Three weeks is the longest Christmas holiday I’ve ever had, and by Saturday, I was more than ready for whatever was next. I was going to say that I was more than ready for reality, but Vietnam still doesn’t quite seem real to me. In fact, my whole life seems a lot more uncertain than it did, but more of that later.
It’s been a lovely relaxing Christmas at home (other than my self-induced viva madness), and we ended it with a very nice dinner with my parents, my brother, his wife, their five children and their in-house priest to congratulate me on getting my PhD. The next morning, my parents drove me up to Dublin airport and of course, I felt guilty for abandoning them for another country, as I do every time I go abroad. The older they get, the heavier the guilt.
I had booked the cheapest flight available from Dublin to Ho Chi Minh City, without even looking at the route. I was spending 17 hours in Paris, overnight on Saturday. I contacted my only Paris-based friend and we arranged that I would stay the night at hers.
While I had been doing my viva on Wednesday, entirely unaware of world events, there was a tragic shooting in Paris. The airport was quiet when I arrived, though there were “Je suis Charlie” signs on pretty much everything. On the train on the way into the city, a drunk North African man wandered up and down my carriage shouting the phrase “Al Qaeda”. It was simultaneously scary and funny. But like all drunk people, it was eventually just annoying.
My friend took me to a pub that gave us a massive basin of mussels to eat. We drank and we ate and we talked and when we arrived at her flat she revealed that she had left her Christmas tree up for me, which is possibly one of my favourite things of the year so far.
The next morning, because of the March for Freedom after the shootings, all public transport was free of charge in Paris. It struck me as a very French thing for a public service to be so amenable to revolution. The airport, when I got there, was full of the police and the army carrying guns. I have never seen so many guns in my life. I was glad to board the plane.
My last flight to Vietnam had been with Etihad, and had been simply lovely. This time I was flying Vietnam Airlines. The second I boarded the plane, I knew it wouldn’t be as nice. The seats looked frayed and the pictures on the television screens were fuzzy. I found my seat. This was a 12-hour flight, the longest flight I had ever taken.
In front of me, a woman was getting upset. She had been allocated a seat that wasn’t next to her boyfriend. She wasn’t just peeved. You could see she was really upset and that she was about to cry. After quite a bit of negotiating with the flight attendant and a number of other passengers, the couple were given the two seats across the aisle from me.
I like to think that I’m a nice person, and when I see someone who is upset, I try to empathise. I try to put myself in their shoes. In this case, I just couldn’t. I could not understand wanting to sit next to the same person for 12 hours. There is no one in my life who I want to sit next to for 12 hours. I can think of a few people who I would tolerate for 12 hours, a few close friends and family members who I would be open to having a good time with for 12 hours, but I would, at least some of the time, be merely tolerating them. The idea of being upset because I couldn’t sit next to someone for 12 hours is entirely foreign to me.
This led me to start thinking about me. What’s wrong with me? How am I ever to be married if I don’t like the idea of spending 12 hours with the same person? When I am honest with myself, the thing I was looking forward to most about moving back to Vietnam was having a flat of my own again. What kind of curmudgeonly spinster am I? The idea of living with someone else for the rest of my life horrifies me. Someone would know every time you used the toilet. Someone would know what you ate and when and how much. Someone would know how much TV you watched, how many books you read, how many hours of sleep you got. Every single day. Forever. Watching someone else brush their teeth gives me the squicks and the idea of having to share my toothbrushing space with another person makes me feel a little queasy. What kind of freak am I? Has thirty-three years of singledom warped me? I do dream of getting married, but I’d quite like to live in a separate house from my husband, and failing that, at least have separate bathrooms. There is a character in the Gilmore Girls who sends Lorelai to the spare bedroom after they’ve shagged so he can get a proper night’s sleep. This is presented as highly peculiar behaviour, but I love the idea. Sharing a bed is gross and I don’t know how people who share beds ever get a full night’s sleep.
I’m a freak. I don’t know what is to become of me!
The couple opposite me on the plane did endear themselves to me with some loud displays of affection. I can dig a noisy snog. But they did other “couple-y” things that annoyed me intensely. When the woman had finished her dinner, she put her tray and leftovers on top of her boyfriend’s, so she could put her tray table up and toss and turn comfortably, while he had all the mess in front of him. Because RARR he’s a man and he’ll hold anything for his weak and whimsical lady and she’s a princess and she couldn’t possibly sleep with a pea under her mattress. And then in the breakfast service, we were given yoghurts. When the boyfriend opened his one, it squirted on his t-shirt. The girlfriend reached over, without asking him, and using the napkin, with which she had already wiped her face, she cleaned the spilled yoghurt off his shirt. Bleurgh! Because that’s what his mother would have done and girlfriends are mother substitutes and a man can’t be expected to clean himself. If this had been a 1990s sitcom, he would given a goofy grin and shrugged his shoulders and said something about his little lady and she would have given a ditsy grin and shrugged her shoulders too and it would have been horrendous. I may have been reading too much into this, but it was a twelve-hour flight.
It was an unusual twelve-hour flight. They forgot to do the safety demonstration at the start, which I found unduly worrying. They also announced that the entertainment system was broken and so there was no TV or movies or games for the 12 hours. Luckily, I’d brought a second book with me.
I had had an empty seat next to me on my previous four long-haul flights, but for this one, a poor French man was next to me. I don’t really fit in an airplane seat, and I got a terrible pain in my shoulder from holding my arm in front of me (I still have the pain two days later), because if I let it rest by my side, my elbow would have been somewhere between my fellow passenger’s nipples. He was friendly and pretended not to mind that we were sharing each other’s sweat and that there was no position he could adopt whereby our thighs didn’t touch. He did at one stage leave for an entire hour; I presume he was decompressing after too long sitting next to me. Planes are not designed for me. Luckily, I’m good at holding it in, because the last time I tried to use an airplane toilet, I didn’t fit in it.
Anyway, I got through the 12 hours, relatively unscathed (other than my unreasonable anger at the happy couple across the aisle from me).
I landed in Saigon and enjoyed the taxi ride home. I like Vietnamese streets – their colour, their madness, their noise, but I didn’t want to go to work.
I don’t know what is wrong with me at the moment, but I feel very uncertain of my future. In a good way and a bad way.
I still like teacher training, but I’m not sure I still like the world of English-language teaching. I know that the office-based parts of my job have no attraction for me at all. And I have my new job in Istanbul starting in April, but part of me is already looking beyond that. I’ve signed a contract until 2017 with Istanbul, but I can’t see myself lasting it out. 2015 could be the Year of Broken Contracts. I’m not saying it will be, but I find myself, at over 33 and three quarters, wondering what I want to be when I grow up. And now that I have a PhD, I find myself even more unsure. There is a lecturing job in Gender Studies that I’m thinking of applying for, and it’s not in Ireland, or Vietnam, or Turkey. And part of me just wants to find a rich friend who will fund me to stay in a cabin in Finland or a cottage in Leitrim and write my novel. And part of me wants to drop out from society and go off the grid and part of me wants to keep going with what I’m doing and continue up the ladder of English-language teacher training and part of me wants to get a job in a bookshop and now that the PhD is finished, nothing is tying me anywhere (other than the loan to Bank of Ireland that has been breaking my back since 2008). I don’t know what I want to do with all this freedom.
But when I landed on Monday, I knew I didn’t want to go to work. I don’t know what I want. In an exciting way. And in a scary way. Too much freedom. Too many notions.