The flight to Hoi’An is easy and simple from Bangkok. Just a short hop really – the beauty of South East Asia. And the sky turned it on for us with such delightful views out the little windows of vivid blue and luscious green. We are very happy to make a return to Vietnam.
We have been here now for over two weeks and time feels like it’s literally escaping through the clutches of my writing hand. I’m left pondering where the time is disappearing to.
This year has also felt like we have been constantly moving to another country, to another house, to another city. And that’s because we actually have been doing pretty much that all year. Settling into a new rhythm in unfamiliar places and cultures has its pros and cons. We’ve learnt, through experience, that our family takes a good week or so to really settle the feathers at a new destination. But this move from Cyprus to Vietnam via a three-day stopover in Bangkok, in particular, has taken us a little longer to settle than expected. So rather than fighting it, I’m going with the flow and allowing the unsettled-ness to take its own path without trying to change or restrain it.
The first two weeks living in this happy-go-lucky ancient city of Hoi’An has been a balancing act. On the one hand we’re settling into a place where we’re planning an extended stay and on the other we’re trying to carve out a wee holiday – if that’s at all possible – on a year-long family travel adventure.
Traveling the world for 365 days is not by definition a holiday. It has its perks I won’t deny those – no work and its associated stress, no boring routine and family member habits. And although many people may perceive that our year away from work, home, routine, school, and normality is, let me tell you loud and clear it is not! If it’s not a holiday and it’s not normal life, it’s a hybrid of both. There’s been significant changes to our lifestyle, outlook on life, and daily routines. Not having to scurry off to work each day is a major bonus and not having to attend any formal classrooms at certain times has its advantages and disadvantages. So while living in Hoi’An, we have consciously tried to adapt and enjoy the days by not doing all that much. No intentional exploring on the weekends, just simply living and enjoying life at a much slower pace.
The constant traveling and exploring obviously takes its toll more on certain members of our family and in varying ways. And although we have had a lot to take on in these first couple of weeks, it’s been lovely knowing that we are here for three months, not just one.
To give you an insight into how busy our first two weeks in Happy Hoi’An looks, here’s an overview of what we’ve been up:
Da Nang Airport Drone Dramas on Arrival
Our eldest daughter Charlie has been traveling with a drone. She’s been doing a fantastic job researching countries that do not particularly like drones being brought into their countries, and although we thought we had the green light in Vietnam, as per research, we discover on arrival that the drone laws have been changed/tightened up for the upcoming APEC conference occurring in neighbouring Da Nang (the fastest growing city in the world apparently) in early November. The drone regulations are so tight now, that drones are confiscated on site once found in the departing airport luggage x-ray screening process. However, it’s okay. We are not the only ones that has had their drone confiscated by the Vietnamese government lately as we saw first hand a whole cupboard full of them at Da Nang airport.
The man assisting us, after we calmed down considerably (although Charlie is still furious!), is a Vietnamese man who explained the process from now on. We will be collecting our drone once we depart the country and there’s many other travellers in the same boat with the sighting of a stocked cupboard full of them. Drone delight! We will be able to collect our drone on departure without fee, without fuss. Well that’s what they’ve told us. Fingers crossed. So unfortunately, we will not have any drone footage of this spectacular country.
An article on drones in the local paper confirms the new laws.
Moving into A Vietnamese House
Our house is an amazing three bedroom Vietnamese style multi-level home in Cam An area, off Cua Dai Road close to the main beach (or what’s left of it). It’s renovated with freshly painted white walls, sparkling polished floor, small but functional kitchen, and the best of all double glazed front doors that open up onto an intimate courtyard facing the busy street. Our Vietnamese neighbours are lovely and our landlord and his family, Mr Chuong and his wife Dao are even more lovely assisting us with anything we might need.
We have rented six bicycles from Miss Phuong (Mr Chuong’s sister) so we can get around easily and independently. I’ve also worked out a good system in the front courtyard of hanging our washing out and getting them dry. I feel like I’ve joined the pack now.
I love living in amongst the community and this countryside is just stunning to be amongst.
There’s nothing better than complete cultural immersion which provides insight into another culture and way of life. Next door we have a lovely couple with two young children and elderly grandparents and across the road we have another family who smile and wave at us each day. Grandma waddles across the road carrying a bunch of small, fat, over ripened bananas and beams at us with her all missing, jagged red-stained gums, “for babies…for babies”. We humbly accept them, although we have way too many ripe bananas. Wish I had an oven so I could bake banana cakes.
Vietnamese Dong Debts
The Vietnamese Dong (VD) is a complicated array of notes. They range in thousands – 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, 500,000. It’s taking me some time to easily decipher the value of notes folded three ways and wedged in my purse when I’m at the market or shops buying produce. I keep getting the 10,000 and 100,000 mixed up as the note looks the same in colour and all those zeros.
