Friday, 15 June 2012

Goodbye

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,
Tabitha x

73 comments:

  1. Bye bye Ms Tabitha! I will miss you weekly musings ... however not as much as I miss you and Nathan in real life.

    Thank you for contributing to making my own Vietnam adventure totally awesome. Reading your blog when I first arrived had me in tears and fits of laughter. You capture the expat experience perfectly and it was just what I needed to make sense of all the things that seemed so crazy, so foreign, so funny. And then, after I stalked you, your home cooked dinners and great company became a welcome part of my new life.

    I can't wait for the blog about Canberra.

    OMG! Congratulations about the baby! What a lucky kid to have you two as parents.

    XXX

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    1. Jo From The Island! I count you as one of the many "good things" that came out of this blog. Thank you for stalking me. I would recommend you as a stalker to anyone.

      And I can't wait for the blog about Switzerland! You must do it.

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  2. Hey guys! Congratulations! That's awesome news! ( the baby....not the leaving). I shall miss your take on the highs and lows on life here. You have given me a few actual laugh out loud moments and I am more of a sniggering chuckle kind of girl. I wish you and Nathan all the best for the next great adventure. Dani X

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    1. Thanks Dani. Good luck with the rest of your time in Saigon, and the blogging!

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  3. A round of applause is the only fitting response. Here's to change.

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  4. Hey Tabitha,

    Congratulations to you and Nathan on the baby! Mel and I are both very, very happy.

    All I can say is, you guys deserve a lot of credit for what you've done in Hanoi. As you rightly comment, so many expats become embittered, negative, all those things... I think your blog will stand as evidence of your ability to stay curious and positive about Vietnam.

    Enjoy the clean air of Canberra. Would love to catch up with you when work inevitably takes me there. I bet you can't wait to drink water STRAIGHT FROM THE TAP!

    Nathaniel.

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    1. Yes, I look forward to catching up with you guys! We can all sit around and drink tap water together! Thanks for your comment. You're too kind.

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  5. Thanks for your fabulous blog. Your account of Nathan's proposal with dancing dragon brought me to tears.

    Congrats on your Golden Dragon - I hope all goes well.

    Betcha anything when you get back you'll be saying "where is everyone? The streets are deserted!"

    I look forward to Nosey in Ngunnawal!

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    1. Thanks Persia. I am a bit worried about the emptiness, but we'll take it in exchange for the peace and quiet. I've never longed for it so much in my life!

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  6. See you guys Canberra side soon enough,having spent some time in Canberra,I think you will actually see a fair few similarities with Hanoi- many people in Canberra are not from Canberra and are curious about exploring it (and sometimes see it as a sentence they need to complete), but the fresh air, peace and quiet and order are going to be a bit of a shock to the system. Congrats on the carry on luggage!!!! Can't wait to hear about the next chapter in the adventures of Tabitha, Nathan and co.!!

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    1. You're the first person I've heard compare Canberra to Hanoi NOT for the humour value! Quite a convincing argument too. I'm definitely keen to make the most of the place, and it genuinely looks like it has A LOT to offer. I refuse to be a whinging expat in my own country!

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  7. Nathan, Tabitha, small fruit sized offspring growing in the womb of the latter - enjoy Thailand and Australia. Thanks for your blog, and a special thanks for helping me and the Sarah Keep Our Shit Together over our last year in Hanoi, it wouldn't have been the same without you guys. We love you all very much.

    It seems that you have picked an auspicious time to leave: http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/pages/2012060709-rare-buddhist-flower-found-in-central-vietnam.aspx

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    1. It's a lemon right now. Not a Vietnamese lemon (aka lime), a Tay lemon.

      Shame you weren't here to help us Keep Our Shit Together, although I think we would have just made each other worse. Getting red-faced rage is now known locally as "Doing a Mahood".

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  8. I didn't know you were pregnant!! YAY!! Congrats!! When are you due? that means Ian is going to be a grand dad- ho ho ho!! love it! x

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    1. He will be! We'll make sure to give him some suitably embarrassing moniker. I'm due in early December. Hope everything's going well with your own little Dragon.

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  9. Thanks for all the good reads Tabitha. I hope Canberra is great. Congratulations on the new bub.

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  10. Congratulations! Have a lovely break, and see you back in the 'Bra

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    1. We will! In fact, it seems we'll see half of Hanoi's expat community there too. All roads may very well lead to Canberra.

