December 5, 2013

Day 57 – Hanoi to Halong Bay back to HCM city

I had the opportunity to truly marvel at something amazing.  I was able to see the breathtakingly beautiful Halong bay.  I was able to appreciate one of the natural wonders. In that moment, I stopped thinking, I stopped wondering, I was fully present and I stared at the tranquil, turquoise waters in awe.  How often does time stop? How often is it that nothing but the present moment matters more then anything? How often are we left staring in amazement?  For me, not very often and this is something I would like to change.

Now, of course, we can’t go looking for the most spectacular sites but I know that I can appreciate my surroundings more. I know that I haven’t truly appreciated nature, endless green fields or golden-brown, autumn leaves not because I can’t but because I’m too busy trying to get somewhere, trying to meet someone to get something done. Walking in the sand or watching the tide coming in, is something else I enjoy but how often do I go to the beach? Not often enough.

Being surrounded by nature, feeling at peace, made me question what we have to complain about.  Yes, I complain on the best of days but what about? Somedays about the most trivial of things, things that in one or two weeks will have little significance.  It’s too hot or too cold, we don’t have enough time or money or something else gets in the way.  We get stressed out, I want to pull my hair out and my sister feels like punching a wall.  Even something that should be enjoyable like shopping, can become stressful and something to complain about.

Before I came to Saigon, for those of you who know will appreciate that I’m a shopaholic, I can shop anytime, anywhere. This was something I was proud of and happy to share. Having spent the last two months here with various volunteers, I began to realise that maybe; just maybe, I don’t love shopping as much. I don’t know how it happened but it no longer appeals to me in the same way.  Yes, of course I will still buy things as and when I need them but the idea of endless shopping is no longer for me.

What I loved the most was shopping for gifts.  I tend to spend more time, energy and money on buying gifts for other people.  I try to buy something that my friend would like or use or find something a little unique.  Now the best gifts are those which are personalised or hand made. We don’t always have the time so we resort to buying the next best thing.  My aim is to try and make the gifts I give in the new year, special and less commercial.

Whilst I enjoy going to independent, local coffee shops, I had no real issue going to the larger chains.  I have some friends who strongly oppose supporting any multi-national company be it a coffee house or the apple store.  At the time, I was neither here nor there but having thought about it and discussed it with others here, I’m all for independent businesses.  I would much rather support free trade or a local café then Starbucks.  It’s much easier to avoid larger chains here as many don’t exist but back home we are swamped with chains.

This idea of consumerism and larger co-operation all stems from living in capitalist society. How many of us support capitalism?  How many of us would rather live in a society that favours socialism? Communism?  I can imagine some of you reading this, shaking your head, communism? No chance, that wouldn’t work.  How could it work when we live in a society of competition and greed? Communism may not work in the west but all I know is, the system we live under, doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked for a long time and I wonder what it will take to change it.

Mass support for anything ensures an idea or institution remains in place.  Often, through mass media, there is a craze and millions are converted.  Let’s take facebook, initially perhaps a little slow to take off but then virtually everyone you know is on facebook.  I have friends who refuse to sign up and even coming here, I met volunteers who are dead against it.  Initially, I tried to persuade friends to sign up, I mean why not? Everyone is on facebook; it’s an easy and quick way to keep in contact and share photos.  But then, we can of course just email our friends like we use to.  We now have this need to check facebook, find friends on friends, stalk profiles; some would happily say going on facebook is their main hobby!

Look at how far we have come, from black and white television and one phone line to ipads and iphones. We no longer wait to receive a letter or a postcard but an email or whats app message.  The main element is speed, how quickly can we communicate, work, mass produce, travel, drive, build and create.  Maybe if we just slowed down, slowed down the pace of our everyday life, had time to rejuvenate, relax and recharge our batteries – wouldn’t we function better?

I love mangoes, have done for years but when was the last time I had a mango? I can’t remember and it wasn’t until I got to Vietnam that I had mangoes again.  I love watermelon and pineapple and smoothies.  I’ve always been bit of a food lover; my love for pancakes, pizza, chips, cookies, curry – the list is endless.  Food is also a good pick-me-up, we all have days that are a bit lousy but then we have an ice-cream and it doesn’t seem so bad.  Now, of course, food doesn’t solve the problem but it does leave me feeling better.  Some people smoke, some go for a swim or a jog, others go for a pint but for me I would have to say food.

I believe we all need an outlet, a channel to let of steam or our emotions.  Like when you’re upset or angry.  I know friends, who want to shout, scream and swear about it until their blue in the face.  Some people drink and dance the night away, whatever works but it needs to come out.  Anger left inside doesn’t disappear, if anything it builds up and then like a pressure cooker it explodes when you least expect it.

I feel so many things everyday in each moment, from feeling overly happy and excited to feeling sad, anxious and angry.  I think this is partly because so much can happen here in one day and partly because I think about people or things back home.  I laughed so hard yesterday, laughed until I cried and it’s been such a long time since I’ve laughed that much. It was great, yes but then yesterday was my last night at the peace house and I feel like I’m forever saying goodbye.  Now thankfully, the one friend I know I will miss dearly, I no longer have to say goodbye to because he is coming with us.

From two, we are now four and today we embark on another adventure, part two of our travels and I’m excited to see what it entails.  I loved volunteering here for two months in Saigon, it took me some time to get my head round but I enjoyed each of the projects, all the local volunteers I met were also great, I learnt a great deal about myself and I’m left with many great memories.  It’s funny how things work out in life, sometimes when we least expect it.