Thursday, February 16, 2006

Get it while you can

Spoilt rotten and perfectly happy about it, Teddy de Burca Jnr explains why it would seem like too much hard work to go back home

In the past, which now seems so long ago I look at it as more like a previous life, I used to do many things. I used to cook regularly. I used to clean my house everyday. Lord – I even used to polish my own shoes and fix the punctures on my rusty old bicycle. What’s more, I definitely never paid anyone to shave my beard off or clean my ears.

But Vietnam spoils a man, and perhaps a woman too. Now, I am living in La-la Land. A sort of personalised Utopia, a place I always dreamt existed, but thought I would never find; where the lazy man lives like an idle prince, where the dishes can be left in the sink and be magically washed overnight, where you can go for a coffee and walk away with clean shoes. It is a land that positively encourages me not to lift a finger in the domestic sense. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s how it is.

Whenever friends of mine are packing up and leaving Vietnam they prattle on about what they’ll miss – the friends, the culture and the way she might look at you on a soft Spring day while hurtling through the traffic. And all of that is all very well, but let’s get down to the meat of the matter: what they will also miss, perhaps more at first, is having their shoes shined for VND2,000; getting their house cleaned by a maid for $30 or $40 a month; the fact that they cannot afford to have a slap up dinner (or lunch) whenever they feel like it.

In Vietnam, for people working full time with kids, there is the joy of having a nanny, a cook and a maid all rolled into one for a very affordable fee. The only drawback might be after spending so much time with the super-nanny your kid will pick up Vietnamese so fast you’ll come home one day to find the little whippersnapper gossiping with the housewives and maids down the street about how much you spend on take away pizza every month and you won’t understand a single word.

One friend of mine left Vietnam for a distant land called Japan. His life was pretty much turned back to front. From a huge cheap villa he ended up in an overpriced matchbox apartment. The price of coffee multiplied itself by about 20 times. Suddenly he didn’t have so much free time and he couldn’t afford sushi lunches (ironic eh?)*.
When I did a rapid-fire survey on friends it revealed a host of lifestyle habits that could not be realised back home: having a whole wardrobe tailor made clothes, getting a weekly four-dollar foot rub, being invited to drink with complete strangers (accepting is optional), never having to make your own bed, being able to afford, and find taxis, or if you can’t, at least a xe om (motorbike taxi).

Of course, we all have our paths to follow, and for many foreigners there’ll come a day when they head for the hills, but in the meantime, you should be savouring these moments and abundance of pleasures, because, I promise you, after you leave you’ll miss it all, or at least not be so happy about facing the housework back home.

If you still don’t believe me then I’ll leave you with my emphatic closing argument: imagine vacuuming the house.
A frightening thought, if I say so myself.

*Apparently that isn't true (see comments by Elliott). That character is sort of composite character of few people who went to Japan. One teacher friend who went to Tokyo thought naively things would work as easily as Hanoi - arrive, hang out, drink bia, meet folk, get work, stay - but he lasted 10 days, his meagre savings chewed up by the Tokyo prices and he complained he didn't even get a chance to eat sushi!

A very brief survey of reasons people like living in Vietnam:

From RR of England:
“The fact that I am relatively large here - get to feel like a big man”
“Lots of very pretty girls giggling and flirting with me in that very cute Vina way”

“The cost of living of course applies to a wide range of benefits beyond just eating out- eg. massages, weekends away”
“Random strangers will invite me to eat or drink with them (and the food is healthier and better)”
“I have never been ill in Vietnam”
“The weather, climate is of course infinitely better”

“I am much safer in Vietnam”
“Get to go to Model parties, parties at the Italian Ambassador's house”

From SJC of Australia

“Endless bia and bun cha and bun rieu cua

“Never having to make my own bed (or clean the house!)”

“A vibrant food scene – street, other Vina, international … you name it… great food going on at all levels “

“Possibility of having my entire wardrobe custom made”

“Being able to drive from my house to Laos (or Cambodia or the northern mountains or … wherever)”

“Only a hop skip and a jump from Bangkok (where I hear they do quite good liver transplants at a fraction of the price in the west!)”

“My employer’s deeply relaxed attitude to results”

From PM of Australia
“Riding my motorbike around”
“Eating Vietnamese food nearly every day”
“Having massages whenever I want, without the fear of budgetary retribution”
“Paying double for a shoe shine, just to make myself feel like a responsible global citizen”
“Not paying tax...”
“Catching taxis, with the same freedom associated with having a massage”
“Watch the latest DVDs for nuthin”
“You can be sillier when drunk and not get punched”
“Shootin the shit with Jackie Chan”


elliott said...

Japan? Expensive? Nah. I'd be more inclined to deride the quality of coffee in this place meself. I had to go and buy myself my own expresso machine to get a decent cup of coffee round these parts! Would have to disagree with you about the sushi though. Not only is sushi and sashimi cheaper here but it actually tastes like it was bought at the local fish market that morning... and not like it has been sitting at Haiphong Port awaiting customs clearance. Think of the difference between fresh goat meat from Lang Ha and that chewy stuff they serve you at the McDonalds Bia Hoi on Giang Vo and you'll know what I mean. The worst part about leaving Vietnam, in my humble opinion, is not getting to hang out with you scallywags more often. That and old Vietnamese woman. And boiled peanuts. And the bao ve at Au Lac Cafe. And Vu Long. And keo lac. And Popcorn Thirstdays. And, as RR said, getting to hang out with models at the ambassador's residence!

pittstop designer said...

or do you mean the bao ve at highlands? The self proclaimed gatekeeper of hoan kiem lake? Always wanted to do a story on him but the cafe is now under a different brand name and he's been shunted across town to the Highlands by the side of Hanoi towers. He is understandably a shadow of his former self!

elliott said...

I hope he still has his armband!

Preya said...

Ahhh...the luxury of expat life. I grew up with it and never washed a dish until I turned 18, but the last 5 years, living like the masses in the US, have hardened me;)