Christmas is being spent in Northumberland with family. Today included a trip to a fresh, breezy, blue-skied Tynemouth – the anti-Hanoi.
Yesterday we got married again. This time with the whole family present, sisters, kids etc and a lovely day was had by all.
For a number of reasons, 2012 has been a trying year for us. In October, on our anniversary, I asked Loan to marry me (again) and yesterday was the culmination of that. It also seemed to break a run of bad luck. Since then a new job has been secured by me and a new cafe opened by Loan.
All of the above means that, for the first time in 12 months, we’re absolutely committed to Hanoi. We wobbled this year and the wobbling made us more unhappy than anything Hanoi could throw at us. In the end all we needed to know was our near future would work out and when that fell into place we happily settled again.
Beyond this the only thing I need to really love/survive Hanoi is an annual day like today in Tynemouth. Head, sinuses and cobwebs cleared.
I will hate Hanoi again. In the middle of next summer, in a pool of sweat, I’ll dream of windy Tynemouth but I’ll also love Hanoi many many times inbetween.
Happy Christmas to all. I hope your year is ending as well as mine is.
About this time of year an email goes back to the UK asking Mum, Dad, sisters, brothers-in-law and nieces and nephew what they want for Christmas.
Over the years they’ve become used to table cloths, DVDs with Mickey Mouse speaking Chinese and assorted silk dressing gowns that aren’t quite suited to the North East winter.
This year at least a couple of the kids are better catered for with the Little Blue Dragon book. Stephane and San Alexandre Yvin, from Green Tangerine, have apparently written and illustrated it and very lovely it is too. All proceeds are going to the very wonderful Blue Dragon and it’s in English and Vietnamese.
They cost a very reasonable 200,000 VND each and are available from Bookworm.
As regards Blue Dragon check out their recent post on trafficking – a robust defence on justifying the cost of rescue.
I particularly liked Michael’s line in the comment box:
“It sure is strange when NGOs say “We don’t get involved in individual cases.” If there is no “individual case,” then what is there? How do you help a million if you don’t help one?”
NGOs have become very sophisticated in highlighting the circumstances of individuals to boost their fundraising. For them then to turn around and suggest actually assisting individuals is somehow naive, well it doesn’t seem quite right.
Right, we’re out of here. Later tonight we’ll be catching a flight back to the North East of England to spend Christmas with my family so there won’t be much activity on the blog for the next couple of weeks.
I just wanted to say Happy Christmas to friends, family, people who take time to read this blog etc etc. It’s been a wonderful year all in all.
I can’t wait to get back to see everyone in the UK and yet Hanoi is currently stunning. We’ll back back for the cold of January.
I’ve been threatening to write a blog post on commitment for some time now.
In fact, the c-word has been responsible for the bout of bloggers’ block that has been generally slowing my output here. Perhaps it’s better if I just get my thoughts down and try to avoid worrying too much about coherency.
So this is my chain of thought: Relationshipwise I am happily committed, married and settled. Late last year I attended a couple of job interviews and they suggested that the post, while welcoming entrepreneurship, also required a certain amount of bureaucratic plodding too. My interviewer told me of his many colleagues who had served for well over a decade.
Strangely it was music to my ears. After goal-post moving employers and the miracles required from a freelancer this seemed like something I’d be happy to commit too. I was dead-tired of all the previous uncertainty. I wanted my life mapped out for a change.
Very happily the news came on Christmas Eve that I was being offered the post and I was delighted to accept. It made the holidays.
I was in England at the time, with my still-new wife, preparing for her first Christmas in the UK, alongside my family.
We’d been looking forward to being back as much as any kid longs for Christmas. We were counting days. A year of swimming through marriage, visa and work permit bureaucracy was topped with no less than three neighbours deciding to demolish and rebuild their homes. In Hanoi that’s quite normal. It’s also normal to start at 7am and work seven days a week.
I spent the last few weeks in Hanoi grumpy and with a headache that wouldn’t be shifted.
If I wanted to get home this much, was Hanoi not for me? And this wasn’t even Hanoi’s stinking summer it was late autumn’s cool freshness.
But what of my commitment to Hanoi? Was even entertaining the thought of getting out disloyal? Was it weak? Was it just plain embarrassing considering how much I’d earlier gushed my love for the place?
But more than that, was it healthy to even briefly consider leaving – albeit at some point in the future? Do you have to work at a home country just as a marriage requires effort? Is it healthy to just up sticks and move every time a place turns out not to be perfect after all?
Was I so publicly committed to Hanoi that I was duty bound to stay forever however bad it got? Like someone waiting out a bad marriage so as not to upset the kids.
Supposing I did move somewhere else. Would that ultimately make me happy or just restart a cycle that begins in wonder and ends in disenchantment?
The questions whirred around my head and yet I couldn’t make sense of them enough to blog them before now.
