Destination: Some Place Else

…to get away for if only a moment

26. The Vietnamese right of passage

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Worker bee’s swarm,
grinding their way through the daily slog.
Weaving in and out of obstacles,
all with fluid motion and purpose.
Each alleyway and road like the veins of the hive,
its pure energy, is its mother.
Foreigners stand nearby with fear and hesitation,
often finding solace by following the
footsteps of the locals surrounding.
10.01.15 4pm

What I love most about travelling is to be challenged and put out of my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, I do adore chilling out on the comfort of a beach, partying in an overseas club or seeing beautiful architecture. But the trips where I have come away thinking, I have now grown as a person; well that is the definition of travel for me. It is a journey of space and time, of self discovery and learning about human nature. I have felt this is many places; Turkey, Cambodia, Bosnia, Japan, Peru –this list can go on. I never for a day will forget just how lucky I am to have travelled so much. It is a part of who I am now- a nomad at heart, an observer, a participant and a lover of all things different. As they say, life would be damn dull if we were all the same so why not embrace going to new places and experiencing that first hand.

When visiting Vietnam 6 years ago, that was my first thought. Whoa, this is so different to Melbourne. For if you have ever ventured to Ho Chi Mihn especially, you have to agree that their idea of safe driving practices, are just not held to the same standard as many other Western countries. I really can’t decide if the drivers there are amazing, the worst ever, absolutely crazy or a combination of the three. Not much has changed since then, as on my recent trip this month, though there may be slightly more traffic lights, there are even more drivers to compete for the dwindling space. But I have to say, I just love it. Their ability to navigate in and out of lanes with no sudden or erratic moves when coming head on into oncoming traffic still astounds me. It is pure chaos to the untrained eye, but for the Vietnamese, it just works and is beautiful to watch.

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I especially love just how much they can fit onto one motorbike or bicycle. Maybe it is a freestanding dog on the back, or an entire family (yes I saw 5 people on a motorbike) with babies squished between parents and siblings. I can’t even imagine what our road law officers would say if they saw this. There would surely be a citizen’s arrest if a fellow Melbournian witnessed a toddler standing up at the front of any moving vehicle, constantly swallowing down the mass of pollution from all the vehicles. Bicycles carrying other bicycles, cement, food supplies, your laundry, a mattress, you name it, they have probably tried getting it on there. Quite amazing really. Crossing the road as a foreigner is almost a rite of passage when visiting Vietnam. The first time I visited, I literally stood at a busy intersection for 5 minutes working out how on earth I would cross, as the cars just never stopped. But as a local crossed slowly but with purpose, I realised I would have to do the same. Sure enough, the vehicles did slow and move around me as if I was the parting the Red Sea.

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If you can peel you eyes away from this madness and follow the street corners, that is where you will notice the real magic of side stalls and shop owners, cyclo drivers, exotic fragrances wafting and enticing you’re your senses for the amazing Vietnamese dishes…..which moves me to my next favourite thing about travelling, the food!! My god, the food in Vietnam is so fresh and mouth watering. Part of the experience is to go crazy and try or the specialties as each region usually has one. For example, in Hoi An, it is Cao Lao, a pork and noodle dish that is famous as it uses is water from the oldest well in the town. No this does not equal, food poisoning either-it is beautiful. If you can go a little wild and venture to the street stalls, you will probably eat the best pho you’ve ever tried and mix with the locals (my other favourite thing). On this trip, I have to admit though, since I am carrying a certain little bebe, I had to contain myself just in case. Though there was never any shortage of choices to try out.

Part of travelling is to try different things too. Usually we go on some crazy tour-like the ghost tour in New Orleans, or we hiked the Inca trail in Peru, doing a cooking class or trying an exotic food like a scorpion….but again since we were trying to relax after a crazy year and since this was after all our honeymoon, one of things we tried was Tai Chi. Now many people would relate this to the oldies in the park on a Sunday morning, moving so slowly, that you can’t even imagine how they are getting the benefits of exercise. But right now, I can assure you, that this is not even remotely true.

We tried it on the windiest day, but it was actually perfect. We positioned ourselves in front of the beach and watched as our instructor, donning his white silk outfit, majestically maneuvered the most graceful of movements. I’d love to say that from the beginning, we copied these movements with the same ease and grace, but we looked damn awkward. Maybe it was his patience from all the years of practice that enabled him to show us slowly over and over again. These simple, delicate techniques that when watching a master, will transfix you. I now take my hat off to those oldies, practicing their Tai Chi as after an hour of repetition we were both depleted and my arms and hands were actually quite sore. I would definitely like to try it again….maybe just not in view of the other hotel patrons watching.

I always say to people who haven’t been able to travel much or at all, that if they ever get the chance, to seize it. For me, it has been the best education about life, history and people. I have worked three jobs just to save up enough to get me there, washing dishes, washing hair, whatever it took. I don’t want to say, I’ll wait till I have a mortgage and retire to travel, as how do I know I will make it that long. This is not me being morbid in any respect, far from it. It is me trying to live life in the moment, where I can. Yes, it is always important to also not be too reckless, to save for a house or a car if you want those things, or study for a brighter future. I just believe that any way you can expand your horizons is a good thing and something to wish for. You might realize that no one country has got it completely right too, they are all beautifully different. That like a good recipe, travel is full of wonderful flavours and variations and that by taking that first bite, you might realize you have found your favourite dish.

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