Big Things and Little Things

Dear Friend,

Hello and I miss you. That is all >.<

I’m in Saigon, Vietnam right now. It is HOT AF!!!!! I’m literally sweating as I write this!!

Inside the Hồ Chí Minh City Museum of Fine Arts

Not gonna lie, I’m going through some heartbreak right now. I told myself multiple times on this fellowship that I would not allow time for any sort of long term romance!! But something happened a couple months ago in Xiamen, China. I met a great guy. I mean, I’ve actually met a number of great guys during this fellowship so I’m not quite sure what it was about this guy that made me cling on just a bit more. Maybe it’s how he held my hand. Or how he grabbed my elbow when we walked. Or how he would look at me and smile. Maybe it’s cuz he’s Chinese. Maybe it was the…you know. Ot it’s the little nervous quirks he had. Or his relatable introspection. Or his cute face. Or the deep care he had for me. Idk. Maybe it’s all of it. Anyway, we hit it off. I fell for him. And I kept falling for him. And we’ve been talking ever since. Texting every day. Sometimes video chatting. We were supposed to meet up next month in Thailand, but now with the virus it’s really unclear what’s gonna happen. 

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang City

Things are complicated now, as they tend to get, especially when separated by thousands of miles. So now we’re just gonna be friends. Not sure what that really meant at first, considering we were never really in a relationship, or were never boyfriends. Modern dating, amirite? So I’m still sitting with it. Trying to figure out what this means. I think we both are. But it does feel a bit different now. And I feel sad about it. I can’t stop thinking about it or him.

Walking around a Thai Village in Northern Vietnam

See? This is why I told myself, NO to all the romantics!! It’s too distracting for my mind. I found myself at times not wanting to go out to explore or to meet new people and instead, just sit in my room and talk to him. I found myself thinking about him as opposed to thinking about my fellowship. And now it’s messy. And there are so many confusing feels… but honestly, I really enjoyed it. There were so many good feels. It feels nice to be loved back and cared for again. I hadn’t felt that way in a while. I guess I didn’t let myself feel that way in a while. But I don’t even know what I was expecting out of this. It’s like, he lives in China. I live in the US. I don’t know what I was envisioning. I guess I knew it would have to end at some point? I guess, I just didn’t think it would end like this. And I guess I just expected to be able to see him again, at least one more time. 

Sapa Town

This past month has gone by super fast. I feel like I’ve seen so much of Vietnam in such a short period of time. I hired a “responsible travel” company to take me around the country. Essentially, their approach is to partner with local communities to provide learning and educational opportunities to travelers. The money is used to help build up small scale economies within a framework of sustainable economic development, cultural preservation, social inclusiveness, and environmental protection. I think it’s been a nice change of pace for me. All my travel arrangements were booked for me, I had a guide to show me different places and be my translator as I talked to people. It’s just nice to not have to worry about where I’m going to stay in a week, how I’m going to get there, what I’m going to eat! There are obviously some things I could do without, for example, pretty sure I’ve seen way too many pagodas and temples that I could ever care for. But I also appreciate them for being able to take me to some remote villages and to meet with locals that I don’t think I would ever have been able to meet without them. 

Fansipan Mountain

I wasn’t 100% excited to come to Vietnam. I guess I wasn’t sure what to expect, but also, I think all the traveling is taking a toll on me. Leaving to a new place now sometimes feels like a bit of a chore as opposed to having the sense of excitement that I used to have. When I arrived however, that excitement kinda all came right back. It’s the same feeling I felt when I first stepped outside of my hotel in Brazil and walked along the beach, when I first crossed the border into Tijuana, when I was waiting for my bus at the Dublin airport, when I first walked around Hongdae in Seoul. I sat for a bit on a stool at a small street vendor in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and then walked around. The motorbikes buzzing everywhere, all the honking, the smell of burning gas, the nonstop traffic through these small alley wide streets. The street vendors, all the different foods, the stools and small tables outside, people just eating, drinking beer, enjoying a cigarette. The people walking around, young and old, tourists and locals all about. The buildings, the french style architecture, the local merchants selling all kinds of everyday products and souvenirs combined. It was definitely a grungy place but to my mind it felt new and fresh. I took a deep breath and just soaked it all in again. The sounds, the smell, the sights, the taste, the feel. There’s really nothing like being in a completely new and foreign country for the first time. The wonder, the energy, the way it tingles all of your senses… it’s a high that doesn’t seem to go away.

