You get a shock when you step out of Vietnam after living here for years.
Stay here long enough and you slip into the Vietnamese rubber time which runs slower than the rest of the earth and getting things done involves the patience of the Buddha and the ability to think in multi-dimensions.
Then you cross back into the rest of the world. Suddenly you are thrust back into a world of speed, efficiency and expense. Online tickets, computerized customs and airport bottled water scams. Shops where you can buy anything – no need to ride all over town for tacos and duct tape. Rules in your hotel room – don’t smoke! Don’t steal the toothpicks! And the truly bizarre sight of people obeying traffic laws and the silence of the car horns – well... in Australia, at least.
I needed to visit my mum in Australia as she’s going through a difficult time after two strokes and the trauma of giving up living independently to move into a nursing home. Flying into Australia felt strange, a foreign country to me now after seven years of life in Hoi An in central Vietnam. Of course it didn’t help that customs frowned at me when I filled out the customs form in purple ink, not blue or black – or that their fancy computers couldn’t read my E-passport. I much prefer the Vietnamese customs guys who don’t say anything due to lack of English speaking skills...
Visually, Australia is one big advertising board and lovely coconut palm trees are hidden by Nike and Apple. I know people everywhere like to buy flashy things to feel comfortable, cool and classy but I thought why can’t the West just settle for a big house, giant SUV and huge flat screen TV like the Vietnamese?
It gets weirder... don’t step on the grass: so what’s grass for? You can smoke outside but you can’t eat food in the same place if it’s a hotel or cafe – you have to move to the other area to eat but not smoke. I prefer the Vietnamese way – eat, drink, smoke and text at the same time.
Sydney, where my mum lives, has dozens of parks but you have to pick up your dog’s poo and read the signs to know where you are allowed to ride a bike, a skateboard or run. It’s no surprise that they are often empty. I should be a park cleaner in my next life – I’d have nothing to do. I got a new driving license in Sydney. You get greeted by a customer representative who tells you to take a ticket, fill in this form, wait over there and watch the TV for when your number is called. Then the counter officer takes your ticket, does magic on a computer and a new license will be sent to your address in two weeks. The officer frowned at me (frowning is very popular in Australia) and told me I could have done all this online, ‘180 dollars please’. There’s no tip in Australia. Later on, I took my mum to the bank to sort out some information. The same thing – ticket, form, wait, call your name and frown. We waited longer than usual as the Commonwealth Bank’s computer system crashed for 40 minutes. So we had some 10 dollar coffees (Inside) and I had a smoke (outside – no coffee) and then went home. My mum thought it was very funny as she gets coffee for free in her room. She’s slowly getting better...
Australia must have so much money now. A hamburger is 10 dollars. Cigarettes are 15 dollars and you can’t afford a taxi unless you win the lottery. People use credit cards to pay for beer. I saw lots of young people buying 6 dollar beers (but they can’t eat anything) and cheap wine then moving over to the other side to eat 20 dollar meals. I think the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism should tell Australians about banh mi (Vietnamese bread) and 5,000 dong orange juice!
Around my mum’s nursing home there are hundreds of beautiful homes in empty streets where you don’t see a lot of people except on weekends. Families hide in their backyards to have BBQs and fun because it’s not good to sit at the front of your house and watch the world go by while your kids play next to the street. I missed that sense of community you see everywhere in Vietnam.
Yep – the rest of the world is fantastic. I’ll visit it more often sometime. Yet it’s great to be home in Hoi An sitting in my kitchen looking out at the paper moon trees swapping in the midday breeze. My two dogs are napping at my feet and I’ve got a cold (90 cent) Larue on the table.
Today I’ll do some swimming and some cartoon drawing work in the evening at my garden table, stare up at the stars and remember that there is no place like home.