Friday, December 31, 2010

2010-Love and Leave Ya

As this year culminates, I, like so many others, am sitting back and reflecting on the past twelve months and reflecting on all of the events that life presented me and what I’ve learned.

My 2010 was a year full of firsts and changes. I left my cushy and comfortable life in New York City and moved to a foreign land. One where I was given an opportunity to start afresh and discover new dimensions of the world and more importantly, of myself.

I was fully unprepared for it all. I was supposed to be in Hanoi for six months, that was the plan at least. A few months into my new life, I made the decision to stay a few months longer…and after those months, I renewed my life decision to remain for an indefinite amount of time.

Living in Hanoi has given me endless opportunities from both a professional and personal standpoint. Hanoi, as I’ve stated so many time is the past, is the land of possibility. I have been given the chance to look at life in a whole new way, and realize that I can shape my world however I want to.

For the first time in my life I feel like the life I have is mine. I have created a world in which everything I have is completely mine. When we’re living in our comfort zones, we rarely stretch ourselves beyond what we know, we often remain stagnant. When moving to a foreign zone, we are immediately catapulted into a plight where our destiny is completely up in the air but also ultimately what we make of it.

I am not disparaging my former existence, in fact quite the opposite, I loved it. I was happy. I love New York, I love my family, I love my friends and appreciate the familiarity of it all. However, moving away showed me how much I needed to get away. That it was essential for my growth as a person to step away.

I’ve often stated that I’ve had lots of time to think, evaluate and been faced with elements of my personality, habits, and being that I never really examined before. It wasn’t always yielding, there were times that it was beyond difficult but I believe that everything I’ve taken away has been invaluable.

When I am around my friends and family in the US, I am constantly subjected to remarks where I am told that they see a definite change in me. A positive one. I agree with all of these assessments.

The most paramount lesson I learned while abroad was the importance of self. In the past, I tended to neglect myself, who I am, and my needs. I tended to just go with the flow, follow the path that I thought I should take, and this often resulted in doing what was easy rather than challenging myself.

This all changed in Hanoi. In Hanoi, my whole perception of the right path changed. I realized that the right path is not following the norm but actually doing what was best for myself. In the past year, I joined program that set me up with a school in Hanoi. I realized I hated the program and everything about it, and I chose to make changes rather than run home. I found a new job and a new home. I learned how to drive a motorbike. There were times I felt alone, and I had difficulty making friends. I was worried that I’d never feel like Hanoi was a home. I decided to take steps to rectify this. I went to parties and events alone, I forced myself to come out of my shell and take initiative. I successfully built a strong network of good friends that i adore and learn from.

Living in Hanoi has allowed me to be completely selfish but in way that has made me a happier and more dynamic person. I realized that somewhere along the line, I was a person crippled by my own insecurities and fear of failing. I met people who held up a mirror to who I am inside and made me want to change, but also showed me who I am and all I have to offer. So many of these people were so clued into who they were and what they wanted out of their life’s journey, and instead of being envious of their insight, I felt inspired to attain the same.

My first and true passion is the theatre, and I become involved in the Hanoi International theatre Society. Rediscovering my love for this has given me a renewed sense of confidence and motivation to follow my dreams. I believe now that anything is possible. That we don’t have to compromise who we are, or our dreams to fit in a mold. That we can have it all.

What I’ve gained in the past year is a whole new form of love. I fell in love with myself. I am disappointed to say that I never really loved myself. I was incapable of accepting myself for who I am, for what I bring to the table. I was so obsessed with validation and acceptance from outside sources that I failed to get it from the one and only person I really needed it from…myself. I spent endless hours worrying that I wasn’t smart enough, popular enough, successful or pretty enough. This year, I’ve learned to let all of that go. I’ve become better at taking what life throws at me, at accepting everyone (myself included) as is. People are who they are and rather than wanting them to change or be better, it’s important to love what’s already there.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt fully satisfied. I look at the life I’ve created for myself and I am happy and proud. I have a new and exciting job, I have a robust social life complete with friends from all walks of life and differing opinions that are a constant stimulation and joy. I see endless prospects in my career and my personal life. I have hobbies. I’ve built a life for myself and I built it entirely on my own. I’ve learned that being single doesn’t mean being alone. I moved to a new country, I’ve traveled solo throughout Southeast Asia, I broke up with a long term boyfriend and I’ve been ok. More than ok. I’ve done it gracefully and with a strength I didn’t realize I had. One that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if I lived stateside. I’ve become a more balanced person, one filled with determination, drive and confidence. I've made mistakes, and been alright with that. I no longer have a fear of failing because I know that there is no such thing as failing. That whatever happens, it's something to learn and grow from. I'm open to myself and all that being that person entails. I don't make excuses or apologies for that anymore. If you don't like me, I won't stress about it, because I am finally in a place where I like me, and that's much more important.

I’m truly happy with my life EXACTLY how it is, there is not an element that I feel is missing from my current state. I wouldn’t change a thing.

This is not to stay that I now reside in a state of self satisfaction. Not at all. I always believe there is room for self improvement, but now instead of berating myself I am excited for the challenge of what this brings.

Goodbye 2010, you’ve been better to me than I could’ve even imagined and I can’t wait to see what 2011 and beyond will bring.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Same as It Ever Was

This time last week I was giving a farewell speech at my school in Hanoi. After the speech, I rushed home and raced around Hanoi with last minute errands, goodbyes, and my stomach filled with butterflies on account of my impending holiday trip back to the US.

I was excited to come home for three weeks, I was at the point where I missed my family, friends, and the life I'd left behind twelve months ago. I just wanted to return to "normalcy" for a few weeks, i needed a breather.

Last time in returned home, i was inundated with questions as to why I've chosen to live my life in Asia, people asked what it was Vietnam had to offer that the US doesn't. Questions like these are always difficult to answer but I did my best, but think i failed to satisfy some people's curiosity. This time around, I prepared myself for these questions better, but haven't yet had been asked to present my case.

People seem to understand now that the current chapter in this book of my life is taking place in Asia. They've accepted it and there aren't any attempts to coerce me back into the western world. This time around, I am faced with a whole new set of questions, this time about my life out there, and what it entails.

These questions are natural, i suppose. I am living as an expat in an exotic country that isn't that widely traveled by people in the United States.

The problem with these questions is that, once again, my answers aren't all that great. Even though I claimed I was anticipating being back in the US for a few months of "normal" life, the truth is that my life in Hanoi is just as typical as it was here, as it would be anywhere. I do the things that everyone does: I go out with friends, I try new restaurants, I have hobbies, I go to work, I buy groceries. When I'm sick, I go to the doctor. When I'm sad, I watch sappy movies or have a vent session over coffee with someone I'm close to. My friends and I face the same trials that people do over here: our boss is annoying, we're broke, we're gaining weight, we met a guy and he seemed cool but now he isn't calling. The only difference is the backdrop, the form of transportation, and the language. Instead of NYC, I'm in the capital city of Vietnam, instead of the subway, I drive a motorbike, and while English is the primary language I communicate in, I also have to stretch myself and throw in some Vietnamese words or some fantastic charades.

I don't think this answer is a particularly enthralling one. I'm pretty sure people want anecdotes depicting how crazy and disparate my life is over there. I wish I could oblige, really I do. Perhaps, I've become accustomed to all of the idiosyncrasies that make my Hanoi life antithetic from the life I led here.I just don't feel the contradiction anymore.

We are, for all intensive purposes, adaptable creatures. We are equipped with a certain level of survivor skills, and when we're placed in unfamiliar territory we tend to acclimate to wherever it is we have to. I truly believe that you can take any person, and place them in a new situation and within a few months they will have carved out a niche for themselves, they will have found a way to belong and make it their own.

Now, I obviously wasn't forced into moving to Hanoi, I went, and have stayed, on my own free will but once again, the realization of this has given me a whole new perspective. We (or at least I) like our comfort zones, for obvious reasons we feel safe there, but I see now that ANYWHERE can be a comfort zone, it just may take a bit of time. It took me a while to establish what i consider a life for myself in Hanoi, but in retrospect it took me the same amount of time to do the same thing when i lived in NYC, and when i went to school in Boston. I recognize now that no matter where I go in the world, I'll have a period of adjustment and once that's passed I'll be engaging in the same routine that i was in my last stop.

As massive and dynamic as this world is, the bottom line is that the basic functions and necessities are the same. People are people, they all want and crave the same things. it doesn't matter what language you speak, what deity you worship (or don't), or what economic background you've come from, your desires and needs are the same as almost every other person on the planet. It's further proof in the mind of Alice that it really is a small world after all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Grab N Go

Last time I gushed about my love of Hanoi and Vietnam I was mugged the next day. This time, the time elasped was much less.

I had dinner with my new coworkers on Tuesday night at a spot not too far from my house, about a 15 minute walk. I like to walk as much as possible, not only for the exercise but I genuinely enjoy walking and am lucky enough to live an area that it's possible to walk many places.

So after a lovely dinner, in which I got to know my new coworkers better I ambled home along Hai Ba Trung. This is where the problems started.

So I start to notice this guy walking behind me a bit oddly. I speed up a bit. I don't want be paranoid or jump to conclusions but I got a really weird vibe from him. He then comes up next to me with a cigarette and asks if I have a lighter. I randomly have matches from dinner in my purse but tell him I don't have anything because, as I said, he seemed weird.

At this point I start mapping out detours I am going to take so I don't lead him to my house.

