Xin chào Ha Noi,

Keeper of our lives for 2.5 years. Soon to end, this love affair we’ve had, you and I. I ran into your arms after escaping from the life I had that was too good for me to handle. You accepted me with open arms. You didn’t chastise me for my decisions. You simply gave me the new possibilities I needed.

You were my rebound city, and you loved me without qualms. I didn’t love you back for the longest time and to you, that was totally ok. You were patient with me. Kind. You plunged me into your chaos but held on to me at the centre of it all so I wouldn’t get lost.

You accepted me, whoever I was, whatever I wanted to be, and never asked for any more than I could give. Yet you stretched me beyond dimensions I knew I had. You challenged me in ways I didn’t know I needed to grow. All this while enfolding me, comforting and soothing me when it all moved too fast or slow.

You were the thorn in my side and the tweezer that removed it. Whatever you took from me, you made sure to give back threefold. I thought I stayed because our connection was built on a halfway house I was too scared to leave, your boundaries shielding me from the madness the pandemic had unleashed upon our human earth.

But in truth, I stayed on because you loved me with no expectations, and I grew to love you, my Ha Noi, the city I didn’t want to be “mine” but you slipped so easily into my heart. You gave me a home when I didn’t want it, yet needed one all the same. You a city god, me a girl stumbling into the cold of the night after leaving the warm bedside of my former countryside lover. We didn’t speak each other’s language, but you took me by the hand and let me write for us a new lexicon.

I didn’t want to get too comfortable here, knowing I’d leave again in a week, a month, a year. But you penetrated my heart all the same and made me stay because I needed it. You’re indifferent to me yet love me unconditionally when I choose to be around.

A city like you, frenzied and lawless, shouldn’t be this gentle. You’re the cradle in the nursery, Ha Noi, containing the crazy without making it stop. You held me by the nape of my neck and softly pulled me down to where safety was waiting. You made it ok for me to take my heart out of my chest and look at it from every side… or to not know of it at all. 

You whispered into my ears no sweet nothings, no promises, false or otherwise. Instead, you gave me whatever I was ready to take: Nothing, everything, and every blade of grass in between.

You gave me friends and allowed the world to take them away again to far-off lands. You’d replace them with new ones, each face a soul I could love for a snapshot in time. You didn’t choose sides between foreigner or local… you connected me just as easily to either. Other expats and I found in each other temporary havens amid the sometimes overwhelming exotica of this here land. With locals, we discovered that what connects us is far more transcendent than the spaces between us laying out our differences.

Whenever you took someone from me, you’d offer someone new. When I wanted action, it was like fruit ripe on the vine, waiting to be plucked and consumed till I’d had my share. When I wanted to be the fuck alone, you let me be.

You gave me myself back. The parts I’d forgotten, and others I very much wanted to forget.

I will leave you now, as we both always knew I would. But I carry you with me as I go. You gave me love in any form I was ready to accept. Unconditionally did you offer me anything I was ready to say yes to and led me to it gently when I wasn’t at first.

With you, I could love the egg lady outside my apartment about the same as I did a friend. Here, the waiter at the corner cafe was as dear to me as the writers I met with weekly. The old men exercising around the lake in the morning filled me with as much joy as the street cat who became family.

You made it all one and the same, Ha Noi. You reinserted me into the pulse of life. 

Cảm ơn, ye city who brought me back into being.

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