Closing One Door, Opening Another

Yesterday, Zak and I closed the door on our 6 week chapter in Korea. We opened a new door when we flew from Incheon to Hanoi, Vietnam by way of Guangzhou, China.

I am mostly glad to leave Korea behind. Looking back, I think I would say I am glad I went. I love traveling and learning about other cultures, and I’m thankful I had the chance to immerse myself there. I’m thankful for Max, a Korean instructor who was always willing to talk about Korean culture and politics with us. The students I worked with at Chadwick International were amazingly smart and sweet kids. I’m glad that they got some form of Outdoor Ed this spring.

Although I like looking back and focusing on the positive things, the altered Outdoor Ed trips caused a lot of stress and frustration for myself and all of the other instructors, and those feelings are what I’m happy to leave behind. Delivering OE in an urban setting as an after school program does not work. There is a reason that we take students in Korea and the US into the backcountry.

Fortunately, all the extra time we ha with Internet access allowed Zak and I to plan out virtually our entire itinerary for our Southeast Asia tour. In my adult life, I have never really travelled with an itinerary, I’ve mostly just kind of shot from the hip when I arrive. While that strategy has worked before, with the limited time we have and the great distance we have to travel (Hanoi to Bangkok by way of Saigon, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap), I am confident that having an itinerary will allow us to make the most of our days soaking in the places we are rather than researching hotels, places to see and things to do.

We have now been in Hanoi for still less than 24 hours, but I’m already falling on love with the place. We are staying in the Old Quarter, which has narrow, tree lined streets, and is crowded with shops, restaurants and Vietnamese on motorbikes. The streets are totally chaotic, and the lack of pedestrian walk signals makes crossing each street la little bit like Frogger in real life.

We are noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner today. Chicken soup noodles for breakfast, beef pho for lunch, and bùn ca (cold, angel hair rice noodle with pork patties and a variety of herb and lettuce leaves) for dinner.

This morning we visited Hoa Lo prison, which was built by the French to house pro-revolutionary Vietnamese. During the US invasion of Vietnam, many American pilots whose planes were shot down, including John McCain, were kept here. It’s fascinating to see this history from the Vietnamese point of view, and devastating to me as an American that my country destroyed so many people, buildings and important cultural landmarks here because they didn’t agree with the politics. I know I’m simplifying it a little bit, but I feel strongly that the war in Vietnam was an enormous error on behalf of the US. Much of the farmland, and many people here are still adversely affected by the lasting effects of the B52s that rained down from US planes.

After the prison, we walked up to the lake that is in the middle of the city. We were pleasantly surprised by its incredible beauty. Lined on all sides by walking paths and benches that were shaded with enormous and beautiful trees, the lake is an oasis in the heart of the city. There is a Buddhist temple in the middle that is reached by crossing a beautiful red bridge. Small koi fish fill the emerald green waters of the lake and surface to feed on the crumbs of delicious looking French bread.

Although chaotic and humid, Hanoi is charming and I’m excited to continue to explore more.

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