When I recommend a movie to anyone it’s pretty normal for me to be slightly worried throughout the movie that they won’t like it. I had this exact feeling when Rachel came to Vietnam even though I’m fully aware I’m not responsible for anyone’s opinion of a whole country.
A back story on our friendship: Rachel and I met at Hyde School where we both dipped our toes in the education field as academic support teachers. Students would constantly confuse the two of us. For Hyde people who read this, Andre Allen came back the year after he graduated/ after Rachel had moved on from Hyde and said “Hey Ms. Morse!” I probably did a palm to living face thing and said, “She doesn’t even work here anymore”. Apparently that’s our Hyde faculty legacy. “Is that Ms. Morse or Ms. Hess? I forget.” Not a whole lot has changed as throughout our time together in Vietnam we got a few “is that your sister” comments via social media and mutually agreed to take it as a compliment.
Overall, I had a lot fun sharing Vietnam with Rachel (because Vietnam is mine to share). It was a bizarre feeling to have someone I know from home in Vietnam. I shared the experiences of crossing the busy streets, riding on motorbikes, taking public transportation as the only foreigners, and navigating the food scene. All of these things can be challenging for me even after being in the country for three months and I felt a little responsible to have all the answers. Rachel quickly found I did not but was kind enough to be easy going and flexible.
Rachel used Hanoi and my apartment as home base as she came and went from trips around northern Vietnam. It was lovely to have company but also a bit of an adjustment because it had been a while since I shared my personal space with someone. At the end of her trip, we reflected that we were able to find a nice balance of co-habitation, not something I typically consider as a strong suit of mine.
My apartment was tested on its suitability for foreign guests and I would not say it passed with flying colors. Some challenges I knew to anticipate, like the fact that I only have one key and you need my fingerprint to enter the building when the door man isn’t there. And, my mattress is basically a floorboard. I gave Rachel this description as a heads up and it still took her by surprise. Other unknown challenges arose, like the hot water doesn’t last very long and that can be traumatizing when the outside temperatures drop. Rachel was a trooper; she avoided the shower when she could, suffered through hunger while I taught in the evenings, and never complained about the firm mattress (although did suggest getting a mattress pad).
On Rachel’s last weekend in the country we went on an adventure to Ha Long Bay. After three months of traveling solo it was a treat to have her plan the trip. We cruised through a weekend full of beautiful views and chatty tour guides. We shared bottles of red wine and two person kayaks. We swapped stories with people from across the world and didn’t shy away from taking silly pictures. It was so great to have someone to share this experience with and I’m glad Rachel convinced me to skip class for it.
After that memorable weekend, it was time for Rachel to depart for home. Historically, I’m terrible at goodbyes. I prefer to be the one leaving and would rather sneak out the door at a party, or avoid hugging at family gatherings, or say to a friend, “I’ll just see you later!”. Having Rachel leave was hard, and not just because I hate saying goodbye. I had a month of excitement and familiar company. Rachel leaving meant that I had to get back to sorting out my life on my own. But the airport bus came, Rachel hopped on, and I headed to my neighborhood pho stop to get dinner alone once again.