Vietnam with Einstein, Eleanor and Vimbai.

I was looking forward to this trip. 8 months of waiting. Asked often, “Why Vietnam?” I had no logical explanation; that’s the joy of doing something spontaneous I assume. There’s no real reason behind the decision – it felt right at the time.

The hardest decision in fact was what books to take with me – yes I’m that old school. No kindle (practically it makes good sense plus it’s paper saving and I cannot enter an argument into why books are better because… well… I have no logical reason other than I love the feeling of paging through a book; old, new, scribbled in ones, torn ones, untouched books; yes I love them all). So the decision to splurge and buy them at the airport was made instead; where I met Vimbai and she had the arduous task of helping me decide. I chose Einstein; she chose Eleanor. 3 companions on my trip now! Lucky me!

Ho Chi Minh City! Hello humidity…and Good Morning Vietnam! There’s something about Asian countries I love and I’m yet to fully understand why. I’m introverted and enjoy tranquility but when I arrive in one of these bustling cities my senses go into overdrive and I fall in love, especially with those chaotic markets. Maybe it’s the fact that as curious as people are (and they stare A LOT) I feel absolutely safe in a crowd (and being female I’ve come to learn that this is the most welcoming-at-home feeling I appreciate) or maybe it’s because I’m awed by how little space is used to fit a variety of items (and I have a pleasure for my own space) or maybe it’s just accepting that I’m far from home and might as well embrace everything while I’m here.

The one thought that constantly pops into my head (damnit, I’m on holiday and this brain still doesn’t switch off…sigh) is how out of place I am and yet how at home I feel. It’s an absolute contradiction but there’s something about knowing you’re different and accepting it when it’s staring you in the face as opposed to constantly trying to fit in to a place that wants to accept you but doesn’t know how. When I travel, there’s nothing to force; I’m a traveller and I don’t need to fit in – formalities which I may not be aware of are easily forgiven because local ways obviously are unknown to me. When I’m at home, there’s a constant barrage of do’s and don’ts which you are meant to know and follow…or try as you might, ignore and wish for the best. It all boils down to accepting how big our own lives are to ourselves and how small they are to the rest of the world. How little time we all have but how much time we’re given to enjoy.

As Einstein summed it up, “…And yet what a peculiar way this is…One creates a small little world for oneself, and as lamentably insignificant as it may be in comparison with the perpetually changing size of real existence, one feels miraculously great and important.1

After a good laugh accepting that Einstein was human like the rest of us, Eleanor joined for the rest of the time in Mui Ne. A less known tourist destination, the white dunes and fairy stream as well as the reclining Buddha all captured my heart; almost as much as the people. Genuine eagerness to help (or maybe it’s because Vimbai became a mini-celebrity) and always trying to ensure we were having a great time, we were not allowed to “leave anything in our hearts.”

Another contradiction I faced while soaking up my city-into-beach holiday happened while reading about Eleanor’s life. Too logical and incapable of understanding her emotions it took some kindness for her to accept the world as a friendly place. While giggles escaped me (I did call myself an insensitive cow a few times) I realised how much we take for granted. Being in a “foreign” land was special but absorbing the present is hard and tiring; and let’s face it, taking things and people for granted far easier…“All of the peope in the room seemed to take so much for granted: that they would be invited to social events, that they would have friends and family to talk to, that they would fall in love, be loved in return, perhaps create a family of their own.2

Eleanor was not fine and she was a brave woman to face that fact but how many of us go through life accepting “fine” as normal?

Travelling, especially to a country where there are no historical or cultural ties to oneself, allows you to be all-embracing and forces you to trust…other people, things you cannot control and most importantly yourself and your intuition. It forces you to learn that the world is a lonely place if you allow it to be or it can be adventurous and exciting…(and while travelling helps me learn this lesson I also accept I don’t necessarily need to leave home for this to happen…there’s enough people in my life I could trust more).

With the great company I had (I mean I was accompanying a celebrity after all…heehee thanks Vimbai!) it was an adventurous journey from lost luggage to photos with strangers being taken and making friends with little children; I felt connected and will always try to remember “…loneliness is hallmarked by an intense desire to bring the experience to a close; something which cannot be achieved by sheer willpower or by simply getting out more, but only by developing intimate connections.” Olivia Lang, The Lonely City.

1. Bodanis D. Einstein’s Greatest Mistake. Abacus.2017:14.

2. Honeyman G. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. HarperCollins Publishers 2017:195.

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