A year ago this time, doused in stinking sweat, covered from head to toe in unyieldingly agonizing mosquito bites, all I craved was one very simple, American beverage: a refreshing, effortless pint of pumpkin ale.
Not too demanding of a request, right...?
Wrong! This was actually quite the foolish craving on my part because...well, because I was then currently living on the diagonally-opposite side of the world.
You see, folks, for me, the hardest part about my four-month stint in Vietnam had nothing to do with uncontrollably pungent body odors or abundantly irritating insects. Nor did I have exceptional beef with the exhaustive language barrier, which had me emulating the most admirable of sign language enthusiasts after only three weeks in Asia. (Almost positive I've single-handedly invented a new language that constitutes the frequent use of eye-rolling, wild hand 'n arm gestures, and funny gurgling sounds, induced by the many frustrating encounters with the motorbike taxi men of Can Tho.)
But, putting my insignificant communicational achievements aside, back to my initial declaration:
During those four months abroad, I was most nostalgic about one thing, and one thing only: this would be the first time, in my twenty-three years of existence, that I would miss out on the progression of the autumnal season. The one season, I am naturally inclined to believe, that nobody quite enjoys, or celebrates, like Americans.
There is something so superficially comforting, so expectantly routine about the commercialization of Halloween in the United States - the haunted hayrides; the apple and pumpkin picking; the unnecessarily large bags of calorie-packed candy that can be found in any domestic grocery store, crammed with individually-wrapped packets of crappy chocolate but loved, nonetheless, by millions of Americans, myself included. The fake spider webs adorning corners of coffee shops; the cardboard cut-out gravestones clumsily entrenched in your neighbor's front yard; the distant glow of a lunatic-looking Jack-0-Lantern, crooked smile and all. These are, at their core, what make up the glorious season of autumn for me, along with the smell of cinnamon permeating the air, and the taste of warm apple cider, rather poorly confined in a cheap Styrofoam cup, on sale for 50 cents at Conklins' family-owned farm in Rockland County, NY - sadly, one of the only few farms left in the area.
This year, my participation in fall activities will not be unaccounted for. I will drink apple cider until my stomach hurts. I will carve the craziest looking Jack-o-Lantern, simply because I can. I will, in effect, make up for last year's loss - but also, at the same time, I will be recollecting the following thoughts in my head:
Last year, I was eating pho every morning, enjoying unheard of tropical temperatures in the month of October, and teaching English to foreign children who, every day, managed to put a smile on my face. And I will miss that.
Funny how nostalgia works...