Today, my contract with my Vietnamese company ends.
It’s a relief. A large part of my job was interviewing people on Skype, and interviews mean turning people down and so I spent a lot of time for the last year making Vietnamese people cry on the internet. I was also managing a department, not a big one, but it was still management, and it’s hard to lead people from 10,000 km away.
I have a few more bits and pieces of paperwork to do this weekend, but then I’m done.
I remember how I felt when I started. I was so full of hope for a new life. I’d finished my PhD, had a summer of love in the Balkans and was leaving my Hall life behind. I decided that I would be a whole new person in Vietnam, and I introduced myself as CoCo.
It was something I had always fantasised about doing. I often thought that I’d move abroad and re-brand myself as Buzz or Fred or Jack or Tommy and be a whole new person. Because CoCo had been one of the names I had toyed with for a drag persona (although it has since moved to Fellony, and then to Connie), some of my friends thought that CoCo was part of a new gender identity declaration for me and asked if that’s what they should call me. I reassured them that it was fine, that CoCo would be my Vietnamese name and that I would still be Connor in Ireland. I have a feeling that people were on the cusp of asking what pronouns I’d like them to use and I certainly wasn’t ready for a conversation like that.
Anyway, for my first two months in Vietnam, I went as CoCo. The administrative staff all called me CoCo and it felt good. I loved having the nerdy IT guys push their glasses up their collective noses before saying “Hello CoCo!” in the mornings. I loved the young American, Australian, Irish and English people on the courses I was teaching on calling me CoCo. I hired a Vietnamese language teacher and she called me CoCo. It was amazing. It was like being a Born Again Christian who’s been baptised with a new name. But it wasn’t always comfortable for me. My co-tutor on the first course I taught in Vietnam was a pious elderly Catholic lady from Louisiana. It felt wrong to have her call me CoCo. I felt like I was smuttifying her in some way, dragging her into the filthier recesses of my fantasy life. It felt like spitting in church. (You’d know I’ve been with my family for the last two weeks. All my reference points are religious.) But it was just a name.
There was also the bizarre situation where I was CCing my administrative assistant on almost all my emails. So I would email prospective course inspectors and assessors, employees, members of the board of management and other authority figures and would sign myself “Connor”, but then my assistant would respond in the same email chains to me as “CoCo” and I always pictured bemused senior people in Cambridge Assessment shaking their heads at my duplicity.
As I grew to realise that I wasn’t actually going to become a new person in Vietnam and that I was going to leave the country after five months, the importance of CoCo diminished, and it began to feel embarrassing. At this stage, my administrator would have called me CoCo hundreds of times, so I couldn’t change that, but I had two new British colleagues joining me for my last month in the job. I introduced myself to them as Connor and on the first day of my last course, I introduced myself (in a cowardly manner) to my students as Connor.
Thus, my duplicity deepened. All the administrative staff, and especially my own administrator continued to call me CoCo and everyone else called me Connor.
I had changed my Facebook name from Connor O’Donoghue to Connor CoCo O’Donoghue when I first left for Vietnam. When I tried to change it back around this time, Facebook initially informed me that they couldn’t change my name back to Connor O’Donoghue, as I could only use a “real name” in my profile and Connor CoCo was real, but Connor wasn’t, which sent me into something of an existential crisis, but after about a month Facebook relented and allowed me to drop the CoCo.
And then I left Vietnam, but negotiated with senior management to keep my job from abroad. And for the last eight months, I’ve got emails every day that start “Hi CoCo”. My administrator always even remembers to capitalise the second “C”. It’s wonderful, but for some reason, it feels like a dirty little secret. And it must be weird for him too. He knows that everyone else in the world calls me Connor. But for some reason, a 32-year-old married administrative assistant in Ho Chi Minh City has his own pet name for me, and doesn’t know why. I’m glad the lies are ending now.
I’m worried that the Vietnamese money is ending – it was my only guaranteed monthly income for the last year, and the end of that is making me panicky. But I have, of course, lots of plans for 2016 and I’ll write about them soon.
Happy New Year, from Connor and from CoCo.