Vietnam shares a lot in common with China: Buddhism, its enviable locale in tropical South-East Asia, and its history of communism to name a few. Before we left to Hanoi for our last ever school trip, most of us Year 13s at The British School of Beijing Shunyi (BSB Shunyi) weren’t expecting anything spectacularly removed from what we were used to. The only unknown things that we thought we’d have to face were ants “all over” our hotel rooms, which one reviewer on Trip Advisor had seemed very passionate about.
We were wrong on two counts. First, contrary to my friends’ Trip Advisor-induced fears, there were no ants in the hotel. Second, Vietnam proved to be a most extraordinary country, a pocket of remarkable natural beauty and enthralling cultural traditions, the home of countless memories — both our own and those of devastating war still scarring the face of the otherwise flawless landscape. Not one of us would ever dispute that some of the best times we shared as a year group were during those six days in Hanoi and Cat Ba Island.
We slept in a junk boat out in Ha Long Bay, watching the sun rise out from behind rocky crags jutting tens of meters out from the sea like giant shards of glass. The sky stained the brightest shade of orange as the endemic species of monkeys and birds began their morning song from the jungles sprouting on the crags. Two eagles danced with each other, forgetting for a moment all the fish in the clear waters below. We slept on the decks, talking well into the night, and counting every star as they emerged in clusters; it was the first time I’d not heard a single one of my friends complain about wifi.
It was a precious time, bringing into focus how close we are. We’ve been friends for years, and have been the best parts of each others’ lives. The trip to Vietnam highlighted that we will be graduating in six months, scattered all over the world, from the Netherlands and Canada to the Philippines, possibly never to see each other again.
My whole life, as far as I can remember, has been one extended game of leveling up through year groups in school, waking up, and taking classes with the same people every day, eating lunch with them, studying together, hanging out, and talking about life after school; all leading to the culminating Year 13. Before this point, I haven’t had to worry about anything; not by any real standard. I level up to the next year group, avoid certain teachers, get just enough homework done to avoid major detentions, and deal with petty drama.
But during this trip more than any other, it hit me how all of this will fall away before I know it. It feels like when we leave BSB, our worlds as we know them, will be turned upside down and have the life squeezed out of them. Our best school trip ended on a distinct bitter sweet note of finality; a knowledge that after the bus pulled up in front of the school gates we would never be together like that again. This, I believe, made us appreciate our brief escape to Vietnam all the more.
Despite my latest realizations, there was a lot to admire through the nostalgia. Hanoi is a thriving, sprawling beast of a city. Fellow BSB student Casey Cheung says his highlights were: “the enthusiastic locals persuading me to buy communist posters, and the water puppet show which we watched in Hanoi. It was an hour of blissful enjoyment. Vietnamese culture has been engraved on my heart.”
Even though there wasn’t a whole lot of natural beauty in Hanoi, the free time we got to spend wandering the alleys weren’t outshined as Year 13 student Amy Deng notes of the experience. “We got to walk around on the streets, looking in local shops and trying out all the local food. People were extremely welcoming and enthusiastic.”
Perhaps even more poignant was Ivan Chow’s sentiment of the trip. “Being a firm believer of socialism, having the opportunity to see the only remaining statue of Lenin meant a lot to me. Vietnam was much more of a socialist state than I had anticipated, and the people of Vietnam have proven to me that people are indeed able to live in peace and harmony under socialist rule.
Others of us, like Ella Malibiran of the Philippines, were adamant that Vietnam would never be the same without our friends. “The best part was getting the opportunity to spend time with my friends on the boat in HaLong Bay. Shopping along the streets of Hanoi with millions of Dong was crazy but cool as well. I would do anything to go back with my friends.”
Amy is a Year 13 student at the British School of Beijing Shunyi (BSB). Having grown up in The Hague in the Netherlands, she has lived in Beijing for four years and hopes to share her views on current affairs and school news through her blogs.
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