Musings, Travel Log

One Last Time

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Long Bien Bridge and Banana Island below

“This is the last time you will be performing this play, probably for the rest of your lives. After all those rehearsals, doing it over and over again,  going scene by scene, for just 30 minutes on that stage…one last time.”

A pep talk from our director that was more grounding than lifting our spirits, but it hit me hard and sank in. Two months of 2+ rehearsals a week, couple hours each, then almost everyday, hours stretched; all for a “Silly Shakespeare Short” rendition of The Tempest. To think of where we started 8 weeks ago– barely knowing each other, barely knowing the script, and morphing each scene into the final interpretation– it’s kind of special all that came out.

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Toil

Then there’s what the director calls “postpartum” after the last fadeout and final bow, when the set gets broken down and the cast say their goodbyes. What do I do nowAll that time and energy pushing for something and then suddenly the weight is gone. Did all that even happen? Thankfully there are pictures to prove it did.

 

Poetically, that dovetails into my last few days in Hanoi–and abroad–before flying back to the States. bitter.sweet. surreal. Now every xe om ride feels like ‘the last time’ I’ll fly through these streets and sights, so I peel my eyes open and crane my neck every which way. Because as much as I want to come back to Vietnam and Hanoi, I truly don’t know if or when it will ever happen. And it certainly won’t the same experience as I’ve had these 12 weeks living in my Ba Dinh bubble with a rooted work schedule. If I come back, it will likely be leisure based, which is entirely different from actually living in a place. The street I’ve lived on constantly shifts to a different one each time I look a little higher or a little closer around. Twelve weeks sounds shorter than three months, and time does a funny dance with memories where yesterday feels like weeks ago but has it already been months since I moved in in September?

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Not only the sights, but obviously the people I’ve met along the way. Soaking in hot tea, toiling away at backstage ‘refugee camp’, a drink after, a smoke, over hot pot, cruising the bay, countless rides to rehearsal, arm-in-arm in Old Quarter, lunch around the office table. Good, great, bad, meh; and it continues to amaze me how we wouldn’t have met under any other circumstances (yes, platitudes platitudes, but that doesn’t mean the sentiments aren’t real).

 

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One of the many nooks and crannies of backpacker haven, Old Quarter

Of course, as I’m writing this, D reminds me:
“Ah that’s wonderful (that I’m blue)! Doesn’t that mean that you had a good time while abroad, and that’s why good byes are so so hard?”

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Pho cocktail. Sums it all up.

Okay, enough of the syrupy stuff. It’s been a ride, Vietnam, and em yêu anh* for it.

 

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Giang Vo Lake after work

 

*If you couldn’t guess, “I love you.”

 

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Travel Log

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

Hanoi, Vietnam–

I think I’ve taken the familiarity I had with Bangladesh for granted– being able to speak and read language enough to get my bearings, and blending in with the masses. Now? Now I have a full appreciation for the struggles my other fellow expats encountered in Dhaka. Despite the Roman characters, I am utterly lost reading Vietnamese signs and can hardly pick out a word of what’s being spoken as there is very little English shared between me and the locals. Now I get to be giggled at while butchering the few foreign phrases I know. Honestly, it gets tiring: constantly trying to explain via charades and not being understood, trying to understand others through facial expressions and pointing around.

Roadside barbershop

Roadside barbershop

It could be easier, but I wouldn’t trade my (brief) experience so far. I got to explore more familiar territory and witness the nuances of my heritage culture. And now I get to plunge into new waters to see how well I can navigate when left on my own. Each experience lets me appreciate the other and I can’t help but to constantly compare/contrast the two cities: rickshaws are traded for motor bikes (they will be missed), there are more women out and about, stores are still stacked one on top of another while concreteglass buildings share air with fading older facades reminiscent of Old Dhaka, and there are still people coming out of the woodwork from every crevice. Also, the rains seemed to have left Bangladesh and met me here in Hanoi, because I am talking sheets pouring down.

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15 minutes of leapfrog to get through every intersection

Aside: While I sorely miss riding colorful, body-jarring rickshaws, I must say I am feeling the zippy motorbikes. Zooming through narrow alleyways, I feel like I’m in an action movie as we whiz, zigzag, and swerve through neon signs and under touching balconies. Currently 60/40 in favor of getting my own bike.

Cheers to another 2.5 months of getting lost.

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Travel Log

The B-Sides: Part 2

Another girl at BLC also blogs but doesn’t have enough time to compose long posts, so instead she tries to write a single sentence about something, about her day that stuck out to her; an event, a feeling, a realization, anything. Taking up on that idea, an irregular series of snippets from my day-to-day.

