What I learned from a Solo Trip

I am someone who rarely have time for myself, someone who is always carried away by the flow of time - whether it is schoolwork, tutoring, or doing extracurricular activities, it almost seems like I never let myself rest, let alone doing something that can entertain this mind of mine, which is always somewhere else thinking and working even when I am eating or brushing my teeth. This is until quite a few things went on with my life last year, and because I was so strained and burned out, I could not focus on things that I was once so indulge in - during that time, studying seemed an adversary to me. Then, life felt so suffocating: it looked as if I was drowning in the flow of time that I chose to put myself in. And that was when I realized that my mental health mattered, and that I needed to take care of myself: it was so ironic how I - the president of my school's Psychology Club - have always been emphasizing the importance of placing one's mental wellbeing first, yet for a long time I was not even able to do that to myself - or, precisely, that I ignored doing that to myself. During that time, the school year was about to come to its peak of busyness - the exam season. Lucky me, scattered throughout the school year was something called the “Teacher Work Day”, which essentially means that for some Fridays during the year, teachers would come together and do their work, meaning that students would have a day off. And because I figured that there was going to be a teacher work day a short while before the exam season came to a beginning, I was going to dedicate that Friday to myself and myself only. Since no one would be at home that day, I decided to visit the Old Quarter - an old neighborhood in the heart of the city. Nearly fifteen years (by then) of living in Hanoi, and I was yet to discover what the area, which attracted millions of visitors every year, had to offer - I started to do research online and marked on my phone the route as well as the places that I would visit. Typically, during times that I went to the Old Quarter with my parents, it was always about going to the same places - the same Sword Lake, the same bookshop, the same restaurant, and the same coffee shop. But the area wasn't solely about that - instead of being in my parents' car all the time, that day, I would walk around the city by myself - I would come to strange places and enjoy the city to its fullest: a day for me. By then, I realized that I had barely scratched the surface of what Hanoi was. Arriving at the Old Quarter with a phone and some money in my pocket, I was overwhelmed with how much personality the city had. By having the mindset of “let myself become carefree for a day”, it was as if I was experiencing the city with all my senses, something that I rarely had the opportunity to do before. The chilly winds wriggle through the rustling leaves. The enthusiastic chirping of distant birds up on the tall trees, an ecosystem over my head. The street food vendors selling beef phở with the charismatic aroma of the broth spreading to every corner of the city, some of which lingered in my tongue - an umami, earthy taste. The slow pace of life moving through me, making things once seen as insignificant so conspicuously brilliant. I noticed leaf sweepers in their usual green uniforms happily chatting with one another in their short breaks. I took pictures of young children jumping and running along the side of the streets, their grandparents behind watching with bright grins on their cheeks. I saw old ladies in their colorful áo dài standing in a line, posing and smiling as they took pictures of themselves. I stood for a long time at the scene of strangers coming together and danced to the rhythmical music in a park - and I ended up joining them, too. I felt so human again. The hustle and bustle of the city that I always thought of Hanoi was no longer here anymore, as I learned to live in the moment and observe things around me. It was this exact sense of simplicity that made this place so beautiful - to see things unique in their own way instead of solely observing unrecognizable streaks of orange and red zipping by through the car windows. This is the Hanoi to cherish.

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