Well, this is it. We have only a couple of days left in Hanoi.
Thank you to everyone who has followed The City That Never Sleeps In, and especially those who commented, or sent me emails, or approached me while I was taking the rubbish out, to say they enjoyed reading it. Keeping this blog has been one of the highlights from my time here.
I wrote this final post as a column for AsiaLife, but I’ve changed it slightly to reflect my changed feelings since I submitted it for publication. At that time I was a little nostalgic and dewy-eyed about leaving, but now, I’m just excited about the future. We leave Hanoi for a long holiday in Thailand, and then a new, quiet, life in Canberra - if there’s a city less like Hanoi in the world, I don’t know it. And for us, right now, that’s a good thing.
We’re leaving with some extra baggage too: our Uncle Ho portrait, our wedding ao dais, and a baby on the way (carry-on baggage). As we are told, constantly, the baby will be a Golden Dragon, a particularly lucky and lucrative kind of baby, of which there will be many, judging by the number of pregnant women waddling around in the Hanoi heat at the moment. It’s an incomparable farewell gift from our host nation, the endowment of lunar good fortune on our new family.
Thank you, Vietnam. But we know it’s time for us to leave.
As I have mentioned before, because you know, it's on my mind day and night, the house over the road from us was knocked down. In the middle of the night. Using jackhammers. They’ve posted an artist’s image of the government office they’re building in its place, and it speaks a thousand words. Most of them swear words.
When Nathan and I saw that image of towering steel and glass, and landscaped gardens featuring strange 2D palm trees, we both just knew: we wouldn’t stick around to see those palm trees in 3D.
The thought of ceaseless jackhammering filled us with overwhelming dread. We knew it would be the straw that broke the camel’s back, if living in Vietnam was a camel.
Over the past couple of months, the cracks had already started to show. The honking seemed louder and more unnecessary; the pollution became unbearable; fruit vendors took on Machiavellian qualities; children stopped being cute, just loud.
But nothing about Vietnam had changed, only us.
After two-and-a-half years of enthusiastic ardour for Vietnam, I was cruising for a bruising. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I’d always said we should leave before three years is up, but I think it’s more just the expiry of the statute of limitations on Keeping Your Shit Together.
Living as an expat in Vietnam isn’t hard, but it isn’t always easy. While, yes, you can drink out of coconuts and get cheap pedicures, it’s also loud, crowded and polluted. And some vegetables are grown in human poo.
It always has been that way, and I’ve always known that. But to thoroughly enjoy Vietnam’s many, many upsides, I’ve had to not let the downsides get to me. And I’ve done this through a constant practice of Keeping My Shit Together: focusing on the positive, being curious rather than judgemental, being dazzled, not frazzled.
Keeping Your Shit Together is an active process, and over time, it’s tiring. Once you begin to falter, it easily spirals into Losing Your Shit. You don’t look at your beer and think, glory be to God for cheap beer; you think, this beer is probably laced with formaldehyde. You give the stink eye to children with those squeaky shoes. You see a dog and you say to it, “They’re going to eat you”. You look at an artist’s image for a new building and you don’t feel impressed by Vietnam’s unstoppable march towards modernisation, you just think, that building is going to be the end of me. And then you tread on a used sanitary napkin and that pretty much seals the deal.
One of the hardest things about being an expat in Vietnam is listening to the whinging of embittered expats - who’ve Lost Their Shit - who act as if they’re serving time here against their will. Their bad juju is catching, kryptonite to anyone fiercely, and rightly, Keeping Their Shit Together.
I don’t want to be one of them. I’m going to accept that in this break-up, it’s not Vietnam, it’s me, and I’m going to get out of here before I bring anyone else down with me.
I leave Vietnam with no regrets. I loved living here; it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. It has given me so much - so many memories, and opportunities, and friends and life lessons - and asked for not much more in return than just Keeping My Shit Together. I definitely did better out of that deal.
But now, I’m just ready to go home.
Thank you to you all. Try to Keep Your Shit Together,