Monday, October 10, 2011

Fear & Loathing In Vietnam

Do you often have thoughts of self-loathing with a few sprinkles of shame? My guess is that unless you live in a developing Asian country, probably not.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of me rambling to you, or picked up from this blog, a lot of bad things happen in Vietnam. No, I take that back, a lot of challenging things happen in Vietnam. Challenging things that make you think about who you are in particular- and let me tell you, 99% of the time inevitably ends up in self-loathing.

It commonly starts with some kind of “incident”; this can be anything from your order being completely forgotten about to being completely ripped off to facing a situation that makes no rational sense (to which there are many). Anything.

Then you react, usually frustrated, and in way only you only can after living in Vietnam. Words are said, the volume rises, you mount up on that high horse you never knew you had. Every so often you may COMPLETELY lose it, but what I’m talking about today are the numerous smaller and medium “moments” you have before that.

Once the dust has settled there’s usually 1 of 2, or even 2 of 2 key thoughts:

1) Oh God Am I An Awful Person?
The latest incident was my experience booking a cooking class. I called and booked a certain day. The spot is free and everything was fine except I needed to call back to see if they had someone to teach that specific subject (otherwise I we had to do what their chef that day could teach which was okay). ALL GOOD. I lined everyone up and made it sound awesome and exciting.

When I called back, after a few minutes of explaining why I was calling it became very clear that all was not indeed good. There was another class booked at the same time and too bad for us.

I was annoyed. Really pissed off to say the least. I asked what they could do and made clear how bad this situation was. I said I’d call back and let them know what I wanted to do. I realised at this point I couldn’t lock in anything else and the very first group activity would be scrapped for now. I wondered if I should even bother calling back and letting them know, and in the end I figured I should (though it remains whether they would care). When I called back they put me onto an Aussie chick that apologised and so on.  Done.

Then it starts- what I said, how I said it- was I a massive bitch? Was it justified? Would I act like that at home? No matter how long you think about it you never get an answer.

Later comes the bonus thought of “oh god who am I to push these western ideals and standards” in a country that so obviously far from what we know. Don't even start me on the guilt on how they earn a fraction of what we do. Is it okay if they try and make you pay double just cause it's an insignificant amount to you? 

So these are the types of thoughts that go round in my head and as a result even a week later I still feel torn and wonder if I behaved as I should have.

Actual shot of things going well 
2) It’s All My Fault
This is somewhat of a cynical view, but nonetheless true.  When something happens and you get completely screwed over in some way, you think to yourself, “it’s all my own fault”.

Why? Because simply, it's true.  I should have known better and known that this outcome was always going to happen.

Tailoring is a pretty good example. My friend Charmagne and I were excited to find this shop/tailor with beautiful fabrics. She chose some fabric with some feature embroidery and got measured up for a simple long fitted dress with the zip on the side. We had an interpreter. Comprehension seemed high. Things were being written down. ALL GOOD.

But things were not all good. When we went for the fitting we found they cut directly through the feature embroidery. The dress was too short. The zipper was on the back.

Whose fault is this? Not the tailor who got it completely wrong, but it was us who actually thought this would work out. We mumbled something about fixing something and left.

Charmagne could never bring herself to go back to get the dress (and as a result forfeited her deposit). It was just too awful, as was the experience.

There have been many many times I’ve had those famous words “what did you expect?” said to me, and I hang my head in shame accordingly.

Living here is an interesting way to get to know yourself and I’m sure some kind of basis for a reality TV show called “Perfectly Sane People Lose It In Vietnam”. Starring me of course. Johnny can be in it too I guess. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

What's That Smell?

This was a question Johnny often asked me in our apartment and justifiably so. To put it simply, every so often (and more and more often) our house would just smell weird, and weird in a bad way.

Johnny described it as "like a dead rat in our vents", which is coincidental because Tammy who lives in the same building the next day described it as "like a dead rat in the vents". I however took the more rational approach and said "it smells like Vietnam". Once it smelled like delicious Vietnamese food so I was totally right.

Then came the day that Tammy actually got the building maintenance guys in and found there was some kind of leak in the roof. This meant there was dirty Vietnam water festering in the dark warm air and that was THE smell. So kind of like a dead rat after all. In what should have been a glaringly obvious clue that also explained the water damage stain that had begun to appear on our ceiling.

Unconnected to the main smell there was another, probably more awful smell in our laundry.

So we get the maintenance guys in. Keep in mind this is one of the most, if not the most "prestigious" and expensive apartments building in Hanoi. Of course it doesn't smell they get here, but this is a summary of the type of things that went down.

A concierge chick and maintenance guy come and have a look. They discuss and decide the solution is to the paint the ceiling. I tell them it's leaking and they need to FIX THE LEAK. He decides he needs to discuss the problem with other technicians. I tell him we already know the problem, they solved the exact same one in the other apartment, so they need to FIX THE LEAK.

They discuss more and he grudgingly leaves to get a ladder and comes back 15 minutes later. He comes back with another concierge chick (so now there are two) and looks in the roof. It seems there is a leak. I tell the new girl they need to FIX THE LEAK. She explains what the problem is- "the air-conditioning is too cold". She also goes on to say, that it won't leak anymore, it's happened before and now it won't leak anymore.

The important part here is "it's happened before", it's happened again, and although they have done nothing at this point, magically it WON'T LEAK AGAIN.

Things get hazy here, mostly because if I think about it more my mind goes hazy from lack of any sort of rational at play. I wish I could tell you that my careful explaining about how if you eliminate the leak now there won't be a smell, or a stain and therefore you won't have to paint the ceiling (for a third time), or how if there was an leak because the air-con was "too cold" then they needed to fix the air-con suddenly clicked everything into place for them. Alas, there wouldn't be a blog entry if that was the case.

She told me when I used the air-conditioning that I should close all the curtains and slooowly put the temperature down.

Then they painted the ceiling.

Ironically, one of the girls dropped off a Service Quality Survey today. I looked through the questions and I couldn't actually note a bad thing. The smell seems to be gone after all and the ceiling is painted. Shock horror they even called after the work was done and asked if everything was okay. The next day as I walked in another girl asked how things were too.

The conclusion? Just like they are, I'm just hoping for the best.