Standing Still and Relishing Routine

No matter which corner of the world you call home or what type of life you lead, we are all constantly moving forward through the pages of our own story; movement is the very essence of life, but this is quite literally true if you’re a traveller. The kind of freedom I experience when we’re on the road facing everyday afresh, often in a brand new place, is exhilarating. I crave that freedom but strangely, I also fear it. A part of me constantly longs for routine, familiarity and the chance to stand still and pause for breath – right now we’re taking the opportunity to do just that here in Hanoi.

Trying egg coffee in Hanoi

Trying egg coffee in Hanoi

Relishing Routine in Hanoi

Each morning we greet the puppy who lives in our peaceful courtyard before zooming off on our motorbike into the hectic streets of this city we now call home. We live near army barracks and pass soldiers in green uniforms holding automatic weapons as we drive through the morning market on Tran Phu street, which is where we get our eggs, fruit and vegetables; in the shop where we buy milk the owner keeps a ginger and white cat tied up on a lead. Instead of commuting by train and car, as we used to in London, we sweat in the humidity under helmets and face masks as we swerve through the swarms of traffic on our bike in a delicate dance to work.

The puppy who lives in our courtyard

The puppy who lives in our courtyard

Motorbike commute in Hanoi

Motorbike commute in Hanoi

Some of the schools I work for are located in areas of the city I’d never otherwise go to. Here the streets are narrow and crowded on either side with make-shift shops; baskets of fruit and vegetables are displayed on the ground, there are pigs roasting on spits and hunks of raw meat laid out on low wooden tables. I always avert my eyes when I glimpse the fish gasping for breath in shallow bowls of water and the chickens crammed under straw-dome cages, waiting to be sold. Although these sights are now familiar, with my western and vegetarian sensibilities I still find them uncomfortable to behold.

The market on Tran Phu street in Hanoi

The market on Tran Phu street in Hanoi

Our days are now spent in classrooms singing, dancing and playing games; the sound of children’s screams echo in my ears and I awake in the night with snatches of nursery songs stuck in my head. Some afternoons I sit on a tiny stool in a local café while I wait for my evening class. I balance my notebook on my knees while Huyen, the cafe owner, makes me creamy hot chocolate and chats with me about life in Vietnam and the places she’d like to visit. She likes to ask me questions about England and show me pictures of her husband and baby; she often asks, perplexed, why Andrew and I are not married.

Hot chocolate in a cafe in Hanoi

Hot chocolate in a cafe in Hanoi

The weekends are full of simple pleasures. After planning our lessons we eat out and go to the cinema. We sit in local bakeries, get five dollar massages and seek out western grocery stores for home treasures and comforts. Often we simply stay put in our apartment, cook, Skype our families and download TV programmes, content to be in our own comfy nest enjoying the home comforts we forsake when we’re on the road, travelling.

Western treats from Joma Bakery

Western treats from Joma Bakery

Homemade lunch: egg on toast

Homemade lunch: egg on toast

The weeks whiz by in this new haze of familiarity and routine and I feel the maze-like streets of the Old Quarter slowly come into focus as I learn my way around. I rarely need to look at my timetable to figure out which classes I have next and I can now recognise the faces of my students, if not remember their names, easily. The once-bizarre sights of Hanoians exercising and waltzing by the lake and couples posing for wedding pictures in front of the designer shopping mall have now become part of the ordinary fabric of everyday life.

Couples having their wedding photos taken in Hanoi

Couples having their wedding photos taken in Hanoi

Sometimes I forget that this in itself is an adventure and that these routines are strange and alien when compared to the lives we used to live in England.  I often become so wrapped up in my daily tasks that I get a shock when I suddenly snap awake, look around and realise that I’m here in Vietnam. I’m living in Asia – how cool is that? I never would have guessed that our journey would take us here and despite our plans for the future, I cannot guess where our path will lead. What I have learned is that a little routine and respite from change every now and again is good for our souls and we’ll relish this routine until it’s time to castaway again and move anchorless through the world once more.

