Monday, January 16, 2012

Two Years in Hanoi: The Little Things

January 14th marked two year anniversary in Vietnam, a milestone I can honestly say that I never envisioned occurring. It's funny how life works, we make all of these plans for ourselves, but it rarely plays out exactly how we see it.

I am not going to write a blog about the magic of Hanoi and how it has managed to lure me in, making it seemingly impossible to leave. I, and many others, have done that before. I'm also not going to talk about the little restaurants I enjoy discovering or the friends I've made. I admit I am not as in awe of the city that I used to be, not because it isn't completely enlightening and wonderful, but because it is my home, and things feel normal and every day for me now. (I like this)

Although Vietnam life has become routine for me (I am no longer shocked by things such as four people and two chickens on a motorbike, and I am only mildly disgusted when I see a man hack up a massive ball of phlegm and spit it on the street) there are certain little things that occur here that have the most remarkable affect on me; things I find awesome and annoying at the same time.


Annoying: It's crazy. There is no rhyme or reason. People burst out from tiny alley ways, they drive on the wrong side of the road, they don't stop at red lights. It's every man for itself.

Awesome: I got my provisional license when I was 15 years old, and the whole system was so regimented that I couldn't help but want to break out and do something crazy. Hit the car in front of me, drive down a no car zone...and now I can. The streets here can be confusing, and sometimes they do turn into one ways or say not to turn, but to follow those rules would mean a) getting lost or b) adding 10 minutes onto your journey. I love that I can (and do) just ignore the rules if they don't apply to my particular journey. And driving on the side walk is exhilarating. (I really hope my parents aren't reading this)


Annoying: Someone comes to the door unexpected. Never on the same day, never at the same time. The doorbell rings (15 times) and then I am told I owe X amount for Y bill. I rarely have cash on me so this can be slightly inconvenient.

Awesome: This is a lazy persons dream. You don't have to do anything. Yes, in the age of online bill pay all you have to do is click a button. You can even sign up for automatic bill pay. But for those who don't do automatic bill pay (like me, because I never know what my balance is) it just makes it THAT much less work. No logging on, clicking anything, verifying (has anyone ever paid an online bill for Time Warner Cable, they ask you to verify your identity so many times....I wanted to be like "I'm PAYING you money, why are you giving me the 5th degree?") just a simple and quick transaction and you're set.


Annoying: If I have a whole day of shopping to do then it takes me ges because, unless I want to spend a lot of money at somewhere like Vincom, I have to run around town to ten different places to get my errands done. It's exhausting.

Awesome: Almost everything I could possibly want is available in Hanoi. Not only that but I have an abundance of options. Not only do I have all of these options but I don't have to spend a lot of time shopping around for the same product. The reason why? Because all of the stores carrying this product are next to each other. I can hop from shop to shop comparing prices and products, bargaining (if that's allowed) and it actually makes me a smarter shopper When I bought a new computer (in the US) my father and I drove to three different places to compare, each place was about 45 minutes away from each other, it made me feel impulsive, like I wanted to buy the first one I saw just to avoid the hassle of traveling all day. However when I bought my new camera in Hanoi I went to just as many shops and looked at dozens of cameras but the whole process took an hour.


Annoying: I spoke about this in a previous post.It aggravates me when people cut in line. Since my post though, I followed the advice of people and started being firm when someone got in front of me. Never rude, but just taking back my rightful place. Is it annoying that I have to do that? Kind of, but generally I am grumpy anyway because I hate waiting in line.

Awesome: I am a bit embarrassed to admit it but I have been known to be one of those line cutters. Actually this only happens when I am at the Viettel store (the only bill that I can't pay at home.) I basically walk in, stand in front of the counter, and allow myself to be seen right away.


Annoying: Why can't things just be one price? Why do Vietnamese get one rate and foreigners get another? A day of shopping in the market is exhausting---and you return home with zero energy and only a handful of purchases.

Awesome: It's the culture here, and it's part of the fun. I love the feeling of bantering back and forth and sealing a good deal...being able to tell my friends, "Look what I got, and it was only X." Some people view it as trying to exploit the foreigners for more money, but bargaining is a major way of living for Vietnamese as well, and let's be serious, what good business person isn't going to try and get the most for their product?

I am not one of these expatriates that believes in complaining that things are different, or that I don't like certain attitudes or elements of the culture. I can't tell you how incredibly angry it makes me when I hear someone insult the people or the country here. I think they should go home. That may be a bold statement, but it's true. It's deplorable. As an expatriate, we CHOOSE to live in another country, and yes, things are going to be challenging, and out comfort zones tested. That's part of what makes the world so wonderful, is that there is such diversity in existence. If you don't like it then move back to where you came from.

Of course there are times that I get annoyed or frustrated but that would be anywhere. These little quirks are part of what make the Hanoi experience so special, they are part of the reason I didn't leave after my planned five months. Hanoi is unlike anywhere I have been in the world, it has similarities to other places in SE Asia, but a certain buzz, a feel to it that separates it from other cities. It is like any other relationship, one with real life and soul-it invigorates, challenges, frustrates and humbles.

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