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  11. Thanks for all the fantastic writing and entertaining. It's been a real treat reading your musings, each one of which strikes such a familiar cord for us Saigonites down here. Good luck in Canberra! Tim

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    1. Thanks Tim. I'm glad the Saigonites managed to stomach my blatant northern favouritism. :)

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  12. Tabitha,

    I have loved every moment of reading your blog ever since I've been living in Hanoi. I think you surmise Hanoi better than I ever can, so I just send friends and family back home your blog and say this is what its like. I read your blog out loud, in hysterics, to Gareth when he will listen. I revel in your adventures and look forward to reading about the next chapter of your life.

    Hopefully we will see you in Canberra sometime in the future. All my love to you, Nathan and bub, you are wonderful people.

    Krista xo

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    1. Wonderful people! Thank you Krista! Good luck with your Hanoi bucket list. You know I left without ever seeing Uncle Ho? For shame.

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  13. Thank you for writing such a fantastic blog and all the best for the future.
    Your faithful (and very quiet) reader.
    Mai

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    1. Thanks for your comment and your readership, Mai. :)

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  14. Hey Tabitha,

    Will miss the blog......loved your writing and hoping you start a Canberra one!!

    FYI 2012 is the year of he "Water" dragon! Golden dragon happens every 60 years and the last one was 2000. Still very exciting news no matter what kind of dragon you have!

    Danni

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    1. Haha, I KNOW! Nathan and I actually looked up what it meant to be a Golden Dragon and found, very confusingly, that 2012 is indeed a Water Dragon year, but try telling that to anyone in Vietnam! We have had many, many arguments about this. These people want Golden Dragon Babies, and facts aren't going to get in the way of that. Thanks for your comment. It is very vindicating.

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  15. Tabitha & Nathan, we loved meeting you in Hanoi and are so glad we'll all be in Canberra together next year. It must be fate. Look forward to raising our little Water Dragons together. Big, big congrats again on impending parenthood xxx

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    1. Aww, thanks Lani. Water dragons are those funny lizards with the beards, aren't they? They're pretty awesome. I'd be happy with one of those. See you in Canberra!

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  16. Yay for a small dragon is on the way. Congratulations!

    I've enjoyed every articles you have wrote about Hanoi. Thank you for showing us, the locals, the insight of a positive, humorous and inquisitive expat. You blog stands out as a guideline not only for expats in Vietnam, but also for everyone who wants to make the best of their living. I wish you lots of luck and success for your future.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Chi. It means a lot to me. I feel honoured that a local would be interested in the blog at all, let alone get something out of it. Thank you.

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  17. I loved reading your blog. I live in HK and although not the same, many things you wrote about rang true for me too. It will be a shame to miss a read and a chuckle with my breakfast. Good luck with the baby too. How exciting. I am sure that they will bring you lots of joy and many other things to write about.

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    1. Haha, when we've been to Hong Kong, we spend the whole time pointing out how different it is to Hanoi! We love telling the locals how clean the air is (which it is, compared to Hanoi), just to get them ranting. But really yes, I bet there are lots of universals to the expat experience. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

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  18. Tabitha, I will certainly miss your blog, but I totally understand where you're coming from. I've had so much fun reading it - thanks again for taking the time to keep up the writing. Good luck back in Oz!

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    1. Thanks Mike, and good luck with the rest of your time in Saigon.

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  19. We really will miss your blog. Thanks for all the excellent posts of which we pretty much could relate to every single time.
    Good luck and all the best in Oz.

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    1. Glad you could relate, Mark! Thanks for commenting.

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  20. Tabitha oi! This is a major blow to the Hanoi blogosphere. I fear it may never recover. I think you did a terrific job of keeping your shit together during your time here. May all your shit continue to stay manageable. Have fun in Thailand and good luck in Australia! We'll miss you!

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    1. Thank you Sarah, for your comment and your praise for my shit. And as for the blogosphere blow, You'll just have to post twice as often now. We'll miss you guys too. Good luck with everything and stay in touch.

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    2. I'll really miss your blog Tabitha! But how exciting to have you, Nathan and a baby in Canberra!
      By the way, Canberra botanic gardens has dozens of water dragons (the lizardy type)just hanging around, they love it here.
      August is still cold and wintery but I adored my first spring back in Canberra, the flowers and the colours and the clean air were spectacular.
      Brendon and I have a baby due in 3 weeks! holy shit! There must be something in this 'water dragon' year thing. Though mine was not "Made in Vietnam", much to the disappointment of my colleagues.

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    3. Ooh, you've made Canberra sound so lovely! I can't wait, actually, especially for The Nature. Have you seen those water dragons run on water? They are incredible. Good luck with the baby, and I look forward to meeting him/her soon!

