halfway around the world

halong bay, vietnam, 2008

it’s safe to say that i’m more than excited to be going to vietnam in march.  i AM a “phan” afterall, but this will be my first time visiting the country as a phan.  my last trip to the beautiful country was in 2008.  i booked the trip prior to meeting my vietnamese boyfriend (now husband), prior to knowing anything about asian culture (beyond the local “chinatown express” and “peking chinese” in my hometown), and prior to learning what the heck i was missing out on (did i seriously live 21 years of my life without eating pho!?!?)

my first trip to vietnam was the most life-changing experience i’ve ever had.  i grew up in a small, mostly homogeneous town without much exposure to non-white, non-christian, non-small-town-middle-of-nowhere culture.  while i’m grateful for my childhood in that small town and had opportunities i couldn’t even begin to compete for in a larger city, i’m more thankful that i “spread my wings” after leaving for college.  i always wanted to study abroad, but, quite frankly, i didn’t have the money to spend on a semester taking classes that didn’t count for anything toward graduation, let alone try to pay for housing or actually have fun in what little free time i would have.

sapa, vietnam, 2008

instead, i found an organization called Pacific Discovery that takes young adults on responsible trips across the globe.  an online course was offered during the trip, but i didn’t need the credit so i didn’t take it.  i literally packed my big backpack and set off for southeast asia for 2 months of pure stress-free experiences.  the program is aimed for ages 18-26, so my 21-year-old self was a perfect match.  for the price of tuition of a semester abroad in most countries, i traveled all around thailand, laos, vietnam, and cambodia.  i hiked in the mountains of northern thailand. i crossed the border thai border to temples in burma. i rode a long-tail boat to a rural river village in laos.  i hiked the northern mountains of vietnam and stayed on a junk boat in halong bay. i braved the streets of hanoi and saigon and witnessed the horror of the “american war” at the war remnants museum.  i stayed with a family in the countryside of cambodia and built a home for a homeless family… then finally lounged on the beaches of southern thailand.

Saigon, vietnam, 2008

there were so many experiences jam-packed into those 2 months that life felt surreal.  coming back to america, to my $11/hr construction job, to another year of school and stress… was hard. and awesome. and weird.  i had just spent 2 months with 15 friends who were mere strangers before landing in bangkok and sitting through an informal orientation on the floor of a packed hotel room.  i came home to my friends, to my family, to a familiar life.  that familiar life now seemed different though.  i now knew that i had been closing my eyes to the other cultures that surrounded me.  i craved thai and vietnamese food, and knew how and where to get it (turns out there ARE more things to eat than burgers wings and beer in columbus).  i learned there are whole communities of vietnamese people in several cities in ohio (in OHIO!!).

now that i live in jersey city, in the nyc metropolitan area, my eyes have opened even more.  it’s totally normal for my group of VERY culturally diverse people to go to dinner in our local indian neighborhood.  it’s normal to have a dumpling night at our house or to go to the italian festival and eat greasy delicious zeppoles.

this time in vietnam will be different, but it’s also going to be fantastic.  i’ll stay with people i can call family.  i’ll reminisce enough, but explore new things too.  i’m going to eat my weight in food.  where else can you get a bowl of pho for a dollar!??

but really… i can’t deny that i’m at least an ounce excited to hand over my credit card and see their confusion when they see my (white) face with a vietnamese last name 😉

more on this trip to come!

cheers.
jenn

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