As we start to integrate into our new neighbourhood, we also need to pay for quite a few things outstanding. First Visas – all in US dollars, second rent 12,500,000 Dong (US$550), and of course there’s the rent on six bicycles for a whole month. These are large amounts of money handed out in the space of a couple of short days of arriving. So Steve starts putting money aside to pay for all these big entry items and visits the ATM regularly to pay off our Dong debts one by one.
The ‘Mia School’ A Real 21st Century Classroom
The relationship and healthy working order between Distance Education student (our daughters) and supervisor (us) has diminished somewhat over the last couple of months. If I ever thought that I would become a teacher or a homeschooler in the future, those dreams ni longer exist. Part of the reason why we’re settling in Hoi’An for three months is due in part to the expat community already stationed here and that means some expat teachers. Teachers who are willing to assist us with our kids distance learning for a small fee.
And we found Mia. I call it ‘Mia School’, only because former Australian based in An Bang (just outside of Hoi’An town) Mia has taken on our four girls for the rest of this term. The girls bike down to Mia’s place in a neighbouring area to An Bang each weekday from 10:30am-1:30pm (just three hours a day Monday to Friday) to complete their daily school tasks. It’s a simple 10-minute bike ride. And the turnaround in learning and getting ahead of schedule has been amazing. The girls enjoy getting out of the house, working in a place that is not home, and we enjoy having kid free time. It’s a win-win situation.
Head Colds Suck in the Tropics
Somewhere along the travel route from Cyprus to Vietnam, Ash caught a head cold and is successfully passing it down the family line. Charlie first and now me. It’s one of those head colds that lingers as well – after three days of not feeling great at all, there’s a slight indication it’s all over only for the head cold to return on the fourth day and knock me out again.
The best thing is that most medication is readily available over the counter here at pharmacies. The worst thing is that with the weather here being so warm and tropical it really just makes the feeling of being sick with a dreaded head cold all the more depressing.
Connecting with Other Expats
The first thing Steve and I did when we arrived here was to connect to the various expat Facebook groups and pages in and around Hoi’An and Da Nang. There are scores of them but it’s an easy way to get up to speed with what’s happening, who’s here, and the ability to ask a question and receive multiple answers back. Pure gold for newbies who have just landed.
And although our preference is to not hang out in the overly tourist infested areas like the old town, it’s also true I’m here to connect with some expats and have a bit of a social life. It’s not just the kids who haven’t had many opportunities to connect with other people on a more easy level, that is being able to speak English. But having said that, we are enjoying the best of both worlds. Being able to talk and be listened to by other expats is thrilling after nearly nine months of not really meeting many other foreigners on the road and connecting with local Vietnamese people.
Keeping Fit on the Traveling Road
The only decent exercise any of us get on the travel journey is walking around new places and local gyms. So one of the first tasks is locating a gym, negotiating a price and ensuring it’s in easy reach via bicycle. And we find it at Golden Sand Resort after a couple of expat recommendations on the expat Facebook page. We’ve signed up for a month, and therefore have become members of the resort. This gives us access to a fully equipped gym plus use of the pool, sauna (couldn’t think of anything worse in this tropical heat) and other recreational activities that are offered at the resort. And it’s just a beautiful place to hang out and be happy.
We purchase two family passes (A$250 for a family of six pass for the month) and have thoroughly enjoyed spending the better part of these two weeks sleeping, schooling, and working out. Afterwards we all enjoy a dip in the longest pool in South East Asia – it’s 150m in length plus a stop at the bar overlooking the South China Sea and Cham Island on the weekend! Finally, we’re enjoying a mini-holiday within a year-long backpacking itinerary.
Happy Father’s Day
We always celebrate these days as a family and today is no exception even though we’re in Hoi’An. Steve receives the usual treatment – a congregation of long teen bodies laying over our bed and the handing out of homemade cards with gorgeous heartfelt messages and gifts. He loves it and so do the girls.
After the gift giving session on the bed, we head out on our bicycles to a local restaurant for breakfast and then ride into the heart of Hoi’An – the Old Town – to explore and roam about. It’s a lovely day out together.
Buying Food & Cooking
Each morning Steve rides up to the local Cua Dai market. The market is open from day break until about 8:30am. It’s at the end of a small laneway overlooking the wide river with plenty of fresh produce. The smiling stall ladies offer Steve a variety of freshly cut garden salad greens, fruits and meats. It’s a true Vietnamese market with no refrigeration, just fresh food, wooden chopping boards, broad happy smiles, and wafts of smoking incense sticks.
