Thank You, Vietnam

I found this old post I wrote when I thought we’d stick to the original plan and leave after two years in Vietnam.  We stayed five.  However today I really, actually move on.  In re-reading this, I realize how much Vietnam has grown on me in the past few years.  I like her even more now than I did when I wrote the “letter” below.  Vietnam, it’s been great!

Dear Vietnam,

When we met I was overwhelmed by your frenzy.  I slapped your mosquitoes, hated your heat and feared your scooters.  Time and time again you made me wonder why I’d come.  In our two years together I watched from the other side of the world as I lost two of the dearest people in my life in my first few months here and spent half my salary to fly away from you.  To put it lightly, we were unlikely friends.

And yet, I will miss you.  Our roller coaster ride included so, so many highs.  Never again will I see a beach so beautiful and deserted.  Never again will I be such an anomaly in my own neighborhood.  Never again will my awkwardness and lack of language be so quickly forgiven – and compensated for by those who should resent me.  I will never again meet such purely lovely children who want to learn and love school and work to ridiculous extents just to become smarter.

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I am a Bad Immigrant

I read somewhere that long-distance couples often fight just before one of them is about to leave.  Sort of a self-preservation thing or preference to feeling angry instead of sad.  Vietnam and I were doing that, I thought.  What with all the cockroaches, cheeky geckos, broken house appliances going on I was sure he was trying to pick a fight.  But seems he’s reconsidered his strategy.  Now that our departure date nears Vietnam is pulling out all the stops to make sure I miss him.

As if reminding me of his beauty while hosting guests and traveling around weren’t enough, he’s managed to make the weather cooler than normal.  I love him all the more.  And I’m all the more reminded of how bad I’ve been to him.  I moved here to be with him, but I have not done it gracefully.

I am a bad immigrant.

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Won’t You Be My Neighbo(u)r?

Won’t You Be My Neighbo(u)r?

Hello there, friendly future neighbor!  We’re the new immigrants in town.  One of us anyway, the other has just been away awhile.  We may dress funny.  We may talk wrong.  We may eat foods with chopsticks and even throw “u”s into your well-established alphabet.  But we are just people. We know we’re different.  We know we’re not from here.  We know we have an accent.  Pointing it out is as redundant as saying ATM Machine.  So please, help us help you.  Want to get to know us?  Great!  But please actually get to know us as friends, not as a sparkle at your next cocktail (or karaoke) party.

Here are the top 10 questions immigrants are asked (and may be sick of answering):

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Life as an Ex-Ex-Pat

The nomadic daughter is returning.  Sort of.  Though I’ll still be a four-hour flight away from my family, purple mountain majesty lies ahead.  This move has had more planning and paperwork than any of our others.  But after a year of hoop hopping and other cliché rigmarole, JD’s card is now almost Green and so’s his horn.  African in tow, I’m coming back, America.

We want this and have worked for it and paid a pretty US penny for it.  Even still, it’s bittersweet.  Not just leaving Vietnam and our friends, but also leaving a particularly ear-perking noun.  I will no longer be an ex-pat (big hat immigrant, if you will).  Soon I’m just a regular old pat.

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Doing Much for Little

After six months in Central America, three years in Africa and five years in Southeast Asia poverty seems normal.  Until recently when it didn’t.

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The Change Happening

Many Americans have a soundtrack for Vietnam in mind.  The songs popular with soldiers in the war – and popular in movies about soldiers in the war – talk about peace, frustration and, primarily, change.  Like a rolling stone, I moved here to watch every season turn, turn, turn and further wonder what war is good for.  And in my half decade in Vietnam, I’ve found a playlist about change to be perfectly fitting.

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Our Grand Finale Tour of Southeast Asia

The words, “This is our last year in Vietnam” clearly struck fear into the hearts of my family members. Before you could say, “Tien’s your uncle” suitcases were packed, tickets bought, visas ordered and – lo and behold – they came, they saw, they loved it. For JD and me it was a chance to see them, to show off our city and to revisit our best spots.

So where did we go?

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Let Bucket Lists Kick the Bucket

Bucket lists are terrible. 100 Things to Do Before You Die must die.  Is this how pessimistic we’ve become? Death is imminent so make sure to have fun!!!!!  How about we change our minds to do what’s fun for you when it’s fun for you?  Yes, we’ll all die.  But, heck, I don’t have a countdown to that super special day.

There’s a point of these overtly obnoxious kicks in the butt.  Many of us are lazy, out of shape and perhaps in search of direction.  A “bucket list” scares us into moving.

But let’s act, not on fear, but on want.  Contrary to fashionable belief, not everyone has to skydive, or learn a new language or even *gasp* travel.  All we must do is be kind and support ourselves.  The rest is incidental.

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Ready to Dig In

What if you had told me I’d wind up in Vietnam for five years?  That I’d live here, all of all places, for longer than I’ve lived anywhere other than my parents’ house as a kid?  What if I had seen this house as my home instead of the forbidding Haunted Mansion?  What if I’d framed pictures instead of using each trip home as a way to offload a suitcase of souvenirs onto my very space-generous mom?  What if I had fully embraced Da Nang from the beginning?

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Friends

Blood may be thicker than water, but without water there is no life as we know it.  Friends give our lives so much of their meaning.  My friends are just…great.  Today is one of my best friend’s birthdays and also the day of learning about another best friend’s best friend’s tragedy.  The celebration/desperation conflict reminds me that above all else, friends should always be appreciated.  Cliché as this may sound, these pivotal moments in life are what inspire folk tales, puns and clichés, themselves.

In contemplating the value of friendship, I consider that one of these aforementioned best friends I’ve known since Kindergarten; the other I’ve known only 7.9% of my life.  Friendship is that unique relationship in life that wields both shared history and immediate compatibility into its fold.  My golden old friendship runs deep, with memories stemming from before the time when even some of my “thick blood” entered the picture.  My silver friendship has the immediacy of recent choice involved; I found someone I wanted to share time and life events with – and they liked me back.

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