“Cruising at 40,000 ft, travel pillow firmly wrapped around my neck, the thought crosses my mind, not for the first time. Right now, am I leaving home, or coming home?
Let me put this into context, for those who don’t know me. Exactly a year ago, I left the UK for Hanoi, in Vietnam, in Asia. A city, country and continent I’d never even visited. I left, with my boyfriend, set to begin a 2 year contract teaching in an international school there. 11 months later, as the summer holidays begun, we returned to England for the first time, excitedly preparing for a summer of family, friends and familiarity. Fast forward another 5 weeks, and here I am, back on a plane.
Being back in the UK, visiting places that I’ve been so many times before, I’d unsurprisingly be inclined to call it home. But, in many ways, I feel like that limits my opinion of Hanoi. Hanoi is, ultimately, the place where most of my things are, where my boyfriend is, where my work is and where I am the majority of the year. I have friends there, the ladies at the local market recognise me and I’m a member of groups/places that help me pursue my hobbies. When friends visit, they notice things in Hanoi that I now ignore due to the pure frequency that I see it: whole families squashed onto one moped; (managed) fires dotted around the streets; locals perched on their tiny plastic stools, cooking dinner on the pavement. I’m so used to witnessing these things that I now don’t always notice them. Is that what home is: a place where things are so familiar that you don’t need to give it a second glance?
Returning to the UK this summer, what surprised me the most is how much I did notice. How much I enjoyed witnessing things that I used to take for granted. Rather than sitting looking at my phone in car journeys, I loved looking at the green fields out of the window. I enjoyed sitting in my parents’ garden, blissfully aware of the peace and quiet that I’d never really noticed before. The speed of contactless payments, or even chip and pin, whilst in Vietnam we’re still signing receipts. The opportunity to meander round one single supermarket, where I could buy everything I needed for different recipes, fully understanding what everything is and not having to calculate the currency conversions.
I hope that those few weeks I enjoyed in the UK highlights Hanoi’s quirks to me again, because really, they are what makes Vietnam so charming. I think I started to take many things in Vietnam for granted by the end of last academic year, tiredness causing me to notice the irritating things but not always recognising the positives. Maybe that’s what home is too. A place that annoys you, but that you look forward to returning to if you leave, because you’re aware of all the good elements too.
I suppose I’ll see how I respond to heading back in the next few weeks. But, I think I’m lucky, and I know I need to remind myself of this. I have two homes. Two places I can belong. I’m leaving home and I’m coming home. Sure, some times in each I miss and want to be in the other, but ultimately, I can always go back.
This year, I want to focus more on the positives of Vietnam, something a spout of low mental health knocked out of me in spring. I think this summer has taught me to make the most of a place when I’m there and to be grateful for the opportunities, quirks and things that make that ‘home’ different to the other.”
(Written 6th August 2019 and published here later.)