The decision to move on from this experience has been the toughest one yet it is something I need to do. It is tinged with bitter sweet feelings as I attempt to conjure up an impression of what the time here has meant to me. There are so many elements to life here that make it so vibrant and special, the memories are so many, each impacting me in different ways.
I will miss my alley with the children playing badminton outside my gate and shyly asking for their shuttlecock back. I will miss the old man who sits in his boxers, belly proudly out and his firm and friendly hello to me most days. Or the man at the local shop who is from Malaysia and has lived here for 50 years and teaches me at least one Malaysian word when I buy something from him. Or the ban xeo lady at the end of the alley who cooks these delicious Vietnamese pancakes on small iron stoves under a canopy. She always speaks to me in Vietnamese, utterly unaware that I do not understand one single word she is saying to me.
I will miss people watching as I am on the back of someones motorbike and taking in the street life whizzing by. The endless array of plastic chairs and tables; families eating together; men gambling; women linking each other; men walking arm in arm, unselfconscious how this would read in the western world. The noise, the endless sometimes ear splitting noise drives me crazy but it also amuses me as the people here filter it out and just get on with it. The honking, the honking. At least once a day I will shoot someone in a big honking car a filthy look. The driver of course is oblivious.
The honesty of the people. The directness of them. It is always a thrill to watch how the people interact with each other. Sometimes, the directness can be misinterpreted as being rude. Like, in a busy restaurant-the staff buzzing around, shouting at each other to get the job done. Or when I am with my Vietnamese friends and they firmly shout "Em, em em oi!" Meaning sister/brother please give us attention but it is so straight up, no bullshit, no airs and graces. It's just honest-we need your help please see to us now. The attention to detail. The food.
The little dishes with lime juice and salt, the soy sauce with chilli, the amazing street food life that is just buzzing with delicious, cheap and mouthwatering flavours. The smells-incense, food, smokey bbq, noxious fumes, intensely polluted canal, the smell after it rains, the smell of the magic potion green oil which I believe every Vietnamese person possess.
The motorbikes and how they carry the most ridiculously precarious loads from stacks 20 feet high of plastic chairs, a massive fridge with the driver one hand on the controls, the other hand firmly on the fridge keeping it stable. I once saw a calf squashed into a basket being transported on a motorbike. Poor thing. The rows and rows and rows of shops all selling the same thing.
The market life near my house. The enthusiasm of the young vietnamese to speak English and the smiles and thrilled face when you tell them their English is very good. The old grandparents and how they look after their grandchildren. Walking through the alleys at night and the families eating together on the ground-open houses makes it a fascinating way to really get a true glimpse at life here. It is wonderful beyond words.
The women all covered up from head to toe not letting the sun get a glimpse of their skin. The women caressing my white skin in admiration-me doing the same to them but they shaking their heads saying ugly. They all want white skin-so funny how we all want what we can't have-the world over. The cafe sua da addiction I have acquired and how there is never enough-it always tastes like more. How every day something grabs my attention for a moment or longer. I might see a man with a white beard who looks ancient and wise. Or a child-the children here are so beautiful.
Usually and sadly it is the poverty that grabs my attention the most. Disabled people wheeling themselves around on a worn out wheelchair selling their tickets. I often see this old lady near my house who is so badly stooped over she uses a small stool to help her make her mobile. She sells lottery tickets. The other day I saw a man with two small stools attached to stumps where his legs once were-this was how he got around. Two nights ago I was out very late and a tiny little girl appeared selling flowers-she must have been no older than 3. I am shocked a lot here by how so many people are simply tossed to one side and forgotten. Most of all I am shocked at how so many older Western men are playing a role in all of this. It is a very common sight to see a much, much older man with a younger, beautiful Vietnamese woman. It is very difficult not to be judgmental and cynical when seeing this-it is sordid and disturbing and it is probably the one thing here that I hate the most. It is very unsettling, especially when often these women look so unhappy, so resigned to life and their own happiness.
The helpless feeling I sometimes get at work when one of the children tries to communicate with me about their home life. The lack of resources for them makes life very tough and burden filled. It is often hard to know what to do to help. Sometimes I have to accept that there is not always a solution and that I just have to do what I can within my means. That has been a good but tough learning curve. All of the above only touches on the many, many layers and diversities of living here- the times both good and bad will remain etched in my memory for all the times to come.