The Six-Month-Long Hanoi Roller Coaster

It’s the end of March and I’m approaching six months in Hanoi. Before I left the US I was told by a “living abroad expert” that this experience would go as follows: I would regret it for the first six weeks, it would be hard for the first six months, then it’s smooth, enjoyable sailing from there. While it was nice to have justifications for times I wasn’t particularly happy, I wouldn’t not say that my experience was as linear as this prediction. I would describe it as being similar to a roller coaster, full of peaks and valleys. There have been days when I think I finally have everything figured out and there have been days as recent as a few weeks ago when I question what I’m doing here.

The winter here took me by surprise. I chose Hanoi back in September because I wanted seasons. When it was still 90 degrees in November, I wasn’t convinced there would actually be a winter. One day it was like a switch flipped and suddenly everyone was wearing down jackets and the souvenir stands were selling hats and mittens. I couldn’t rely on any weather app to help me decide what to wear because 60 degrees here does not feel like 60 degrees back home.

With the cold weather came the holiday season. That was not a high point in my journey, for sure. I assumed by then I would have it all sorted out and huge group of friends. Neither ended up being true. All the small talk this time of year revolves around plans for the holidays so over and over again I had to explain that I didn’t have any. I felt like my aloneness was on display for everyone to see. I also noticed a spike in people asking if I had made any friends. I would get very defensive and over-explain my situation. One morning in December I was chatting to an older man in the friendly expaty way and he started giving me tips on how to meet people. I wanted to dump my coffee and run for the hills. He probably meant well but how embarrassing.

Meeting people wasn’t my issue. I was meeting lots of people. My issue was trying to figure out how to create some kind of connection in a city full of people going in a million different directions through life. But it has happened. I have slowly created a small social network. And I didn’t even need that advice from the old white man. Shocking.

Springtime has rolled around here bringing sun, dry air, and a light breeze. All of my favorite things reminding me why I wanted a city with seasons. I’m told it won’t last long so I’m holding on to every moment I can. I have recommitted to learning how to drive a scooter in the crazy traffic because I have a feeling I will want the autonomy to drive anywhere when the summer heat comes.

Right now the plan is to leave Vietnam in October, which has given me the awareness that this won’t be forever. I now move on from challenging days with the mindset to take advantage of opportunities while I still have time to enjoy them.

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