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 xxxxxHey friends if you like my content please share it - Namaste