A friend from Vietnam visited me here in Manila last weekend. I met her during my volunteer stint 5-years ago in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand where I taught English in orphanages. We exchanged stories and our conversation reminded me of how passion didn’t use to be an overrated word. And that it didn’t matter if I was not able to find what I was looking for in that 2-month eat-pray-love trip, because it kept me hungry for life.
I miss relieving those stories because she’s the first person from that trip whom I met again after so many years. For two months, my only focus then was to explore and live. There were times when I even got teary eyed because of the overwhelming gratitude to be alive. So let me recount some stories. (Photos here are from my trip)
Story 1: I lived with a Vietnamese host in a condominium when I was in Ho Chi Minh City. In the building beside ours was a Filipino family whom I frequently visited, and they were running a very risky operation. If the police knew what my Filipino neighbours were doing, they’ll be dragged out of their house together with their three young kinds and be imprisoned.
I became part of a Christian missionary group disguised as an English club when I was in that communist country. I’m not really religious, but I got inspired by the bravery of that family who defied the law and used gospel passages as examples in their English lessons. There would even be gospel song singing, which can’t get too loud else the other neighbours might become suspicious. I admire the dedication and faith of the couple.
Story 2: During my last day as an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh, the class was so chaotic that I spent half of the time shouting to keep the students quiet. Finally, my class time ended so I stepped out of the room without saying much of a goodbye.
As I was a few meters away from the orphanage, I saw my students running after me. They still can’t speak straight English so we just hugged in the middle of the road. It was sunset and it looked like the perfect finale of a cheesy student-teacher movie. That gesture really touched me even if they were so unruly inside the classroom.
Story 3: Three people plus a chicken shared 2 seats inside a bus heading to Siem Reap. I was on my way there to celebrate my birthday alone. I’m usually very confident that I won’t get mugged whenever I travel because I’m Asian with brow skin, but I felt scammed cause I paid good money to supposedly get good seats.
Got myself a bike to tour around Angkor Wat, but had to retreat back because the heat was so unbearable. Also, it turned out that my hotel didn’t accept credit cards and I left bulk of my cash in HCMC, so for my birthday dinner, I only had two cans of beer, some energy bars and a pack of Boy Bawang. Yes, they had some in the grocery. The cashier even mistook me for a local Cambodia, which I don’t know what to make of.
Story 4: My last stop for the trip was in Bangkok. I spent the last 7 weeks in pretty chill cities so I was a bit culture shocked when I landed. That afternoon, I was scheduled to meet my Thai cousin in Siam Square. I guess he was surprised to see me cause I looked like a hobo – darker skin than usual, longer unkept hair and was a bit skinny because of all that traveling.
He’s a film student and was about to premier their thesis film in Paragon that night. They’ll even have a part after, but guess who’s not invited – maybe because of how I looked that day. So I just roamed around Bangkok while I was there and I was so fond of the city that I did not feel the need to go to Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya anymore.
I want to go volunteering again, but somewhere more foreign. If I were to create another eat-pray-love experience, it would probably in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Recalling those stories ignite my wanderlust to explore more places. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it soon.