I don’t know how a person can be homesick for a place they’ve never been before, but last week, probably brought on by a sore throat and a bit of travel burnout, I found myself homesick.
Not homesick for anywhere in the U.S.–my sense of home there is complicated–but homesick for an apartment, somewhere to leave my toothbrush out and a kitchen to wash dishes in. For weather that’s warm but not too warm, a city big enough to get lost in, and a neighborhood away from the tourist zone.
I looked around online for a few hours, sent an email, and suddenly I had a room and a roommate waiting for me in Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals call it, Saigon.
So I got on a plane and I got myself there.
The last time I flew, from Busuanga Island to Manila to Hanoi, a twelve-hour travel day with an eight-hour layover, I promised myself I’d travel exclusively overland for the next two months. But then this crazy urgency to get “home” and I was on a plane again. I didn’t want to chug along on the train looking out the window for 30+ hours. I just wanted to get home.
Two hours after arriving I was already unpacked and out establishing my reputation as the absent-minded new foreigner on the block. The banh mi seller had to chase me down the street with my sandwich because I was so tired from my travel day, and so elated he gave me correct change the first time (why is this so difficult in Vietnam?) that I walked off without it.
I am simultaneously in love with and overwhelmed by my busy little back street neighborhood with all its commerce and life buzzing in every inch. There are noodle sellers tucked into the breezeways between buildings, diners eating on kid-sized plastic stools. There are fruit and vegetable sellers in the traditional round Vietnamese straw hat, a few storefronts selling rice and beans and basic necessities. A woman selling live fish still wriggling in the plastic tub on the pavement, the sandwich vendor with a stack of flattened fried pigeons, beaks and all, in his stand. And just beyond it all, the high rises and wide boulevards of a big modern city that reminds me ever so slightly of Los Angeles.
Since I’m home sick with what’s become a full-blown cold, I haven’t been out to explore much since that first day. Instead I’ve been getting to know the neighborhood through its sounds, noticing the audible shifts that come and go like tides throughout the day: cocks crowing, motorcycles coming and going, rowdy school kids reciting lessons, and the sounds of the street market in the evening.
A Little Case of Travel Burnout
The yearning to slow down had been growing since December. In Hanoi I met some great people and had an action-packed week, in spite of earlier intentions, and then I suddenly lost steam.
Strangely, it was meeting those great people that tipped me over. They reminded me of home, of my friends back home, and in a few short days became people I wish I could have in my life forever, but who I may or may not see again. I learned that goodbyes, even when you get used to saying them every day, are hard.
Before getting here I was excited to taste new food, meet new people, and get to know a new place. Now that I’m here, the street life overwhelms me, this six-toned language escapes me (I really can’t remember a single phrase other than “Thank you”), and I’m not so sure what I want to eat anymore.
Yesterday, I guiltily ordered takeout (Saigon is great like that): a burger and fries and a few other things for later so I don’t have to go out if I don’t want to. I have fruit and snacks, and a roll of toilet paper for my runny nose. There are English language channels on tv and I’m parked on the couch watching The New Girl and How I Met Your Mother and Asia’s Next Top Model.
I feel like a bit of a sellout hiding out indoors “being an American” (ok, so I have this cold as my excuse as well), so I checked in with a few other long-term travelers for commiseration:
There is still so much to see out there and I’m excited to see it, as soon as my cold clears up and I get my travel spark back. Until then, I’ll be on the couch in Vietnam, eating takeout and listening to life whir by outside.