Shame on me – from the beginning of 2007 to now, I have logged in roughly 18,876 air miles just from relocations alone, covering five cities in three different continents. Such is the irony of being an urban planner in the international development context – our behaviours are inherently contrary to the very principles we espouse. We fly long distances as we lament the escalating global carbon count and gun for short-term projects in disparate corners of the globe while preaching the virtues of developing indigenous solutions. Somehow all these are justified by the belief that our work helps nurture local capacity and will, but do the reports and studies I conduct translate to concrete action that leads to progress? Only time will tell.
I care about my work and carry no regrets for the endeavors I have pursued, but I also have to admit that as of now, the places I have called home—along with their inhabitants—have taught me a lot more than what I have offered them.
For that, I am thankful.
Hanoi continues to surprise me with its multi-faceted urbanism and burgeoning subcultures. The eclectic sights and sounds registered in the past couple weeks have left much food for thought; as the city continues to open its arms to the outside world, it is bombarded by myriads of influences that are either complementary or in conflict with what is perceived as Hanoian or Vietnamese.
But what is Hanoian or Vietnamese? As I did deeper I was inevitably reminded that places and the identities tied to them are not fixed in time. They evolve with time and circumstances: baguettes and coffee that were once consumed by French colonialists had become staples of Vietnamese life; movements such as hip hop and rock, though foreign in origins, are manifesting in forms that are distinctive to Vietnam and thus are becoming parts of the country’s cultural palette; I too, expatriate and all, have merged into Hanoi’s urban fabric over a short span of six-months. As such, we are all part of the amorphous localities we reside in regardless of our backgrounds, beliefs, and interests.
Now if only we can live harmoniously with one another and work together for the good of the societies we are based in.
I can hope, right?