Old French colonial buildings in our neighbourhood in Hanoi

Old French colonial buildings in our neighbourhood

Are you like me? Do you love adventure but relish routine?

  • Katie
    Posted at 22:12h, 07 November Reply

    Great post Amy!

    We’re still travelling fairly frequently (the longest we’ve stayed in a place is around a week) but when you spend even a little longer in one place I think you see a very different side to it. Our favourite places have been the ones we’ve stayed in longest, but I don’t know if we stay because we like them, or like them because we’ve stayed (if that makes sense?!).

    I think it’s very cool you are living in Asia – especially somewhere as different to the uk as Hanoi! We’re looking at somewhere to spend a month or two early next year – I hope we get a bit of a routine and to feel a bit like locals during that time!


    • Amy
      Posted at 04:52h, 08 November Reply

      Yes that totally makes sense Katie; sometimes we only really like a place once we’ve gotten to know it. Where are you thinking of setting up camp for a couple of months? I hope you’ll find it refreshing to have a bit of routine too 🙂

      • Katie
        Posted at 05:09h, 09 November Reply

        We’re thinking Chiang Mai at the moment but we’re not 100% sure yet.

        • Amy
          Posted at 05:11h, 09 November Reply

          Oh, Chiang Mai is a great choice, we would love to stay there again for a month or two.

          • Kayie
            Posted at 05:29h, 12 November

            Oh good! I’ve heard it’s a great place for a stop! 🙂

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 22:20h, 07 November Reply

    I so enjoyed this post and the way you describe how Vietnam is becoming more familiar yet it feels adventurous. It is indeed so cool to be living in Asia and feel so immersed and have the opportunity to live there like a local. You are even zooming around in your motorbike like a local. Enjoy.

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:50h, 08 November Reply

      Thanks Gilda 🙂 We are definitely enjoying our time here now and it’s whizzing by so fast; I had forgotten what an exhausting week of work was like!

  • Stefan Arestis
    Posted at 13:00h, 08 November Reply

    Motorbike through Hanoi? I’ve heard it’s one of the most dangerous countries for road users (and that’s coming from a Vietnamese guy we met who’d seen India’s roads FFS!) Is it that bad?

    Those cakes look delicious 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:53h, 09 November Reply

      Ha! It’s not as scary as it sounds Stefan and the roads certainly aren’t as crazy here in Hanoi as they are in Ho Chi Minh city. Saying that, I wouldn’t dare drive a motorbike, Andrew is in charge of that (I don’t have a good record in that department)! Actually, the bikes don’t really go that fast because the roads are congested so most collisions are minor; unbelievably I haven’t seen any accidents here yet on the roads. It looks chaotic but there is actually some order to the chaos – everyone looks out for what’s directly in front of them.

      • Stefan Arestis
        Posted at 11:22h, 09 November Reply

        Take care on those roads luv- your fans need you here alive 🙂

        • Amy
          Posted at 12:34h, 09 November Reply

          Thanks Stefan, we will take care 🙂

  • Charlie
    Posted at 21:42h, 08 November Reply

    Sounds like you’ve got a pretty nice life going for you over there, Amy 🙂 It’s funny how things can quickly become routine and feel ordinary even though they’re miles apart from the life you once lived. Which isn’t a bad thing. Personally I find that routine is my enemy, doing the same things every day is when I start pining for change. But then even while traveling I like to create mini routines, even if it’s just reading the news each morning with a cup of coffee. Being an expat is so different to traveling though. It’s nice to feel like you’re really getting to know a place, right?

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:59h, 09 November Reply

      Yep, I’m finally enjoying ex-pat life now I’ve settled in Charlie; you’re right, it’s nice to feel like you’re getting to know a place. I like the fact that I can walk the streets on my own and not get lost now and visit the same coffee shops each week. I know what you mean though, too much of a static routine can be very hard to handle. I think I’ve found the right balance by establishing a routine in a different country working in a different job; it’s challenging and adventurous enough to be exciting but offers some routine and stability. Of course I am excited about hitting the road again next year though 🙂

  • Kate
    Posted at 03:54h, 09 November Reply

    Great descriptions of Hanoi and also expat life. We are packing up to leave Dubai after two years and I am awakening to the joys of it again because I know it’s short-lived. We can get pulled into every day life routines and not “see” the differences if we stay too long. But the relaxing joy of staying put for a bit is very nice at times. Thanks for your posts.

