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.
Back then, back when blogging was the only social media, well give or take Friends Reunited, the social bit was the links and the comments.
To a certain extent that’s all moved to platforms like Twitter, Facebook and the rest. Most of the interaction now takes place away from the blogs themselves. Does that alter their whole point? A post was written with the comment box beneath it in mind. If the comment box is obsolete does that change the content of the blog?
But links, links are still good. Links are what makes it all go round. Links continue to power Google so we can find all this stuff.
So alongside the extensive blogroll on the right and alongside Vietnam Blogs. Here’s my three most-readable from Vietnam. Two from Hanoi and one from Ho Chi Minh City:
First off Debbie J Clare, sporadic but worth waiting for. Written beautifully.
Secondly, Antidote to Burnout, this is a long standing favourite who I hope we can persuade to blog more. The niche, architecture, specifically modern architecture, works particularly well because as expats we tend to be more impressed by tradition and history. I recall kids at KOTO telling me off for only taking pictures of things they considered old fashioned – ie bicycles, conical hats etc. That said, check out this for a little bit of Old Saigon.
Finally, aimed at the tourist, rather than the expat I do like the Travelfish Hanoi Blog. Again, like the two above it’s written with little comment, neither cooing glee nor tired cynicism. But if you’re thinking of visiting or coming to stay then it’s just about the best introduction I can imagine. Mercifully it avoids CNN GO’s increasingly irritating list format.
I particularly like Travelfish’s Hanoi People section and in particular the interview of Ian Paynton, (he of Oi Gioi Oi fame), particularly his description of last time he left the country when he “thought about Hanoi every day for two years.”
That was me once. Ian is currently working back in the UK and you’d bet on him coming back, not least because he’s become a little bit famous during his absence. No doubt he’s missing Hanoi all over again.
Before he went I had a brief online chat with him while he was chasing me for my Word column. I reminded him that leaving doesn’t mean you can’t come back. Something I am now reminding myself of as I start to cast the net wider as I look for new employment.
And the flyover, the flyover is just a flyover. Snapped on my way to my inlaws on Saturday night. In the West of the city the growth remains incredible. My current employers (I’m working my notice) just opened an English class there aiming to enrol 50 students, now they’re approaching three times that number. I read (a little too gleefully, or is just me?) reports of slowdowns yet the pace of it all seems as frantic as ever (“ These days, Hanoians do not have much to celebrate…”)
To me though, this is how it always was, only more so.
There’s a balance when it comes to wider family events, particularly the countryside ones.
I know behind the scenes my wife makes my excuses and we keep our appearances to a respectable minimum. It wasn’t that this one was especially important so much as we hadn’t shown our faces for a while. When my wife said it would take half a day I thought we’d be back by lunch. It turned out she’d meant it would be 12 hours door to door.
I recall in KOTO days, visiting the countryside homes of the poorest kids. Food was a struggle but the sheer newness and oddness of the situation made it unmissable. Later as the experience becomes less novel the food becomes proportionately less palatable too. Likewise the drinking, that it’s hard to duck out of, is now a chore rather than just a tale to be mentally filed away for future travel anecdotes.
That said, all things considered, yesterday was fun. No one now is either surprised or offended if I just pick at the food and then fill up on my own smuggled in snacks. The drinking was beer, whisky and rice wine before noon. Having written off the day in advance, being drunk before noon was no hardship. There’s a brief couple of hours of euphoria before the inevitable afternoon fug.
For all my caution when it comes to attending family events I’m proud to be a part of these people. My wife has favourites among them and those she’ll only politely acknowledge. Good people and bad people, family feuds and debts of gratitude from the past.
Their own stories set against this incredible pace of change could be a book on its own and, in that respect, I don’t suppose they’re any different to any other family in Vietnam. I noted that while the oldest members of the family are farmers, the youngest include TV producers, an artist and a cafe owner.
I snored home hungover and slept for three hours. A friend called round late yesterday and said I was still stinking of cheap booze. This morning I felt poisoned and wondered, for the millionth time, what other than rice was in the wine.
But during the day the sheer absurdity of me, sitting cross-legged, eating and drinking deep into the Vietnamese countryside with my Vietnamese family and wife, wasn’t far from my thoughts. A beautifully ridiculous situation that, against all odds, still somehow turns a chore into something genuinely life affirming.
Life these days is very very good. Recently I’ve felt just as much in love with Vietnam as I ever have.
GQ: I’ve always been interested in what it was about London in the ’70s that produced so much great music. What was going on there?
Nick Lowe: London was a real dump in the 70s, when it belonged to me and my friends, because, like most cities, you kind of hand them off. You’re in charge for a bit and then you don’t go out anymore. You say, “Oh god, it’s going to be too crowded,” or “Blimey, not that place again.” So you hand it off to the next blokes, but when it was ours, it was a real dump. In the main, a real dump. Nothing like it is now, with its cafes and its sort of wannabe New York stuff. We had to make our own fun, you know. It was very hard to come by.
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?