Superimposed Lives

I vividly remember February 2013, what now feels like ages ago, in Berlin and looking ahead to when we would move to Hanoi. The German winter had been especially long, and as much as I love the snow it had started to be a bit too much for me. As I waited on the 2nd floor of the train station with nothing to shield me from the bitter wind for my once again delayed train, I pulled out my phone to check the forecast in what would soon be my new home: daily thunder showers, but over 30 degrees! As my fingers turned to ice, images of warmth filled my mind. My two lives, the one I was leading and the one I was preparing for, became superimposed.

Fast forward to this school year, debating on whether or not to apply for a move to Tanzania. For weeks, the decision shifted from “yes” to “no”, with my partner and I never quite on the same page. Eventually, we decided we would apply. If we got the job, cool. If we didn’t, the worst case scenario would be to stay in Hanoi another year, and that really wasn’t that bad a scenario because we both like Hanoi. The thing is, moments before we sent the “hello, remember us? We’re just wondering about the status of our application” email, I started to panic. If we didn’t get the job, that meant committing to Hanoi not only until the end of the school year, but for a whole other school year too. That meant a 19-month commitment. While, up to that point, I was mostly happy with Hanoi and our life there, all of a sudden I felt suffocated at the idea of still being there in June 2017.

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The school year started off when many beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I have no idea what they’re like in Tanzania, but I will definitely miss this about Hanoi.

November was a particularly busy and stressful month, but what didn’t help was that I had started noticing and feeling all the things that maybe, up to that point, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel so freely because this was my home and I needed to like it. Knowing that another destination would be a possibility in the not so distant future, I suddenly picked up and bottled up all the daily annoyances. Even taxis, something I used to love taking, now became a hassle with me always  on my guard: will the driver go the right way? Will he avoid the traffic filled streets and go a back way so I can make it to my appointment on time? Was he watching TV on his cell phone through his dashboard?  The accumulated frustration was starting to spill out in ways that were far from pretty, so when we found out we got the job, I breathed a big sigh of relief (well not too big… it feels like the air quality is a lot worse than I remember it being our first year.) I could feel myself suddenly becoming too negative about my surroundings, slowly becoming an over-stayer, the people who I thought stayed in a place for far too long, no longer able to appreciate the city they were calling “home”.

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It took ages for them to fix this road and one stormy day, when the taxis wouldn’t come to my apartment, I walked to the next street. This was part of the reason that taxis weren’t coming. (The water was halfway up my calf in some places).

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Bongoyo Island is a quick getaway from Dar Es Salaam’s Slipway… When you need an impromptu holiday and don’t want to spend money on a flight and hotel, just take the ferry across.

As emails from Tanzania trickled in and as we started to fill out paperwork to prepare for the move, I found myself in a similar situation as my last Berlin winter where the only way out of a frustrating situation was to imagine myself, 8 months down the line in a different one. Air quality bordering on hazardous for almost a week? Just think of all the deep breaths I can take next year! Grey skies got me down? Picture the blue skies and sunshine that away in Tanzania? Traffic had me biting my nails? Well though luck on that one, I can’t see much of a change in that department, but still.

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Something I won’t miss… Not being able to see the other side of the lake. (The road in the middle of the picture borders a lake and a pond, so here, we can barely see where the lake begins never mind where it ends.) Is it just pollution? Or humidity? Or fog? Who knows… either way, it’s not a great way to start the day.

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View from our hotel in downtown Dar Es Salaam… my favourite part? The fact that the clouds have a shape!

Now that we’ve made the decision to leave, it is one that I am extremely happy with. I am also aware though that Dar Es Salaam will also have its own challenges to get used to (including the traffic). And although there are many things about Hanoi that I won’t miss (and will probably eventually look back at with a smile – “remember how they would carry the most ridiculous things on their bikes – never mind that it wasn’t necessarily all that safe?”), there definitely are things that I will remember fondly. We’ve had a great life here, we’ve met some incredible people, learnt a lot about the culture, and indulged in many bowls of pho’, bun bo nam bo, and plates of crispy nem. It has been a great experience and I have the journals and pictures to prove it, in case I need reminders later.

The challenge now will be to think about the positive experiences I’ve had the next time a honk startles me from a car driving way too close, rather than look forward to what awaits  in Tanzania.

