So good to be back immersed in a strange culture again, back in strong heat, where geckos chirp from our walls and fans are a constant necessity.
We’ve arrived in Vietnam and have rented a small house in Hoi An which is to be our base for the next 10 weeks. The house is a typical modern ugly concrete block and we have a stuffy 2 bed apartment on the ground floor, but, the setting is great. It’s in Tra Que, ‘the garden village’, and is surrounded by amazingly neat vegetable patches, spring onions in military lines, fragrant mint and other herbs tirelessly weeded and tended by ladies in their conical hats. The productivity all around is so impressive. Sea weed is bought up from the nearby coast to feed the land, watering is done by hand with double watering cans balanced on a yoke on strong shoulders. Work begins early to pick things fresh for the market and load baskets onto bikes before the harsh sun truly wakes.
I’m a heat lover and never thought I’d shirk from sunshine but it’s almost oppressively hot. You can be sweating here by 7am, and no one is out in the streets or gardens between 12am and 3pm. I am surprising myself with early morning starts – obviously my body knows better than me that it’s the only feasible time to be up and doing anything. The Vietnamese seem to be early to bed too unless it’s a celebration or holiday in which case the super popular karaoke is crackling loud – unfortunately our neighbour seems very keen, perhaps diligently practising songs for an up coming event, but he has a terrible voice. It’s mostly Vietnamese with an occasional cover that I can just about recognise. For most of the day it’s too hot to be anywhere for too long unless it has a/c or fans. We find ourselves scurrying like beetles from fan to fan. The coolest time is on the scooter and a benevolent petrol powered breeze ripples through our clothes.
Yes we have hired scooters for our stay. Everyone has a scooter here, and if they don’t they’ll be clinging on to someone elses. There are so many scooters on the road here, I think its a case of join in or loose out. They are the best way of getting around, quick and cheap, but sadly, so not cool. No one can look cool on a scooter wearing a little round helmet and sporting the scooter upright stance. I may think I’m cool when driving, then just have to catch a glance of myself to realise I’m more like Dr Nefario on his mobility scooter. I hope to become more au fait with the Vietnamese road rules, or lack of, quickly. Currently I have to admit to finding the town roads pretty stressful, confusing, chaotic and generally fairly alarming – and everyone assures me this is mellow compared to most cities! I have to not just get used to driving on the right but to adapt my driving to trust noone, realise that no one uses a wing mirror, or behaves in any kind of predictable way.
We’re happy with our location, 3 minutes from the beach and 5 from town by scooter. The beach, called An Bang, is nice in the late afternoons for a dip, but does feel a little grimy. It’s pleasant enough but just not azure blue and clear – oh dear tonga has truly spoilt us. We have to drive along a stretch of verdant paddi fields and wallowing buffalo, delicious wind in face, before hitting the simmering town. Hoi An is spread out around a series of wide lazy rivers and paddi fields, and in the centre lies the most touristic part, the old town. This is a grid of small streets lined with old buildings in shades of faded ochre and dusty yellow reflecting its mixed eras of Chinese trading port and French colonial town. It’s outrageously picturesque and crammed with tempting restaurants, colourful shops of trinkets and pottery, and, what Hoi An is most famous for, tailors. There are so many tailor shops on every street and every corner all offering to make suits or dresses in any design or colour you can imagine for a negotiated remarkable cheap price. I look forward to taking some time to choose an outfit. Then there are the markets; many hectic markets full of a fantastic variety of veg and fruit, most of which I recognise, lots of which I don’t. Cooking classes are advertised everywhere usually including a market tour to buy ingredients before learning how to cook them. I look forward to a few culinary delights and experiments with strange ingredients.
Long before we arrived I’d been researching schooling possibilities in Vietnam. One of our reasons for choosing Hoi An as a base is the chance to get the kids into a small ‘homeschool’ – paying a private teacher to take lessons in her home and dividing the costs between parents. The children will be joining a class of 6 kids tomorrow. They dont seem phased, and I’m grateful how adaptable and confident this year of travel has made them. For the first time in a long time Kian and I will have some time out from the kids, time to write and work alone, perhaps time for some coffees and lunches, how strange.
So, Hoi An, high hopes. Lots to look forward to here. Getting to know the area, exploring the lanes, the city and the sights all around, getting to be a better more confidant scooter driver, cookery school, shopping, language, yoga, school. Let’s hope I get more accustomed to the heat and can manage to leave the safety of a fan a little more…