AS A REMINDER, I LEFT MY LIFE IN THE UK TO START A NEW LIFE IN VIETNAM. I’M A 40 YEAR OLD WOMAN WHO IS FEELING THE FEAR AND DOING IT ANYWAY
I’m currently sat writing in bed in my apartment
My bedroom is a smallish room containing only a king size bed and a large wooden wardrobe and laminate flooring. The bed, although big in size, could not be called a bed by Western standards, it’s rock hard, in fact I was surprised to find that it was even made of fabric when I first investigated it.
The windows of my bedroom display a faded Finding Nemo scene and there’s iron bars across. Most windows in Vietnamese apartments seem to have bars on, I can’t work out whether it’s to stop people coming in, or to stop people jumping out.
I have the window open slightly as it’s 30 degrees and sunshine outside. I can hear a father and son playing, major construction, motorbike horns in the distance, and cockerels screeching. It’s not an unpleasant experience, in fact I’m feeling very content, it’s amazing what sunshine can do to lift a mood.
Last week, as usual, involved some challenging experiences…
I was very close to cracking point, ‘get me out of here’ I thought, not necessarily home, in fact definitely not home, but just somewhere where things might be a little easier. Where would I go, what would I do – who knows?
Another dodgy taxi experience led me to walk home in the dark and pouring rain with rats and cockroaches on my tail. I also felt at breaking point with teaching English. What I’d thought would be a few hours a day is in fact far more with all of the admin that’s required, plus the amount of energy that involves teaching 4-6 years olds was proving too much for me.
Why am I here? I’ve come here to write, have a slower pace of life, yet I still don’t have any free time and I’m always exhausted.
Luckily there was a shift
As my confidence grew and I got to know the children more (ie. know their names) I found I could manage the classes/children much more effectively and I wasn’t so tired afterwards.
An unforeseen bonus of me having to walk home the other evening was that I got more of a feel for my surroundings and this has made me far more confident about going out and about on foot. Most things are actually walkable, it’s about 40 mins to work on foot, although it’s too hot to walk there in the daytime at the moment – but in a few weeks it should be fine.
Vinh Yen is a strange place
It’s very big, but very spread out and there are lots of unique little areas. I haven’t yet had chance to see any of the mountains but hopefully I will have a motorbike soon and this will open up my life here further and allow me to go exploring.
In the UK if you wanted to explore somewhere you’d just grab a rucksack and head out, that’s not really the case here, firstly because it’s so hot, and secondly how would you get back? Public transport seems to be on a par with Northern Rail – elusive, unreliable and filthy.
I think I also have to accept that I don’t feel 100% safe here as a woman or/and as a Westerner. I’m not saying that I’m not safe here, I’m saying that I don’t feel safe. Both taxi experiences have left me with an unsavoury taste in my mouth. There have been other bits and pieces too, on the whole with a feeling that I’m being taken advantage of. This probably isn’t really the case, as I’ve said in my previous posts Vietnamese people have showed me true warmth and kindness, yet these little occurrences on the contrary weigh heavily on me.
Also, one of the many reasons that I left my life in the UK was so that for perhaps the first time in my life I could be anonymous. For too long I’d felt the burden of living in a small town and longed to be free of it. Why I thought I’d be able to do that in Asia I’ll never know, I stick out like a sore thumb.
As soon as I set one foot outside eyes are on me. When I go into a supermarket people nudge and stare and talk, the children follow me around. Large groups of men drinking at the Bia Hoi shout ‘hello’ to me as I walk past. If I sit outside a cafe people drive past on their scooters and do a double take. Some people stare and laugh. It’s quite a pressurising experience although generally if I’m feeling quite good I’m OK with it, it will just take some getting used to I expect.
Anyway, I digress, let’s finish off what I was saying about my life here in general and my attitude towards it.
Getting over myself
Once I’d finished moaning to myself about all of the things that I’m not happy about here, accepted them and let them go, I realised that I could actually have the life that I had envisaged here, maybe not just yet, but further down the line.
For the first time since I’ve got here I’m starting to feel settled. I now know how to do all of the tricky things that I need – get water, top up my phone, buy food, get to work etc, so everything is easier. I’m also starting to make a few friends.
