I’m in a bungalow by a deep blue fjord in Norway. It is difficult to believe that the pandemic is not yet over. More difficult to believe that I managed to make my way this far after Vietnam’s borders had been closed off for two years.
I head off to a famous viewpoint, what every tourist who comes here does, except that I’m hiking. It is April, but mid-way up, the ground gets damp. As construction noise from the ground recedes, grass hanging from rocks gives way to icicles; their falling droplets ring deep into the silence of the forest slowly waking up to spring. But I’m going up, which feels like going back in time.
The trail is marked with red paint visible on tree trunks and rocks, which become redundant as I climb up further, for I have footsteps of a stranger left in the snow as my guide. With every step up, the greens, blacks and greys of the ground disappear under thicker and thicker layers of white glistening under the sunlight that pierces through leafless tree branches.
Soon, it becomes obvious that after two decades of living in the tropics, I had forgotten how to dress for the snow. It sticks to my running shoes, then sneaks inside through tiny holes to melt into water. Yet, I go on, feel the ground that is crisp yet oh so soft, happy as a child that I was in Poland’s snowy mountains in the 1990s. I pull out my phone to take photos, just like an adult eager to document a little one’s holiday, except I’m both one and the other.
The viewpoint is now right above me, and I climb the rest of the way, the snow going as deep as 30cm. At the top, my adult self overwhelms the child in me, reminding myself to change my wet socks into dry ones. And of course, lunch is to be had before any more fun, that is taking in the breathtaking view promised by tourism guides.
A coach carrying tourists breaks up my tranquil break drying shoes and feet under the bright sun. For a moment, it feels like the present has caught up with me. But I recognise the accent and the words. They’re a group of Polish tourists joking and swearing, like they always do, as they take turns snapping photos. Coincidence? Of all the places!
I finish my lunch, put on my shoes and finally make my way to witness the majestic fjord from high above. When I notice the tourists taking a group photo, I, a Vietnamese gal, decide to speak up. “Hey, want me to take a photo for you guys?” — I ask in Polish. Smiles and laughs erupt instantly. We exchange the usual small talk. They are from all over Poland, while I had grown up in Warsaw.
“And now Norway?,” the oldest man in the group, a retiree, asks me.
“Ah, Norway’s just for a week,” I reply.
“But Poland’s forever!.” he responds instantly.
I, lost for words, just nod and smile. “Forever!”