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  21. Tabitha: I've been avidly following your blog since I started living overseas at the end of last year and will be very sad to see it go! Thank you for sharing your experiences - they've provided me with much amusement and some comfort when I've had my own 'chicken moment' or felt the sting of pizza-induced expatriate guilt. Best of luck in Canberra!

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    1. I'm so glad that "chicken moments" have gone international! Thanks for your comment and enjoy that pizza. :)

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  22. Hi Tabitha,

    Many, many congratulations to you and Nathan on your pregnancy! I wish we could have met in Hanoi. Your blog was my first real introduction to life in the city, and there were parts of town, like the mannequin shops in the Old Quarter, that i couldn't pass without thinking of your blog. I've been back in Washington, D.C., since May -- we were in Hanoi only six months -- and wish you the best in your new life in Canberra. Hope you'll pop up in the blogosphere again soon, maybe this time with a parenting blog. There's a lot of fertile ground there, no pun intended...

    warmly,
    Koki

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    1. Wow, I seem to recall you only just arriving in Hanoi! Hope everything is going well for you back in DC. If I start a new blog I'll make sure to leave a link to it on here. Thanks for your comment and best of luck!

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  23. What a perfect last blog entry :o) Good luck and congratulations to you and Nathan.

    Rose x

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  24. I'll miss your reading your blog but I do take issue with the idea that living in Vietnam is an endurance test of trying to keep your shit together or that the cynical expat is the inevitable end of time spent here. Minor annoyances for sure but I don't think everyone heads down that path. But kudos to you for recognizing that Vietnam wasn't right for you in the long-term. Good luck in Canberra. I expect you'll be back in Vietnam in less than 3 years. ;)

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    1. Yes, I agree, it's definitely not inevitable, which I'm glad about. I should probably have made this more clearly about ME.

      In a way, this post was written as an alternative to that traditional "goodbye" post where the author says Vietnam will forever stay with them, and they know they will return, life elsewhere will never be the same etc. I think there is a kind of pressure felt by some people to feel this way, and say these things, to justify their time here. I know that I felt it, and always assumed this is how my last post would read too.

      But, you know what - I will not be back in three years. Thirty years? Maybe. But for me, it was a great experience while it lasted, and then it ended. And I think that's okay. I'm happy with that.

      Thanks for your comment - I really dislike expats who assume to speak for ALL expats, and I think I might have fallen into that trap myself there!

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  25. I always read your blog. I love your style of writing, and it always makes me laugh out loud at least once.. usually more! So much rings true for me down in Saigon as well...
    Thanks for the insights, and good on you for getting out while you still have the joy... nothing worse than listening to expats who complain about the place... But they have a choice to get on a plane and leave! Unlike so many locals who live here..
    All the best for your new adventure, will certainly miss the blogs.. THANK YOU and Take Care :)

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    1. Thanks Laura, and I'm glad to have brought some LOLs to your life. You're so right about having the choice to leave. We're very lucky to be able to flit around the world choosing which countries to live in, a luxury I'm extremely grateful for.

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  26. Goodbye and good luck! Your blog was one of the 101 things I love about Hanoi, so very sad to see you go. It is a hard place sometimes but being able to see the funny side through your eyes, and the way you guys really made the most of your time here, helped me to see the brighter side.
    I'd hate to be pregnant here though - the heat, the smells, the food scares - so glad you're going to a calmer, easier place. Enjoy!

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    1. Oh man, I could write a whole blog on the smells of Hanoi. I had a pregnant Vietnamese colleague who used to walk around the streets holding crushed fresh lime leaves under her nose to block out the smells, and now I know why! It was not hard to say goodbye to the scent of Truc Bach lake, I can assure you.

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  27. Tabitha,
    This blog has kept me entertained with every post. I don't know how many times I've walked into someone's room at work and said 'Got 5 minutes, listen to this...'
    I hope you'll have a new blog soon about a nation's capital, just as insightful and comedic as your observations of Vietnam.
    Congratulations on the baby. I can't wait to hear the zany adventures this little golden dragon brings.

    Safe travels home and keep writing!!

    Suga xxx

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    1. Thanks Suga! I should hire you as my agent. I'm hoping to squeeze some comic material about of this baby. That's what they're for, right? :)

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  28. Sorry to have just discovered this blog as it was closing up shop... Looking forward to going through the archives, and if you have any cafe recommendations ;-) ...

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    1. Looks like you've covered all the best ones I know! I will definitely miss yoghurt coffee. Sigh.

