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On most weekday mornings—barring downpour or exhaustion—Mitch, Jillian and I wake up at 4:45am and are out the door at 5am headed to the gym. My night of sleep is so sound and unbroken it feels like I wake up fifteen minutes after knocking out. The first thing I notice, after my brain turns on, is the wall of humidity that greets me as I step outside of my air conditioned room into the hallway. I wander downstairs, fill up my water bottle, and head out with the gang. Let me add that without them, motivating myself to get up, make the twenty minute walk, and go hard in the gym would have been a monumental effort. Much love for Mitchy and Jillian.

“This morning routine, just like many parts of my three weeks in Vietnam, was not easy and was not ideal. But it was without a doubt, three of the best weeks of my life. The hard and constant work gave me a drive and a purpose, and I never felt bored or felt that I was engaged in meaningless activities.”

As we walk, we are greeted by the usual questioning stares from the locals, to which we return a “Xin chào.” People are up early setting up shop preparing for the market while others are delivering huge blocks of ice to stores, performing tai chi, playing tennis, or even hanging out playing cards and smoking cigs. Generally, people are less approachable in the morning—they are not unfriendly, just quieter and focused on the task at hand. This is not always true, as Jillian made friends with some older women doing tai chi who then took her out for coffee and a group of us played tennis with some locals who were kind enough to share their rackets and balls. In general though, the relative introversion makes mornings quite peaceful, a silence punctuated only by motorbike honks, an occasional bark, and the government news broadcast playing from the loud speakers around Long Mỹ.

When we arrive at the gym, we pay 10,000 VNĐ and our respects to the kind man who owns the gym, walk past the regulars (usually standing on vibrating stations made to “jiggle” your fat off), put down our stuff, and get to work. The first week, before my body adjusted, I would sweat so much during the workout that my hands would prune as if I’d been in a pool for an hour.  Every exercise would become a test of my grip strength. But I miss how much I sweated the first days because it brought with it a special sense of accomplishment.

The feeling I have on the walk/run back reminds me of why I continue to wake up early each day: newfound energy and alertness, elation after a great workout, and an enjoyment of the Vietnamese mornings. There is now much more bustle, and with the rising sun, we see smiling faces and a bumping market. There is every tropical fruit imaginable, bánh mì, cà phê (coffee), and people everywhere trying to sell lottery tickets. My appreciation of this is a little rushed, however, as we hurry to make it back to the hotel in time for breakfast and quick shower before we are out the door heading to school.

“I started to develop relationships—deep ones, like those between me and the Vietnamese and American coaches; meaningful ones, like those between me and the children whose unique and vibrant personalities came out more and more each week; and even small ones like the nod I would share each morning with the gym owner. The people, especially the children, taught me how to love where I am and live in the moment.  As a result, I think I smiled and laughed more in three weeks than I would in a year.”

This morning routine, just like many parts of my three weeks in Vietnam, was not easy and was not ideal. But it was without a doubt, three of the best weeks of my life. The hard and constant work gave me a drive and a purpose, and I never felt bored or felt that I was engaged in meaningless activities. I learned to use energy from the people around me, whether it was the directors, fellow coaches, or the crazy kids, to keep myself going. I began to feel at home in Vietnam, and the people around me began to feel like family. I started to develop relationships—deep ones, like those between me and the Vietnamese and American coaches; meaningful ones, like those between me and the children whose unique and vibrant personalities came out more and more each week; and even small ones like the nod I would share each morning with the gym owner. The people, especially the children, taught me how to love where I am and live in the moment.  As a result, I think I smiled and laughed more in three weeks than I would in a year. Thank you, Vietnam, you have taught me so much, and I am so grateful. I’m going to miss you, your people, and my mornings in Vietnam all too much.

Sincerely,

Jake Koffman

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