As graduation approaches, each day is filled with last moments with friends, family and familiar foods, accompanied by the feeling that you’ll never be so young again. And, as a foreigner who has accepted Hanoi as my true home, there is an especially long list of ‘lasts’ to go through.
Soon, whether or not I realise it, I will have my last bowl of genuine Hanoi pho, my last hangout with my group of friends, my last taxi ride where the driver giggles at my Vietnamese accent. And knowing that, I find myself struggling to make those last experiences extra special and memorable. Lying in bed, I think of fancy dinners with my friends at expensive restaurants, or the craziest and funniest prank we could pull on our last day of school.
It seems we try so hard to cherish these last moments partly because we fear what will come after them, and partly because we fear they will never come back. The “great new opportunities” — in the words of all college brochures — that lie ahead of us are certainly exciting, but I can’t help but feel that after years of struggling to become respected leaders of our communities, we are starting all over again in a bigger and harsher world. We’ll become freshmen thrown into a strange new environment; we’ll struggle to find friends who will sit with us during lunch. But more importantly, as soon as we get through the last hangout, the last meal, the last taxi ride, what used to be our present will become history.
I’m sure all the keepsakes I’ve gathered until now will be tucked somewhere safe along with my memories — and once in a while, I might even go searching for them in whatever becomes of my bedroom. It will be like playing an old video game: it’s fun to indulge in some already-conquered Metal Slug X, but sooner or later you want to return to your ‘normal’ life.
Similarly, the numerous Skype calls I’ll make with my high school buddies and the international rates I’ll spend on fake bowls of pho will only be short remembrances of a life I no longer live.
But I also know that no matter how hard I try to organise the perfect last moment and how successful or catastrophic those attempts turn out to be, it will not change their value in the future. Those memories, experiences and lessons will be reminders that some part of me is still the naughty, fearless and hopeful teen who was able to find inspiration and lifelong dreams from stupid pranks, awkward laughter and the smell of broth and herbs.
Tae Jun Park is a high school senior at the United Nations International School of Hanoi, unishanoi.org. Next year, he is planning to study engineering at Seoul National University in Korea