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How about you? Have you ever experienced the feeling of superimposed lives? How do you deal with your two separate lives, the present and the future, slowly becoming one?  Do you ever look at a situation and think, “Only a few more months” or “I can’t wait to leave”? Or do you keep both lives completely separate, finishing off one before beginning the next?

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Redirection

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Conical Hats – A familiar sighting in Vietnam

As some of you may have noticed (or not), I haven’t posted anything on here for a while. And somehow, over the course of the 2+ years of the blog, this has happened more than once. This last break was partly because of the reasons my blogging-breaks have always happened: life has been keeping me busy. However, it was also because I was simply thinking about my blog. Why was I keeping it going? Why wasn’t I being successful at updating it? What did I want from it?

When I started It’s a Hanoian Life, it was shortly after I moved to Hanoi in 2013. It was sparked as an idea given to me by my dad who, during my 4 years in Europe, constantly sent me links to other people’s blogs. “You’re such a good writer. You should start one about Berlin.” My vision for the blog when I started it, was that it would eventually become a place where expats in Hanoi could go to find out about life in the city and nearby travels. It was meant to be a tool for others. However, what started as a hobby, shortly became work. The blog became something on which I spent way more time than I had anticipated. At the same time that I was writing It’s a Hanoian Life, I was writing a password protected blog for a select few family and friends. I was also working a job which kept me busy for 40+ hours a week. As a writer who is hoping to be published one day, my notebook filled with ideas for stories which were either never written, or in the case of my current novel, a work in the making for the last year and a half. Lastly, I was building up my social network, one which I feel is incredibly strong in Hanoi and for which I am extremely grateful. However, on the flipside, my social calendar has never been this full – a sometimes overwhelming factor for a complete introvert. Needless to say, something had to give and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to figure it out.

An important factor when I began and one which is still important to me is anonymity. Some of you might have wondered why I don’t reveal my name or why pictures I post of me are always from behind. Perhaps, you even think it a cowardly move. The reason for it is that, as a teacher, I really wanted to keep my personal and professional life separate. I didn’t want the parent of a child I teach to stumble upon it and bring it up. (While living in Germany, an article was written about me after I won a competition. The following school year, before telling me whose mother she was, a parent said: “Oh yes, I remember reading about you. You speak a lot of languages, don’t you?” Other parents that were standing around began to listen in and I was left there, awkwardly trying to find a way out of the conversation and to focus it back to the child, rather than myself.) I am an extremely private person, to the point where I even deleted Facebook after I moved here, feeling weird about the fact that people I didn’t really talk to anymore, were being updated on life. So why would a private person start a blog? As I hinted at above, my big dream is to one day become a published author. I also toy with the idea of going into journalism. So this blog is really just one way for me to share my writing and thoughts and get used to them being out there for others to read. Pressing “publish” on my blog entries is still sometimes very challenging as I get nervous about people reading what I’ve written. However, with each post, that has changed to the point where I’m publishing what feels like my most personal post ever.

Also, I do think that some of my experiences might be helpful to others (or maybe, I’m just hoping that they will be). The thing is, I think that the reason I got lost along the way is because I was writing the things I thought people wanted to read rather than the things I wanted to write. The result was that what I think should have been an afternoon producing a post, because of what I just mentioned combined with perfectionism, ended up being an afternoon writing a post followed by days and days of continuously revising, sorting through photos, anxiously posting, and then obsessively checking stats. I feel like my blog became very dry with mostly researched recounts of events (because even though I was talking about the places I had been too, I had to triple check that all the information was accurate, making it more about including links to tourist destinations for example, rather than my thoughts and feelings about an experience – which was my original intention). While I do get that you have to write with your audience in mind, right now, all I want to do is write for me. (And yes, I also get how incredibly selfish that sounds).

So why this post? And why now? I guess it’s just to let you know, if you’re reading and following, that It’s a Hanoian life will be changing. It will be not only a change in direction and look, but, if I can figure it out, a change in name. Why changing the name? Well, there are only a few more months to the school year, after which, my new traveling adventures will be taking my partner and I to another part of the world. Goodbye Asia, Hello Africa! Every morning, as I sit on the back of the motorbike which takes me to school, all I feel like doing is writing about this new direction my life will take. I know that many of you can understand the complexities of leaving a place you called for however long or short a time “home”. It’s a bittersweet reality of being an expat, one which must be accepted, but also dealt with. I hope that you’ll continue to follow along, find something of interest, and grace me with your patience as I figure it all out.

