Want a baby? Drink the water from the central coast of Vietnam – it seems to be working for many families around here. Plus, it’d make a heck of a Christmas present!
It’s been raining babies for a few weeks now, and the rising flood of baby milk threatens to overwhelm new parents in our neck of the woods.
It’s as if a magical elixir was added to the local five-gallon bottles of water. The Year of the Monkey hasn’t finished its mischievous run, and at least four expat families in my area are suddenly (well...not that suddenly) needing to urgently rearrange their Christmas plans to cater to their new bundles of joy.
Clearly the storks have a lot to answer for. While their delivery service makes Amazon look like a postal turtle, there’s strong evidence that the lifestyles of a number of expats in Da Nang will be irretrievably transformed.
This is not isolated to just expats, numerous reports are circulating of late Monkey Year arrivals, making their presence felt louder than many karaoke bars that I ride past (and never enter). Interestingly, babies probably make great weather forecasters, considering most of these adorable, yet stinky, little bundles were born just in time for the recent terrible rains. Do they know something we oh-so-clever adults don’t?
I’m sure we can expect to see many exhausted faces around local bars, cafés, restaurants and TV sports nights, staying just long enough for just a quick chat before heading back to support the Missus (the wife) in her struggle to communicate with the new alien in the house. While I don’t expect Vietnamese or Western men to become experts at changing diapers or warming bottles of baby formula, I’m sure I’ll hear some ‘war stories’ about achievements in becoming a holistic and totally well-rounded husband.
A long time ago in Vietnamese culture, there was such a thing as ''phon thuc'' – to quote a student who explained the concept to me. “It means that Vietnamese worshipped the action of physical satisfaction, giving birth to a baby and growing life,” the student said. As with most ancient cultures, fertility and birth are seen as the continuation of the human cycle and affirmation that life is continuous. I think this is a lovely expression of the joy that we feel when new life enters the world – the knowledge that the next generation is a reality and we have left a mark in our world.
However, with a new baby, things get weird quickly if you’re an expat, regardless of which nationality you’re married to. Vietnamese generally begin counting birthdays, depending on who’s doing the counting, from one month after the birth, a year after the birth, or the actual birth date – got that? So registering a birthday at the hospital is straightforward, though getting birth certificates, either local or from the parent’s country of origin, can be trickier than trying to pronounce the Vietnamese ‘ng’ sound.
And that’s before you apply for passports...!
A hilarious Facebook feed I read recently noted that parents should make sure they have a rubber stamp on the left hand side of their signature! And if the baby is born in Ho Chi Minh City but you’re from Da Nang, then back to Da Nang you will go! Vietnamese bureaucracy is legendary, as we all know, but it seems to reach new levels of mind-numbing detail when it comes to citizenship – Mary and Joseph had it easy two thousand and seventeen years ago.
Still, a newborn is the best kind of Christmas present, right? What more could you ask for at Christmas, a time of peace and quiet, than a new addition to the family that requires cooking, 4:00 am feeding, and all day attention. I’m sure it’s better than getting new socks.
Thank heaven I only have a new puppy dog – in just 12 weeks he’s already learnt to leave my shoes and pillows alone, not to walk in front of me, wait patiently for dinner, and keep quiet while I’m writing these scintillating think pieces.
In any case, I’d like to wish all the new born citizens of planet Earth, regardless of whether the Vietnamese clerk has approved your paperwork, and their proud Vietnamese and Western parents the very best for Christmas and New Year. May your offspring be healthy geniuses who look after you well into your elder years!
Congratulations and good luck...you’re going to need it!