Back That Month Up | Hanoi

or, The Benefits of Leaning In

In the social experiment that is Remote Year, it’s easy to want to find “your people” / clique / whatever-you-want-to-call-it right away so that you can make the (sometimes intimidatingly) big group feel a little bit smaller and more manageable.

However, if you’re not careful, you will find yourself planning side trips, lunches, hikes, etc. with the same group of people time and time again.

Last month at the Nation House event I went to, I asked a couple of RY Citizens (Remotes who have already finished their RY) what their biggest piece of advice to someone in Month 4 would be.

They both agreed on the answer which essentially boils down to…

Don’t let yourself wait until Month 11 to get to know someone in your group.

That really struck some chordz.

How awful would it be to find out that there was someone in your group that you really clicked with, only to realize that you have to part ways in three weeks?

Could that happen to me?

Is that happening to me?

If I’m being honest with myself, the answer is probably.

You: “But, Michael, you’re traveling for a year! That’s plenty of time to meet 50 other people.”
Me: I mean…not really, fam. You’d be surprised. Not unless you’re very intentional about it, at least.

With eight months left, it was time to start being a little more intentional.

The People

Kaizen

Looking back on Month 5, and at the end of Month 4 really, I think that I did a pretty decent job at getting intentional about spending time with more people in the group.

I went on a couple of Kaizen Date Nights (random weekly 1:1’s that pair us up with someone in the group) with some fresh faces, I got to see certain people more frequently in the workspace thanks to the weird-yet-awesome Asia night shift, and I went on side trips with heaps of people.

There’s still work to be done, but I’m very glad that I started having this realization in Month 4 instead of Month 10.

Two very special Kaizens that I got to spend more time with this month than I had in the past were our very own Kaizen Program Leaders (basically they put up with our nonsense and tell us everything is going to be okay).

I got to see Mama Jen a lot more this month because we lived two floors away from each other and we were also in the same accountability group that helps us reach our goals for the month/year. There were several occasions that I was going to bail on going to the gym to reach my running goal for the month until I received messages like this:

….but moooooooommmmmmmm!

Mama Silvia was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some uncharacteristically whiny messages from yours truly about an hour before a three day side trip to Sapa. She humored my complainy ass and talked some sense into me so that I didn’t bail last minute. She got me back on board by saying that her and I were finally going to be on the same trip together, something that we haven’t done yet this year, and as soon as she said that, I knew there was no turning back.

Mamas truly do know best.

Vietnamese People

In my opinion, the Vietnamese locals that we met this month were some of the friendliest and most welcoming groups of locals that we’ve come across this year.

The most surprising thing to me initially was how friendly they were to Americans given the history between our two countries — especially because Hanoi is in the North and Americans fought with the South. There were no signs of hard feelings expressed towards any of us (that I know of), in fact, it was quite the opposite.

Two of the locals that stand out most are a lady and man that we met completely randomly during one of our track events.

While walking along the popular train tracks in Hanoi, Hong, one half of the Hanoi City Team, asked a lady standing outside her house if we — a group of 10 strangers — could come inside and see her house. Within minutes, we left our shoes at the door and were all sitting Indian style in her living room / bedroom and began barraging her with questions about Hanoi and her life in general.

Not ten minutes later, while walking down the same train tracks, we (well, Hong) struck up conversation with a super friendly elderly man who was very intrigued with us and wanted to know more. We found out he had actually was in Hanoi when those very train tracks were bombed during the war. Despite all that, he was loving chatting it up with a bunch of (mostly) Americans.

The Places

Vietnam

Before this trip, I would look at our itinerary and for some reason, Vietnam was the country that generated the least amount of excitement for me. I think it was a combination of thinking that it would be too chaotic, that the food was going to make me sick, or that growing up all I associated Vietnam with was a war that I didn’t really know anything about.

After four weeks, Vietnam became one of my new favorite countries.

HANOI

I was a tad nervous going into this month because I had never been to SE Asia before and had no idea what to expect from Hanoi. I went into the month expecting the worst, but hoping for the best.

In reality, Hanoi is loud, chaotic, hot, rainy, humid, sticky, and occasionally smelly.

