• Sharon Kelly

Five weeks in Hanoi: Same but Different

It's been five weeks since I arrived in Hanoi.

Five weeks of mostly staying inside, except for a few, slightly nerve-wracking trips to a grocery or convenience store (they haven't quite embraced social distancing in stores here).

I'm used to being on my own but these five weeks have been much different...obviously. Leaving aside the obvious anxiety and worry about COVID-19 that everyone is experiencing, the alone time has felt very different.

I'd been travelling for about 20 months before I hunkered down here to try and ride this out a bit, but even though those 20 months were largely on my own, I was alone but with people around me. I would be out most days, either at somewhere specific or just wandering around. So I was alone but surrounded by people. And even if I didn't talk to many people except for some casual greetings, having people around made me feel less alone.

My first week here the city was just starting to shut down. I ate at a few restaurants, browsed through a couple of book stores and wandered around the Old Quarter a bit - all with a mask on of course. I was lucky that I managed to get in that little bit of normalcy since for the past four weeks, I have rarely gone out. Non-essential businesses have been closed and there is a shelter in place order in effect. There are police driving around who yell at people through a loudspeaker when they think they are not abiding by the rules, making me cautious about even going out for a walk for some exercise. With the shutdown, the city is so much quieter than normal. Sometimes I've wanted to find peace and quiet in a busy, energetic city, but the quietness here has gotten to me a bit, made the loneliness feel more pronounced. The fact that it's been grey and dreary since I got here hasn't helped either ;-)

If I was home, I would still be sheltering in place and therefore on my own, but I would be doing that in more familiar surroundings. And I would have more to keep me busy - even if it was housework, or cleaning out a closet, or expanding my cooking or baking skills. In a one-room hotel room with a minuscule sized kitchen, the options are more limited.

Going through this global crisis in a foreign country has also made me feel a bit isolated and removed from what's happening. I read the news to keep up to date on what's happening in Toronto and Canada, but since I'm not experiencing it, I feel disconnected and isolated from my home and family & friends in a way I haven't felt during this journey.

It's been a crazy time for everyone. The whole world has gone topsy-turvy and I know many people have suffered far worse impacts than me. I still have my health, a roof over my head and food to eat.

Being alone in a foreign country and staying in a small room without the comforts of home is definitely not new. It's been my life since I started travelling in August 2018. But what's been familiar to me over the past 20 months has been quite different the past 5 weeks.

To amuse myself one day, I went out on the balcony and took some pictures of what I had been looking at for weeks, but from a different angle

This is one of the doors that open out to the balcony. Beautiful doors and I thought it created an interesting street scene picture when opened against the greenery on the balcony and the empty street below

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