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After three years in England, I come home to see Hanoi has changed a lot. I have all sorts of reverse culture shocks from boundaries of privacy to the art of barter or the skills of stealing. I stumbled. I fell. I cried. I didn’t get a hug. My family don’t hug. But they keep me strong because they remain the same as which I belong.

My mum still goes to the pagoda near to their house very often. When I was very small she sold me to the pagoda (neither for money nor for real). I stayed at home the whole time. But I was given a monk name, which was supposed to keep me safe from bad spirits. She believed that would help. She just wants to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to me.

My dad still plays chess every afternoon before tea time with a few others in the neighbourhood. One of them hosted the group at his doorstep. A year ago, I was told he passed away. When the shock and upset passed, I sometimes worried about Dad and his chess group. But I came back to see they gathering still. Just move to another doorstep. They play and shout loudly regardless passing bikes, barking dogs or crying babies. The fear of death might have affected them but hasn’t defeated them.

My brother still tells long stories, buys his little sister lunch, and teases her when she lost her wallet (again). He gave me a lot of books when he found out I lost my kindle as well as my wallet. He knows I don’t read the same types of books as he does. But he cares. As always.

A few weeks ago, I was asked whether my family are happy to have me back. As cynical as I am, my answer was “They said they are”. Now if I am asked whether I am happy to be back near my family, the answer is definitely “yes”. They make it home!

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My English Man in Hanoi

He drives a scooter around Hanoi crazy roads – the “moped madness”. It is nothing like driving his car in ordered motorways in Europe I bet. But he handles the chaos very well with less swearing words than sarcastic comments. He becomes a part of the chaos.

He tried Hanoi street food and put up with a lot of stares. Apparently six months in South East Asia has not given him a tan to blend in. But he doesn’t put up with the rudeness of some to many in the shops or on the streets here. He misses England for its politeness I bet. I know I do.

He learns Vietnamese, a tone language with at least twenty words to address a second person – a “you” (just to make it easier). He tried to order his food (and coffee) in Vietnamese. Sometimes it worked. Most of the times it doesn’t. But he doesn’t stop trying.

He loves Hanoi summer. He enjoys bike rides in the sun. He lives for now. Right now. This late morning. A run in park. The sun. The heat. The summer smell. The very presence of Hanoi. Spontaneous. My English man in my Hanoi.

Rain

When I was a little girl in Hanoi, I loved playing in the summer rain. No hat, not umbrella, no raincoat. There were just me and the rain running down my face. I loved the smell of heated concrete yard gradually soaking in the rain. It might sound of irony but I smelled burning. Perhaps when the cold rain touched the hot concreted yard: the encounter of the two objects of opposite states of temperature, it created the burning spark. It’s chemistry. Or perhaps the smell was not even there. It was just in my imagination.

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