‘I absolutely love working with young children’ – is a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say, yet it is true. I’d envisaged that I’d be working with older children here but most of my classes are Kindergarten (4-6). Young children are so innocent, trusting and open to everything in a way that teenagers and adults can never be – I get such pleasure from seeing their curiosity and enthusiasm and a great sense of satisfaction from seeing them learn.
My passion for journalism has reignited – there’s so many interesting and unusual stories here. I can’t wait to write/tell them, I just need to work out how and when.
I went to the English Club last Monday. It’s a club set up by some teachers at my centre. We meet once a week at a cafe and chat to Vietnamese people for a couple of hours, to improve their English and teach them about Western culture. Of course, we get to learn about Vietnamese culture also. Each week there’s a set topic and next week I’m facilitating a wellbeing discussion, I’m very excited about this.
Things on my mind this week
It’s now only 6 weeks until my beloved Holly is coming to stay with me. I miss her madly everyday, and I still cry sometimes. I just want to be in her wonderful company and energy, hug her and laugh with her again. I want to make her food, kiss her goodnight, discuss our dreams, share our favourite books, and slag off each others choice in box sets. I’m holding an image in my mind of her walking through the gates of Hanoi airport and it makes me smile.
I’ll have time off work when she’s here so I plan to show her Buddhist monasteries, old folk villages, national parks, traditional markets, the roaring city of Hanoi, massages and spas, vintage boutiques, coffee shops and as many vegan buffets as we can handle. It’s going to be AWESOME. I’m also looking forward to showing her the weird and wonderful routines of my new life here and introduce her to my new friends.
Also on my mind
Rishikesh, in North India is calling to me once again. I went last year on a work trip for Yoga Magazine. My dad lived there in the 70’s and talked a lot about it when we were growing up so I already felt a strong connection to it. When I arrived nothing could have prepared me for the magical beauty of the scene and the wonder that I felt – it was a magical kingdom, like those you see in illustrated fairytale books.
Last Christmas my Uncle Martin gave me a pile of old airmail letters that my dad had sent to him during his time living in Rishikesh. It was like a snapshot into my dad’s past, they discuss fast motorbikes and a new band on the scene called ‘The Who’. My dad also mentions some of the places where he stayed and some of the people that he knew. When I read this I immediately knew that I would go back someday and visit these places and perhaps even try and find some of the people – although it was 50 years ago!
I’m not sure when I will go, all I know is that I want to prioritise it and whilst I’m there I also want to do my Yoga Teacher Training. Not necessarily because I want to teach yoga (I’m not sure if I’d be a good fit for it or if I’d be any good at it) but just because I feel it’s the next step in my personal journey. It will be some time next year when I can arrange some time off.
If anyone has been to Rishikesh and can recommend a Hatha teacher training I would love to hear from you – there are over 100 to choose from in that area so it’s quite daunting.
Life is good.
I’m very lucky to be in Vietnam having this experience.
It takes far less energy to just accept things (that you cannot change) than it does to challenge them or feel resentful about them.
Much love and kindness to you all xxxxxx
P.S Sometimes I’m just walking down the street and I think ‘OK I’m living in Vietnam now, I’ve done it, I’m here… wow’. It’s quite surreal.
AS A REMINDER, I LEFT MY LIFE IN THE UK TO START A NEW LIFE IN VIETNAM. I’M A 40 YEAR OLD WOMAN WHO IS FEELING THE FEAR AND DOING IT ANYWAY
When I first arrived in Vin Phuc, I felt incredibly relieved
I hadn’t realised that I’d been holding onto my body in such an uptight way, when I suddenly found myself with space around me I allowed myself to relax. It was an ‘Ahhhhh’ moment. My first impressions were that the air smelled sweet, there was lots of greenery and lakes, the roads were well looked after and quiet, and there were big wide pavements for me to walk on – what a treat.
On my first afternoon I ventured out of my hotel to the streets nearby. There was a typical Vietnamese park opposite, which comprises of kids playgrounds, small platforms (similar in shape to the bandstands we use to have in our parks in the UK years ago before the councils knocked them all down) and exercise machines.
We have these machines in our parks but they’ve never really taken off have they – perhaps it’s because we’re too self-conscious, and also because it’s mainly raining? Anyway, the parks in Vietnam are well used by everyone, not just families and children. It’s not uncommon to see big groups of men or women doing their daily workout at the park.
