things that I will miss…

It?s now less than two weeks until we depart S?i G?n to travel back to Australia via Kuala Lumpur and emotions are running very high. On the one hand there are exciting reasons to return to the country of our birth, but on the other there are things that will be missed that have become such a part of our lives.

It seems that most ex-pats who reside here for any length of time have similar feelings about leaving this place and I?ve noticed that many experience pangs of regret for the same things that we do. The recently departed ?No Star Where? posted this article summarising many incidents with which I can identify and I decided that I would create a list of my own if for no other reason than to sum up for myself how life has been for the past two years and how it may be in the near future.

Sure we will be coming back here and yes certain things will be the same, but many things can never be the same as this last two years. In the first place we will not be living in this house surrounded by neighbours whom we have come to know so well. A good deal, if not most of our colleagues have either moved on or, by the time we return, will have moved on so our social activities will be different. Even our adopted daughter Mimi will be moving to the USA very soon to undertake another graduate degree at a university in Pennsylvania.

So, we will never have a time and set of circumstances such as we have encountered in this instance, and that is OK, change is good although usually an uncomfortable experience and I know that I am looking forward to the future. But I will miss many things about this place; in fact I?m already missing some of them in anticipation because I haverun out of time do go do stuff.

Many of the things that I will miss I will yearn for but there are other things that I will miss about as much as I miss the idea of having an image of the Queen Mary tattooed on my scrotal sac. Having said that, please keep in mind that I mention all this ?stuff” in good humour and without any irony. I realised a long time ago that acceptance is the key to survival while living within another culture and therefore I have accepted that many things are ?different? here from where I was brought up but that is OK.

Below is the list and I will leave it up to you to decide on which side of the equation I would place each thing. If you have lived here most things will need no further explanation but if you haven?t, you would probably be surprised at some of the things that may just reside on the yearned for side of the ledger. I admit that there are some things which will be available to me back in Australia such as fish sauce and chillies, but I don?t believe that they will be available in every caf? or restaurant that I go into. I also admit that there are no doubt many things that I have not thought of.

This has been jotted down in very random order over several days on an ad hoc basis so there is not necessarily a correlation between entries. I?ve placed the list in ?more? so that it doesn?t take up too much page space.

