I Attended A First Birthday Party – Am I An Adult?

I find myself asking that question daily. Before deciding on this trip, I envisioned graduating from university and joining the yopro work force filled with bill paying, bar trivia nights with coworkers, talking about 401(k)s, and continually swapping stories about how tired and busy we are.

I took a bit a different path (insert stock nature photo and an out-of-context Frost quotation), and while I knew life would be different, I didn’t fully understand the myriad lifestyles teaching abroad offers. When I read “eighteen hours a week with one day off” in my teaching contract, my first math calculation was 13 (hours of daylight) – 3 (teaching hours a day) = 10 (hours per day I could spend at the beach). Math and I have never gotten along, but the numbers don’t lie, I told myself; I’m going to be a part time teacher and full time beach bum for a year.

Life as a teacher abroad varies vastly, as you can imagine, based on a number of factors. Friends Spain and France work as teaching assistants for twelve hours a week, live with host families, and have plenty of time for trouncing around Europe. Classmates in South Korea work constantly, are expected to keep up their physical appearances, and get paid exorbitant salaries (South Korea’s the place to go if you’re trying to come away with some mad cash).

Even in Vietnam, experiences differ by location and even contract by contract. Each of the half-dozen or so of the teachers in Dong Hoi live different lives. Daniel works every day of the week, splitting time between public schools and a private language center. Stephanie only works five days a week, but she somehow crams around thirty teaching hours into those five days. James spends fourteen hours a week in a four day period in the classroom, allowing him the opportunity to take three day trips every week. I’m contracted for eighteen hours a week, with one day off per week. Add in travel and prep time and teaching responsibilities add up to closer to twenty-five hours a week.

So the beach bum lifestyle I expected to lead hasn’t exactly panned out. Seven weeks in and different responsibilities, social activities, and other events have forced me to thinking about the depressingly and soul-crushingly inescapable social construct we call “adulthood”. The event that compelled me to come to terms with my relationship with the a word was my attendance of child’s birthday party.

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Daniel and Lyly leading a rousing singalong of Happy Birthday in both English and Vietnamese for David, their little one.

Daniel’s son David turned one year old this week. The first birthday of a Vietnamese child is, from what I can tell, akin to the sixteenth birthday of an MTV star. They blow it out.

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It was no Chardeo, but it was still a good time.

This being the first first birthday that I remember attending, I had to wonder if I now qualify as an “adult”. Does my lifestyle allow me to claim membership to the elite club? And if so, when is the induction ceremony? More importantly will there be an open bar?

Here’s my pitch to the selection committee for the Council On Official Adulting: (Admittedly, the adult world has always scared me and I’ve tried to keep a safe distance from it. Knowing my transition into it was inevitable, however, I had to think about how that life might look and base my acceptance odds on that. I get the feeling my preparation for the adult world by watching The Office and Seinfeld is like if I prepared for college by watching Animal House.)

  1. I have to pay bills.
  2. I have to keep my room clean.
  3. I have to get to work on time.
  4. I get together with friends after work and we bitch about our relationships and the weather.
  5. I have conflicts at work that require meetings and careful thought to resolve.
  6. I listen to misguided and uninformed political conjecture.
  7. I listen to boring stories about things I don’t care about (I think this is a part of life regardless of age).
  8. I use phrases like “How’s the wife?” and, “No thanks, I’ve had enough to drink tonight.”
  9. I go to my friends’ children’s birthday parties.

But I also see the somewhat mundane side of adult life. With no schoolwork, or constantly packed social calendar that comes with the college experience and few extracurricular projects, I have more free time to manage. I fill it with books, movies, TV shows (about to finish season three of Breaking Bad!), analyzing my monthly budget, and devising these things called “five year plans” where I get to pretend that everything in my life is totally in my control and will go perfectly for the next 1825 days. And you thought playing make-believe was only for children.

I also go on day trips with friends when we have time off! Four of us motorbiked to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park on Thursday. We meandered our way to a few different pubs and scenic areas before hitting up the Botanical Gardens.

