Cross-legged on my seat, my neck is sore. The airplane experiences little turbulence as we arrive at the midpoint of our return flight to Singapore and the air stewards are walking briskly up and down the aisles with trays in their hands. There is a strange longing feeling that comes upon me, one that excites me at the thought of seeing my parents, my brother and the familiar sights and sounds of the place I call home once again—I sometimes wonder if I will ever arrive at the day my family doesn’t await my return from a foreign land in the airport, the day where I am not greeted by the sight of them waving from behind the glass panel as I pick up my luggage. I don’t think I want that day to come. Ever.
While my memories from this trip remain fresher than they ever will be, I thought I’d write about how the trip went—what I saw, heard, experienced and how that made me feel. Earlier in the middle of this year, I had written about the people I went to Cambodia with and what the Cambodia International Understanding Trip was like for me. This time, on Vietnam.
This 6-day service trip with Youth Corps Singapore was one characterized by freedom. The spirit of the team: determination. 7 out of the complete team (of 8 members) embarked on this trip alongside 2 mentors who have given us the fullest of support from the beginning of our Youth Corps journey. In the company of my reliable teammates, all of whom are seniors I admire for different reasons, my first time in Vietnam has been filled with discovery. With teammates who have been regular travelers, I was in extremely good hands with regular ‘are you okay’s’ and in between working on our service project, free time became our exploration time—every one of us armed with our wallets and pullovers, sweaters, winter wear and each other; trodding shoulder to shoulder on the streets of Hanoi. Every decision was left to our own consensus: what to eat, where to go, what to do first and next, later or now, together or alone. I appreciate that freedom, which for me was extraordinary relative to any other overseas trip I have been on. In every try and ‘ok let’s just go!’, the tingle in me was fueled by excitement (possible only because of the security the company of my teammates gave me).
I don’t want to forget the sights and sounds from our walks through the city. The short buildings that made up their cityscape: every one of them, their paint fading from the constant showering with rainwater. The LED lights that outlined their signboards and KTV Lounges side by side, stretching limitlessly throughout the roads– you can’t help but wonder how they survive with such massive competition from one another. Amongst them, the cafes are countless: reminding me of Starbucks and the outlets various set ups, each cafe is out to entice with their frosted windows, warm lighting and hipster-font signboards. The roads, with piles of litter collected by the side every 300m, narrow thanks to the roadside ‘hawkers’ selling fried food, warm hotdogs, bananas, amongst other vegetables and edibles. Cool breeze greets our faces every step of the way accompanied by fumes, fighting to make you cough. Locals know this well, wearing colourful, decorated masks they scan our attire with their eyes and their quizzical looks tell you they’re trying to figure out where you’re from. You feel uncomfortable by the interrogative looks, but just for a millisecond before you know it, you’re distracted by honks from behind you, in front of you, left, right– they’re everywhere. More than cars, there are motorbikes (or ‘scooters’, they call it) that squeeze in between one another, as if they’re in some kind of race to get to wherever they’re going to first. The honks all sound different, some stop at one, others two, and the creative ones put a little rhythm to it. It is habit for me to think that honk was equivalent to an expression of anger, but in the space of Hanoi it seems to be otherwise– the honks are just a greeting.
As for the service experience, I wish I could express sufficiently the turning points, ups and downs that the Youth Corps Team has experienced and the support we have so fortunately received from our Vietnam Youth Leaders, with whom we worked closely. It is my first time working on an environmental project– one that requires the understanding and empathy toward the ecological impact of our actions, and the inspiration provided by those in the team who have had related experience was instrumental to my contribution. Our project was very much about habit change, about changing the mindsets of people such that an intrinsic force would hopefully drive them to commit to actions that would mend for the ecological debt of urbanisation. The challenge in that was introducing new concepts to possibly already existing ideas so that an action would become more than ‘encouraged’, but more of a responsibility experienced by one. Still trying to put together how I feel about the service aspect of this journey but for now, this is what I’d like to freshly imprint through a blogpost so as to immortalise these observations.
Plane’s landing, got to go.