I was supposed to spend today in Ha Long Bay. Or at least that’s what I wanted to do.
The past year has held some pretty incredible peak life experiences – swimming with whale sharks, hiking the Ko’olau Trail, an afternoon sipping red wine in front of the Eiffel Tower, exploring Istanbul. Thinking back on it, 2014 held an incredible string of wishful pins turned into reality.
Beautiful scenery aside, this has been important. The act of calling forth images on computer screens into reality involves being so bold as to ask for beauty and the willingness to petition the universe for an experience. Ask for what you want, see what the universe will arrange – that was a theme for 2014. I’ve been astounded, nearly embarrassed, by the grandiosity of the result. And beyond peak life experiences, there are parallels in professional life, relationships, goals. Ask. Really, give it a try.
I had the intention of setting into motion another pin-worthy adventure recently in Vietnam. But, I didn’t. I very much wanted to venture to Ha long Bay, but the night before I thought the better of it. Saturday isn’t necessarily a weekend during work travel so I hung back at my Hanoi hotel in case anything work related popped up. And it did. A lunch meeting about upcoming work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And then a three hour walk around the city with a South African friend and a colleague who lived in Vietnam for two years.
My colleague provided a primer on Vietnamese history and culture and then there was conversation of the war and POW MIAs. We walked past the “Hanoi Hilton” – the jail where prisoners of war were held – then towards the Metropole hotel, the only safe place to go out on a Friday night in the 90s. As was common at the time, the hotel served as my organization’s office space during that period. The Metropole was also the temporary location of the U.S. embassy before relations were normalized. I walked through the lobby, a beautifully preserved French colonial parlor with dark wood and white walls and woven rattan fans. Guests partook in chocolate hour and I counted seven types of chocolate fondue. We saw the Opera House and noted the French influence on the nearby architecture. We visited what used to be a cathedral, the only functional element of which is the clock at the top.
We went to an outdoor café for lunch where we ate green papaya salad, then made our own spring rolls and talked about development and poverty and politics. We got coconut popsicles then walked around the lake. After reading this, I wondered out loud if this might be what Afghanistan is like in forty years. We talked about the kind of change that is possible in a generation — from war and devastation to peace and infrastructure and life expectancy exceeding 70 years. We witnessed possibility. It wasn’t Ha Long Bay, but it was an afternoon that I won’t soon forget.