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Me, our “server” (who was playing with my phone, found euchre, and was surprisingly good), and my friend Michaella at a pub creatively called “The Pub With Cold Beer”.
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Wild boar enclosure
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If this adult life, I’ll happily join.
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A bit further down the river, some kids were riding a water buffalo through the water.
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Mountainous jungles? Jungly mountains? You decide.

The Botanical Gardens was a bit of a misnomer – it was more of a small nature park with some light hiking and a few sad animal enclosures

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One of two peacocks in a small cage. Pretty sad to see. They’re peacocks, you gotta let them fly!
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Never got the classic study-abroad-posing-in-front-of-Unamerican-landscape picture. I hope this suffices. This was at the view before hiking down Gio Waterfall.
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View from the bottom of Gio Waterfall.
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Same spot, different angle.
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The park provided a rope to aid in hiking, but it was mostly worthless. I ended up shedding my flip flops to hop rock to rock to the bottom of the falls.
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Michaella making the climb back up to the trail.
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Came across a troop of monkeys heading back to the main trail from Gio Waterfall.

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Taken on the motorbike ride back to Dong Hoi.

Life as a teacher is much more “real life” than I expected. I’ve written this a few time; I’m a teacher in a different country. It’s a great life, relaxing, exciting, and new, but it’s not without responsibilities or work.

So, dear readers, I’ll leave the decision to you. If you decide I have earned passage into the hallowed halls of grown-up life, great. If not, you’re probably right.


4 thoughts on “I Attended A First Birthday Party – Am I An Adult?

  1. Hey, great news on breaking bad.
    Season 4 is slow, but stick with it, it chills you out, pacified you, and sets up the rest of the seasons perfectly.

    Kids riding water buffalo- why isn’t someone capitalising on this and doing buffalo riding for tourist?! I guess it’s rarer than all the tourist elephant riding, and yet more quirky than a horse riding half day… . You set it up, I’ll invest!

    Lastly. All animal attractions in Asia (apart from Singapore/Japan) have left me feeling guilty, disheartened, and perplexed as to why people have such little empathy for animals that they don’t clean, feed, or water regularly. Animals which are alone and can’t socialise with peers, and are in small spaces.
    I think that perhaps people here see animal collections as an art collection, so as long as it’s alive nothing else matters.

    Glad that you are enjoying your journey, and are having meaningful reflections!


    1. Haha thanks for tip on breaking bad. It’s been a fun ride so far!

      I’m surprised the Vietnamese hasn’t jumped on commercialized water buffalo riding. It would be so popular. I’ll make some contacts and we’ll see what we can do together! No way it can fail.

      Seeing the exhibits reminded me of the conversation you were having with that Australian couple at that pub in Hoi An. Lots of animals mistreated, drugged, neglected…all very sad. Lots of conservation groups are working on education efforts in Phong Nha-Ke Bang, so maybe change is coming (albeit slowly)? Overall a sad state of affairs though, and I’ll be avoiding other animal collections.

      Thanks for reading! Looks like you and Gemma have moved through Laos and are in Cambodia. The photos look great! Hoping all is well and you’re having happy trails.


  2. The waterfall pix are amazing. I had no idea you had this blog until now. What a great history of your travels, experiences, life lessons, and God stories. I hope that you continue to blog no matter your location. You are a wonderful writer, engaging, insightful and fun to read. I am following you now and look forward to your next post…whenever that will be.
    PS I am not so sure I am ready to admit that you are an adult yet as an admission to that is an admission that I have gotten older. 🙂


  3. For those who are following Richard’s adventure in Vietnam, I want you to know that he is, at least temporarily, out of the country. A week ago he was involved in a motorbike accident tht left him in need of extended medical care. You can follow THAT portion of his adventure at:

    We are expecting him to recover fully, but it will take a little time. Are expectation is that he will continue this blog as he is able. No doubt he has much more adventure ahead!

    Thanks for your prayers and for staying tuned in!
    Rick Felty (The Dad)


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