07 Nov 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you like me? Do you love adventure but relish routine?