noise, traffic, little personal space,
the coffee (the best & most inexpensive in the world. If you know of better please send me the location and I promise I will make a pilgrimage there),
cruising through city streets on the motorbike in the cool of the evening,
being smiled at by strangers in the traffic,
the arrogance of some Vietnamese,
the arrogance of some ex-pats,
tourists of all nationalities,
green mango & green papaya,
the myriad of smells in market places,
having a Vietnamese pay for your bike parking just because you are a foreigner on a Vespa,
pretty pretty women wearing short skirts sitting side saddle on Motorbikes,
the grin on the face of a first time visitor while taking their first xe om (motorbike taxi) ride in the chaotic S?i G?n traffic,
the different smells that hit you as you ride through the countryside on a motorbike,
long black hair glistening in the sunlight,
complimentary tra (tea) or tra da (iced tea) wherever you go,
drinking excellent draft beer (never had a headache from it) in our local bia hoi at 8,000VND per litre,
eating won tons on Vo Van Tan St at midnight,
the overtly cheeky & flirtatious nature of Vietnamese women,
the pungent odour of nuoc mum (fish sauce) brewing in pottery urns,
having Mimi check the contents of our refrigerator for out of date food,
working out at the army owned Kia Hoa II gymnasium and pool,
cruising on the bike and feeling Lisa wrap her arms around my waist and kiss me on the back of the neck,
eating at my favourite rice shop, Nguyen Hien on Nguyen Thoung Hien St,
traffic lights and the inability of drivers to accept that ?red? means ?stop?,
being able to afford to have photos printed,
drinking Hong’s strong rums at 3am at Inside Bar in the old quarter Ha Noi,
taxi drivers,
horns on trucks, buses, taxis and other any other vehicle,
squat toilets,
the mixed aroma of charcoal smoke and grilling pork fillets,
eating dim sum at 3am on Nguyen Trai and watching the high class hookers, trendies, guys with tattoos and lady boys,
cheap DVD movies,
not seeing how a movie finishes,
lack of service, the best service ever,
unusual bowel habits,
cruising around Hoan Kiem Lake in Ha Noi on a motorbike,
the sounds of the children laughing and playing in our hem,
our house crickets chirruping away,
the never ending frantic pulse of life in S?i G?n,
lighting on cafes and street decorations, interior design, the profusion of colours,
singsong cries of the street hawkers below our bedroom window,
electric shocks off my laptop,
eating sticky rice for breakfast on the pavement in Hang Hanh St, Ha Noi and watching as the city begins to come to life,
the tang, tang, tang sound of a noodle seller at 2.30am,
the sound that Kieu makes at the corner of our hem breaking up ice for ca phe da,
our neighbours friendly smiles and greetings,
the sound of five different types of music from our neighbours synchronously,
dogs barking,
the deaf street vendor who sounds as though he is on an eternal quest for ?Arthur? when in fact he is selling nước dừa (coconut milk),
the other deaf street vendor selling banh mi (bread) who can?t hear you when you want to buy some and is going so fast on his bicycle you can?t catch him anyway,
rice wine and snake wine,
sitting in our home office on a Sunday morning and catching the smell of food being cooked with lots of garlic,
planning and going on long motorbike trips,
someone dragging up a big yellow/green loogie from the back of their throat and hoicking it up outside our front gate,
a well dressed good looking women doing the previous,
Pulppy brand pocket pack tissues,
the excitement of being “on the road” not knowing where you will be staying that night,
the enormous range of food tastes,
vodka Ha Noi,
having our garbage collected daily and the happy guy who collects it,
exhaust fumes,
riding without a helmet,
getting pissed and riding home at 2am,
other idiots who are obviously pissed & riding their motorbikes at 2am,
the garlic in food cooked in the far north,
eating rice and grilled pork,
having Keiu deliver freshly made ca phe da’s to our house,
fish sauce with chilli and garlic,
the “recycle rubbish” ladies in their conical hats with faces masked squatting & sorting through scrap with gloved hands at our front gate,
going and eating with Mimi when we both feel fungry,
the taste of squid grilled over charcoal on the pavement and dipped into salt, pepper, chilli and lime,
being the object of great amusement to locals,
being smiled at by children,
seeing Vietnamese people?s faces light up when you try and speak their language,
getting caught in the rain and pulling the bike over to don a raincoat,
being invited into people’s (total strangers) homes to eat or drink tea,
hearing the horns from ships on the S?i G?n river,
being corrected constantly on Vietnamese pronunciation (you don?t hear me correcting their rotten English all the time do you?),
having a Vietnamese yell out ?Hello? to you and then turn to their neighbour and laugh like it was the greatest joke of all time,
the buddhist monk in saffron robes with begging bowl walking up our hem 5 or 6 paces at a time then pausing to pray,
having small children in country villages yell out ?Hello? while waving like crazy with big grins on their faces,
constantly being asked about where you are going and what you are doing,
pushing, shoving and queue jumping, especially at supermarket checkouts and getting in and out of lifts,
unisex toilets,
being asked how much you have paid for something and being assured you?ve paid way too much,
the smells of the spices in the streets around Cho Lon,
the rainy season,
the everyday pulse of life in our hem,
ginger tea from Lao,
singing karaoke in a strangely decorated room at ?Nice? on Pham Ngoc Thach St (no longer there) that has its own ensuite with full size bathtub and winning a key ring for a 100% performance,
being able to travel quickly to neighbouring countries for so little cost,
knowing that when you return home from travel the house will be immaculately clean, there will be fresh flowers in vases, fruit & beer in the fridge and all of your dirty laundry just needs to be thrown in the basket,
loosing Internet connection every time there is slightly more than a heavy dew,
full body massages,
the indifference that many people in cars show to those around them,
filling up the motorbike for 25,000VND and knowing it will last for the week,
shopping from the motorbike,
