I Am Not a Tourist

A strange feeling dawned on me yesterday. As I was watching the world around me in a small village of Vietnam, I felt…separated. It wasn’t that I wasn’t included; it was more of a feeling that made me step outside of my own life and realize why I was there. I was beyond myself.

I was going to their little village with cash, cameras, an iPhone with data, an iPad, a computer, and a backpack. I was going there for an experience. All they were doing was simply living. Is there a word for that? Beyond just being a tourist? A tourist is not what I feel like here. To them, I am an intriguing, light haired, light skinned, freckle-faced, glasses wearing outsider that they can’t even speak to in their own language. I wanted to be witness to the world that is happening around me in a way that’s different than when I was in Hanoi. I could enter into the world of Hanoi for a moment by buying a coffee, entering a shop, or having a beer. It is different here. Many do not own TVs. There are no bars. There is a cooler in a room with stools that you help yourself to and pay before you leave. You help yourself to the snacks that are there. The shops are limited, the prices are cheap. I am not a tourist. I am an experiencer of culture. Tourists, to me, are usually in a touristic place with other tourists. That is not what is happening here. I might be a tourist in Hanoi, but I do not feel like a tourist here. I feel more like a guest.

It’s weird to step outside of your world and enter into a different one completely. I came here for an experience because I wanted to go beyond what I consider the real world – but that isn’t fair to even say. This is their world. This is their real, only world. To me, their reality is more of reality than mine because they do not have their heads shoved into a computer screen or phone screen on days end. They garden, tend to their animals, play with their families, their children, their grandchildren, in the same house that they have always lived in or they built a new one right next door when they moved out of their own. They own cows, chickens, roosters, pigs, buffalos. They ride bikes and motorbikes. They pull bamboo and corn on old cages attached to motorbikes. Some of them use buffalos to pull large carts. They are constantly working; working to provide and to sustain themselves and they are happy exactly that way. I feel odd interacting with the children and showing them my own technology because I don’t want to come off in a certain way. But it’s hard when I can’t communicate. In a way, I feel guilty for coming here because I wanted to experience something different. I wanted something different than my own life. That is what I have received in more ways than one, but at the same time, I was able to do exactly what I wanted in a beautiful setting.

Last night, after Chệc and I discovered that the local market where we planned on drinking beer and watching the soccer game was closed, we went to his Uncle’s instead because he has a television. He just so happens to live right next door… and he also had a case of beer. We walked up, took off our shoes, and walked through the doors to be greeted very enthusiastically: “hello! Hello! You sit here! You sit here!” an older man said as he got up from his seat and patted the one next to his own. I was handed a beer almost immediately and was poured some hot tea. The language barrier made it rough, but they knew a few things: hello, Obama, America, thank you, and cheers. At one point, I cheers’d with a 73-year-old man and was given the motion to “chug.” So I did. I chugged a beer in rural Vietnam with a 73-year-old man. And then we cracked open another beer.

After the long trek that day, it was exactly what I needed.

Until next time,

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If I could stay here for longer, I would. Tonight is my last night at this farmstay, and while I thought 4 nights would seem like a lot, it really hasn’t. It has been so relaxing, calming, and takes the term “veg out” in a completely different direction. I wake up early and have the day to myself to write and to wander. If anything, this was a great place to defeat my jet lag once and for all. I did a trek yesterday and finished my night watching Vietnam against Japan at the neighbors home who welcomed me with open arms. I have enough beautiful photos of this place, it’s overwhelming trying to pick just one to post. — Tomorrow morning I go back to Hanoi. I will go to Moc Chau for a night at the end of the month and then head back to Hanoi and stay put for Tet. I know it seems like I’ll be spending a lot of time just in Hanoi, but my days go by faster than you would believe.

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