This week at the office was productive. A bit too productive. As teacher training manager, I took over a nice quiet department that always ran the same course and that no one else ever bothered to check in on. It was, in many ways, an easy gig. But of course, being me, I started having “ideas”. By Wednesday, I had made a presentation to my superiors in Hanoi about broadening our “portfolio” of teacher training “products”. Instead of one course, we would now be offering 8 different courses, and my timetable for the year would basically be me working non-stop all the time. I found myself having to write course descriptions and application forms and website texts and pricing structures (in two different currencies) and marketing strategies and fighting for room bookings for all of these courses and it’s taking me forever, and no one has told me to do any of this. It’s my own fault. Damn me and my ideas!
Also on Wednesday, I got a call in my office from an Australian in a financial services company in the centre of Saigon. He had found me on Linked In. And he wanted to meet and talk about investment portfolios and retirement savings options. I nearly vomited down the phone at him. I said I didn’t have much money to spare, and he said that I had nothing to lose by meeting him, that the meeting was free. He was really pushing a meeting. In my head I thought “Yes, but meeting you would mean having to spend time with you, while you get all bro-ish in my face with your lovely suit and your sexy aftershave and you mansplain investment options to me and you tell me about good Vietnamese titty bars or whatever. I don’t even want to meet you a little bit.” I just said, “I’m sorry. I’m not interested in meeting you” and hung up.
On Thursday night, I did finally go out and socialise for the first time here. I’ve spent very little time in District 1, where the high life is, where all the skyscrapers and swanky clubs are, and it was really lovely to go to a rooftop bar called OMG! and sit and talk to people. An Irish/Canadian couple that an English-teaching contact had put me in touch with. It was so nice to talk to people not in an office again. And it all came rushing back to me. Moving to a new country is a long audition. It’s like starting secondary school again. Who will my friends be? Have I impressed them enough? Was I funny? Was I endearing? Was I me? I have no idea, but I do know that we met at 7:30, and stayed drinking till 12:30 on a school night.
When I got back the security gate at my building was locked and the security guard was stretched out asleep behind the gate. I whispered. It had no effect. I rattled the gate. Nothing. I spoke loudly. He continued to snore. Seriously, what kind of security guard was this? I could totally break in without him noticing. Eventually, after a few roars, he woke up and let me in.
On Friday, I didn’t do my best day’s work ever, and came home. I had my first Vietnamese lesson. Starting a new language is a big deal. And it seems insurmountable at first. I was very sweaty afterwards. I turned up the air conditioning and set about sealing the living room off, so the air con would work better.
I closed the window in my bathroom. (I love the window in my bathroom. I’m on the 12th floor, so when I pee or when I shower, I can look down over the whole city.) As I closed the window, the handle of the window came away in my hand. Crap. Then, to further seal in the air from the air con, I closed the bathroom door. I live alone, so it’s my first time closing the bathroom door since I moved in. As soon as the door was closed, I realised that it was locked on the inside. I tiredly shook the door. It really was locked.
I rattled the lock. I tried sticking whatever keys I had in it. I tried sticking a knife in the lock. I went downstairs to the security guards. I showed them a key and tried to ask if they had keys, or if they could come up to my flat and help me. This didn’t work. They clearly didn’t understand anything I was trying to communicate to them. And they clearly had no intention of coming with me. There was no one in the building manager’s office or at the reception desk.
I went back to the door. There’s a massive meat cleaver in my kitchen. I tried to use that to chop the doorknob off. It didn’t work. I went on YouTube and watched videos about how to pick a lock, but there isn’t a single paperclip in the flat and I couldn’t find anything that would work.
The door had six glass panels. I wrapped my hand in a towel, as I’d seen Bruce Willis do in movies, and I punched the glass. It wouldn’t break. I took the knife block from the kitchen and hurled it at the door. Nothing broke. Then I took a chair and ran at the door with the legs sticking out. The glass still didn’t shatter.
I’d like you all to take a break from reading now and contemplate the image in your heads of me charging at a bathroom door with a chair. You’re welcome.