A fish out of water… again
There are no Westerners here. The following day when I ventured into town, I was greeted with strange stares and double takes. When I walked down a street filled with people outside cafes drinking coffee it was like a tumbleweed was passing through, the chatting stopped, everyone turned to look as I heavily put one foot in front of the other to get to where I was going – not that I even knew of course. It was very unsettling, once again I put my head down and felt like a fish out of water. What was I doing here again?
The hotel where I was to stay for five days turned into something similar to a satirical horror/Soviet spy film. It had such a creepy feeling about it. I’m not sure if it was because there was barely anyone there, or whether it was something more. The rooms themselves were really nice, spacious and clean and with enormous balconies. It was an architecturally grand affair with large pillars, possibly built in the eighties – it had an enormous banqueting room for around 300 people and a swimming pool overlooking a lake! Unfortunately the pool was empty and had been for some years I was told.
The first morning I wondered what to do about breakfast, there was no information in the rooms at all about anything, not even house rules. As usual I was starving, I hadn’t eaten since leaving Hanoi the previous lunchtime. I tried my luck downstairs. I walked into the banqueting room and it was completely empty.
The hotel staff spoke no English whatsoever – and why would or should they? But this is our conversation through Google translate.
“Please can I have some breakfast?” “Hmmmm no we don’t have any.” “But I’m very hungry.” “Ok ok ok.”
He leads me into the banqueting rooms. “I’m vegetarian.” (they have no word for vegan here) “Ok we don’t have anything.” “Don’t you have any bread?” “Ok ok ok I’ll get you some bread.”
He walks off and comes back 10 minutes later “We don’t have any bread. Would you like some chicken eggs?”
At this point I just though ‘yeah go on then’, I need something. Also, just to point out the hotel isn’t near any amenities or shops etc. I was desperate. “Ok, sure.”
He walks off and comes back in ten minutes. “We don’t have any eggs.” “OK.”
Motivated by hunger I ran upstairs, grabbed my bag and got out of there. I had seen on Google maps that there was a vegan buffet half an hour away. I walked past many French colonial government mansions with trimmed lawns and guard dogs, and I came to a gigantic manmade lake. These are all over Vietnam. This one was much cleaner than others I’d seen and also the feeling that it was there for leisure, for entertainment, for fun. There were decrepit marble steps surrounding a good part of it, similar to those in an auditorium, a place to sit and watch, but it was all overgrown with weeds. In the distance I could see some bird shaped love boats on the water.
All of this puzzled me. There was nobody around, nobody anywhere, just the odd motorbike flying past – who sat on these enormous marble steps? Who used these love boats? It reminded me in many ways of Blackpool but without the melancholy, more just a feeling of historically good times.
Another day another vegan buffet
I arrived at the Vegan Buffet and what a sight to behold it was. The waitress showed me a text on Google translate which said: “Hello woman coming food first time – you are very welcome here.” Small little gestures like this mean so much in a foreign land. The buffet was amazing. It’s hard for me to describe as I’m still not sure what many of the things they are.
It included battered pineapple, baby corn and sweet potatoes. Ten different flavours of tofu. Bamboo shoot salads. Marinated aubergines and peppers. Five kinds of rice. Stews, soups and dumplings. The cost is 60K which is £1.90 – pricey for Vietnam actually.
Served alongside is soya milk or corn water, or you can buy non-alcoholic beers – something I’ve always considered completely pointless. If you’re going to have a drink that’s not alcoholic then make it something tasty surely? Corn water is surprisingly tasty, it’s made with sweetcorn and I’m not sure how, but it has a delicate sweetness to it that’s both wholesome and refreshing. I go to this buffet now most days – I mean what’s the point in cooking when I have this on my doorstep…
Is it the eighties?
When I arrived at my new teaching centre I was quite surprised, it’s at a mall. Malls are a very big deal in Vietnam. They are the place to be, and to be seen. Capitalism in Vietnam reminds me of the eighties in the UK and rest of the Western world – business is booming, upwardly mobile is the word I’d use for much of the population (in the cities at least anyway), and these guys want the brands and gadgets that reflect this.
Although, and this is where it gets complicated, in my inexperienced eyes as least anyway – there are really big super malls that are modern and clean and high-tech and selling all of the top brands, and then there are malls that are reminiscent of The Arndale in Manchester before it was rebuilt. Crumbling, filthy and selling second rate and fake goods, but these malls also seem to be equally respected, and by everyone – all classes. You guessed it, I’m working at the latter. Weirdly though, I really like it there. The other strange thing that I don’t understand is that a lot of these goods, for example fake Gucci watches let’s say, are clearly fake and made in China, yet they are really expensive – and people buy them. I’m wondering if people know they’re fake or not – anyway welcome to my mind….
