The disorienting/bittersweet/exciting feeling of being in-between places, Hanoi behind us, our plane starting its descent into Taipei. We were ready to leave Vietnam. At the same time, my feelings of connection and familiarity with this country had soared over the last few weeks. Amazing how psychology plays with your knowledge of the future, how emotional barriers relax, become more porous, when departure is in sight.
I’ve been thinking about history lately. Thailand remained an independent nation for centuries. It resisted the formidable grips of colonizers and played cards of strategy and diplomacy to evade the territorial, political, economic, and social grabs of the 18-20th centuries. Alternatively, Vietnam’s history is a very different one, rife with foreign countries – Japan, China, France, the US – wielding power over place, trade, and people.
When I think back to our time in Thailand, it was very much about us getting our travel legs, me diving into a body-mind-spirit exploration of my next life moves, and pushing the limits of how we each could evolve as a family and as individuals. When I reflect on Vietnam, it was significantly less self-indulgent and more outwardly focused.
Rather, it was a much more profound engagement with place, history, and people. It was a deep seeking to understand a country that exuded resilience, open arms, strength, and stories. It was people loving on our children, hugging them maybe a bit too tightly (for their liking!), overflowing with warmth, care, and stories of aspiration and perseverance. It was going to museums and watching documentaries about its strikingly complex history, learning a different perspective from the US’ caricature.
Was my draw to Vietnam because I could somehow connect to Vietnam’s colonized history as a white woman with European heritage? Was it because as a Jew I naturally draw towards people with stories of subjugation and oppression? Was it simply where we were in our trip, 6 months in, and the bandwidth I had available? Was it because we never found our three-month home and instead, wandered a bit more with traveler eyes rather than living eyes?
I leave Vietnam with conflicting feelings. In Chiang Mai, fresh off the plane from Vancouver, I could never have imagined missing the luxuries and routines of home. Now after six full months away, I am starting to feel some sort of gravitational pull. I see it in my kids’ eyes too. There is a bit more grumpiness, more impatience, less wow-ness. Who knows if that will wane as we embark on our next round of adventures. And yet, the warmth, informality, vibrancy, generosity, and authenticity of this place – I will miss that. I will miss the me surrounded by that. I will miss my kids’ absorption and reflection of that energy.
Our last day in Vietnam – our last day in Southeast Asia – was Emmet’s 9th birthday. To watch this kid’s evolution on this trip has been an honor. He has blossomed in ways I could never have foreseen. He has turned into a beautiful writer, photographer, astute navigator of Southeast Asian roads, engaging communicator across cultures, and has embodied physical and emotional bravery, resilience, and flexibility many times over.
While we have rules to temper expectations of birthdays on the road, we still try to make them memorable. Not to toot our horns, but I think we rocked this one. The night before his birthday, Emmet requested a 'date' with mom and dad, so we went to a fancy French dinner (without his brothers!). In the morning, we booked a private tour with a photographer to offer our budding photographer some tips and tricks of the trade and to practice on Hanoi streets. Then we met up with the family, ate our final bun cha, came back to our hotel where our hotel surprised him with a cake, went bowling (Emmet identifies as a successor to the legendary Glick bowling hereditary line) and to the arcade (where Emmet found the jackpot bowling game that doled out a gazillion tickets), and ate sushi. It was a pretty awesome day and sweet send-off from this country and region.
And here are some shots Emmet took during his photography lesson (pre-editing).
Some final Hanoi shots (from me/Chris).
I write this staring out of the 14th floor apartment window of our dear friends in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I am so grateful to be among friends-turned-family, to have some home time/peer time, and to ready ourselves for the next leg of the journey.