Blink of an Eye

I can’t believe it’s September already. Time really does fly with the blink of an eye.

The last month has been a little of a whirlwind, with a quick exit out of Vietnam to see family and then back to Vietnam and starting three weeks of travel. Back to it!

We first made our way towards the South of Vietnam, I’m glad I made time to finally do so since I didn’t really get to whilst I was working at Asia Outdoors. We did an overnight train to Hue, biked from there to Hoi An, flew from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh city and then bussed from HCM to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The bike route from Hue to Hoi An was definitely one of the highlights with some really cheap options to get there. 450,000 VND (~£15) for bike hire for the one way journey and they transfer any big bags you don’t want to take to your hotel for you. For a day of riding around on a 135cc automatic scooter, it was totally worth it!

Hoi An was definitely very beautiful with all its signature lanterns glowing at night, painting the old streets in a gorgeous soft lighting. It is very touristy though teaming with visitors both western and Asian (there were a lot of Koreans when we were there).

In HCM we took an evening to have dinner and then go to the cinema. It’s the first time I’ve been since travelling and it was really good fun to do a coupley thing that was more familiar territory with both our backgrounds. Mission Possible was an excellent choice for it.

Phnom Penh was largely spent inside as I was ill (how I managed to contract a cold in ~30 degree heat, I’m not sure). We did manage to visit the genocide museum (S21) which was pretty harrowing, I had no idea Cambodia had such a violent, heartbreaking recent history.

Generally the city seemed like a pretty uninspiring sprawl. It definitely wasn’t very pedestrian friendly, particularly around where we stayed. I also nearly got robbed by some guys on a motorbike which was fun. Otherwise, Cambodians seem really nice and friendly.

We are currently in Siem Reap. Yes, we will be going to see the Angkor National Park tomorrow but I can’t believe it’s $37 to get in just for one day. I do really want to go see Beng Mealea too but we won’t have time.

One of the things that’s changed this time travelling is that I’m not longer solely travelling, I am also remote working. It’s bizarre, and it’s definitely taking getting used to but it’s an interesting new lifestyle. I certainly don’t earn enough to sustain a life in London but if I were to stay in SE Asia, it would provide a good amount of income. It is tiring though moving around, travelling and working as well. It’s a lot to juggle to then make sure you make quality time for your boyfriend which is the reason you went on this three week trip in the first place. You gotta do what you gotta do. Hopefully I can get this set up and rolling so that it can sustain me in future.

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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.

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.

Halfway Through

If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.

– Lewis Carroll

I’m about halfway through my time here on Cat Ba and it has been a quite a ride so far. The work continues to throw up interesting challenges daily and there is continual staffing shifts which changes the dynamic of the group frequently. As July approaches I become more and more acutely aware that a decision on what I want to do after will have to be made soon. A friend/colleague introduced me to the quote above a couple of days ago which really stuck with me. There’s been so much anxiety over picking THE thing I need to be doing next but there’s no grounding for it. I have no aim and no real preference for what I want to do so there’s no need for the anxiety.

Cat Ba is an interesting mix of environments. The town itself is a horrible over packed seaside town which the Vietnamese come to invade during June and July. But going out into Lan Ha Bay for work provides some sort reprieve from the hustle and bustle that is this neon town. It’s a funny lifestyle living here as an adventure guide. Going out onto the bay for work and escaping deep into the island on days off to climb. We work and play as a unit which makes it all very intense, particularly if you strike up a romantic relationship with someone or have a disagreement with another.

I love driving out of Cat Ba Town; I even own a scooter now. My first moving vehicle! Heading out from the busy town onto quieter roads always feels a bit cathartic, especially when you’re turning up the gas so that you pelt along at some speeds.

I’m interested to see what the next half of my time here will bring. If it brings anymore clarity to my future plans, that would be most welcome.