Old Quarter, Hanoi

So I’ve basically been traveling around the country, visiting different towns, villages, and cities. The countryside is beautiful. It’s been fun to travel to and stay in a bunch of different villages in the countryside to learn about the different ethnic groups in Vietnam. It’s interesting to see people still living very localized village lives. Growing food for themselves, living off the land, content with what they have. I went to a local market in the Mekong Delta region. It was a market, but I was told people aren’t really there to make money. It was more of a gathering place for people to see each other, hang out, and while they’re at it, they sell any sorts of leftover food they had grown. Interesting and different concept. I also stayed in a Thai village and during my time there, the village was having a going away party for one of the local 18 year olds who was leaving for the military (in Vietnam, military service is compulsory and I guess the village has a party every time this happens). The party was all day, outside in the middle of a rice field under a tent, surrounded by mountains. We arrived later at night where people were just mostly drinking and dancing at that point. It was a mix of older and young people, they had a stage, and they were blasting EDM music. Some top hits, but also some local EDM songs. It felt like I was at a club in the middle of a village. It was really fun to see how even though their way of life is different in many ways, the music we’re listening to is still so similar. In another village in central Vietnam, I briefly spoke to a woman who was 97 years old. She lived by herself, she was energetic, up and about, all smiles. I spotted an ashtray and cigarette butts on her dining table so I assume she was a smoker too? But she looked and acted healthy. She told me I could move to her village and marry her granddaughter and we could live in her home together 😂. I just can’t imagine how much she has lived through – multiple wars, famine, trauma, death – and then I think about how much she’s seen in all her years in terms of the changes in her life and in the world. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her. We really don’t ask our elders enough about what life was like for them, we don’t ask enough about their views of the world. There are so many lessons to be learned, there’s so much wisdom to be gleaned. Unfortunately we didn’t get to chat for very long. She quickly kicked us out of her house. Like literally she put her hand on mine and I thought, aww so sweet she’s holding my hand, she wants to say something nice to me, but instead she started pulling me towards the door to get me to leave LOLOL, so freaking funny. She had to go oversee some sort of village project. Apparently she didn’t trust the men who were working on it 😂. Gosh. 97 years old, so lively, so independent, so joyful, so involved. I thought to myself, I wanna be just like her when I grow old. 

They had me hold the chicken while they killed it 🙈🙈

The cities are changing – rapidly. The economy here is growing fast. You can see it, smell it, hear it everywhere you go. Constant construction. New resorts being built in the beach towns. New sky rises in the cities. Dust everywhere, noise. Lot’s of foreign investment. One thing that’s been on my mind is tourism. Vietnam is investing more heavily on tourism as an industry and you can definitely feel and see it. In Vietnam, many former farmers, fishers, village people, have moved away from old industries and into tourism. Opening their homes as homestays, being tour guides, selling local/traditional crafts. And it’s true, quite a lot of people have been able to make a good living off of this. All you have to do is bike around the tourist town of Hoi An to see all the nice and sizable homes being built around the city.

Hmong village outside of Sapa

But recently, because of the coronavirus, Vietnam tourism has been down, especially from Asian countries like China and South Korea, which make up a majority of its tourists. People have less work, less income, and the government isn’t doing much to help. I guess it makes me question the sustainability of our industries and economies. In such a globalized world, the halting of production and purchasing from a country like China completely wrecks countless economies worldwide. Not only that, the halting of production, the closing of borders has led to disruption in the global supply of necessary items. Is there a more sustainable model, where we aren’t so reliant on each other? Where we can actually be self-sustaining? What does it mean to live in a world that is both globalized in our worldview and where we are self-sustaining with our economies? Where what’s happening across the world, doesn’t mean the loss of something at home? OR, are globalization and having a self-sustaining economies incompatible? Are we really all in this together? And if we are all in this together, when are we going to start acting like it? When will we actually support each other like our fates are tied to each other, because they actually are?

