Viet Nam Debrief

It’s been difficult to see the forest for the trees because these trees have been enormous rotting things, liable to topple over and crush me at any moment.

Viet Nam, for me, has been the place where good things only happen with equal measures of bad – unblemished moments being few and far between. (Of course in the grand scheme of the world at the moment, that’s not so terrible a thing.)

Things I will miss

  • xe om rides
  • garlic rice
  • that com suon place
  • that com ga place
  • flowers for ~$3
  • happy hours
  • my close friends

Things I have gained

  • a short temper (and the ability to deal with it)
  • a distrustful mindset
  • probably diabetes

Things I happily leave behind

  • the male-female dynamic, specifically between expat men and Vietnamese women
  • the entitled behaviour and inevitable seediness that befalls expat men
  • hipster travellers

The worst thing to happen to me in Saigon wasn’t when my taxi driver attempted to drag me – albeit with too little strength to make a difference – back to his cab because he thought I was skipping out on the bill. It wasn’t when a boss forced me to pay $300 for an error in a map we were designing. It wasn’t even when I was held up at knife-point by ~8 young guys wanting my friend’s backpack of camera equipment – which I happened to be wearing.

The worst thing was the millions of opportunities that in the end never amounted to anything – just time lost, trust lost. Case and point: I signed a work contract and spent five months preparing a million work permit documents, while rejecting potential work because the permit “could come through at any moment“, only to be told on the second day of work that they had nothing for me to do and couldn’t hire me. All that time and money wasted, all the potential work lost. Not to mention the general feeling of helpless dejection, and distrust for locals and expats alike.

I learned to always expect things in Viet Nam to fall through, to take too long to be useful, or to happen in no way that is beneficial.

The best thing? I’m not sure just yet, but I’m hoping that – when the forest is back in focus – my time here will have defined in me a greater amount of empathy and some ability to worry less about whether or not things will go to plan.

Alternatively, you have been the greatest thing about Viet Nam. The you’s who were there for me when I was in need; the you’s who let me be there for them in a similar capacity. You brought me through the other end. I won’t say we’ll ever see each other again, but I will always wish I could bring you – and every you from every country I’ve lived in – to an island just for us.


Andrew Bolton

Today I discovered a man I should have known years ago.

Andrew Bolton – current head curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, and co-creator of the renowned exhibitions Savage Beauty (2011) and China: Through the Looking Glass (2015).

Such a calm and meticulous individual, able to illustrate and combine complex and competing ideas with grace. To hear these people speak, you realise the ridiculous amount of knowledge they have – not only on fashion but also on the related historical and political arenas that surround fashion. Makes it all so much more interesting.

I want to follow him around and become best friends, but I get the feeling the former would have an adverse effect on the latter.

Discovered Bolton in the documentary The First Monday in May. Great snippets of the exhibit, and, more importantly, how it all came together. An immense – and surely exhilarating – amount of work.


Places I Should Have Been

Het Noordbrabrants Museum, this month past:

Heaven and Hell Meet in Hieronymus’ Hometown

Bosch captures—perhaps more than any other artist—the mutable world, life driven relentlessly by sex and death, and consciousness caught between imagination and the brutish facts of the flesh.

Ever-obsessed with his Garden of Earthly Delights, to see so much of his work all in one place.. ugh. The things I’ve missed.


The trend is to say Facebook is a false and constructed reflection of yourself. I look at it though, and can’t help but think it seems to have a sort of objective sincerity. Transparency. Fact. At least in terms of “connection”.

I scroll through my feed, seeing my friends’ photos and can’t help but think, these people aren’t with me. They aren’t a part of me. We aren’t a part of each other.

The people with whom there was potential for close friendship have drifted away. They do their own things. They have their own lives with other friends. And the photos document every agonising second of this. When did the emotional distance become this overbearing? Is it something I’m doing? Have I flaked on so many events that I’m no longer invited to any? Should I be organising more events, dance parties, lunches, brunches, coffees, teas, shots, wines, cheeses?

And yet.. when I think back and really try to be objective about it, these lost friends have all suggested and not followed through with just as many events as I have. Is it, then, just an intrinsic fact that we aren’t meant to be close friends, no matter how many foods we both like, gripes we both have, or awkward self conscious similarities we both have? Is it an intrinsic fact that we aren’t mean to be proper friends? That if it were ever going to happen, it would’ve happened already? Yes. Yes!?

And still, there’s that nagging thought: there must be more I can do..

Sartorial Perspective

At the end of her shift, our 50-something-year-old cleaner comes out of the bathroom with a huge grin on her face and says to me, “I go to church now. Do you like my shirt?” Being a bright and bubbly woman, she was near to bouncing around the kitchen, proud to be wearing a shirt her now-deceased sister used to own.

She’s sporting what looks like a new blouse, patterned in reds and browns, subtle frills adorning her collar – obviously a blouse for slightly special occasions and, in fact, not gruesome-looking (like most fashion here). However, this particular top is transparent enough that I can clearly see her black bra beneath.

This is when I realise, it’s not that Vietnamese women wear these tops – to work, church, grocery shopping – to be seductive; it’s just commonplace. No second thought for what offering up your bra might suggest about your.. availability.

A good reflection of the contradictory perspectives here.

The current 30-40ish generation is devoutly abstinent, and yet the women will wear what I can only call club-attire to work; trying to attract a certain form of attention, no?

No. If my genuinely sweet, and rather religious, cleaner will wear a transparent top to church, surely it’s not necessarily their way of being seductive.

..Unless she’s planning on seducing her Pastor/Priest/Whatever..