Tonight I went to Highlands Coffee at Hoan Kiem Lake for the first time since I’ve been back in Hanoi. It’s a place I’ve been many times when I lived here; it’s got a lovely view of the lake and I love their coffee cheesecake, which was just as good as I remembered it to be. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been sick the past few days, but I had to fight back tears as all the memories contained in that place came flooding back. I’ve always felt that flashback scenes in movies–where someone sits in a place and watches as pieces of their past unfold around them–were cheesy, but as I was sitting there waiting for my coffee that’s precisely what happened. The table over in the corner where all of us who were in training together sat when we first got to Hanoi; the balcony where my teammate and one of my students and I sat and watched traffic as the sun went down, watching the streams of tourists in cycle-rickshaws clasping tightly to their bags; the booth where my friend and I sat on my next-to-last day in Hanoi where I tried not to cry about leaving, all of those scenes came flooding back like ripples through space and time.
It’s been three years since I’ve been in Vietnam, in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago and in other ways it feels like I’ve just left. So much has changed for me in those three years, and in more ways than I can go into, my time here set me on the path to where I am today. It was my time here that sent me in the direction of law school, and the reverse culture shock and feeling of not knowing which end was up when I returned to the US caused me to reevaluate assumptions I’d made about myself as a person.
And so, even though I’m not generally much for sentimentality, as I sat there watching the ghosts of my old life flicker before me, I couldn’t help but get choked up.