Finding the Joy

It’s all about finding the joy in the little things. Or in all things here.

When I first arrived in Nam Dinh, I was so worried about saving money that I didn’t spend any. Which is great for my savings account, but not-so-great for my happiness. I realized how much happier I was if I spent some money. And by some money, I mean less than $50 a week. Everything is so cheap! Well except Western food.

I guess money can buy happiness.

When I’m not working, I spend my time at coffee shops, walking around the city, browsing markets, practicing yoga and cooking.

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Velveeta Mac n Cheese my mom sent me!!!

It’s incredible the joy I find out of the simplest things now. Like walking around Big C, the supermarket. I think it reminds me of back home. It’s modern, it’s interesting to see the food choice differences (like they have a whole aisle dedicated to seaweed! I never realized how much you can do with seaweed). And I can buy western food there! Like croissants! I realize how ridiculous this all may sound. But maybe this helps paint a picture of how mundane life is here.

I have regular coffee shops I visit on different days of the week where the staff remembers me and knows my order. (Having an “I’ll have my usual” moment is exciting to me anywhere I go. That probably stems from growing up in a tiny town where I had a “usual” everywhere. Ahhh how I miss Olga’s breadsticks & Poncho’s Chimichangas).

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At Highlands Coffee, a modern coffee shop chain around Vietnam.

On the weekends I go on long walks around the city where I love taking photos of small alleyways filled with clothes hanging and people being as they are.

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Nam Dinh is alive. There are always people bustling around, selling fruits, honking their motorbike horns or drinking tea on the streets. On my walks, I discover where I can buy many delicious and wonderful things, like clothes, fried bananas, candied fruits and many different Vietnamese dishes.

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One of my favorite things to do is go to the market and look at all the beautiful fruits and vegetables. Plus it’s fun to practice my Vietnamese when buying food! The fruit here is to die for and it’s so cheap!

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One amazing part of being out of a tourist area is people are actually genuine. They are interested in you, they want to share their life with you and they don’t look at foreigners as walking money signs. Tourism taints the interaction between locals and foreigners. Both sides view the interaction as a trade-off, but here it’s different. Here we are all just curious humans.

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I am buying real clothes and dressing up again! I recently put on makeup for the first time in over a year.

Shopping in Vietnam is hard for a woman of my body shape. Vietnamese are short and petite and I am neither of those things. A lot of their clothes are one size fits all and I am not all. Most shoe stores don’t even carry shoes my size! And don’t even get me started on bra shopping… But nonetheless, I have found clothes that fit me! Vietnamese women are stylish, so it’s fun looking through their many shops. In their culture, it’s important to look good no matter what. It’s common for women to spend more than half of their monthly salary on clothes… that’s insane! Women are always dressed to the nine in their tight miniskirts, crop tops, short dresses and high heels. They do not dress modestly. Clothes show their legs and the shapes of their bodies, but never their chests. You rarely see cleavage. Scratch that, I don’t think I have ever seen cleavage on a Vietnamese woman. It’s been so fun relearning how to dress up. This, again, probably sounds weird. But when you’re backpacking there’s little reason to dress up. Most of my time was spent in comfy, flowy clothes.

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I joined a yoga studio, which is an adventure in itself. The class is in Vietnamese, but I am learning the important words, like breathe in & out. It’s amazing how quickly my brain has begun to register the words and associate them with poses. I can’t repeat the Vietnamese words back to you correctly, but I am slowly learning to understand what he asks at the given moment. AMAZING! I love seeing the women in class every night. It’s nice to do something here with locals that isn’t focused around teaching English. No one in the class speaks English, but we still communicate and help each other.

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They find joy and humor in comparing, discovering and pointing out our body differences. They find my height hilarious, my long legs and high hip bones shocking and my skin beautiful. This Friday, they were pulling up their shirts comparing and making light of their mommy marks on their stomachs. It was beautiful and empowering to observe this pure womanhood moment, that could be shared and understood across cultures and nations. After showing their stomachs they all turned to me in anticipation to see how a foreign woman’s stomach looked after carrying a child. But to their surprise, I just shook my head. This then created a line of attempted English questions about my love life, or lack thereof. The women then looked at our yoga instructor and said he’s handsome, you’re beautiful. Ohhhh!!! They all giggled like young girls in a slumber party sharing who their first crush is.

Life here may not be ideal, but I am making it work and enjoying each day as it comes.

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One thought on “Finding the Joy

  1. Phil Carter says:

    Wow, two reports in one day! Good read Norah. I enjoyed it very much. My favorite sentence is “tourism taints the interaction between locals and foreigners”. You’re so right! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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