Yeah, the first 100 finishers for the 5K Run got a medal. I got one. In fact most of the runners in the category did. But 5 kilometers is still 5 kilometers. And for a person with a congenital heart disease and finishing it in 22 minutes, I really deserve that medal. I could have not done it without my friends of course.
“What do you usually do when you feel sad?” asked my friend.
Feeling like a sage, I answered, “Well, I ask myself this question: Are you ready to die tomorrow? If I answered ‘yes’, then I don’t have the right to be sad. If I answered ‘no’ then I should modify the way I live now.”
I don’t know if I answered my friend’s question. I don’t know if I made any sense.
It was 9pm in Vietnam. I was sitting on the 2-step stairs of my hotel watching the motorbikes and traditional Viet vendors pass by the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. I’m a bit melancholic because in a few hours, I will be leaving Hanoi. Quynh (pronounced as Kwen), the wife of the owner generously prepared an ice cold Trung Nguyen coffee for me. Roa, the ever so humble owner, is in front of the computer typing something. Be, their 2 year old son sat next to me with a cute childish tantrum. The question “Are you ready to die tomorrow?” suddenly popped out from nowhere. The question remained unanswered.
After a bit of reflection, I stood up and planned to take a nap while waiting for my taxi that will take me to the airport. But before I bid my temporary goodnight, something awesome happened.
“Roa, Quynh, is it possible for me to hire a motorbike to take me around the city for the very last time?”, I suddenly asked the young couple. I don’t know what came in to me but its a great idea. I’m sure of it. I still have a couple of thousand Vietnamese Dongs anyway.
Roa and Quynh looked at each other with a bit of confusion. They conversed in Viet. Roa opened the drawer and handed a medium sized key to his smiling wife.
“My wife will take you around the city”
“Really? How much for the fee?”, I stupidly asked. How could I be so insensitive?
“Nah. We don’t need money” he said jokingly.
“No. I think its too much. You have been very nice already”
“I will take Be with me” said Quynh.
Roa nodded while I am speechless. I still can’t believe that they will allow me to experience the Vietnamese kindness again, even for my last hours in their country.
The three of us rode the motorbike. Quynh is in front, Be in the middle and I’m at the back. I admire Quynh for her driving skills. She was fantastic!
The Vietnamese air, the lighted narrow streets of the district, the long strips of street foods, the aroma of the famous Pho, the Hoan Kiem lake, the night Market…
The question “Are you ready to die tomorrow?” popped out again. This time, I have an answer.
I haven’t seen much of the world. I just visited a handful of countries. But this simple experience made me say, “Here I am Lord. You can take me anytime you want!”
After the 20-minute trip, we were back at the hotel. Be fell asleep because of the ride. The warm Roa welcomed us back home.
“Why are you travelling alone? Isn’t that sad?”, asked the Immigration officer at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. I am not surprised that the last Filipino that I will be conversing with for the entire trip asked me that question. I am a bit numb about it. Everybody asks me that question.
To formalize my answer, I’ll be writing here a glimpse of my solo travel in Vietnam.
1. When I say “I travel alone” that doesn’t mean I will not be meeting people. We are social creatures created by a God who loves interaction. People often exaggerate “lone travel” into something extreme like walking in the middle of the desert, carrying a heavy bag while thieves and scoundrels are out there to chase you.
I met a guy named Nam in Hanoi. Nam is from Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) who is travelling north Vietnam to show his friend (who also goes by the name Nam) around. While eating my sticky rice breakfast in my hotel, Nam was very busy booking a trip to Trang An, 2 hours south of Hanoi. After that, he approached me and asked me where I am from and what are my plans for the day.
“I am from the Philippines. I don’t have plans yet. I want to go to the Perfume Pagoda, though.”
“Oh. You should try Trang An and Bai Dinh instead of Perfume Pagoda. My friend and I will go there today. You want to join us?”
“Yes! I’d love to. As I’ve said, I don’t have plans yet.”, without thinking too much.
Nam is a very smart guy. He knows a lot about Vietnam and he knows his culture and tradition. I never got bored while traveling because his stories are really interesting. He’s also a good photographer. He’s generous enough to give me all his digital photos during our trip.
After the trip, Nam invited me to have dinner and beer with them.
Now who says I am alone?
2. For the nth time, I will say it here.. I AM A COUCHSURFER. I belong to the largest travel community in the world.
2 months ago, I hosted a Vietnamese guy named Dat during his big trip in the Philippines. Because of his interesting stories about Vietnam, I was able to book a flight there 2 weeks after his stay in our house.
During my 2nd day in Vietnam, Dat fetched me in my hotel and showed me around his beautiful city using his motorbike. I love the motorbike experience because of the fact that Vietnam is one of the countries with the most number of motorbike users. Dat took me to the religious and historical sites of Hanoi such as the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, The Temple of Literature and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. We also had Bun Cha for lunch and Traditional Ice Cream for snacks.
