Each time a milestone passes, it offers a brief but pointed reminder of our mortality and the all-too rapid passage of time. We had two this month: the ninth anniversary of the day we snuck out on an extended lunch break to get married in a Chicago courthouse and our son’s sixth birthday.
Posts tagged ‘thoughts’
The struggles we faced in Japan were very much on our minds in planning our Vietnam itinerary. The kids were hard to contain in Japan’s big cities, so we scheduled our Vietnam trip to focus on rural landscapes and natural exploration. We also got in touch with a colleague of S’s who is serving in Hanoi. Her kids are a little order than ours, but we figured having playmates might cushion the blow of landing in a new, unfamiliar country, so we arranged to spend our first weekend in Vietnam together in Pu Luong.
It is difficult to predict where one’s career in the Foreign Service might lead. Joining the State Department speaking Russian and Spanish, D hardly expected to spend two of his first three tours in Africa, for example. Similarly, S’s assignment to Manila was far from a no-brainer, as she had scant Asia experience before arriving in the Philippines last summer. It is entirely possible that the capricious nature of the bidding process may return us to Asia again, though given our languages and regional expertise in other parts of the world, we wouldn’t necessarily bet on it. At any rate, we’ve approached this tour as our one unique opportunity to see as much of the region as possible.
A few years ago, the NY Times ran an op-ed encouraging travelers to plan less, ostensibly to reduce stress. It stuck with us, not because we found the advice helpful but rather because we thought the piece thoroughly infuriating and completely out of touch, a flippant acknowledgment that “for most travelers, particularly those with families, such an extreme lack of planning seems impossible, even inadvisable” notwithstanding. We traveled like this during our backpacking days, but that was before grad school, marriage, kids, and careers. Once adult responsibilities entered the picture, such travel became out of reach. During his recent visit to Nepal, D found an opportunity to practice what the article preached. Whether arriving in country with only half of his work itinerary booked led to less stress is debatable, but D did manage to turn a potential bureaucratic nightmare into an enjoyable adventure.
Certain countries possess an undeniable mystique, holding sway over one’s imagination long before one has the opportunity to visit. For D, Nepal was high on this list, though his fascination had more to do with the country’s landscape than its reputed spirituality (as one travel guide puts it, “Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination: every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots…”). Ever since D got into mountain climbing during his Peace Corps days in Ecuador – and especially after reading a handful of mountaineering books – he had longed to see the Himalayas.
Since returning from Japan, we have visited Vietnam and Laos, and D has also traveled to Nepal for work. Those trips did nothing to dispel a notion that began forming in our minds as we made our way from Kyoto to the Japanese Alps and back, and which has solidified with our subsequent travels. Part of Japan’s mystique, and the reason we think Western travelers find the country at once alluring and bewildering, is that it feels uniquely foreign in a way that other foreign countries do not.
We’ve written several posts about D’s love of live music, and the dearth thereof at every post we’ve served, but the subject bears revisiting – not only because, as Nietzsche wrote, without music life would be a mistake, but also because Manila figures to be quite different from our previous tours in this respect.
The end of one year and the beginning of another tends to invite reflection. As Munchkin nears his sixth birthday and Junebug begins her second semester of preschool, we can’t help but marvel at how different our two kids are. Even as Junebug endeavors to follow in Munchkin’s every step, she has developed a personality so distinctly her own that oftentimes it feels that our kids are mirror twins, their characters polar opposites of each other.
We didn’t quite make it to midnight, seeing off the last few hours of the decade without fanfare at a transit hotel outside Noi Bai Airport. We did get an early start to 2020, however, rising before the sun for our return flight to Manila after splitting the last dozen days between Vietnam and Laos.