Ups and downs
My first week of teaching has been a rollercoaster. I’ve had good days and I’ve had terrible days – when I thought about quitting. I’m teaching mainly 4-6 year olds and god they are so cute, but managing 16 children who don’t speak English is a real challenge. You’ve just convinced one boy to put his clothes back on and you turn around and two others are rolling around on the floor, another is eating crisps and spilling milk everywhere and another is boxing another one around the head – that’s while three other children are crying for no particular reason, and one has left the room without asking. Having said that, it is so rewarding to see them learn and know that you’ve influenced this. And small children are so funny, the things they say and the things they find funny, I’d kind of forgotten that. Anyway the journey continues.
And now down to business. The last few days here have been awful for various reasons…
I agreed to stay in the accommodation provided by the company that I work for, and I agreed to share it with another teacher, even though I’ve never house shared in my life and didn’t really want to. Anyway, I said I’d do it temporarily while I got settled.
As I packed my bags and ordered a taxi from my hotel to my new home I was feeling excited – the next step in my story, and after four separate accommodations over the last month I was looking forward to being able to unpack properly and at least start to (hopefully) feel a bit more settled.
Hmmm what do you sell exactly?
That excitement soon disappeared when we arrived at the accommodation. The only thing I can compare it to is like a scene from inner city Manchester, Moss Side perhaps. Lots of high rise flats, building rubble and rats on the streets, cockroaches in the stairwell, and weird filthy little shops selling a range of things that one would never need. Similar to the corner shops we used to have in the UK before supermarkets and online shopping took over. Musty shelves with out of date food and cosmetics and hundreds of bright coloured sweets and cheap plastic toys.
I should add that the weather had taken a turn and whilst it was still 26 degrees, it was very overcast, now reminding me of the UK at its worst. This cast a grey tinge over what was already a both physically and psychologically grey scene. “When we will see the sun again?” I asked a fellow teacher – ‘Oh not for a few months now’…
When I actually saw inside the apartment I was somewhat relieved. It was bright and spacious and modern, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like housing in the UK or could I ever compare it to my beloved canalside apartment, but it was OK. More importantly my new flatmate, Stephanie, is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. I’m not sure what I would have done without her over the past week, she has been so kind to me and helped me out whenever she could.
I don’t yet have a motorbike yet and this a massive cause of frustration for me. Places are walkable, but it’s boiling, it’s hard to cross the road, and there’s stray dogs everywhere so I’m not really inclined to walk. In the UK if you want to buy something you can just go and buy it, well that’s not the case here. There’s nothing online advertising anything, not even shops, you have to go to a shop and kind of work out what they sell. Anyway, I’ve been taking taxis everywhere.
Not a nice experience
A couple of nights ago I flagged a taxi down after work to take me home. I knew something was up as he shouted the name of my apartment to other taxi drivers and also called someone on the phone and I heard him say it again. He also drove like a lunatic, with no respect for other drivers and honking his horn the whole way (in a horrible decaying gold tiny rust bucket), it was really stressful. When we got to my apartment I looked at the meter and paid him.
“No you must give me more”
I pointed at the meter
He then turned the meter to zero and locked the doors. He was shouting at me.
No give me more..
I was trying to ram the door open but there was nothing I could do.
I started to panic
I started shouting ‘Stephanie’ really loud out of the window and I told him I was going to phone the police.
A man came over who could hear all of the commotion and they both started laughing at me.
At this point I went nuts and started crying, I felt really unsafe.
I didn’t know what to do.
I would have paid him the money just to get out of the car, but I didn’t have it on me.
I told him this he just kept saying ‘no, no, no’.
I was in a real panic, I felt so vulnerable and outraged and in disbelief.
I rang stephanie and asked her to come down and pay him.
He kept turning around and continued shouting, and laughing, and waving money at me.
This went on for about ten minutes.
Superwoman Stephanie turned up on a moped with the money and a Vietnamese man and woman. They challenged him about what he was doing and he said that he’d never had the meter on and that we’d agreed that price.
