I recently came back from one of the best trips ever. And I absolutely miss it. It all started over a year ago, when my friends Christy & Mantik got engaged. They were having a wedding in the US, but also in Hong Kong since their family still lives there. The DC family (That's what we call our circe of friends here in DC) decided we wanted to attend and be there for such a special moment. We also decided to make a fun Asia trip out of it. Some decided to go to Korea or China first, but we all met up in Hong Kong and then eventually made our way to Vietnam as well.
In Hong Kong, we were blessed to have Christy's parent take so much care of us. They are some of the nicest people I've ever met. They housed us, fed us, and we were all fat and happy. No seriously, we ate so much food while we were there! Christy & Mantik also did an amazing job being our tour guides. The things that I'll remember most about Hong Kong is the fun city life, riding the subway everywhere, seeing all the markets & shops, and of course the food! And of course, the best memories were being with friends as we were a part of a magical day for Christy & Mantik!
The last time I was in Vietnam was 11 years ago. It was my first time there and also the first time I got to meet my Dad's side of the family. Originally I was suppose to be there for a month, but I think I was only there for 2 weeks. My dad's side of the family lives in the country side, a couple of hours south of Saigon. No matter how much insect reppellent I put on, I absolutely got owned by mosquitos. I told my dad that if I counted 100 mosquito bites, I had to leave. And unfortunately... I counted 100. Which was interesting because no one else got bit except me. I joked that it was due to my hamburger meat. Thanks, McDonalds!
So much has changed since I've been there. But one thing that hasn't changed, is the connection I felt when I was there. Growing up, you hear stories of people being so poor, not having jobs, how hard and difficult it is to live in Vietnam. Which most of it is true. And after hearing this all the time, you get this picture in your head that everyone must be just miserable in Vietnam.
However, on my first trip to Vietnam, there was a zen moment for me. I just visited my cousins in Saigon and was with them at their box company. It's this small little thing in District 1, right by the Nha Tho Du Ba (Saigon's Notre Dame). Customers will come to them looking for boxes, and if they need a custom one, they'll make it to the customer's specifications. At the end of the work day, we all sat out on the sidewalk right in front of the store on a beautiful night in Saigon. We ate food, drank some beers, laughed, talked, and I just remember looking at all of my family members and seeing the smiles on their faces. And then it hit me.
It doesn't matter where you are, even if you are poor, don't have the best opportunities, etc, you can be happy as long as you are surrounded by wonderful people. That whole picture I had in my head growing up was completely shattered. And I felt so in touch with not just my family, but with all of humanity. No matter what background a person has, you can connect with them on a deeper, yet simple level.
At the end of the night, I crawled upstairs through a small ladder above the box company to where my family lived and slept for the night. I remember before heading to bed, I was just smiling as I fell asleep to the sounds of Saigon.
This time around, when I finally got to visit again, I climbed up those same steps of that ladder with my buddy Dan. Reading about it, hearing about it, is no where near the experience you get when you finally reach the top and see this small little room that has a wide open window looking down on the streets of Saigon. I wanted Dan to experience it too, and I hope he did. For me, I felt that connection again, and it's something I'll always cherish.
As I got to spend more time with my family and friends during that trip, that zen moment kept replaying in my mind. I hope that one day others too, will experience that same feeling.