Tiny Notes From Hanoi: It’s Like Downton Abbey, Except Different

We have a house, people.

A whole house to ourselves, partway down a narrow scooter-wide lane, off a side street, a block from the lake.

After two months of living out of suitcases, over a month living with family (both sides, on both sides of the Atlantic), and over three weeks camping out in hotel rooms which ran the gamut from idyllic (11 nights) to Oh God, No (14 nights), we have a house.


thwack door

This door is not necessarily to scale


A house big enough and tall enough that there are actually floors we don’t really go to.

In winter, I think we may even be compelled to close off various wings to keep heating costs down.

We have a terrace. And a glassed in conservatory. And three bathrooms. And a room that pretty much just contains a laundry drying rack and ironing board.

Did I mention the marble staircases?

We have marble staircases.

Flights of them, in fact. And another two flights of lovely smooth dark wood.


photo 3

Oh, and a gated, covered entryway for scooter, shoes and mops.


Did I mention that the place comes with a part time housekeeper (for a nominal fee)? And that she cleans and does our ironing? And gets our fruits and veggies from the wet market at Vietnamese prices and will cook us meals should we need meals cooked?

I did the breakfast dishes this morning (as I do) and she gently reprimanded me for doing her job.

Oh god.

The thing is, this whole thing (plus lovely Mrs Ba, the housekeeper) still costs less than we paid for a tiny, unfurnished, tired little terrace house in Leicester. Never mind the council tax and freakish electricity and gas bills.

This is lovely.

But expat life here is a bit odd, a bit gentle, a bit removed.

Part of it is because we are living by the lake, which is relatively gringo heavy compared to other parts of the city (what is Vietnamese for laowai?).

Part of it is because I’m not working outside the home for the first time in my adult life (aside from last year’s maternity sabbatical in Canada and the UK, which don’t count in this context of cultural immersion because they are my culture, more or less) and I’m limited in what I can do by the presence of a lovely but bonkers baby who is a bit unpredictable at the moment (no cafes, no museums, etc) and who still adamantly naps three times a day, which is when I try to get my freelance work done online.

I go for walks in the local area. I buy groceries that Mrs Ba doesn’t get from her local wet market- cheese, milk, bread, French pastries, wine. I dabble lightly in the language (hello, goodbye, see you later, thank you, you’re welcome, numbers, some food and drink vocab, take me to…, how much is this?).

I feel a bit like I’m barely skimming the surface.


michael bike

Michael, on the other hand, flung himself in at the deep end of Hanoi living.


It’s a bit too easy to slide into that comfy foreigner bubble that I managed to mostly avoid in Turkey and which I dabbled in in China.

There are things I should know by now.

Like, where do we put out the garbage? Are there freelance recyclers picking at bins, like in China?

I googled it and the answers in English all said to get your maid to do it.

Where do I buy the big gas canisters for the stove? Where do I pay our bills?

And is there a mailman/woman? Are there post offices? I’ve seen neither in the 3 weeks we have been here. Why don’t I knw these things yet?

There are a lot of things I don’t know. Not yet, anyway. But they seem somehow less urgent than they would have been in other countries I’ve lived in.

I haven’t had to immediately wade through the forty layers of surreal bureaucracy to get everything done, as it was in Istanbul (remind me to tell you about that time I decided to get the electricity hooked up in my last flat there and it all culminated in them destroying my refrigerator). I haven’t been thrown into the very handy immersive environment of the workplace, where staff and students grill you about what you know and what you need to do and who you need to meet.

It’s a bit surreal.

Let’s see how this pans out.



By the way, this is the (sub)urban density of our neighborhood,

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.