A lot has changed since my last post. As in, everything.
Due to circumstances out of my control that I did not want or expect, I had to leave Bac Giang and move to Hanoi. I now live alone in a shared apartment, and while I miss my Bac Giang host family dearly, the freedom to cook my own meals is incredible. None of my Vietnamese friends believe me when I tell them I can cook for myself, but I have become a regular at the market down the street, where I attempt to barter my way to cheap fruit and vegetables. Obviously, every fruit here is better than in the United States, so I eat watermelon, avocado, green peaches, and bananas in abundance.
Work has been the biggest shift. I now intern at Apollo, an English language center, where I work as a teaching assistant and a tutor since I do not have the necessary certification to teach there. Most of the teachers are British, so the accents are fun, but that means the students are learning a different kind of English than I speak–yoghurt, to-mah-to, lemonade as soda, it’s all exotic.
At first, I kind of hated Hanoi. I grew up in a town of 1,000 people and go to college in a town of 50,000, so being ripped from the countryside and planted in this seven million-person maze overwhelmed me, to say the least. I hated the pollution and the insanity and the difficulty in transportation, but once I rented an electric scooter, my world changed. The first few days, I added hours to my commute time because I got lost every time I got on the scooter. On my first attempt to get home from work alone, at 8 p.m., I got so lost that a couple of angelic strangers had to lead the way all the way back to my street.
The best thing about getting lost here is that strangers will always help me out; I also had a habit of getting lost at the end of my runs for a few days and once again, I needed only show someone my street name and they pointed me in the right direction. Once I figured out how to get places more or less on the first try, I had a secret weapon at my disposal that could take me to any store (for oatmeal and peanut butter), Mexican food place (to ‘satisfy’ my Chipotle craving), or Thai place (because I remembered how close I am to Thailand) I imagined. And then I realized that Hanoi is full of interesting places and I can let my full independent wings fly here.
When I visited Hoa Lo Prison, a place built by the French to imprison and torture Vietnamese, then later used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War (the ‘American War’ here) to imprison American pilots, I fell in love with Hanoi. The realness and history surrounding the prison moved me, and it became apparent just how many places I had yet to discover in this massive city. On that same day, I also visited Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, which was quite a strange experience. Basically, we stood in line and went through some security checks, then walked into a large, cold, dark building, kept walking as we passed by a wax replica of Ho Chi Minh’s body, and walked right out. The line for the mausoleum begins near my alley, and every morning I see hundreds of people waiting for that apparently very important walkthrough.
So, now I have less than three weeks left and a lot of Hanoi to experience. I’m grateful that I have a chance to test (and strengthen) my resilience and adaptability in this giant maze, and I know that this very unexpected change will result in a little bit of wisdom and a lot of opportunities.