Tonight in Hanoi

BIT OF FRUIT, some tea just now. Looking out over the rooftops, wondering what stories will unfold at ‘N.’ Many people to thank for helping out with this one, all of that will be shared later, when there’s more time. Going to set up the space. 5 hours to go. ‘N’ starts at 7! Last few reconfirmations arriving now… *!* is the feeling.




When ‘yes’ becomes ‘ticket-yes’

DISCOVERED OUR MOST RECENT GUEST today on my visit up to the north side of town. Really fascinating and fun conversation, on the spot, pretty dramatic. Wow. I knew that I was in over my head when I realized suddenly that the person I was meeting was far more practiced in the art of listening than me. Also a little older. A year. Just a year. But she was, clearly, so much wiser, in this particular aspect. Then I lost my hat. I don’t mean that as some kind of expression, (if it is an expression?) Well, I guess these things happen. Losing hats, I mean. Then I caught up with my team. Then we got dinner. Then I came home, and read through the email. Then I saw that our count for ‘ticket-yes’ guests had bloomed to 13 (from the 7 that I reported earlier [edit] yesterday). Things move really quickly the closer we get to the moment of ‘N’. It’s like relativity, and spacetime, or maybe just… deciding. There are some lovely people we will be gathering together, in the shared moment that will be happening at ‘N’ Hanoi: NARRATIVE. Here’s a bit about the journeys here, with ‘N’ in Hanoi, for the last few weeks. First, we had to pick a date. This is how.



Choosing a date, together

We used an online poll so people could mutually agree on a date for ‘N’.


THE INVITEES. Tonight, I’ll close the online poll where I invited people to confer on a mutual date. (The first few lines will show you how we landed on Tuesday as a date.) But whom would I invite? It was a matter of gut feeling. If someone frowned, no. If someone avoided eye contact, no. If someone gave me a warm return smile after I said hello, that was a little step towards maybe. After a while, we had a critical mass and a date. Soon after that, I just shared about it here and there and waited to see how things went. The people I met in real life were in cafes, on the street, (I shied away from interrupting people at lunch, but didn’t mind accosting someone who might be walking along on the way in or out of somewhere, like the youth with a trumpet in a case earlier today… hey, if you’re reading, I’m serious about the improv stuff, very). Overall, I looked around as much as I could, walked kilometers upon kilometers, got lost on the buses, found an incredible juice shop on Yen Phu, invited a young lad from the No. 9 to ‘N’ (who responded to the poll above), carried forward, carried on, worried, thought I wasn’t really fit for this since I’m an out-of-towner, took that and owned it, circled around and around, realized it doesn’t matter cause you’re a stranger everywhere and in my case especially in the ‘where I’m from’ places, took a train to the countryside to look at the land formations and rivulets and get lost and wind up… okay, that’s too long a story, then took a few days off, then did a mini-checkin with myself to decide if this was worth trying to do, then kept at it, because what’s ‘worthy’ is what’s ‘noteworthy,’ in so many ways, and NOTEWORTHINESS was our last ‘N’ theme, and wow, did I learn what that means (to me). It’s all relative. What would have been the point if I didn’t try very hard, and if not hard because hey, it’s really hot, and it rains, and it’s hard to get motivated sometimes to go out and talk to people I don’t know, then to try, at least, earnestly. Carefully and honestly, to discover the *new* and *different* by getting out of my box.




WONDERING HOW THIS WORKED? Mechanics are simple. I invite the first few guests to a poll, where we could see if this was even reasonable to attempt, given I have a limited time here (visa). And when we saw some convergence for the 27th, I asked some others to join in on this, too. As the number approached 43, I realized it was time to just ask directly. Emails and personal invitations followed, and the last few lines are those who confirmed just these last 24 hours. For this ‘N’, I tried it a little different from before. Instead of making people get tickets ahead of time, I just thought, let’s start with the date, this time. So I invited people, as I went.

Going along, starting in late May, and continuing through June.

In total, there were 43 people invited to this poll. (I met way more people than that, people I didn’t think were really a good fit. I’m looking for the kind of people who say ‘yes’ to the unexpected, and look for challenges, and are ready to discover others who might be of similar ilk.) Must also tally the people I invited in other gestures, but I haven’t gotten a final count yet. I’m pretty distracted, it’s hot here, and it’s hard to get too terribly excited about what might happen when I don’t know if… well. If 16 will be there. Then again, what do we really ever know?


