Maybe, the easiest way to take a good guess at the economic characteristics and regional weathers of a country or city is to look at the land from the window of a plane. Different from the Big Apple that brands itself with impressive skyscrapers, Hanoi is painted by a dark green color threaded with winding rivers, red-roofed houses and occasionally tall buildings.
I turned off the television screen, drummed fingers on my thighs and breathed deeply to calm down the heart that was violently beating against my chest. My thoughts were jumping on each other like babies playing with pillows while I tried to draft a novel inside my head. Dramatic, I supposed. But only at these moments did I realize the importance of being away from somewhere to come closer to the wish of understanding it. I was lucky enough to leave Hanoi for the United States when I was seventeen.
I was such a fortunate kid to realize the importance of home.
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, a S-shaped country on the eastern Indochina Peninsula with an estimated population of 90.5 million inhabitants (1.25% of the world’s population).Vietnam, what do you think of when you hear the name? A developing country scarred with historical invasions from ancient time, a predominantly agricultural civilization known as the world’s second largest rice exporter, or the home of the traditional Áo Dài and the famous dish Phở?
Ao Dai Credit: vietnameseclothing.wordpress.com
I wasn’t aware of those reputations while growing up. In schools, I spent years studying Vietnam’s history; I was familiar with the paddy fields that represented Vietnamese rural areas; I usually ate Pho for breakfast and helped my Mom put on her Ao Dai. Nevertheless, I didn’t know Vietnam was only associated with those details. I wasn’t prepared to understand why my American friends would be most likely to ask, “Are you from North or South Vietnam?” “Are you from Saigon?” “You know Pho? I love it!” or worse, “Vietnam, where is that?” Only when being thrown into a different culture, did I get the chance to adopt a new perspective about my country and well, become confused. What do I know about Vietnam to tell foreigners? Aside from those reputations, are there more to Vietnam? If I am being honest, is it a country worth visiting? Why Vietnam? Why not Vietnam? Is Hanoi, my city, special and different? And how do I connect with it? In the time of social media booming, I was even more perplexed to live among many Vietnamese friends who enthusiastically promoted the beauty of Vietnam and Hanoi.
But for me, I was hesitated. I still am. One reason is because I am a hopeless heart noticing beauty in everything and easily falling in love with people and places. I am unable to weigh one country above another because everywhere is fascinating. The second reason is that I don’t fully get my country. I still have much to observe and learn about Vietnam’s history, religion and culture.
So after three years away, I am back with the hope of answering my own questions about home and also, about me. Isn’t the best way to understand someone is to look at the land he/she grows up in? Hopefully, these answers will help me gain insights about myself, a confused kid feeling lonely in the fascinating New York.
Hello Hà Nội!
This is my second post in the project Back to Familiarity. My previous post is Along the Long Way.