Today is my last day in Vietnam! I’ll be leaving hectic Hanoi and heading back to the homeland. Somehow, a casual ‘let’s go on an extended holiday in Asia’ turned into ‘let’s go live in Vietnam and get a job and apartment and motorbike and friends and many other much more long-term stuff…’ I genuinely don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad it did.
I’ve learnt lots of stuff – namely, the bucket of water next to a squat toilet is not for washing your hands, one cup of Vietnamese coffee is always enough and red lights are merely a suggestion. Never ask for food recommendations (oh good, chicken feet, again), waving your hand in a certain manner means ‘no’ and don’t go shopping first thing in the morning. Sleeping at work is fine, never trust a menu without prices and how to make the Vietnamese ‘ng’ sound with out coughing on someone.
I’ve also still got lots to learn – How on earth do you say ‘water’ in Vietnamese? (I get a different drink every single time I order water.) Is it the same rooster that wakes me up at 5am, no matter where I move to? Why do people keep asking if I’m Russian? What on earth is the group exercise that people do by the lake in the mornings? (It bears no resemblance to any exercise I’ve ever seen before.) Why don’t people call their pets fun names? (‘What’s your dog called?’ ‘Dog.’ ‘Oh… Lovely.’) How many of things I’m doing are illegal? (Approximately once a week, someone tells me something very normal is theoretically illegal.)
And lots of things have changed – For some reason, I really like lakes now, I truly believe every ailment is due to the weather, I am very impatient, I wear ridiculous clothes to avoid sunburn rather than putting on suncream, and I say ‘sorry’ 50% less (keep in mind Brits say ‘sorry’ approximately 975 times a day, so it’s a work in progress).
Some days living in Vietnam has been surreal, some days it’s been mundane. Some days have been mindblowingly wonderful, others have been heartbreakingly awful. Just like living a where, I suppose!
People often think that when you move abroad, your days consist of siestas, sun-bathing and partying, regardless of whether you’re in a country that has siestas/sun/bars. In actual fact, I’ve found that life in a foreign country is much the same as at home. Once you start calling it home, and realise you’re no longer on holiday, you create a routine, get responsibilities and have commitments. You’re anchored in your new country in the same way you were at home.
Some people I’ve met out here have been disappointed their life isn’t a 24/7 party. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how easy it is to set up shop in another country. After a few mild disasters, embarrassing miscommunications and many tears, I started to make some headway. And, eventually, I made Hanoi my new home.
I know some may find the idea of being ‘anchored’ in a new spot negates the point of travelling. For me, it does the opposite. It reminds me that homes don’t have to be permanent. Vietnam has been a lesson in how achievable it is to anchor myself somewhere new, and float somewhere else when you’re ready.
“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd