The Hanoi Slump

Well, we haven’t posted in a while. A couple of our friends have even asked us about the next post, so let me first apologize for our absence. This post will be related to the lack of motivation we have had lately with the blog, show what we have been doing to recharge, and hopefully mark the end of this depleted feeling.

Depression is something that affects a lot of people, perhaps regularly, yet in a normal social media feed it would seem very rare. The filter through which we share our lives only let’s through the fun, smiles and joy. Even on days where we’d rather not interact with others we might post a picture of a forced smile. This filter exists for reasons that are both societal and individual. “Everyone else looks happy, so I should, too.” “I’d rather keep these thoughts to myself or in private with someone closer than the general public.” The filter has, of course, extended to this blog. I have had some great experiences and the ones that have been shared should not be met with skepticism. However, after our friends left and the “vacation” part of our trip was over, I felt unhappy. I didn’t even know why. It felt like there was a lot of pressure to be happy because I am on a “trip of a lifetime.” One that many are not even able to consider. The pressure made it much worse.

I was feeling as though I had no direction. With no direction I had no path to success. This was compounded with the fact that I was unfamiliar to the area and even something as simple as ordering food would be met with some discomfort. At the beginning of our trip we had goals, destinations and a timeframe, an itinerary. I had some things to expect, which added comfort, but also, with a path set before me, I had a metric on which to measure my success. In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson writes about choosing your values, but also, crucially, the metrics you use to measure yourself against those values. To anyone in the same situation of feeling lost in a foreign country, I’d suggest finding something that you can use as your metric. For me lately it has been preparing for a job in software development. Taking courses on Coursera and contributing to open source projects have helped me feel more grounded and proud that I am working towards something. Travelling can be liberating and imprisoning for the same reasons. You are in charge of what you explore, eat and do, often without the help of normal comforts of reliable information or Google maps. The fact that you are in charge means you need to make sure you have fun while also working toward your goals.

Christina and I didn’t exactly know what we wanted out of this trip. It was a combination of exploring the world, ourselves, and lighting a fire under our asses to buckle down. We thought throwing ourselves in a different environment would help us realize what we want to do, how to spend our time on earth, while also having a lot of fun. I think the trip has succeeded in forcing us to find something to do with our time. It’s just not always fun, which is an unreasonable expectation. It is especially not fun when we forget to put effort into making the fun happen. That’s why on Friday we decided to take a break from our normal café-and-work-on-computer-science-coursework routine.

We are happy to be out the routine for a day!

We started off by going to the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum because Christina had expressed interest in it. Starting on the ground floor, the museum chronologically begins with ancient art from the 1st century BC. At first, we thought this ancient exhibit is all they had, but we were directed to the next floor of galleries and found that the entire museum was organized in this chronological fashion. I like when there is a clear path in a museum for the same reasons I like having direction in my life. There is a sense of progression and less thinking about all your choices. We followed the museum’s path through all the lacquer and depictions of Uncle Hồ on display. The museum ended with my favorite exhibit, contemporary art. Most of the contemporary pieces were more relatable than the other art on display and touched on issues that I have noticed during my stay here, such as the pollution. I’d highly recommend a visit to this museum for any art lover that finds herself in Hanoi.

There was a lot of Buddhist art at the Fine Arts Museum.

Then, since we have been feeling a little homesick we decided to go to an American craft brewery. Yes, they have these in Vietnam. Pasteur Street Brewery, based in Saigon, was started by two Americans that wanted to mix craft brewing with fresh Vietnamese ingredients. It turned out this is a pretty good mix. Christina enjoyed her Spice Island Saison and I liked the Jasmine IPA. The beer satisfied our thirst for drinking like we were back home, but the food was a little lacking. It was still a very pleasant change from our normal routine, which I’m glad we were able to break up with a day to ourselves.

Cheers to a sunny day (and relatively low AQI)!

Another activity that we enjoy back home is playing board games. That’s why our next stop was The Nest Board Game Café. We ended up spending hours here playing multiple rounds of Splendor which has become our favorite game recently. Sitting outside we were able to enjoy the last bit of sun of a day that was not the usual dreary clouds full of pollution. Of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without milk tea and the best company.

Milk tea, Splendor and sunshine!

Once it got dark we planned a short jaunt to our last destination for the night. We walked by Hoàn Kiếm Lake through what ended up being a lively scene. The road closed to vehicle traffic and pedestrians were able to spread out throughout the entire expanse of pavement. There were a lot of people playing jianzi, which is basically hacky sack with a shuttlecock, and others making music with bamboo, singing and dancing. It was the perfect temperature for roaming by the lake, it felt like summer night from home but in January.

To end the night, we went to a pizza place, but not just any pizza place. It was probably the fanciest pizzeria I’ve been to. Pizza 4P’s was certainly expensive by our normal $2-a-meal-Vietnamese standards, but it made up for that. The sauceless pizza was full of fresh flavor. Christina has a new favorite pizza, and, believe it or not, it came from Vietnam. We never would have expected to have such a delicious pizza from a country this far east. Though it is certainly not traditional Vietnamese food, if you end up in Hanoi for at least a couple nights please give this your consideration. It’s that good.

Seriously good pizza in Hanoi!

As I’ve been reading in both Sapiens and Homo Deus, material wealth does not guarantee happiness. Humans have progressed a lot in terms of material gain, but have little to show on the happiness front. Homo Sapiens can now travel to the opposite side of the world in a day, but even when one is travelling and “supposed” to be having fun and enjoying himself, he can be unhappy. It’s important to remember that none of us have to be happy all the time and the pressure to stay happy makes it more difficult to achieve. Be in charge of your own emotions and realize there’s no pressure.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Patrick McMahon says:

    I really appreciate your hoesty with this post. Life of course has its ups and downs . The short times I’ve been alone in a none english speaking country have made me feel very isolated at times. I can only imagine how munch of a toll it can be with being away as long as you have.


    1. Sean says:

      I agree. It can be exciting coming to a foreign country like Vietnam, but being outside of your comfort zone for so long has it’s challenges. I’m glad you liked the post!


  2. Melissa says:

    Thanks for posting! ❤ Dude, I don't blame you. Traveling is exhausting. I think it's awesome that you guys have been studying so diligently, though. Hey, have you checked out any Meetups in the area? Might be a cool/cheap way to change up your routine, make new friends, explore the city, and maybe even network for your software development goals too, depending on what Meetups are available 🙂 Tremendous resource to me living in Beijing, even though I could only work a few into my weird work schedule~ And, speaking of Beijing, three cheers to low AQI!!!! XD


    1. Sean says:

      I didn’t address this in my post, so I’m glad you brought it up. We have definitely been lacking in the socialization department, but we haven’t had much luck finding stuff in Hanoi. I think also that we might be a little timid to put ourselves out there to strangers. It’s something we have in mind though. There are a lot of benefits to finding a Meetup, so we’ll put more effort into it. Thanks for the reminder!


  3. Gerard A Stamm says:

    What an impressive and self-revelatory essay, Sean! Thanks for sharing your feelings with those who love you. I see you struggling (as I have seen you struggle before) and I find your struggle a good one. You clearly see that life is not always fun. However, as Albert Camus is credited to have said: “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between the man and the life he leads.” You are currently developing the life you can harmonize with. It takes time and can’t be forced. Love…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sean says:

      We have spoken many times about my “struggle” and though it seems we always come to the same conclusion, it is still helpful to talk about. Even writing this post helped me come to a very similar realization than that Camus quote. I’ll continue to move towards harmony in my life, though I know there will be bumps along the way. Thanks for following my journey towards harmony! Love you


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