I just celebrated my first birthday in memory away from both my home and my family.
I didn’t realize what a monochrome experience my birthdays had been until this fact dawned on me yesterday. Though the weather here was appropriately about as cold as it gets, with temps in the 50s in the morning. It doesn’t sound bad and is a far cry from your typical January 25 in Michigan, but in concrete buildings without insulation and furnaces, it does feel quite chilly. And the sky was low, different layers of gray sitting right on top of the nearby mountains, the turbulent sea a shade deeper, with thick foamy whitecaps tumbling into the shore along the beach road.
One benefit of being 12 hours removed from Eastern time is my birthday seemed to last at least a day and half, hitting first in Da Nang and then in the United States. Celebratory messages came in according to the Earth’s rotation like a wave moving around a football stadium.
My Da Nang family thoroughly spoiled me with two cakes and song, hazardous indoor fireworks, free meals and drinks, lots of texts and hugs. And I enjoyed the creativity of the digital birthday wishes from my real family, including an e-card with singing dogs and a PowerPoint presentation complete with Word Art and lots of photos of me creatively cropped into different shapes.
Philip outdid himself, gifting me a cute pair of shoes that I told him I’d admired (I learned how to drop hints from the best of them, my mom), as well as a surprise weekend trip to Da Lat next month. He says the idea came to him while getting a massage, that a gift I’d enjoy most maybe wouldn’t be about a thing but an experience. What a guy. As it turned out, in researching potential sources in Da Lat for an article I was working on not too long ago, I’d stumbled upon an adorable bed and breakfast. I hadn’t told Phil about it, but it must have made an impression on me as I was able to find it again—it’s ranked the #1 B&B on TripAdvisor, and there was one room left during our trip. We snagged it quickly. We even saw a picture of a stand-up bass that seems to have a home at the place. Phil is itching to make its acquaintance. Some things are meant to be. We’re hoping this is one of them. Then, my guy took me out to dinner at an adorable French restaurant tucked into a back alley in the heart of Da Nang City. It’s called Le Bambino, and it was a completely new Da Nang experience for me. Just when I think I’m becoming well versed in this city’s offerings, a quick turn off of a familiar road surprises me.
It’s easy for me to tell others that age is just a year and that we’re only as old as we choose to be. However, last night, Phil and I were talking about how it’s natural to bundle ages into groups of threes—at least at our age—and that, at 28, I’m now in the 28-29-30 set. Undeniably in my late 20s and well on my way to 30. It’s not old, I know that, but it feels like something. Something different from 27.
I became contemplative.
On the whole, I’m happy with how I’ve spent my first 28 years.
I haven’t let myself coast too much, preferring to be challenged and struggling rather than satisfied, which for me is synonymous with boredom.
I’ve dealt with failure and success.
I’ve worked hard and have come to recognize the importance of relaxation.
I’ve stared out windows with a whole host of views and caught many different versions of myself in the mirror.
I’m working on reflecting without fretting.
I’ve yet to discover what exactly I should be doing with my life, what the world needs from me. I think about this frequently and have to remind myself to control what I can control, work hard with what I have and let everything else come.
I’ve burnt a bridge or two out of stubbornness.
I still get angry more often than is ladylike (a statement chosen deliberately because its idiocy makes me mad) and can’t always find an appropriate outlet for that anger.
On the other hand, this same anger can be a good motivator, and it’s less fiery and further from the surface than it used to be. My patience has improved, thanks in part to living in Vietnam.
I worry that I ought to spend more of my time helping others rather than working to improve myself, though I imagine that may change in the not-too-distant future.
I’m happy to be where I am. I often make things harder for myself than they have to be, and am aware that that may make me a pain in the ass at times, but it’s how I stay interested in this whole day-to-day thing.
As I look ahead, I’d like to continue defining my life—professional, personal, and otherwise—on my terms…even if I’m not always sure what exactly those terms are and what they might mean in the long-term, though I’d like to keep working on that bit, too. For me, this year, I want to keep writing the types of things I want to write even if I don’t get paid for any of it—though it’s OK to write within the parameters of others for pay. I also want to get to a place where I’m able to move back to the States and know how to identify the types of jobs and/or projects I’d like to work on. The key here is being deliberate with how I spend my time and effort while remaining open to possibilities.
Above all, I’m thankful for the good fortune I have to spend time thinking (and writing) about these things, the flexibility I have to be deliberate, to past Sarah for saving enough money to make this risky business less scary, and to my support network—near and far—for always being there.
What a lucky 28-year-old I am.
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.