Coming home for Christmas and a Conversation

My last day in Vietnam before Christmas was a mad rush of present-buying and flat-cleaning and packing. I bought very “Vietnamese” presents. I bargained with the market traders like I was meant to do and felt white and guilty for bargaining with people who are presumably a lot poorer than I am and came away with presents so Vietnamese that my friends and family couldn’t possibly have known they didn’t want them, but will hopefully pretend to be happy to get them anyway.

I packed at lightning speed. I was paranoid about leaving the flat clean. I’ll be away for three weeks and I have visions of the place being overrun by rats and/or cockroaches by the time I get back. I literally don’t know how I would cope.

After my present shopping, I had 360,000 dong left (about €13.80). I prayed it was enough to get me a taxi to the airport. It was. It was three times too much.

The queue for my flight was very representative of the kinds of Europeans you find in Ho Chi Minh City. Of course there are the harem pants brigade, who are in Asia to find themselves and who smell of incense. And then there are the sporty gap year types, who have amazing muscle structure and probably worked on a charity house-building project in the Vietnamese mountains before spending three weeks drunk in Saigon. I have to admit that a group of four of these muscly ones caught my eye and I may have deliberately stood behind them in the queue for security. If I have to stand behind someone getting patted down, it might as well be a six-foot-four twenty-three-year-old with pecs chiselled in Heaven by the Angel Gabriel himself. These four blokey blokes were from England and had loud posh accents. (Loud posh English accents make my knees weak. I’m some kind of postcolonial masochist.) These guys had clearly had a great time in Vietnam. They were all in basketball shorts and flip flops and two of them had new-looking tattoos in Vietnamese on their feet. As they prepared for security, one of them found a can of deodorant in his bag that he would have to get rid of to get through security. They decided to use up as much of the deodorant as they could before they threw it out. They each took the deodorant, sprayed it under their arms – they had sleeveless t-shirts, so their sinewy armpits of joy were easily accessed. Then they sprayed their large feet and of course, slipped their feet out of the flip flops and sprayed the flip flops. The various business travellers on their way to Singapore and Hong Kong looked disapproving. I, on the other hand, took a moment.

It was a long journey, seven and a half hours to Abu Dhabi, nine hours in Abu Dhabi airport (which isn’t as exciting as it should be) and then an hour sitting on the runway before an eight and a half hour flight to Dublin, where my sister met me for the three-hour drive home. I spent most of the next thirty-six hours lying down.

One of the things on my list of things to do this Christmas was to tell my parents about Istanbul. I’m moving to Istanbul in April. I think it’s much more “me” than Vietnam is, I already know I love it, and I’ll still have four months for my Asian adventure before I move there.

It was my third day at home when I finally plucked up the courage to tell them. My mother happened to mention a friend of hers who was on holidays in Turkey. I said, “I’ve been offered a job in Istanbul.” I was asked a few questions. Dad was positive. It was nearer home and he likes the sound of Istanbul. My mother wasn’t so positive. She said that Turkey is “the last line between ISIS and us” (I guess “us” means Christendom or something). She asked if I had said yes to the offer. I have. But for some reason, I lost my nerve and said I hadn’t said yes yet, but I probably would. WHAT AM I LIKE? I need an infusion of courage.

Anyway, we got over the fact that it was Turkey. The real sticking point was that it wasn’t a university lecturing job with a pension and a permanent contract and that I wasn’t planning to buy a semi-detached house in the suburbs of Limerick/ Waterford/ Dublin/ Carlow and a Toyota. This started my mother on one of her spiels about why people don’t have to like their jobs and you just need to settle down and not live for your job and how even people who have made it don’t have perfect jobs. Imelda May has “made it”, but she goes touring and she brings her child with her and that’s fine now when the child’s a baby but eventually she won’t be able to bring the child on tours with her and therefore no one has a perfect job and therefore I shouldn’t be in the TEFL industry at all and I should be at home in a permanent pensionable job.

Imelda May ruins everything. Because Imelda May has a baby, I shouldn’t move to Istanbul. Or something.

After the conversation, my mother told my dad that they were going to the front room to pray. I can only guess what they prayed about.

Anyway, today she seemed OK with it all. I showed her maps of how far away Istanbul was from ISIS and how pretty Turkish lampshades are.

And it is fun being at home.

Tonight my sister and I made a video of us burning our little nieces’ and nephews’ letters to Santa in the fire, so we could send the video to them, and they’d know that Santa got their requests up the chimney.

And my mother is now writing out a list of witty quotations. She’s going to get one of us to type them up on nice paper and print them out and then she’s going to get Dad to wallpaper them to the door of the downstairs bathroom, because they “used to be kinky, but then they went all sensible and now I want to be kinky again”. I swear. That’s what she said.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the (Christmas) tree.

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