Just something I’ve noticed. A lot of the people that I find most obnoxious or grating share this thing. They have completely misevaluated (WordPress tells me this isn’t a word) what they have to offer and its worth. So you get people who are not especially smart but awesomely funny trying to shout their way through a political argument (unsuccessfully) when they could be the life of the party. Or someone who’s smart and kind trying to be the blondest, tannest trophy wife. Or someone who’s ambitious and Machiavellian pretending to be a compassionate conservationist. To impress their friends, I mean, when in fact, their friends love them for what they’re actually good at. They’re so worried that they’ll be exposed for lacking what they think they need to have to be worthy of love, that they live most of their social life in an unnecessary state of fail. It’s the desperation in the scramble to avoid exposure that irritates.
When I had been in Hanoi for about six months, I was asked to speak to the next group of volunteers after us, who had just arrived in Vietnam. Another person had also been asked to speak, a man who had lived in Hanoi for many years, and had a Vietnamese wife and child.
The sum of my advice to the new arrivals was that they should just relax and have fun, ride bicycles and make sure their house isn’t near a community loudspeaker. The other guy presented a half-hour-long list of fearful warnings: attach your wallet to your jeans using a chain, street food will make you sick, apartments are less likely to be robbed than houses, never trust your maid.
I was horrified, and also outraged, because I had lived in Hanoi for six months and nothing bad had happened to me at all. This guy was clearly just paranoid.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and now I am TOTALLY THAT GUY. I fret about personal safety and being left to die on the road, and more than anything, I obsess over all the deadly toxins and gross pathogens I’ve undoubtedly been exposed to here. If I could have my time again, I would tell those new volunteers to invest in a full-body HAZMAT suit.
Paranoid Guy probably hadn’t only built up his horror stories from years of living here, but also from his Vietnamese family. Middle-class Vietnamese people are the most paranoid/sensible people in Vietnam, much more than foreigners. My Vietnamese friends thoroughly wash fruit they eat, even if they’re going to peel it, like apples or mango or limes. When you’ve seen fruit rolling off a vendor’s bicycle and into the gutter, you understand why: if you touch that fruit then eat it with your hands, you are basically eating poo. Same story for pesticides, used heavily on fruits like lychees and rambutans that you manhandle while peeling. Vietnamese people even wash and peel grapes, which I always thought was ridiculous, until a friend who works in agriculture here said he would never touch a Vietnamese-grown grape, peeled or otherwise, because of the undoubtedly carcinogenic chemicals on them. Awesome.
When cooking a meal here, half the time is taken up with washing and soaking and scrubbing all the vegetables, everything washed with three changes of water and using special “veggie wash” detergent. I actually add my own chemicals to my food now. I think it’s pointless anyway, since the water is laced with heavy metals.
On the subject of water, my water bottle is one of those metal BPA-free branded ones from Australia, and yet, all my drinking water here is delivered in big plastic bottles probably made from 100% pure cancer. Why do I bother?
Vietnamese shampoo made my hair fall out at a terrifying rate, so I switched to buying imported expensive Pantene, and it only got worse. My friend pointed out that the imported expensive Pantene was likely just an imported expensive Pantene bottle, filled with God knows what, that I had been rubbing all over my head for weeks.
Did I tell you that the disgusting pus-filled staph infection I had in my armpit was likely contracted from the local beauty salon? The one where they dip the same spatula into the same big pot wax over and over again, one customer to the next? The same spatula and the same wax that gets used for a Brazilian wax and then is wiped all over someone’s upper lip?
Have I told you about the time I was cycling along and then the road was shrouded in a huge cloud of mysterious mist emanating from a construction site, which left my eyes and mouth stinging for 30 minutes afterwards?
My poor ears, left ringing from countless bus horns; my poor, poor lungs from just trying to breathe in one of world’s top 10 most polluted cities; my poor insides, lovingly gifted with so many organic foods, now poisoned.
It’s lucky we’re leaving soon, because I don’t think I could stay here much longer, fighting against an environment that seems out to get me, and food that seems barely deserving of the name. I dream about eating a piece of sourdough toast with slices of gorgeous organic avocado and tomato, or biting into an apple, grabbed straight from the fruit bowl. I will be doing just that soon, and I hope each time, I remember to be grateful.
Lately I’ve been having a recurring vision/feeling as I’m just about to fall asleep. It’s quite odd. I can visualise my chest totally opened up. The blood and gore doesn’t gross me out at all, it just seems very matter-of-fact. But there is something unsettling about it. I recently listened to a particularly vivid episode of Radiolab entitled ‘Guts‘…which may have given me the imagery.
Back to the dream. After than initial realisation that I’m lying there with no skin, a range of different things happen depending on my mood. Mostly I’m just touching said innards. Sometimes I’m hugging myself, innards and all. One time I was swobbing my exposed torso with gauze soaked in chocolate (I think that’s a dessert craving). It was like that game Operation, but it was me operating on me…
I’m feeling a little exposed at the moment. Allow me to lie myself down on the FFF couch and tell you about it.
For the past five months my work has been going through a restructure. Has anyone ever enjoyed a restructure? I’ve been through a few at my work in the 4 years I’ve worked there, but this one is the first to really affect me. I am now one of those rusted-on grumblers that I’ve never understood BEFORE NOW. Not knowing what team I’ll be in, who my boss will be or even what job I’ll be doing July 1, has been really hard. Change is hard. Uncertainty is harder(?)
Secondly, I’ve been trying not to use food as a crutch/reward/way to get through difficulty since about last August. This is massive for me. Food was a real go-to when the going got tough. It’s forced me to take up a LOT of herbal tea drinking. I now eat MASSIVE salads: I’ve changed. I also eat a lot more fish. Still no other animal flesh, but definitely no longer a vegetarian. Like I said, I’ve changed.
Third, I have started doing a boot camp. It’s 3 times a week, but I usually only get to 2 classes. Exercise opens you up doesn’t it. I don’t think I have run like this before. Ever. And I really enjoy it. This is also a profound change. And a really positive one.
So, fourthly, I have lost weight. Not heaps (I don’t do weighing myself), but enough that I’ve lost a dress size plus. So there’s a bit less of me shielding me from the world. I think that, combined with all the change going on in my life is the reason for that recurring dream.
Totally on the subject, I watched these two Ted talks by a researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. Really amazing I think if you have time to watch (can be watched whilst doing dishes).
The phrase “vulnerability hang-over” is so cool. I get those. I may have one after posting on the public internet a discussion of a dream where I smear my organs in chocolate. We shall see.
If you watch the talks and want more, there’s an interview with her here. The last paragraph on parenting is particularly interesting.