Vietnam: Final Musings From The Journey Home

I’m on my way home now, suspended somewhere over the Pacific as I write this. And what a trip this has been. Sometimes these wrap-up posts (when I write them) are compilations of tips and minor stories, but this one is more ruminative. I’m trying to assemble my thoughts and feelings into something coherent, and am still struggling, so I’m going to start with a basic question: will I go back to Vietnam?

This is an important question, and one that I often consider at the end of a trip. Italy, for example, always calls me back. Heck – it called to me before I had even gone for the first time. Greece, too, has always beckoned, even though I’ve only been once.

The allure of Turkey, too, tugs at my heart, and for more than just its prolific ancient Greek history. I’m happy to say that I’ll be answering that call soon.

Conversely there are some places I can take or leave. These are places with which I just never make a strong connection. For example, I know many people who absolutely love Japan, and while I had a fantastic visit there, I feel no compulsion to return. And the same can be said for London and Madrid, both of which are great, but neither of which speaks to my heart.

Finally, some trips take time to process through. Marrakech didn’t initially demand a return visit, but I am now of a mind-frame that perhaps a return trip is in order. It isn’t a high priority, however, although I would certainly go if the opportunity arose.

Vietnam is special to me already. It falls into rare company: that of Italy and Greece. Like those countries it has been an aspiration for years, but for different reasons. While those two harkened with their classical history, architecture, and genetics, I think Vietnam’s allure related to of my age. I was born during the war, and have long felt a connection with those who died there, and in addition the repercussions of that conflict have shaped my generation’s outlook to a great degree.

So in that sense I suppose that I have needed to go to Vietnam for my entire life, and this trip definitely didn’t disappoint. Others with whom I spoke during my time visiting Vietnam complained of Hanoi being dirty and crowded, but I just found her to be magnificent. Yes she is those things, but I find the throngs to be an asset, and the grunge to be part of her character. Frankly, there were moments riding on the back of S’s scooter in dense traffic, traffic packed so tightly that I could reach out and touch cars on either side, during which I felt entirely liberated. For many (if not most) people this would have been terrifying. For me, it was euphoric.

As I hurtle back towards Michigan, I am left with no doubt that I’ll be making a return trip to Vietnam someday, although I don’t yet know when. I was only there for a week, but it felt like much longer. The food, the culture, and the people have all been remarkable, yet this trip has only barely scratched the surface of all that this country offers. And so I know that I must return because there is too much left for me to see.

I complete this voyage now with an open ended commitment to return and one last little fun tidbit. You see, when I was flying out of Hanoi on my way to Guangzhou this morning I was speaking with the passenger next to me, a woman from California. She had assumed my routing to Hanoi had been through LAX, mirroring my routing home. While I was explaining to her that this was not the case and that I had initially flown east out of JFK, I suddenly had a realization about what I’m doing. All of my long international legs on this trip go east.

Have you figured it out yet? When I get back to Detroit I’ll have flown around the world. Some would probably suggest that I’m being generous with my definition because my leg from JFK to Guangzhou went north, but it definitely went east as well, so I’m counting this as an around-the-world routing. And that’s pretty cool, even if it was an accident.

And with that this trip is a wrap. See you next month!

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