For years I have compiled a list of foreign countries I dream of seeing one day...Cote d'Ivoire, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Egypt, and the list goes on for days. But travelling to an Asian country never really crossed my mind. Everything seemed so absurdly foreign and terrifying that I couldn't picture myself voyaging all the way across the world to literally be in a new world. It's easy for Americans to want to travel to Europe, most people know English. And the food still mostly resembles our cusine. The people are usually more conservative and while they may hate American tourists, they love to make money off of them.
Asia always seemed like an entirely new breed of conservative, almost cold towards Americans. And I vowed that I could never come unless I was with a strict tour group that kept an eye on me and made sure I didn't disappear down any dark corners. I feared trying completely fresh food that sits out all day while buyers stroll by and bargain for a deal. The thought of crossing a communistic solider sent shivers down my spine. What if my passport got lost? Or what if I couldn't get to the American Embassy in time to avoid being thrown in prison for being a radical American female, doing as she pleases?
I used to want to see Tokyo, stay in a posh little hotel, and experience all the exciting thrills of the city life. But I knew I would never have the balls to do it. But even with all of this doubt and fear of an Asiatic adventure, here I am today. Laying on the floor in a Vietnamese camp. The same floor I've been laying on for the past three weeks.
Spiders don't phase me anymore. I've learned to love the sound of the playful horns from the mo-peds flying by our bus on the wrong side of the road. A bowl of fried fish (scales still on) can sit next to me at lunchtime without any urge to vomit. I'm learning Vietnamese, for crying out loud. I successfully crossed a major road yesterday like a local. Don't look, keep going. And the mo-peds literally swerve around you. I play barefoot soccer with strangers. I eat mystery meat in a brothy soup everyday, twice a day. My chopstick abilities are no longer a cause for concern. Oh, and here's the kicker...I'm already trying to figure out when I can come back!
My cautiously planned out six days of extra travelling suddenly seems like nothing at all. How can I possibly see all of the temples, ride my own mo-ped, snorkel, go to a day-market, a night-market, AND get lost in an old Cambodian teashop if I only have six days to do it? Ah, that's right...their coffee is much stronger than ours. And I'm used to waking up at five in the morning now. But still. I want to stay. I don't want to leave.
I can get over the twice-a-day bugspray applications...because I'm barely applying it once a day now. I don't mind the ant bites, I'm not allergic. I don't mind the chirping lizard that lives on our wall. And I definitely don't mind not showering everyday, because it acts as its own bug repellant. For the first time in my life, I'm not afraid to be alone. I'm not afraid to say, sure let's go down this road and see where it takes us.
My camp director, Anna, told us something while we were in Can Tho a few weeks ago. She said that when disaster strikes, adventure can begin. And on that day, her words rang truer than I thought they could. But for me now, I can see that I'm already on an adventure, and the only disaster that had to strike was getting oddly high and outrageously sick from the Japanese encephalitis shot...twice.
To my friends and loved ones, I hope I have not hurt you by declaring my disenchantment of returning to the States because I miss you dearly and I know that as soon as I come home I will transition morbidly fast into American living again, but for now...I'm really enjoying living like a dirty camper, getting to know my kids more and more everyday. It will be easy to keep in touch with the Vietnamese coaches, thanks to facebook, skype and gmail...but the same cannot be said for my kids. Dat gave me his address so I will try to send them all a picture of me, and maybe a little note or something...but who knows if the package will ever get to them. And then they'll be left wondering what happened, worried that I forgot about them, and hoping for something that will never come. Maybe that's why I really want to come back to Asia, to see them again. To have a reunion and to re-live the memories we've made so far. Maybe it's just me being selfish. Or maybe I'm just like every other new teacher, completely and utterly attached to my first class of kids.