Day 199: Wise Words and Simple Truth
“The legendary Seattle rain. It was a thin gray rain; hard and fast and cold. In it, we had to walk four blocks from the Public Safety Building to the Zillers’ Jeep – we were at its mercy. As was my custom in such elements I hunkered against the rain, drew my head into my collar, turned my eyes to the street, tensed my footsteps and proceeded in misery. But my hosts, I soon noticed, reacted in quite another way. They strolled calmly and smoothly, their bodies perfectly relaxed. They did not hunch away from the rain but rather glided through it. They directed their faces to it and did not flinch as it drummed their cheeks. They almost reveled in it. Somehow, I found this significant. The Zillers accepted the rain. They were not at odds with it, they did not deny it or combat it; they accepted it and went with it in harmony and ease. I tried it myself. I relaxed my neck and shoulders and turned my gaze into the wet. I let it do to me what it would. Of course, it was not trying to do anything to me. What a silly notion. It was simply falling as rain should, and I a man, another phenomenon of nature, was sharing space in which it fell. It was much better regarding it that way. I got no wetter than I would have otherwise, and if I did not actually enjoy the wetting, at least I was free of my tension. I could even smile.”
- Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction
The reason for reading this book was to arrive here, at this quote.
I've always allowed uncomfortable weather conditions rain on my parade, out of habit more so than choice. I somehow forget there is choice to choose. I just do what I've always done, indulging and dwelling in the sorry state of feeling wet, cold and miserable. Promise this isn't all emo.
Having noticed this habit of mine more often than necessary, Wylie recommended the book to me, pointing out the countless lessons and wise words it holds - and this particular quote gave me exactly what I've been looking to understand. A jolt of practical wisdom-poetry to accept, not resist that which is, whether rain or otherwise.
I don't think it's any coincidence that I'm writing this on a rainy morning in Cat Ba, a cluster of islands just off the coast of Northern Vietnam. I almost decided to forgo putting words down at all this week, and then woke up with post-rock climbing body (feel like I've been bulldozed in combo with strangely familiar Delhi belly symptoms) with a desire to process the quote as it relates to other happenings of this week. Rain was a good omen.
Unlike India and Bali, we knew coming in to Vietnam would be different - with 30 days on the visa and no intention to extend it. Slow travel would take a backseat for a while. While tons of young backpackers opt to buy motorbikes to tour the country from one end to another, the idea of lugging around heavy weight while navigating the Wild West of Vietnam's aggressive streets, did not appeal to me even for a little. Well, maybe a bit. Thus, the plan to move around by bus took shape and turned out much better than expected, what with the double decker style reclined seat set up. It wasn't until our weekend trip to the province southwest of Hanoi that I began feeling the physical and mental duress of travel hit with full force. We had the luxury of leaving our big monster bags at Tu Linh Palace in Hanoi and pack small bags for the mini trip (similar to what we did when motor biking around Bali). This trip looked a little something like:
/Bus to temple (motion sickness kicks in hard; plus I think I'm officially temple-Ed out in Vietnam)
/Temple to hotel for lunch (subpar buffet)
/Boat ride through karst mountains and 3 caves
/Bike ride through karst countryside filled with wiles goats and pigs
/Free time and hangs
/(No communication about logistics for day 2, which we realized right before lights out)
/Slept through 2 alarms
/1.5 hours late for tour
/1 hour bus ride to Cuc Phuong, Vietnam's oldest national park
/Tour through Endangered Primate Rescue Center and Turtle Conservation Center **highlight**
/Back on bus to old growth tree while driving through a colony of white butterflies
/Mosquito-infested jungle hike to see 600 year old tree (to think the Vietnam war was fought in such mosquito filled geography pains me)
/Another hike to see a towering 70m historic tree
/Bus ride to lunch after being turned away from 2 spots in the park (crowds were huge)
/Bus ride to our hotel to join up with another bigger bus
/Bigger bus ride back to Hanoi
Can you see the theme of BUS here?? I'm well aware this may have been the most touristy thing we did to date since the trip started. Bus travel fatigue syndrome (coined by me today) is far from fun and while parts of the trip WERE fun - by that, I mean hanging with Wylie and his friend John who flew in from Tokyo just to hang, not to mention our langur and gibbon friends at the rescue centre - I would probably think twice before replicating this again. Maybe recreate the experience with some DIY/motorbike gusto.
"Of course, it was not trying to do anything to me. What a silly notion."
Now that we're settled in the more chilled out bay town of Cat Ba, I can reflect on this past week with greater ease, especially with Tom Robbins' wisdom by my side. Accepting all parts of travel - the good, the bad, the overly touristy are just opportunities to practice just that: acceptance. And while I regret nothing, I am joyfully coming to terms with tapping into the stuff that will only help bring me closer to the unconditionality of,