So I have been studying away from home for 5 years.
After one year in Amurika, I came back to Hanoi with a strange feeling: when I’m overseas I often tell my friends about Hanoi, about Vietnam as where I came from. Now that I’m back, I suddenly feel a certain detachment with the place. I was walking on the familiar, crowded-since-5am Dai La street feeling amused: “Hey, this is actually where I am from!” How on earth can that be? This time last week I was biking along the famous Charles River, pondering upon its beauty and how amazing it was for this random Hanoi kid to be there. Ha! Am I becoming more attached to the nicer things in life? It’s suprising how much more I think I need now : more tolerable weather, quieter environment and more sunny workspace – the latter as an inevitable consequence of a tropical boy coming to the dreadful Boston’s infamous gray winter. In the past I would just bear with it: 5 years ago I didn’t even have my own table to study because I didn’t think it was necessary. Now that I’m significantly richer (relative to when I was 15) in terms of finance, experiences and opportunities, I feel that I need a lot more.
One of the weird dilemmas that I shared with some of my friends, professors and most recently the Philosophy club was whether I should give my mom a smartphone. Why? I was afraid it would spoil her, like it did spoil me. Living without that piece of technology would feel so strange now, but how did that change of mind happen? 5 years ago I would not bother to get one because “who cares about contacting me?” Now give me a black and white Nokia phone that can only call and text and I will feel like sitting on fire. If the US economy, well-known for its consumerism, is fraught with overthinking jerks like me it would have already collapsed.
I’m still trying to justify a decision I haven’t even made: should I want more and then fulfill those ever expanding desires by getting richer? Right now the answer is “Depends. Better be more careful with what you want first”.
Sometimes a patriotic thought surged in my head: “Khuyen, this is your country. These are your fellow people. Can you pursue your own happy life elsewhere ignoring the place that has shaped you so much?” Really? Do I still feel such a strong connection with this place any more? I recalled a conversation with my mentor when he brought me to a fancy place in New York. He said to me “I’m showing you this place and the kind of life that you would have there. It’s your choice.” It stuck with me since then and changed the way I approach new experiences. Whenever I go to a new place or learn about someone’s life, I ask myself: Is this the kind of life I want to lead? One thing I know for sure though: I’m already way luckier than many other people who don’t allow themselves to know that they always have a choice. I can choose, and I’d better choose it well.
One of my greatest fears is the feeling of unrootedness. What good does it do to me if I wake up one day in the most beautiful house with everything I think I want, yet feeling like a man stranded on an island, without any sense of belonging? The process of losing touch with one’s secure base can be so insidiously gradual that we can hardly notice. It’s so easy to keep chasing the seemingly nicer thing in life – that American dream – and dismiss my background. After all, what’s wrong with doing that?
I devised a test to see how unrooted I am. It says: “Bring a friend to your house and tell him or her how it has shaped you”. It’s a good exercise, because it forces me to think hard about my background – something so easily ignored (and even intentionally dismissed if one is not happy about it). If I am still excited about doing so then I’m good.
So far the result has been positive. 😀
P/s: Motivating myself to write is hard, especially in this scorching & super humid weather (you see how spoiled I am now?). But I’m reminded by Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk again. I just have to write because it is a part of me. It is how I engage into a good conversation with this guy and learn from him.
Never trust your future self Khuyen. Think that you will be exercising tomorrow huh? You won’t…
p/s 2: My mom eventually used a smartphone because it allowed us to call for free through Wifi. She’s enjoying its functionality, but I’m still skeptical if it has improved her overall well-being.