I pick up the pace again and for a bit it's ok but he comes up again pointing at something, I think a cigarette again, slurring something. I don't want to get close so I say NO very loudly and realize I need to get the heck away from him so I cross the street, I started to panic when he followed suit. There were three ways to deal with the situation 1. get a xe om (which in retrospect, I should've done) 2. nothing and hope it goes away or 3. tackle and confront it. Bullies thrive on being intimidated and are usually derailed when someone is not. I turn around, look at him and SHOUT at him "STAY AWAY FROM ME" something he seems to understand and says ok ok.

For all appearances, he disappears and I am very proud of myself for not being afraid and taking him on. I'm almost in front of the Hanoi Towers, a mere five minutes from my house and I'm starting to feel home free. Next thing I know, he reappears behind me, runs up, shouts something and gropes me. I wasn't robbed. I screamed very loudly and said GET OFF OF ME and held up my fist. If I'd my wits about me, or been more prepared I would've drop kicked him hard. And it would've hurt.

At this juncture I am really upset, so I walk in the middle of Hai Ba Trung as traffic darts around me. I'm still unaware as to whether this freak is hiding and watching me so I ran 1 min into a frequent haunt of mine crying and the guys I know who were there got all protective and tried to go outside to find the guy. I sat there for a bit to let the feeling pass, drank a cranberry juice and then got a ride from one of the guys who works there.

It was jarring, violating and weirdly humiliating. It made me feel stupid for feeling invincible and allowing myself to get swallowed up into the Hanoi Bubble. But this, like anything else, could happen anywhere. I am not giving up on Hanoi just yet.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Presents With Presence Alone

I've had an easy life. I'd say that I've always been a bit spoiled. Before you start imagining me clad head to toe in designer driving around in my BMW, let me rephrase. I've been EMOTIONALLY spoiled. I've been blessed with a wonderful and wildly supportive family. A family who cherished me, trusted me implicitly, respected my individuality, and supported me in everything I've ever done, good and bad. I know, no matter what, I have a strong unit in place ad that there's nothing I could do or say that would make them love me less.

When I did badly on a test or asked them one of my crazy hypothetical questions: "what would you do if I got pregnant?" "what would you do if I dropped out of high school?" they didn't freak out or threaten me. "If you fail a test, you fail a test. It wouldn't affect me. I've already been to high school. It's YOUR life." or "Would I be mad if you got pregnant? Would YOU be mad? It would be YOUR baby." Their matter of fact answers and unfazed attitude actually made me a much more responsible person driven to do my best/right thing not because I was worried that my parents would be "mad" at me, but because I wanted the best for myself.

When I discuss my upbringing with others, I find myself praising the stellar job that they did. They instilled the things in life that are important in life and taught me strong values. I grew up in a privileged household, where it would've been entirely possible for me to be overindulged but I simply wasn't. I was provided with food, shelter, education and the things in life I needed but luxury items were usually obtained through myself. They taught me that things weren't just given to you, that you had to work for them. They gave me work ethic, at 12 I was babysitting, at 16 I worked in a restaurant, and all through college I worked. When all of my friends got cars on their 16th birthday, my parents told me I'd always have a car to drive, but that it wouldn't be mine. "What do you have to look forward to if you have everything at 16?" my mother asked. I still don't have a car.

At the time, I thought they were selfish and annoying. I resented the fact that they had the ability to provide me with a car or $200 jeans but that they just wouldn't. I didn't mind having a job I just didn't understand why they wouldn't give me some things when I knew they could.

I realize now that they gave me something much better than a shiny new car with a bow on the top. They gave me an understanding for how the world works, an appreciation for all of the opportunities bestowed on me, and a HUNGER to want to succeed and provide for myself on my own terms. I've never thanked them for this. So, I think when I go home in four days, I am going to sit them down and do just that.

Not surprisingly, the holidays at my house were not all that traditional. As a little child, of course Christmas meant copious fabulous gifts under the tree but as I got older, the present waned. I was reminded that the point of the holiday was NOT, in fact, a new ipod or pair of Louboutin's but that it is a RELIGIOUS holiday, and the meaning of the day was to be spent with loved ones relishing in affection and tradition. We don't go all out in the present sense at our house. We do small, meaningful gifts, but on Christmas Day our house is a revolving door for family and friends, filled with warmth, joy and mirth. Not to mention my father's chef quality meals.

The crazy thing is, that I figured this out on my own around the age of 10. For me, Christmas was being in London with my mothers family and I truly loved that more than the gifts. I remember, around this age, my parents asked what I wanted and I answered, "I just want to be with my family." To this day, I still feel the same way. And, while I get GREAT joy buying someone the perfect gift, I OFTEN go to the Salvation Army tree at the mall and pick up the angels (which are the Christmas wishes for the underprivileged kids) and i buy a toy for someone who has nothing and instead dedicate the gift to someone on my Christmas list who has everything.

That being said, of course I like presents. And this post was supposed to be a tongue in cheek Christmas wish list, not an ode to the people who raised me. So, for any of you who believe Christmas presents are the be all of the is my list. I'll happily accept anything on it:
1. netbook
2. rag&bone jeans
3. andrew marc leather jacket
4. Nars "Laguna" bronzer, "orgasm" blush (either separately or in the combo kit)
5. Benefit concealer and "benetint" liquid blush
6. a gift certificate to Victoria Secret
7. knee high, high heeled black leather boots
8. Christmas mini eggs, French Fancies, marmite
9. any kind of cute clothes, dresses, skirts, shirts or extremely comfortable pajama pants.
10. you :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stop This Train, I Can't Take the Speed it's Moving In

When I was 19, I had an experience that changed my life. I don’t want to go into too much detail but let’s just say my world as I knew it was shattered. Actually, I’ll go into some detail, it’ll help put things into perspective. I’ve referenced my trust issues in past blogs but never really discussed the root of them. I was betrayed in the worst possible way: I found out that my first love, my boyfriend of more than two and a half years, had been running around all over town with other girls. This is a part of life, but what made the blow so devastating was that seven of the girls were my closest friends. The betrayal came at me from all sides and I never felt so alone because I had no one to turn to, no one to cry to.

Most people in this situation would’ve gone crazy, plotted revenge and done something stupid, but I was raised in a diplomatic household where this kind of thing wasn’t really tolerated, so I went the other way. I internalized everything, rationalized it, and put on a face of composure. I calmly confronted the friends in question and listened to their tearful apologies with tolerance and acceptance. I didn’t get angry and I didn’t lose my cool, instead I forgave them. I told myself these things happen and that I was fine. I was eerily calm about the whole thing. Inside I was a wreck, but I didn’t want anyone to see that, I thought them seeing my defeat was letting them win. Throughout the entire ordeal, I told myself that taking the high road made me the better person, and that by being indifferent, I was in control. (I’m a control freak) My performance was so commendable that I even started to believe it myself. But it was at this time that my trust issues were born

It was also the time when I shut down emotionally. Prior to all of this, I was an open person, I gave love and affection unabashedly, I gave people the benefit of the doubt, I saw the good in everyone. After it, I built this fortress around myself, never letting anyone get too close, never discussing my feelings and always keeping things at a relatively superficial level. I categorically refused to let myself be vulnerable again. Every time a friend or guy let me down I moved on with relative ease, not because I am good at that, but because I simply hadn’t really invested enough of myself emotionally to grieve. My emotional shut down was actually subconscious, I didn’t realize how damaged I was until I moved to Hanoi.

There were inklings, of course, that I had issues. I operated on a relatively secretive level. Not divulging details of my personal life to even my closest friends. I was so good at it though, that a lot of them probably didn’t even realize I was doing it. I always claimed I was a “really private person” but the truth is that I was operating on a level of extreme self preservation. Moments of opening up were few and far between. When people tried to get inside my head and way of thinking, I could never really let them. It was as if that option was switched off. Since, I assumed everyone was going to screw me over anyway, I gave them as little opportunity as possible to do so. As I’ve said before, there are less than a handful of people that I’ve given my complete trust to.

Moving to Hanoi has changed me. Not only was it the first place that I allowed myself to face my demons, but it’s the place that has made me start to feel again. With each day that passes, I feel myself letting go and becoming a relatively normal human being. With the people in my life here, I say what I think, I tell them how I feel and what I want. I’m open about my dreams and my fears, I don’t censor who I am. The transformation is overwhelming to me, and I find at times, that it scares me. I don’t know what to do with all of this emotional freedom. It’s been a long time since I’ve let myself actually feel, that I’ve put myself out there. I’m embodying this new me so reverently that it’s almost as if the locked up emotions from seven years are having a residual affect. I give too much too quickly, I don’t play it cool, I overshare, and I’m always available emotionally. I think, actually, it freaks some people out…too much too soon.

The difficult thing for me now is not handing myself over, but it’s when it isn’t reciprocated. I take it to heart, as a personal blow, and chastise myself for caring too much. It’s times like these that my old self rears it’s ugly head and I close off, I deal with perceived rejection by cutting it off at the source, despite how fantastic that source may be. I have still retained my self preservation warfare tactic that were ingrained in me for those seven years.

The problem with Hanoi is that there is very little to do here other than form relationships with people. It’s the only survival tactic I know, the only thing that makes this place a home, that makes my life here real. Hanoi, while it has many attributes, is isolating, and this can have a stir crazy affect. People think too much. I think and care about things that I would never normally. This can be a good thing, as it’s brought me back a side that I gave up a long time ago, but it also can drive you to a certain level of insanity.

