The first thing I noticed about Vietnam is that the days there don't last twenty-four hours. You can wake up at seven a.m., eat breakfast, explore the market, get a massage, and shop at Bến Thành for a couple hours and only ten minutes will have passed. Maybe it's the heat (the humid heat) or maybe it's the compact living style (you can pass five buildings in five steps), but there is something charming about the time relativity that makes "this morning" seem like three days ago. I thought this realization would stand out the most to me, but I had no idea this trip had the potential to change my entire outlook on life and to help me realize what it takes to live a fulfilled one.
Almost nothing is wasted, especially when it comes to space. I realized this in Than and Thuy's house. They live with everything they need and nothing more, they use up all the space in their home, and they live the most generous and happy life they can. Staying with them encouraged me to reflect on my own living space and what we think we need to be happy versus the simplicity of a minimalist lifestyle.
While staying in Vietnam, I made friends with Thanh's niece, Dao Thanh Truc. Even through the language barrier, we talked for hours before a lunch consisting of the best Jasmine tea that exists on planet earth, squid, rice, and steamed vegetables. Truc and I have some things in common, which we discovered while eating together, like how we are both around the same age and we both like chemistry and physics. I'm glad to have met her—she is the sweetest person in the city along with every other person in the Thuy and Tanh residence.
After lunch we took a taxi to Bến Thành Market, a large shopping center in a very touristy part of the city. It's crowded, but it reflects the use of space as most places in Vietnam. The vendors are impressively persistent, so thank goodness Tanh was there with us, or I may have spent 420,000 vnd on four charms I ended up buying for half of that. We arrived at around three in the afternoon, shopped for what felt like twelve hours and made it back in time for dinner at Thuy and Tanh's at six p.m.
Meeting Truc was the first of a few eye-opening moments. They're the kind of moments you can't plan for and you can't even expect them to happen. Truc inspired many of these moments for me.
A couple days later and we were on a plane to Hoi Anh to a small beach cabin that came with a few rowdy puppies next door. After a whole day of pina coladas at the beach and shopping, we were on our way back to the hotel from a city that lit up at night with lanterns in every color and design and vendors selling everything from toys to jewelry to bags.
I was riding on the back of Truc's bike with a calming song playing in my head. Between the stars over the mountains, the cool air whipping through our helmet hair and the reassuring lyrics from one of my favorite songs, I felt a change that can't really be described in words. I was thinking of the generosity of the people here (who live lives that from the outside look simple and minimalistic), the beautiful countryside and the amazing food, and suddenly I experienced a feeling of happiness and reassurance. Back in Olympia, I have everything I need already. Truc, Than, and Thuy showed me what is really important to live a happy life. Life suddenly wasn't about what I had or the space in which I lived, but about what I chose was important to me and how I viewed what I already had. And that realization, on the back of Truc's motorbike, is still the most important moment in the trip for me.
When Anne and Kurt Kutay offered me this opportunity, I couldn't have dreamed of a better time than the one I had.
Guest blogger - Shea Ensz