Hanoi: The Mythical City

As of today I have been in Vietnam for two months. Time is so tricky and abstract because it feels like I have been here forever and also like I got here yesterday.

Towards the end of my first four weeks in HCMC, it came time to make the decision on where to settle in a find a job. I had this vision of Hanoi as this mythical Vietnamese city with trees and lakes and seasons. All of which were not present in HCMC. So I took a leap into the unknown against most of the fibers of my being that wanted stay in HCMC with people I was already comfortable with and a city I was already familiar with. Ultimately, this leap encompassed every reason I chose to embark on this adventure in the first place.

When I boarded the plane to Hanoi, I felt confident and brave but when I landed all of that vanished and I felt I had for sure made a terrible mistake. I have flip flopped between those two feelings for the past 3 weeks that I have been in Hanoi.

My first week in Hanoi, I booked a private room through Airbnb with an old lady in a traditional Vietnamese apartment in the heart of the Old Quarter. The lady was sweet and didn’t speak much English but she did offer me homemade fried spring rolls one night when I came home. I was standing on this tiny staircase on the way to my room while she held out a full plate and I ate one after the other trying not to be rude because I had just come from dinner.

During this first week I landed a job at a reputable English learning center and navigated the emotional roller coaster of realizing just how on my own I was.

For my second week in Hanoi I went back to Airbnb, found another room, and repacked my three bags. This time I was staying in a more modern apartment outside the city center with a young-ish family of three.  It was clear that they enjoyed sharing their life with travelers through Airbnb and they were eager to learn about me and where I came from. At the end of my week in their apartment they invited me out to celebrate their daughter’s 13th birthday with milkshakes. The couple asked me about my trip to Iceland while their daughter spent time chatting on her phone. I realized then that teenagers have commonalities across the globe.

I spent this week looking for an apartment and found that I was ready to settle down and unpack my bags properly for the first time 6 weeks.

Physically settling down did not lead to mentally or emotionally settling down. I moved to a new part of the city and had to find new places to eat. I moved into a permanent apartment and had to figure out how to fill my time spent alone. As my teaching schedule filled (with two-hour preschool classes), I adjusted to having my days free while I teach in the evenings.

As a pretty committed introvert, I am no stranger to spending time alone. But I have found that the time I spend alone here in Vietnam is a type of alone I have never really experienced. At times it’s uncomfortable. At times it’s exhausting. But as time goes on, I am adjusting. I get to go to yoga classes at 10:30 in the morning. I get to explore new cafes, or spend hours in the cafes that I love. I have the time think about the lessons I have to plan. I have time to think and then put my thoughts into words whether it’s formally on a computer or informally in a journal. So it’s not all “woe is me”.

The next adventure is finding a community to fit into. At the moment this seems intimidating because I have always been set up with a community through swimming in college, or enduring summer camp, or working at a boarding school. Despite this intimidation, I have a gut feeling that it will happen. This might be the first time that I’m putting trust in something that I don’t firmly know. I’ll file that under the category of “personal growth”.

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