Saturday, May 28, 2011

Don't Stand So Close to Me

How many times have you waited in line, in a hurry, stressed out, and just wanted to run to the front and get whatever it is done? Turns out, you can. Just move to Vietnam.

I think it's pretty safe to say that once you've hit the six month mark in Hanoi, things change. You stop being amazed and shocked by things on the street, by helmetless infants or a steel cage of chickens strapped onto the back of a motorbike. When you find a hair in your food, you don't send it back, you simply pick it out. Or when someone vomits on your food after a train or bus ride, you just quickly scan your brain to see if you have time to change your pants before you go to work or if you'll just have to scrub it off.

There are some things, that while I've accepted as part of the culture, still make me say, "WHAT? SERIOUSLY?" One of them is waiting in line, or the inability to do so, and pushing.

Due to bring completely broke(I am living off of my parents until I get paid and borrowed from friends for rent) I am taking the public bus to work. I have a motorbike but it's broken and I can't afford the $15 to fix it so I've been taking the 32 each morning and walking back. It's not bad, I actually find it kind of relaxing (call me crazy) haha but the point is foreigners don't usually take the bus here. So each day, I am a bit of a novelty, getting stared at. This I am completely used to however I find the the bus situation one quite knows what to do with me. Sometimes I get tapped on the shoulder and ushered to an empty seat as though I am pregnant or elderly. Sometimes I get the person wanting to practice English, but one thing that always happens is pushing.

While I have a lot of respect for the mentality of having a goal and going for what you want, I am not sure it necessary to physically knock someone down to do it. During my travels in Southeast Asia (excluding Singapore) I've found that the concept of waiting in line is not even a concept, it doesn't happen. Instead, whatever target is being sought out, it is done in a full on way. People behind you will PUSH you aboard the bus. To be fair...the bus doesn't even stop. It slows down to a rolling pace and you have to kind of jog and jump. Handicap? Forget it. And it is a daily occurrence for me to be shoved or or pushed aside clearly indicating that I was in someones way. This actually doesn't really faze me. While, at first, I found it a bit of an adjustment, it never made me angry or shocked. Just different.

When it gets interesting for me though is while traveling. On a plane, instead of disembarking by's a free for all. The lady in 24c will push her way through the tiny crowd to get off. It never gets old actually. And rather than get annoyed I find it fascinating. The logic or, lack there of, of pushing through a crowd of people in a narrow alley rather than just wait for the people in front to move. You know they will, it's just a matter of a few minutes more.

Another thing is like the bank, buying tickets at the train station or anywhere where one would typically wait their turn. I tried when I first moved here to do that. Especially since some places have a "take your ticket" feature. I realized that is purely for show. Or for the benefit or tourists. Because it again is a free for all. The only waiy to get served is to cut. You must run up to the counter as soon as it's become free. Or just stand there, staking out.It reminds me of a more cutthroat intense version of getting a prime table at Hillside, a cafe at my university which was the seen and be seen lunchtime hotspot.

The only time I get annoyed is at the grocery store, when I am in line and someone pushes me aside and cuts in front of me. I am still not clear as to whether this happens to everyone, or whether it is just because I am a foreigner and it's assumed (correctly) that I won't fight back. I, unfortunately, believe it's the latter. I have decided that next time it happens I am going to make a mini scene and regain my rightful place in line. I've said this for the past year and a half, and haven't done it yet. But the more time I spend here, the more I believe I can.

An amusing game I like to play in my head is imagining what the reaction would be if someone of these things occurred in New York or London. If while standing in line at the post office, i just cut in front of everyone and threw my mail on the counter. Or if I deemed the man in front of me had a lot more groceries than i did so i just stepped in front of him and plopped mine down. It's so tempting. Can you imagine the OUTRAGE that the people around you would express? It's so comical to think about that I'm considering doing it just for laughs next time I visit home. It will be my social experiment...I can't wait. I'll commence when I touch down at JFK...charging my way through the sea of people trying to retrieve their overhead luggage and continue until I get beaten up or arrested for public disturbance. (ok not really, but we all know that would be the result of such antics)

Guess I'll just get it out of my system here...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Til Summer Comes Around

The office at my old job was not a fun place to be in the winter. There was no heating, at all. Not even space heaters, and as a result, I came into work each day in some kind of ridiculous attire. I was dressed for the ski slopes, but instead of resembling a mildly attractive ski bunny, I was more of a mismatched marshmallow. I digress.

The point is, it was cold, and as I sat shivering in front of my computer I vowed that once summer came around, I wouldn't complain about the heat. That when my arms were soaked with sweat within minutes of stepping outside, I'd take it in stride. I'll do my best to honor that, no one likes a hypocrite. Especially as, in most cases, I prefer the summer to the winter. I like the warmth. My mood is brighter when it's sunny outside, I feel better when I have a sunkissed glow.

