Wow, de ja vu to 3.5 years ago…sitting beneath the big bow in San Francisco right off of the Embarcadero. It’s incredible how much has changed in such a short period of time! When I was here at that time I sat in this very spot contemplating life and more importantly…where I was going to sleep and how I was going to survive the upcoming days since my arrival a few days earlier. Well, to be honest, not as much has changed from then as you might think. Here I sit again…in the same spot I’ve been countless times since that first moment…and I am still contemplating life and how I’ll get from moment to moment in my near future.
The main difference today comes in the form of experience. They say with age comes knowledge. I think with time, hopefully we learn lessons that will help us to cope better with similar situations as we’ve faced in the past. At the very least, it will give us a sense of security and familiarity having dealt with this kind of time previously.
Some of the details have changed. Today I sit and appreciate, knowing that this is the last day I’ll spend in San Francisco and the United States before I head back to Europe with no long-term plan or ideas. If anything, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the inevitable discomfort in such an unknown future. I’m not completely sure what this kind of experience allows me to gain in my overall character, but I can make some predictions.
There’s a sense of flexibility that comes from experiencing continual growth and uncertainty: constantly having to adjust and readjust to what feels “comfortable” and what I’m open to. I’m learning how to trust my inner self, and question people and places where I may have been more inclined to blindly accept what appeared to be (rather than what IS). I’ve been learning to laugh…which sounds like a strange thing to learn…but in a world filled with hate, anger and terrible circumstances…learning to laugh is a GREAT an NEEDED trait; part of which entails learning to laugh at myself. I haven’t seen greater evidence during this time than my own humanity and imperfections, so knowing how to laugh at the things I do has been a great and powerful tool to learning and accepting things with a grain of salt.
What I’ve gained from others and their situations is far more valuable than anything I could ask for. I’ve seen what it means to others to “survive” and although aspects are similar, I’ve found that in some of the less-developed (according to the western standards) countries, their hearts and mindsets towards loving and helping each other is much more advanced and they’re truly some of the most hospitable people in the world! Amongst those who stand out from the rest are the Vietnamese and Filipino people.
I spent 4.5 months in Vietnam, most of the time living as a local and on a very tight budget. The Vietnamese whom I met, especially some of the Vietnamese English teachers were some of the most generous and warm-hearted people I’ve ever met…anywhere in the world!
There was one particular Vietnamese English teacher who made a big impact on me. While I was living in Hanoi I ran out of money several times (again $0 in my bank account, couldn’t even pay my balance to the hostel at times). One of these times when I didn’t know how to survive, I went to the lake close to where I was staying and a man came to talk to me (it’s very common for the Vietnamese to come up to westerners to practice English, as they value the learning of it as if it was GOLD). He was a teacher to students who weren’t able to afford classes with native English teachers. We had a wonderful conversation and at the end he invited me to come meet and speak to his students and in return he’d take me to his village for the Vietnamese Independence Day.
My first instincts of safety were immediately put to rest because he was one of the nicest, most caring people! A few days later, he came and picked me up in the city (quite a distance and inconvenience to him) and took me to his school where he and his students made me dinner and he allowed me to teach them some basic pronunciation of some of the words and phrases they’d been learning. The next day several of his students and I went with him to his family’s home in the countryside. When we arrived, I received the royal treatment! His family not only opened their home to me but they treated me like I was a visiting royalty! In fact All of the people in his home village acted so excitedly to have me there. They were genuine, friendly and some of the happiest people I’d ever met, in spite of living in more humble experiences than many I’d seen before. They spent all day every day (while I was there) preparing these delicious, extravagant meals and took me swimming, fishing, cliff diving and made sure I was enjoying every moment! I had a wonderful, adventurous and amazing experience…one of the BEST by far!
Reflecting back on what I’m doing here again, I can’t help but be so grateful for what I’ve learned…and so excited for what’s coming up even though it’s completely unknown and uncertain to me!
In my life before, every day felt like a continuation of the last: nothing new or exciting and not sure where any of of was going. I can’t say that my life is completely different these days, but the idea that anything can happen tomorrow is no longer a fear of mine…after all this time it’s somehow become an excitement and a joy that I can look forward to every day!