Friday, 2 March 2012

It ain't over till it's over

I have friends who tell me that the relentlessly upbeat tone of this blog really gives them the shits. It's true that I consciously try to couch any negativity in positive terms, and that does grate even on me sometimes - and I write it.


"Today I got run over by the number 33 bus, but what an adventure it was! Oh Hanoi, you're such an adorable little rascal! What will you have in store for me tomorrow?"


So I'm going to come right out and say it: I'm not loving being here at the moment. 


Coming off the back of two weddings, and a honeymoon, our return to Hanoi three weeks ago was a pretty crushing comedown. 


It's not really Hanoi's fault - the return to normality after any exciting event is always hard, no matter where that normality is geographically located -  but the grey, grey skies and the shoulder-hunching cold of this never-bloody-ending winter haven't helped. 


Nathan and I only ever planned to stay in Vietnam for twelve months. One Saturday morning, a few months before we were due to leave, we were sitting having breakfast at Cafe Five, which has long since closed down, discussing in earnest what we should do next. We wrote out a list of possibilities, with corresponding pros and cons. I still have that list, actually. The option of staying in Hanoi wasn't even floated.


By the end of breakfast, we had pretty much settled on moving to Bangkok - even though it had the rather considerable "con" of being on fire at the time - when Nathan's phone rang. It was a job offer he'd long written off. And, just like that, before we'd even finished our coffee, the decision was made: we'd stay in Hanoi another two years.


That moment changed everything for us. We went from "just passing through" Hanoi to really living here, like proper residents. We settled in, made investments - both physical and mental - and allowed ourselves to fall in love with this town, which gave us plenty of love in return. And worms, but nevermind.


It's been almost two years since that breakfast, and another departure date looms. But this time, there's no list of fanciful next steps being tossed around. We want to go home. Next time we get on a plane back to Australia, it will be for good; we just don't know exactly when that will be. 


I'm already mentally uprooting, undoing all the good work of the past two years. In the grocery store, I find myself pausing before making a purchase. Is it worth buying a whole new box of peppermint tea? Soon it will be our pantry and household goods being divvied up amongst the vultures, like so many boxes of lasagne sheets. Someone has already bagsed our half-used bottle of walnut oil, and guests are complimenting our possessions with that glint in their eye that says "Will you be taking that back to Australia with you?" 


I should be relishing every last day we've got here, but instead I'm browsing Australian rental properties for our future home, and dog rescue sites for a future Tiger to call our very own. Today I found myself looking at Ikea sofas. When you're looking at future furniture to put in a future house that's in a future city the location of which you don't even yet know... well, you need to get back to reality.


I've always said I didn't want to be one of those ex-Hanoians who only appreciates what they've got when it's gone, and I'm at risk of doing just that, right when I should be enjoying my Hanoi (pedal) swansong. So I'm going to snap myself out of it the only way I know how: with a gratingly upbeat ending. Here it comes!


Rather than sitting at home sulking about the cold (first day of Spring - HA! MY ARSE), I'm going to take up Laura on her March Challenge (not to be confused with this March Challenge...) to do something different, or just differently, every day of the month. 


Starting with today, when I made a chocolate cake, a first for our little bench-top oven - itself a hand-me-down from a departed Hanoian - and that spring-form pan we decided we urgently needed at some point but have never actually ever used:




It turns out nothing makes you appreciate the here and now like the smell of baked goods. 


PS. I'll be documenting my March Challenge on Twitter if you're interested. 

42 comments:

  1. Awww, you really are integrated. Most Hanoians seem to have the same relationship with the city.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Patrick. Although there hasn't been one day I've felt "integrated" here! Not a bad thing, though.

      Delete
  2. I have this slightly strange theory that weather doesn't really make you happy (or sad I guess). I used to live in a place with a perfect climate and it felt just so dull. Maybe it's the Englishman in me needing to talk about the weather.

    Beyond that - I left VN once (I probably would have stayed but an ex partner didn't like it as much as I did.But then she didn't like the next place we move to, or the next one after that etc) I missed it too much.

