Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

Hello, Hanoi
(Part 5 of Many)

I am sitting on the bed– on “my” bed for the next few months, I suppose. It is a little over a foot off the floor, made from dark mahogany-looking wood, with a woven grass mat on top. My friend and host, Bắc, has given me a couple of extra blankets to act as “mattress” and sheet. An old camping sleeping bag I’ve brought from home has already proved invaluable, as the weather took a dive toward cold for the week of Têt. I have come to love my bed, somehow cozy in it’s simplicity.

As I near three weeks having been here, I smile to remember all that has changed, and all that hasn’t:

*     *     *

It is my second night in Vietnam. I wake at quarter to 5:00 with the sound of pagoda bells — my neighbor, the Buddhist temple.

Even with ear plugs, the morning chants are deep and loud, and beautifully shake my body awake. The bells toll 2-3 times a day, and I never tire of their ringing. They remind me of a daily call to mosque; whenever they go off I am simultaneously in Turkey and Vietnam at the same time.

I wake with hacking cough, reminants of my body adapting to the pollution. Why do I still feel exhausted, jet-lagged, and culture shocked?

In the darkness I sit up, groggy and heavy, but try to remain mindful as I slip out from under my mosquito net and pull two ends off their hooks, fold it up and against the headboard.

My stomach grumbles: hungry and unsatisfied from having white rice for 5 days straight. I can feel irritability creeping in. I’m sorry, Thich Nhat Hanh– but I am no Buddha.

Where is my enlightenment? Every day I feel differently. I wake up in an ebb or in a flow — feelings of homesickness, fatigue and remorse; or ecstatically wanting to live in Vietnam forever wash over me in oscillating turn every day.

So all I can do is wake up and see what’s waiting for me each day.

I make my bed the Vietnamese way: by pulling back my blankets, folding them length-wise, and setting them atop the pillows at the head of the bed. I have been making every effort to “do it the Vietnamese way.” This has the same advantage as disadvantage: I am always learning.

I slide my feet into purple plastic sandals and shuffle to the kitchen in the dark. I am careful not to make too much noise as I put on the kettle for tea.

After my cup of jasmine green tea (my supreme comfort, brought from home), I read, meditate, do my exercises, and revel in the quiet.

It is short-lived. Soon my little friend– Bắc’s 8 year-old niece Mài (whom we call Chich, after the sound a baby chick makes)– enters the room. She has decided to join me to play a game of copy-cat, at my expense. It is 6:12am. I’m not in the mood.

I am sharing a one-bathroom, two-bedroom house with 4 others. All (Bắc’s) family. Personal space is a rare luxury. I am learning all about communal living.

Instead of being irritated by the interruption of my morning solitude, I keep my focus, and she mimics me as I exercise, sip tea, write. I hand her a spare notebook, and we write together for about 2 minutes until her attention wanes.

I keep writing as she skips in and out of the room, eventually placing before me a thin piece of transparent film that looks like stiff Saran Wrap. This is, apparently, my pre-breakfast breakfast. We eat our Saran Wrap together in silence.

She skips back out as her mom ushers her on to school. Outside, the air is smokey and wet. I pump up the flat front tire on my temporary bike. When I ride, my knees come up to my chest and sometimes the school children who ride along the pot-holed road laugh at me. But I am grateful for that bike: it is my freedom.

I have told myself I will find a new cafe to write in every day. Placing my notebook in the bike’s basket, I kick off and pedal on, in search of that ever-elusive perfect writing spot.

To Be Continued…

1 Comment to “Second Morning”

  1. gigi says:

    Thanks for writing – I’m getting totally lost in your posts and it’s a wonderful distraction from surfing the internet.

    Have fun and stay safe.


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