08 Jun Goodbye Vietnam
It’s been almost 10 months since we arrived in Vietnam and during that time Hanoi has become a home of sorts; a crazy, chaotic, often frustrating one, but a home all the same. This week we dismantled our lives here and closed the door on this chapter of our adventure.
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Building a Life in Hanoi
When I think back to how I felt when we arrived in Hanoi last year, I’m amazed that I lasted so long here. Disorientated by the noise and traffic, I was plagued by homesickness for the awesome British summer we’d just experienced. The task of starting anew felt huge and exhausting; we didn’t have a home or any friends in the city and I’d accepted a job I wasn’t even sure I could do. Had we made a massive mistake in coming here?
Despite being bogged down by a huge black hole of self-doubt, we forced ourselves to find an apartment, start our jobs and find our way around the city. The first couple of months were so tough; at first teaching was a terrifying, daily ordeal and the chaos of schedule changes and general Vietnamese-style disorganisation made things ten times worse. We were frequently sick and I completely lost my voice for a while. The heat and humidity sapped us of energy. Almost every day we contemplated leaving, but we stuck it out and things slowly clicked into place.
I got into my teaching groove, discovered that being around energetic, boisterous children can be extremely uplifting and got to know and love many of my pupils. I worked extremely hard to be a good teacher, spending hours planning and searching out resources. I sang songs and invented games. I learnt what the kids were interested in and tried to incorporate this into my lessons. Perhaps most importantly, after an entire semester, I finally learnt how to be strict with the kids and it made a huge difference. Yes, there were still nightmare lessons that sent me spiralling into despair, the language centre still regularly had me tearing out my hair in frustration with their disorganisation and there were times when the kids drove me absolutely crazy – but I survived.
General life in Vietnam was also a mixed bag. We loved our apartment, our favourite restaurants, the low cost of living and the fact that we were saving so much money. We got used to our schedules and learnt our way around the city. I began to relish the familiarity of having a daily routine again and being in one place. At the same time though, the corruption and chaos of Vietnam would often drive us crazy; from the absurd road-rules (or lack thereof) to the ridiculous amount of red tape you have to wade through to do something as simple as open a bank account. Oh, not forgetting the time we crashed our motorbike; I have the scar on my knee as a permanent reminder of our time in Vietnam.
The People We’ll Miss
I guess what I’m trying to say is that living and working in Hanoi has been an incredibly intense, polarising experience, one that I’ve loved and hated in equal measure. I don’t think we would have survived any of it if it weren’t for the people who’ve become such a huge part of our lives here. We have developed a small, tight-knit group of friends from the UK and Europe who we’ve shared the joys and frustrations of Vietnamese life with over long weekend lunches or evening drinks.
When you’re so far from home, trying to make sense of living and working in a completely different culture, having people around you who come from a similar background and understand what you’re going through makes things so much easier. You develop close ties based on the shared experience of being a Tay (Westerner), an outsider, the cliché of the young, white English teacher living in Asia. This support network becomes an essential part of your life.
Whilst travelling, Andrew and I got used to the fact that our journey was a lonely one, that we’d see our friends and family just once or twice a year. So, one of the best things about living in Hanoi has been having friends we see regularly, going out for dinner or meeting for a drink. This is something we took for granted when we lived London, something we missed when we left the UK to travel and something we’ll crave again now that we’ve cast ourselves back onto the road again.
I will also miss the Vietnamese people we got to know in Hanoi, our fellow teachers, assistants and my favourite students; through them we’ve felt welcomed and learnt so much about Vietnamese life and culture. Ultimately, we moved to Hanoi to save money, but I had also hoped that living and working here would give us a deeper understanding of Asian life than travelling had afforded us. I know that this short period of being here hasn’t made us experts in Vietnamese culture and we could stay another 10 years and still be seen as outsiders, but I do feel that we’ve gained a deeper insight into life here through working in public schools; we’ve become a temporary part of the community.
Goodbye Vietnam: Moving On
When it finally came time to leave Hanoi, I was awash with conflicting emotions. The last few days we spent in the city were strange, we’d given up our apartment and motorbike and we’d finished teaching. Instead, we were staying in a hotel on Ma May, one of the most touristy streets in the city and we felt like visitors rather than people who’d lived in Hanoi for the better part of a year. I was exhausted from the intense school year and relieved to have finally finished teaching, but I was sadder than I imagined I ever would be to say goodbye to my students and some of my teaching assistants.
The night before we left we met up with friends one last time. Even though I’m sure we will meet again somewhere down the road, it was hard to say goodbye. Hours later, after a broken sleep, my eyes blurred with tears as we sped in a taxi to the airport and I watched the familiar Hanoi streets pass us by for the last time with nostalgic fondness. Everything was as it always has been; the swarm of motorbikes with poncho-clad drivers battling through a typically fine, Hanoi drizzle; the early morning market sellers hunched over bowls of vegetables and people eating their morning Pho on clusters of tiny stools on the pavements.
Yes, Hanoi might not have been the easiest place to live, but it was a place I am glad we lived in, for all its ups, downs and pure craziness. Goodbye Hanoi – it’s been one hell of a ride!