Making the Foreign Familiar
Amazingly, it’s happening again. What was impenetrably foreign just a mere three days ago has developed some semblance of normalcy; that which seemed would never be understood is already explaining itself, and I am open to its explanation. Somehow even wild, crazy Da Nang, Vietnam has made itself adorably interpretable.
By very virtue of my fish-out-of-water foreignness I have attracted friends. I have a job and fabulous co-workers that have created a much needed base in this baseless new world. My very own studio apartment has afforded me the opportunity to tape up my photos, unpack my stuffed duck, Quacky, and parade around in my underwear, almost like I were back home. Endless hours walking the streets, beach and riverfront of Da Nang even warranted me the right to give the taxi driver directions home tonight!
The thing that helped me most to appreciate Da Nang was leaving it. After being summoned by the great big boss of the international school system I now work for, I headed up for two days in Ha Noi. Ha Noi is lovely – stunning French architecture, glistening lakes and delicious food. It’s also crazy. Indescribably crazy. At almost ten times the size of Da Nang, with ten times the traffic, ten times the people, ten times the stray dogs and chickens, it is a study in the insane. But because I was seeing it as a visitor instead of as a newly arrived resident, it was also crazy fun. Along with my newfound teacher pals, I explored shady back alleys and darkened pagodas, all the while sweating like a mad thing. I was up for trying foreign fruits and mystery meats from homes-turned-impromptu-restaurants. It was a blast! But when it came time to leave, I was shocked to feel my body relax; in some strange way it felt like I was maybe, kinda, sorta returning home from a vacation. Da Nang seemed surprisingly normal after being away for two days. After swearing that I would never “get” this place three days ago, it appears the adaption process is underway, seemingly without my consent. In fact I have to say to my newest quasi-friend, Da Nang, I think I like you.
It’s amazing how quickly we humans adapt to the unknown when put in uncomfortable positions. Far from friends? Suddenly we have a table full of new ones (although we still miss those back home more than limited internet access allows us to properly convey). Don’t know where to go? Suddenly even the most directionally challenged of us can find our way. Don’t speak the language? Our secret yoga skills aid us in dancing our way to being understood. We are, after all, animals, and to put it sweetly, we must adapt or die. Fortunately in a city that has beach, river, mountains, great food and cheap entertainment, the adaption is a pleasure.
Now don’t get too far ahead of yourself there, old girl. After all, you’re still in the middle of some strange Asian Never Never Land, complete with unknown gestures, roads and smells.
Ok, ok, maybe I’m not exactly a full-fledged Vietnamese just yet, but what was overwhelming only hours ago is beginning to blur into background noise. And so begins the zig zag Ferris wheel of making the foreign familiar.
It’s amazing how quickly “new” can become “familiar”. Mike said last night that he felt like he was on vacation here. He was so used to the Belizean life that home felt foriegn… And that was only after 11 days! I am so glad things are becoming comfortable for you.
It is funny how foreign places put you into a time warp and suddenly you can’t remember whether you’ve been there 11 days or 11 years. Glad you had a good trip!
This was an amazing post, really made me feel like I was there. It’s great how adaptable you are, not one of those “ugly Americans” who expect other places/people to bend to YOUR way. No wonder you and Vietnam are getting along so well–it works both ways!
Wow, Marty! This is one of the nicest comments I’ve ever gotten (I hope you’re right!). Thank you!