I won’t even mention how fresh everything feels outside the confines of the apartment; the sea of motorbikes, chickens everywhere– living, dead, or somewhere in between– a symphony of honks, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and construction. So, if ever it feels like things have gone back to what they were, all the new things I am experiencing and will experience flood into my head. I welcome the madness that is Hanoi.
Today marks the end of my fifth day in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Traveling with limited funds has forced me to postpone my backpacking travels and return to a somewhat civilian life– at least in the sense of routines, a room to call my own, possessions beyond what I can carry on my back, etc. I can’t deny that it all feels a little contradictory. Originally, I set out on my journey to ditch the very things that I now find myself searching for in Hanoi: a job, a motorbike, work clothes.
While backpacking, I felt like a meteor floating through space. At times, I’d crash into something or the gravity of something else would pull me this way or that. I enjoyed having no plan. Now, as resident of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, I found myself searching for the very things I ditched three months prior.
At first, I worried that life was doubling back on itself, about to revert to the status quo.
However, this wasn’t the case. Stepping outside my room on the fourth floor of a five-story house, everything felt fresh despite the pollution– the sea of motorbikes, the chickens and loud dogs, the labyrynthian maze complex within which our apartment was situated. So far, I welcomed the madness that is Hanoi. Amidst all of this, I was soon afflicted by the prospect of having to find a job in a foreign country. The beat of the new few days would consist of cover-letters, resumes, and demo classes.
This is a balancing act, albeit a new one in a very different environement. In trying to find balance. This is exciting as hell as it gives me the chance to pick and choose what I want in my life again.
Everybody’s worried about time / But I just keep that shit off my mind / People living on twenty four hour clocks / But we’re on a ride that never stops.
For two days we went by boat along the Mekong River.
On the 29th of January, I crossed over into Laos. The route that began in Chiang Khong, Thailand, near Chiang Rai, stopped at Pak Chong, continued to Pak Beng, then finally let us off in Luang Prabang, Laos. I realized I knew nothing about the country. The Dutch group with which I travelled was quick to point out that “kip,” the currency used in Laos, is the Dutch word for chicken. Amused, we referred to money as chicken during our time there.
While one or two were made nauseous, others were just as easily coaxed into a deep sleep by the soothing sound of the boat as it loudly tugged along the Mekong.
Most people played drinking games, took pictures along the riverside as the boat passed through, or chatted with the others. You can see the view from the boat along this path by visiting my other site, Mr. Chido.
As we stopped in Pak Chong, night was beginning to fall. As the boats unloaded, ranks of people quickly started their way up the ten-minute trek uphill, towards the hostels and guest-houses. The locals knew the drill, of course. The tourism from the boats provided them a steady supply of eager consumers. Consequently, we knew the drill, too– be at the front and get the better rooms. Delaying the search for accommodation can sometimes lead to interesting situations based on what’s left over.
I broke off from the Dutch and British I was with on the boat and found my way with another group.
We were coaxed into sharing a room after the owner of a hostel approached us, offering us some rice wine while advertising his private rooms. We accepted the drinks and took a look at the rooms. Satisfied, we gave him the money and laid in our beds for a while, drinking and chatting. After dinner everybody who still had some energy left converged at the one bar in town, which I forget the name of. It had a jungle/island atmosphere, L.E.D. lights and locals selling weed, opium, and offering both for the curious tourist. Although I would later try opium in Vang Vieng, Laos, I wasn’t up for the task yet.
At the bar, the two British lads and I were invited to some girl’s, where we would later get locked in by a barbed-wire fence.
When one of the girls pretended to cook traditional Laoatioan food in the kitchen, waking up the owner, I realized things were getting sloppy. The owner was becoming increasingly present, often appearing to do a visual check on us or the girls, or her property. I later learned this was probably because pre-marital sex is extremely taboo here. After sometime the owner went back to bed and dissapeared. Three hours before our boats loaded up and left, we decided to leave; the girls were already asleep. We were chatting outside, feeling the breeze. As we left the building, it locked us out. To our surprise, the barbed-wire fence that once had a gap to let us in, was now locked. After forty-five minutes scanning the perimiter, we found a weak spot in the soil where we could lift the gate up enough to shimmy out.
By 7am, everybody was already up to check out and make our ways to the boats and continue the last leg of our ride to Laos.
Perhaps that look inwards is another goal in travelling to the more remote parts of the world.
Catching me off-guard, a stranger I’ve only known for two days noticed a sadness in me that goes unnoticed back home.
I was straddling a ledge on the roof of our hostel, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. The main street created a corridor that framed the sunset along the town’s main street. I think it’s normal to feel highs and lows in life. I just get like this sometimes, I told her, throwing in a dumb joke about how I wouldn’t jump. She laughed and admitted that even if I jumped, the wires would brace my fall and I’d probably be alright. She left and I finished my beer. Strangely, I felt like crying.