Although we just had a very limited time together because of his work, I can say that it’s one of the most unforgettable experience I had during the entire trip.
During my 2nd night in Hanoi, I have decided to watch the Than Long Water Puppet Show near the Hoan Kiem lake. There, I met a Japanese Guy named Daisuke which happened to be my seatmate for the entire show. He is also traveling alone in Vietnam.
After the show, it was raining really hard and I don’t have an umbrella with me. Daisuke volunteered to take me to my Hotel. It was really a kind gesture from a fellow traveler.
Other lone travelers I met during the trip is Luca from Italy and Ibrahim from Kuwait.
I have been excited to join a Holi-ish fun run ever since I fell in love with India. I have been seeing international Fun Runs which adapted the said concept. It reached the Philippines, if I’m not mistaken, a year ago but only in the Metro and other “posh” places in the country. While in the midst of frustration that I wasn’t able to go to India this year to celebrate Holi, I got excited when my friends sent me an SMS that there will be a similar fun run to be held in our city.
What my friends expected:
Like kids, my friends planned for an overnight stay at Jogs’ crib in preparation for the big run. They were excited as well.
What actually happened:
Well, it was far from what we expected. It was a face paint run and not the get-bloody colorful-and-dirty run we were all excited about. The organizers handed us some water soluble face paint and face crayons while telling us that the best face paint will win a special award. BOO! As we looked around, people are painting butterflies, stars, flowers and hearts on their shoulders legs and faces. I almost fell asleep while watching these people do their thing. More BOOS!
My friends are even more disappointed as I am. The hostile cold morning air was suddenly felt. I saw them starting to draw hearts, flowers and other plain stuffs on their warm-turned-cold skin.
What we did:
Because of too much frustration, I took a huge amount of green paint and splatted it on my friends and shouted, “Come on guys. Lets have fun!” One thing I love about my friends is that they don’t give a damn on what other people will think or say. They took large amounts of paint and they started to have a “paint fight” right beside the butterfly infested skins of our competitors. Paint is all over us. You can hardly recognize us. Mission accomplished.
Lesson learned: We create our own happiness and it cannot be found elsewhere but in you.
By the way, remember the “best paint award” I was talking about earlier? Guess who nailed it…
I will be celebrating my 24th next week and as far as I’m concerned, I need to reflect on some stuffs like what my fellow twentysomethings are doing out there. “We are not getting younger”
My 23rd year is a bit exhausting. Its not really stressful and all, but the information about SPIRITUALITY is too much to handle. But deep down inside, I needed that information. It is in fact, beneficial. I have become more rational. I have become wiser with what to believe. I have become more forgiving…and yes more loving (except for some semi-major ego issues, haha, read the first sentence of this post again)
I also had major paradigm shifts with my beliefs. I am just glad that Jesus and His love is becoming a reality to me. Not because I have to. Not because it was forced to me. But because I have experienced it, backed up with reason.
I have seen and experienced various belief systems (not necessarily religion) which are definitely out of my comfort zone. I have attended the Hare Krishna’s Ratha Yatra Festival where I saw how passionate they are in worshipping their God. I also experienced the mind boggling, hair raising and blissful Inner Dance of the ancient Filipino mystics. I have heard about the new Christian movement called New Monasticism which I really desire to join. And recently, I have heard some BIBLICAL TRUTHS which are HARD TO SWALLOW and yet VERY RELEVANT inside the walls of my own Methodist faith.
Books have been helpful as well. From the very safe Christian books about “how to become rich” and “how to get that sportscar you’ve been dreaming of” by authors with their pictures as a front cover, I shifted to very relevant and relateable Christian books by Donald Miller, Rob Bell (yes, that emergent church freak everybody loves and hates at the same time), Bob Goff, M. Scott Peck and their contemporaries. In contrast, I also tried reading the books which are hard for Christians to accept such as books by Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle. I have read parts of other holy scriptures such as the Tao Teh Ching and the Bhagavad Gita. I find them all amazing.
I thought I was alone in this search for truth. My cousin Jared who grew up as a Pastor’s kid has been with me throughout this stage. I am happy for him that he was able to search for truth at a very young age. My friends are very open about the search. We usually talk about these stuffs everytime we hang out. I feel very blessed that I am surrounded with friends who never get tired on brainstorming spiritual matters.
Given these information, how am I able to put them into perspective? What is TRUTH now?
I don’t have to answer it here. I don’t even have to rush. The search will not end soon and I know God has something more in store for me on my 24th year.
God, thanks for the confusions.
God, thanks for the conflicts.
God, thanks for my doubts.
It led me to the bliss of thinking of you every minute of every day.
I didnt know it is possible until now.
Last Friday, we were talking about prayers. Some shared that they pray really long prayers because according to them, God doesnt deserve a 5-minute prayer. Some shared they pray very short prayers. I shared that Smirking is a form of prayer, and I usually smirk at the start of the day.
I believe that God loves variety. I also believe God exists beyond time.