The Corner of Lost Souls

I’m sitting on the bus on my way off Cat Ba and out of Vietnam after 90 days in this country. It feels so weird. It’s the longest I’ve spent continuously in any country after UK and HK. I certainly would’ve never envisaged that I would be doing that here and certainly not that long in a small town on a small island. I remember arriving here in May (which feels like a lifetime ago) and thinking “shit, I’m going to spend three months here”?. It’s funny how quickly that seems to have passed.

Usually Asia Outdoors only give out six month contracts, but as luck would have it, through disorganisation of outgoing and incoming hiring people and their needing staff quickly I managed to negotiate a three month contract. I don’t regret my decision to leave after three and I’m glad I didn’t impulsively extend. Some people have been here over a year and I don’t quite understand how. Being here during the progression into rainy season probably doesn’t help much as it has made it such an effort to go climbing on days off. I can’t remember the last time I went to Butterfly Valley on my personal time. Climbing out in the bay is stunning but also expensive as you need to hire boats for the day. And going out DWS with the company on days off is something I didn’t enjoy too much. The fear of falling and jumping into water from high up severely hampers my enjoyment of the activity. So for me, my time here has felt like a time of being lost and trying to experience more, whilst lacking any real direction. And perhaps that’s where I come from so I’m projecting but I see a lot of people in the same boat as me – particularly those who have been here for over six months. The Corner of Lost Souls as I called it in a conversation with one of my past colleagues.

It’s been an interesting social experiment to see how people react to me. The locals and even westerners would often think I was local or could speak the language. Even this morning on my last office shift I had four people try to speak to me in Vietnamese and one westerner ask me if I can ask the Vietnamese staff of the neighbouring tea stand for some ice. It’s often quite amusing, particularly the embarrassment of the westerners sometimes. There would’ve been a time where it particularly bothered me – a time when my sense of identity was more fragile. Nowadays, I can shrug it off pretty easily. Of course I don’t expect you to know that I’m not local, I am Chinese after all.

I have missed long travel times alone like this when I usually default to escaping into my thoughts. There has definitely been a lot of distractions in Cat Ba. But also, the idea of sitting in a room by myself never seemed that appealing and neither did I find anywhere external to the hotel that I felt comfortable enough to relax.

The butterflies here are exquisite. That’s been a pleasant surprise that I’ve really enjoyed. I remember there was a particular week period around the end of May when Butterfly Valley really lived up to its name. I got distracted regularly whilst belaying by the variety and how many butterflies there were. Even now, there are still some beautiful and vibrant ones around.

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Cynical Optimism

I’m in a rare pensive mood today which I haven’t been in for a long time. Rainy days will do that to you. Although, my brain is pretty unbridled today so apologies for the lack of flow in this entry.

It’s been almost a year since I embarked on a one year sabbatical. An unintentional one year sabbatical, mind you but I think it was for the best. There was lots of processing and healing that needed to be done and a lot of personal growth to be had in the time I’ve been away. If I had gone back in May like I had planned, it would’ve been premature and possibly detrimental as I was not ready and was on track to jump back into my old life.

On some levels, I miss it. London was and will always be a big part of who I am but like so many big influences that occur, it kind of happened as opposed to being purposefully conceived as an aim. Most of my friends live there for one, so it will always hold a big draw. Particularly because I am the kind of person who sees close friends as family. But family are not so easily lost over distance and having not seen my closest friends since January, I am still in constant contact with them which is testament to the strength of our friendships. I will miss the vibrance of the London recreational scene. There’s so much to do and it is a beautiful city – all you have to do is look up to admire the beautiful old and new architecture all around. But having gained some perspective from being away from it, I can now see I was naturally burning out from the lifestyle. The pace of life and the consistency in which there are things going on, leaves little time for a person to fully catch their breathe. There are almost too many distractions. As a wise man once said:

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.

– Albert Einstein

The modern pace of city life is certainly one that does not allow for much contemplation which in turn, in my opinion, is the gateway to ideas and inspiration.

What have I learnt over my last year of travelling over Europe and SE Asia? On the face of it, I’ve had some amazing experiences like diving, trekking and seeing in person incredible natural landscapes. In essence, the main thing that matter the most is learning that humanity is the same anywhere you go. Sure, the culture and language is different. There are differences in the ways things are regarded like being outdoors for instance, where it’s a much more common thing for someone to go for a hike or go on holiday to spend in the sun, here in Asia you would be hard pressed to find local people who are on holiday out in the sun without being covered up and holding umbrellas. There are also differences in terms of politeness, generally the Vietnamese and Chinese are much more brash and less concerned with queuing and being elbowed out of the way. There are always going to be such differences. But everywhere I’ve been to so far, close knit families prevail. People are just looking to survive and live their lives. Sometimes that’s in peculiar ways (to me), like the floating villages in Lan Ha Bay. 4,000 people live on these floating homes – there are even floating restaurants and grocery stores. Some of these people will never step a foot on solid land and yet most of these people also cannot swim. It’s bizarre in that sense but they have adapted to surviving by fish farming and shellfish collecting to feed their families and to continue their existences. Their aim is something I’m sure anyone can fundamentally relate to. I just have the luxury to be able to choose how it is I want to adapt.

I suppose the reason I’m feeling as introspective as I am today is partly because it’s time to move on. I’ve enjoyed and learnt so much from my time travelling SE Asia and working here in Cat Ba but it is time to move on with my life. I’m done running and healing. I am grateful for all the time I’ve allowed myself to have and for every spectacular human being I’ve met and travelled with on this journey. It’s helped me get to where I am right now and I’m excited for the future. There are so many unknowns that it’s completely uncharted territory for me. But I head on forward with a cynical optimism (the fault of my British upbringing) that no matter how things go, there will always be a way to go. One step at a time, taking deep breathes in and out.