He still wouldn’t let me get out of the car but I could see that he was beginning to feel shifty and a bit nervous now that these other Vietnamese people were involved.
He opened the doors.
I almost fell out of the car and walked over to the building rubble and rats (there are massive rats everywhere) and just sat down on a bench in the squalor that surrounds my apartment and cried, and I couldn’t stop. Tears streaming down my face
‘I want to go home’ I thought, ‘I really want to go home. I hate this place, so uncivilised, so tedious, so pointless’.
Not the norm
I don’t really think any of those things. I was just in shock at being locked in a car, something which has never happened to me before, I’ve never been locked in anywhere. I felt so oppressed and powerless and vulnerable. I’ve heard about these taxi experiences before, they’re not uncommon in Vietnam with expats. I got over it eventually. This is the only experience of this nature that I’ve had since I’ve been here, sure I’ve been ripped off a few times with purchases but I’m not really bothered as whatever price I pay for things it’s still cheap to me, it’s to be expected in a poor country. Generally Vietnamese people are, as I said in my previous post, gentle and kind and all have shown me kindness since I’ve been here.
The hospital beckons
The following morning when I woke up I couldn’t see through my right eye. I looked in the mirror – damn my whole eye was swollen and it was tender and it looked horrible. It felt like the last straw – I couldn’t take any more. The lump in my throat returned. I went to the hospital (again taken by Superwoman Stephanie) and apparently I had been bitten by something, they said a butterfly but I think not, the translator couldn’t actually speak much English. They prescribed me some antibiotic eye drops and it now seems to be clearing.
Some thoughts this week have been that I just want to buy a bike, rent an apartment, top up my phone, and I can’t do any of these things without help. It’s a very strange situation for me as I’ve always been fiercely independent throughout my life and it takes some getting used to. Of course, when I learn Vietnamese everything will get easier and I’ve already asked someone to tutor me so will see how that goes.
I’ve been here a month now, I expect for those in the UK it will feel like I’ve only been gone a few days, for me, I feel like I left a lifetime ago.
My thoughts this week have been: ‘I don’t want to be here, I do want to be here, I don’t want to be here, I do want to be here.’ Everyday is different. I never think about returning to the UK, my thoughts turn to India and Rishikesh.
Who knows where this story will go next – today is a good day and I feel like I will stay here, but who knows what tomorrow will bring…
Much love to you all – each and every single person who reads any of my posts – I’m eternally grateful and humbled xxxxx
P.s Generally our apartment doesn’t have cockroaches, although last night one which was the size of a small mammal was waiting for us in the bathroom when we got home. Superwoman Stephanie comes to the rescue once again!
Years ago, when I was foolish and naive enough to think that you could find love on dating apps I signed up to a few and became a bit of a veteran dater.
It was a strange and unsettled time in my life, but I cannot deny the hours and hours of entertainment and hilarity it provided for all those around me, it was the source of some of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure in telling, they were so good that my friends would often say ‘Hannah please tell me that story again about the mafia dude who turned up in the full length trench coat and wouldn’t let you speak’. You get the gist.
‘Lols’ are out big time
As anyone who’s used these kind of app’s knows, there’s certain standards that you quickly adapt to sort the dross out. My own personal standards consisted of saying no to anyone who used the word ‘lol’ too much, used too many emojis, called me babe, darling, beautiful, sexy or, described themselves in certain ways.
A pet hate was someone who described themselves as ‘Beardy’. This flummoxed me. Was there something I was missing? I can see that you have a beard, half the population can grown one if they choose… please, what does this tell me about you? It isn’t any kind of achievement to my knowledge?
Secondly, and this is more common than you think – ‘Costa Lover’. Are you actually being serious? You love Costa Coffee? Not the planet, not animals, not books, no, you love coffee from a chain shop. OK, you’re a definite no, for too many reasons to note.
Maybe you think I was being too harsh, maybe I was.
When I first started researching into Vietnam one thing that constantly came up was the coffee. Thousands and thousands of coffee shops and a massive coffee scene apparently. I paid barely any notice to it at all, I’ve never really liked coffee, although I’ve tried many times over the years.
Around a week after I arrived in Hanoi my friend Miranda and I went to a coffee shop. She really wanted to try the Vietnamese coffee that she’d heard so much about it. I was happy to go along and order something else. Unfortunately when we arrived, there was nothing else on the menu so I ordered one anyway. Wow.
