Arriving in a developing country like Vietnam can be difficult. It’s messy, loud; jazz with no rhythm and a coked up bass player. Street food vendors have rats a-waiting in the wings. Three-story houses that you could only afford here are subject to weekly power cuts and water shortages that reduce them to stifling cinder block cells. Local friendliness is more intrusive than calming.
But four years on those nuisances fade to background noise. What emerges in their absence is the fun of being here. Even if initial intrigue and cultural fascination wane, homey comforts arrive in a place you never thought you could call home.
I’m sure I’m getting dumber. I’ve begun to take for granted that I will always know all things I once learned. Suddenly I realize I’m not so good at math. I forget the capital of Vermont. Even my vocabulary, the party trick of any English teacher, grows dimmer by the year. Surely working with young children is to blame. As I aid their developing brains I drain my own?
Once upon a time there was a mosquito and a flying cockroach (yes, they do fly) who were best friends. Poor little Mozzie and Roach-o-Cock were despised by all so unfairly. “It’s not my fault that I eat blood!” cried Mozzie Moz one day. Cockie nodded, “I understand. It’s not my fault I’m so big and loathed. I just want someone to love me.” And so, kids, the moral of the story is…
Get lost, stupid bugs.
JD and I are engaged! Holy hells, internet! She-who-would-not-wed has fallen flip-flop over heel for the best guy in the world! And somehow he seems to like her, too! Woohoo!
No matter how far away from home or tradition I go, Christmas stalks me. As I tanned on an exotic Costa Rican beach, staring at palm trees instead of pine, it was suddenly there. Santa was wearing a flower print shirt, but was hohoho-ing nonetheless. In Africa, despite my best efforts to replace reindeer with springbok, jingle bells were a-ringin’. Even here in Vietnam, a country where less than 10 per cent of the population even recognizes Christmas – where neon karaoke signs outshine twinkly tree lights, where stockings hung by the chimney with care are quickly taken away by the local laundry women, where sleighs are replaced by maniac scooters – Christmas has snuck its way through passport control. Holiday cheer greets me with chopsticks.
Dagnabbit, Christmas, you win again! Once more I am swayed by your corny songs, wooed by your high caloric treats and, mostly, excited as a pigtailed brat that you are only a few days away!
Hooray! Hooray! Christmas is (almost) here!
Living overseas finds sneaky ways of making regular distance relationships into long distance, even if only temporarily. Travel for work, to visit family, to be in friends’ weddings is that much farther and, therefore, warrants time apart for that much longer. With JD gone for a few weeks I am once again in Vietnam by myself. My sad, little self. All by lonesome, just like when I first arrived.
Only not. Unlike when I first moved to Vietnam by myself, this time I am not alone.
Today JD and I are off into the great unknown of Indonesia. I’ve packed my bathing suit, sunscreen and obnoxiously bright dresses. But this time I’m leaving something behind: expectations.
No, not completely. I expect things will be great. I expect places we see will be beautiful. I expect to swim and maybe even get an albino version of a tan. However the planning of this trip has been out of my hands. This trip comes courtesy of other people’s wedding. We are joining JD’s brother and sister-in-law on their honeymoon. Crashing it, really. They’ve done the grunt work of looking up websites and comparing hotel rooms. Now, we get to sponge off their labor like two lazy beach bums.
I love it! I love not knowing every detail, not quite remembering what time our flights get in or exactly where on the map we’re headed. I love not caring where we eat or even which temples we see. I love that I have no checklist in my head and no itinerary to read. I love how simple, basic and vague my expectations are.
I think this is what a holiday should be.
Having visitors come to stay with you can bring mixed emotions. Hopefully the visitors in question are people you actually want to see. Even so, it means playing host and changing around your own schedule to fit their holiday. It means finally washing some sheets and buying extra toilet paper. If you live overseas, it means preparing to help your friends and family adjust to your local oddities. At the end of their trip, you’re guaranteed to be a little lest rested than normal. So what makes having visitors so great?
The right house guests bring with them a whole new outlook on your home. They make you see things the way you saw them when you first arrived. Visitors force you to re-take those day trips you took when you first moved, and experience all the fun of the touristy things in your area. It’s also a chance to make new memories with old friends. A drawback of living overseas is that trips back home at Christmas are spent “catching up”. Having those same friends come to visit you means moving beyond the catch up and into time together spent laughing about what’s happening right now, rather than what happened when you were kids.
What’s that, Calendar? It’s vacation time again? Well, if you insist…
One of the most amazing parts of working at in international school in Vietnam is that you get time off for both Christmas holidays and Tet holidays. That’s right. After a mere three weeks back in school, I’m getting ready to pack up and jet off again.
Maybe kids are the ones who have it all figured out [insert moment of cliché teacher reflection]. Maybe we’re born with all the answers then manage to second guess them away over the years. The things kids say can be cute, ridiculous, but, sometimes startling profound.
I find that lately some of my best conversations are with nine-year-olds.
The present is a gift. Live for the moment. Be here, be now.
As a semi-professional daydreamer it’s harder done than said. It’s not that I’m escaping the present. It’s that in my daydream world the future can be just oh-so-enticing. There’s so much to look forward to; so much to hope for, to work for, to be distracted by; so many reasons to end prepositions on. The present is wonderful. But sometimes the future is even more intoxicating with its adventurous ambiguity.
Yet lately I find that the present is winning out. Even I am more and more often knocked back from Cloud World to breathe in the scooter smoke and roasting chicken moments that are Now.
And it’s wonderful.