I come and go as I please. I have no one to answer back to. I wake up when I want to, go out when I want to, and move on to the next destination as I please.
This stands in stark contrast to my life back in New York, where every move is dictated by personal goals, social pressures, family/work/school obligations.
While I should be relishing in these moments, I ironically find myself filled with worry:
If I am so stress free now, how am I going to acclimate to my life back at home, where the least stressful of my days involve a full day’s work, a full night’s worth of homework and classes, and a whole lot of minutes spent commuting in between?
I have tasted life that is actually lived, and I don’t know if I have the energy to go back to place where we toil endlessly for things we have no time to enjoy.
When I walk through the streets here I can’t help but pity the locals who I know have limited social and economical mobility.
I pity the fact that the village children don’t know that they can have a better, easier, more convenient life in the city. I pity the city children for they are hardly likely to see the world beyond where their parents’ makeshift motorbikes can take them.
More than I pity the low wages and simple lives, I pity what seems to be a lack of motivation.
For the most part, lots of people here are content with doing whatever it takes to get by, but nothing more. There is no “american dream” they are working for: they only hope for the safety and security of their loved ones. For food on the table and a roof on their heads, and once they’ve secured that, why must they work harder?
And then I remember: They don’t need my pity. In fact, I can use a taste of their contentment. I live in a city where all of my shortcomings glare at me on the daily. Where I am constantly reminded of how little I have and what I have yet to achieve. Where an opulent life is more applauded and desired than a happy one.
I am reminded about all the times in the past twelve months where I found myself caught in a never ending torrent of homework, family obligations, weddings, personal discontent with my lack of personal achievements. Like those times I was caught on the subway at 11:41 p.m., an unfinished take home exam due at midnight awaiting me, the guilt of another missed engagement party weighing on my conscience, and the knowledge that there’s only another only a few more hours until I will be back on the subway for work. Again.
In those moments I comforted myself by closing my eyes and letting my thoughts take me to far away places. The Kotel plaza on Thursday nights, the sounds of song lifting my soul. The picture perfect beaches of Puerto Rico, or the unpaved roads in the Santa Rosa village in Nicaragua. Places where I can disappear, leave my hectic life behind me. Where I could sit back and observe as opposed to being a cog in a machine, struggling to get ahead while simultaneously being bogged down and absorbed by the stuff I need to have, buy, do and remember.
Now, my pity turns into envy: I wish I could be content with just being. I wish I could stop measuring my worth by my achievements and the achievements of those around me. I wish I could be at peace without having to close my eyes and go somewhere far away.
One of my favorite things about Vietnam are the houses. Inspired by French colonial architecture, the the exteriors are majestic and vibrant, featuring large french doors that are kept open at all hours, inviting passerby to get a peek inside the locals’ homes and lives. It’s a literal window into their world. I love watching from the street, seeing the families gather on low stools, eating their dinner of rice, fresh raw veggies, and seafood, watching television together, talking, laughing and relaxing together. It’s just so beautiful and calming.
Sure, there are difficulties here. And I don’t mean to romanticize what for some may see as an impoverished life. But we all have our privileges, and this is one, I as a westerner, am yet to indulge in. The simplicity and content. I wonder if it’s even possible for me to achieve such a state of inner calm, enough to allow me to just sit down, relax, and just be.
The hustle and bustle of city life is as natural to me as the beating of my heart. I am composed of the stresses it entails. I thrived on it and nearly choked on it, but I hope I can let it bleed out just enough to allow some room for inner peace and calm. I pray to G-d that I can bottle up the serenity I find around me out here and put it to use where and when I need it most. It’s the only souvenir I ask for.