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.