At Home in Hanoi

After weeks of bustling around Vietnam—a few days in Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay and a brief excursion up to the beautiful Sa Pa—I came back to the welcoming, coffee-loving arms of Hanoi, which quickly became my new favorite place.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Hanoi, but I did.

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Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Continue reading “At Home in Hanoi”

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Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Beyond: 10 Days in Northern Vietnam

Hordes of motorbikes sped by as my taxi wove through the tight streets of Hanoi, Vietnam. Signs and billboards flashed at me. Vietnamese words were scrawled across them—but at least this time, I thought, the alphabet was Romanized.

I’d been on the road for about six months, had traveled to Japan, South Korea, India, Nepal, and Myanmar. Donald Trump had just won the U.S. presidency, and I’d slept off my post-election depression and fatigue in Yangon, Myanmar, like a champ.

Here I was, another new country, another new city, another new language—starting over yet again, unsure of myself and harboring lingering doubts about having sold all my things to take this yearlong journey through Asia and maybe beyond.

I listened to the motorbikes hum and purr. The taxi entered Hanoi’s Old Quarter and pulled to a stop near my hostel. The staff was waiting to meet us. I paid the driver. I pulled my pack onto my shoulders. I took a deep breath. I started again. Continue reading “Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Beyond: 10 Days in Northern Vietnam”

Abba, Amma, Adonai: An Australian Journey in Gender

“Abba, Amma, Adonai,” Peter and I recited, the Lord’s Prayer flowing from our lips as we read from the Koora Retreat Centre prayer books.

We were sitting in Peter’s home, a train car remodeled into a one-bedroom house with large, beautiful windows that looked out into the Western Australian bush. Outside was sheer wilderness—shimmering golden-brown dirt, scrappy bushes with thick leaves, a few thin trees twisting toward the sky. Birds soared in swirls of heat above.

Peter, a retired Anglican priest with a white, bushy beard, and his wife Anna (also an Anglican priest) run the desert retreat center, which I stumbled across last February. I returned in October to spend a month with them.

I joined them in their railway carriage for morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. each day, and though Anna was out of town this particular morning, Peter and I decided to meet anyway. Somehow, our conversation had turned to gender.

“So Anna tells me you use the pronoun ‘they,'” he’d said after we’d finished our Bible readings and before we’d launched into prayers of the community. Soon we’d run the gamut from the spectrum of gender to the limits of English pronouns.

Peter admitted he struggled with “they” as a pronoun but said, “To me, you’re just Alexis.”

We closed our prayer books after finishing the Lord’s Prayer and offering blessings to one another.

“That’s you,” Peter said a few moments after we finished.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Adonai.” He paused. “Well, it’s like ‘beloved.’ But it’s not male or female like the others.”

Abba, father. Amma, mother. Adonai.

He told me about the words for God–how the names the Hebrews had for God reflected God’s characteristics. El Shaddai–God’s nurturing and sustaining nature. Yahweh–God’s unchangeable, everlasting nature. Adonai–a loving bond.

“Yes,” Peter said, as I collected his prayer book from him and stacked on the bookshelf beside my chair. “Maybe the Hebrews had it right.”

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The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books on Leaving and Returning

 

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Photo Credit: © Mo Riza. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.

 

This summer has been for me a time of leaving and returning, going home and leaving homes behind. Much of my now year-plus journey has been an exploration of what “home” is–how to feel at home where you are, what it means to have multiple homes, how to process conflicting feelings about “home,” feelings of simultaneous belonging and unbelonging.

I’ve also been learning how “home” often consists so much more of the feeling I get with certain people than it does with any particular place. Yet, at the same time, I know there are distinct places that resonate with me, places where I feel in step with the world somehow, sometimes for unknown reasons. And then there are homes I’ve left behind, thinking they weren’t mine, and upon returning, I have been surprised to find that “homeness” intact, and I have been left thinking, Yes, this is my place.

My reading list over the last few months has, without intention, reflected many of these ruminations and complications. And in some ways, the ways I found these books reflect my own wandering: I picked up two of them after hearing the authors speak at the Adelaide Writers’ Week in Australia last spring. Another I’d intended to read for a long time, but this summer I found it on the shelf of an English professor friend who I was housesitting for in South Carolina. Another was left for me in the car I borrowed from a dear friend in South Carolina this summer when she moved back to South Korea. Still another, I simply stumbled across.

These are stories of returning to homes and seeing them in new lights, of being exiled from the people and places we call home, of having a home but not feeling at home in it, and stories of having your home destroyed and changed by forces beyond your control–and making due as you can. I hope these books might give you glimpses into other worlds and perhaps help you along your own journeys to and from home. Continue reading “The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books on Leaving and Returning”

Everything I Don’t Remember: Myanmar, Mohinga, and Memory Boxes

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. –Rumi

I shake out the handful of journals that are stuffed into a sack in the top of my backpack. They tumble onto the bed at the Airbnb where I’m staying in Bali. I shuffle through the journals and notebooks, trying to remember which covers go with what countries.

It is April. I’ve been on the road for almost a year.

I flip through them and find entries from Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal. The journal closes with a single entry from my time in Yangon, Myanmar, the country I visited after Nepal, but it is only a couple pages.

I grab the journal I think comes next, sure it will hold more entries documenting my experiences there. But when I feel its fabric cover under my fingers, I remember—I bought this one in Vietnam, the country I went to after Myanmar, one sunny morning as I wandered the zigzagging streets near Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

I shake my head and look at the leather- and fabric-bound covers strewn across the bedspread. This can’t be right, I think.

I drag out other notebooks—ones where I write drafts and jot down ideas. They’re not organized like my journals, which are chronological even if they are stream-of-consciousness. There must be a scrap, I think. There must be something more.

I flip through the pages, searching. Continue reading “Everything I Don’t Remember: Myanmar, Mohinga, and Memory Boxes”

What’s in the Bag?: Everything I Packed for My Year of Travel

I spent a long time last year trying to figure out what to pack after I decided to go on a yearlong journey around the world. There’s already a lot of advice out there, and while that’s great, the more I read, the more confused I got.

As with anyone who takes a trip like this, what goes in your pack and what gets left out is an ongoing process. I overpacked to start with, but within a few months, my pack was down to a better fighting weight, and I’ve been rolling with the same svelte existence since.

So, here’s what’s in my bag as almost 12 months in—along with some tips and tricks I learned along the way. Continue reading “What’s in the Bag?: Everything I Packed for My Year of Travel”

10 Most Useful Things I Packed for My ‘Round-the-World Journey and a Few I Wish I Had

Not all packing lists are created equal, and there will always be things you wish you’d brought and others you wish you’d left behind. And some things you won’t even know you need until you’re on the road.

So here are the 10 most useful things that I brought with me on my ‘round-the-world journey, and a few I’d wish I’d thought of before I left. Continue reading “10 Most Useful Things I Packed for My ‘Round-the-World Journey and a Few I Wish I Had”