Next week, I will be here for a year and a half. The time has flown by and I have barely had the time to catch my breath, let alone reflect. But lately, as things quieten down at work, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on life so far away from home; on how my life here has changed me and how having this experience has given me so much inspiration. My mind gets occupied with home a lot and trying to visualize my place there again. It is daunting but I know in the not too distant future, I will return and settle life back with loved ones and friends once more. And the stories from here will no doubt come flooding out and the moments, the simple moments are always the ones that will stay with me. Like the coffee and egg roll ladies outside my work, who pinch me and slap me and laugh with me, like we have known each other for years. I am picking up more and more what they are saying now, my few phrases of Vietnamese in full use! They grab my belly or whack my behind or pinch my cheeks. They are the most lively spirited, lovely lovely people and God but they make my day sometimes.
Living here has, if nothing else, allowed me to forge my own way in life, my own routines, my own independence. There are a lot of freedoms here, things can move along in a smooth, uncomplicated way and it feels like nothing in the world can interfere with that. The Vietnamese people have a resilience and a drive that is unquestionable and dignified. From the lady at the top of the alley who sells her cigarettes, from what seems like all day and all night (I only know this from the rare occasion I come home late...ahem) to the lad who works endlessly seaming clothes, repairing trousers. I never take these people for granted, I always acknowledge their long hours, the acceptance and undoubtedly the hardships that must go along with trying to make ends meet. Every time it rains and if I am home, I watch it teaming down, relentless-sometimes violent. There are stacks of small huts at the back of my bedroom that I can see. Whenever it starts to pelt down, I will hear the screech of metal-a small opening in a roof closing shut. And that's someone's home. No window, just a gap in the roof of a small metal building.
If people ask me what is it about this place that really makes it so special- It's the people. Without question. How many cities in the world can you go to where you are greeted with smiles more or less everywhere you go? Very few, if any is my guess. Of course, there are exceptions and that goes for everywhere-nowhere is perfect.
Or the art room at work, where I cherish the moments most of all. The other day, I stood in the room and there was a hush of focus, of busy young energy working on their brush strokes. Nobody was talking (now don't get me wrong, it can be a madhouse sometimes-kids laughing, running, singing and I equally love it when it's like this-so this was an exception) and there was a real camaraderie in that silence. There they all were, some younger than others all with the same purpose-expressing themselves through their art work. It is very hard to articulate how rewarding that is, that we can make that possible for them. That they have this safe haven to have the space to do this. And it is amazing to see how much they grow and thrive and come out of their shells. Some of them when they first join, have a lot of anger or frustration because, being blunt-they can have shitty lives-no doubt. One little girl, Tam, she is brilliant-she has a wild spirit, a true tom boy- a true rebel and I love her for these qualities. She gets into trouble sometimes but honestly when I see her, quietly transferring all of that on the paper in front of her, it is remarkable how it brings a sort of calm to her and she becomes more open because of it. It makes the sometimes loneliness, the homesick feelings, the longing for familiar faces-all absolutely worth it.