Reflections and stories on six months of life, culture, food and friendship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Maybe it's schadenfreude, but it made me feel a bit better to read other Vietnam expat bloggers lamenting their imminent departures on Noodlepie. Never mind that the remaining time for the author of Noodlepie is roughly the length of time I had in Hanoi in total.

Expats come and go from Hanoi all the time. I keep wondering if it is normal to feel so traumatized, especially after just six and a half months. It has taken me a week to feel I can even write about it.

Someone brought a Torontonian to my farewell party. He was also about to leave Hanoi, and he couldn't wait to get out. He was tired of not being able to communicate, tired of the chaos and poor hygiene, tired of being followed in clothing stores. My colleague also told me about this year's batch of Australian Youth Ambassadors who all hung out together each weekend, going for coffee at Puku and drinking at Barracuda. They couldn't wait to go home, but from the sounds of it they had never actually left.

It may have only been half a year, but it was a whole world. I get irritated when people ask me, how was your trip?, as if I was just another backpacker on an extended fantasy. Despite the relative brevity of my time, my life there was full and three dimensional, and I developed strong attachments to people who have come to feel like family. Saying goodbye to them was painful. Leaving Toronto had not been so hard because I knew I was returning.

In a previous post I talked about my farewell party dilemma and how I couldn't just throw a bash for all and sundry because of complicated group politics. So there were two parties, one with an eclectic group of friends at Chim Sao on Ngo Hue, and the other with Group A on the roof of Highway 4 on Mai Hac De. I was so busy during my last week that I wasn't actually prepared for the finality of the goodbyes after the parties. Suddenly people got up to leave on Saturday night and I was faced with the unthinkable. My experience of leaving Hanoi was of suddenly seeing the loss of a whole community. I know I will return, but I will never regain that world.

Viet stayed over that last night. In the morning I awoke in darkness before the alarm. My packed bags were waiting for me in the living room. Viet couldn't sleep either. Hungry and restless we got on his motobike and rode up Lo Duc for my last bowl of pho, on the sidewalk under a tarp sheltering us from the light rain. Afterwards on the way home I asked Viet to take me for one last loop around Hoan Kiem Lake. He turned his bike around but insisted that this would not be my last time. It was still early and the park around the lake was full of seniors, strolling, practising tai chi, and playing badminton. If you pass by here in forty years, Viet said, look for me and you will probably see me doing the same.

When we got back, my landlord was already waiting. Moments later it seemed and the cab had arrived, my bags were in the trunk and the car door was open waiting for me, but I couldn't get in. I was a mess, but Viet was stoic. As we embraced he said to me that I was not leaving Hanoi, I was only going on another trip, but this time much longer. I got in and watched my house and Viet disappear out the cab window behind me.

Labels: ,


Blogger Preya said...

Mark, I am literally in tears right now after reading your post. You don't know how fully I feel your loss.

11:58 PM

Blogger Kumar said...

Mark, I am speechless. Completely. I felt you were describing everything I felt when I was in Hanoi about to leave, but much better than I could have ever managed. I felt the same way before leaving. Ditto with Hoan Kiem lake and the seniors playing badminton and Tai Chi.

And about the others complaining, I guess to truly fall in love with the place you are visiting, you have to leave with an open mind first. Experience the culture as it is. That is why people like you and me end up wanting to stay there forever - because we are more malleable. The other people, as you correctly mention, never really left. They are so rigid that anything different from what they are used to is "bad" according to them. Thats why they never really get to enjoy their trip and they want to get home. I am really glad I found your blog though. Thanks and hope you get to go back soon someday.

4:50 AM

Anonymous Viet said...

Mark, this part is too sad. I couldn't continute to read.

1:27 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home