My flight to Singapore leaves this afternoon, and I'm more sad than I thought I would be to leave Hanoi. From the moment I arrived, I was very aware of how temporary my situation here was, so I sometimes felt like I wasn't forming the same bond with this city as many of my friends here, who had no plans to leave any time soon.
In the beginning of my time here, no matter what happened, no matter how ridiculous, I just accepted the information, smiled, and carried on. It took about 6 months for the novelty of Hanoi to wear off and for me to actually start getting frustrated. You see, from the outside, Vietnamese manners can seem pretty atrocious to Westerners. So many things that are common sense manners in the U.S. are just not part of the equation here. That is why Hanoi gets notoriously mixed reviews from travelers who come here: people feel like they are being treated like shit. This strange set (or absence) of manners can make Hanoi a very challenging place to live sometimes. I just have to keep reminding myself that I'm the weird one here. I think I've done a decent job at learning how to filter out the sentiment from behind the actions, and react to that instead... but when I get home at night that doesn't make me feel better. Oftentimes I just feel drained or sad. Hanoi has been an exhausting place for me.
It's sort of politically incorrect for an expat to report back anything about his new home abroad other than rainbows and gumdrops. But I'll admit that it's been hard for me. I've had a lot of fun too, but it's had a lot of hard moments. It's been hard enough that I was surprised at how sad I have been about leaving. It's been hard enough that when people ask me if I like Hanoi or not, depending on the sort of day I've had, sometimes I'm lying when I say 'yes'. It's been hard enough that there have been times that I was counting down the days to today.
Yeah, it's been hard at times, but even as Hanoi broke me down, it also always managed to pick me back up, somehow. And that is why I'll miss Hanoi. I have never been anywhere that has demanded such rapid rate of personal development from me. It has been both humbling and empowering at the same time.
Not only has my time Hanoi changed the way I look at myself, it has had a dramatic impact on the way I view where I come from. I grew up considering myself to be an independent thinker, but the longer I'm here the more I realize just how little of the things I thought and still think are 'nature' and just how many of them are 'nurture' (I'm referring to the "Nature v. Nurture" discussion here). Being in Hanoi has really helped me start boil away the bullshit and start to hone in on who Peter actually is, and what he actually believes. Sorry if that's cheesy.
I could go 'stream-of-consciousness' about this for pages, but I'll spare you my existentialism. The point is, I loved Hanoi, and I will miss Hanoi, because it challenged me. And I think that was the whole point of coming here, although I didn't expect it to happen quite in this way.
So let me wrap up with a few pictures of my adorable little students that I took in one of my last classes. I usually teach older students, but I took on more kids classes at the end just for funsies. Some of them were little assholes, but I think I was saddest of all to leave them behind. Even the ones that were assholes. I just wish I could have taken pictures like this of all my kids.
OKAY THAT'S ENOUGH SAD STUFF. This is the end of my time in Hanoi, but it's also the beginning of what is sure to be a crazy trip. It's time to hit the road for Singapore, Burma, Bangladesh, and India... and maybe another country or 2 if I feel like it. This blog is about to get very interesting (if it wasn't already). Everything I post will be a bit delayed, since these articles take some time to make, but I'll keep it as close to real time as I can.
So... tạm biệt Hanoi!
(That's Vietnamese for this:)