The car turned into a wide road and mins after I saw the sign “Vung Tau”, I was in my first home on my trip to Vietnam. I was greeted by a a tall building, a hotel at the bottom with rows of apartments above.
Livingwithlocals is not a first time experience, so I was well excited by what I would discover about real vietnamese food and lifestyle. I was also prepared, (from previous experience), to be patient and withdraw from the mindset of becoming” an eager tourist”.
“An eager tourist”, to me is the mindset of wanting to visit all the sights there is to see, eat all the good food there is, spend every waking hour from dawn till 10pm wandering the streets and getting all “out there” to see as much as possible. After all, time is precious on a holiday right?
On the contrary, Ive experienced the complete opposite when living with locals. Of course, some of the main observations, you would have to keep to the so called itinerary of the locals. I could hardly insist on going everywhere e.g. climbing to that top of the hill to see the statue, when my friend’s parents have planned to go have porridge in a roadside stall cant I? I could of course, suggest to stop and take some photos but naturally I didnt want to be a burdensome foreign friend by insisting to do more than what they have originally planned. If the family wanted to stay in for the afternoon because it was too sunny outside, I had no right to demand for everyone to go out. Of course, I could go off and wander by myself but I decided that I could spend the day in to catch up with my friend instead.
I feel like there is a lot of sensitivity when staying with friends, because you do not want to seem like a demanding person, making yourself too “at home”, it might imply rudeness and could offend the elders of the household. I spent my last day of this little homestay, staying at a friend’s aunt’s house, watching TV, napping and practically doing all the things I could be doing at home.. but in Ho Chin Minh. Does this mean I was wasting my time? Does it mean I was like a loser, wanting to talk about the exciting things I did with locals but I didnt do shit?
I felt conflicted. A friend of mine I got in touch with gave me the assurance “You’re on holiday what! So just chill, its what you’re doing, chilling”. In my mind, I guess a lot of people would have been criticising my lack of adventure and thinking ” what sort of trip is this?!”
I pushed those thoughts away and instead, took to really taking a nap and just enjoying the comforts of a foreign home, grateful that I had a place to stay in, with hosts that were so caring. I took to looking at immersing myself in their lifestyle. I lived as they lived. So what if I took a nap or watched MasterChef in Vietnam, I considered myself vietnamese temporarily.
In the end, I took away so much more than I could ask for! I got to try local food (silken tofu) sold by authentic elders knocking on everyones’s doors. Her family took so much care of me, feeding me by the hour, made me extremely comfortable. I didnt need to be going on all about HCM like a maniac, trying to get my best bargains at Ben Thanh Market or visiting the war museums to make my trip fulfilling.
I felt that same fulfilment or probably even more, from catching up with my friend, really getting to know what Ive missed in the past four years of being apart, from constant translations between her mum and me about food and my life in Africa (they were very amused that I could go without showering for 6 days a week), from going grocery shopping with the family and watching her mum cut 1/4 of a jackfruit which seemed to me incredibly enormous and wondering where on earth their appetites surfaced. I spent my first afternoon lazing around the dining table, stuffing myself with jackfruit apples and grapes, listening to French music with her sister.
Sometimes vacationing also imply doing nothing, doing things you would be doing at home, but in a different place. This is especially so for me, when living with locals. I had to deal with a lot of conflicting and impatient thoughts in my mind. I emerged a more relaxed, patient, sensitive and humble person.