One of the things I miss here in Hanoi, where we get around by bicycle, is public transport. Nathan and I often reminisce about our daily commute over the Harbour Bridge, which not only served as luxurious non-negotiable reading time, but has since come to encapsulate for us our long-gone Sydney lives. Most people in Vietnam would never have experienced something so mindlessly comfortable and efficient as that train ride.
What’s more, we know those trains so well. We know which carriage to get on at Newtown if you want to be closest to the best exit for the North Sydney train when you change at Central. We know that Central is the best place to change because you just have to switch platform sides. We know which seats are the best for maximum comfort, personal space and view. We know exactly how to stand to maintain balance when the train jolts to a stop.
It makes you feel like you’re really part of the city, like you belong there. It’s the kind of familiarity which is easy to get nostalgic about. I still think often about riding the Metro in Paris, the springy resistance of the old-fashioned manual door handles, and those pull-down seats that snap up at your bottom when you stand (which courtesy dictates you have to do when a certain number of people around you are without a seat).
When I went back to Sydney after a year in Hanoi, I couldn’t believe how much walking was involved in catching the train – long walks to stations, long walks through underground tunnels – and how much planning and checking timetables and how much waiting. The trains ran late so often, and there was track-work, and half the trains seemed too air-conditioned and the other half too stuffy. Rowdy youths made it hard for me to concentrate on my book.
It seems a selective memory for the comforts of home is a universal part of the migrant experience.