Reflections and stories on six months of life, culture, food and friendship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Friday, July 22, 2005

My dear friend James has been in town for one of his annual week-long visits home. He's what you'd call a professional ex-pat. He's travelled and lived in more places than anyone I know. His addresses in the last couple years include: Pakistan, Shanghai, Saigon, and now he's living in Medellin, Colombia. He's been great to talk to about my upcoming time in Viet Nam because he's lived in Saigon and his family is originally from Hanoi. I've been taking mental notes.

He told me that of all the places he's been, Viet Nam was in many ways the strangest. Not strange in a wacky Japanese game show kinda way, but just profoundly different and often incomprehensible. The first week Jon and I were in Viet Nam in 2002, we felt bewildered by the culture and the intensity of the experience (there is more life on once corner of Saigon than half of downtown Toronto) . The second and third weeks, we thought we had it figured out. And the fourth and final week we felt like beginners again; we had learned only enough to sense the depths of our ignorance.

Last week over drinks at Woody's, James told me that I am more prepared for my time in Viet Nam than anyone he's ever known - but that it's a mixed blessing. Perhaps it is better to go without preconceptions and just experience it. Well, it's much too late for that. I may be obsessed, but I don't think it's out of a neurotic need to plan - just a fascination with the culture, language, food... Besides, if Viet Nam is as truly different as all that, I can't help but be naive in this adventure.

Well, so begins my blog. My sabbatical starts in one week, and I'm three weeks from hopping on my plane. I intend my next entry to be written from Ha Noi.


Blogger Lisa said...

Bon Voyage Mark, and welcome to the blogosphere....


3:57 PM

Anonymous Khoi Gallub-Ho said...

Mark is by far the most unique person I know this far in my life. His continual dedication to everthing that he does is the thing that sets him apart from most people I know. Vietnamese people and the country is something that Mark and Jon have in common.
I am only honored to be able to assist him with Vietnamese and some insights into the culture.

10:08 AM

Blogger Kyle said...

Bon Voyage Mark! As it gets imminently closer to the Big Day, are you more excited, and perhaps a bit of a mixed feeling?

I am sure you will make the most out of your trip. Take advantage of it, as few people have the opportunity to do what you are about to shortly. 6 months may not be forever, but it is still a significant chunk of anyone's time to prove to be a significant marker.

I remember when my family used to move around every 3+ years, and I recall that even though the appreciation for the opportunity deepens with age and with every move, it does not necessarily make it easier to pick up and go. In this case, I am envious...I wish I can take a sabbatical!

Have fun, and we'll see you back before you know it :) - and maybe I'll even see you before then if you decide to take a hop, skip, and a short plan ride to Taiwan around Xmas/New Years time.


12:58 PM

Anonymous Jon said...

Well Mark has now left and has begun his journey.

7:24 AM

Anonymous Trevor said...

Well it is Monday morning, and Mark is still making his way to Vietnam while we all go back to our regular lives.

It meant a lot to join Jon and David in seeing Mark off last night. While we sat around the airport, trying to keep the conversation light and cheerful, there was no denying the underlying sadness in realizing I won't be seeing my good friend Mark for 6 months.

While I've been spending the last few weeks thinking about what it will be like without Mark here, last night it hit me, as Mark was getting a little nervous, what a huge change in life Mark is taking on. While we in Toronto will all have each other over the next 6 months, Mark is really on his own.

I admire his sense of adventure and look forward to reading all about the journey on this blog.

10:31 AM

Anonymous Kyle said...

Cheer up folks, people go away to school for longer than 6 months. I am sure in a way Mark is only too happy to take a break from what is Toronto, and take on an adventure. After all, Mark you know we are all still here, now and when you come back, so you (and us) can take comfort in having that as a constant.

12:36 PM


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