travelling by motorbike on small country roads and laneways,
the smell that emanates from the urine stained “pissing walls” in the afternoon sun,
getting out of S?i G?n on a motorbike,
buses on the highways,
the neighbours who have never returned my smiles,
hearing the sound of the ocean and insects at Mr. Roys place at Vung Tau,
people texting on cell phones while driving a motorbike in the traffic,
travelling late at night along the city streets with friends on motorbikes and chatting,
the trees lining many of the city streets,
the heat,
the overwhelming hospitality and friendship shown by so many Vietnamese people,
the downright greed of some merchants,
ladies passing by our front gate carrying plastic baskets on their way to Vuon Choui market,
the amazing patience and tolerance of the Vietnamese,
the incredible impatience and intolerance of the Vietnamese,
the joy of friendly bargaining for a good price,
the happy nature of most Vietnamese people,
the ease of getting around by motorbike,
the chaos of peak hour traffic jams,
Vietnamese weddings,
making right turns into heavy traffic without bothering to look to the left,
sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green while everybody else goes across,
stopping in traffic just where you feel like it and not having anybody abuse you,
coming off the bike because you forgot to unlock the steering lock and having many people rush to help you up,
tailors at work on the pavement using treadle powered sewing machines,
stopping in the shade alongside a country road for a ca phe da and a nap in a hammock,
the giggles between female waitresses or shop assistants while trying to serve ?the foreigner?,
bike parking attendants,
listening to Vietnamese people talk and thinking they are arguing because they are yelling, but realising they are not,
the fact that at any given moment there are literally hundreds of photographic opportunities all around you,
joking with the staff in Bar No.5,
monosodium glutamate,
foot massages,
having Mimi ring to ask ?Daddy are you hungry? My mother has just cooked curry/noodles/vegetable soup/pork rice soup/sticky rice/fried fish with lotus, do you want some??,
the overwhelming ever changing scenery when travelling through the countryside,
the naughty, provocative ladies in the Vuon Choui markets,
the Mekong River,
a family of five being transported on one small 100cc Honda,
meeting friends for a few beers after work at Hoa Vien and not leaving until after midnight,
the German sausage, sauerkraut and mashed potato at the same place,
the camaraderie with my colleagues (what?s left of them),
being asked very direct personal questions,
being able to ask very direct personal questions,
eating bun bo hue on the road outside the markets on Hai Ba Trung St,
walking a short distance in any direction from our house to eat at a huge variety of restaurants,
the smell from drains,
rats the size of Shetland ponies,
plastic bags littering the edges of the roads,
schoolgirls in ao dai riding on bicycles,
the clamour and activity of Vietnamese market places,
the sounds of sirens coming from Nguyen Dinh Chieu,
eating rice & pork at the back of the Binh Tay markets in Cho Lon,
ordering Banh Mi Opla & Ca Phe Da for breakfast in the markets, getting the bill thanking the ladies and not speaking a word of English but being understood,
having my Vietnamese not understood in country areas,
having a flat tyre on the bike fixed in 10 minutes for a fee of 6,000VND,
having a full bike headlight assembly fitted on the spot for a fee of 20,000VND,
cockroaches the size of small terriers,
house geckos particularly our kitchen gecko which is still in love with our coffee machine and is now huge,
our housekeeper Ms Tam and her family,
the thousands of swallows and tiny bats that chase insects at sunset in the skies over the city,
Ms Tam?s smile,
our drinking buddies and erstwhile companions in talking absolute bullshit who helped keep us sane,
the cricket on the big screen at Caf? Latin,
having bottled water delivered by motorbike,
wine at 60,000VND per glass at Caf? Latin,
knowing I will see something I never expected to see every time I venture out of the house,
stepping around dog shit on the pavement,
sitting on the steps of the Opera House watching the passing parade eating ice cream or pastries from Brodard Deli,
the claustrophobic feeling that comes from having things done for you,
young girls selling roses late at night in the city,
a person with no legs and deformed arms pulling him or herself along in the grime of the streets selling lottery tickets,
the old quarter in Ha Noi,
refrigerators being delivered on the back of motorbikes,
standing in the pouring rain on the rooftop of our house,
cheap watches,
the Vietnamese BBQ above the Temple Club,
the music of ABBA (Happy New Year), Karen & Richard Carpenter (For All We Know/It?s Going To Take Some Time/Yesterday Once More) & The Eagles (Hotel California) being played in every caf? (often at the same time),
large electric wall fans in restaurants spraying a fine mist of water over everything (electricity & water don’t mix do they?),
being woken up at dawn by the sounds of a brass and drum band sending some departed soul off,
nose flutes,
drinking ca phe da at the end of our hem,
the sound of our neighbour opening the vent in his roof,
drinking my beer with ice (I admit that this is something I can do back in Australia but possibly not in a public bar),
banh mi made from a small stall on the pavement,
Banh Mi Ha Noi,
AFL football on the giant television in the top lounge at Caf? Latin,
Sister Trish in her Carlton footy club jumper,
Nguyen Hue St during Tet,
alcohol street,
the price of imported wines,
the ferry to Vung Tau,
the overnight train to Nha Trang,
Nha Trang beach and the beach at Cam Ranh,
our favourite ca phe lady on the pavement in Nha Trang,
listening to impromptu live music on Sunday nights at Yoko bar,
buying beer at the corner store,
the vegetarian restaurant opposite our hem,
being able to watch people living their lives,
the tiny barstools that mothers prop between their legs to transport their babies on motorbikes,
the amount of things you can buy on the pavement at kerbside,
having my motorbike picked up and delivered when anything needs doing to it,
the seafood,
changing money at the jewellery shop on the corner of our hem,
a lack of good reading material,
plastic stools in restaurants,
instant free tailoring on clothes purchases,