Hanoi – did it change too much or not enough?Posted: August 17, 2011
The fact that it was just the once makes it stand out. I was in a bar chatting to a backpacker and they asked if I lived here. I said I did and they were astounded.
“How could anyone live here,” they said. “It’s horrible”.
I won’t tell you the miserable hellhole they came from. Each to their own.
But lately it seems no one admits to liking Hanoi.
There’s no doubting Hanoi has changed. Nothing stays the same in Vietnam but did it really change that much?
I came here first as a wide-eyed backpacker and was overwhelmed by many of the things that people still seem to be complaining about today. I was scared to cross the street. I was ripped off repeatedly. I got sick from the food. I had cockroaches in my room.
And yet people still seemed to like Hanoi – we liked it in spite of these things.
We loved it because it wasn’t like Singapore – now people seem to wish it was.
There’s no doubting that my circle of friends has changed and shrunk. Back in my volunteer days I’d be a regular around Hanoi’s bars and now I’m more likely to go out for a quiet meal with the missus. Are those pubbing and clubbing still loving it? Is it just the olds who are less positive?
Perhaps young and old expats want almost the opposite of each other. Cheap beer, illegal drinking dens, motorbike madness and the complete absence of a nanny state – all good for young volunteers and backpackers. Meanwhile the marrieds worry about healthcare and education, air quality and having somewhere for the kids to run around.
But I’m tired of meeting people who talk only of escaping.
I wonder how much social media plays its part. In giving us platforms to criticise we forget the positives. Didn’t we we used to love Vietnam’s once-charming crapness? We’d giggle and order another beer and our Vietnamese hosts would giggle with us.
Do we expect more from the country now? Should Vietnam have grown up?
Did it change or did we change? Did it change too much or not enough?
For the record, I still love it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t one day welcome the chance to work somewhere else. I guess Hanoi now fits the role that Newcastle used to for me. It’s the place I’ll always come back to. And I know however much Hanoi grinds me down – I’d miss it if I left. Frankly I miss Hanoi during a weekend in Hoi An.
I sometimes think that expats are scared to love Hanoi. Loving Hanoi is for tourists. Being positive is seen as naive. You need to be brave to be positive.
I hear negativity from Vietnamese colleagues too. I hate that most. Is this something the more international, English speaking crowd have picked up from hanging out with tays? Did we do this to them?
So what did Hanoi lose? What stopped it being lovable? Is it just us? Do we ask too much?