Not long ago, I made a silent promise to myself that no matter how lonely I become in Vietnam and no matter how difficult sticking out like a sore thumb is, I will not leave. It has now been over a month since my third arrival to this beautiful nation, and I absolutely know that I made the right decision to come back.
In the last thirty one days I have reconnected with old friends, developed new relationships, and ended those that were merely hanging on by a thread. I have lost weight, experienced my first string of peaceful sleep filled nights in years, and learned new Vietnamese words. This is exactly why I came here—for the love of language, new culture, and the other.
But my insecurities in Vietnam have resurfaced. I notice my size in Vietnam much more than I notice it in America, and the new beard that I sport only adds to the freakshow. The confidence I once held with regard to my Vietnamese has been shattered again and again, and sometimes I really do question whether or not I have what it takes to grind past the learning plateau that I have landed upon.
That said, I am at peace in Vietnam. I have developed new methods by which to stay at ease in my surroundings, like pounding my brains in with the sounds of hip-hop and chillout music and working out until I’m too tired to care about being different. And unhealthy as it may be, I occasionally smoke when the nerves become too much to handle. After all, it is said that every great man has his vice, and while I am not yet great, I will indulge the belief that I am and embrace my vices.
I’m a businessman now and to the Vietnamese, I am rich. My reality here stands in stark contrast to my reality in America. Back home, I am a black twenty-something year old freelancer who belongs to the lower middle class. Indeed, there is little about me back home that would stop traffic. In Vietnam, I am neither of those things. Here, I am a rich, young American web developer who laughs a lot and eats entirely too much pizza for his own good.
I live a thin line here, and it will only become thinner as the days continue to pass. At times I feel at one with this nation and on other occasions I believe that I will never be a part of Vietnam. I’m too exotic to have normal romantic relationships, too rich to joke about being broke, and too priviledged to pretend to understand what it is like to work twelve hours a day for one hundred dollars a month. I’ve lived through welfare back home, but it will never compare to poverty in Vietnam.
I love Vietnam, but part of me is changing for the worse. I’m now more judgemental of other Western travelers, often questioning their intentions when inviting Vietnamese females out to dinner or to their hotels. My trust for locals no longer comes easily and the emotional barriers that I have put up make it difficult to develop new friendships with Vietnamese youth. In short, a small part of me is becoming what I despise—a judgemental person who stereotypes other travelers.
It’s difficult not to become jaded about my own existence when traveling alone to Vietnam, but I’m confident that I have made the right decision. Three years ago I was a coward and returned to the United States when living in Can Tho got the best of me. This time around, even with all of the negative forces pulling at my mind, I have resolved to seek joy in all of its forms and use loneliness as an opportunity to find myself within the noise.
Tomorrow I will be arriving to my new home in Can Tho, and I could not be a happier man. In Can Tho lives a family who loves me as its own and that is what I need in this country. As long as I know that I will be taken care of when the times become tough, living in Vietnam will be a positive experience.
Boarding my Singapore Airlines flight from Houston to Ho Chi Minh City last month, I had no clue that I would feel so happy at this exact moment in Vietnam. Right now, I am writing my legend and preparing the pages of my future children’s bedtime stories. In Vietnam, I am at once observing the drop of oil in the spoon while taking notice of every single beautiful painting on the wall. And that alone makes the next seven hundred days in Vietnam seem like nothing more than a ripple.