Along Lý Quốc Sư Street
18 April 2016
I thought it was three in the morning, but I forget that Hanoi is one hour behind Manila. It is 19 degrees celsius and raining outside, quite a novelty. I keep wondering how hot it is back home, my thoughts returning to it again and again. Home, not the weather, I mean. Every new city I’ve been to, I seem to have Manila in my mind. Is that love or exasperation, I don’t really know right now.
Today my friend S. and I just walked and walked and walked. It’s all quite lovely, the charm of Old Quarters. You’re here and not here at the same time. And it’s not just the architecture where the old meets the new, where the lives of people go on ordinarily as they should amidst construction of more modern cafés and banks—it’s also about your place in the middle of all this. How you carve out space for yourself in an already busy street, just standing at a corner trying to take it all in.
S. and I talked about the seemingly non-identity of tourists. There’s that element of being able to do what you want to do, and who cares about all the rest. On the surface, you think you’re doing it because why not, and also, you’re not going to be meeting these people again. But upon further examination, I think it’s really this—every one of us here is a stranger. I am not a Tourist, I am a tourist. I am much a tourist as the next one, and he or she the same. I could be the guy lugging around a big hiking backpack. I could be the family being driven around in a bicycle cart. I could be the tall woman in a blue-striped dress holding a map, wondering where to next. I could be the old man down by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, smoking and sitting with his dog. And they could all be me. We are all existing and living in this place and nobody here would know us.
Emily Dickinson is suddenly in my head: I’m Nobody! Who are you? The non-identity comes first before the question, and in this moment, the question doesn’t really matter. I can do anything because I have lost who I am, if only temporarily. And this loss is such a gift.
Two in the morning, passing through Cần Thơ Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam
17 April 2016
I brought Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life here in Hanoi. It was your birthday gift to me years ago. I packed it with my bags as some sort of talisman almost. I don’t really know what I was hoping to happen. I’m sure my decision was motivated by an unnamed desire.
Chapter one begins with an epigraph from Goethe: “Do not hurry; do not rest.” It speaks so much of how my trip has been so far, and I only landed about an hour and forty-five minutes ago.
My flight was delayed because of a previous flight. It was the kind of waiting that rips me apart after the day I’ve had (long story), but as always I took it as an opportunity to observe and think and write in my head. I would like to think that you do this, too—use the world as your canvas, and take in as much as you can. Of course there’s a part of me that longs to run away from all the unknown variables—everyone I don’t know who is within the vicinity of my personal space is a variable—but sitting for hours with all these stories around me, who am I to say no?
I’m exhausted though, and long for sleep. Another letter tomorrow. For now, some errant thoughts I scribbled in my journal:
1:00 AM thereabouts. Noi Bai Airport.
Marveled at the cleanliness and newness of being in another country again. Woman flustered, dropping booking ticket, spilling her bag. Thought, that’s me, in another lifetime. Perhaps any arbitrary turning along the way. Two teenage boys escorted all the way through everything since Manila. The privilege of being white, I mused. It only took me thirty years to get here. Guy stamping passports looks disgruntled. Probably by the fact that we’re about thirty minutes late. Asking why we’re here. Pleasure. Tourist. The longer and farther away from home I am, the more I am discovering and getting to know my body and who I am as a citizen and person. Got through. Luggage showed up right away for once. Airport transfer. All done without saying a word to each other. And here I thought the absence of language would be a disaster. But the body is a language, too.
Almost an hour to the hotel. The city is so quiet and beautiful like this. We passed by the Cần Thơ Bridge. Spectacular. The Mekong River beneath us. What have I done to be here, right now? Everything I can, I suppose. Lights everywhere. Bathing our faces before the distance returns us to the shadows.