    Recently read an interview with Ian from the Word magazine and he said when he left he thought about Hanoi every day - that was me. I couldn't get a bus into town without pining for my old xe om trip to work. Everything at home seemed so grey in a much less literal sense than Hanoi.

    But everyone makes leaving so final - truth is we are all free to leave (work permitting) at any time and we are also free to stay. We are also free to return. My guess is that it's got its hooks into you enough for you to miss it - whether that's enough to want to return who knows.

    Some one told me "don't go back" when I first thought of returning and told me it would never be the same again. Worst advice ever. Truth is it's just as good - better in some ways - even if I am not in wide-eyed wonder as I once was.

    I always completely failed to take each day as it comes in life and likewise I'm failing at trying to forget where I am. As much as it's wonderful to be in love with a place I think it's healthier just to be content. Not sure if that makes sense.

    I'm nearly six year in and love the place but love it in my own way. Long term residents all seem to be foodies, or have an interest in VN literature or history or democratic process or what. I just like being here. Soaking it up. Broadly speaking I genuinely love VN people - they just fit with me. Life is busy and Hanoi is wallpaper I notice occasionally.

    Staying, going, returning - it's all cool. Just don't hang around long enough to be bitter. People can say what they like about positivity giving them the shits but in any context give me that over negativity. We all have to take responsibility for our own happiness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Steve. It's true that we've probably been over-dramatising the finality of it all. I can't help but sort everything into "life chapters".

      I like your honest appraisal of your relationship to Vietnam. So often I cloak my life here in a Hanoi-ness that isn't necessarily the defining feature of my day-to-day. I work and eat and do the shopping, like I would anywhere. That I'm in Hanoi is usually incidental.

      And you can have my guarantee that we'll be gone before we get bitter. That's a promise we've made to ourselves too.

      Delete
  3. Wherever you end up next stuff will be new and different again, regardless of whether it is Adelaide or Accra, don't despair!You might not live in Hanoi again (never say never), but think of all you have learnt about the place. Neither of you had even been there before your embarked on this chapter of your life. Lots of potential opportunities out there to do the same- in Australia or otherwise. There are always plane tickets!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if I'm despairing about leaving Hanoi. I'm feeling pretty ready, actually. I'm just getting ahead of myself, and planning our next move before we're done with the last. But you're right that there are so many opportunities ahead, and so much to learn. Think of the all the mysteries that Canberra must hold, for example... :) Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  4. Hmm, I do remember us having similar postings about worm medicine, and this was before we met. But before you leave, get as many worms as you can. and pirated films. and software. I can't believe i have to pay for that stuff here. even have to pay for worms and they're not as good here...

    Hope Spring comes early for ya'll--my one hanoi February was pretty brutal (it's called SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I genuinely think I have SAD. I could clearly never live in Sweden.

      The USA sounds awful too. Worms should be a god-given right, not a luxury.

      Delete
  5. Oh no Tabitha - so sorry to read that you are not loving being here at the moment, and even sorrier (for myself - coz its all about me...haha!) that you will be leaving soon and the days are numbered for this blog site! It is my absolute favourite blog about living in Vietnam and has given me so many laughs - and cheered me up numerous times when having one of those days here! And the upbeat tone does not bother me at all - I find it a refreshing change, and hilarious at times. Anyway looking forward to reading about your March challenge, and to savouring the future posts before you head off....

    P.S. Of course wishing you both all the very best for the future in Oz, and with finding the future house and future dog and future furniture...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Suzanne! The blog has cheered me up too on many occasions, especially when I get messages like this! Thanks for your loyal readership, and if it's any consolation there might be another blog about that future house, future dog etc one day.

      Delete
  6. Hey Tab,

    Just to pass on a different message - I know I have only been home for a few months, but being home is awesome. I loved my time in 'Nam and I had a fantastic time there. I may not have done everything possible there, or gotten the absolute most out of my two years, but I have no regrets about my time there. It was awesome.

