The first 2 weeks in Ho Chi Minh City felt like months. After 25 years spent in a hurry, with 6 alarms and uncountable snooze buttons, running and being late, it was hard to adapt to the change of pace. I learnt just how subjective time is, and how it actually doesn’t even exist. Outside of our little room, the world continued on its course, but inside the four walls, every day felt like eternity. The biggest irony (and there was much irony), seemed to be the fact that I went all the way to Vietnam just so that I could learn all of my lessons inside that one, stupid room. I could remember my past foolishness in thinking how all of my problems would just vanish the moment I left Serbia. However, here I was, in Vietnam, in a completely new environment, again, completely unhappy, maybe even more than before. The truth punched me right in the face – the problem wasn’t them; it was me.
How I spent my days.
My days were split between that room, and the fridge full of premade frozen meals stuck in between Kirsa’s unending supplies of alcohol. I avoided both Kirsa and Emma, but also Nemanja. The two of us ate in silence, broken only by a random episode of Friends. There were some thoughts I had to keep even from him. Sharing emotions, feeling exposed, even in front of him was not our way.
As a Serb, I dont do emotion! We have strict rules about this! Public displays are allowed for when you are totally wasted, surrounded by equally wasted friends, celebrating God-knows-what-thing you invented just so that you can have a party, and your favourite song comes on, or any song for that matter. Break a glass, shed a tear, tell your friends you love them, and then attribute it all to the alcohol. That’s the Balkan way.
My Ho Chi Minh City routine was sleep until noon, wake up, find some food or beer, go back to bed because the very thought of leaving the apartment gives me anxiety. Outside, as the rain comes pouring down, the bikes stop, people take out their raincoats, and the city is transformed into a cloudy green picture. People continue living, driving forward, be it rain or shine, and I’m just lying, in stagnation. „Have I come this far just so that I could be the same as back home? What was it all for? Another (expensive) mistake?“ Nemanja spends the days in front of the laptop, or sleeping in the hours I spend awake, subconsciously avoiding me the same way I avoid him. Here, in Vietnam, we were not us, but him and me. How were we supposed to be happy together, if we were unhappy as individuals?
From whom/what was I running away?
From the people who hurt me, who doubted me, offended me and made it their mission to make others around them as miserable as possible. At that point, I allowed myself to feel like a glitch in the system of the world. I began fearing those people who always outnumbered me. From the fear, came hate. I left Serbia hating them, the people, the circumstances, the social constructs that were always the negative to my positive and an obstacle on my road. There weren’t enough holidays, celebrations and drunken nights in all of Serbia for me to let it all out. I was consumed by anger. I hated them.
What I learned living on the Cach Mang Tang.
Every day, while Nemanja slept, went out looking for jobs or buying food, I would spend my time on the terrace overlooking the Cach Mang Tang. One part of Ho Chi Minh City reminded me of favelas, and another of European capitals. On one side tin roofs and sad terraces on which children are playing with plastic bags and torn boxes, while on the other rise skyscrapers and outlines of Districts reserved for affluent (white) foreigners. I would stand on the terrace, leaning on the railing, drinking my gin, or Kirsa’s beer, following the life of cats who spend their days on the hot tin roofs below me. I felt just like them, because wherever they went, they also were not able to escape what was bothering them – the heat. And so, every day we spent together, just me and the cats, and the other 10 million people in Saigon, until the sun sets, and a period of cool and calm comes.
What bothered me more and more was my weakness. For years, I’ve been taking the easy way out – the hate, the running away, all fuelled by that eternal enemy of love – fear. I was afraid that maybe I was that person everyone made me out to be – the insane drama queen who was improper, whose emotions were always wrong and whose words were always taken with a negative connotation. Maybe what others thought of me really did define me? Maybe I was ungrateful? Maybe I brought all of it on myself? Maybe I should rewind the last 25 years of my life and find the reason why the universe is saying “payback time”? Maybe I really was just a bitch?! (I can almost hear all of the people reading this who know me saying “YES!”) It’s hard to admit that you are the reason for all of your problems. It’s hard to wonder why you always choose the easy road, or let others make decisions for you and then blame them for choosing poorly. It’s even harder to love yourself with all your faults, when you can easily pretend to be someone else, someone seemingly infallible. Why should I forgive when I can hate? Why should I love, when it’s much easier living in fear. So here I am, all the way in Vietnam, running away from what seems to be my own shadow. Ohhh, the irony!
On an even deeper note, I knew that if I were strong enough not to let their words and opinions hurt me, those people would be doing me good. Their malice would challenge me to be better, stronger and more loving. I knew all of this, but my (Serbian) pride, (female) vanity, and (Anica’s) stubbornness prevented me from accepting and moving forward.
Even at night, the noise was deafening. The river of vehicles flowed down the street below me. The building directly across was mere 2 meters wide. I could see in the 3rd floor apartment where two children played in their tent, with parents rushing in and out of the room. I watch them while listening to the dreadful symphony of cars and cats, and for a few moments, I forget my own issues. I am blinded by the city’s light, from every window, street, shop. Everything is busy, noisy and magical.
For the sixth night in the row, I welcome the sunrise on this terrace. Sometimes I sing „Somewhere over the Rainbow“, poorly and off key, hoping that my voice will be lost in the street noise and that neighborhood cats can survive the horrific sounds. Ho Chi Minh City has taught me everything it could, and I must move forward. I know everything I have to do, and every new day is a new lesson, I just lack the strength to make the decisions and choose to be better. There are not enough kilometers in the world to make our problems disappear. I need to accept and forgive myself first, and forgive them as well, and even be grateful to them for they forged me into who I am today. I am still in search of strength. I must move forward.
Sun rises. I book plane tickets to Hanoi.
Part 4 coming soon….