Today I discovered how wonderful it is to be wrong.
In my previous blog I envied the ease with which expats seem to adapt to the challenges of a place like Hanoi. And today I realised that it’s all a load of bollocks! We are all terrified, we are all well out of our comfort zones and we are all struggling with the evolutionary process of living here. Meeting some fellow expats helped me to realise this.
We all met online in a forum designed for such a purpose. And as soon as a date, time and location was decided we all agreed to meet in person. Some members of our group had met previously but with the exponential success of the group there were plenty of newcomers there like myself.
I cannot stress enough the medicinal tonic of laughing alongside a group of people who have undergone the exact same experiences and struggles that you have. Being able to talk in fluent and complicated English is also a joy which you can’t appreciate until that option has been removed from your daily life. Most of these expat women had been in Hanoi for about the same length of time as me and that simple connection can form an almost instant bond with a stranger.
This was by no means a first traveller meet up though. I had organised one in New Zealand which was surprisingly well attended with people representing countries from across the globe. All throughout our travels we had met others and had conversations about home, destinations, adventure and (of course) animals as well. The people we had met ranged in age, goals, travel purpose and opinions of all sorts of topics under the sun (although i have to admit, everyone we have met shares the exact same views on Trump and Brexit!) and it was certainly fascinating to talk to them. But this expat meeting in Hanoi was different.
We were being honest.
Whereas previously we had only touched on the difficult parts of travel with people, this time we ploughed right into the brutalities of it. We shared stories of struggle, of fear, embarrassment, confusion and of our vision of home which we often found to be a romanised highlight reel. Discussing the small achievements we had made during our transition into expat life showed how fiercely proud of those accomplishments we were. And realising that it wasn’t just me that found it necessary to celebrate those small steps was hugely refreshing. I know not all expats do feel this way, some really are truly at home here as they would be anywhere else but I was so delighted to find this bunch of people who hadn’t gotten to that stage yet.
Eventually we descended into a chaotic intermingling of laughter, ideas and an excited refusal of the social norm to only stick to small talk. It was a truly marvellous opportunity to share stories (one of my favourite things about travel) and discuss our findings of Hanoi life with others that could understand.
And so I happily rescind my previous statement that I was alone in the dark, searching for a home. I am still blindly reaching out to see what I can find but others are doing the exact same action and to know that they are in the same city, facing the same bizarre scenarios that make up our lives here means that I can no longer feel as if I am on my own.
I had no idea that today I was following a map that lead to these wonderful ladies. And i cannot help but feel so incredibly grateful for it because we are all in the same boat, battling with the same issues and discovering a city which will caress you with love and beauty one day before kicking your ass to the polluted kerb the next. I may still be the “odd one out” expat who isn’t a teacher living in Tay Ho with a passion for Vietnamese cuisine and the climate of a hot country but I am also a traveller, a woman and a human being. And today showed me that we all have those similarities in common and the more we share them, the more honest we are about them, the less we have to face alone. And so I encourage all expats, wherever you may be, to find that map that may lead to your kind of people and follow it, you may never know what treasures you may uncover.