Sometimes, you meet someone so incredible that it’s almost impossible to not throw everything you have into that encounter. The seven year Alice would’ve barely acknowledged the person or situation but the new Alice is a high speed train with faulty brakes. The rational side says not to, that nothing good could come from such an accelerated approach. The fall out in imminent, and the collateral is your self esteem. Somehow, I can’t get myself to refrain though, if someone walks into my life and lights it up, I can’t abide by rationality. I’d like to, really I would, and be able to proceed normally and form a sustainable bond. I just find that I get so excited that I ruin things prematurely. I go from being awesome to being overbearing. I need to learn to practice some kind of restraint, to remember that a little mystery is a good thing. One doesn’t have to be cold but there is a difference between warm and boiling.

Sometimes I hate being emotionally aware, and the fact that the phrase “I have nothing left to give so I give up” has left my lips (or finger tips via text) on more occasions than I’d like to admit.

I am aware that I am at opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m a walking contradiction, hot and cold, with a scale that is constantly tipping in the favor of one end. I haven’t yet learned how to find the balance, how to manage it all. I know I don’t want to go back to the way I was, but I also know I can’t continue at the pace I’m going. I partially blame the Hanoi culture for the latter but most the problem is with me an my inability for self control. Ideally, I’d like these two sides to form a perfect merger. I’m hoping that this is just an adjustment period, and that in a few months I’ll be a perfect blend. Just like I am in every other aspect of my life. :-P

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Grinch Is Returning My Christmas

I have a really weird relationship with Christmas. The past few years, I've been a bit of a Scrooge, and had difficulty getting into the holiday spirit. It didn't always used to be that way, growing up I was obsessed with Christmas. I became so attached to the memories of everything the holiday was to me. I am a sucker for tradition, and my Christmas always followed the same pattern, in London with my mother's family. The week leading up to the holiday was also spent in London, driving around looking at the Harrod's Windows, visiting Father Christmas, and getting more and more excited about the big day. Christmas Day itself was always a festive affair, filled with family and all of the quirks that made it ours. More on those later.

After my grandmother died six years ago, that ended my Christmas celebrations in London. it was kind of my Grinch, as it stole my Christmas. These days, I not only have a hard time getting into the festive demeanor, but always find myself feeling kind of dejected on the day itself. There is nothing that can happen that can even come close to the first twenty Christmases. These days, when all I hear is Christmas music on the radio or coming a friends stereo I get annoyed. (On a side unrelated note, I am a HUGE fan of traditional Christmas carols, not stupid poppy ones. I ADORE choir music, which means I am not in fact, 26, but closer to 76) Even watching Christmas movies or shopping doesn't get me in the mood.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas shopping, I LOVE buying gifts for my loved ones. I put a lot of effort into my gift giving. I tend to over analyze and stress out about it, to find the meaningful "I care and know you gift" but shopping isn't what makes me think "'Tis the season" There is hope for me though, as something always shifts in me, and I begin to thaw.

The moment where I morph from the Grinch to a Who always arrives unexpectedly. In NYC, it usually occurred when I was walking to the subway. As I made my way across from 53rd and Broadway to 51st and Lex, I was forced to pass some major Christmas-y landmarks. As I saw the Rock Center tree, the Cartier display and the Saks light show, the magic of the season finally hit me as I watched the city I loved so much literally display the sparkle that is usually just an undertone.

Sometimes it happened when I arrived in Florida after a freezing winter in Boston or NYC, I walked through my front door and was hit by the aroma of pine and glitter of a tree. Living as a university student or a recent grad in the city, one doesn't have much room or time to decorate for the holiday, making it a bit harder to capture the spirit. The moment I walk into my house though, it's as if the whole thing becomes real. The only drawback is Florida is warm. There is no snow and you don't wear coats.

Hanoi has been tougher than most years. For obvious reasons, it's a bit harder to find the "cheer" over here, the weather (while it might be "cold") isn't Christmas-y and there aren't really any lights or trees around. However, I did find a little glimmer of my heart of stone thawing, and that was when I taught my students Christmas carols. Something about their tiny accented voices singing the words so earnestly makes me smile and embrace the season.

Something else that caused a major shift in my demeanor was my change in holiday plans. My parents were supposed to be coming out to Vietnam, where we were supposed to travel, but at the last minute they weren't able to. Instead, I'm being flown home and get to spend the day (and three weeks) surrounded by the people in the world that I love the most. That's something I've taken for granted my whole life, the expectation that Christmas and any holiday would be spent with my nearest and dearest. But that's not a right, it's a privilege, one that a lot of people aren't fortunate enough to share.

Once I realized that my holidays would be spent the way they are, i started getting really excited. I started thinking about everything that Christmas is about, and I realized that I need to stop being such a baby. So my traditions have changed, that doesn't mean the holiday has. Christmas isn't about how cold it is outside, carols, or gingerbread cookies, lights or even London. Yes, I will stand by my statement that tradition is a huge part of the day and is what can make it so lovely...however, the primary magic about Christmas is about the people you spend it with, and the joy and love the togetherness of that brings you.

9 days. :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Show Is Over Say Goodbye

Life as an expat has many advantages but, like all lifestyles, there are drawbacks as well. One of these is the transient nature of many relationships formed. People are always coming and going. It's like, as soon as you get close to someone or build a bond, they are off to their next phase in life. I've been to more farewell parties here than any other kind of social event.

I've talked before about my inability to say goodbye and let go. Living here has been a challenge in that regard, not only because it's a constant fact of life, but also because the bonds here are formed at an accelerated pace so you're so much closer to the people you've known for several months than you would be anywhere else.

My first goodbye was beyond emotional, I cried and sobbed and thought i couldn't stand another one. I made a vow to myself that I'd only form relationships with people who were around for six months or longer, but I soon realized that issuing such limitations would prevent me from encounters with truly amazing people.

Instead, I changed myself, or I should say, something within me changed. Somewhere along the way, my subconscious accepted the situations that these situations will occur and I stopped seeing someones departure as a loss but looked upon it with new perspective.

In some ways, one could even say I've become numb or cold. I, of course, am sad when i lose a good friend to the US, Europe, or another part of Asia, but I no longer feel depressed about it. I'm almost completely unaffected. I spend time with my friend while they're still here, I attend their going away party, and when they leave I simply move on to the next friend.

I think that this lifestyle is actually a test of bonds, whether they are real or just formed out of convenience of being an expat. In the "real world" maintaining close relationships is much more difficult, and if my expat relationships can withstand that, I know that they were based on something more than being thrown into a crazy world together.

This outlook has also been beneficial for me in how I approach my relationships with people, both abroad and in Hanoi. I have a habit of caring too much, of trying too hard, of getting too attached and all of these factors can result in my being disappointed and hurt. I was at a going away party on Saturday night and realized that the guest of honor is probably someone I'll never see again. We may stay in touch with the odd facebook message or comment, but apart from that I don't see the friendship transitioning into the real world. It made me realize that if I am so nonchalant about people's departures that I should just stop worrying and thinking about their time here so much. Not spend so much time and energy on caring about stupid things and just concentrate on the experience and person as a whole. If there is a future past Hanoi, then it'll be there regardless, and if there's not then why should I even care, I'll never see them again.

I was told by a very wise man (ha) that leaving and saying goodbye gets easier every time. I pegged him as stoic and de-attached and thought he could have no idea what he was talking about, that I wasn't like that. I saw this weekend that he was right, and that I have evolved and that this is yet another part of the expat experience that I've embraced and will take with me on my subsequent journeys.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life Lessons from the Men I've Loved and the Boys I Didn't Even Like

Disclaimer: this post is really emotional and by some definitions a major and unnecessary overshare. It is by no means informational nor will it be interesting to 99% of the people out there. Writing it was cathartic and I could've just not posted it but this is my blog and I feel like it. I'll move back to Hanoi related topics after it. Apologies in advance for anyone it may offend, whether you just be a reader or if you find yourself one of its subjects. Read at your own discretion.

It’s surprising what we can take away from the people we meet. I never gave it that much thought but since moving here, I have started viewing each encounter and relationship in my life as a learning experience.

I am always really bewildered by the people from I take the most from and what it is they’ve taught me. Upon discovering these revelations, I feel almost obliged to announce to them that they’ve changed my life, which is always incredibly awkward because 1. Who says that? And 2. How does one reply?

My first lesson came a little over five years ago from a guy I was “involved” with. I am ashamed to say that I treated him terribly. He was the guy that every girl wanted and I was so focused on that fact, convinced that I was just a pawn in his game that I did everything conceivable to push him away and make it known that I didn’t care about him, that he meant nothing. I refused to acknowledge him public, I denounced him, I was horrible to the point where he gave up and walked away. I congratulated myself on my victory, that the demise of the relationship was still on my terms and before I got hurt, which I felt would’ve been inevitable. I was convinced I’d never hear from him again and I didn’t want to care.

A few months after the dissolution of our dalliances, my grandmother passed away suddenly. One minute she was there and within twenty-four hours she was gone. It hit me hard and I retreated into myself, determined not to let anyone in to see my pain. A good friend of mine contacted him to tell him what happened and how I was behaving, and though he shouldn’t have, he cared. He spent the next few weeks displaying an empathy that went above and beyond, and that lasted longer than all of my friends who stopped consoling me after a few days. He called me every night and when I couldn’t sleep talked to me until early in the morning despite having a brand new high powered finance job that required lots of his time and energy. Since then, he has shown me countless demonstrations of loyalty that I didn’t know possible and certainly didn’t think I was worthy of.

