Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I wish...

I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve. Don’t get me wrong. I love sipping champagne or a few “R & Rs” while getting dolled up with my girlfriends. And, I do embrace the gathering of friends and the drinking of copious amounts of alcohol. I don’t mind that all the restaurants and bars are overcrowded and over-priced (I avoid them anyway). What I dislike about New Year’s Eve is that it is New Year’s Eve. It’s a holiday that’s inherent existence obligates you to take an inventory of your life as it stands at the end of another year gone by and on the eve of a new one. (Not to mention that it always sneaks up on me). But this year, I did something different.

On the eve of 2009, the crowds converged around Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, bringing traffic to a near standstill and creating a carnival-like atmosphere. Some toted bunches of brightly colored balloons, others sold incense and other offerings to leave at the pagoda’s alter, but most were there simply to take part in the celebration.

My friends and I arrived at the fringe of the festivities by taxi, and we quickly realized that we’d have to go by foot to get through the crowded streets. As we weaved single-file in, out, and around the idling motorbikes going nowhere, we took in the sight of dozens of brightly lit lanterns drifting gracefully upward above the chaos below. It was beautiful, and in that moment, amid the exhaust fumes and honking horns, I knew that no New Year’s resolution was going to bring me closer to what I wanted for 2009.

I set my sights on finding a lantern of my own. Like a Buddhist prayer sent into the wind, I was determined to send my wish out into the world. Among thousands of people, it was a seemingly impossible mission like searching for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow except nothing has ever felt more possible. At the stroke of midnight, I made my wish and watched it float away into the night sky. I didn’t revisit regrets or make any half-hearted pledges for the coming year. Instead, I was reminded of a different time. For that evening, I was filled with hope and faith and I believed again in the childish magic of wishing upon a star.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Vietnam: Day 2-Present, Part I

Since getting through my first day, my experience in Vietnam has been a whirlwind. On Day 2, I woke at 5am. By 7am, I was sitting at a local Pho shop drinking my morning coffee when a Dutch traveler sat down beside me. He was headed to the Mekong Delta in 15 minutes. Would I like to come? I boarded the bus at 7:30am.

The road beyond the Mekong has led me all over the country—from the beaches, fishing villages and floating markets in the south to the mountains and hill tribes in the north.

I have trekked through terraced rice paddies and bamboo forests. I have seen the sunset over Ha Long Bay, explored the old French hill station at the top of Ba Na mountain, and navigated the tailor heaven (or hell, depending on how you look at it) of Hoi An. I have learned to ride a motorbike (even during the Hanoi rush hour traffic!). I’ve found a house and have begun my teaching job at the International Language Academy (ILA).

Things have fallen into place. And, although the experience has been wonderful in so many ways, I still wonder what part it will play and where this road will lead. I wonder does this change anything. Is this going to help me find what I’m looking for? I can’t help but to question myself; to question whether or not it really makes a difference what I do or where I go. Wasn’t it Pink Floyd who said, wherever you go, there you are?

In moments like these, I always think of my life in Vermont. I think about what I would be doing if I were there now. Maybe I’d be making dinner with Erin or out running with Julie; watching a movie with Suz or dealing with the latest crisis at work. I certainly do miss my friends and so many other aspects of my life there, but then I remind myself that it was time for me to move on. I was no longer happy and I needed to do something about it. I don’t love or miss my friends any less and, thankfully, I know that they’ll always be there. I have made a number of new friends and somehow, all along the way, I have been fortunate enough to catch up with quite a few old ones as well…

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Vietnam: Day 1

Three and a half months ago, I had my tarot read. In tarot, the first card chosen is the most important because it is what the entire reading is based upon. My first card was an illustration of a woman leaping from a cliff. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Three days from then, I would be boarding a plane to Vietnam. I had given up my job, apartment, and the majority of my clothes and shoes. I gave up my Bongos! More importantly, I had made the decision to leave a community filled with close friends and many memories—a place that had become ‘home’ to me for the first time in my life. I was taking a leap of faith and trusting that the universe would provide me with everything I needed.

On September 18th, I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, tired, jetlagged and definitely a little lost. I spent my first day searching for a cheap hotel that would be clean and comfortable for the duration of my CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course. The heat was oppressive, the streets impassable and the sidewalks weren’t meant for walking. In Vietnam, the sidewalks are for cooking, eating, peddling and motorbike parking. Walk at your own risk! By late afternoon and after having little success, I was feeling frustrated. I decided to buy a cell phone. I needed to hear a familiar voice and was determined to give my friend, Jessica, a call.

I’ve known Jess since 2001. We served in AmeriCorps*NCCC together and had stayed in touch throughout the years. It was a coincidence that we were both in Vietnam. In March, I received an excited phone call from her that went something like this:

Me: “Hello?”

Jessica: “Guess what?! Guess what?!”

Me: “Umm…I don’t know…You’re finally going to Chile?!”

Jessica: “No,” she said, “Vietnam!”

Me: “Me too!”

Six months later, we shared in that excitement and disbelief again on my first day in Vietnam. Sure, she was in Hanoi and I was in HCMC, but close enough. At least she was in the same country as me. Hell, she was on the same continent! I only spoke with her briefly that day, but that was all I needed to make it through Day 1—to hear a voice of a longtime friend who wasn’t so far away.

Thank you, Jess (and the Universe).