It’s 8pm, and I am sitting on a wooden “sofa” marking 16 discursive essays on the benefits of online learning. On the fifth floor of an apartment block, on an unnamed lane at the end of a windy street left from the petrol station past the school and under the big tree, Hanoi, Vietnam. Someone downstairs is playing loud patriotic music, and across the dirty dribble that passes for a summertime river, it’s the festival of hitting bins. The local canine population is protesting vigorously. My ears, eyes and bottom are all protesting vigorously.
My living room is, comparatively speaking, an oasis of calm. Outside there’s the aerobics in the park, and beyond that and the maze of winding streets there’s the non-stop onrush of mopeds, motorbikes, and – new since I was last here – cars. Beyond that, somewhere, the city is flocking to yet another 1000th birthday Hanoi celebration, merrily blocking streets until the small hours.
I think now I understand why I failed to write anything meaningful during my first months in Japan. I’ve long kicked myself for letting such an opportunity pass me by, but perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I’d forgotten how draining it is when nothing is for certain, when every conversation is an elaborate mime, when you’re not certain to be able to find your own house again without tying a piece of string to your wrist. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting – but one hell of a buzz nonetheless. And I sure would never have had a gecko if I’d stayed at home.
From here on October 5th 2010.