Of 43 invitees, there were 18 respondents to this poll.

As I write this note at 9.31PM here, 13 are ‘ticket-yes’ guests.

I’m excited.

13 today.

16 tomorrow?

Let’s see.

Late registration (USD $27) opens tomorrow for the last three seats.


The invitation

As ‘yes’ becomes ‘ticket-yes’

USED TO THINK that ‘N’ was about pushing back on the culture of maybe, way back in 2015 when the idea of orchestrating 16N, a 16-way blind date was just a sketch on a napkin.

But, that was early days.

Now, with the learnings from previous ‘N’ salons in Phnom Penh, Bangkok and London, I see that ‘N’ isn’t so much about commitment from the side of our guests as it is about me making the invitation. That is the work: me committing. To seeing if people would be there, be curious, be open. To learning from one another, to listening with eyes and hearts open. Isn’t that where the beauty is? Isn’t the pursuit of beauty the point?

ARTFULNESS. So yes. ‘N.’ Is an invitation. Some reading this, I hope, from other ‘N’ events will appreciate this next link. A poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer with this title, ‘The Invitation.‘ (It’s on the left-side sidebar of that page, check it out.) As passed on to me from someone I just happened to meet, happened to get to know, and happened to have that feeling, ‘Yes. I need to invite this person to N…’



Selected excerpt from ‘The Invitation’
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

Read the whole poem at the poet’s site, here >

What happens at ‘N’

IT IS SUNDAY, 11.20AM, here in Hanoi just west of the Botanical Gardens. Not too hot, and I have one hour to get all the information together for everyone who is registering for ‘N’ Hanoi. I’m going to share the meetpoint, now confirmed, and set everything up for everyone who is making a commitment to themselves and to one another. So we can all show up for ‘N’ on Tuesday.


That’s like… This week.




WRITING FROM MY CAFE, ‘my place,’ I like to think of it. It’s under-designed, unpretentions, relaxed, and there’s a TV behind me that I’ve learned how to tune out. That bit reminds me of being at my parents’ house, where I learned to perfect this skill. This cafe is relaxed, a bit smoky for me, but chill. The people who run it, the women who seem to be related, are starting to know me. Today someone even said hello and waved me in. This is nice. Showing up has its merits. So being comfortable in a place starts with showing up enough times to get used to it, to be welcomed. The welcome is a big part of the design of high quality conversation-space, I feel. Even if today, right now, that conversation is with you, reading there, hey hey, the important part for setting up the space to write here begins with feeling like I’m in a place that’s relaxed, comfortable, where I can trust I’m safe. Welcome.

Since late May, I’ve been going around the city discovering little venues, small shops, tiny restaurants, and most importantly, new people. For the journey of ‘N’, the more I write publicly about it, isn’t so much about the ‘making N happen’ as it is trusting the process of discovering that, when you just go ‘out there, wherever there is,’ as RH put it so nicely that one time in Phnom Penh, then you just… you just happen upon the things you are meant to find, discover the spaces and learnings as and how they happen to make themselves revealed.

I promised to share on this blog about the programme for ‘N’. So you can see what’s going to happen. That’s… one way to see. But if you are wondering what ‘N’ is really like, I invite you to read a guest post from the lovely SR, who had attended the first ‘N,’ in Phnom Penh… Read what S said, in her guest post, ‘Skipping the awkward ‘get to know you’ phase’

BELOW IS A PIC from that same ‘N,’ originally posted on instagram by ‘N’ PP guest KGM, and shared by permission here. I almost never share pictures of what these events are like because… we have this one thing, where we ask people to put away their devices and phones and focus, instead, on being there. Real life. Conversation. Plus it’s hard to convey what ‘N’ experience is like.  Since it’s about, at least for me, the being there, and the moment of connection. Impossible to put into a digital summary, but hey, this pic, we thought, was pretty darn great. 🙂 K is, after all, a pro. More soon, especially if you’re on the invitation list already for ‘N’ Hanoi. TUESDAY, 27 June. (No? Get in touch to request an invitation.) To the journeys!




‘N’ Phnom Penh (April 2015) // Photo: KM