Tạm biệt (Good-bye) Việtnam…Hello USA!

(Final days in Halong Bay with dear friends)

After 2.5 years of living/working in Vietnam, the time has finally come for me to depart this amazing country and to prepare for my new life in South Africa. One of the down sides of leading an ex-pat lifestyle is the inevitable moment when one must say good-bye.

(Our Eco-Friendly Junk Boat)

(Friends at the Fish Farm)

Needless to say, my final days were fraught with one going away gathering after another, as an unusual number of friends departed Hanoi around the same time. I was an emotional mess saying good-bye to dear friends and colleagues; and was completely overwhelmed wrapping up my job, submitting all the paperwork for my new position, packing up my house and dealing with all the logistical nightmares of trying to ship Chico to Pretoria!

(Beautiful scenery)

(Fish Farm)

But in between the stress of my job and my move, I was able to fully embrace my final days – spending quality time with friends, traveling one last time to Halong Bay, and walking around Hanoi with a newfound appreciation of all its chaos and charm!

(Strolling around Old Quarter)

(Love all the ‘Reds’)

I even had our receptionist at Skyline Towers (my apartment complex) write a letter in Vietnamese explaining that I was departing Vietnam and expressing my gratitude to all my “Vietnamese Friends” that I had made around Truc Bach Lake.

(Am going to miss all the street food)

(Painting advertisements on benches @ Hoan Kiem Lake)


I’ve grown quite accustomed to my morning ritual of walking Chico around the lake. After 2.5 years, you begin to recognize all the familiar faces in the neighborhood; and likewise, all my neighbors recognized me (and Chico) and enthusiastically greeted us with a “Xin chào”, along with a beaming smile as our paths crossed!

(Cooking on the streets)

(Going Away Gatherings – Thanks, Pamela, for hosting!)

I wanted to let these same people know how much I appreciated their kindness and that I was leaving Vietnam to move back home!

(Good-bye Vladanka!)

(Good-bye Mary)

Despite that awkward moment when I shoved a piece of paper in their face, they appeared genuinely grateful for this little tidbit of information. Granted, it made me somewhat embarrassed that I never took the time to learn their language. These same people consistently reached out to me, always attempting to ask questions – in which I could only respond with a blank stare followed by the famous phrase, Xin lỗi – which means, sorry….I don’t speak Vietnamese! Oh well…one can only accomplish so much in a day – but in my defense, Vietnamese is an extremely difficult language!

With Keith, David, Brian and David Murray!
(My final night at Sofitel)

(I miss you, David!)

(Sad to say good-bye)

I’m truly going to miss living in Vietnam, where travel within the country as well as the region was both affordable and accessible. I always marveled over the ease in which we could hop on a plane on any long holiday weekend and fly to amazing destinations: Siem Reap, Cambodia (a mere 45 minute flight from Hanoi) to check out Angkor Wat; the peaceful town of Luang Prabang, Laos – the ultimate escape from the chaos of Hanoi; or the bustling city of Bangkok simply to eat Thai food!

(Chris, Margie and Kyle)

(Matthew, Eamonn, Fabio)

And let’s not forget my favorite destination in all of Vietnam – Hoi An! My wardrobe alone has certainly benefitted from my time in Asia. I am sporting some seriously stunning silk dresses!

(My last walk around the lake – saying good-bye)

The homeless man across the street!
(My favorite homeless man who lived in the park across the street!)

Flowers for Sale
(Where I purchased flowers – also across the street from Skyline)

(Typical hustle and bustle while walking around the lake)

And I’m truly going to miss my life in Hanoi, especially David, my friends and my neighborhood! Alas, this is a small world…I know I will remain in touch with my friends; and who knows – I may return to Vietnam one day – if not for work, than definitely as a tourist!

(My mom flew to Austin to meet me when I first arrived)

(Walking around Town Lake)

In short, I feel quite fortunate having had the opportunity to explore so many countries throughout South East Asia. I’ve left Vietnam with countless fond memories of exotic adventures, delicious cuisines, and fascinating cultures!

(With my dear friend, Eric @ Hula Hut)

(It’s so nice catching up with old friends – Matt & Brandy)

(Nothing screams ‘Texas’ more than a Dwight Yoakam concert at ACL’s Moody Theater! Thanks, Everett!)