    However, I am done with 'Nam and I wouldn't go back. Being at home is easy, fun and despite the continual rain, I love being back. I am living on my mum's couch and have no car or really any money but I still wouldn't go back to 'Nam. I love being in an office where I know what is going on, walking around shopping centres and actually being able to buy the things in the shops, and catching public transport and know where it is going. It's just so easy!

    I think I am a little like you in that I tend to close chapters rather tightly, and the Hanoian chapter is happily closed. It was a great chapter, but it is closed. I genuinely don't think that you and Nathan would have those deafening desires to go back to Hanoi, it was great while you were there, but the new city, house, and adorable dog will be such an exciting new chapter.

    I think the Hanoi fatigue is normal, but I think being excited about the next chapter should be allowed too. Plus, the ikea website is so much fun!

    Just wanted to share a different perspective from the 'miss them when they're gone' stories :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ashton, this advice is solid GOLD. I could totally hear your voice in my head as I was reading it too. I think we both shared a pretty similar pattern of ups and downs over the past couple of years, and so chances are your post-Hanoi perspective will be close to mine. In which case, I look forward to having you over for a cup of tea with our adorable new dog, and reminiscing about the good old days. Oh, HANG ON, aren't you moving to Cambodia in a month? What's all this talk of how awesome it is to be at home then, eh?

      Delete
  7. I hope you will continue blogging! I just love your voice :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Christine! I hope I do too, but I can't guarantee the next location will be as interesting!

      Delete
  8. Cambodia is awesome, don't knock those who just shift a little to the south-west, we're looking forward to welcoming you home Ashton!

    I missed some things about Hanoi, then I revisited and realised that I didn't really miss it at all. I still don't miss it at all, or at least I miss it like I miss acne - it is associated with a time in my life which I recall as being fun, exciting, emotional, character building...but I don't actually miss the acne itself. What am I talking about, I never even had acne! I do miss our Hanoi friends, but at least now I can wear some of them on a t-shirt - thank you Tabitha and Nathan!!!

    Simon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment gross old pimply Simon. Hanoi doesn't miss you either.

      Delete
  9. I was just thinking the other day of asking you what you intended to do with those huge fabric canvases you have....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You and all the other vultures! I should make you fight for them. I'm going to take the fabric off some of them to turn into skirts, but the frames will be left behind and you you can choose some new fabric of your own from Cho Hom. Maybe a nice fake Burberry print.

      Delete
  10. Well Miss T, we liked welcoming you back to Hanoi after wedding number two and we'll miss you when you depart for good! And I will view your apartment's contents with a particular eye when we come around, now that you mention it. Given M spotted a rat in the house earlier this evening, I might be after something a little different from your other beady-eyed friends... You haven't got a cat, have you?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No cat, but Nathan is actually a very effective rat whisperer. See: http://www.thecitythatneversleepsin.com/2011/02/our-pets.html

      I must remember to bolt everything down before dinner next week!

      Delete
  11. Oh, I hear ya! I was well and truly over Hanoi when we left and can now remember it fondly - riding my motorbike, summer thunderstorms and too many mango & banana juices at five. Lucky I took 15,000 photos to help with the trips down memory lane.

    Knowing that we're on the homeward slope again now too helps bathe Santiago in a rosy glow too. Everyone needs a bit of home time to recharge the batteries for the next adventure.

    xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've started counting down your homeward departure pretty early, haven't you?! Makes me feel better about getting ahead of myself!

      I look forward to browsing your Vietnam photo book one day in the not too distant future. x

      Delete
  12. sorry you're not loving it there at the moment :( could it just be post wedding & honeymoon blues? i do agree that grey weather doesn't always leave you with a good mood. congrats on your wedding btw, jo showed me some photos and i love everything abt it! hope the march challenge (lol at that link from urban dictionary!) brings you some fun! thanks for participating!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the inspiration, Laura! I'm amazed at how it's already got me thinking differently about my actions during the day. As for the OTHER March Challenge, maybe the two could be combined somehow. Next year, maybe.

