I’m back on the bus headed home. It’s funny how after a few months my vocabulary around my living situation has changed. I quite like it, really- I live in Vietnam. Writing that out and saying that to people feels so good now. I am comfortable. I am loving it. I am so grateful. And these long, long bus rides during my travels give me lots of time to reflect on my experiences here so far.
Before I go on with my Hanoi/ Halong Bay trip, I have to share a few things from these past few weeks since my last post. First of all, a HUGE shout out to my students. I love you guys. And I’m so grateful for you all. You bring me so much joy and make me very, very happy. About two weeks ago some of my students took me to the home of the second president of Vietnam and then to one of their homes on a small island for an incredible vegan meal. It’s moments like these that just make me feel so welcomed and so blessed to be here.
Another thing I have to mention is Vietnamese Teacher’s Day – a day of great importance here. There were various celebrations throughout the week leading up to the actual day, November 20th. And when they celebrate here, they do it BIG. Lots of flowers, lots of dancing and singing, and VERY loud music. For the ceremony at the university, I got the traditional Vietnamese dress (áo dài) made. I was and still am feeling very grateful for being recognized and being able to participate in the day’s events. Plus, all the food. So much food. It was also wonderful because I got to share the experience with John, my program director, and two of the other girls in my program, Allison and Thuy.
So that was last weekend, and by Tuesday I was on the bus again to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a flight up to Hanoi. I didn’t get to Hanoi until about 12am and the hostel I stayed in… yikes. I think if I hadn’t been so tired it wouldn’t have felt as bad as it did, although I did get dripped on from the AC the whole night. And a few of the guys in there were snoring like crazy. Those of you who know my sleeping rituals…you know how I felt… Lololol. The next morning I found a cheap hotel room and left immediately. And then food. I found this amazing vegan restaurant and went (vegan) ham (which is actually on the menu) lololol. (Also I’m sitting here cracking up about the previous sentence.) I ended up going back for dinner because it was all so good.
Hanoi is quite interesting and I really wish I had more time to explore there. From what I did see though, it definitely has much more of a traditional feel compared to HCMC. Lots of culture and history weaved in throughout. I pretty much walked around all day trying to take in as much as I could before I left for Halong Bay the next morning. My hotel, although the bed was hard as a rock, was quite cozy. I woke up early the next morning for a shake out run before the half and it was chillyyyyy. I ran around a small lake in the Old Quarter and I was sooo happy to see so many runners. Always brings a smile to my face.
I booked a bus ticket to Halong Bay at a random tourist center, which was supposed to leave at 8 and didn’t leave til 9 (as expected).🙂 It took about 4 hours to get there and I met some cool people along the way. We got dropped off where all the cruises begin, which was not what I was doing. So I was stranded for a little, waiting with this woman from Hong Kong for a taxi. The driver was going to totally rip us off but I was a lil feisty and told him how it was gonna be. Heheh. I can’t even begin to count how many times people have tried to get me into their taxi or on their motorbike.
Anyway, we spilt a cab to our respective hostels and I was quite pleased with mine, besides the fact that when I arrived the power was out in the whole city. The government turned it off is what they told me. So, I put my stuff in my room and went out in search of food. I found this adorable woman selling sweet potatoes and roasted chestnuts- somewhat appropriate for a Thanksgiving meal- and then went back and watched The Santa Clause. Quite the day. Halong Bay is incredible, but there is really not much to do in the city itself. I walked around later and it sort of felt like a ghost town, but it’s also currently the off-season, so it was understandable.
The next morning, one of the girls in the hostel told me about this mountain I could hike up to see the bay. I was debating whether or not to do it because of the half the next day, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. And it was 200% worth it. She put me in a cab that brought me to the side of a street. The driver pointed to a super sketchy little staircase alley. I was a little iffy, but went up and wawaweewaaaa. I stayed up there for a while. The view was just so incredible. We are really so blessed to live on this beautiful, beautiful earth. After the hike, I had to get my bib for the race at the expo, which wasn’t really an expo at all. It was awesome to see so many people signed up though. I ended up meeting a Russian American who had just arrived in Vietnam the night before. She kept saying how flustered and confused she was about everything and it made me think back to when I first arrived. I knew the feeling. I ended up hanging out with her and another American guy we met who is living in Cambodia for 3 years. It was nice, I think for all of us, to have a little cheer squad.
The stairs up to the mountain
The morning of the half was a bit chilly but it was perfect weather for running. And omg the scenery along the course was incredible. Halong Bay is taken from an ancient phrase “descending dragon” and it’s so true. Literally looks like dragons. Although it was definitely one of the smallest races I’ve done, it felt so good to see so many people come out and run from all over the world. It’s been a little over a year since I’d last run a race, and it’s safe to say I’m back at it. Not sure what the next goal is in the near future, but I have some things planned for next year.
View from the bridge on the course (the wind was a killer)
After the run, I was schedule for a 4 pm departure on a bus back to Hanoi, but all the tour buses to Halong Bay were cancelled because of the weather, so the hostel told us they would get me and a few other people from the hostel (one of them was a UM alum!) a van to take us. Apparently the van broke down so they told us we had to go on the local bus which ended up taking 2 times longer than it would have. Talk about stopping at EVERY SINGLE stop. Lolol. And finally back in Hanoi, I went to get food at the vegan restaurant. My last meal was incredibly memorable. Fabulous phở and wonderful conversations. And then another early morning ride (this time on the back of a motorbike) to catch my flight.
Lots of travel this weekend, and I still have a few hours left on the bus back home. The woman next to me started speaking to me in English and telling me in a whispered voice about how when she was young and the war was going on, she learned English from some American soldiers and how they wanted her to go back to America but she couldn’t leave her mom and sister. I’m always trying to reflect on these kinds of conversations. Everyone has a story, and we all want to be heard. However we decide to share our story is up to us. But I think it’s also up to us to listen. Truly listen to each other, because we’re all in this together.
This was long, but I wanted to share. And I appreciate all of you for reading. And for being in my life. And for being wonderful, beautiful, inspiring humans.