Five years ago, I decided I would love Hanoi. I was reading a travel piece on it while waiting for my dentist to finish drilling holes into someone else’s head. It seemed like a place for romantics – the literary romantics, the ones who can stare at a leaf for three hours and see the whole universe, the ones who spot a lone red balloon and are suddenly devastated. It seemed like Hanoians hovered on their scooters and bikes, creating a ceaseless, connected blur from dawn to dusk and through the night like a floating infinity symbol. It would be a place where I could be alone and not feel alone. Color would be everywhere.
These are lofty expectations. I typically don’t nurture these idealisms because the very hallmark of an ideal is its unattainability. Having absolutely no expectations for any place is the safest bet, and it often enables a deep-seated openness and appreciation for new surroundings. If you’re not flying high then your fall will be markedly less painful; you’re freer on the ground.
But I need to dream; I need Hanoi. I need to buy a yellow bike and roam the city with my camera. I need to descend on alleyways dripping with laundry, and I need to try all the street food I possibly can. I need to pull off the photo projects I have in store, I need to learn some Vietnamese because why not, I need to figure out a way to make a little money, not a lot, just a little, and I need to find an apartment with crumbling walls that is situated above a small restaurant, grill smoke drifting through my windows, so I can sit on my balcony and watch the little plastic street chairs being filled every night by people who like each other.
We’re all trapped in a certain infinity, the infinity of one’s place, the people they know, their general way of life. Some people never leave their infinity. They won’t go further than thirty km away from the place they were born; they know their infinity in and out, but it’s difficult for them to know anything more than that. Others, like myself, hop around between infinities trying to get a taste of them all, risking substance for variety.
And so I’ll continue with my dreams, and I’ll continue to be devastated by lone balloons. I’ll risk the fall for this.∗