Sunday, June 18, 2017

Goodbye Saigon, Hello Flagstaff!

Happy Father's Day everyone!

I'm taking the opportunity of my first Father's Day to reflect back on the past six months of Mae. She was born last December and everyday since that one has been an introduction to fatherhood. Bryn and I are taking it all in pretty well, but really because Mae has spoiled us with (mostly) quiet nights and a warm friendliness that I can only attribute to Vietnam. We do our best to keep her happy, and she is doing the same. We feel incredibly fortunate to have fallen in so well with her. Of course, this probably means that she'll go through an especially horrific vampire stage in her early teens (or whatever the equivalent will be in 2030) but at least we'll have started off on a positive note, right?

Later today we're heading to the Grand Canyon, which is a pretty epic way to ring in my first Father's Day. Mae and I have been practicing looking out pensively over wide expanses from our balcony in Saigon. I think she's about got it down now, but the Grand Canyon will require more pensiveness from her than she may be ready for. We'll see how it goes. I'll definitely provide updates.

Mae practicing for the Grand Canyon in Saigon back in April
We left Saigon for good this past week, saying goodbye to all of the friends that made our first post so amazing. As we were flying back, I recounted how I was not all that excited to be going back to Vietnam in February. We were still interpreting Mae's operating instructions and had quickly adjusted back to life in Austin. Why uproot all of that and fly 24 hours across the Pacific Ocean just to finish out the four months left on our tour? It seemed masochistic. Maybe it was, a bit, but it's amazing how significant four months can be. During that time, Mae went from a cute but minimally interactive newborn to a playful little rugrat. Four years after our initial trip to Vietnam, I was able to convince Bryn to go back to Hue for a weekend; we saw firsthand how the common trait of having an infant can seal bonds of friendship faster than I ever thought possible. Mae became best friends with our nanny, Thuy, who loved her as much as we do but had the baby experience and knowledge to back that love up with competent child raising. We will miss them all. We will also get back to Southeast Asia sometime - but hopefully after Mae is able to rush her own backpack up and down stairs across an airport terminal to make a tight connection.

The Grand Canyon is the second stop on our 2017 Great American Road Trip. We are making the most of our 2.5 month layover in the United States before making our way to our next post in September: Belize! That will have to wait for a whole other post, but for now, we are in the American southwest, reacquainting ourselves with phenomena such as low humidity, stillness and twilights that last longer than 5 minutes. Other than the heat, Phoenix was about the most opposite place I can imagine to Saigon. The sparseness of the landscape there is an aesthetic completely foreign to Vietnam, where at least 20 varieties of plants and insect inhabit every square foot of the country. Vietnam is a riot of life. The humans there are just emulating their own natural environment: nature there long ago concocted a medley of fruit trees, creepy crawly critters and landscapes that change every 20 miles and now humans do their best to copy it with tightly packed bodies, motorbikes and neon signs. The humans haven't quite accomplished the same elegance as nature has, but they're still working on it. Vietnam is a feast for the senses, always providing stimulation wherever you are, but also making it difficult to notice anything beyond a three foot radius that is your bubble.

A little creek bottom down the hill from our place in Flagstaff
But here, in the foothills outside of Flagstaff, I can actually walk around the street and soak in my surroundings. I can look 100, 200 feet off into the pines to notice squirrels chasing each other up a tree, or stop to hear a woodpecker doing his work 100 yards off. Outside of the Saigon Zoo, these experiences are virtually impossible to recreate in Vietnam. There is nature there, for sure, but the jungle is like the city in that you are never really sure what's happening more than three feet away from you in any direction. The ferns and palm fronds and banyan tree roots trap you in and demand your immediate attention in the wilds of Vietnam just like motorbikes, banh mi stalls and broken sidewalks do the same in the cities.

Flagstaff, Arizona has been a great kind of decompression tank for us in between chapters of exhilaration. Saying goodbye to Saigon was emotionally draining and the Grand Canyon (along with the rest of the American southwest) demands a sense of awe that I'm not quite sure we're ready for yet. Flagstaff, and the peaceful pines surrounding our little mountain getaway, serve as the perfect interruption between the two, allowing us to find our sleep rhythms again and take a few breaths of thin, mountain air before we go on to the next, utterly amazing slice of earth.