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.
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):
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.
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.
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?
Only in Asia. Making fun of mistranslations is a game that never gets old. What’s even better is when there’s a childlike duck painted on the wall next to the cocktail special and a swing set that can also be used as set up space for the Friday night band. Welcome to my friend’s new bar. His name is Tuat. His brother, Wang. Together they wanted a place where families could enjoy a night out together. The result is in the title. Vietnam, how I love thee.
Who owes who in an expat/nation relationship? Does the expat owe their newfound residence eternal gratitude? Does their new country owe them for bringing over their mad dog skills? Or does the balance lie somewhere in between? (Hint: the PC answer is always in the noncommittal negotiated answer).
In the noble quest to find oneself through traveling is it possible to overlap, even infringe, on the paths of others? I read an article today about the detrimental effects photojournalism has had on indigenous tribes in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. The locals there now limit their own development and cheapen their culture for the forgettable benefit of any journalist or tourist with a buck to throw their way once the headdresses are off. Their lives now revolve around sustaining an image of a tribe that has essentially ceased to exist.
Now, I’m not one for sob stories. I have little patience for those who are portrayed as the alleged victim when they, themselves, benefit and enter by their own free will. I pledge with the un-alleged. But it upset me when this article called the happenings of photojournalism in the valley a “human zoo”. This is the stuff of creepy movies and human centipedes.
My travel has always revolved around me; I want to go so I do. I want to better myself, so I take pictures, write in my diary and get to act pretentious at my next cocktail party. I travel for myself. But if travel is truly for the benefit of only one then how can it justify any sort of harm to another? Surely if good (for 1 person) = bad (for 1 person) we’re right back at point zero. Might as well have stayed home and watched TV.
Always I want to qualify things and I have not yet left behind a childish oversimplification in distinction: there is Good and Bad in the world. Easy. Gray in judgment leaves me feeling unfinished. Even after 11 years of Travel I still find myself reverting to classifying all I trip upon with much deliberation but little variation of adjectives.
Most Different equaled Good to a younger me, bored of the Midwest and certain that something more exciting lay just beyond the river bend (Pocahontas reference intentional). Strange, Weird, Confusing all made it into the Good category by their sheer otherness. Then some Different became Good by virtue of confusion. That which discomforted my previously unquestioned suburban ethics was exalted rather than inspected too harshly. In other words, anything done by any sort of formerly oppressed peoples, no matter how seemingly strange, must be Good at its core; nonsensical only because of my ignorant failures. Long live imperialists’ Noble Savage! It made everything easier. And in the heart of my backpacking social scene thinking Good of others meant others thinking Good of you; only the narrow-minded dare condemn otherwise.