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Routine life in Hanoi and struggling with "being productive"

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After being on the move in China and Taiwan, we both longed for a period of routine and “me-time”. On top of that, Shiwen needed to get dental treatment for a tooth that had been troubling her the last weeks in Taiwan. So we decided to go to Hanoi, Vietnam to combine her dental treatment with some weeks of regular sports and sort of treat our stay there as a half-time break of our travel in Asia. Geographically, Vietnam would also make for a good starting point of a journey through Southeast Asia all the way down to Indonesia. So far the expectations.

Arriving in Hanoi, the traffic and air pollution was overwhelming right away. Jannes actually had some fond memories of the city from visiting back in 2014, but maybe back then he wasn’t so sensitive about noise and poor air quality. We were lucky to find a great place in one of the less busy but centrally located areas that we rented for our whole stay in Hanoi. The hosts were an older couple that lived in the same apartment complex, they are very lovely people that often gave us fruits or other snacks and even borrowed us some warm clothes for the motorbike tour we did at the end of our stay. In terms of food, we had trouble finding vegetarian options and generally found the diversity of dishes to be low, it felt like half of all places just had a variation of rice noodle soup. Surely we could have been a bit more daring in our explorations, but in the end we basically found our 3-4 regular dishes at the same places. The language barrier was quite troublesome and translations by Google close to worthless.

Our plans to establish a regular routine of sports did go well, Shiwen was very happy with her pole dance studio and the teachers there, Jannes found a pretty good Crossfit studio as well. The Crossfit classes were mostly attended by expats and tourists who come and go, so there wasn’t a strong community vibe, but the pole dance studio had more regulars and it was easier to connect with others. We had really been missing regular sports and as we progress through our journey we have come to realize that we both appreciate a sense of regularity and routine in our lives. That realization did not make us question our commitment towards traveling in general, however, we are finding out what rhythm works for us in the long term. We did expect and plan to sometimes stay for longer at the same place and pursue our regular hobbies from back home, so we have basically just verified that indeed this is important to us.

The desire for routine from time to time does overlap with hopes to be “productive” while being on our journey. But what does it mean to us, to “be productive”? When talking about productivity at work, things are more clear, there are tasks and subtasks that we set as goals and complete over time. There is a sense of progression. As we travel and are on the move, we may define productivity in many ways, but however we define it, it does not feel right to set ourselves the sole goal of maximizing that productivity. But at the same time we have to admit that we both are people that value productivity a lot and have a deep desire for it. This could be part of the explanation why we were keen to have a few weeks of routine that allows us to “work” on ourselves through sport and on our personal projects. It is also a contributing factor why our volunteer experiences felt so rewarding, besides contributing and learning about worthy projects there is also the personal feeling of achievement. While being on the move in between places and out to see nature and sights, we are busy with experiencing, it is only when settling down somewhere for a longer period that the desire to produce, to get things done appears again.

In Hanoi that desire was also causing some frustration, Shiwen often felt the environment impacted her mood and motivation to draw, which she had planned to do a lot while being there. Writing about our experiences in Taiwan also took much longer than originally imagined and it was only after a week that Jannes continued working on a programming project he had started in Taiwan. Overall, we maybe had put too much on our plate for the time in Hanoi and left too little room for adapting our personal projects according to our moods. It is good to have goals, but especially in unfamiliar and ever-changing environments adopting a mindset of flexibility and allowing oneself to shuffle priorities around is quite useful to avoid frustration :)