Resisting Comfort in Ha Noi / by Bree von Bradsky

I’m afraid I’ve returned to my comfort zone, and for that, I must plan my escape.

For the past two years, I have dreamed about nothing but returning to Ha Noi. The food, the people, and the café culture are all things that have made going back to Ha Noi irresistible. I wanted to live here, start a life; make friends; find a job and become a regular. I truly believed that’s what I wanted. Turns out, I’m already going stir crazy in the city, yearning for the countryside. I’ve been swept into the life of a foreigner living abroad at ease in a large city and I’m not sure that is what I came here for.

Life here is wonderful and I am not complaining. I love Ha Noi; Ha Noi feels like home. Ha Noi has everything I need to live happily and it certainly doesn’t hurt that I was welcomed back with open arms. Vietnamese friends that I made two years ago have reached out, spent time with me at cafés, taught me how to ride a semi-automatic motorbike, taken me to new food joints, tutored me in the Vietnamese language, and have comforted me in moments of doubt.  In my first week in Viet Nam, I had two interviews, found a house, and made new friends with people from India, Egypt, Brazil and South Africa. I used the Vietnamese language. I bargained. I ate many meals alone. I roamed back alleys, busy streets, and parks. Three weeks later, I’m living in Ba Dinh, a district of Ha Noi that is new to me. I have an egg lady, a pineapple lady, and a tea lady. I found a great place for Bun Cha and many Pho “restaurants”. I’ve returned to the same café on my motorbike almost daily, and have been recognized by other locals as someone living in Ha Noi rather than a tourist. This what I wanted, right?

 

As a result of retreating back to Ha Noi and starting a life quite successfully, I feel comfortable. If you know me at all, comfortability and stability scare me.

This past Friday, December 23, I met a South African man with a relaxed demeanor, wild hair and glitter all over his face for holiday spirit.   While we talked outside the ‘expat’ bar, sitting in a circle with other foreigners until 3 am, he explained his life as a hitchhiker. He “hitched” from Singapore through Malaysia, Thailand, and Laos to Vietnam and is now in Ha Noi. He's teaching English to make some money while contemplating his next move north to China, Mongolia, and Russia. I admired his adventurous spirit.

Unable to get the stories of his daring travels out of my head, I began to doubt my own experience these past three weeks in Ha Noi. Thinking back to my term abroad, I am reminded of some of the most influential experiences I had… and the majority seem to have taken place in the North. In a month, I plan to go on a two-week holiday to Laos with a housemate of mine during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, but upon my arrival back to Ha Noi in February, I will pursue moving north. 

In the meantime, I'll explore the city of Ha Noi further with the intent for the city to remain my home base.