Life and adventures from a high school perspective
An avid cyclist, rock climber, and all around adventurer, Francis Davis is taking to the internet to share his stories of cycling, climbing, and adventuring.
Today was a big day. Starting with breakfast, a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mosoleum and living area, the Hanoi Hilton prison where John McCain was notably held, the Confucian literary temple, an interview with a prolific North Vietnamese veteran and author, and an exploration in a night market spent eating greasy donuts and haggling for ludicrously cheap wares. I’d love to write about each of these in more depth, but for now, I’d like to share a more overarching reflection.
Hanoi is truly magical. It seems that the city possesses a liveliness greater than the sum of its parts. That was evident to me walking through today. The traffic is truly like nothing I’ve ever seen. Cyclists, pedestrians, motorbikes, and cars surge onto the road, operating on a vague level of teamwork and respect. There are no traffic laws,no speed limit, no crosswalks, and few lights. And yet everything seems to mesh together into one cohesive unit, the blood in a circulatory system that moves the people and the goods throughout the body. The streets are filled with life. Throngs of people moving about their daily lives. Sitting on scooters, smoking, conversing, making and eating food, waving. The sounds and smells are immense. I feel like I am in a place that is unfiltered and authentic. This city does not have anything to prove to anybody. The result is spectacular. Cigarette smoke, food aromas, and engine exhaust mix to form into something truly unique, the essence of Hanoi. The air is abuzz with laughter, discussion, foot movement, the varying sounds of scooters whizzing by, and invariably, the horns of motorists. Hanoi is alive. I am alive.
I feel alive in this place. Darting across the street is an endeavor in and of itself. Check both ways takes on a new meaning as you scan both directions for mostly scooters coming from all sides and at all speeds towards you. Then there is the odd car, pushing everything in its path out of the way. The crossing pedestrian must be aware of these hurtling metal machines. And yet, there is a sense of vigor to it. In the US we wait for the LED man to come on to tell us we can walk between painted lines towards the other side. Here, your life is in your own hands. The sentiment is the same in the night market. Wading through masses of people, competing voices break the auditory haze. There is no order, or at least that is not how it appears. The citizens mix on the streets, dodging trash piles and discarded food. Somehow, the experience is not cheapened by this. It is the stark difference from the U.S. that makes Hanoi so magical. Finally I go to bed thinking what tomorrow will bring, what I can ponder, learn, and realize about the benefits of the unfamiliar. All in the streets of Hanoi. Of course, some favorite pictures from the day below.
We are currently 1:05 minutes away from landing in Taipei. I’m already tired, my only salvation being the copious amounts of weak and milky coffee on the airplane. We’ve been traveling for exactly 23 hours. It seems already so far away that thirteen other students and I set off from Hawken in a charter bus towards Toronto, bright-eyed. I gaze across the cabin now looking at these same people, eyes now weary and fatigued. It‘s a 16 hour plane ride from Toronto to Taipei, followed by a 4 hour layover and finally a 2 hour flight into the northern Vietnamese city of Hanoi. The traveling is long but I am certain worthwhile. It keeps me going right now, imagining the beauty of Vietnam. Right now I am envisioning my first bowl of pho on the ground in Vietnam, the luscious steam enveloping my senses and the warm broth inviting me in for more. But right now it’s back to the drudgery of the airplane. It’s honestly not awful. The plane is awesomely large. There have been three meals, orange and apple juice, tea, coffee, and aromatherapy mists in the restrooms. It is not these creature comforts that will be memorable on this trip, but it’s worthwhile to mention it in the interim.
I’m more excited about being without the creature comforts, without the control that I am so accustomed to. Being lost in a busy Vietnamese market, unable to communicate and hungry, but being OK. Perhaps that is what I’m most looking forward to, developing my resilience to the unfamiliar situation. I predict that this will be Vietnam’s greatest gift. Besides that, I am enthusiastic about immersion in a new culture with different customs, ways of living, food, and societal structure. As well as Facebook, I will try to provide updates here periodically, with pictures, of course.
The rain fell mildly outside the sports building, an omen for the day. Inside a group of French and American students huddled, mentally postponing the reality of departure. We laughed, hugged, and some of us cried. This moment marked the end of a one week exchange program with students from Lille, France. I hosted Mathias, my new best friend, a gentleman. He truly was a social chameleon. His English was fantastic, and that improved the entire experience. And oh what a good week it was.
The most partying I've done in one weekend: costume parties, gatherings large and small, ice skating, etc... We even went jet skiing on Lake Erie with wet suits. It was 45 degrees, raining, and overcast. I have to put this memory to writing to remember. Maybe there's some embellishment, but adrenaline does that: Mathias drove first and I, holding on in the back for dear life had some of the most fun I've ever had. The experience was underpinned by the extreme desire not to tumble into the icy drink. With that in mind, Mathias punched the throttle at the bottom of a wave, shooting off of the top. I heard the engine rev up while we were in the air, then the jet ski crashed back into the chop. I was laughing hysterically, and we did it again.
It is experiences like this that will serve as bookmarks for the short week that 20 students from the Marcq Institute spent in Cleveland. And yet I find that the experience was more than the sum of the parts. The beauty of a cultural exchange, however short, is inimitable, the bonds formed between American and French students irreversible. It is these emotions that clouded, or perhaps cleared, the departure this morning. Fondly I said goodbye to my new best friends, recalling fondly all of the fun that we had together. Au revoir les enfants.
It's been a blur so far. It feels not so long ago that the school year was back upon us, and it even feels not much longer ago than that I was biking back from Maine. But as I settle back into the rhythmic life, the leaves again falling, I realize that I can enjoy being back in "the grind", or as I dubbed it in a previous post, the "return to regularity". If nothing else, I'm trying to appreciate the little things. As a lot of my day to day activities again become very rigid, it is the small irregularities that add verve. Taking a little bit of extra time to enjoy the morning coffee on the weekends.
There are the bigger things. This morning I got to skip school. Instead, I drove to Conneaut with a few of my Outdoor Leadership companions to surprise a group of school faculty on a with a first aid scenario. I had a compound fracture on my right forearm. It gave me great pleasure to yell at my former 9th grade Humanities teacher that "MY ARM HURTS I NEED YOU TO FIX IT NOW". How's that for a Friday morning?
Then there are the big things. I'm thrilled that Aunt Kim is coming to visit all of us in NE Ohio in a couple of weeks. The last time I saw her was about 1.5 years ago when she took me on the Grand Tour of California. Of the family, I actually can boast that I have seen her the most recently. For the others, it's been years. It should be fun!
Then there are great things: upcoming adventures! In three weeks I'll be heading out for a backpacking trip with Outdoor Leadership to Pennsylvania. That should be a good time. But the real event will be in December. Details are starting to be finalized for my school trip to Vietnam. I'm incredibly excited. For three weeks I will be traveling with 14 of my classmates on a grand immersion of the country. To prepare we have a semester class looking at the Vietnam War, Vietnamese culture, and the society before and after America's war involvement.
The only other fun project now is the drift trike. Another fun "from scratch" build. This project is fun in particular because I am noticing my technical improvement from the go kart. Everything is at least a little bit better. Working with my hands always provides a tonic from the weight of the world. I'll end with that.