Travelling Homebody is living in Hanoi. Find out what the first three weeks have been like!

My first three weeks living in Hanoi

I have been living in Hanoi for just over three weeks, and it’s been crazy-amazing and challenging. I’ve found out things about myself that I didn’t think would apply here, because, well, I’m not in Australia. But I am me whether I am in Australia or Vietnam or the Antarctic—who knew?! Here’s what I’ve been up to (and not) since my last post.

I’ve settled into my apartment in Tay Ho

My apartment in Tay Ho (also known as Westlake) is lovely. I posted a video showcasing its highlights in my last post, but suffice it to say I feel very much at home here. The wifi signal is excellent because I have my own router (I can even stream ABC news via my VPN). The security guards know me, and say hello; it’s close to shops and cafes and bars and restaurants; I’m within minutes of a beautiful 17 km lake where I can run; and my cleaning lady is awesome (she does my washing for me, and I have fresh sheets weekly). I’m comfortable taking motorcycle taxis and ordering in. I know a few more people each week, thanks to my own efforts and Leanne (KOTO’s Volunteer Coordinator), who is incredibly kind and helpful and supportive. Today, I bumped into Julia, who I met on Sunday’s FVH walking tour around Ba Dinh. And I walk to and from the bus stop with another of KOTO’s volunteers. KOTO is lending me a bicycle and that will allow me to get to know Tay Ho more intimately.

Being a foreigner has its frustrations

I’d be lying if I didn’t say navigating Vietnam isn’t without its challenges. Because I clearly look foreign, taxi drivers beep at me hoping to score a fare (I could be in my running gear running and taxis still beep to see if I need a ride!). While we’re on taxis, I know my address and can pronounce it reasonably well, but drivers just shake their heads and want to see the address on Google maps. And then there are the scammers. I told off one taxi driver last night for running his meter too quickly and taking me the long way home! He couldn’t understand me, but I felt a whole lot better. Vendors often jack up the price of fruit or vegetables for foreigners. In some places, I can’t read the menu (it’s in Vietnamese with no English translation) and hence avoid the meat dishes because I’m more or less vegetarian. Some ATMs aren’t in English (but you don’t know that until you put your card into the machine) and sometimes I haven’t been able to work out how to eject my card (people are kind and help). The local SIM cards are a mystery: how do I check my data balance? Where can I get credit and how do I load it onto my card? Also, where do I find things like western sized clothing and shoes? Where do I take my laptop if it dies (which I thought it had last week)? And how do I cross the road without dying? Argh!

I don’t want to teach English

Before I came to Hanoi, I’d been keeping an eye on a number of Facebook Groups, and it was obvious that there was a lot of work available teaching English, for between US$20 and US$25 an hour. As an ex-ESL teacher, a few hours per week teaching would have been perfect and I scored a job within a day or two of landing in Hanoi. It fell through (apparently, my lesson plans weren’t thorough enough, and because I wasn’t getting paid to write them, I graciously refused to do more work on them). I started at KOTO teaching English (they were short of teachers), and it became obvious very early on (to me!) that it was something I did not want to do. The students were lovely, but I realised I didn’t want the pressure, or the responsibility or the inflexibility of a schedule. It was me, not them, and I’m glad I found out early before I got myself hired.

My work ethic sucks

I admire and respect work of the Vietnamese—I am so soft in comparison! Most Vietnamese start work very early and work until late. They are an industrious nation, and I have commented that every job here has dignity. Every dong earned contributes to the family. When I originally applied to KOTO, I thought I could easily work three days—based on my Australian working hours (literally 9.30am-5.30pm, with a 20 minute maximum commute). I had not factored in the early starts here (I’m out the door at 7.35am, walk 20 minutes to the bus stop, where the KOTO bus picks up staff along the way for a 45 minute commute, and I get home around 5.30ish after the commute and same walk back), and the brain work I needed to do to adjust to a new environment, so my three days per week (it started as Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) has never been more than two. And the two consecutive days in a row (Wednesday and Thursday) wipes me out. This week I switched to Tuesday and Thursday, and it feels a whole lot more manageable.

Some days I don’t know what to do with myself

I like not being a tourist. I have written before how much I (generally) loathe the people and the speed of being on a group tour. And the hotels and the food. And long days in buses. And not enough time at key sites. So living here in Hanoi—and not being on a group tour—means I have all the time in the world to see things. But what to see? I saw a lot when I was here last time. The part of touring that I do like is you get taken to the places of interest. The decision is made for you. On my own, I struggle so much with what I should see, that I don’t, in fact, see anything! I just stay in. And then I beat myself up for wasting time and not making the most of my opportunity. People would kill to do what I’m doing and experience what I’m experiencing, and some days I do absolutely nothing! Not even write! Or look for freelance/remote work! Gah! 

Some days are simply awesome

Luckily the I don’t know what to do with myself days aren’t the norm. These are days when I don’t have a plan. The days that I do have a plan are awesome days. Like when I did a day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc to see “Halong Bay on land” and met some lovely people and saw (and photographed) some beautiful scenery. And the day I did a lunch food tour of the Old Quarter and made a new friend. And the day I did a photography meet up at Thong Nhat Park and afterwards spent the afternoon in the Old Quarter taking photos, talking to students who wanted to practise their English, and listening to music. And when I co-worked with a lovely lass I met from one of the groups I’m in. And like last Saturday when I did a Vietnam in Focus photography workshop, met some cool people, and got some wonderful shots of the Old Quarter (for example, the shot accompanying this post). Like last Sunday, when I did the FVH walking tour of Ba Dinh that morphed into lunch, a visit to a cool bookshop, and a Christmas concert by the Hope Choir. And today, when I was out the door with my laptop, with the purpose of writing in a co-working environment: I lunched at one place, and moved to another later in the afternoon. The point is: plans make me a better person.

Making the most of my time in Hanoi

So, in light of how necessary having a plan is for me, here is how I plan on spending my time here.

  • On non-KOTO days during the week, I will run (if the weather isn’t too warm—it should be starting to get cold, but it’s not). I will read in the morning (or continue with one of the myriad Udemy courses I have yet to start or finish), head out the door with my laptop for lunch and continue working on my various projects until dinner. After dinner, I will scour the market for freelance/remote work.
  • On the weekends, I will find tours to join. There are so many, this will not be an issue (I have a list). Or, I will explore different districts of Hanoi with my camera (I have another list). Once Christmas and New Year and Tet are over, I will leave Hanoi and stay in other parts of Vietnam (again, I have a list). I can also treat the weekend as per non-KOTO days.
  • I will say yes to all invitations, whether it’s through groups I’m a part of or events that pique my interest or my personal contacts.

Last word

Travelling solo is easier in some ways and harder in others. On the one hand, I can pretty much do what I want, when I want, with who I want. On the other, I have no one to say: Let’s go here and do this and see this and experience this. Finding the balance is what I struggle with. But I guess that’s life, isn’t it?

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