Tạm Biệt, VIETNAM!

Current tunes: Milky Chance, “Flashed Junk Mind

photoWell I’ve been back on American soil for a little over a week now but jumped straight back into work a day after landing so I’d be lying if I said readjusting to “normal” life has been a breeze. I have finally unpacked but am still getting used to the drastic change in weather. Of course it’s still sunny here in Cali but not having the 65-80% humidity that I have been accustomed to has left me feeling like I’ve reentered into Alaska instead of California. And I think I have finally stopped saying “tạm biệt” every time I leave a building, which means “goodbye” in Vietnamese. However, after living in Vietnam for three weeks, I regret not making a bigger effort to learn the language. I mean I picked up the essentials like “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you,” how to count to ten, and “I’ll have a an iced coffee with sweet milk, please!” (I definitely overused that last one…) I really should have invested in learning more useful phrases like, “Can’t you see I’m trying to cross the street here?!” or “No! Stop asking if I need a moto taxi. I’m a fat American that needs to walk, thanks!” Seriously, those moto taxi guys can be really pesky and persistent. That’s definitely one thing I will not miss.

toilet-located-in-theI will also not miss the conjoined toilet/shower stalls that leave you with soggy toilet paper to wipe your derrière. I will not miss sweating buckets before 10am and then fearing for my life when a river has somehow magically appeared twenty minutes later from an unforseen and instantaneous downpour. And I will not miss having to protect/pull out sweaty money from my undergarments instead of caring a bag around like normal human being (HCMC is relatively safe but bag snatching happens on the regular). These are things that I could live without. BUT, I did fall in love with so many parts of Vietnam.

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I will miss the people that often went out of their way to help an obviously struggling traveler find her bus. I will miss having amazing street food literally a stone’s throw away from me that costs less than a bottle of nail polish. I will miss the $3 pedicures and $7 hour long massages. I will miss pretending to be a local on my hour commute on the local bus to the orphanage where I got to just be still, read, pray, and reflect every morning. I will even miss the thrill and feeling of accomplishment that I got every time I made it across the street in one piece. This country is vibrant, thriving, smelly, crowded, delicious, and beautiful and I do hope this visit will not be my last.

But most of all I will miss the kiddos and those select caregivers that somehow became close to my heart. To be honest I don’t think I had a real, complete conversation with any of them. It was a lot of charading, drawing pictures, and giggling through confusion. But despite the language barrier, they still became my little family in those short two weeks. On my final day, I knew I would be sad but I did not think I would cry. Well I was wrong, because the tears just kept coming when my Vietnamese momma, Thuy, stroked my hair as I hugged her. And I will never forget little Houng’s look of confusion when she realized I was crying as I kissed her goodbye. Go Vap Orphanage is a special place with wonderful people. While the work was often quite challenging, it was an honor to be welcomed into their lives and to be able to love and be loved. If you are interested in working with Go Vap orphanage check out their FB page and email Kids Without Borders at info@kidswithnoborders.org. I also wanted to recognize two of GVO’s inspiring and selfless long term volunteers that left their lives in Australia to work at the orphanage. Kate and Ella are special education teachers that are currently raising money for the orphanage’s Multisensory Room. This treatment room is a type of therapy that works wonders for many of the neuroligacally impaired children. Check out their hard work and dedication to the children here (there’s also a spot to donate if you’d like to help fund the materials needed to complete the sensory room).

Oddly enough, I will also miss the UK. I’ve come to Vietnam as an American and somehow feel like I’m leaving as a Britt. I’d say about 90% of the travelers and friends I made on this trip have been English and it’s strange but I even started changing my speech a bit. I caught myself saying things like “quite lovely,” “a bit dodgy,” and “I have to wee.” I think I even embarrassingly switched in and out of an English accent with some words because the only people I really spoke English with were foreigners (and like I said, they were mostly all from the UK). But I want to say thank you to all my new friends for making a solo female traveler feel a little more safe and a little less lonely. Three girls in particular took me into their circle and it felt nice to feel like I had a sense of familiarity and community for a few short days. Emma, Amber, Alicia, Tom, Ian and Becs, and my other fellow adventurers that I had the pleasure of meeting abroad: Come visit me, California would look good on you :]

Now it’s back to the daily grind. It does feel good to have a home base again, to not live out of a backpack, and to not constantly have a mini panic attack every time I put my passport in a different pocket. But instead of having my thirst for adventure quenched, Vietnam has only left me dreaming up my next destination spot. Listening to the other backpackers six month travel plans or stories of hiking Machu Picchu, dancing in Tokyo, and scuba diving in Bali have left me slightly jealous, but mostly inspired. If you have yet to set foot outside your hometown for a long period of time I urge you to make every effort to try. Travel is exciting, exhausting, challenging, but most of all refreshing and often gives new perspective on your current way of life. For me personally, experiencing other ways of life around the world reminds me how egocentric my thinking can be, how I often exaggerate my little daily annoyances, and how I am blessed far beyond I deserve.

IMG_3168But let me warn you now, backpacking is addicting! Most of my British friends are heading to Australia this winter after they finish their tour across Asia…only time will tell where my heart (and pocketbook) take me next. If anyone is interested in traveling to Vietnam, please feel free to email me with questions and I will also be creating a few posts about how to get a Vietnamese Visa, a food review, and Miriam’s Guide to Bui Vien: The Backpacker District of HCMC under my iWander section in the next few weeks. And even though my travels have ended for this season, I’ll still be cranking out posts so be ready for fall/winter recipes and other ways to get you in the holiday spirit. Bring on those pumpkin spice lattes and Christmas carols because the holidays are right around the corner and I could not be happier.

Cheers and keep on wishing!

Miriam

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