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.