I’m now back in the states and relishing every single moment! Surprisingly, I’ve experienced very little culture shock (in the true sense of the word). Unlike my re-entry into the states from Malawi, where I broke down in uncontrollable sobs when I entered the grocery store (the sheer abundance, wealth, and waste was too much to bear), I’ve had no problems parading around Whole Foods, walking around in shopping centers, and striking up conversations with anyone and everyone!

(Who could possibly resist the temptation of the World’s Largest Gift Store?)

(Chico’s first road trip – totally chilling out)

Although I’m noticing all sorts of inanities! I literally laughed out loud when I entered one of the public restrooms…everything was automated so your hands never touched ANYTHING. The toilets automatically flushed, water magically appeared out of the faucet, and paper towels materialized just by waving your hands in front of the dispenser! Voila!

(My 98-year old Gram – who is convinced that she’s 100)

(A brief visit with my cousins/aunts/uncles)

(Megan and Adam)

And this certainly doesn’t come as a surprise, but I had forgotten just how ridiculously ENORMOUS the portions of food are. Each meal could serve a small family! Alas, I’m slowly but surely stretching out that stomach of mine and am having no problems polishing off a huge plate of Chuy’s Chicken Enchiladas and Chile Rellenos! Man, it’s great to be back in the land of Tex-Mex! My favorite…

(Alex and Seana)

(I love you, Susan!)

(Two of my dearest friends – Tavish and Camille)

(More friends from SME)

I’m also blown away by all the conveniences in our lives here in the states! After not having access to my own transportation the last 2.5 years, I’m marveling over my newfound sense of freedom simply by being able to drive! I no longer will take my set of wheels for granted!

(Sarah and Paul – friends from High School and KU)

(Class of ’86)

(So fun reconnecting)

Although I’m certainly making up for lost time! I’ve spent the majority of my ‘home leave’ driving from city to city and state to state!

(David with some of his closest friends from SME)

(Again, at the actual reunion)

Talk about a dichotomy! What a transformation from driving amidst the chaotic streets of Hanoi to cruising along the wide-open highways of the Mid-West.

(Brian, Robin, Jim and John)

I found myself in a trance-like state while driving for endless hours on I-35. I set cruise control on 80 mph (when did they raise the speed limit to 75mph?!?) and went into autopilot mode – allowing myself to take in the scenic views and to reflect on my life.
(Beautiful ladies…)

Again, my mind drifted to Vietnam…and to our USAID drivers (who shuttled us to and from work daily). I always said that they had the most difficult job in Vietnam! There’s no such thing as autopilot in Hanoi – as the chaos is never-ending. One needs to be ‘ON’ at all times. Just another thing we take for granted in the states – rules of the road!

(Heather and John)

(Loved catching up with old friends)

David and I just drove from Austin, TX to St. Louis, MO to see my Grandmother /Aunts/Uncles/Cousins/etc., and to Kansas City to attend our 25th High School Reunion!

(Sydney and Nicole Pener – more twins in our graduating class)

Our first stop in St. Louis was to see Gram! At 98 (or 100 if you ask her), she’s beginning to show signs of deterioration. I know it’s inevitable – and that she’s had a remarkable life – but it was still shocking to see her in such a state. I want to remember her as the vibrant, vivacious woman full of life that helped raise me from when I was a baby girl! I love and admire her dearly!

(Steve Burk)

We also met up with my Aunt Jody and Uncle Harvey, along with several of my cousins. Time goes by quickly, and nothing serves as a reminder faster than seeing how much children have grown over the years. I barely recognized Brian, Bradley, Megan and Adam – who have changed from tiny little kids to young adults! Despite the brevity of our visit, I’m still thrilled that I was able to see everyone and to give each of those kids a big hug.

(Jim and his ladies)

Next, we drove to Kansas City to reunite with my mom and Steve and to attend our 25th High School Reunion from Shawnee Mission East.

(Heather and Robin)

I can’t tell you how much I had been looking forward to this reunion, especially since I missed our 20th as I was in Malawi and couldn’t get away. Although Facebook has definitely altered the ‘surprise factor’ of reunions as I’ve already reconnected with so many high school friends, know what they look like, whether or not they have children and I have a good idea of what they’ve been up to. Yet, nothing can substitute face-to-face communication!

(Kelley, Jim, Christy and Ann)

(More friends from SME)

It was a busy weekend, with happy hour events on Friday night at Brooksider Bar and Grill, followed by the actual reunion on Saturday night at The Well, and finally, a potluck brunch at my parent’s house on Sunday.