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Sunset on the BRAC HQ rooftop. Skyscrapers and slum dwellings.

8/1
Trying to hold on to the feeling of walking through the rain… the absolute downpour that makes any attempt at maintaining dryness–an umbrella, a rain jacket– laughably futile.
I don’t like the idea of getting wet; I like to watch from my bed inside instead of welcoming the rain with open arms.
I finally had to abandon my umbrella when the gusts of wind proved to have more power over it than I did. As I, begrudgingly, stopped fighting the rain, I came to accept it, and then appreciate it. In between blinking to keep my contacts in, the palm(?) trees leaned subordinate to the wind the sky a flat slate gray rain pelted in steady diagonal sheets. My clothes drenched and I laugh to myself at how I was trying to avoid puddles just minutes ago.
Slipping on a dirt path and landing on my tailbone rerouted me home. But the walk back, I resisted the storm just enough to avoid being blown away; otherwise, I was immersing myself into the surroundings and stopped caring about how my clothes and hair were plastered on to me, soaked in what is likely to be acid rain, that I was wet.

I keep looking to the sky, desperately trying to absorb, to observe; find now that I am soaked, it isn’t so bad.

8/4
The mine gets a little emptier as another person leaves

8/7
Last night.
We peaked.

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Babushkas

Partner in crime

Partner in crime

8/8
Goodbyes are a natural fact of life, but this was one of the harder ones. The cheese factor is extreme, but it’s another example of how ‘the universe’ can concoct connections we wouldn’t have come across in other situations.

8/17
They say “be yourself,” but sometimes I feel that’s a lie.

8/21
The happiness of no hangover and feet aching from dancing all night

8/22
Can check “coming home barefoot” off my list

9/2
Finally, the kind of day I’ve been hoping to have during this internship all along: sat down with the supervisor to go over my assignment, promptly received the necessary documents, and had a pleasant chat with a co-worker; overall, feeling like I’m being taken seriously. Too bad it had to come just as I’m about to leave this place.

9/12

Some chill after a full two days of endless drinking and movement. Spent quality down time with certain people and we wonder, why couldn’t this have happen anytime before in these 3 months? Departure time keeps getting pushed back, but I’m not complaining.

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Somewhere near 5 am from a porch near Srimongal. Site of jaw drops, laughing too loud, and the finale of nearly 36 sleepless hours.

9/13

The last sunrise in Bangladesh, and by far, the best. Revelations, reflections, and beauty beauty beauty, through endless shisha on the porch amongst the forest…I couldn’t ask for a better, more appropriate end to my time here.

Oh My Dhaka…and all your contradictions. I will miss you more than I could have imagined.

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A last note: I keep catching myself with the realization that identifying myself with the native culture has caused me to be less forgiving of said culture and the people, more than I would be in a setting more alien to me. For example, I find it so irritating when locals pepper expats for pictures; but don’t I also take pictures of people and scenes that find different and fascinating? I feel embarrassed if someone says or does something silly or tacky, feel a need to apologize on their behalf because I see it as a blow to my image…when that is unfair to both parties. They are an individual in their own context and conduct, just as I am my own, even if we share a similar heritage; shame or discomfort is a product of context that isn’t always shared.

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Travel Log

The B-sides: Part 1

Another girl at BLC also blogs but doesn’t have enough time to compose long posts, so instead she tries to write a single sentence about something, about her day that stuck out to her; an event, a feeling, a realization, anything. Taking up on that idea, an irregular series of snippets from my day-to-day.

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Commute home

6/14
The scarf is cursed. Threads get stuck on everything and I tripped twice…not on the scarf itself, but still. I blame it.

6/15
A co-worker’s dilemma: a car is headed towards you but just then, you see a lady wearing sky blue– do you run out of the way, or stare in place at the lady in blue?

6/16
What I say: “What format did you use for process documentation?”
What he hears: “Tell me about your education and/or philosophy on Bangladesh society”

6/23
Turns out we are “very bad” at karom board– the other players were gracious enough to give us dozens of extra “chances”…oh banana tree (kola gaach)

6/24
I love D’s eternal optimism. All of her words seem to carry an air of “why not?” Her stories of travelling alone and relying on strangers makes me want to try to do the same. Her entire reason for even being here seems random.
“We’re here, talking, isn’t that crazy?”