I decided there was nothing more I could do that night and went to bed. I posted my plight on Facebook and no fewer than four people messaged me telling me to pee in the kitchen sink. (A) LOL at how gross you all are. I love it. (B) I have a freaky bladder, so I wasn’t worried about that. People have been saying this to me for at least twelve years, but I never pee.
Most days I pee once. Occasionally, I pee twice. If I’m drinking beer, I’ll probably have one extra pee. A few people commented to me on this recently, and I’ve googled it. Apparently, I should be peeing six or seven times a day. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. I’ve been consciously drinking my two litres of water a day since I got to Vietnam, as well as a few cans of Diet Coke, and I still only pee once. Am I Superman?
So while the internet was worried about me peeing, I knew I’d easily make it through the night without a wee. I was just annoyed at my unbreakable door because I’d had Mexican for dinner and was fairly certain that I would need access to the loo in the morning.
And I was right. I woke up the next morning needing the loo. I went back down to reception in the morning. No one. No one in the manager’s office. No one around the corridors of the building in general. Where was everyone?
I went back to my flat in desperation and tried everything I’d tried the previous night again. Nothing worked. Then I remembered something I’d noticed in the kitchen. It’s far from the best equipped kitchen I’ve ever had, but it does have a giant mortar and pestle. The pestle is basically like a baseball bat but shorter. I took it, summoned the caveman within and swung at the door. Testosterone surged within me. Finally! Glass shattered everywhere, but I didn’t care. I could go to the loo. I’d been locked out of my bathroom for about 14 hours.
I wore flip flops to use the toilet. There was glass everywhere. There was also a visitor to the bathroom. A little lizard. When I picked up the toilet roll, he’d been hiding in the tube and he came flying out, terrifying me half to death and almost re-converting me to Catholicism.
A few minutes later, I took a shower and carefully stepped out onto my flip flops, wanting to avoid the broken glass. The lizard had been lying in my flip flops and when I stepped on it, again it went flying to the other side of the bathroom. My screams were presumably heard across the South China Sea.
I’ve been afraid of my toilet ever since. Not only are there the shards of glass. It doesn’t matter how well you clean up glass, there’s always some left. I carefully inspect the toilet roll and the toilet bowl and toilet seat for lizards now before I sit down. And I was already getting obsessed with rats. There are a lot of rats on the streets of Saigon. (Not a lot, but I’ve seen more rats in the last two weeks than in my whole life up to this point.) So now, being the catastrophist I am, I can no longer sit on the loo without imagining either a rat or a lizard darting out of the toilet and burrowing into my behind.
I have chest pains just thinking about it.
And on Saturday, I let everything get to me. I thought, “Why am I in Vietnam? It was never on my list of places to go. And I’m not experimenting with new lifestyles and I’m not writing my novel. Instead, I’m doing an office job and getting phonecalls from jocks in financial services and auditioning for new friends and getting glass all over the floor and hiding from lizards and from rats and this is not the life I had planned and what am I going to do when I grow up?”
I found myself desperately googling jobs in Finland, Greenland and Iceland. I was googling writers’ grants and writers’ retreats. At one stage, I even googled post-doc funding, even though I know for a fact nothing would be worse for me than to return to study. I spent the entirety of Saturday just sitting in my flat. I didn’t leave once. And I panicked about my life and my future and had the meltdown that had to happen at some stage. I am in a new country and I know absolutely no one. It was bound to come. And it came.
One Direction have a new ballad out, and I’m not a ballad person, but I listened to it about twenty-five times and bawled crying.
And it all did me good. I woke up today with a new fervour. I’m starting anew. I’m on the other side of the world. I will work hard, but I’ll also work hard at not letting work be my life. And I am going to write. And I’m going to have fun. And I’m going to lose weight. And I’m going to meet new people. And I’m going to be wild. And I’m going to be happy. And I’m going to keep on keeping on.
As Scarlett O’Hara says, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” And I’m off to re-build Tara and woo Rhett Butler.