When his serious girlfriend told him she didn’t like me or our relationship and when he friends made negative comments about me, he didn’t sit quietly back or kick me out of his life. He stood up for me, for our friendship and made it clear that despite what was said, I was in his life and that wasn’t going to change. When my dazzling and available friends set their sights on him, he respectfully declined their advances on account of his past with me. I asked him, why, years after our connection, he’d turn them down and he simply replied that our friendship was not worth risking, and that sleeping with a gorgeous girl wouldn’t be worth it if there was the slightest chance it would mar what we had. He broke through my tough “I don’t trust anyone” shield and despite myself, forced me to give myself to the friendship. He gave me faith. To this day, (apart from my family) there is no one I trust more, no one I am able to open myself up to and no one that I feel is more loyal. He is one of my best friends and I would do anything for him. So much of what I know about loyalty was taught by him and I am eternally grateful for that lesson and to have someone like that in my life.

My second lesson came from yet another guy I dated. I was pulling my usual Alice tactics, being evasive and refusing to care (a lesson I still haven’t learned) and in a frenzied moment I ended it with him because I realized that I was falling for him and was petrified about getting hurt. I soon realized my mistake and asked for another chance, a request he flatly denied. He told me we could be friends but that that I needed to learn accountability for my actions, to not play games, and say what I want and think. He said I was a wonderful person and that this should be a lesson. That next time I wouldn’t make such a mistake. I’ve never hated and respected someone so much simultaneously.

My third lesson came from (can you guess?) my boyfriend of four years. The kindest, most wonderful man alive. He taught me about love and forgiveness. He showed me for the first time that I was worthy of being loved, that I deserved love and the best and he spent four years giving me that kind of love. Treating me with adoration and respect. I can’t summarize everything he gave me without turning it into a novel, but I’ll try. He taught me that it was ok to be myself. He showed how it should be and what I deserve. He gave me some of the best memories and years of my life and I am pretty sure I will love him forever.

Lesson four happened in Hanoi. I had just broken up with Mr. Perfect (see above) and threw myself into a rebound relationship. You’re not supposed to fall for the rebound but it usually happens. We had an amazing time together and I was completely obsessed. This relationship was different than any I’d ever been in before. He got to me in a way that no one antecedently has. He opened up an alternate world for me, one where I thought, felt and experienced things that were so novel to me and that I quickly believed I couldn’t live without. Some aspects, I'm sure I can't. The man changed my life forever. He lit up my mind, challenged me and made me want to explore dimensions of myself I didn’t even know existed. He understands me on a level that no one else does. I never have to explain myself because he's somehow able to figure out everything I am thinking about, he always seems to know the subtext in what I was saying. He knows exactly how to handle me.

The night he left Hanoi my world came crashing down. I managed to hold myself together as we made our way to the train station and it wasn’t until we say our goodbyes that I turned around and began the sobbing that lasted the whole walk home and continued for the next four months. The sound of my heart breaking drowned out the sirens and horns abundant in the city and it was at that point in time that I realized Hanoi would never be the same again.

It’s easier to leave than to be left behind and this smacked me in the face with almost everything I did. I couldn’t walk down the street without passing something that reminded me of us and the time that we had spent together exploring this wondrous city. Every corner of the city held some kind of reminder and memory for me and I began to hate it.

The months following “the departure” were pretty miserable and pathetic. I spent a ceaseless amount of time, energy and money desperately trying to piece everything back together. I took trips to meet him all over South East Asia, despite knowing it was a lost case, but not caring because I needed my fix of him. I talked about him fanatically and cried when I was alone. I was fixated on the plan that we had concocted of moving to a new and exciting city together, realizing deep down that it probably wouldn’t happen, but unable to let go of the fantasy because it was the only thing that brought me real joy. I became a slave to my email…my happiness dependent upon whether or not I had heard from him. Even a simple text like “hey there” sent me over the moon where as no communication sunk me into anguish.

I truly believed that I would never get over it, that my world as I knew it was over. I told myself, in all seriousness, that I would never feel this way again. That it was impossible and I was doomed to a live of despondency and consolation prizes. (And sometimes I still believe that) I’ve always had a flair for dramatics and am terrible at letting go. However, this case, I had no choice. I HAD to say goodbye. While I learned countless things from him, I think the most important lessons were in graceful defeat and enjoying the time you have with someone. He had his methods in ensuring that I got over it and him and while I assured him it would “never” happen, I woke up one day (recently) and realized that I wasn't in love with him anymore. He’d taught me how to let go. (I also learned that it may take time but you can move on)

A few posts earlier, I discussed discovery of self love not letting someone else dictate how you feel about yourself and this was a direct result of my latest lesson. It came from a most unexpected place, someone I didn’t care about (though he was, in some aspects a prodigious guy) and even though he turned out to be a TOTAL CAD, I am still compelled to look upon him with a certain appreciation.

Teacher #5 wasn’t in my life for very long yet he managed to make a profound impression. I don’t believe it was him in particular who caused any revelations, it could’ve been anyone, really, as it was a timing thing. Because of circumstances in his situation, I knew it was going nowhere and I was weirdly ok with that, and it allowed me a certain element of emotional uninhibitness. I was able to stay emotionally unattached and lived in the moment, enjoying the time for what it was (thanks lesson 4!) I didn’t close myself off or censor myself or play games or over analyze (lesson #2). I was, for the most part (80%), myself. I saw no reason not to be. (Lesson #3) In the blip that was time spent together (and the aftermath,) I displayed that I’d learned from my previous lessons and when something happened in which I felt rejected and personally offended, I concluded something major.

Acceptance. Acceptance of the situation, of the perceived rejection and of myself. Instead of being self deprecating, I looked inside of myself, thought of my other lessons and found an opportunity to flourish. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t let someone’s “rejection” of me result in my ego and self esteem crumbling. While he wasn’t demonstrative in showing me that I was amazing, smart, and valuable, it was my encounter with him that showed me it’s not something that can be taught by someone else. That I am only those things if I believe I am. It was finally dispensed upon me that I am capable of loving myself, and believe in my worth. That I was able to draw on strength I didn’t know I had, and I am in fact the master of my fate and happiness. That I am the only one who has that control. So while our affliction itself was fleeting, and he didn’t actively try and dispense this knowledge on me, it was the circumstances and reactions that came from it that made my take away is perhaps the most invaluable one I’ve walked away with.

Clearly, since this blog is written about some of my major life lessons and they all came from guys I was non platonically involved with, it’s apparent that I spent way too much time looking to others, particularly men, for validation and sense of self. This is an issue my friends have broached with my multiple times that I refused to acknowledge until very recently.

I’ve found that I am learning more from the people I encounter in Asia than I did back home. A big part of this, I believe, is attributed to my being more open minded and receptive to learn. And my being driven to change. When at home, I’m already established, I am so it’s quite easy to slip into my comfort zone and not challenge myself or feel the need to grow.. It can also be a bit daunting to suddenly take on a new personality or outlook with people you’re comfortable with. I also have trust issues so tend to hide behind a mask that I’ve painted for myself.

I’ve learned a lot, but most of all that I still have a lot to learn. I excited at this prospect, especially as I am looking forward to moving forward and gained knowledge and experience from myself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Ghost Inside

If people had to describe me in three words, I bet 75% of them would include some form of "awkward" in their description. I AM an awkward person, I feel awkward a lot, about really stupid things, and I also get some sort of sick joy in making others feel awkward.

When most people feel awkward, they can hide it, let it go and not let on what's going on in their head. Not me. While I am the master of escape in every other aspect of my life, one feeling I can't hide is when I feel awkward. My whole body expresses it by going rigid, my face becomes ashen and wide eyed. My demeanor completely changes, and despite my most valiant efforts to create the illusion of control, it's crystal clear to anyone in the vicinity that I am anything but.

I have several remedies (texting, pretending to talk on the phone, ignoring you, being a bitch, bragging about superficial things) that I thought had people fooled but it turns out that they are pitiful and transparent...

Against my better judgment I am am going to post a list of my awkwardness. I started compiling this list as a semi joke and as a dedication to @DUKEDYLAN but the more I wrote and thought about it, the more I realized how ridiculous I can be.

Things that make me feel awkward

1. Arriving somewhere first. I hate sitting alone at a bar or a table. This is why I strive to be tardy.

2. Getting a massage or any other beauty treatment in Vietnam. They get very up close and personal.

3. When someone is attracted to me and it’s not mutual. I never know what to do so I respond the only way I know. I hide.

4. When someone is attracted to me and it IS mutual. Just like in #3, I tend to hide or just ignore them completely.

5. Girlfriends of my good guy friends. I over compensate to prove I am not trying to seduce their man. (I never am)

6. Talking about money.

7. Meeting/Seeing someone in person when all/most prior interaction has been over email or social media. What do you say when there is no computer screen to protect you?

8. Asking someone to take a picture with me.

9. Wanting to go home while everyone is still out. Irish goodbye anyone?

10. Telling someone I am not satisfied with a service I am paying for. Example: I will lie and tell you I love the hair cut and go home and cry.