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7/2
Fuchka, ginger tea & live music enclosed in a ‘room’ made of patchwork sheets on a rooftop, lanterns hanging above while we sit on cushions on the ground.
It was easy to be absorbed by the female singer’s smooth, milk-tea voice set against the guitars and hand drums. The lyrics are beyond my Bangla capabilities, but you could effortlessly get pulled into the yearning drawn out notes of loss or sadness, get lifted by the more joyful beats.
It’s got expat catering written all over it, but I can appreciate good music & food in a sweet space any day.

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The BLC mine

7/4
A very multicultural Fourth of July, which is duly appropriate: a bunch of Americans (plus Spanish girl) in Dhaka, partaking in Mauritius and Peruvian alcohol, on rooftops.
This weekend was a particularly hard one to let go. After almost a month, the BLC group’s finally been able to go out all together, and they’re really a lovely, eclectic bunch. Only a few short weeks before people start leaving…

7/5
Spoke to “H,” a security guard downstairs on the night shift. So nice how one simple question can lead to longer conversations you didn’t intend on having. I learned he has a brother working on his PhD in China, and I told him what it’s like to get around in America.
Pleasant, happenstance, a small connection formed.
And my Bangla is understandable and somewhat good! Validation.
It was also a lesson in listening to what the other person is saying instead of thinking what you’ll say (Hemmingway). I liked it. I’ll try it more often.

7/6
Touched by kindness in the form of unordered begunis and rooh afzha to accompany my quesadilla iftar. Ramadan mubarak y’all.

7/9
Things I miss: dressing up. mixing and matching pieces from my wardrobe until I create an outfit that makes me happy; miniskirt with sheer tights, tank and long cardigan, red lips and black hat.

7/13
Bengali barbie, shady Korean bar of men and beer, delicious woodear, Ferraro Rocher gelato

7/14
Today is one of those days where I question what I’m doing with my life.

7/19
An otherwise uneventful day ends up having one of the most profound, opening conversations I’ve ever witnessed; discovering experiences with how mechanisms of the universe can work in our lives.

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Musings

Sunrise : Sunset :: Pastels : Jewel Tones

Strange, seemingly poignant thoughts can pop up first thing in the near-dawn hours, and the title phrase is one of them.

This is a real-time post, as it is 6:28 AM and I am currently sitting next to the balcony window in the near-vacant guest room facing the backyard (much better viewing than my own bedroom). Ramadan is in full swing so I was up a couple hours earlier to eat my only meal til sundown. I looked to YouTube to help me drift back to sleep but, as usual, it kept me up further. Soon enough, faint daylight peeped in from my windows. While my online search for an Otterbox is indeed urgent, catching this sunrise couldn’t be passed up.

I actually prefer sunrises to sunsets. Sure, sunsets are gorgeous in their own right, and I love staring at the rich colors bleed into night. But sunrises offer so much more peace. There is such a stillness and calm in the silence before everyone is up and about–the start of a new day. Almost anyone can watch a sunset (unless you’re nocturnal), but sunrises are more happenstance so there’s an added joy at actually “catching” one.

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Stolen from Raome R.’s files

Watching the sun rise with friends and loved ones is a different happiness altogether. It’s often the result of a night so well spent together, that, before you realize it, you all are still awake into the next day. That’s what happened during my most recent trip to England for a cousin’s wedding. Just about every night was summed up by chai and shisha at our uncle’s house. But one session in particular ran longer than the rest, so that the group of us cousins and friends decided to drive out to a field in a nearby town to view the sunrise. This is November mind you so that morning-as every other- was chilled to the bone and damp with the dew that was already setting in. After parking and a little trek through a wooded area, we popped out into what seemed to be a country club golfing green. Suddenly our pack of early to mid 20 year-olds broke out in a run like schoolkids getting out of class, skipping and piggybacking onto each other towards the light.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t really see the sun itself, only the light growing brighter over the horizon of the small town below. We just stood there in the empty field, all together; shifting and hugging to keep warm, taking pictures to remember the save memories, couples embracing in bliss. The cliche is painful, but time really did stand still for a little bit. Some of us hadn’t seen each other in years, some of us just met a few days before, and most of us would scatter apart again soon after this. Finally, a groundskeeper from the club had to shoo us away, but not before snapping a last group shot of us huddling on a bench.

Afterwards came the first Full English Breakfast those of us from the States had ever tried (baked beans for breakfast whaat.) and so on and so forth. The wedding was, of course, beautiful and memorable, and we all had a good time up to the last minute of the trip. Yet this memory of the sunrise excursion still stands out out to me. The best times usually come from spontaneity and this was definitely one of them. It just…happened.

Well I didn’t envision this post detouring into Memory Lane, but what do you know, happenstance.

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