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:02h, 09 November Reply

      Hi Kate, thanks for reading and commenting. You’re life in Dubai sounds really interesting, I’m glad you’re making the most of the time you have left there; I need to remember to do the same as the time is whizzing by!

  • paper boat sailor
    Posted at 10:01h, 09 November Reply

    Lovely thoughts, Amy, and you make a very interesting case for routine–often ridiculed by itchy feet, but even they cannot escape weariness and nostalgia and finding comfort in the familiar.
    Isn’t that why we carry books and music and photos of our loved ones when we travel to places unknown?

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:07h, 09 November Reply

      So true, that is why we carry little totems of home around with us while we travel. Routine is definitely good for my soul when balanced with adventure and new challenges.

  • Patti
    Posted at 17:40h, 09 November Reply

    I love, love, love this post Amy. It’s so honest and you paint a true-to-life picture of daily life while living in the moment of the adventure.

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:41h, 10 November Reply

      Thanks Patti, I love the way you phrased that.

  • Miriam of Adventurous Miriam
    Posted at 22:02h, 09 November Reply

    Amy, your life in Hanoi sounds so lovely! I’m impressed that you dare to drive a scooter, though. As far as I remember, the traffic is crazy!

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:43h, 10 November Reply

      It is pretty lovely Miriam 🙂 I don’t dare to drive a scooter myself, I leave that to Andrew who’s a good driver, I feel pretty safe sitting on the back. Once you get used to driving in this crazy traffic it isn’t so bad and everyone moves fairly slowly.

  • Catherine
    Posted at 22:12h, 09 November Reply

    I am envious beyond words of your life right now, or at least the way your life is described here! Love that you’ve managed to find some stability and get some routines, but still get to see so many sights on your way to work every morning! Hope your day-to-day stays as beautiful as described here for a very long time!

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:45h, 10 November Reply

      Thanks Catherine, it’ll be interesting to see whether I get bored of this routine over the next few months. At the moment it feels good to be busy in one place but we still have nearly seven months here; time is whizzing by so quickly though.

  • Ben
    Posted at 14:05h, 11 November Reply

    Hi Amy,

    May I just start by saying your blog is a pleasure to read 🙂

    My girlfriend Hannah and I are moving to Hanoi to teach in January, in fact i’m sure she has mentioned this in another one of your posts but I just had to comment myself to say how much I enjoy reading the blog!

    If you don’t mind me asking, I was wondering if you or Andrew had any reccomendations for teaching resources that have helped you when planning your lessons?

    Looking forward to reading your response.

    Cheers and thanks again


    • Amy
      Posted at 15:04h, 11 November Reply

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Ben 🙂 Our language centre gave us a curriculum which we have to follow pretty rigidly and the text books we use come with songs and flashcards. However, we do try to add in our own resources whenever we can, we use different songs and any relevant videos we can find for listening exercises (I used a Halloween clip from The Nightmare Before Christmas the other week and the kids loved it!). I’ve also made worksheets using a book by Raymond Murphy called: “English Grammar in Use” and I regularly use a ball, sticky balls, stickers and reward stamps to get the kids motivated. This is a bit of a vague reply so I’ll try and put together a post on this topic in the coming weeks. I hope this helps 🙂

  • Rob
    Posted at 18:02h, 13 November Reply

    Lovely post. It’s crazy how easily people’s brains can adapt to new situations and everything becomes normal and part of the routine. I love that every now and then you get those pinch me moments, “Holy cow I’m in Vietnam!!”.

    I do miss routine too. It often comes with a sense of purpose, which you must be getting by the bucket load teaching all those minds in your classes. Good on ya, Have fun!

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:32h, 14 November Reply

      Thanks Rob, we definitely feel full of purpose and this new routine is just exciting enough to keep us from getting bored; it helps that I find teaching a huge challenge too 🙂

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