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Dear jet lag, I hate you.

July 27, 2011

I just got back to Vietnam. I was in the States for almost three weeks for one of my younger sister’s wedding. I did the same trip in May and when I returned last time I was introduced to a member of the Jet Lag family that I had never met in all my years of travel.

I left New York on Wednesday and arrived in Saigon on Friday morning. It’s already a long trip, but I fly standby part of the way so it’s even longer. I knew I would be exhausted when I got here, so I told myself I could have the weekend off from life, but come Monday, I better get going again. I love going to the States, but find that it’s really difficult to maintain any sort of productivity in writing or exercise while traveling. I came back with projects to start and weight to lose.

I was sleeping through the night from the start, but could never really seem to wake up. When Monday came around, I was still struggling to keep my eyes open all day. I was trying to reconnect with people, but all I could think was “I’d rather be sleeping.” I would sit down intending to write and end up eating instead. I wanted to exercise but couldn’t drag myself out of my apartment. I couldn’t focus long enough to write. I felt lazy. I was disappointed in myself for being unproductive. So, I got depressed.

About halfway through the week, I talked to my older brother who has been living in China for almost five years. I was complaining about how I felt. What was wrong with me? Why can’t I motivate myself to do the things I know will make me feel better? He informed me that I was suffering from jet lag.

“But, Israel, I’ve done this so many times before.”

Then I started to think about the different trips and the circumstances surrounding them. I usually traveled east – South Africa, Europe, Dubai. Or, when I was traveling west, I was going somewhere exciting. I was moving to a new country with my new husband. Crossing the street was challenging. The people were fascinating. Every meal was an adventure. I was tired a lot – and depressed some, but I thought it was just from being stuck in a hotel all day. From having my entire life turned upside down.



Returning to Vietnam in May really surprised me, because in my mind I was looking forward to coming back. Right now, this is my home. My husband lives here, and we have a place together here. My routines and responsibilities are here. I have friends here.

But, after a few days, I couldn’t remember any other reason why I wanted to come back. I had forgotten what it was like to be stared at ALL the time.

“Yes, I look weird. No, I don’t have very much hair. I’m tall. I dress funny. Do you want to take a picture? Why don’t you go get your friend so both of you can take a picture?”

It wasn’t amusing anymore. It was irritating. Beyond irritating. A trip to the Metro nearly put me over the edge. It was hard to decide whether to cry or to rage. I could’ve squashed someone. Things that intrigued me nine months ago were driving me insane.

Between my brother and other friends here who had recently returned from the States, I found out this was normal. I wasn’t losing my mind. Vietnam was not a bad place. I just had to get over my jet lag and readjust to the culture.

Now, I’m coming to Vietnam for the third time. I was angry before I even got off the plane. The usual staring, shoving, and general lack of respect for personal space made it worse. But this time, I know better than to give myself three days to readjust. I also know that it’s okay to stay in my apartment until I feel ready to face life here. I bleached all 3mm of my hair before I left so I’m even more of a spectacle now. I started thinking about hats and other head covering options today. Maybe I’ll just stay home until it grows out.

I know there are many things that I love about living here; things about the people and culture that I really enjoy. But, I’m going to give myself a little more time before I dive full force back into them.

I’m curious why I’ve never experienced jet lag like this before. Is east-west jet lag somehow worse than west-east? If so, why? I was told today that if you faint you can re-set your body clock… I’d love to hear from those of you who travel and deal with these time/culture adjustments.


Currently reading: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Katrina permalink
    July 28, 2011 00:22

    Is ‘The Help’ good? Is that the one that a movie was made out of recently?

    • July 28, 2011 00:47

      So far I’m really enjoying it. It’s not what I expected (something along the lines of Nanny Diaries) but I am more pleased with this. I think it is the same as the movie. I haven’t been keeping up though.

  2. Adri permalink
    July 28, 2011 00:51

    I believe the fainting thing. Every time I faint, I feel like a million bucks afterwards. A doctor once told me it was just like a pc reboot. xxx

    • July 28, 2011 01:34

      I’m going to have to look into this. I don’t think I’ve ever fainted. Not sure I really want to start to beat jet lag, but the whole reboot thing is interesting. I wonder why? Thanks for leaving your first comment on here btw xoxo

  3. July 28, 2011 05:56

    Jet lag sounds horrible. I’d hate it, too. I never knew it included adjusting to a different culture. I don’t have any words of wisdom to add to what you’re already doing except, hang in there.

    • July 28, 2011 20:16

      Thank you, Angela. I feel much better this time already knowing how I could potentially feel. Maybe that will make it pass more easily 🙂

  4. July 28, 2011 10:53

    I’ve heard that if you drink tons of water the day before you travel, it’s supposed to help your body readjust better. I was drinking a lot during my European traveling last summer, and I barely had any jet lag. On the way here to Korea, though, I stayed away from liquids because I didn’t want to keep getting up from my aisle seat to use the small, crummy airplane bathroom.

    • Mary Holby permalink
      August 2, 2011 18:14

      You rode an airplane to Korea…why not a jet?

  5. Alice Kennison permalink
    July 28, 2011 12:53

    I don’t do much traveling, Grace, but from your own comments it sounds like it could be better described as “culture lag.” Even though your “home” is currently in Viet Nam, it will never take the place of the good ole USA where you really feel comfortable. Last week I was talking to a Chinese friend who is here on a Visa. He loves the USA, but is constantly torn between staying here where he feels he does not fit into the culture, or going back to China to a much reduced lifestyle. I think it would be more unusual if you didn’t initially feel a little depression when arriving back in Viet Nam. I’m sure you’ll soon be back to your usual sunny self. No charge for the amateur psychology! 🙂 (And I think your hairstyle looks cute on you)

    • July 28, 2011 20:20

      I really love getting your comments. I appreciate the thought you put into them. Culture lag is a great description of it. It makes me wonder whether I would feel this way if my 11hr body clock time change, east-west travel was bringing me back to the US – instead of taking me to a different culture. Love hearing from you. I’m glad you like my hair 🙂

  6. Mary Holby permalink
    August 2, 2011 18:13

    It is possibly not just jet lag but emotional leveling. Before any big event especially long anticipated happy events or attention demanding events some folks’ emotions and expectations increase. When the event is over expectations are met (or not) their emotions begin to level to function in everyday life. The leveling can be tiring and sometimes emotions dip lower than ordinary before they level. My opinion and experience…just sayin’.

    • August 3, 2011 23:44

      Mama, I think you are right. Thanks to your advice growing up, I’m never surprised by that let down after a big event. I never thought of going to America as an event that would give me a let down, but it makes sense. Funny how knowing what you’re dealing with somehow makes it a lot easier to deal with.

  7. Israel permalink
    August 3, 2011 07:23

    I’m in the throws of jet lag myself now though accompanied by a sore throat, which is the bad side of actually sleeping during my flight over. I can’t figure out if it is the sore throat or the jet lag that is really kicking my butt today. I think the only sure way o get over it quickly is a military-strict adherence to a certain schedule the first few days, getting outside and staying physically and mentally stimulated. Though compared to arriving in some US airports I find the arrival here a bit easier. I got into a small argument with the customs agent in Detroit after he made a smart comment about me walking slowly to the counter. Back in China I knew I was in kind of a bad mood during the train ride back and decided to just keep my mouth shut.


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