I left too late for my morning run again. The 7am hour on the beach boardwalk in Da Nang feels like noon in July back home. In Michigan, I often convince myself to tack on another half mile or more during the course of my run.
My powers of persuasion and self-trickery are no match for this new type of heat.
However, by the time I hit the pavement today, the beach had mostly cleared of the swarms of early morning exercisers—groups of older men playing hacky sack; crowds of women carrying out choreographed dances to thumping bass music; individuals doing self-guided tai chi facing the water, feet planted in the sand or on the grass beneath palm trees; elderly couples playing badminton silently, either replacing their verbal banter with a physical version, or merely passing the time—that I encounter when I run during the much more pleasant 6am hour.
I practically had the place to myself.
Well, with the exception of the 8 sets of model brides and grooms and their accompanying photographers each doing separate photo shoots. But they were out of my way. And there were a couple other foolish white women runners like me. While many of the Vietnamese who were still present watched me from the shade with rightful confusion (surely thinking something like “it’s too hot to run—why didn’t she wake up earlier?”), a few cheered me on. I’m always tempted to cheer on runners that I pass while driving in Michigan but don’t for fear they would think I was making fun of them. So I appreciated the dramatic applause and approving smiles and may have even picked up my pace. Slightly.
The Da Nang morning running experience is further dramatized by publicly broadcast music. There are somewhat evenly spaced speakers that play the same broadcast for just about the full length of the main drag. Today, I had the pleasure of running to what seemed to be a live piano concert. So I played “name that tune”—which, after all, is far more fun than “count your steps”, what I often end up doing if I don’t keep my mind occupied while running. This morning’s playlist ranged from The Beatles’ “Yesterday” to “We Three Kings” to “Colors of the Wind” from the Pocahontas movie. There may have been part of a Beethoven sonata in the mix, but who am I kidding, I can’t correctly identify sonatas. It’s far from the Songza mixes I ran to on the treadmill at my gym back home, full of Beyonce and Bruno Mars and pop-artists-I-don’t-know. Or the near silence of running on side streets in Grand Rapids.
It’s so different from anything I’ve experienced. But it’s becoming part of my routine.
I don’t jump anymore—or at least not as much—when a truck honks loudly on the beach road next to the boardwalk.
I don’t plan to wear headphones, to block out this experience so that I can run to more exercise-appropriate beats. Because I want to keep taking it all in. I know each day, every experience here in Vietnam might not always be so full of the unexpected—I may come to expect certain things, or even to expect the unexpected—but I want to relish it while it’s fresh. To continue to feel alive in a way that often exhausts me, it’s so intense.
These experiences can’t be bottled. At least not yet.
I quit a job I enjoyed at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and left my family, friends, and beloved dog to join my boyfriend in moving across the world, in search of adventure and new experiences. I arrived in August 2015.