Are We Better Yet? Notes on Writing About Normal

When I decided to reopen the cobwebbed vaults of my semi-abandoned online hiding space, I first looked into the drafts folder to see if  there were any false starts in there worth revisiting and finishing.

Here are a few of the titles from the past year or so, which never saw the light of day.

Some had a few lines written in them; most were blank. They existed only as titles blurted out and saved, no words in me to be found to flesh them out.

  • I’m Not Very Good At Living Abroad Anymore: Notes on 8 Months in Hanoi With a Toddler
  • I’m Going on a Negativity Fast Because It’s Too Easy To Be Grumpy These Days
  • How to Be Annoyed in a Developing Country Without Coming Across Like an Entitled Asshole
  • Don’t Even Think About Leaving the House til They’re 9: Notes About Being in Public With a Baby
  • Tiny Notes From Hanoi: Let’s Stop Confusing Authenticity with Discomfort, Shall We?
  • The Grass is Always Greener on the Side You Just Slammed the Door On
  • Why Don’t You Speak Vietnamese Yet?

Looking back, I think I stopped writing because EVERY SINGLE THING was going to be either sad or angry or cranky or a complaint.


This was a particularly infuriating lunch.

This was a particularly infuriating lunch. It was too good. Damn it.


And it’s not like the past year or two have been particularly mad or bad or sad or any other Seussian adjectives befitting rogue coloured fish. It has actually been a remarkably busy, active, life-rearranging time, with pretty much all of my tentative long-term goals either met or on the way to being met.

  • Getting one of the best jobs in my field in Vietnam? Check!
  • Getting that gig after being out of work for nearly three years on self-funded maternity leave? Check!
  • Actually really enjoying said job? Check!
  • Getting into an MA program in my field with one of the best Linguistics departments out there? Check!
  • Getting a fab full-time nanny to look after our remarkably well-adjusted toddler while we’re out cavorting at work? Check!
  • Travelling around Vietnam and South East Asia with said toddler, who now references tuktuks, Bangkok and Buddhas with casual ease? Check!
  • Moving from England to Hanoi to Saigon within the course of less than two years, living in three pretty nifty homes of increasing pleasantness (no 24 hour construction or 2am karaoke parties this time around), and successfully dealing with a barrage of madness, noise, people and frankly really interesting and challenging stuff? Check!

But I didn’t write for ages because everything that wanted to come out was, frankly, mad, bad, sad and really poorly articulated.

All I could think about was crappy drivers (both two wheeled and four), Beijing levels of air pollution, toxic fish floating belly up, stinky lakes, motorbikes speeding down foot paths, surprisingly open corruption, illegal 3am karaoke parties that made the walls shake (damn you, ice cream parlor next door!), illegally bleached pho noodles, giant unrepaired potholes in the middle of the road, two and a half years of not much sleep, oversized and overpriced SUVs barrelling down roads built for two bicycles at best, driven by assholes who bought their driver’s license but forgot to take lessons.

I felt tired and cranky a lot. For a really long time.

The general background noise in my head on a day to day basis was akin to a dozen howler monkeys operating a cement mixer, with speed metal playing in the heat warped cassette deck in the cab. This kind of obscured the nuances of the ups and downs and the many, many weeks of generally being okay with things.



Thwack slept through the ruckus. Even the chaos of Hanoi’s Paper Street to buy more moving boxes.


And looking back, it was mostly okay. Most days were fine. Things were fine. Generally fine.

And many days were better than fine- there were lovely bouquets of Hanoi stargazer lilies in the vase on the table; the bun cha was consistently excellent; Ba and Hung and Nha looked after our little guy with love and care; I made a few friends and we all assembled for food and drinks on a regular basis in places overlooking various Hanoi lakes; travel and adventure was plentiful despite having a toddler to wrangle; students were generally lovely and teaching days were exhilarating.

After being in Saigon for about four months now, the grey fug has lifted and the howler monkeys have packed up their cement mixer and driven off to their next appointment. I don’t have any snarls building up at the back of my throat. No growls on the tip of my tongue. No big bubble of sadness enveloping everything, regardless of reality.

It’s sunny (when it isn’t raining- it’s monsoon season now)! Things are pretty mellow. No drama. No surprises.



Even the beer and peanuts al fresco are normal and drama free now.


We live in the suburbs now. The rather bland, affluent, Korean-heavy suburbs of brand-new Saigon South, mind you. Still, suburbs. With an office job, with a toddler, with a calm married life. We’re growing cucumbers and basil in pots in the living room. I bake bread. We go out for drinks with colleagues on Friday nights. Our Atilla Sym scooter is our family SUV (or Flammy Motorbike as Thwack calls it). On Saturdays, we drive to the supermarket, toddler squashed between us on the bike.

It’s really normal.





I wonder if I know how to write about normal.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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.