11. Asking a favor from a friend

12. Meeting new people. I am secretly pretty shy…and (apparently) can come off as steely or I just blurt out inappropriate things

13. Talking about feelings. I’ve been told (and I agree) that I am unusually reticent about expressing myself. Feelings make me feel vulnerable and when I feel vulnerable I shut down completely. Chances are, I will never tell you how I feel, and I doubt you’ll be able to guess it.

14. Having attention called to me in front of strangers that I will never see again. Example: I have forbidden my friends from having waiters bring out a cake and sing happy birthday to me at my birthday dinners. They do it anyway, and I turn bright red and hide myself in my hands or under the table.

15. Buying women’s products or contraceptives. I act like I am twelve years old and hide it at the bottom of my shopping basket and choose the line that’s the emptiest so no one can see what I am buying. Sometimes I circle the store until the checkout line is all clear

16. Public displays of anything. Don’t kiss me or hold my hand. Don’t pick a fight either. I won’t engage.

17. Wearing a bathing suit in public.

18. The moment right before I realize someone is going to kiss me. I duck my head, giggle, and sometimes make a run for the nearest cab. Or just babble about the stupidest thing imaginable. Sometimes I'll even say, 'I'm really not worth it. I am really bad at this. Just leave now" AWKWARD

19. Ordering at a restaurant. Especially if it’s family style. I can’t handle picking the wrong thing. In NYC I’d have to study the menu online before going out so I’d know what I wanted before I went.

20. Confrontation

21. If I am with someone who has bad manners

22. Receiving a compliment

23. Singing or dancing in public

24. When I am hanging out with new people who know of me

25. When people watch me do things, like apply make up or get dressed. I even have issues with people watching my pay for something, start my motorbike,or when I have to follow them.

Things that don’t make feel awkward that probably should:
1. Being friends with an ex or talking about an ex to a new guy

2. Hanging out with my ex and current boyfriend. Or double dating with an ex.

3. Over communicating. I think nothing of sending dozens of texts or emails. I may call you 11 times in one day. This is ok. But if you do it to me, I’ll complain that you’re a psycho stalker

4. Failing the cool test by casually letting it slip that I’ve been facebook stalking you. This includes recognizing someone from facebook and introducing myself citing our mutual friend.

5. Throwing cake :)

6. Oversharing

7. Discussing infectious diseases with people I just met. I have been known, on more than one occasion, to meet guys at a bar and spend the evening talking about HIV paranoia and prevention.

8. Asking a favor from someone I barely know.

9. My habit of talking out loud to myself. Sometimes in public.

10. The fact that I will text you while sitting next to you.

11. The countless pictures I take of myself. In public.

12. Laughing at inappropriate times. I am a “nervous laughter” and if you tell me about some incredibly traumatic event or if I see someone fall, I’ll laugh. It’s not out of malice, it’s just nerves…that being said, when the tables are turned and someone does it to me, I’m not so understanding.

13. Dropping incredibly flirtatious one liners to my friends little brothers, my boyfriends best friend or a good guy friend

14. The fact that I have a stuffed rhino that I pretend is real and who has his own facebook page

15. My drunken declarations via text, facebook, twitter, or email. The next morning, I delete all the evidence, and expect the recipient to do the same.

16. Bringing up awkwardness of others. I do this in a self preservation kind of way, to take the attention off of my incredible awkwardness

17. The fact that I watch the CW and love it. Also the fact that I watch romantic comedies and cry-no SOB-at the end of all of them.

18. Watch me at a place that is playing music. Most likely, I’m mouthing the words. I have a knack of knowing lyrics, even to crappy miley Cyrus, Britney spears and any other kind of trashy pop. (My repetoire is not limited though, I’m the same way with classic rock, rap and even some country)

19. Making plans with someone and totally flaking out on them

20. My detriments. The fact that I don’t know my right from my left or can’t put keys on a key ring doesn’t make me feel awkward at all. Nor does my

I'm hoping that publicly announcing these triggers will help me overcome them perhaps become a more normal person. That or just feel awkward that everyone knows my awkwardness.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gobble Gobble You Up

I'm going to say a blasphemous thing: I've never been one for Thanksgiving food. I know, sound the alarm and take me away in a straight jacket...I'm crazy. I just don't really like it the way everyone else does.

What I do enjoy though, is the meaning behind the holiday. I am not referring to the pillaging of the Indians who were the sole reason the Colonists survived, but more the modern day interpretation.

I like the fact that loved ones gather together for a positive reason, to reflect on how fortunate they are and that there are no presents involved. It really forces us to recognize the opportunities and advantages we are given, and how despite some turbulence in our lives, there is positivity and things worth being appreciative of.

We get so caught up in the have-nots, the "I wants", the "I wishes" etc that we don't look around and say, "This is what I HAVE. How lucky am I?" I am guilty of it myself, but am trying to make a conscious effort to focus on the good and see the world in a more rose colored way than thinking about all that's lacking from my life.

Moving out here as given me a great appreciation for life and the way I grew up and all of the opportunities that were handed to me. I took them for granted, accepting them like I was entitled to have since learned that I was not, and that everything that was bestowed upon me was, in fact, a precious gift.

Without seeming trite, I wanted to compile a small list of the things I am especially thankful for this year:

1. My family. The older I get and the more I'm exposed to, I realize how incredible my family is. I am the product of loving and wildly supportive parents (and family), parents who were a driving force behind my move out to Asia. Parents who always encouraged me, supported me both financially and emotionally, who truly instilled that my quest for happiness is one I should go on, that it's okay to deviate from the "normal path." Parents who are proud of me even in unexceptional times. And parents who I can count on for anything. My whole family is actually this way, and growing up in an environment where I felt incredibly loved is not a blessing I will ever take for granted.

2. My friends. When I moved to Hanoi, I panicked that I'd be missing out on life back home, that my friends would move on and forget about me. That, upon my return, I'd be irrelevant. In reality, this couldn't be further from the truth, as my friends in the US and Europe have shown me that being apart does not mean growing apart. Another joy in my life are the friends I've acquired here. People grow close very quickly out here, and while the relationships aren't as established, they are still solid. My friendships out here are what turned Hanoi into a home for me.

3. The life experiences I am accumulating while living out here. I hate to sound cliche, I really do, but removing myself from my old environment has given me a new perspective of the world, the people in it, and a major insight to myself.

4. The luxuries we usually take for granted. I've never thanked anyone for having running water and electricity. It's always been a given for me. I am not naive enough to believe that it's the norm for everyone. I've read and traveled enough to remote and developing countries to recognize that many people live without these "basic" amenities. However, it has struck a much deeper chord since I started LIVING in a country where these amenities are not always included in the locals lives. I've "suffered" blackouts and the water being turned off, and while I cursed and complained, it dawned on me that a LOT of people live EVERY DAY like this.

5. My health. Hypochondria aside, I am in good health (so far) My problems are trivial and I've never had a really worry.

Thanksgiving is an important to day to connect with family, friends, and our inner gratitude, however perhaps we should adopt the Thanksgiving mentality and apply it to our lives more often. To focus on what's good rather than obsessing over what's wrong, what we'd like to change. To think about the people in our lives who we adore and whose presence augment the good our world. To recognize the little things like running water, a stable job, health, the ability to travel as what they are...luxuries.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And Isn't It Ironic

The irony isn't lost on me that less than thirty six hours after I publicly proclaimed my love of Hanoi something should happen to test that.

I had joined my two friends for a lovely evening at Son Tinh and the three of us had a wonderful time. I even sang a duet with one of the waitresses ("Because you loved me" by Celine Dion)I left the restaurant in a wonderful mood and big bouquet of flowers (not a result of my performance)

As I was driving I was doing two things: 1. singing "Because you loved me" out loud because it was stuck in my head 2. thinking about how I love driving after midnight because the streets are so calm.

Not even a mere block from my home is where the action happened. It came from nowhere, a felt a sharp tug at the purse on my shoulder as two Vietnamese youths were whizzing by. They didn't get my bag (which contained no cash anyway)but the jerk and movement caused me to slam to the ground followed by my bike. The flowers scattered everywhere. I screamed, an older gentleman rushed outside and began PICKING UP THE FLOWERS as I shakily and gingerly got my bike to my house. My wrist was in agony and I could already feel my knee swelling up. I managed to hold it together until I got into my house and once on the phone with my father the tough girl facade crumbled as I sobbed down the phone to him. I've always been a Daddy's girl. I don't think there is a man in the world who even comes close to my father in terms of quality and excellency. (This is part of the reason why in relationships my standards are so high and why I refuse to settle for anyone sub par or tolerate any kind of nonsense)

What I am upset about, is not the fact they tried to steal my purse. That kind of petty crime transpires worldwide. I actually believe Hanoi is extremely safe and that serious and violent crimes are not prevalent here. No, what bothers me is the manner in which my purse was targeted. I was DRIVING, THEY were driving at a high speed. It is almost inevitable that I would fall. And falling hurts, I could've been seriously injured. Luckily, i wasn't, i walked away with a very swollen and slightly fractured wrist and lots of bumps and bruises but nothing serious. but I learned something from this:

1. The realization that I do need and should get health insurance
2. A little bit more street smarts. My bag will no longer be thrown over my shoulder, and will not contain all of my credit cards
3. Irony is abound. This happened two days after I wrote my "I love you Hanoi" blog and the day after I started renting a motorbike, which is now damaged.
4. My brother really loves me. A lot.
5. This kind of thing results in lots of attention. Facebook and twitter generated the buzz and the wrapped wrist I am sporting immediately makes me the center of attention wherever I go. And we all know I like attention. ;)

In love, I don't like to play games nor do I like tests. Hanoi, I am very angry with you for trying to test my love like this. I am a very loyal person, I won't just walk away at the first sign of trouble. I haven't lost my faith. I'm in it for the long haul. If anything, my inclination to defend the city so ardently and rationalize the action only reaffirmed what I have slowly been realizing...I love this city. Truly, madly, deeply. For better or worse. Plus, I can now check "victim of attempted mugging" off my to-do list.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Come on Y'all Let's Take This Town

When settling down in a city, whether it be for three months, three years, or three decades, it's evident that you will find the little nooks and crooks that make the city your HOME rather than just a place you visit. These little pieces of familiarity and tradition become ingrained in your very being and before you know it, you forget about the time when you first landed in your new city, unsure of what lay ahead and confused by your new surroundings.