Village homestay at night

So I guess I’m really struggling with the idea of globalization. How it completely changes local cultures and economies and turns people into zombies of corporate capitalism, while at the same time it has undeniably has made goods cheaper, more accessible, and increased the wealth of many. But obviously wealth isn’t the only indicator of quality of life. I think about the villages that I visited just here in Vietnam. The people there don’t have a lot of money, they are mostly living off the land, and for the most part, they are happy and content with what they have. At the same time, I do believe that many everyday people in Vietnam and in Asia welcome the foreign investment, they welcome the jobs, and the opportunity to make money. But then again, who wouldn’t? Are the trade offs worth it though? So is it possible to build economies that are first and foremost, localized. Economies that can support each other at the local level as opposed to being dependent on others to be able to sustain ourselves. What does this actually look like? Is it even possible? I’m not quite sure. After all, isn’t everything still made in China?

The Vietnam war ended about 50 years ago. A war that devastated the entire country. I’ve been thinking a lot about communism, socialism, capitalism, because I’ve been in so called “socialist” countries for the past 4 months, but also because the debate is occurring front and center in the United States. Honestly, as I think more about the rise of communism in Asia after WW2, I really think a large part of its rise has to do with less with people believing in the ideas of it and more simply it being an alternative to the status quo and their years of being ruled by outsiders. It’s just a sense that I got, talking to people, visiting all the war and history museums. Capitalism was tied to imperialism and colonialism. Whereas Communism was tied to freedom and self-determination. Ironically, as all these Communist parties won their wars, there was even less freedom and self-determination for their people once they began governing. Makes me think about how much emphasis we put on these labels, and how we equate them to being good or bad. When in reality, Socialism and Capitalism have both had failures and successes in varying contexts. But we forget it’s we the people who are supposed to actually put them into practice. And it’s we the people are constantly f*cking up. So instead of putting so much focus on these labels, maybe we should instead be more focused on how we teach people to be decent human beings? How we teach people to value empathy and compassion? How we teach people to care about each other, their community, their planet? I think for me right now this feels like where the real fight is. It’s less of an intellectual or theoretical fight, and more of a fight about our souls, our values, and how we practice them daily.

U.S. Imperialism

So I’m supposed to go to Cambodia after this and then not sure what. A lot of my original plans have been cancelled because of the virus. I guess it’s an opportunity for me to make a change. Be more intentional about people I’m meeting with and having conversations with. Trying to find more intentional learning opportunities, conferences, workshops, etc. It’s a work in progress. It’s kinda fun to see my growth, knowing that early on in my fellowship I would have been freaking out about not having a plan. Now I’m just kinda going with it, knowing I’ll figure it out as I go, knowing that my mind and body will tell me when I need to make a change. Which is what it’s doing now. 

I have about five months left of my fellowship. Time really works in weird ways. I feel like I just arrived in Vietnam but it’s already been over a month. Time keeps going by and it feels like just yesterday when I left for San Diego. I’m beginning to think about what life will be like when I return home. Two years will have gone by really quickly, but it’s actually quite a long time. I think I have to prepare myself for things not being the same when I return. I think I expect time to just stop when I’m away, but the reality is that people’s lives change. I have to be ready for that. 

First cup of ca phe sua da in Hanoi

So yeah, I’m going to miss Vietnam. The people here have been extremely kind. All the street food has been amazing. There’s so much to eat here. So much that I have never tried before. I think I only had pho two times. Lastly, I barely ever even drink coffee at home but I love coffee culture here. I love all the open air cafes, I love how the chairs all look out facing the street, and you can just sit, slowly sip on strong Vietnamese coffee, hang out, chat with friends, smoke a cigarette, all while you watch people, cars, motorbikes and the rest of life pass you by. It’s so relaxing. So great. We need more of that kinda stuff in the world. Maybe that’s the secret to growing old and healthy just like the 97 year village old lady. You never know. Sometimes it’s the little things. : D

Until next time.

❤ nick

One thought on “Big Things and Little Things

  1. I MISS YOU, NICK! Time is moving fast and I still need to do so much for my fellowship. Love all of your photos.

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