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Planning to make the most of the next few months in this magical country.

African Summer

As I have mentioned, and perhaps you also happened to fall upon some of my Instagram photos, our African summer was AMAZING! It’s hard to answer the question “How did you find it?”, because we only visited two countries out of a HUGE continent. We went to South Africa and then to Tanzania. Both countries were so different, it felt as though they were worlds apart. The weather, architecture, cuisine, and history for example, were only some ways in which these two countries differed.

Mount Kilimanjaro from the airplane window at the beginning of our trip. What a great way to start!

Mount Kilimanjaro from the airplane window at the beginning of our trip. What a great way to start!

So why South Africa and Tanzania? Our friends were getting married in South Africa and Tanzania has been on our radar as a possible future dream posting based on things we heard and read, so we decided to check it out while we were “in the neighbourhood.”

I am not going to claim to be an expert on Africa after only a summer on its ground. Nor am I going to claim to have “done” Africa or even know it. The two countries we chose, as I said, were so different from one another, but I’m sure they are also so different from other African countries. If anything, traveling there has only opened our appetite for Africa even more and our bucket list of travel destinations has now increased tenfold. However, what I will do, is share my impressions and my travel highlights and hopefully offer some helpful tips and add these destinations to your travel bucket list.

Pilansberg, South Africa

Pilanesberg, South Africa

The wedding was in the middle of our holiday. There was so much that we wanted to do in Johannesburg and Cape Town, so we started in these cities on our own before meeting up with the others. Traveling in big groups is rarely successful for all when it is over such and extended period of time and we wanted to make sure that we made our way to the museums and other tourist attractions on our own to guarantee we could visit them on our own time. Because of this decision, it did mean that there was a lot of double-backing and had we been traveling just the two of us, our itinerary would differ largely (and possibly be slightly more logical). That being said, spending almost two weeks with friends that we know from Hanoi but weren’t necessarily all still living there was SO much fun! Although being an expat means you miss out on a lot of things from home, it also means a diverse group of friends dispersed around the globe and great reunions when something like a wedding brings everyone together again.

Zanzibar

Zanzibar

In numbers, our trip was a total of 35 nights in 10 different hotels and 11 flights through 8 different airports… exhausting, yet exhilarating! (I wish I knew the final count of photos I took, but I don’t…ballpark figure? Around 1000! Africa is stunning! Unfortunately, sorting through them was especially time consuming as synching issues meant I had to restart 3 times! This post has been in draft mode since August 24th! Luckily, no pictures were lost.)

Here is our itinerary:

  • Johannesburg, South Africa: 1 night
  • Pilansberg National Park, South Africa: 1 night
  • Johannesburg: 2 nights
  • Capetown, South Africa: 6 nights
  • Stellenbosch, South Africa: 7 nights
  • Capetown: 3 nights
  • Johannesburg: 3 nights
  • Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania: 1 night
  • Stone Town, Zanzibar: 2 nights
  • Kendwa, Zanzibar: 4 nights
  • Dar Es Salaam: 4 nights
Capetown, South Africa: Bo Kaap district

Capetown, South Africa: Bo Kaap district

Lots of back and forth, right?

Part of it was also because we booked the bigger flights in the spring (Hanoi to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Dar Es Salaam, and Dar Es Salaam to Hanoi). The other flights were booked right before we left (or even during our trip!) I had never left home without having every hotel and flight booked prior to the trip, but I had also never traveled for such an extended period of time with no home base. Packing for the 5 weeks in two different climates was also a bit of a challenge, but it all worked out in the end.

Some highlights of the trip include:

  • Going on my first ever safari!
  • Walking up Table Mountain in Capetown.
  • Watching the Free Jazz Show at the V&A Waterfront, Capetown
  • Attending the Madame Zingara Circus Show, Capetown
  • Watching my first ever rugby game live and attending my first South Africa Braai (BBQ), Johannesburg
  • Getting lost in Stone Town, Zanzibar
  • Watching the sun set over the beautiful turquoise waters of Zanzibar
  • Spending some time on Bongoyo Island, Tanzania.

 

More posts will appear soon on each leg of the trip, so make sure you check back in the next few weeks for more photos and details.