Hanoi is no different, and while it may take some people longer to adjust to their new life here, it is filled with little things that make it livable and home.

When I was in the U.S. this summer I tried to explain to people why and what I loved the most about this city, but just like an inside joke between friends, it's difficult to comprehend unless you were there. You have to experience this place to fully grasp all it has to offer.

During a long walk through Central Park one late night, I managed to convince someone that Hanoi is a place to try out, enough so that they were enthusiastic to declare that they'd take the plunge and move here as well. Several months have passed and I decided I wanted to send a reminder email as a form of inspiration and incentive to keep the decision of emigrating to Hanoi alive.

As I was compiling my list of reasons (some serious and some personal-which i can't share-sorry!) I realized it would be a good blog post, so I asked some of my nearest and dearest in the city what they loved about this place and have compiled a working list.

REASONS TO LOVE LIVING IN HANOI (in no particular order, more the order the texts came in/I thought of things)
1. The Vietnamese people. Warm, friendly, hardworking.
2. Alcohol. Beer is 1 dollar, wine is $3-10, and mixed drinks you can get for $3 at most places.
3. Currency. There is something exhilarating about being able to not blink an eye when something costs two million. I drop 100,000 at the drop of a hat. It’s nice to be a millionaire. Also, if you're a frat boy you can get generate a lot of giggles from yourself from name of the currency, which for those of you who don’t know, is dong. Examples: "I've got a lot of Dong" “Do you want any dong?” (It never fails to amaze me how grown men never tire of this)
4. Work hours. Most ex-pats enjoy flexible work hours which means much more play time then work time, and definitely more free time then you’d get at home.
5. The food. I don’t even know how I can expand on this. I could write a whole blog just about the culinary experience that living here is. (I'd check out stickyinhanoi instead though)
6. Romance. (if you’re a guy) Hanoi has a lack of hot men, and an abundance of gorgeous women
7. Motorbikes. Living in Hanoi you get to unleash your inner badass because you will, without a doubt, need a motorbike. You will be scared of it at first, then get overly confident and probably crash. (Maybe that’s just me) It’s only a matter of time before if becomes second nature and you’ll become a much better and more confident driver overall (though it may take a while to re-adjust to western driving since there are actual rules involved) It’s also nice to be able to take motorbike trips. Finally, it’s a giant sense of self congratulations when you realize you can navigate and drive without getting lost or hurt. It’s like a daily accomplishment you can relish in.
8. Perfecting Charades. There is a language barrier which can be frustrating, but you can work around it by acting out what you want. The good news is, after living here, it’s doubtful your team at home will ever lose in charades again.
9. Charisma and Culture. Hanoi is full of it, from temples to winding roads to old buildings, this city is beautiful and charming and can make you feel like you’re stepping back in time but still a part of the future.
10. Customs. Sometimes they seem a little weird to us, but let’s face it, they probably think we’re crazy too. I personally adore living in a place with such strong rooted traditions and way of being. Hanoi has been around for 1000 years and is still flourishing. It is fascinating to see how it works here and what we can learn from them. That being said, can you please not park your motorbike in the middle of the intersection?
11. Xe Oms. Thrilling, exciting, they know where they’re going and it’s like an amusement park ride without the long lines.
12. Weekend Trips. While Vietnam has many amazing and beautiful cities that one can go on for a weekend trip, living here is also a great jump-off point for traveling throughout Asia. Weekend in Bangkok? Singapore? Shanghai? Hong Kong? No problem.
13. Gaining strong skills in adapting navigation-don't expect to walk on a sidewalk
14. Learning how to vocalize what you want...for example...if you want the bill, you must shout at your waitress. In the future, I bet you won’t be so shy about taking charge and going after what you want.
15. The pure elation that comes with saying a Vietnamese word or phrase and having a local understand you.
16. Learning humility. When a local shouts at you or gives you a dirty look after they hit you with their bike you will learn that this is actually your fault and you will accept it with grace and dignity.
17. Opportunity. There is an abundance of opportunity for people here, whether it be for professional or personal growth. (Example: It is the only place where a 20 something year old can begin their modeling career)
18. The arts scene. Hanoi has a great arts scene, the talent is immense and manages to blow me away each time. And there are no shortages of art galleries. Amazing ones.
19. Community. The expat community is small and tight knit, giving one a feeling of community and comfort of a small town while actually living in a capital city. (This can also be a negative, everyone knows everyone so if you mishap, then everyone knows. If you want to behave badly, I recommend hanging out with backpackers when you do it, they’ll be gone before you learn their name and they probably won’t remember anyway)
20. Being pale is attractive.
21. It is never boring. How can it be? Even crossing the street is undertaking an adventure.
22. It’s challenging and provocative, it will change you and force you to grow.
23. As it's a fast growing emerging market, there is no better or more exciting time to be here.
24. Perfecting negotiation skills. Bargaining is a part of daily life, and you will become adept at it. You will also learn the art of the perfect time to walk away, which can be applied to other aspects in life.
25. There is a street for everything. While I still don’t understand why this is the case, anything you need is readily available in Hanoi, but it’s all broken down by street. Toy street, underwear street, bedding street, FOOD street, computer street…the list goes on
26. Hot Topic. People back home automatically find you more interesting and worldly if you live out here. They will respect you and think you’re adventurous and exciting. You have good small talk at cocktail parties, because let’s face it, how much can you really talk about the weather? Your loved ones back home will also be very jealous of you and brag about you to others.
27. The people you meet while living as an expat are unlike the majority of those you'll come across at home. It takes a certain type of spirit to pack up and move to Asia, and so any stereotypes about nationalities must be disregarded. Most of the people I've met out here are educated, interesting, adventurous, and approach life with a fresh outlook.
28. It’s Yours. Moving here you can start over in a place where no one knows you. There are no preconceived notions, you can just be. For the first time ever, I feel like the life I am leading is mine.
29. The winters are not (that) cold
30. High standard of living at a low cost. You can find an incredible house, great gym, eat well and go out like a rockstar for a fraction of the cost it would be at home.
31. Exploration. Getting lost is fun in Hanoi. As is wandering. There are so many amazing walks to walk in this city. It may not be Central Park (smile) but there are spots that can rival it.
31. The tailors. Custom, high quality clothes designed for you.
32. Hanoi Cinematheque is just one of the many gems this city has to offer, and you wouldn’t know about it/them unless you lived here.
33. The tailors are exquisite. you can leave the most fashionable person with clothes designed specifically for you that are great quality.
34. The chaos has order. And between midnight and five am the city has a beautiful kind of calm.
35. You will learn who and what back home are really important.
36. The National celebrity is a Ho (I wasn't going to put this in but Viet's text made me laugh)
37. The pharmacies are great.
38. The New Hanoian. What other cities have a resource like this? Not many.
39. You never know when going for a bowl of pho will turn into a job offer
40. I’m here. What reason is better than that? :)

That's the list so far, but I think it will keep expanding. Thanks everyone for your help.

When you first arrive in Hanoi you're struck by the noise and chaos and wonder how anyone could live here, if YOU can live here. But it doesn't take long to see the beauty and magic this place has to offer, and once you do you're smitten and one of us.

PS-I hope you still want to move here :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jar of Hearts

Hanoi is not the place for love. At least not if you're a woman. In fact, i can't think of many worse places to move to if ones goal is to meet a man and fall in love.

When I first moved here, I was in a four year relationship so this didn't bother me in the least. Over the course of my time here, my relationship ended and I found myself suddenly bothered by the lack of options and resources that this city can offer in terms of eligible men.

I found myself reaching out to ex boyfriends via skype so that i could maintain a level of attention and affection. I let myself develop "feelings" for guys out here that i normally never would because I simply didn't know how to live my life without a partner. I started having major panic attacks that I made a big mistake letting my incredible and perfect boyfriend go (Jax-I know you're reading this and I still think you're the most wonderful man. iwaly) I seriously thought that I'd move back to New York or London and be an old maid, that all the men would be taken and I'd be alone. It depressed me beyond belief.

I was just in Sapa and while on the long hikes and train rides I had a lot of time for self reflection and I started wondering why I was letting this bother me so much. Why I was allowing this fact define my happiness and who I am as a person. I look for happiness in all the wrong places and use security in a relationship to fix my insecurities. I realized how sad it is to be in this position. I should be confident and happy with who I am and not let a man or relationship affect that. relationships are supposed to enhance ones life, not define it. Once I stumbled upon this (incredibly obvious) revelation, I decided that I wanted to change.

That's easier said than done.

Very recently, I had a negative experience with a guy that I don't even care about...yet his caitiff behavior had a jarring effect on me. I was disquieted to the point where I almost let it affect and ruin my evening.

