from my entire life previous to Vietnam for months at a time.I’ve come to know joy and gratitude unimaginable for visitors, best friends and family who’ve made the trek to see me in this part of the world.
They say the only constant in life is change.I have changed so much since I got out here, and so much at home has changed as well.Some changes are tough, like growing further apart, seeing people less often, or losing beloved childhood pets.Sometimes things change for the better, new people join your life and life is richer for it or you change through a new experience and become better for it.
I am not the same Thatcher who was fucking around goofing off in High School, that Thatcher would’ve never had the maturity to insist on taking a fifth year at a Boarding School.I am not the same Thatcher who came into his own at Loomis, that Thatcher would’ve never had the confidence or social ability to go to Tulane and meet some of the best people in the world and be lucky enough to call those people his friends.I am not the same Thatcher who graduated Tulane, he was still obsessed with New Orleans and could never have moved halfway across the world.I am not the same Thatcher who moved out here in January, that Thatcher would’ve never had the strength to live out here for so long, the confidence to find new friends or the ability to make the most foreign lands he’s ever been to feel somewhat a home.But Vietnamese Thatch found strength for these things, somewhere deep down. I’ve changed, learned and grown and become richer for it.
So while it is tough to say goodbye to Sox, as it is tough to say goodbye to the past and tough to deal with some changes, change is a part of life.At the end of the day, I know some things won’t change: I will always love steak and bun cha, I will always love couches and flavor blasted Goldfish.I will always love my family and my friends.I hope to always be changing for the better, though I know that will not always be the case.Times change, people change, life changes.Through all it’s ups and downs, life is about learning to deal with, accept, grow and enjoy this never ending changing process.
They say “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I have struggled with this sentiment my entire life, as I often come crashing down from life’s highs when they reach their inevitable conclusion. It happened when I graduated from High School, then more severely when I graduated from Tulane. The fallout of my inability to reconcile with my graduation is likely a large part of why I ended up way out here in Vietnam. And in the immediate aftermath of visitors in Vietnam, I have not done a good enough job of reflecting back and being thankful for their presence out here, despite the fact that I know full well how lucky I am to have had any visitor out here for any length of time, but rather I’ve gotten a little depressed upon each departure. I have been better about it upon Margot’s farewell than other visitors, especially those from my parents and from Cailin in June, but I still am filled too much with sadness for Margot having left and not enough gratitude for her having been here at all. As the days pass, the sadness is slowly replaced by a profound gratitude, and of course a little sadness at the end of a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime journey is to be expected, but I really need to work on having more of the former and less of the latter from the moment visitors depart.
Anyways, for the second time on this incredible journey I was joined by one of my best friends for an extended length of time and afforded the unique opportunity to travel around and delight in some of the best this city and country have to offer and share it with an old friend for whom I care deeply. After the best week of my life, documented in the previous blog, all good things must come to an end. Adam Kalina, Jack Rekucki and Jimmy Ferrare departed Hanoi on Friday, August 31st.
That day seven visitors became four. We visited the Hoa Lo Prison, built during the times of French Imperialism to jail Vietnamese Patriots, and later used to jail American Pilots shot down on bombing campaigns over Hanoi, including the late John McCain. The location still manages to move me upon each visit, this being my eighth. Afterwards, myself and the four remaining guests went into the Old Quarter to explore and pick up any remaining souvenirs that needed to be picked up, and delight in the hustle and bustle and craziness of the oldest part of this city for the last time as a group.
That evening we shared drinks just as a group at a lovely, out-of-the-way bar called Red River Tea Room, located just along the banks of Tay Ho. We laughed and drank and played Cards Against Humanity from when the sun was high in the sky til long after it had descended beyond the horizon.
We returned to Thom’s Cafe and the nearby tailor the next day to get our suits. They fit perfectly and I look great. On the evening of September 1st, Jack Barry hurriedly left to the airport around 9pm as I was under threat of eviction for having had so many visitors sleeping in the living room and making a mess for so long. Luckily, Jack made his plane on time and I didn’t get evicted. Nathan left the following morning.
Seven became four became two quickly. Aubrey and Margot were the last two visitors standing. Sunday, September 2 was Vietnamese National Day, sort of like their “4th of July”, so myself, Margot, Aubrey and my roommate Nicoli went down to the Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square in hopes of seeing a military parade or something cool. We were underwhelmed by what just seemed to be an especially long and enthusiastic line waiting to pay homage to “Uncle Ho”.