The women are friendly and helpful and enjoy seeing Steve arrive each morning to buy his usual freshly baked bread rolls (30,000 VD for 6 rolls), greens and meat. Lots of chicken (100,000 VD per kilo), pork and beef (240,000 VD per kilo). He buys eggs in a kilogram weighed bundle for about 30,000 Dong and the straw is included in the bag. The girls have been enjoying making their own lunch to take along to ‘Mia School’ each day which is a freshly baked bread roll containing meat and salad. Very tasty and filling.
But I seem to have quite a few different things in my bicycle basket when I go shopping!
There’s not much here in the way of junk food which is fantastic. But there are lots of sweets and sugary delights. Tooth decay is a big problem here. Many parents don’t worry about the baby teeth, as they’re not permanent, but unfortunately the habits of sugar consumption and not looking after teeth are. Baby teeth or adult teeth, there’s a big problem with oral care here in Vietnam.
But junk food is just not as readily available in all its enticing varieties as it is back home. I love the food options here – limited and mostly healthy. The small supermarket on the corner has all the necessary basics we require like margarine, washing powder, toothpaste, sliced cheese, and packets of noodles etc. Our eating habits have transformed and we’re not consuming nearly as much as we do back home. Especially meat – we just don’t need all those big steaks or chicken fillets. We love this way of eating.
The Dentist Ordeal
This is a funny story now after the fact, but for Steve reliving parts of this dentist story still cause uncomfortable flashbacks! In short, Steve was getting some dental work on a tooth and he swallowed a drill bit. I’ll repeat…a 3cm long drill part fell out of the dentist’s hand and straight down into his throat and then oesophagus. The dentist obviously stopped immediately and started looking on the floor for the piece, but Steve could feel it in his throat! Steve was sent to the local Hoi’An hospital for an x-ray to locate the drill part but it couldn’t be found.
Next day he was driven to Da Nang Hospital to have a procedure he wishes to never ever have to experience again – an endoscopy. A garden hose-sized pipe with a camera attached to its end was pushed 90cm down his oesophagus looking for a 3cm dentistry drill bit. I wasn’t there, but the dentist receptionist Chau was there to support Steve and hold his hand while he dry reached over and over throughout the ordeal. Again nothing found. Next he was sent for a CT scan which finally located the missing drill part. It was in his lower intestines making its exit in the next day or two. It was recommended he eat bananas to help it along!
A freak accident, and the dentist here was overwhelmingly embarrassed and apologetic. But it ended well. Many of the expats we share this story with tell us they’ve seen and heard a lot of strange stories here in Hoi’An, but this one is certainly a story that stands out from the rest.
Air Conditioning Please
The house we rented has only got two air conditioners installed – and they’re located in two out of the three bedrooms. However, with six of us living here for an extended period of time, the downstairs lounge room was really in need of some cooling. Fans just don’t cut through the tropical heat here, and sitting in our lounge room was more or less unbearable.
I make a suggestion to our landlord Mr Chuong that he should consider installing a cooling unit in the main lounge room but his response was, “he’d love to but no more money Lisa!” I completely understood this situation, but it also meant that we were probably not going to re-rent the house next month. Four days later Mr Chuong sent me a message saying, “We will install air conditioning unit this week Lisa. Children come first!”
I’m delightfully shocked. These units are not cheap either at US$1,200 but we’re grateful that Mr Chuong took my request on and is getting one installed in the lounge room. It’s made a huge difference to our life living in the house and we are probably going to stay here for the remainder of our Vietnam stay.
How many 15-year old teenage girls get to travel around the world on their own? Not many. Ash is heading back to Australia for one week as the surprise gift for her best friend Piper’s 16th birthday! A bunch of friends all put money in for the present – Ash! With the money Steve bought a return ticket from Da Nang International airport to Melbourne via KL. What a birthday surprise for Piper too.
Ash really enjoyed seeing her friends and catching up with family. She loved the cooler weather too. It was a great week for her and I think she’s really grown as a result of traveling all that way and managing a stop over to and fro in KL all on her own. Well done Ash!
Our Baby Turns 12
Happy birthday to Dacey who turns 12 years old on 8 September. And early this morning she receives a brand new air conditioning unit that’s being installed in the main lounge room of the house we’re renting! And how lucky is she who’s experienced two birthdays overseas now – the first was celebrated in Penang, Malaysia when she turned 8 and now in Hoi’An, Vietnam at 12. We purchase some balloons and some gifts and she has a lovely day. Big surprise – she has an iPhone! Big surprise there!
Our family seem to congregate on the bed altogether for our birthdays as well as any celebration that commences in the mornings. We sit on the bed and hand out cards and presents. It’s a lovely tradition which makes me smile thinking how small they all were not that many years ago.
Our lovely landlords Mr Chuong and Dao come around with a beautifully decorated cake for Dacey’s birthday. They are the best. We ride our bicycles to our regular haunt Dingo Deli and enjoy sumptuous pizzas for lunch, minus Ash as she left the day before to travel back to Melbourne.
