3.5 months is a long time to be away from home. Although the kids are doing great and having fun, they miss their friends. The past couple of weeks we have been on the move so we have mostly just had each other’s company which has been sometimes challenging. No comforts of home like retreating to your own room or going out with friends. Its funny but we seem to attract attention being a small little white family and people often look at us and say 1,2,3 and hold up 3 fingers and smile. Yep…just us 3…trying not drive each other crazy 😉
On the theme of lacking structure and familiarity, nothing like tipping the comfort zone all over the floor and kicking under the couch like Vietnam. We arrived late at night in the capitol city of Hanoi. The Old Quarter was something I never could have imagined. I thought Bangkok was wild? Wow. Imagine narrow streets literally filled with cars and motorbikes going in all directions. No traffic rules that we could make sense of. Even the sidewalks weren’t safe. That is when there was a sidewalk that wasn’t occupied by someone selling something, or preparing something, or…. something. You are forced to walk in the roads the majority of the time because the sidewalks are full. Shops crammed together selling things like door hinges and old locks and electrical cords. Shop after shop like this. As you navigate you’re steps trying to not get creamed by a motorbike (Im still amazed that didn’t happen), suddenly you’re tripping over a bowl of live crayfish, or someone hacking up a pig with a machete using a piece of broken cement as a chopping block. Street vendors selling noodle soups set up tiny plastic stools all over the sidewalks where locals are eating and drinking. The best adjective I can think of to describe the Old Quarter is “gritty”. We sort of feel like there was something that we just weren’t cool enough to understand about the Old Quarter. Something that, as a westerner, you can just never be a part of.
The feeling of being a guest is intense. I’m reluctant to say its not as friendly as Thailand. I don’t think that’s accurate, but there is a noticeable difference the sense that the people here don’t seem to be as keen to serve us and meet all of our desires…which is kind of refreshing. I love Thailand, but I can already see that this country has something completely different, something I was craving to experience in South East Asia. I’m constantly taking photos and videos, but when I look at them later I’m disappointed because they just don’t capture what I’m actually seeing and experiencing. You just have to be here. Hanoi is a city that feels alive and unhinged. It feels very old and very youthful at the same time. It had a vibe like something was about to happen…or like by being there you were witnessing something important…I have no idea what that something is, but it was exciting as heck.
Yesterday we arrived in Sapa and then from there travelled for close to an hour into the mountains to a homestay in a small village. You know the pictures you see of women in traditional Vietnamese clothing with that beautiful, intricate embroidery in vivid colors? Earrings made of silver, children tied to their backs as they trek through the mountains? Ya…that’s actually where we are. Talk about feeling like a foreigner. We can’t help it…we are wide eyed and walking slowly, wanting to take pictures of everything we see while being respectful around that too. On our first day we met a woman named, Shu on our way through the village. She invited us into her home and we sat with her while she embroidered a piece of fabric for the arm of a dress in bright colors to be worn to celebrate the new year. It was one of those, “I can’t believe this is happening”, moments for the kids and I. Believe me…we felt like creatures from a strange land. Tiptoeing around being respectful in all situations has us hyper alert and moving slowly. It shakes you up to feel lost and naive. Another eye-opening experience for the 3. We are extremely grateful for all the kindness we have received here, and for each person we meet to helps to understand a little more about their culture and customs.
The homestay was hands down one of the richest experiences we’ve had on this trip. The family we stayed with were so lovely and we laughed so much together. It was such a gift to be in their home and getting to participate in their daily lives. We all cried when we said goodbye. We would like to do more homestays on this trip.
Today, after 15 hours of bus and speed boat and taxi, we arrived on Cat Ba Island. We are too exhausted to explore yet, but excited for a new place….maybe we settle here for a week or so. No idea what to expect or what’s next. We are literally just going day by day.