After a couple hours there, we departed back up towards my house, but not before stopping at the Driving Range for an hour on the way home to delight in whacking a couple golf balls into Westlake. From there, we took a quick nap at home before Margot, Aubrey and I, for lack of anything better to do stumbled over to the amusement park. For about $8 each, we were able to ride the roller coaster three times, the ferris wheel six times, and the bumper cars three times. It was an absolutely fantastic trip to the amusement park, my best yet in Vietnam.
On Friday’s, Saturday’s and Sunday’s, the streets behind my house shut down much like those around Hoan Kiem Lake and become a Vietnamese block party. The three of us on the walk home from the amusement park sat and ate Dalat Pizza (basically egg spread thinly over rice paper and topped with a boatload of deliciousness), played Vietnamese versions of popular carnival games, and cracked and clinked coconuts. I drew a big crowd trying to throw little darts at balloons, failed miserably and won a little stuffed pink whale. It was a fantastic evening. Upon returning home and meeting up with my roommates, we played more Secret Hitler (again, if you’ve never played check it out).
Monday, September 3 was Aubrey’s last day, and we again spent it lazily walking around the Old Quarter picking up trinkets and enjoying in each others company. Nicoli led us to what I found to be the best Mango smoothie in Hanoi, though I can’t remember the damn name of the cafe. Margot, Aubrey and I went for one last quick dinner at the BBQ place, but it was damn jam packed so we made our way over to Turtle Lake Brewing for one final meal. As we rode home, we popped the heck out of one of my tires, but still all three managed to make it home alive. “Closing Time” by Semisonic set the mood as I called Aubrey a Grab (the Southeast Asian version of Uber), and two visitors was finally down to one. I was sad to see Aubrey go, and for that portion of the adventure to to officially be over, be over, but I was infinitely grateful at the company who would be sticking around for the next couple weeks.
Margot Palandjian and I met my junior year of college. I originally knew her as “the chick who came over to clean the turtles”, Charlie and Luna (R.I.P.), which I had not agreed to host in the backyard of our junior year humble abode, “The Trap House”. Though certainly friends the entirety of that year, we didn’t become close until my senior year, when I realized how dope she was and hopefully she thought the same of me and I made a more concerted effort to develop a friendship. Once we became good friends, we fast became best of friends. Margot reminds me a lot of another one of my best friends, Miranda Princi. She doesn’t take shit, we share a very similar sense of humor and they are each easy going yet always seem to be in control at the same time. Margot possesses an infinitely curious soul and always assumes the best of people even in the face of conflicting evidence. She is one of the nicest, most uplifting people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, thinking of others first, second and third and if there is time thinking of herself fourth, before again checking on the other people fifth and sixth. The fact that she was the one to stick around and share in Vietnam with me for these next twelve days, I couldn’t be luckier.
Around the time that Cailin visited, I discussed in this blog how a familiar face could offer comfort untold in foreign lands. The same sentiment applies to Margot’s visit. Hanoi felt a bit more a home than at points before. This is not to take away from any of the friends I’ve made in Hanoi. I’ve made many great friends whom I am very fond of, but when the entire life you live you didn’t know existed before January of the same year, there is only so much a home anything can ever really feel. With a friend of several years by my side, and one of my best friends at that, Hanoi shined with a new light, each day promising to be better than the prior.
And each day was. Margot came to class with me and delighted for several days in being a Teacher’s Assistant. The kids were especially fond of the Bubble Gun she brought to class her second day.
We made two trips out into the country, the first to Ba Vi National Park where we found a secluded waterfall which Margot dubbed a “Temple of the Sun”.
On my Saturday off, we made the trek three hours north to Thai Nguyen to spend an overnight amongst the rice paddies in a scenic river valley cutting through the mountain ranges of northern Vietnam. We went bouldering and swimming again in secluded waterfalls before zipping around scenic rice paddies and bumpy roads as the sun slowly descended behind the vibrant green hills.
