another chapter down

You’d think I just wouldn’t want to stop writing about our travels in Vietnam, but truth be told it’s been almost a month since I went to task on it. The process is always a tad bittersweet for me. Vietnam was wonderful and it was hard. Some days I miss the place so much I can barely breathe for the ache of returning. But those are the days when life here is especially hard, when the money is scarce and the singleness turns to loneliness.

When I write about our travels, though, it always brings back the ache. I want to be on the train again. I want to eat bun cha at the Thanh Hoa market. I want to sit on the porch breaking open red watermelon seeds with friends.

So sometimes I avoid writing, like I have for all of September (the month I hate). But today I forced it. Did some editing, some writing and made a small amount of progress on a first draft I really must finish.

Here’s a blip from today’s output about how it really felt:

Through the dust-stained window of our train compartment, I watch as the sun breaks over the horizon. It casts a blue tint across the sodden rice fields that stretch as far as I can see. The bunk above me creaks with Stuart’s shifting weight. Audrey is still asleep in the bunk across from him, her bare feet poking out from under the woolen blanket. She faces the wall, hiding from the light as it floods in through our eastern-facing window.

We are due to arrive in Hanoi in only an hour, with sixteen hours and a handful of bunkmates already passed. The bottom bunk, across from mine, is empty again. When I’d fallen asleep it had been occupied by a grandfatherly fellow, white hair and sporadic beard, reading a local paper. Sometime during the night, as we’d tossed and swayed alongside Highway 1, I’d awoken to find a woman sleeping there; slack-jawed and breathing loudly. But as the sun rises, the bunk is empty and the blankets are tossed aside under the bed lamp.

It’s just the three of us here, bumping along the train tracks into Hanoi. We are truly on our own; no one to house us, feed us, drive us where we need to go. No one to set a schedule or make hotel reservations. It’s all up to me from here on out. And I can’t confess to anyone just how utterly overwhelmed I am by this.

I spent countless hours at the Internet cafe searching for houses and jobs and still couldn’t find anything that would work for us. Nothing. So here I am dragging my children northward to be homeless and unemployed with me in the overcrowded capitol city of this Third World Country because I’m too bullheaded to admit defeat. This move will surely seal my win for the 2007 Mother of the Year award.

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing this or why I’m so hellbent on staying here. I don’t even truly understand my determination to get here in the first place, besides the obvious win-him-back and show-the-kids-the-world reasons. But, really, what kind of mother makes her kids sell all their toys then moves them halfway around the world without any sort of back-up plan in place? A lousy one, like me.

It’s taken me eight weeks in-country to realize the magnitude of what we’re doing and it isn’t going to get any easier. We’ve managed to give up all we knew to experience this and I’m sure I could take the kids back to the States, fully satisfied with all they’ve done over the last two months. They’ve seen more of this big blue marble than most kids and the time with the orphans in Tam Ky has truly been priceless. It wouldn’t be a shame to go home. But it would feel like giving up.

I’ll give it a month. I have enough money in the bank from the recent tax refund to get us tickets back. If I haven’t found a job by the end of March, I promise to swallow my pride and take the kids home.

Celebrating on Koh Samui

Downtown Bangkok from the monorail station.

We made it out of Bangkok via train on Tuesday morning and spent the next eight hours choo-chooing down to a small city called Surat Thani. The kids slept nearly half the time, which was good for them (and me). Audrey was kind enough to let me borrow her lap for a bit and I, too, caught a bit of a cat nap. We’d been out far too late the night before at the night market (but did find Stuart some more school clothes) and then re-packing. I had to buy yet *another* suitcase there.

Did I mention that before? I’d sent Stuart along with Thang to ship some things home via the slow boat and had stuffed it all into a duffel bag. I reiterated to them both, Stuart and Thang, that I needed the bag back for packing other things to bring along, but in the chaos of the post office and numerous papers to fill out, the need to bring it back was forgotten. So the duffle bag was mailed home. Unfortunately that means we were short a suitcase. And of course this was the day before we were leaving Thanh Hoa, so I had little choice but to run to the open market across the street. I spent 150,000VND (about $8) on a small duffle.

Clearly the kids are thrilled to ride yet another train in Asia. Despite what it looks like, Audrey isn’t actually crying. I promise.

The next day as we hobbled up the street to find our hotel, the handles broke off the new duffle. This was a problem and, of course, the solution would be to spend even more money. The night before leaving Bangkok we found another bag, the red backpack/rolling bag in the picture above, and it did make it through the next leg of the journey).

You may be familiar with Phuket (lower left corner). Koh Samui is the island at the top right, Surat Thani is on the mainland.

Anyway, now after all those hours in the train, staying overnight in Surat Thani (in a crappy hotel, but getting to eat decent chicken at KFC), then a ferry ride and 1/2-hour car ride, we finally made it to Koh Samui. This is finally vacation.

I’d intended this to be our time to celebrate. Couples have anniversaries every year, but our trio hasn’t marked an anniversary in several. This year is special. We are celebrating our 10th anniversary as a trio and I’m thrilled to be in a place so beautiful and so calm to remember it. We’ve struggled through so much heartache, frustration and poverty over the years. Those things haven’t really gone away either, they’ve just eased a bit. But in the fall of 1999, when we moved out of our family-of-four house and out on our own, I would never have though we would ever be in Thailand. Or that I would love teaching English in a small university in Vietnam. I never though I’d want to write a book or that my kids would be so eager to try out the world. I’m so grateful for all the people that came along the way to encourage me to do more, see more, trust more. During our anniversary trip to Koh Samui, I’m thankful for so much. For my great kids, my family who help me in so many ways, for my students who’ve shown me such love, for Keith who went to Vietnam first, for Brian giving me two smart, funny and eager children. Truly, who’d have ever thought this is where I’d be ten years later.
———— Happy 10th to us…

At our hotel (Samui Reef View Resort). Not bad for $35/night.

The reef that we have a view of…

Details from a temple being built down the street from our hotel in Koh Samui.