I think that's when the turning point occurred. As I was storming out of the bar I was at, determined to go home and lick my wounds, I suddenly stopped and thought, "Why am I going to let some miscreant (that I am phlegmatic towards) mar my evening?"
I turned around, walked back into the bar and genuinely had one of the best nights I have ever had in Hanoi.

The single, simple move of walking back inside had such a profound effect on me. It was the first time that I allowed myself to take control of the situation, to not let someone or something dictate how I was going to feel. I realized that I DO, in fact, have the power to create my own happiness and circumstances, and that all these years I've just been giving the reins to others. I've been letting people let me feel a certain way rather than being confident and secure enough to be the driver behind my destiny.

I've learned it's EASY to not care what people think, and I've wasted far too many hours concerned about something silly and pointless.

I also learned that I have been so busy putting an emphasis on the romantic relationships in my life that I haven't given enough value to the platonic ones. I am struck, on almost a daily basis, by how truly incredible my friends (both here and in the Western world) are. That, along the way, I have amassed a collection of supportive, loyal, kind and true friends, ones that I wouldn't trade for the world. My relationships with THEM are a huge part of what makes my time in Hanoi (or anywhere) so special. They have been an integral part of helping me see my value and worth and showing me that there's more to life than whether a guy is interested in me. They've given me the tools to build a new perspective, one oozing with confidence and the ability to see myself the way they/the world does. I am forever indebted and eternally grateful for them.

So I've revisted my stance on Hanoi, it's not the place for romance, but it is the place for love. Love of culture, food, experience. Love for the friends that I am learning and growing because of. And most importantly, Hanoi is the place that is teaching me to love myself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

See You At The Crossroads

I'm just going to come out and say it. I'm going through a rough time. I have mentioned before my intense dislike of discussing my intimate feelings or weaknesses with people on account of the fact that I don't think people really want to be around a downer and also I hate feeling vulnerable and exposed. I don't like looking weak. I know that's ridiculous but I've always prided myself on being "together" and "in control" and immune to breakdowns.

A good friend sat me down about five years ago and explained to me that part of the benefit of having friends is for them to be there in the bad times as well as the good. He earnestly expressed a desire to be there for me because he cares. He reminded me that I am always there for my friends so I should feel comfortable turning the tables sometimes. He insisted that sometimes looking weak is a sign of strength. While I processed his words, and (kind of) believed them, I have still struggled with opening up to people and letting them in. I've gotten better at it but I'm still pretty closed off emotionally. Getting me to talk about feelings is an uphill battle (just ask anyone I've ever dated or been close to) For a various amount of reasons I can't really get into right now, I have insane trust issues and my remedy for them is just to not trust, to not open up and to keep things to myself.

I'm going somewhere with this rambling.

I've been in a funk lately, something is not quite right. I am not entirely sure that this is a new thing, to be honest, but it's just one that has been increasingly evident in the last few months. I just feel like I am at a stage where I have no idea what I want. I don't know what I am doing. I have no direction. I feel like the life i am living here is pretend, that i am going through the motions.That I am trying to prove something. i have been questioning why I am even still in Hanoi anymore.I don't feel happy or fulfilled. I don't want to come home because that would be failing and frankly I don't know what I'd do when I got there.

I am aware that these feelings are relatively normal, especially for one in their mid twenties. We are all trying to find ourselves and figure this crazy maze of life out. I know I'm not supposed to have all of the answers and that part of learning and growing is to try new things and fail. That we need to take the lows to appreciate the highs. That is is essentially called growing up. Knowing all of this doesn't make it any easier and living in Hanoi only heightens the sense of hysteria.

Hanoi, as wonderful as it is in so many ways, also has its fair share of drawbacks and lately I've been spiraling into them. It's isolating here, and can be very lonely, and despite having a strong network of good friends I can't really shake the feeling that I am ultimately alone here. I haven't really ever been alone before and it's freaking me out. Being here, I have all of this free time that I am not used to having and in it I have found that I've become overly analytical. I think way too much about things that are really stupid. I stress out and worry in ways I never used to. I find that being here alone is making me think and act in ways I don't like and feel like at times, I am going crazy. (Some of my recent actions might even back up this theory)

AS I mentioned earlier, this may not be a new problem. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not. I left NYC and my life there for an adventure-sure-but also because I didn't feel fulfilled there either. I wanted something more and just wasn't sure what it was. I guess I naively thought a change of scenery would make everything crystal clear but it hasn't. Maybe moving here, although it's kind of driving my insane, is a good thing. Maybe I needed the time to think and face the things I spent time running away from and avoiding in NYC. Or maybe not.

I know I sound awful right now. There are people with real problems in the world. I am luckier than most. Maybe that's another issue, that I'm used to everything in my life being perfect and easy and it hasn't been likely and I am having issues coping.

I know I have options. I can always move home and return to the safe comfortable world I left behind. I can stick it out here and see if it subsides and transitions into something better. Right now I am leaning towards the latter. Exploring other career options to challenge and excite me, keeping myself inhumanly busy, and of course leaning on my friends.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dirty Little Secret

I haven't sleeping much lately. My usual routine of 7-10 hours has diminished into between 4-6 a night. Or at least on work nights. Every morning when my alarm pierces through my skull at 6:15 am, I SWEAR to myself that tonight will be different, that I'll be responsible. I always fail.

You're probably wondering what I'm doing until the wee hours of the morning. What activity could be incredible enough for me to sacrifice my prized slumber for? If I told you that I was going out and partying like crazy and having a great time but that would be a lie. I'd like to tell you that Rodrigo Santoro FINALLY found me and relocated to Hanoi that we've spent the nights ...well anyway, that would be a lie too. The truth is much less exciting, in fact, it's completely pathetic.

I've been watching shows online.

My roommate told me about and and I have become completely obsessed. I find a show that I saw once or twice in the US and I then proceed to watch the entire series. I am practically glued to my computer screen and impossible to get in touch with when this is happening. I have found myself making excuses for social gatherings or avoiding phone calls from PEOPLE AT HOME so that I can stay in and get through Season One of Vampire Diaries or White Collar. When my roommates make conversation in the kitchen I am mentally thinking of how to extract myself without seeming like a weirdo so I can get back to my show. I am late for tutoring jobs because I can't miss the last seven minutes. I spend my days off basically barricaded in my room emerging only to eat and at breaks. Megavideo (the site I watch most of the shows on) has a rule where you can only watch 72 minutes at a time and then you need a 54 minute "break." It is during these breaks that I am a semi normal and functioning human being. These breaks are when I allow myself to: eat, clean my room, shower, and check my phone. After those 54 minutes I am back in my trance.If a "break" comes in the middle of an episode I REFUSE to go on with my life until I've seen the rest of the episode, even if it's midnight on a work night. I'll wait up those 54 minutes and watch the show...guaranteeing that I am comatose the next day.

Once I've chosen a tv show, I realize I have about 30 episodes to get through and this is rather daunting but I still tackle it with gumption. I watch the episodes at an abnromal rate, with little self control, I HAVE to know what happens. i don't HAVe to wait until next week like most people. The sad thing is, that when I get to the final episode (or the most up to date) I panic a little. I don't know what to do anymore. Where are the hours going to go? The possibilities are endless.

The craziest thing about this is that I've never been much of a tv watcher. I was the girl who was given a special reading list every year because I'd already read everything on the required reading list. To this day, I am still a voracious reader... when I'm in the middle of a good book don't even try to hold a conversation with me or expect to hear from me until I'm finished.

My parents always supported my love of books (whose wouldn't...apart from Matilda's)and I can honestly say that TV never really interested me. Books are just so much better. I had my occasional shows but most of the time it was because someone I was around or living with was watching the show. In high school, college and New York I would maybe switch on the tv once a week, if at all. I still haven't turned on the tv at my house in Hanoi except to watch a dvd yet I spend many mindless hours glued to my computer like a schizoid.

I'm not sure what the solution to this problem is, or why it's even a problem to begin with. This isn't me. I don't like tv. I'm not antisocial. I don't avoid communication. I thought about it and realized that there are many "quiet nights" in Hanoi and there some nights that i don't want to go out and party, or even when I do go out I still get home early and when late night skype doesn't work I look for other alternatives. A movie is too much of a commitment at 1am but a tv show is not. Then I get sucked in.

My latest series infatuation is almost up to date (I actually got so fed up with the "breaks" that I just read episode recaps) and after that I am going to do my best to walk away from the endless hours of channel surfing. I am going to put myself on a strict regime. I'm going to get 8-10 hours of sleep. I'm going to answer if you call.

Unless I'm reading a book. :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When I Was Down I Was Kicked

From a very young age, it was apparent that I was not a girly girl. I am simply not blessed with the graceful gene. I was always the most awkward in my ballet classes and when I took part in cotillion ballroom classes, I am pretty sure my partners had to withstand the agony of patent leather Mary Jane's crushing their toes.

My lack of fine motor skills have always been a constant source of entertainment. My friends always laughed at my clumsiness, even counting the amount of times I tripped over a flat sidewalk while walking.

Flash forward to present day and not much has changed. I am still extremely clumsy, crashing into things, falling, dropping things, tripping, slipping in the shower etc. To this day, I have been unable to keep my body devoid of at least one bruise or scratch. The only injury I have managed to avoid is one that was inflicted by another person.

That was until I became a teacher.