And we talked. A lot. Growing up with three brothers, I’ve always highly valued having platonic female friends. I feel as though they offer insight and opinions which I just don’t get from any other aspect of my life. We discuss different topics and from different angles and explore different viewpoints than I would have ever considered before. I am no fool as to my position in society – one of privilege, and for that I am grateful. But I naturally fall “victim” to the male gaze, to blind masculinity from time to time, and to being a total idiot other times. When Cailin was here, she pointed out and made clear several of my behaviors which were not always considerate. This discussion continued to a lesser extent with Margot. Female friends challenge me to be better in a different way from my male friends. I’d like to think I’m a very sympathetic person, but know I would be nowhere near as much without having had an array of close female friends my entire life. Despite all my progress in this regard, there were still one or two times when Margot bluntly called me on my shit, and I could do nothing but agree, nod and take in the advice. Progress in this regard is slow, I’m not gonna snap my fingers and fix behaviors I didn’t even realize were problems for years at a time. After all, like I said I grew up with three brothers, the female perspective was not strongly represented in the Gleason household. However, I’m infinitely grateful for all the people who call me out, and realize it takes a true friend to call you out on your shit. If they didn’t care about you, they wouldn’t care about your faults and wouldn’t make it known they want you to work on doing better in the future. It was kind of funny – the Vietnamese just did not understand the concept of male – female friendship. We got inquisitive looks almost everywhere we went. For these friendships though, I’m forever grateful – and wouldn’t want to know a life without them.
We talked a lot of philosophy too, that was one of my favorite parts. Margot and I were both philosophy majors at Tulane. While she has a much more libertarian viewpoint, and definitely dabbled in hedonistic nihilism at points in her life (didn’t we all, in college, though?), and I myself hold a rather idealistic utilitarian viewpoint, we could still debate and discuss many not only ideas of philosophy, but specific teachers at Tulane University. Debating philosophy deep into the night (in rural Vietnam, deep into the night is around 11:30pm) three hours flung into the rice paddies of northern Vietnam will no doubt be a highlight of this incredible year when all is said and done.
With Marge, I also explored Hanoi in a way I hadn’t since arriving. We just wandered the streets of the Old Quarter to find whatever it was the Old Quarter wanted us to find. We saw a temple on the side of the road, we pulled over to check it out. On my own, it is too easy to fall into a rut. Go to the gym, go get bun cha, go get takeaway for dinner, lounge around while making passive attempts at trying to read or do anything productive and sit in AC, and then go to work. With Margot around, we were up and at it almost every day. Sure, we succumbed to some lazy days which didn’t start until after the midday heat had broke, but once we were going we were going.
Though the fact that it’s over, yet still so recent makes the whole thing feel a tint bittersweet, I am infinitely grateful and hope that the sadness washes away but the gratitude remains of the remarkable 12 days I got to spend with one of my best friends on the other side of the world.
Oh, and then we went to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore.
After twelve unforgettable days adventuring around Hanoi and Northern Vietnam, Margot and I awoke at 4:45am on Friday, September 14 and departed to Noi Bai Airport to catch the 7:35am flight to Singapore.
At noon, we arrived in Singapore. By 4pm, we were settling into our seats at the Bay Grandstand of the Marina Bay Street Circuit, a Formula 1 track which winds through the very streets of Singapore, watching the coolest cars in the world driven by the best drivers zipping around in front of us, with the famous Singapore skyline in the background to the right, and the coolest building I’ve ever seen, the Marina Bay Sands to the left. Friday was just practice rounds, the drivers were feeling out the track and feeling out their cars, but still the roar of the engines got my heart racing. We returned to our hotel to take a quick dip and get ready for a nice (ahem) dinner at a restaurant called Ushidoki, where I was treated to undoubtedly the finest and highest quality beef I’ve ever had the good fortunate to masticate upon (sorry Mr. Papic).
From there, Margot and I attempted to get into the Casino at the Marina Bay Sands but were (probably for the best) turned away for lack of passports, explored the craziest mall I’ve ever been to (complete with a canal running through the middle), and took in the world famous Garden by the Bay Trees. I’ve been to a couple of cities in my day. Singapore is without a doubt the coolest one I’ve ever had the fortune of exploring. The architecture was a geometric explosion of lights and mirrored windows, famous old buildings flanked by the most modern of skyscrapers. I’d been told going to Singapore is like going to the future. I should hope the future will be so amazing.
I’ve had continental breakfasts at hotels before, but I’ve never had an Intercontinental breakfast. The latter is vastly superior to the former. I discovered this the morning of September 15.
Though we had tried, the evening prior we’d not been able to ascend to the “boat”, for lack of a better word, which sits across the three towers which make up the Marina Bay Sands. That was the first item on our agenda, but this was the vacation portion of the adventure, so it wasn’t until around 1pm that we hailed a cab and made our way to the resort. I elated in the most enchanting parmesan truffle fries I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating atop the coolest building I’ve ever been in in the most futuristic city I’d ever explored, while wearing my favorite shirt (freshly ironed for the first time ever) in the company of one of my best friends. Pretty good day, and it was only 2:30 in the afternoon.