Despite having so much time to myself while backpacking, I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home.
Realistically, I feel these negative emotions are arising pricesely because I have so much time to myself. There is no distration to make me forget, to weed to numb the uncomfortable feelings I feel sometimes.
In an environment without television, internet, or other distractions, one really has nowhere else to look and starts to look inward.
Perhaps that look inwards is a subconscious goal of travelling to remote parts of the world. With that increased inward gaze, one starts to be aware of things that was previously suppressed with distractions. Traveling in Asia has no shortage of distractions to the foreigner should they welcome it but can be equally distraction-free if you design your trip that way (no portable movie players, ipods, etc). This isn’t a 12-hour trip to distract yourself during, it’s something you need to interact with as much as possible and in as many ways as possible. In doing so, your interactions with travel will, in reality, be interactions with the self; the decisions you make, the people you seek out, and the way you hold yourself.
If at any time things get tough or heavy, realize a fundamental truth: All things arise, exist, and expire. Nothing is permanent. Things come in and go out. The thing that is liked just appears for a moment, exists, and expires.
Today I leave by bus, heading to Pakze from Van Vieng.
This will be another sixteen hours of travel-time. During these times of discomfort and long bus rides, it’s enough to just remind yourself that you are not here for comfort. In fact, part of us seeks the right kinds of discomfort during these journeys. For the time being, local buses and vans are welcome discomforts. Trying unfamiliar and visually appealing food, getting lost and getting directions amidst language barriers, taking chances– these are also welcome discomforts. The difficulties caused by this require one to problem solve, in turn leading to physical and mental growth.
Every day I see backpackers getting upset about insignificant things.
Their food wasn’t what they expected, or it took too long. Perhaps their accomodation wasn’t all that it was said to be. There are times when I could let myself get upset but most of the time it’s easy to take a step back and realize, everything is fine.
Most situations resolve themselves when we have flexible, fluid expectations– or perhaps, none at all.
It’s January 24th, 2017. I arrived in Bangkok twenty-two days ago. The twenty-hour flight was my longest to date and was facilitated by a mind-numbing number of movies watched. The fifteen-hour time difference was a curious string of thoughts I kept having. The act of moving through time lead reminded me of Interstellar, a movie in which time travel causes hours in one place to be equivalent to years in another, much farther off place. I’d imagined myself in that situation as my plane was being escorted. Imagine coming back home and everybody was twenty years older. Then I remember it’s Thailand, not another galaxy. The time difference is just fifteen hours.
That same night I questioned my first few decisions since arriving in Bangkok’s Khao SanRoad. Immediately, the scorpions I ate come to mind. That could’ve done it. Perhaps it was one of the dishes that I never even got a name for. My fun-half denies that it was the beer, while my rational-half isn’t buying it; the ice-cold towers of Chang were tall, after all. It was none of those things. After fifteen hours of puking and sitting on the toilet, I had plenty of time to contemplate. By the time I was good enough to get of the hostel’s top-bunk and walk into the furnace that was Bangkok during the day, I had pinpointed the culprit: a casual pad thai stand. There, I had my first meal: chicken pad thai. It was over-priced, I would later find. However, for me, the financial cost of the meal was the least of my troubles. Until then, I believed that my time spent in Brazil had granted me some sort of immunity, making me at least less prone to illnesses. I opted out on any shots, medications, etc.
Those first forty-eight hours in Bangkok were as tiring as they were exciting.
Between my dorm at Some Rest Hostel and the dirty alleyway to Khao San Road was a house filled with ladyboys. I don’t know if it was just a living situation, a brothel, both, or something altogether. One of them helped me find the hostel but beyond that our interactions weren’t many. It was in that hostel, bordered by a ladyboy house and Khao Son, that I met several people with whom I connected. I I was surprisingly tired from the food poisoning, time difference, and heat. I spent an odd amount of time in the hostel, in the AC, determining what my next move was, where I’d go, how I’d get there, what to bring and what to leave, etc. I ended up connecting with the owner of the hostel and going out with her friends that night. While out and about, I realized two things that didn’t affect my future travel decisions as much as I expected them to. First, drinking in Thailand will drain your money faster than anything else. A large, 500ml beer is double the price of a delicious, mouth-watering Pad Thai. Second, I was not here for this. It got me thinking about the question many of you asked me. “What am I actually doing here?” I thought. Was this a sort of spiritual quest or just a fun travel adventure? All I knew is that there were many paths to explore here, whether spiritual, social, or otherwise. Perhaps I just wanted to see the world a bit.