The Energy Coffee That Changes Life
I couldn’t believe how nice it tasted, sweet but not sickly, with a strong caramel flavour, served over ice – it was 32 degrees and just what the doctor ordered. As we sat there drinking our iced coffee and watching the hustle and bustle of the Hanoi streets the caffeine started to take effect, and god it was strong. I wondered if I was actually shaking – I wasn’t but my heart rate had certainly quickened. Miranda felt the same.
“OK, I’m glad I’ve tried it but I won’t have another one.” I naively said.
We went our separate ways. I went back to my apartment and did all of my washing that I’d been putting off for days, a Zumba workout, went to the supermarket, cooked dinner, washed up, then went for a walk after! Intense.
Anyway, fast forward a few days and I found myself wandering through the streets of Hanoi killing time before an appointment, now then what was it I could really do with ? What do I fancy? Ah yes, a Vietnamese coffee.
Drip, drip, drip
What I love about the coffee culture here is that it has a very slow pace, you order your coffee, it takes a few minutes to arrive, then you wait for it to process (you don’t mind doing this because you know how good it’s going to taste), then you drink it slowly. You don’t get a lot so you savour each mouthful and you just relax watching the world go by. The initial high that I got was short lived, I guess the body gets used to it quickly.
Now then, there’s going to be a person who is extremely dear to me and has a similar name to me who is going to be devastated by this short video that I’ve made – I was actually given a mild warning before I left – ‘Mum, please don’t do any videos’. What can I say? I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
As a reminder, I left my life in the UK to start a new life in Vietnam. I’m a 40 year old woman who is feeling the fear and doing it anyway
When I left the UK I wasn’t feeling good at all. It was like a toxic vapour had taken over my mind and my body and I had a deep sense of unease. All the plans that I’d been making over the last year, and had been so excited about, now seemed so daunting and uncomfortable. The thought of leaving all of my family and my precious daughter was almost too much to contemplate, and I spent the last few days holding back the tears, walking around with a lump in my throat, and wishing that I hadn’t planned this ridiculous move.
It also wasn’t the smooth departure that I’d hoped for. The day before I was due to fly I went to visit my beloved Gran in her care home. She has severe dementia, she has good days and bad days, and when I arrived it was one of her very bad days. It’s extremely upsetting to see someone you care so much about, who has lived such a happy and full life, to be so desperately unhappy, confused and vulnerable.
Whilst I was at the home I received information that the hotel that I had booked and paid for, for my first week in Hanoi, had now closed down. This send me into total panic mode. So I was at the care home, trying to reassure my gran and calm her down, and really trying to focus on just being with her, whilst at the same time feeling so anxious that I was out of breath, it was a horrible feeling. I managed to book somewhere else but it really threw me off as I’d planned everything from being based at that specific hotel.
Luckily as soon as I arrived, I felt better immediately – something lifted within me and I was excited again, although the first week in Hanoi is a haze. I was jetlagged (asleep all day and awake all night) and I had culture shock in a big way. I was also starving, there were no accessible vegan places – one night I had a beer and some dark chocolate for my dinner and counted myself lucky. Everything I tried to do didn’t work out the way I’d envisaged. I’d planned all of these great things but I didn’t do most of them. I spent most of my time getting lost, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
What I now know is that there are plenty of vegan places, but they’re not called that.There are Buddhist restaurants and they are everywhere. The food I have eaten in some of these places has been some of the most delicious vegan food that I have ever tasted – even if I had no idea what it was!
My first impressions of Hanoi were that the streets were filthy, the traffic horrendous and unbelievably noisy, and it was incredibly hot, too hot. One day when I stupidly planned to walk around West Lake (17k) I nearly got heat stroke after 45 minutes. I’ve had it once before when I was working in Aruba and I’ll never forget the symptoms – confusion, exhaustion, and a very heavy body.
Saying all of this, I felt comfortable here, I had a deep sense that I was OK, and would continue to be so.
Not what I thought
I had chosen to stay in the Tay Ho area, which is the expat area of Hanoi. When I say expat area, it’s not like expats areas in say Spain, full of cheesy apartment blocks and cafes selling fried breakfasts. All it really means is that the majority of expats live there so you might occasionally see another Westerner and some locals speak a bit of english. I’d done hours and hours of research on Hanoi and because I’d joined loads of expat groups I was under the impression that there are lots of Westerners in the city, there may be, but it’s a huge city of 9 million people and whatever Westerners are here are a drop in the ocean.