After a delicious brunch at supper time, we descended from the top of the Marina Bay Sands and made our way around the banks of the Marina Bay, skirting the outside of what is known as the “downtown core” of Singapore, where it looks like all the big banks and financial service companies have their towers. We also passed the ArtScience Museum (one of the craziest looking buildings I’d ever seen), passed through the plaza where we had been the night before, around past the famous Fullerton Hotel, and finally made our way into the Grand Prix. It was Saturday of race weekend, there was one more practice round to be run and then finally the Qualifying. We got to our seats just in time for the third and final practice round.
After the practice round, we made our way to Zone 4 towards the Padang Park, where in just a few minutes Liam Gallagher of Oasis was set to take the stage. If we’re being honest, with my limited knowledge of how cool the actual Grand Prix was gonna be, a big selling point of going was the chance to see Liam Gallagher. At 8pm, he took the stage. On a night when the temperature was pushing high 80s and I was sweating through my South Bark polo, Liam donned an all black hoodie and long pants as he lead the crowd through the hits of Oasis and his subsequent solo career. He ended with “Wonderwall”. I kinda wish he had dropped one of his middle, lesser known songs and played “Live Forever” as well, but hey, I’m not gonna complain about a Liam Gallagher set in Singapore.
After he finished, we hurried back to our seats to catch the end of the second qualifying round, in which the ten drivers who will sit on the grid the following day are decided. We watched the entire third round of qualifying, in which drivers just try to go out and have the fastest lap, whoever gets the fastest gets to “sit on the pole” the next day as the announcer kept saying. Lewis Hamilton smashed the track record, making his way around the 5.1 kilometer track in just 1 minute and 36 seconds. I’m not a huge car guy, but these Formula 1 cars zooming by, engines loud as airplanes whipping around corners at amazing speeds, sending sparks as they bounce over imperfections in the Singaporean streets upon which they race, gets your heart pounding.
After the qualifying, we made our way back towards the Padang Park for The Killers. It’s funny, the last time I saw The Killers was in October 2017 in New Orleans, and then they were also the closing act of the evening, I was also too tired to be up in the crowd, and in both instances I sat near the back of the crowd on the grass grazing on something covered in cheese (in New Orleans it was a Grilled Cheese, in Singapore It was a Cheese Pizza). I don’t know if either of the phrases “deja vu” or “it’s a small world” apply here. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell I’d done in life to deserve such a set up – watching The Killers with Margot Palandjian at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Singapore. Don’t pinch me, let me enjoy the dream.
After getting lost on the way home for almost an hour, some great room service french fries and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, we slept for about 12 hours.
It was suddenly Sunday, race day. We lounged by the pool and had lunch at the hotel, wanting to conserve our energy for the big day ahead. We had another great talk and I genuinely appreciated the advice Margot offered about some issues I had been dealing with living so far from home and so distant from so many friends at home. She was bluntly honest at times, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get through my thick skull. It was a great final heart to heart after a long month full of em. Then, it was show time.
We suited up and made our way to the Marina Bay Street Circuit for the final time. We arrived around 5pm, excited to see The Sugarhill Gang and disappointed to be informed their set had been moved from 5:15 to 7pm, right during the opening ceremonies. Oh well. I’ve heard “Rapper’s Delight” a couple of times before. Never seen a Grand Prix.
We made our way to our seats, mango margaritas in hand, and the true magnitude of the situation began to hit me again. Here I was, in Singapore, at the Formula One Grand Prix with Margot. What??? What a life.
The racers paraded around the track waving to the crowd in some of the most elite vintage cars I’d ever seen, the Singaporean national anthem was sung, the racers took their places at the starting grid, the checkered flag was waved, and they were off. As had apparently happened the three years previous, there was a crash early on in the race. It was only the third turn when two teammates bumped into each other, sending one of them into the barrier and ending his night rather early and unceremoniously.
I had put down a bit of money on Lewis Hamilton, the pole sitter, point leader, and he seems like a rockstar. When I began following him on Instagram a couple of days before the Grand Prix and found out he was partying with Tommy Hilfiger and Travis Scott in New York City the Wednesday of race week, I was a little hesitant to put money on him, but his performance the night before had convinced me, why the heck not?
