People have been asking where I'm living now (placement 2 of 3), so welcome to Núi Thành....
(Can you describe something as 'nondescript'? Is that a contradiction in terms?)
Anyway.... Núi Thành, where I'm now living, is a nondescript couple of kilometres of dusty truckstops and old Soviet-style buildings along an industrial part of the highway. There's about as much to do as is shown on google maps. Even when you've zoomed right in.
Tourist buses pass through in the middle of the night like big white air-conditioned ghosts. Trucks bellow through all day and all night. They're filthy noisy beasts, clearing the road with their ridiculously loud and very insistant horns. Buses speed through suicidally, playing chicken with the trucks. (They don't always win; there are two just up the road smashed to bits this week.) Motorbikes dodge either side, between, and all-too-frequently underneath the trucks and the buses. It's a bit of a sad place, where people on long journeys up and down the country stop for a new tyre, cigarettes, a bowl of noodles, or a shit.
It's pretty soul-less.
I'm painting a very unattractive picture, I know. You know me, I always try to see the best in everything, but despite trying as hard as I can to find beauty or optimism or hope here, I just can't. Sorry.
It's a lethargic town. People seem to do a lot of not a lot. There is a high school here, but no colleges, so the young people with sufficient ability, means and ambition move away. Guys play football or pool, watch TV, or drink coffee and beer. Girls tend to stay home, cook, clean, wash clothes and watch TV. I've joined in a couple of football games, but honestly, I'm pretty useless, and it's a bit awkward. Guys and girls don't seem to interact much around here (until they get hitched, move into one of their parent's houses, and make a start on procreation. After they get married, the guys continue drinking coffee and beer. The girls have babies and continue cooking, cleaning and watching TV.)
In my last place there were a lot of young people about, and people generally seemed welcoming. By the end of the first week there I was busy most evenings, and every weekend doing things with Vietnamese friends.
In four weeks here, despite walking around in the evenings, going out to drink coffee, wandering around the market, and smiling at everyone I meet, I haven't yet made a friend. The warmest smile and most extensive conversation I get here is from the lady that I visit for a hairwash once a week (can you hear the violins....!?)
I'm pretty sure it's not me. I always check I don't have veg in my teeth, and I'm showering plenty.
It just seems to be the general atmosphere around here.
I can understand some of the reasons why this area is depressed;
- it was an area which suffered very heavily during the war (I have to keep remembering it only ended 35 years ago) -- it's a very very poor area, with most families farming rice (I just found out that the average rice farmer's yearly income is roughly the same as my monthly living allowance, which is a pretty shocking thought) or working in the factories and mines close by - it's very very hot, which induces lethargy in even the most motivated worker - it's an area that is hit regularly, and hard by flooding and tropical storms
To summarise, I'm not finding this an easy place to live, and I've got to admit I've been feeling pretty low. Hence the lack of posts. But as my good friend Sylvia said in a recent email -
"You can at least count your blessings because you dont have to live and work there forever, for some there is simply no or a very restricted choice."
Which is a very valid point, and I think about it several times a day. Three months is nothing in the big scheme of things. I think about the Pulp song 'Common People' - I can pack up whenever I like and get out. I've got choice. Options. I'm lucky.
Yesterday I was sitting having a refreshing drink in a little roadside bamboo shack when an elderly man pulled up in his arm-propelled bicycle and walked on his prosthetic limb using a crutch, to sit in the shade for a drink. A few minutes later a blind man who lives in the area walked past, tapping his stick in front of him. The owner called out to him to warn him about a hole in the road and went to him for a chat and to offer him a drink. There are some kind people here.
The family who run the guesthouse I'm staying with are very sweet and caring, and look out for me. My room is lovely and clean, with a good fan.
The cloud formations and sunsets are incredible (they deserve a post all to themselves...)
I can get to the beach in half an hour on my bike.
There are some beautiful mountains not too far away, and I often explore the foothills on my bike (I have, however been warned not to venture too far, the only reason people will give me is that 'people there aren't nice' - I'm not sure I believe it?)
I've found a place that does the most delicious 'sinh to' I've had in Vietnam (and I've had a lot). It's a glass full of chunky bits of fruit (banana, avocado, dragon fruit, passionfruit, jackfruit, pawpaw, lychee etc), a good dollop of condensed milk, and lots of crushed ice, with dried sweetened coconut sprinkled on top.Shows how simple my life is when a glass of fruit is the highlight of a day!
Now if only I can make some progress with my work, then things'll be better....