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Great to be back in Vietnam!

I was surrounded by five women outside my front gate less than 30 hours after I arrived back in Vietnam.

Still jet-lagged and muddle-headed, thinking it’s some kind of welcoming party, I was besieged by a babble of grins and sharply accented, machine-gun style country Vietnamese chatter from four hardy, middle-aged neighbors demanding to know when they could start work for me again. The fifth is an embarrassed daughter, dragged half way down my narrow lane by her relatives, roped in to translation servitude.

After a few minutes of sign language, badly pronounced Vietnamese from me, a notebook and a lot of giggling, I growled at everyone to get to work… more giggling…

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All the ladies are my neighbors with the exception of my housekeeper who lives near the river in Hoi An and routinely can’t work when the river floods.

One of the ladies asked for some pencils for her kids and I smiled sweetly while telling her that she’d have to work for them and pointed at the rather over-grown trees in my garden that needed trimming. She walked off laughing her head off. Cheeky girl!

Yep, I’m back home to my dogs, the noisy men on bikes roaring past my place (I’m on the corner) and a pile of work to catch up on. Strange how comfortable I am with mad traffic, confusing shopping and bad weather these days. I don’t know why but I find the more relaxed attitudes of Vietnam easier on my nerves than my brief visit to rule-bound Australia this last week.

Yet we foreigners are a sometimes hypocritical lot; saying one thing but doing something completely different. I get angry at the traffic but at the same time I don’t want too many rules. I wish the Vietnamese would be on time or warn me if they can’t come, however it’s kinda nice when I’m late and no one really notices or complains. If you’re a foreigner reading this – just insert your own example!

I guess the other nice thing is not having a mailbox full of advertising junk or bills to worry about. It’s great taking off my shoes in the warm morning air, sitting in the coffee shop in bare feet while I rustle up ideas for the week’s projects.

There’s not much in the way of advertising overload and I can walk down the street smoking a cigarette without people looking at me like I’m a member of the Nazi party.

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I can chill out in a shack with no walls at ‘Hoa’s place’, one of the most hospitable little cafés I’ve ever been to, at Marble Mountain right next to the beach and just stare for miles out to Cham Island without someone parking right in front of my view.

For myself, I’ve got problems the same as we all do, but dealing with them in a Vietnamese environment seems more like home to me than Australia will ever be again. When you’re confronted on a daily basis by how harsh life can be for the people around you, realizing how small your own problems are comes as a blessing from the universe.

I’m not saying Vietnam is heaven – far from it! But it’s good enough for me and that’s all I need to know. My attitude may seem a little selfish although I’m very aware that there are important things going around me in this developing country.

It’s not like Vietnam doesn’t have issues – it’s got millions of them and the truth is it will take generations, not decades, to resolve and unravel the social issues, the environmental problems and so on. Some changes are rapid and others appear almost un-noticed; hotels springing up everywhere compared to students learning two languages, for example.

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So I’ll complain sometimes and other times try to educate or help or point out better ways to do things. It’s up to the Vietnamese themselves to look deep enough into their culture and decide and understand for themselves how much change they are willing to undertake.

Mostly I missed that cheerful ‘we’ll work it out somehow’ attitude that drenches this country’s heart and encourages even me to do the same. When you get used to as many problems as you encounter here, there’s a calmness that eventually dawns and you feel like you’re becoming Vietnamese…

But it’s great to be back and I’m looking forward to the next adventures to write about Vietnam! Now, where’s that cold beer?

STIVI COOKE, Tuổi Trẻ

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