It was a great bet to make. Hamilton put on a World Class performance, an absolute clinic and won the race almost nine seconds clear of second on the podium Max Ver Stappen and forty seconds ahead of third place finisher Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton, the best racer on the circuit today, was also the most supported, and the crowd was electric as he took his victory lap and the most amazing firework display I’d ever seen launched from inside the Marina, exploding between us and the Singaporean skyline, reflections dancing in the mirrored windows of the city and the Marina Bay Sands Resort to the left. I looked at Marge. A solid high was fived. We’d done it! “Sent it” at the Singapore Grand Prix – check that off the bucket list … next?
The afterparty was at a place called the Amber Lounge, so we headed that way. I have decided to announce my retirement from competitive gambling, after having won an undisclosed amount on the Singapore Grand Prix while at the Singapore Grand Prix, seems like a good place to stop (I may toss a casual bet here and there, but trust me it will be very casual). The afterparty had flowing champagne and drinks and we danced the night away and met Martin Garrix. I basked in the glory of the real reason of the party – my successful bet. I remember everything so vividly, I swear, until around 4:30am. We left the party around 5am. Margot’s flight was scheduled for noon.
If I recall correctly (which I probably don’t), my body willed itself awake around 8:30am to the sound of two alarms blaring and we were wizzing towards the airport by 8:45, both of our lights on but nobody really home, myself having lost my flip flops and bathing suit. My custom suit was crumpled up inside my carry on, the coat coated with rum and cokes. It’s a shame that this was mine and Margot’s goodbye, hungover and on not two hours of sleep, but still after I thought I was gonna die at the check in counter and we had settled into a couch near her gate, through my pounding headache and shattered mind I was able to feel a profound gratefulness for the entirety of the adventure Margot and I had shared over the past month. Even as her flight got called and we said our final goodbyes and I limped towards my gate, I was too hungover to feel real emotional sadness for it all being over, at the time I just felt pretty nauseous.
As the alcohol hangover faded, a much more emotional one set in. After riding such a high for such a long time, I felt it come crashing down. Again, not as distinctly or poignantly as in times past, but the general feeling was the same.
I need to work on not letting the end of highs be the beginning of lows. As stated at the beginning of the blog, it is often just after the highest highs of my life that I feel the lowest lows, not because things get down (except in the case of the motorbike crash in June, but that’s a different story) but rather just because I struggle to deal with the come down, I refuse to accept the high is over. Thus is what’s happening now. It’s been a string of beautiful days in Hanoi after the typhoon passed by, and yet I still struggle to get out and do things. My roommate Nicholi is leaving Vietnam tomorrow, other friends are gone for a bit, and I am somewhere I gladly haven’t been since early August: alone with my thoughts. Latched on to my memories. What a shame it is that I am like this – I still have many weeks to explore this beautiful city and this beautiful subcontinent before I will return home and see everyone once again. I can’t go through life with the attitude that the absence of a high is the equivalent of a low, that days are either perfect and the best ever or overwhelmingly melancholic.
I endeavor to pull myself out of this funk quickly, and to not let such a funk capture me again while out here. It’s natural to feel a bittersweet sadness at the conclusion of an amazing adventure with a slew of best friends, it’s not healthy to get caught in a typhoon of nostalgia and wishing it was a couple weeks earlier. Part of my mind feels as though if I had focused harder on appreciating each moment while it was happening, I could’ve somehow made them last forever. How absurd.
Anything worth having is temporary. If you could have it forever, it wouldn’t be worth much. The sadness I feel upon the absence of my friends confirms the joy I felt upon their presence, but I can’t get caught up in either. I need to look back with a smile on my face but not fixation or sadness in my mind, appreciate the good times we had, be confident in the knowledge that there will be more good times in the future, and get back into the swing of Hanoi to make my remaining weeks here as great as possible.
“Yesterday’s over my shoulder, so I can’t look back for too long. There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know that I just can’t go wrong” – Jimmy Buffett
Thank you to Margot for all the adventures and for putting up with my shenanigans for over three weeks. I’ve said before that the best gift I’ve ever received was when people have come to visit me out here, their presence alone is a gift I could never repay. I’m so lucky to have so many people visit, so lucky that this one chose to stick around for a bit, and so lucky to have more visitors on the way in no time at all. Perhaps I’m luckiest of all to have so many people whom I will be elated to see when this whole adventure is over and I return home in December. Can’t decide, and again, it’s a good indecision.