      Delete
  13. Hey, why dont you try to blog in vietnamese? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Because it would be a very short blog, Conan. :)

      Delete
  14. Don't beat yourself up for being ready to leave Tabitha, the fact that you feel bad for daydreaming about Oz shows you are still fighting the negativity and being loyal to Hanoi to the very end! Truly admirable. Its totally natural to want to know where you will be living next though and more importantly, what dog you will have! 8 months of being a bum with no home last year drove even Simon and I pretty mad and bereft for somewhere to live in the end. And to anyone else who is done with the challenges of Hanoi but still wants to be somewhere more exciting than home, well there are plenty of other places you can go! Cambodia for example, is a lovely place, you will like it here Ashton! Life is just softer and easier here than in Vietnam in every way, but definitely not dull! Its really rather fabulous, but I don't miss anything about Hanoi either, except our friends, oh and Cinematheque! Happy moving! xx Sarah

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your wise words, Sarah. The sun has kind of come out today and it's amazing how much that cheers me.

      You and Simon seem pretty desperate to get people to move to Cambodia. A little bit TOO desperate. It's obviously crap.

      Delete
  15. remember tabitha in times like these you should never give up HOPE

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Mr President. And here I was thinking you'd stopped reading my blog.

      Delete
  16. A friend introduced me to your blog and it has been a wonderful read so far. I must say, for the sake of being a selfish reader, you leaving kinda sucks but I can totally understand. I hope you have been enjoying your Vietnamese chapter like I have and well, as I figure you and the rest of them will never come back, best wishes to your next adventures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ninh Pham. I think it's better I leave before I completely run out of material anyway!

      We're not sure when we're actually leaving (waiting on jobs in Australia), so you might get another six months out of me yet.

      Delete
  17. The sun, the sun! Yay! It's the first time I've yearned for a sunburn.

    Oh, and dibs on the lasagna sheets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're going to eat only lasagna between now and when we leave just to spite you.

      Delete
  18. You know, if you're just pissed off at the winter... There is no winter in Saigon. Just sayin' !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, nice try. I'm not getting into that whole Saigon vs Hanoi debate again!

      Delete
  19. Hi Tabitha,

    I am really looking forward to you Noseying around Newtown again or perhaps Moochin' around Melbourne?

    My brother and I really enjoy your blog - no matter where you are!

    Miss Annie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moochin' around Melbourne! Love it! Any suggestions for a Canberra-based blog? Comatose in Canberra, maybe? Thanks for your comment and your loyal readership.

      Delete
  20. For some reason,that I can't figure 'til now, I felt so bad reading your post.
    ..I found myself teary-eyed whilst reading it.
    Leaving Hanoi? Vietnam?
    Does it mean I won't get updates about this place anymore?
    Does it mean no more weird-turned-funny stuffs?
    Your posts lifts me up for some reason.. making me enjoy what I am having, seeing , experiencing now..
    You are such an inspiration.. I started my blog because of you..
    ..and it came to me..what now?..
    I don't want to write rants but turn it to fun articles..
    oh...Tabitha.. I can't help but feel sad..I'm so attached to ecery post...I would surely miss that

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your very sweet comment, Kitty! I am very touched. All good things must come to an end though. And you'll get a couple more months out of me yet, don't worry. Thanks so much for your loyal readership. Oh, and I think ranting is healthy sometimes. :)

      Delete
    2. Creative in Canberra, Cool in Canberra, Cultured in Canberra, Comfortable in Canberra. All of these ring true here!!! and we have a lively community of ex-Hanoians who regularly meet up to share a drink, and spend suprisingly little of our time reminiscing about the 'good ol' days' in Hanoi. Not that they weren't good, but I agree with above posters who say there are many positives to going home as well.

      Delete
    3. That's some excellent marketing there, Em! Tom was visiting recently and he similarly pimping out Canberra to us. I feel like I'm part of some kind of pyramid selling scheme...

      Delete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.