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  29. Hi Tabitha,

    Congrats on your baby!! I commented before on how your blog will be my guide when i move to Hanoi, and as of now, i've yet to move there, but you guys are leaving already. I was looking forward to meet you & Nathan in person.

    Well, here's me wishing you & Nathan all the best on your next new chapter in life. Keep writing..

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    1. Thanks Lawrence. Sorry we didn't get a chance to meet up. Well, if you're ever in Canberra...! Good luck with the move to Hanoi.

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  30. Trong Giap VTC1020 June 2012 5:37 pm

    Dear Tabitha, I think I knew why you left Vietnam before I read this last blog. I totally understand all the trouble as I myself also want to escape from this city and even this country sometimes. What a pity we couldn't have a chance to meet up for the last time, but I want to say congratulations to you for your pregnancy already! Australia is definitely a better environment to raise a child. Although we just met for a couple of hours, I feel like we have known each other for so long. Best of luck and happiness for your new little family, say hi to Nathan for me. And please don't stop writing blog, we love reading it!

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    1. Thanks for reading what I've had to say about your country, Giap. I really appreciate your interest and feedback. And thank you also for making such a great video of our Vietnamese wedding - Nathan and I will treasure it always. Your prediction about children at the end of the video turned out coming true very quickly! Good luck with your new job and make sure to send us your news.

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  31. Oh Tabitha, I'm so pleased for you and Nathan to have a little bub on the way! It surely must be an exciting time for you both.

    Even though I've never to been to Vietnam, let alone lived there, your writing has made it easy to imagine some of the craziness going on.

    I've enjoyed your take on things and the irreverence you impart.

    I do look forward to reading more if you start writing online again.

    Here's to holidays, pregnancy, a healthy baby and Canberra bike paths!

    Sam - a stranger, unfortunately.

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    1. Thanks Sam! It feels pretty great to get such well wishes from a stranger. I really thought that only other expats living in Vietnam would be interested in this blog, so I'm super glad to hear I've managed to bring a bit of Vietnam-brand awesome to others as well. Thanks again!

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  32. Hi Tabitha,
    CONGRATULATIONS. I am so happy to hear about your little dragon carry-on baggage.
    I've really loved reading your blog and will definitely miss it. You might need to start a new one now! Maybe one on reverse-culture shock!
    All the best for your return to Australia. If you guys are ever in Melb give me a buzz.
    Cheers,
    Nat

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    1. Hey Nat. Your description of my "little dragon carry-on baggage" makes me feel like that Mother of Dragons character from Game of Thrones. I'm going to milk that image.

      Hope everything's going well back in Melbourne. We have such a list of people to visit there that you will definitely be seeing us at some point!

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  33. Hi Tabitha (and Nathan),

    I'm so thrilled about the baby - congrats!
    I now feel a little bad about the "Comatose in Canberra" comment I made some time back....
    Good luck with the packing and moving, and enjoy your holiday.
    Please, please keep blogging once you get back home!

    Annie

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    1. Oh, don't worry, we've been bad-mouthing Canberra ourselves for about our entire lives too. We've changed our tune now, naturally. Mostly to prevent lynching by Canberrans.

      Thanks for reading, and I promise to blog about... something.

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  34. Oh no, it's like Nosey in Newtown closing all over again!

    I've loved reading your blog, and will miss your insightful and upbeat weaving of Vietnam's...uniqueness...into entertaining stories. I too lasted just over two and a half years in Vietnam - Saigon - and your blog has brought back a lot of memories. (Incidentally, you appear to be living my life backwards - I moved from Canberra to Vietnam, then Vietnam to Newtown via a long holiday in Thailand).

    Best of luck with your move to Our Nation's Capital, and I hope to see you launch a new blog where you share your thoughts on Canberra's peculiarities; and trust me, as an outsider you'll find MANY peculiarities.

    Thanks for the lols.

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    1. Hmm, I do seem to have left the internet strewn with abandoned blogs. I should either stop moving or stop writing such location-specific blogs.

      I feel like your global meanderings make much more sense than ours. Where were you born? I assume we'll end up there eventually.

      Thanks for your comment and for reading, and feel free to send us any Canberra tips!

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  35. i am living in the usa and to me it feels like living in hell...
    just my perspective...hope you can keep your shit together longer in australia.

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  36. I'm Vietnamese,

    Sorry to hear that you didn't have a very good time in Vietnam. I do appreciate your blog as it tells us the real Vietnam in a foreigner's perspective. well, so much to improve now.

    Can you keep this blog live after you leave? because I am looking forwards to reading your blogs more.

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