Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The show must go on

One thing about living in a town like Hanoi is that you go to a lot of housewarmings and a lot of farewell parties. Sometimes you go to multiple housewarmings at the same house, one for every time it’s refreshed with new set of expat tenants. The hosts look surprised when you tell them you’ve been to their “new” house before.

“I was here when this house was built, Sonny Jim”, you say.
“Who lived here then, Grandpa?” they ask.
And just like at Grandpa’s nursing home, the answer always is, as you look off into the distance, “Oh, they’re all gone now”.

Another thing about living in a town like Hanoi is you inherit a lot of cast-offs when people leave. They tend to fall into these categories:
  • Items you are hoarding for no reason. Despite only having a toaster oven, we now own more baking dishes in Hanoi than we do in Sydney (and by "in Sydney" I mean, "in boxes in Erika and Ben's cellar"... Sorry guys!). We did not buy any of these. I hope to acquire the whole colour spectrum eventually. And then... give them away when we leave.

  • Items that prompt people to ask "Why do you have that?". When they left, Jon and Meryl recognized that only a person of Nathan's calibre could appreciate their metallic-finish dinosaur collection. And, well, you can't look a gift-stegosaurus in the mouth.

  • Essential items. At some farewell parties, you get to walk away with any un-drunk booze. Nathan always makes sure to stay to the very end. And to bring a bag.

  • Things with faces. We already have two potato-peelers, but could you say no to this guy? No, you could not.
  • Items that appeal to your inner Freegan. If you help people pack up their house, you basically get dibs on their pantry goods, especially if you say things like, "I guess you won't be using these lasagne sheets now you've given us your baking tray, right?

As with the housewarmings, some of these items have known many expat owners. Oh, the stories that potato-peeler could tell.

When our friends Claire and Greg left Hanoi, they raffled off their unwanted household items at their farewell party. I won a hideous polyester tie that Claire had previously won herself in a raffle of some kind. I gave it to the waiter at the restaurant, who seemed pleased, but maybe he was just pretending. I was just glad I didn’t win the Santa hat with “Claire” written in black texta across the front.

While I enjoy the parties and the free metallic-finish dinosaur collections, the transitory nature of the expat community can be trying. Our first question now when we meet new people isn’t “How long have you been here?” but “When are you leaving?” Followed by, “Can we have your metallic-finish dinosaur collection?”

My abandonment issues weren’t helped by discovering that the AYAD programme which initially brought me here, actually has a special designation for people like me, and it is - wait for it – a STAYAD. That sounds so awful! Like we’re those people who are hanging around at the end of the party and just won’t leave, even though the hosts start loudly cleaning up all the beer bottles.

And the recent departure of our friends/neighbours Rhino Simon and Rhino Sarah has left me particularly bummed. They were the kind of friends who make you a pangolin-shaped birthday cake:

Or give you 21 squeaky rubber ducks as a present (see: Items that prompt people to ask "Why do you have that?", above):

Or who, after you express horror slash delight upon learning of the expression “drinking from the furry cup” make you:

A furry cup. Mum: Don’t look up what that means.

Before they left, they made us these t-shirts so they could stay in our lives forever:

As you can see, poor Nathan is so bereft he can hardly stomach his eggs benedict. Either that or he’s just enjoying the proximity of Simon to his nipple.

Most expats in Hanoi are here for a good time, not a long time. Friendships are quick to form, and intense. It’s like the kids who do the high-school musical together. You might not have much in common but for a brief time you have this, you have Hanoi: The Musical. So what do you do after the after-party (assuming it’s not, as R.Kelly says, the hotel lobby)? 

I guess like all showbiz veterans, we wait it out for the next season. And then we’ll enter stage left, in our roles of Seasoned Expat 1 and Seasoned Expat 2. The good thing is, we already know all our lines by heart.

New people have moved in to Simon and Sarah’s place around the corner. We call them New Simon and New Sarah, which I’m sure they don’t find unnerving at all. Maybe Nathan can distract them while I scope out their possessions for things to bags when they leave. We really do need a new cheese grater.


  1. Those rhino people seem like good people. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Oooh what are the chances you have a round cake tray that you would like me to borrow as I attempt to borrow an oven? As I will be leaving before you, I promise it will be returned one way or another...
    Though why do you have 21 rubber duckies?

  3. I believe you'll be leaving before me. Baggsie the dinasours and ducks to remind me how quackers you both are. But I suspect you'll find you won't be able to part with such wonders...

  4. Karen: Thank you. They are dead to us now.

    Ashton: What you speak of is our precious spring-form cake tin which we brought back from Australia last time we were there. But I suppose we'll let you borrow it. So long as we can have some of the cake.

    Peppi: So mercenary! Unbelievable! Maybe we'll set the duckies afloat on the high seas and let them choose where they want to live.

  5. They have a special term for us wifeys too - 'trailing spouse'. Good thing we have no pesky lives of our own to get in the way of hubby's career.

    And I always thought you and Nathan were the last ones to leave our parties because you couldn't bear to say goodbye! Sniff...

  6. True story:
    One ex-pat apartment
    Jon and Hema
    Good-bye party
    Sean and Emma
    who move into said apartment


  7. We made Nathan a birthday cake too, didn't we..any photos of that, perchance?

    Rhino Simon and Rhino Sarah

  8. I'm pretty sure that one of those casserole dishes is mine.

    I plan on coming back to Hanoi, and laying claim to all those dispersed previous-possessions!

  9. I feel I may have been to some of those farewell/housewarmings in the same apartment...

    Fantastic blog, Tabitha. It reminds me of how much I miss you and the Nam (but not Nathan).

    And needless to say, I would have had a Chicken Moment each year I was in Hanoi. So that's at least three. You're doing well if it's just been the one!

    Cheers from Chilly Canberra

  10. Lani: "Trailing spouse" is one of my all-time favourite expressions. So evocative. It's like your wife is hanging onto your ankle, and you're dragging her along as you try to pursue your important career.

    Julianne: Nice. I remember when you and J-Dogg were leaving and I was all saddened, so you told me not to worry, I should just make friends with Rhino Simon and Rhino Sarah. As you were my boss, I did what you told me to do. So, now, any other advice?

    Rhino Simon and Rhino Sarah: I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. You're dead to me anyway. As dead as the last rhino in Vietnam.

    Jon: I believe you're right. I'll fight you if you try to take it back. I do cardio-boxing now, so you better watch out.

    Sonia: We saw your doppelganger cycling around West Lake a few weeks back! Nathan and I both did a double take. So you're actually still here as far as we're concerned. You should pop 'round some time!

  11. Hello! My first visit, will visit you again. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Congratulations for your work. If you wish to follow back that would be great I'm at
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  12. hmmmm, let me see what i gots...empty bottles of nasal spray...and that's it. I'm low maintenance, sorry.


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