However, there are certain things one must know about summertime in Hanoi.
1. From June to September there is very little chance of being attractive. Unless you are one of those people unaffected by seasons and look perfect all the time. Like my friend Clare. I can't stand people like that (jealousy) and this post is not for you. For everyone else, you're going to be disgusting. You will be dripping in sweat within two minutes of stepping outside your door, your feet will be filthy despite how many times you wash them. If you're a woman, there is no such thing as a good hair day. Just stop trying now. As for makeup? It will probably melt off of your face. Time to embrace your natural beauty or at least be consoled by the fact that everybody else (except for the "Clare's" of the world) is just as ugly as you are. ;)
2. Hanoi has blackouts in the summer. Make sure you have candles, lots of water on hand, a place where you keep your keys (so you don't have to dig around for them), and a spot that you can escape to, preferably one nearby that has a generator.
3. Pools are your friend. But they're also grossly overcrowded. If you want to do laps, the worst time (in terms of volume of people) is the early morning and evening. If you're like me and you just like lounging poolside, to get a good spot (or a spot at all) 12 is the latest you can arrive.
4. You'd amazed at how baby wipes have changed my life. You can buy little travel packs and believe me when it's hot out they feel amazing.
5. Drink sugarcane juice. Only because it's amazing. I have only just discovered this heavenly concoction...and I am convinced it has magical powers. It's the perfect combination or sweet and earthy. It's all natural, tastes delicious, and is the perfect pick me up. Tired? Grumpy? Bored? Hungover? One sip of sugarcane juice and you're revived. I am obsessed.
6. Don't do what I do. (Which is be stupidly unprepared for the summer rain) I grew up in a place where rain storms were ever present and intense. Did I own a rain coat? No. In university, when the snow and rain fell did I have proper protection. Negative. So in Hanoi, where mini typhoons appear out of nowhere and persist for hours at a time, have I the right tools to keep my dry and warm? of course not. But I am an idiot, and a lesson of what NOT to do. Buy a rain coat and keep it close to you at all times. The rain will fall, it will come from nowhere and you will end up trapped or soaked if you don't have a slicker.
7. Wear sunblock. This should be obvious and applies to anywhere not just Hanoi. Being tan is nice, it makes you look healthy and pretty. I get it, I am a complete worshiper. In fact it's hard to imagine that I was born with porcelain English rose skin. But I was, however by the age of 20 had destroyed it, altered the pigmentation by basking in the sun to striving to be a bronzed goddess. I regret it deeply now, not only did I not receive goddess stature BUT I am covered in sunspots and at the age of 27 have wrinkles around my eyes and some on my forehead that won't go away. My skin also looks weird when I am pale, I can never go back. So wear sunblock, especially in Hanoi, as the sun is really strong and you can get burned just by driving to work or walking around town.

Despite the blistering heat, the smothering humidity and the realization that I can't enhance my looks by any outside source, I do love the summer in Hanoi. The fruit is delicious, the pace is a little bit slower, everyone seems happier. There are fun events like pool parties, electronic picnics, barbeques, music festivals. Everyone is excited to shed the winter and take on the summer heat...their faces shining (with perspiration)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

There are Few Things Pure in the World and Home is One of the Few

When people ask me where I'm from I always say, 'I grew up in Florida, but haven't lived there for 10 years." This is true, I left Florida for university in Boston and from Boston I went to New York and from New York to Hanoi. I also spent a considerable amount of time in London and France, enough so that I'd consider them places I used to live. However whenever I've had to fill out a form asking for my "permanent address" it as my house in Florida. That was the one constant in my life. The place I always go back to. Despite not being a resident of the state since the age of 18, this is where I consider home. The place I grew up.

I'd never really imagined life without my childhood house a part of it. I didn't, obviously, believe that I'd live there forever, and I never had any intention to return to the state of Florida for anything other than a holiday. Yet, when I saw the "for sale" sign in my driveway I felt territorial and sad. The adult side of me understands my parents decision, the house is simply too big for the two of them, they want to spend more time in my mother's native Europe and don't need the space. The child in me can't believe that they're doing this to me. They're taking away the one form of stability in my residences. In NYC I lived in three apartments in my three and half years, and they were never mine, always shared and while I've been in the same place in Hanoi for over a year, I know that my time here is not forever, that I'll leave, making this whole residency and lifestyle temporary.

I guess I never realized the significance of my childhood home. I took for granted the fact that I always had it to go back to. My parents are getting a new place minutes away from the old one but I keep telling them i hate it and that it's not the same. I will feel like a visitor, not like I belong. The new place won't have the memories, it won't hold the same prestige of being THE place that all of my friends went to all the time, our social lives revolving around parties in my guest house, the new place won't have a path through the bushes to the next door neighbors house trodden down from years of back and forths (my best friend lives next door) "but now I'm going to have to walk or ride a bike to Alison's" I whined to my mother who replied that Alison, about to enter her third year of law school was barely home anyway. It was the principle that bothered me. the fact that I am never going to be able to do those things again.

I've often written about expatriate lifestyle and the transiency that it entails. When I first moved here, I had major de-attachment issues, every goodbye resulted in my feeling sad and crying. As time as gone on, it's become second nature, people come and go, it's par for the course and it barely even registers anymore. It doesn't bother me anymore, because it's the way it is here. So why does saying goodbye to the house bother me so much? Maybe because while I've accepted that life here is always changing, in my mind, Florida was the same. it was always supposed to be the same and the fact that it's not makes me feel a little bit more lost in this world, that I really don't belong anywhere or have somewhere consistent to go. That I no longer have a real home. As ridiculous and illogical as it sounds, I am devastated by this loss in my personal history.