I have always refrained from discussing work on my blog. It's not that I don't have plenty to say, and a plethora of stories to share, however, I feel that it is unprofessional to do so. However, today I am breaking my silence.

Disciplining students is always a challenging task, one wants to be tough but fair, kind but strong and I've found that doing so in my current environment is a near impossible task. You see, at my school, we are not allowed to enact the normal methods of discipline. We aren't allowed to "deal" with unruly students by the conventional methods (detention, sending them to the principal's office, throwing them out of class etc) We are, instead, supposed to reason with the student, talk softly to them and ask them why they are behaving the way they are. I am not saying that opening the lines of communication is a bad thing. I actually think it can be an effective method, however in some cases it's simply not enough.

At my school, we have a stamp system. At the end of each lesson, we present the students with stamps that they have earned for a job well done. I have started not taking the blanket approach to this ("Everyone gets three stamps!") but instead allotting stamps to students in a merit based fashion. If they pay attention and are well behaved they get the highest amount possible, if they talk or are disruptive or uncooperative they receive less than their peers. I feel like this approach is fair and serves as an incentive for the students to try harder next time.

Today in my first class, I had a student (who will be referred to as Student X)who was sullen, uncooperative and unresponsive. I tried to coax Student X into participating and when that didn't work, informed Student X that this behavior would result in a loss of stamps to which the student simply glared at me. "Ok,"I thought,Student X doesn't care so neither do I.

When it came time to distribute stamps, I went around telling the students what they had earned, and only gave one stamp to Student X, thinking that this was actually quite generous. When I next looked at Student X, I noticed that they were crying. I decided to approach the student to let them know why I had decided this and that it wasn't personal, just reflective of this one classes performance.

Student X began to shout at me in a very hostile manner, to which I responded in a calm, soothing voice. Student X then began to kick me several times. I buffered the kicks, held on to X's leg so they they couldn't kick me again and kept trying to explain. Student X didn't like this. X responded by jumping up and shoving the desk which knocked me over. I got up, shaken and a bit frightened yet trying to retain my composure. Student X then picked up the desk and threw it at me, while screaming hysterically. The class looked on horrified. Student X picked up their pencil case and began hurling the contents at me, including the pencil case itself. At one point, the student grabbed my wrist and twisted it.

It was at this point, that I decided the safest and most logical thing to do would be to walk away. To explain the situation to the classroom teacher in the hopes that it could be smoothed over. I did my best to keep my cool but walked out feeling a combination of fear, anger, frustration and shock.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident. That a student has never attacked me or behaved violently before. But that would be a lie. I also wish that I could say I felt like I had support from my employers in this situation, that the students would be properly reprimanded and that I felt like it would never happen again but that also wouldn't be true.

The only take away I am getting from this is an additional set of bruises from a source they've never come from before.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Street Fighter: The Cat Edition

I grew up with cats, am a responsible person, and had a mouse problem. These three items made it evident that a cat is what I needed in my life.

We adopted Maya about a month ago and let's just say it isn't exactly what I expected.

The cat has brought a whole level of crazy to the house. First of all it's like having a baby. She wakes me up early every morning by meowing loudly at my door. She also enjoys to do this around bedtime. The rest of the day she is happily silent.

Secondly, she has brought all of these unwanted visitors. I thought the whole point of the cat was to keep things out not let them in. But no, the crazy street cat from outside has discovered Maya's presence and comes into the house around 2am every night to get food or mate or fight, i don't know...but without fail for a solid two weeks, this cat would come through a tiny upstairs window and I'd wake up to a screeching match going on outside my bedroom door. Lovely. Have you ever heard a cat fight? it's scary. It'd groggily open my door and clap my hands until I saw the other cat run away and Maya would run into my room. I tried to deter the street cat by putting vinegar and pepper on the windowsill. It didn't work. Finally I called my landlord and he fixed the problem.

Another morning, I woke up to the kitchen in complete food knocked over and all over the floor, the dry cat food box chewed through and with bits everywhere...but more disturbingly the wet food (in aluminum) was shredded to pieces...which is clearly evidence of a rat. In her defense, I guess maya discovered him because their were paw prints all over the table but these kinds of things, along with yesterdays incident is making it hard for me to say I am still 100% happy with this cat thing.

I'm sure as time goes on she'll settle, and the street fights will end and maybe I'll never see a critter again.

This is all part of my becoming an adult thing, I guess.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Big Girls Don't Cry

When I decided to move to Southeast Asia, I knew that my life would be different. Let's be serious, any time one decides to move ANYWHERE, life is different. When moving, we give up the security of what we know. We give up our routines, our friends, and our comfort zones. These are, of course, replaced by new routines, new friends and building a new life that we will, in time, feel comfortable with. No matter where we are in the world, we ultimately want and need the same things, and usually do what we can to get them.

Leaving our comfort zone pushes us in ways we didn't know we could be pushed and shows us that we are, in fact, capable of things we previously claimed we weren't. Take this morning, for instance. I was sitting in the kitchen, having my breakfast and drinking my tea when I looked over to the fish bowl. I noticed some movement that usually isn't there. Upon further inspection I realized that there was a LIVE MOUSE in the fish bowl swimming for its dear life.

My first reaction was to freak out. Not loudly or dramatically, but in my mind. I started walking up the stairs to ask my roommate to fix the problem. I then thought, no, that i had to do it myself. I walked up and down the stairs about three times before I got the fish net, scooped out the mouse, and flung it off of our balcony. I confess that I was shuddering and saying, "Oh my gosh...ew" the whole time but the point is that I did it.

One thing I have learned from being out here is that I am an adult, and I am going to have to do things I don't like. That I can't expect everyone to do the dirty work for me. That I won't die if I have to change the kitty litter or fish out mice. The old Alice, was a master of deflecting insalubrious duties to others. Every time there was something I didn't want to do, I'd pitifully whine and pout and demand that someone else fixes it. They always did, and while I appreciate that (thanks for making my life more pleasant!) I am not sure it taught me the right lessons.

Life is not just about coasting through and only experiencing the nice and fun things. Sometimes we have to deal with the nitty gritty and the gross, it builds character.

As lame as it sounds, I find that I constantly surprise myself over here by tackling tasks that I'd normally run away screaming from. I do it because I have to but it makes me feel like I'm growing up and realize that I'm not helpless and useless but can, in fact, deal with things that I don't like.

Whether or not this mentality will stick when I return stateside (whenever that is)I don't know. However it's nice to know when it really comes down to it, I can do it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thang Long Chaotic

Hanoi is always bustling. Making your way down the street, whether by foot or motorbike is a process that requires exceptional navigational skills and alertness. You ever know when you’ll have to dodge someone down the wrong side of the road or simply stopping without rhyme or reason. I often find myself breathing a sigh of relief and mentally patting myself on the back when I’ve reached by destination successfully and in one piece.

I thought I was used to the traffic and craziness here. I had gotten to the point where I felt like nothing I could see here would surprise or shock me anymore. I wouldn’t say I am oblivious to it, but have merely accepted the way of life here and look at wide eyed tourists with amusement as they nervously plan the best way to cross the street.

That was before Thang Long.

For those of you who aren’t engulfed in the Vietnam culture, Thang Long is the 1000th year celebration of Hanoi. When I first found out that I’d be living here during this time, I called my parents and told them how cool it was, how exciting. Being a major history buff and nerd, I was relishing in the fact that I’d be right in the middle of the action, That a phenomenal piece of history was right on my doorstep. While I anticipated celebrations and commemorations to take place, I was (and still am) completely unaware of what the ten day festivities would entail.

It started with the lights. The last two weeks in September the roads became more and more lit up as strings of lanterns in all shapes and colors were hung up. Some people find it cheesy but I think it’s beautiful. It reminded me of New York City at Christmastime. The cold month of December was always miserable and made me grumpy until I walked down 5th Avenue and saw all of the stores lit up with a majestic glow. It is impossible to miss and even more impossible to not feel affected by it. My grumbling slowly turned into excitement and inevitably my Scrooge-ness was replaced by holiday cheer. Hanoi is no different, and each night as I drove home, a new batch had cropped up and I, like so many Vietnamese, ooohed and ahhed at the glow. (I spent a few evenings trying to capture the essence of it all but found that I failed due to my amateur photography skills and my point and go camera.)

The lights should have been a gentle prelude to the madness to come but I guess I am na├»ve. I underestimated Hanoi’s ability to party and turn more chaotic. I started noticing that my twenty-five minute drove from West Lake to Old Quarter (where I live) was getting longer and longer. The streets got more and more crowded by people enjoying the lights, walking around the monuments and coming into the center of town to engage in their own forms of celebrations complete with flags, dragons, music, parades and stopping their motorbikes in the middle of the road and taking pictures.
I found quickly that my life is going to drastically alter during this time:
1. I will not be able to drive anywhere. Nor do I want to
2. It will take me quadruple the time to get anywhere
3. I may not be able to leave the OQ area because so many streets will be blocked off, and when they're not blocked off the traffic is so jammed it's not even worth it.
4. There are more people the I have ever seen gathered in a confined area, and that confined area is in front of my doorstep

Once again, I am awestruck by the pride the wonderful Vietnamese have for their country. Their sense of nationalism is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere and I love it. I am enjoying the buzz and the energy of being here and drinking in the experience....that being said, I’m looking forward to my commute dwindling back down to twenty five minutes instead of an hour (or longer) and getting the streets around my house getting back to “normal.”