The last few weeks have been, for me, mostly a vacation. In early December Marisa and I left Taiwan after forty days of trekking there, and flew to Hanoi, where Marisa's parents—who have been teaching overseas around the world for many years—are helping to start an international school. Marisa's sister joined us when her university let out partway through December, and we had a great time celebrating the holidays together. The Sauters generously put us up in their apartment, and insisted on feeding us for the duration of our stay. So for the better part of two months Marisa and I left behind the day-to-day uncertainty of our extended journey for a comfortable and enjoyable homestay with family. I say that the time was mostly a vacation to contrast it with the purpose and quality of our journey as a whole: to clarify that Game Trekking, for me, is not a vacation.
Having fun in Hanoi with Marisa's sister and parents, Kumquat trees in the background.
I take the time to clarify this issue, because some people have admitted to being baffled as to why anyone would fund me for what they perceive to be an extended "time off," and others have outright accused me of using Kickstarter to fuel a long-term holiday. I don't take offense at these questions or accusations, as I think the confusion is understandable: people often travel when they go on holiday, and for many others, it is the only time they travel. But that does not mean that travel and vacation are inextricably linked—they are, in fact, quite distinct concepts.
A vacation is about taking time "off," time "out." It is about taking time to rest and renew. People do this in a variety of ways, but in connection with travel it typically means lying on a beach somewhere and sipping a lemonade as the sun sets and you let your mind wander. In this sense—perhaps the most important sense—vacation is a mindset. One cannot be on vacation if one does not seek to be on vacation… one cannot be on vacation if one is actively pursuing goals other than rest and relaxation… one cannot be on vacation if one is spending energy, rather than saving it.
The Game Trekking project is not about saving energy, not about relaxing: for me, the project is about pushing myself, challenging myself, setting high goals and attempting to meet them… it is a journey of the mind, a journey of the senses, a journey of the (dare I say) heart, with multiple dimensions. I seek to learn something about the world by coming into contact with new places and different cultures in as "real" and "raw" a way as I can, always choosing adventure and meaning, connection and challenge over ease and comfort; when I find myself wanting to choose what I find comfortable over what might be meaningful (which happens quite often), I try and check myself, and go back the other way (I don't mean to imply that I am in any way peculiarly heroic or brave: "going back" might mean something as simple as talking to that stranger on the corner, rather than walking past). In pushing myself this way, I seek to learn not only about the world, but also about who I am. Beyond that learning, I seek to convey something of what I discover to others, via this blog, via my photos, my videos, and my reading lists. And finally, I seek to do my best to stretch a new and exciting medium (computer games) and use it in ways that it hasn't been used before. Game Trekking for me is the opposite of vacation, is the opposite of checking out or taking time off: it is about checking in in the most vital ways I can think of, about those things in life I believe to be most important: searching, striving, giving, receiving, dialoguing, and attempting to create. From the small things (not being able to carry enough eczema cream to stop the chronic itching) to the big ones (attempting to keep my long-time struggle with depression at bay while maintaining my enthusiasm for game development in the face of perpetual movement) this project manages to challenge me every day of the week. And that's what I want it to do.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should fund me. Some may (and do) see my goals as entirely personal, and irrelevant to them, regardless of how much I'm pushing myself and trying to live rightly (which some may see as pretension). And that's okay with me. I would not for a minute pretend that this project is an objectively vital one that everyone should contribute to (if such a project could exist): rather, it is a project that some may latch onto because it resonates with them in some way, because its goals are goals they share. I don't intend these paragraphs to be a defense of Game Trekking, but rather a simple explanation of how the project differs from vacation time, for those who are genuinely curious.
But to get back to the point that got this tangent started: Hanoi for me was mostly vacation. It was a time to relax and renew, enjoy the holidays, celebrate being with family; it was mostly time off from my trek. I say "mostly," rather than "totally," because it was still a great opportunity to live for some weeks in a fascinating foreign city, and experience something of life in Vietnam. Marisa's father lent me his bike, and one highlight for me was simply biking around West Lake day after day…
…past every manner of thing on mopeds:
…and men about to be married:
…past Vietnam's beautiful and eclectic architecture:
…churches (as I read of Christian persecution in the country):
…and temples (Buddhists and Taoists have faced persecution too):
…past sweethearts on mopeds (you can park anything on wheels):
…and Ho Chi Minh's body, in its grand mausoleum (he goes to Russia once a year for "maintenance"):
…once I stopped to get a haircut:
…and once to fix the electric wires (just kidding, that's not me):
Other highlights included a trip to Hoian, a city that used to be a large multinational port, and features a fascinating mix of artifacts from the French, Chinese, and Japanese… like this old Japanese bridge:
…and a boat ride to Perfume Pagoda:
All in all it was a great few weeks, and despite being in "vacation mode" I managed to continue my reading, and start in on a couple of game ideas that I hope to share with you soon (moped balancing act, any one?). Marisa and I left Hanoi on the twenty-fifth of January, and have been heading South since then, mostly by train. I hope to share those adventures with you soon! If one aspect of vacation is knowing where you're going to be sleeping more than two nights in advance, then I can safely say that we've transitioned back out :) .
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