It’s also surprising, welcoming, fast-paced, delicious, friendly, challenging in the best way, beautiful, affordable, and always exciting.

In fact, some of the things I was dreading the most ended up being some of my favorite things about the city! For example, I now firmly believe that you aren’t really living unless you’re risking your life every time you cross the street and that the best food comes from a little old lady posted up on the sidewalk who cooks with one single pot and cleans her dishes on the curb.

Cross walks?

BO-RING. Where’s the fun in that?

Adult human-sized tables and chairs for eating?

Nah. I prefer to hunch over a kiddie table like Quasi Modo while sitting on a plastic stool that only fits half of a butt cheek.

Highlights:

  • Getting acquainted with the street food scene by going on a motorbike food tour of the city with our all female biker gang.
  • Living that Treat Yo Self life for an entire month while also supporting an incredible local business. The Omamori Spa in Hanoi is a spa that has supremely talented blind or visually impaired massage therapists. Also, it’s just really freaking nice and affordable. Kaizen’s very own Dee volunteered here for basically the entire month helping them with their operations and teaching them new techniques. Dee is a rockstar.
  • Working the Asia night shift! My core overlapping work hours with Austin were 8pm-12am, which meant a lot of late nights at the coworking space. Luckily there were many others in the same situation, so it was never lonely. I actually prefer this type of schedule because it gives you much more flexibility with your days.
  • Visiting the infamous Hỏa Lò prison, which was initially built by the French to detain the Vietnamese, but was later used by the Vietnamese to detain American POWs. The most notable American prisoner held here was John McCain. The prison is now a museum that shows the awful living conditions that the French had put the Vietnamese though. We were able to hear from a couple of Vietnamese detainees about their experiences there. The American section of the museum was…interesting. Basically there were lots of pictures of Americans playing volleyball and basketball that were supposed to show how well they were treated. This was one of those things you just kinda give a Jim Halpert shrug to and move on.
  • DRINKING ALL OF THE COFFEE! The coffee situation in Hanoi is ridiculously on point and I’m fairly positive that I developed a condensed milk addiction.
  • Feeling a weird amount of satisfaction when crossing the street like a boss
  • Eating banh mi every day
  • Getting silly on Dumpling Night with the Krew
  • Learning how to make Pho cocktails

HA LONG BAY

Our first weekend in town, we (read: Aashima) organized a group side trip to Ha Long Bay where half of the Krew cruised around, drank, ate, swam, got stung by jelly fish, kayaked, lost their phones, and got kairazy on two huge boats.

SAPA

Oh, Sapa…

I more or less signed up and paid to go to Sapa, which is a rural area in northern Vietnam that is famous for its gorgeous and intricate rice paddies, because of a really beautiful picture that we were shown on a slide on our first day in Hanoi. I figured we’d just take a bus there, I’d snap a couple pics, and we’d be on our merry way. I think most other people who signed up for this event thought the same thing.

Next time, I’m reading the fine print.

More on that later…

For three days we trekked through Sapa’s trails, hills, and bamboo forests with the help of our guides and some eager little ladies called “Little Mamas”. These ladies, who were barely taller than my hips, expertly navigated through the muddy trails like it was their job (wait, it was). I would have eaten sh*t so many (more) times (than I did) had it not been for their help.

Despite having some of the most mentally challenging moments that I’ve had on RY during this trip, it ended up being an overwhelmingly positive experience that I’m glad I went on.

I guess that just goes to show you that only good things can happen when you #doitfortheinsta.

HOI AN & DA NANG

I’ll admit that at first, I thought I may have gotten a little too reckless by booking this trip so soon after Sapa, but it turns out it was just what I needed.

I met Valentina in Hoi An, where we explored the rural parts of the city by bike, ate banh mi made by The Queen of Banh Mi, and worked. Hoi An is a small city near the coast that feels laid back and authentic despite it being a popular tourist spot. At night, the city lights up with all of the lanterns that are draping every store, hanging over every street, and floating in the river alongside the paddle boats.

Eric and Jen met us the next day and we biked to the beach and made it back to town with the most fortuitous timing to witness the most intense an gorgeous sunset I’ve ever seen. We hopped on a paddle boat and watched the sky change about 38 different shades of pink, red, and purple within 10 minutes.