Luckily being home was everything I hoped it would be – despite the fact that it also ultimately persuaded me that Hanoi was my future.
Seeing my family was wonderful and their acceptance of my new wife was very touching. We had a lovely Christmas. In between we enjoyed the silence. We slept. We walked. The headache went.
And yet it’s England that feels like a foreign country now. My skin cracked and itched between indoor central heating and outdoor subzero temperatures. Shopping centres were like different planets.
While irritated by Hanoi I had re-written England in my mind. It turns out that large parts of UK cities are not as beautiful as I remember them. I was shocked that motorway verges, like Vietnam’s, were thick with rubbish. Food came in freakishly vast helpings. Coffee shops are taking over high streets.
The snow was beautiful but hated and complained about as if it had been the result of an unwise Government policy decision. Taking my wife to a football match I started seeing the bug-eyed swearing and screaming through her eyes.
Visiting UK is a holiday now and we’re planning to go back in summer if we can. We loved it but it didn’t feel like home.
We came back via Moscow and it was almost a three day trip in all and we arrived exhausted.
But for all that we’re smiling and we’re rested and we’re happy to be here. Hanoi feels comfortable and I say that despite current temperatures that keep us hiding under our duvet in our cold, concrete house.
Hanoi is home and I want to break that moving on habit. I am not sure that even entertaining it is healthy.
I’ve come to conclusion that most places have pluses and minuses that just about level off. What we miss here is more than made up in other areas. There is no paradise – not anywhere – just a set of conditions that hopefully add up to a lifestyle that suits.
In the end I suppose it’s not about an absolute commitment to Hanoi it’s just about an understanding of what we have here.
In the end this place remains special to us. Most of the time.
Enough of the time.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Sir. Any particular reason?”
“Yes, your internet banking does work. I can’t even log in. Please can you just put all the cash into my current account and I’ll withdraw it from there.”
“Sorry but I can’t touch your E-Savings account you’ll have to do it yourself online.”
“But… but I can’t do it online. That is why I am closing it.”
“But you must do it online she says. It’s an E-Savings account. I can’t help you.”
“I am closing my account because the internet banking doesn’t work and I can no longer access it and you are telling me I have to access it before we can close the account.”
“But I can’t access it.”
“Have you tried the helpline?”
“Yes and they told me I was typing in the three digit number on the back of the card wrongly. They told me I had typed it wrongly ten times in a row. Repeatedly over a 12 month period. Three digits.”
“I am sorry sir, I can’t help you.”
“But…but this is my money. I just want to close my account.”
“Have you tried the helpline?”
I move to another queue the one to assistance and information. I explain again.
“Yes, I can do that for you. I could transfer it into your current account.”
“Could you pay off my outstanding credit card debt and then give me a cheque for the balance so I can pay it into a new account?”
“To issue a cheque takes three days.”
“Three days? But.. but… this is my money.”
“Well, could you give it to me in cash?”
“But you’ll have to join the other queue for the cash.”
The other queue is ten people long and there is only one person serving. I join my third queue.
Some time later I eventually reach the front.
“Could I withdraw this amount of money. (Hands over paper with final figure written on it by the advice counter lady).
“Will twenties be okay?”
“Well not really, it’s quite a lot.”
“Sorry but I only have a few fifties. Besides, If you want to withdraw all that money I have to fill out a form. (The form is two pages long and she is filling it in – in pen. NatWest likes paper. When I hit assorted brick walls in trying to deal with their internet banking and online helpline they’d insist I’d write a letter and send it by post from Hanoi, Vietnam to Harrogate, Yorkshire, England. They thought this was a reasonable request.
Anyway. Some time later.
“Sorry but I have to get the manager to sign this.”
She shrugs and disappears for another five minutes. Appearing eventually with the manager. He signs but doesn’t apologise for the wait.
We eventually leave the bank, some 70 minutes after we arrived in it, with literally all the money I have in the world in a brown envelope tucked under my arm.
Luckily HSBC is two minutes away.
We deposit the money on the counter with the bit of paper from NatWest saying how much is there.
“Can we pay this in please?”
“Sorry but you’ll have to count it.”
“But we already counted it. They wrote down the exact figure in the last bank. Please can we put that in our new account.”
“Sorry but you have to count each note. How many fifties, how many twenties etc.”
“Can’t you do that? You have a money counting machine. We already know how much there is. As long as your figure tallies with ours then we are all happy.”
“Sorry, you have to do it.”
“Can we use your money counting machine?”
We take another 20 minutes checking every cash bundle and itemising every single note. Standing on the public side of the glass amongst the queuees we look like idiots as we struggle to find places to put piles of counted bank notes. If it hadn’t taken me two hours to open this new account I’d have told them to shove it.
We hand it over.
Some 20 seconds later she finishes counting it with her counting machine.
“That’s fine Mr Jackson. Anything else I can help you with?”