On October 18th, 2008, I officially passed the sixth month mark of this stay in Vietnam. So much has changed since April: my perspective of Vietnamese people and their culture, my outlook on my future in Vietnam, and my overall level of happiness, to name but a few examples.
A Sickness Resolved
What I failed to prepare myself for several months ago, immediately after my surgery, was that during my recovery period I would feel lethargic, uneasy, and slightly forlorn about the notion of living so far away from the United States. Shortly after my minor procedure home seemed to be an unreachable haven. And I didn’t understand how I could go from loving my stay in Vietnam to wanting out as soon as possible. But as soon as I fully recovered, my answer was found in the meds.
My doses were killing any sense of appreciation for the uniqueness of the path that I have chosen, effectively snuffing out the joy that Vietnam has offered me ever since I came to this beautiful nation. When I finished them, however, my overall level of happiness skyrocketed. Sights and sounds in Vietnam became more vibrant, Vietnamese food became more delicious, and my relationships with the locals grew even closer.
Whereas after my unpleasant hospital visit I wanted nothing more than to be alone, I now find myself craving my daily coffee breaks with friends, because I know that our conversations are what craft my vision of Vietnam. A close friend in Bangkok pointed out to me how lucky we both are to be living such unique, enviable lives in Southeast Asia. He was right, and I will never forget that.
A Future Revisited
The original goal was two years. Two years I would stay in Vietnam, and after that I would spin a globe with closed eyes in deference to my destiny. But my desire to stay in Vietnam for that long has wavered. I sometimes find myself ready to hop on a plane to Japan, China, Singapore, or even a South American nation like Chile, where my mother lives.
I believe it to be the truth of all nomads that our futures are as uncertain as tomorrow. We itch for peace of mind, constantly striving to control our environments and interpersonal relationships; however, our adaptability is both a virtue and a flaw. At the slightest hint that my day to day life in Vietnam is not where I would like it to be, I habitually search out new adventures, unwilling to buckle down and grind down the road bumps.
I have come to a truth, though, that no matter where I go, how many times I hop on a plane or wipe the slate clean, I will always be yoked down by my fundamental unwillingness to stick to a plan. When a previously set in stone two year stay in Vietnam becomes one, by my own choosing, I create more problems for myself and waste time not enjoying my life but fretting over a million What’s Nexts. This attention deficit disorder towards my goals and overall well-being must be stopped.
It is for this reason that I have decided to stay steady in my plans to live and thrive in Vietnam while I am here. I will of course visit the United States next year but any thought of packing up and leaving Vietnam does not exist in my mind anymore. I love that Vietnam offers me the opportunity to work, save money, increase my level of proficiency in Vietnamese, and write home to tell about it. At this very moment, there is no other place in the world that I would rather be.
A final change that I have noticed is my perspective on my relationships with Vietnamese people and their culture. I would have told you a year ago that given my study abroad experiences in Vietnam and close relationships with Vietnamese Americans in the United States, I completely understand Vietnamese people. The truth is that I don’t, and I don’t know that I ever will.
Language and culture, even my own, take a lifetime to understand. They are not commodities to be guzzled up and digested in six months, twelve months, or even twenty-four months. I used to believe that my tight grip on the Vietnamese language and observance of the locals gave me insight into the collective mind of Vietnam and its descendants.
While I am in a better position than a casual observer to understand what makes Vietnamese people tic, I don’t know that I will ever quite grok why women are the way that they are here, or why men share the values that they share with each other.
Because of this I don’t entertain the idea of having a romantic relationship with a local—the stakes are just too high. Close friendships that involve deep, unabated interpersonal understanding are already hard enough to achieve with a Vietnamese local. Pushing for something more, given my own quirks, would be playing with fire.
Don’t get me wrong. The women in Vietnam are absolutely charming and engaging. But they are also degrees removed from my American perspective of politics, economics, social values, and cultural traditions. I place great value on discussions that an American would deem central to American intellectualism. Those types of chats come few and far between with women in Vietnam, so I find myself often in wanting.
Ultimately, I’m happy here. There is always room for improvement, but the bottom line of pros to cons in Vietnam sharply leans towards a positive return on my investment of time in southeast Asia. I’m glad that I came, and I am confident that in six months I will be delivering a message with a similar tone.