The four of us spent the next day driving motorbikes (sorry, Mamas) throughout Da Nang. We drove to the top of Monkey Mountain, through the city to get Pizza 4P’s (obv), over the dragon bridge, and to Marble Mountain. It was so much fun getting to finally contribute to the crazy Vietnamese traffic. I wouldn’t say that I was reckless, but I would say that I probably should have been a little less confident than I was.

The Things

Leaning In

I think that a lot of the group did a really great job at embracing the things that initially might have made us feel uncomfortable about Hanoi. I found that once you make like Sheryl Sandberg and really lean in, it makes a world of difference.

Hot and humid outside? Buy some dri-fit clothes and realize that everyone else is just as sweaty as you are.

Insane traffic making it hard to get places? Call up that 53 cent Ubermoto and ride in style like Blanca.

“what’s the wifi password?”

Nervous to cross the streets? Turn it into a game, something to get good at AND OWN THAT SH*T.

Have to work late? Do something fun during the day with all of your free time and then join the rest of your night shift comrades at the coworking space so you can fall asleep at your computer together.

Scared of the rain? Buy a poncho and get over it, you baby.

Putting up and shutting up

Back to Sapa…

Looking back, the first 12 or so hours of the Sapa trip were basically designed for me to fail.

  • Night bus leaving Hanoi at 10 pm and arriving at 4 am and having to stay on the bus until 6 am aka no sleep
  • Very confusing breakfast situation that lead to a very hangry Miguel
  • Trekking through miles of muddy trails with running shoes that have zero traction and zero water resitance
  • Getting poured on while carrying all of our gear for what felt like hours

All of this culminated to me sitting — no — fuming internally at lunch, thinking how this was the biggest mistake I’ve made on Remote Year, thinking how this is the most miserable I’ve been on Remote Year, thinking how mad I was at Remote Year for not giving us the deets that we’d be trekking so much before we signed up, thinking how mad I was at myself for not asking more questions before signing up, and also plotting ways that I could get myself out of this situation and back to Hanoi ASAP.

Yeah, I was the worst.

I truly don’t think of myself as a complainer. I never want to ruin anyone else’s experience by whining, so I usually try to bottle up frustrations and sit quietly hoping no one can read my face (healthy).

I physically couldn’t do that because every time someone asked me a question, I word vomited something about how unhappy I was. To my credit, I at least had the wherewithal to sugar coat my anger and frustration with laughs.

“lookin wet over there, michael!”

During lunch, I had a little 1:1 talk with myself, Miguel a Miguel. I was acutely aware of how unhappy, sopping, and uncomfortable I was. I hung on that word “uncomfortable” for a while…and then it clicked!

I recognized that I was presently the most mentally and physically uncomfortable I had been on RY, probably even more so than during the high-stress moments in Morocco.

I then thought back to the reason I give people when asked why I’m even doing Remote Year in the first place.

I want to get comfortable with being outside of my comfort zone.

Well, here it fking was. Time for me to put up or shut tf up. As soon as I had this realization that I was failing epically at working on the one thing that I claim I wanted to get out of RY, my mindset changed. Instead of taking a motorbike the rest of the way to our homestay, I decided to lean into the muddiness and wetness and finish the hike.

As luck would have it, the rain stopped just as we left lunch and it didn’t rain the rest of the weekend. In fact, the rest of that day and the following two days were beautiful and I had an absolute incredible time.

Looking back, I feel pretty silly for letting myself get so upset and agitated during that first half of the day. However, I’m extremely proud that while in one of my most challenging moments mentally of the year, I was able to recognize what was affecting me and I was able to shift my mindset to one that looked at the situation as an opportunity for growth.

HOW’S THAT FOR GROWTH ZONE

I ended an earlier post about Prague saying that I’m not the kind of person to say “see you soon, <insert city/country>”. I’m going to take that back.

I will see you again, Vietnam. There are too many places I haven’t seen yet for me to not go back. Also, I’m pretty sure the Queen of Banh Mi misses me and wants to make me Hand of the Queen.

Mot, Hai, Ba, YOOOO!!!!!

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