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.