During my time in Tay Ho I did have some interesting encounters. I went on a date! I haven’t been on a date for about 18 months now, but I thought ‘well why not’? And of course, there are many reasons why not, but I forgot! We went to a cocktail bar called the Red River Tea Room, it was really nice, kinda like a very old musty London pub with a big beer garden overlooking the lake. It was a fun evening for sure, there was no romance whatsoever on my part, but in all honesty it was hilarious in many ways. I don’t have time to write about it here but the details will be going into my book.
I also met my friend Vicky a couple of times for lunch and drinks. I met her through FB before I arrived, she’s a lovely woman, a headteacher, and she’s been very kind to me – she showed me around the area and checks in with me to see how I’m doing, that might not seem much, but let me tell you it’s a massive deal when you don’t know a living soul.
On the move
Anyway, a week later I moved to another area to some accommodation which was provided by my new employers. It was on the 24th floor of a high rise building. There were no Westerners whatsoever in this area and at first I felt like an alien, everyone was staring at me. I felt like a fish out of water and again, I kept doing everything wrong – it’s a communist country and there are very specific set ways of doing things – such things like you can’t go into a supermarket with a handbag! The first couple of days were a struggle, the lump in my throat returned. I have no idea what I must have looked like, some freak with blonde hair and white skin skulking around and avoiding eye contact.
But the more familiar I got with the place and the routines the more my confidence grew. I started sitting down on the plastic chairs in the street and ordering coffee, I started smiling at everyone I saw. What a difference, everyone started smiling at me back, and saying ‘hi’, and asking me where I was from.
Vietnamese people are kind, sweet, gentle, humble, unassuming, patient. I’ve never before been in a place where I feel there is just a general respect for persons, people, anybody. They are smiling, friendly and gracious. It automatically lends to a feeling of safety. In my 3 weeks here I have not seen one angry exchange between anyone.
Also, mindful. Vietnamese people will sit for hours, in the same spot, without a phone or any distractions, they just sit there, on their own, at peace, on the street, in cafes, in the parks. Being around such calm behaviour is calming in itself. I have not yet seen a Vietnamese person rush anywhere.
Two days after I moved into that apartment I went to meet a Vietnamese woman for coffee, I’d never met her before but we have a mutual friend and we also work for the same company. It was my birthday and she brought me a vegan mango cheesecake with my name on, I almost cried. She then took me on the back of her bike exploring the streets of Hanoi – it was fantastic! Such freedom being on a bike. She then took me to dinner at a really swanky Buddhist restaurant, it was incredible, the whole experience was so gentle – the decor, the staff, the food – it was a birthday to remember. It was such a humbling experience, this woman, who I didn’t know, had taken the time on her one day off to make sure that I had a nice birthday. Such kindness.
Sometimes it’s easier just to quit
The next bit of this story is about me training to teach English. The company that I work for have a very specific way of teaching. Basically I’ve spent the last 2 weeks doing intense training. I won’t bore you with the details but it’s been very tough. I spent quite a few days thinking ‘wow this is so hard, this moving abroad thing, why did I think it would be easy?’ There were even times when I thought I might quit, I didn’t, I powered on through. I also met some great people on the training so that was a great bonus.
There is so much more that I could write, so many interesting or funny little stories, so many cultural differences that are fascinating, so many amazing crazy occurrences, but I could go on forever.
Anyway, I’ve just arrived in Vin Phuc. It’s so peaceful, the air is sweet, and there is greenery everywhere. It’s a massive relief – I had no idea how stressed I was in the city.
One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet is how I feel about myself, now that I’m here. It’s very hard to explain but I feel like a massive weight has been lifted. I’m not really sure what the weight was, perhaps my past, perhaps the energy in the valley, perhaps depression. I didn’t think that I was depressed but now that I’m here and I feel so light and upbeat and free – maybe I was.
I’m not missing home at all, I’ve had the odd thought of the fresh Yorkshire air and I spontaneously cry when I think about how much I miss Holly, but generally I feel great.
I want to finish by saying I’m so touched by the people who keep messaging me to see how I’m doing – you have no idea how much this means to me and I’m extremely grateful.
Much love to you all and I’ll write again when I can xxxxx
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