I was talking to an American expat here who runs a company that provides training & education for Vietnamese students, helping many go to study in the US. He’s also beginning to bring American students to Vietnam, which is why I was talking to him, but that can be a subject for another day–I just wanted to make a note of something he said in passing. Mentioning an American student who had spent time studying in Vietnam and was returning for a longer stay, my friend inquired, he told me, about the reason for his return. “Love,” the student had replied. “Ah . . .” I began to say. . . It turns out he has a Vietnamese girlfriend. (That’s cool–I only get creeped out when 50 year old American / German / Australian / Korean men come to VN and take up with Vietnamese women half their age.) But my “Ah!” had not been meant to acknowledge the narrow definition of “love” — I was thinking that the student, like me, had fallen in love with the place, not merely a particular citizen of the place.
“I fell in love with the place” is of course a cliche, but I can’t really think of a better way to express the feeling I have when I come here. Hanoi is not my home, but coming here feels like coming home. I have felt this I think–or some version of it–from the day of my first arrival & now when I go out in the evenings to walk around the Old Quarter, I feel a deep affection and a sense of peace, even amid all the honking & hammering & the cries of vendors & school kids darting along the sidewalks among the chickens & parked motorbikes. There is a liveliness here that stirs my heart. Which is not to imply that it never makes me crazy. It does. That’s the way love is.