Version 0.43 (Some Thoughts on Being a Foreigner)

03/06/19

I’m a little shocked, for I haven’t journaled in two weeks. Truthfully I haven’t had much to write about.
No.
Scratch that.
There’s been much to write about, but my camera has been doing the journaling this time. Right now I just want to sit quietly and think back on whatever I think back on. Down whatever merry lane my mind might carry me.

I’m at Ella Cafe in Tay Ho having a coffee as I usually do around this time, six in the evening. An hour ago I had my first ever massage by a professional massage therapist: Swedish, 90 minutes, $30 (or 680,000 dong). It was a nice treat to myself, though I have a hard time imagining it being worth the quadrupling in price it would cost in the States. Perhaps that means it wasn’t particularly good? Oh well. It’s impossible for me to say as I have no prior experiences to compare it to.

I have successfully applied for and paid for my visa extension. I assume it will be filled. In less than two weeks I’ll be in Da Nang. This is something to be excited about. I haven’t been out of Hanoi since arriving, and though I planned to rent a bike and drive down to Ninh Binh for two days, I realized the visa extension was more pressing (passport used as collateral for the bike). I really love this country, though, but I can’t place what it is that speaks to me so plainly and loudly and happily. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the fact that as an American with American money, everything is so inexpensive here. Now, it’s not just that, but I can’t in all truthfulness claim that that doesn’t have something to do with it. There is also the explosive growth I’m seeing in Hanoi. Everyday it seems a new business is opening or a new building being erected, or ground being broken somewhere. It looks to me like there’s a freedom to do almost anything you like, with little red tape and restrictions getting in the way. Little money required as well. One of my favorite sandwich shops is little more than a closet next to a convenience store. I imagine most of their business is to-go for they only have two, small, round tables out front.

But I think too, about the fact that I’m a foreigner with a fair bit of money relative to most Vietnamese (I guess) and think about this position of privilege that I am in because of this, and I can easily see how my judgment is skewed as a result. But how might I judge any differently? For I am who I am, and I come from where I come. Certainly some things that I see as inexpensive, many Vietnamese citizens will disagree, and for them i have very real empathy, because I come from that place in the U.S. Yet I don’t think they are unhappy because of this. I think the Vietnamese are some of the happiest and friendliest people I’ve come across, and the most communal and social, and I believe this is the driver behind their general happiness. Having more or less here doesn’t seem to matter so much because they are all part of various very tightly knit communities of family and friends.

These are all just observations made by a white male tourist from America over a two week period.

“Poem”
Lights flashing, streaming by in the dark
Others making shimmering daggers across the lake
The honking of horns like notes on a musical staff that is that same line of cars and motorbikes
Fruit hawkers on the sidewalks with their wares resting in woven baskets: sliced pineapple in plastic bags, enormous crescent shaped bunches of bananas, passion fruits, dragon fruits, lychees and still others unrecognizable to me.
Blue and red plastic stools everywhere, speckling the sidewalks, some their seats split, cracked, and taped together, and others brand new.

Screaming, shouting children pouring out of the gates after school like ants from an anthill.
Throngs of parents on scooters packing the streets, backing up traffic all around,
or nearly nonexistent the children left to their own devices to wander off and get a snack or play games.
Two old men, a tea pot, tea cups, a board game on the sidewalk, and several other onlookers exhorting, advising the players on strategies and next moves like the groups one might see in the United States surrounding a barbeque pit, or arched around the engine bay of a car, the hood up, attempting to diagnose a problem and prescribe a fix.
The mist over the lake and the cloud in the sky merged in the distance, becoming one.
Corn grilling, corn kernels battered and frying, bananas battered and frying.
A barber asleep at his spot on the street, the back of his head reflected in the mirror hanging on a wall.

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