I've had a sporadic nagging baiting my attention since I wrote the last blog post. At first, the blog was just a hyperbolic, comedic way for me to vent frustration with my inability to exist outside the SF Bay Area climate -- an area which barely fluctuates between 50° and 75°F all year round. But the longer that post has stayed up, the longer I've had to think about the things I felt, why I felt them, and why I chose to express those feelings the way I did.
My last blog post has been up a month and in that time a lot has changed inside of me.
In that time I've had time to explore more, and learn more, of Vietnam. I've also come home, been with friends and family, watch two sets of my dearest friends get married, and journeyed back out 'into the world' again.
Gaining perspective on Vietnam's history, exploring more of the country, seeing the De-Militarized Zone, and -- basically, just acknowledging my privilege -- has helped me grow closer with both Vietnam, and myself.
Taking a different look at Vietnam
Throughout our two and a half weeks in Vietnam, I did a lot of research and reading into Vietnam's history. I've learned about the French colonization that lasted nearly 100 years, about their wanting freedom from the stronghold of the French, about a civil war between the North and South on how that freedom should be expressed (either through Communism or "non communism"), about how the US intervened on that Civil War and dropped 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - more than twice the amount of bombs dropped on Europe and Asia in World War II. On top of that, we also dropped 19+ millions of gallons of Agent Orange over 4.5 million acres of Vietnamese jungle, stripping the leaves so we could attempt to gain an advantage by seeing where our "enemy" was hiding. If you haven't seen the affects of what Agent Orange does, watch this 10 minute documentary from The New York Times. It has caused generations of deformities, mental illness, and pain as it has permanently changed the genetics of anyone who has come in contact with it.
The Vietnamese landscape is a dense and intricate tapestry of jungle. Looking out at it from a road gives the impression that it is entirely impervious. It feels prehistoric and untouched, and this is AFTER Agent Orange stripped the jungle of its very definition, down to withered talons of branches and vines, 45 years ago. A jungle this impregnable is still new. I can't imagine what it must have felt like when seeing it for the first time in the 1960s, let alone wading through that forrest, 70 pounds on your back, feet entangled in mud and ramblers, trying to sniff out an 'enemy' you couldn't find because they were hidden in tunnels beneath your very feet.
That's right, tunnels. Did you know that they dug an intricate network of tunnels that spanned all over the country and over into Cambodia and Laos? We've been in them! They're probably 4.5-5 feet tall and 2 feet wide. They stretch out for miles on end and are multi-leveled going from 3 meters down to 15 meters deep. The Viet Kong used them to hide from soldiers and transport weapons and ammunition throughout the country, But people LIVED in these tunnels, for years on end, in darkness and scarcity of air, amongst poisonous insects and pests. 16 babies were born and brought up there as well.
After learning all this, seeing the ghost of it with my own eyes, I am aghast at how longwinded my complaints were. Why it took me so long to get to: "Yeah, it's hot. Buy a cold drink, go back in your air conditioning."
This heat I thought wasn't survive-able? It is. So what is the point of throwing around these complaint so frivolously?
Coming to terms
So here's where I start to confess some difficult things I learned about myself through this process.
I kept asking myself: "Why do I keep telling everyone it's so hot? Everyone knows it's hot. If they're here, they're feeling it. If they're at home, they read a much-too-long blog about it. People get it. But why do you keep needing to say it?"
I started scratching under that surface a bit more and I realized that traveling has rustled a lot up in me, a lot of things that I have kept buried for a long time. Insecurities, fears, doubts, misunderstandings. All these things that I've been able to ignore because I had a steady job, a routine, and stability. When I removed all those things, I had a lot more time to think and to hear my thoughts. And when those thoughts started gaining audibility, when I could sense their presence in my periphery, I started to get scared. I started to panic. In retrospect, obsessing about the weather -- something Tyler would often remind me wasn't worth the stress because I couldn't change the outcome -- was a great diversion tactic for ignoring, once again, all the things in my head and heart.
I've spent the past two decades trying as hard as I can to just 'stay the course' without really having the time or space to check in with myself. And actually, I don't even think that statement is true. I think I've actively worked to ignore my fears and insecurities because -- well, because they're terrifying. And facing them inevitably makes me feel weak, which also terrifies me. .
After being home with my community for a few weeks, I've been reminded about how speaking about your pain really can help mend it. It's also surprising how many people are feeling similar things through entirely different paths.
Since traveling, I've been trying to account for traumatic incidents that have happened in my life which have shaped me, for better or for worse. From being bullied as a kid, to being in a horrific multi-car accident where I watched people die which ignited a seemingly endless battle with PTSD, insomnia, and depression. Then there's the semi-incessant battle with self image and body issues. And this overarching inability to pursue my one true love: music, for fear of failing.
Without the crust of stability, routine, and duty to hold them down, all of these things began percolating inside me. I could feel the tension boiling inside of me as wisps of them tittered past my viewpoint. I sensed their presence so strongly in Vietnam and was frantic to conceal them as I've always done. I think the heat was just a catalyst for breaking me open.
When I got home, amongst my family and the familiarity of my city and friends, I erupted into a deep depression that almost had me feeling like I had the flu. The lid was off - the feelings, emotions, and memories were out - and I had no other choice but to confront these things that have haunted me for so long.
I talked with a couple of my closest friends, Tyler, and my parents in hopes that I could gain better perspective on my history and journey, as well as gain the tools, and the strength, to heal.
I want to use this travel time as an opportunity to be a better person, to learn more about the world and myself, to begin to rid myself (or realistically, dramatically reduce) negative thoughts, to learn to be gentle with myself and appreciate myself.
I keep thinking about the future when Tyler and I have children. Do I want to teach them to complain, to take things for granted, to act out of fear instead of curiosity, to doubt themselves and the body their in? No, of course not. No one wants that for another person. But these qualities are weaved into my behavior, my thoughts, and my words. I need to learn to be better for myself before I can be better for them.
I want that. I want to find a freedom in myself. I want to embrace the present and be comfortable with not knowing how the future will play out. I'm working on it.
And just in case you were wondering, I'm much happier now. Speaking about your shadows out loud, admitting when you need help - it's difficult, but it's rewarding. Much like everything worth while, I suppose.
Side note for the readers:
This blog was never intended to be a travel blog, or even a public diary. It was meant to be a way for me to catalogue my own personal journey and hold myself accountable for my own growth. Sometimes I wonder if these posts are meant to have a subject or a thesis -- or travel tips -- or if my way of meandering through thoughts are okay.
I know these posts aren't going to be easily linked to when any of you ask me for tips on such-and-such a place you're about to visit. It's definitely never going to be a place that will show high on a search result.
Because of that, I'm just going to keep chronicling my thoughts, Tyler's and my experiences, and hope that it brings me closer to you all and myself. That feels good enough to me.