The birthday afternoon is spent at the Golden Sand Resort pool with another present that makes this long pool so much more fun – a giant inflatable swan! I don’t last long on the blow up device and get tossed off into the pool. Lots of fun and great memories for Dacey.
Reflecting back on this fortnight, we realise that we have enjoyed doing not all that much and that’s been a pleasant change. We’ve made the decision to stay longer than one month in Hoi’An so it will end up being between 2-3 months in total that we live in Hoi’An, Vietnam. We have a three-month visa and are looking forward to staying still in the one country for a longer time.
Steve and I had a chat about how we’re feeling relaxed but at the same time quite emotionally drained at times. We realise that we had allowed our teenagers and their teen negativity to run (and often ruin) the journey. It feels like we are constantly reminded that we have in some way ruined their lives by taking them away traveling the world for one year or that we’re spending way too much quality time together which I understand is hard for the teen years. It’s hard to grasp and work with, but the most important aspect of life as a teen is more or less moodiness, friends and socialisation.
Steve and I discussed how our resilience was on empty and the testing teenage years was testing us. At the moment we are drowning. Lots of moodiness, sweeping emotions, trigger happy anger, and a state of constant tiredness especially in the mornings has taken its toll on us and our usually positive, upbeat disposition. We didn’t want the rest of the trip to continue this way.
So the big question is what do we need to do to change this scenario?
We need to climb out of the teen rut we feel we are suffering and back out in the world being happy, creative and positive parents again. To be grateful and to notice the little things in life. To also let things slide and to not let it unfurl us constantly.
While at the gym on the stepper machine I listened to the ABCs Conversations podcast of Buddhist nun Robina Courtin and I had an epiphany. In that interview she said simply that fear causes suffering. It hit me. That’s exactly what I was doing. FEAR of making the wrong choice to travel the world, FEAR of the girls not socialising enough, FEAR of the girls never wanting to travel again, FEAR of going home when we have changed so much, FEAR of never wanting to return to my former life of home-school-work, FEAR of making all the wrong decisions for my family. FEAR of never living my dreams. FEAR of never actualising the life I really want to live. Ultimately it was the usual negative pitch going on in the back of my mind: my FEAR of not being enough. Arggghhh!
I have plenty of evidence that I had indeed made and continue to make mistakes and miscalculations on this year-long journey. The teens are more than happy to point them out – I’m sure there is a long list under their pillow of every wrong move or word – and let me know all about the mistakes in vivid detail over and over again. Sometimes I really think they hate me and the world. Ha they probably do! The constant whingeing and complaining from the troop of three teens and one tween had infiltrated my usual impenetrable buffer zone and now I was mushy, pliable putty in their hands being moulded and stretched in so many different ways. It was time to take back my power by saying this mantra in my mind:
FEAR CAUSES SUFFERING.
So if I don’t have fear, my suffering will end?
Instantly I feel relief. The fear that I’ve built up starts dissipating through the sweat that is dripping from my body while pushing my physical body on the stepper. I do not have to hold onto this fear any longer. I enjoy feeling the burning desire of being free, vital and alive start to reappear. This trip was not nearly over; it may as well have just begun!
Although journal writing has always been my go-to cathartic pursuit to help me make sense of the world and myself, it was time for me to step outside and from behind the comfort that writing and journaling gave me. It was time to pursue another medium of storytelling while we are living in Vietnam. And what came to me was this: vlogging in Vietnam.
The sickness of a head cold that lingered way too long has almost entirely gone and the buffer zone between teenage travel trials and global mothering has been reinstated. Their experience is their own and not mine. If they want to be grumpy and non participatory, so be it.
Steve and I had a huge chat about all of this at our favourite café haunt in Hoi’An, the Dingo Deli and we both relieved the immense pressure we felt to try to make our teenage girls happy and content while living here in Hoi’An. Phew. So now that’s off the menu I feel like I can create something and wake up each morning with a spring in my step and ask, “what are we creating, experiencing or doing today?”
But first a word of warning. I’m not a naturally gifted vlogger. This medium is all new to me and although I’ve been watching my eldest daughter Charlie craft her own vlogs throughout the year, I have this uncomfortable feeling being front and centre in the video. And that’s the easy part – making content. On the other side of hitting the record button, is the steep learning curve in front of me of being able to upload, edit and craft a worthy/entertaining/informational vlog for my viewers. Yikes. But a couple of sayings spring to calm my mind – you got to start somewhere and we over-estimate what we can achieve in a week and underestimate what can be achieved in a month or year.
So my vlogging journey has begun I think. I’m calling it Only in Hoi’An. There’ll be an introductory vlog here soon. I hope you enjoy watching. Please be patient with me as I learn as I wander through this new world and learn the lessons as I go.
Wish me luck!