A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with a young Vietnamese girl, who exuded intelligence in her quiet confident ways.
Our encounter that day had been purely by chance; I needed someone to translate for me at the tailor’s, and she had volunteered to accompany me, temporarily solving my daily woes of speaking in a language I could barely speak.
That afternoon, as we shared our thoughts on the difficult process of college application, environmental challenges in urban spaces, and the need for renewable energy, our conversation drifted to a more eclectic topic; while we wondered why Hanoians are so loud when they speak, we also suspected noise pollution to contribute to that loudness. And with the passing of the hand of my watch, I learned of her personal aspiration to study in the United States after the completion of her high school.
I on the other hand told her of my impressions accumulated during my short time in Vietnam. After hearing of my experience, very insightfully, she commented that Vietnam seemed to evoke my memories, memories of my home country Nepal.
I first got acquainted with Vietnam in a candle-lit kitchen table in Nepal. It had been one of those many frequent load-shedding summer evenings, and my father a British army officer then had taken us on a mental tour of the world with his knowledge.
To my ten-year old self, he had narrated the revolutionary history of Vietnam, and with a deep admiration in his voice, my father had praised the Vietnamese in the way they had triumphed over the French through sheer perseverance and hard-work.
Many evenings have elapsed since then; I grew older, and in between finishing my schooling and starting my university in New Zealand, I transformed and changed, while the memories formed of that evening remained in retreat. So, when the opportunity presented for me to move to Vietnam early this year in February, I had but little recollection of those stories told in that dimly-lit kitchen table.
I arrived in Hanoi in February very much disappointed and skeptical after spending two meager days in Ho Chi Minh City. These two days had shown me nothing that was reflective of Vietnam or its soul. Or perhaps the soul had been presented to me, but molded by all these thriving commercial activities I had remained unimpressed. So in this dejected state, I had gotten into a taxi at the Hanoi airport that afternoon.
The drive to the Hang Dao neighborhood was long, but somehow on the way the sight of the open spaces, the rice paddy fields with the tiny figures of farmers tending to their fields in their traditional hats comforted me, and provided me with much needed time for reflection before I hastily judged Hanoi.
But, how quickly time has passed since then! As I am writing this, preparing myself for my approaching departure to New Zealand, it is the many things and objects that I befriended here that I carry in my heart.
This city of anonymous crowd, where language barrier had briefly turned my life so difficult, it was the gradual opening of a heart of an older woman on the alleyway to my house, the motorcycle men who instinctively knew where I was headed to, whether to my work place or my usual hang-out spot, the young waitresses at various eatery places who showered me with kindness and many such gestures that make my short time here so memorable.
On a more intimate level, the sight of the familiar marigold flowers around the Hoan Kiem Lake during my evening runs and the Makmali flower that symbolizes long life for one’s brother and traditionally used during our festive season of Tihar in Nepal conjured many forgotten images and memories of growing up in Nepal.
Therefore, it is with these fond thoughts, I bid farewell to Hanoi, and we part away not as strangers but as friends who will meet again.