(My roommate from college! Thanks, Gretchen, for driving all the way from Chicago just to see me….I love and miss you!!!)

(Childhood friends)

I absolutely loved seeing all those familiar faces from good old Prairie Village, KS that, in my mind, are still 17 years old. It made me realize just how much I miss my friends that I grew up with – the same people that can reference our 3rd grade teacher at Trailwood Elementary (Mrs. Unruh); reminisce about the time SME ended up on the front pages of USA Today when our “Peace” banner accidentally reflected a Mercedes Benz logo, and laugh about all the stupid things we did in Junior High and High School (of which there are many).

(Kristen and her mom, Sherri)

(Chica and her family)

And I was able to reconnect with my old neighbors, Kristen and Sherri. Kristen and I have known each other since we were two years old! Talk about long-lasting ties and friendships! We grew up playing ‘kick-the-can’ and ‘hide-and-seek’ in our neighborhood, rode around on our Big Wheels, went trick-or-treating together, and even spent summers at the Lake of the Ozarks with Kristen and Kathy’s Grandparents (that’s where we learned how to water ski).

(David, Eileen and Kevin)

(Kevin Karpin and his boys)

Sherri always had an open door policy….and David and I were no fools…we practically lived at their house. After all, they had CABLE TV and access to amazing junk food that my mom would never buy – i.e., Pringles, Twinkies, Hostess Cup Cakes, you name it! That house was heavenly!

(Happiest Dog Ever….Chico’s first trip to the beach)

(Go Chico….)

Reconnecting with all my old friends also made me realize how much I love Kansas City…it’s truly a beautiful city with so much to offer!

(Freedom at last)

Oh my, what a happy dog!
(Pure Joy)

The only down side of a large reunion is reconnecting with too many people all at once, leaving little to no time to have any meaningful conversations. Everything felt so rushed…as soon as you started a dialogue, another person would interrupt to say hello!

(Padre’s 75th Birthday)

My lifestyle is so vastly different from so many in my graduating class, yet a part of me felt incredibly envious that they had maintained these lifelong friendships, had beautiful families, and roots that ran deep! I guess it’s all too common to suffer from the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome.

(Padre’s 75th and Pepi’s 70th Birthdays)

But at the end of the day, I’m just thrilled that everyone seemed happy and content! And, we are aging beautifully, if I do say so myself!

(Padre, Aunt Jody, David, Siham and me)

(Aunt Jody and Uncle Harvey)

I sadly left Kansas City and ventured back to Austin with little Chico in tow. That dog is having the time of his life. In fact, we just went to Houston last weekend to celebrate my Dad’s 75th birthday! During the day, we headed to Galveston – Chico’s first trip to the beach! I’ve never seen him so insanely happy….running wild on the sand, swimming in the ocean, fetching tennis balls, and chasing after seagulls! That dog is far from Hanoi…he’s never experienced so much freedom….nor socialized with so many dogs!

(So great to see Nell, too)

(David and Siham)

I’m now gearing up for my return to Treasure Beach, Jamaica – my other home away from home. It’s been almost twenty years since I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in this small, fishing village; yet, I try to return every year! I can’t wait to see my ‘other Mom’, Miss Ruby; and ‘my kids’, Troy, Andy and Trudy Ann! My trip also coincides with Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence…so lots of celebrations all around!

(Make a wish…)

(Amy and Siham)

My days in Austin are going quickly – and I’ve barely had time to catch up with friends! Perhaps we’ll have to plan another happy hour or party of sorts….will keep you posted.

I’m flying to South Africa on August 20th. As always, once I get settled you are invited to visit.

Sending much love,

2 comments to Tạm biệt (Good-bye) Việtnam…Hello USA!

  • Just when I thought I’d seen some great blogs I discover yours, the best ever, unbelievable.

  • Valli Sanstrom

    I got the link to your blog from the PC newsletter and really enjoyed the Jamaican posts about Treasure Beach. That place holds a special place in my heart as well. I fell in love with the Jamicans and Jamaica during visits in 2006. 2007 and 2008. Most of my time was spent in the Negril area. I miss my friends. My dteam PC placement was in Jamaica but alas I’m in the Philippines where I am happy to work in Coastal Resource Management. You can follow my PC experiences at http://www.vallisanstrom. blogspot.com Blessing to you. Valli

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