Learning to walk slowly
Learning to walk slowly is certainly a metaphor for the way of life here. People seem busy as they race by on motorbikes, but in reality the speed limit is very slow and I know my memories of the traffic will be how slowly it moves compared to what I am used to. In fact, the pace of life is much slower here.
We take advantage of the slowness by including more ‘us” time. Part of changing our lives is changing our lifestyle. Mornings have become a time to meditate, to reflect and in the way of our new country to exercise. I love seeing the public spaces here and how they become a third place, where everyone gathers to exercise, visit and gossip. We haven’t embraced the public display of exercise, opting instead to do that in the privacy of our home. I have never yet had the courage to jump in with a group of ladies here while they do jazzercise or group exercises, unlike my two friends who did just that in Hanoi.
My favorite type of exercise is walking. I love to walk. I love to explore while walking through the city, checking out small streets, discovering trails in city and out of the city; hiking, finding new places and spaces. As I meander along I am finding it hard to walk here in my new city only because it really isn’t a city meant for walking.
Walking can be a dangerous sport in Vietnam. The sidewalks here are not meant for pedestrians. Instead they are a convenient place to park or to set up a sidewalk business. Walking the two miles to downtown becomes a game of watching carefully for cracks, large holes, bricks and other debris in the sidewalk. Also watching for motorcycles or bicycles and occasionally a taxi taking a shortcut and dodging the sidewalk cafes, tree branches and brush fires. It is easier and safer to walk on the street which I often do, hoping that the motorbikes are paying attention behind me.
For 7 months of the year I fight the urge to always use a taxi and try to walk or bike whenever I have the patience to do so. For the other 5 months, May – October, it is too hot. The humidity along with heat makes the “feel like” temperature well over 100 degrees from 5am until around 9pm. I try whenever possible, carrying my umbrella to shade me and my water bottle to hydrate while I attempt the 10 minute walk to the supermarket or the 25 minute walk to the outdoor market. I can usually handle the supermarket, but walking to the vegetable market, negotiating prices and then hailing a cab back is too much.
When I do walk I need to walk slowly as I have learned from my Vietnamese friends. Taking time to view life from this perspective takes practice and patience slowly moving one foot in front of the other. It isn’t easy to slow down, especially for someone like me, but I do the best I can while trying to adapt to the culture and the heat.