Coming Home

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After a 25-hour flight, walking down the corridor with swollen ankles and a tired head, I am greeted by things that feel, that are familiar:

The simplicity and clarity of Finnish design, mostly using wood as the main material – one of the great resources we have plenty of. 

The sweet, intoxicating smell of cinnamon buns at the café – one of the desserts I’ve missed the most because no other place in the world makes cinnamon buns the way we do in the Nordic countries.

The taste and smell of Finnish filter coffee (especially after drinking mostly instant coffee since Australia).

All these things greet me with their familiarity and I welcome them, thinking to myself as I enjoy the wet and foggy landscape on the train ride to the city centre: I’ll make this work.

Then the jet lag hits me. 

The first day everything goes well despite only a few hours of sleep on the flight, but the day after that, I struggle to stay awake. I decide to go to bed early, only to wake up three hours later, at one o’clock in the night to realize I’m alert and awake like a nocturnal animal. I try reading, and have to force myself to at least rest after two hours of page-turning.

Days after that, I get headaches. I find it hard to concentrate. I get no writing done and for every day that passes without words, it feels even harder to open any of the files I felt so inspired by in New Zealand.

It becomes a pattern.

Slowly, it feels like everything I believed in in New Zealand loses its value. The short story I’ve been working on, the longer fan fiction story, the ideas I wrote down while living on the other side of the globe. It doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, not anymore.

My remedy? I ask Netflix to play the next episode of Anne With an E. I check Whatsapp for new messages in a writing group I was added to (which is, actually, awesome). I update my email over and over again to see if something’s happening and when something is, I close the app and decide to do something else.

I feel conflicted about meeting friends and family because I don’t know what to say to them. For them, six months have gone by quickly as life as we know it has been happening. For me, for us, the past six months have been a lifetime. Now, I’m supposed to have a plan. People expect us to have a plan. 

And I do, or at least I did. But everything that felt right in New Zealand… It feels like I lost it somewhere during those 25 hours. It’s like the change in environment has affected me more than I realized.

I do believe this is only temporary and that the inspiration and motivation and energy for doing things are somewhere there, hidden in the back of my mind. But instead of giving myself the time to land, to ease into being in Finland again, I keep beating myself up for binge-watching Netflix, reading for hours, avoiding contact with people I know – and not writing.

It’s nice to come home but it isn’t as simple as I had thought. 

In 2016, after my exchange semester in Ireland, I was happy to come back and had no problems with it. Now, it seems different. I wonder if what I’m feeling is fear – fear of actually starting to do things that seem meaningful to me? Writing and publishing a book, maybe getting started with that idea about youngsters and reading.

If it is fear, I think it’s a good sign. That usually means you’re on the right path, despite the fact that resistance tries to keep you from not acting. I think I just have to give myself a few more days to get used to the cold weather and the fact that this country is the place where I have decided to actualize my dreams.

It’s not easy but it is definitely the right thing to do. Then, hopefully, I will be able to get my hands dirty (or my fingers sore from all the writing).

Back To Where I Came From

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Most of my recent blog posts have been about writing. Writing, reading and everything around it have been recurring themes on this blog because much of December and January has focused around writing – lucky for me! 

At the same time, though, life keeps on happening and therefore this post is more about the other things that are going on around my writing: thoughts about my future, both the near and far ones.

When we began our travels in the end of July six months ago, we had been saving money for a few years to do this trip. That money allowed us a completely different kind of freedom and the opportunity to see what the rest of the world is up to. We got to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia and then to New Zealand. It has been a rollercoaster ride.

But now it’s time to give up that freedom. The money that was saved has been used well – and as we’re starting to run short on it, it’s time to find ways to make money again.

To find out that solution is far from easy.

It isn’t only about finding work but it’s also about where to find it and what it is I want to do. What happens after our trip comes to an end? What happens when you give up the kind of freedom we’ve grown used to during this past year?

Finding Meaningful Work Isn’t Easy

In June, I wrote about my thoughts on graduating. I wrote that there’s a harsher reality waiting for me when I give up the freedom of being a student, but that I’m ready for that.

When writing it, I felt it to be true. I guess I still do, but nevertheless, taking on another new chapter feels daunting. I’m doing it, for real this time: trying to find a job, an apartment, not rely on study subsidies or student discounts anymore. It’s real. But at times, finding a job feels overwhelming and causes feelings of anxiety.

I haven’t had too many good work experiences. Either it’s because I’m picky or because the working world as such isn’t, well, working. I’ve had my share of shitty shifts, bad bosses, ugly work atmospheres and unrealistic or unnecessary work assignments.

Time after time, I thought I’d like to work as this or that, only to realize it wasn’t for me. And now I’m supposed to be on the job market again, finding myself work that hopefully will be better than my previous experiences. But what kind of job? Is there someone out there looking for a fiction writer to their company? I could be that person!

What? No? Okay. I guess I have to find something else.

It’s a strange feeling to go through different work ads and realize that you don’t want to “build your career” in any of those companies. I’m not passionate about selling and making profit – but our society runs on consumerism. I’m not eager to deal with customer care unless I’m really passionate about what I’m doing. I want to work with something that feels meaningful, that truly matters to me – but the current working world doesn’t seem to offer too many solutions.

It feels like so much weight is put on the employee and how one fits in the company but not so much on the company itself and it’s way of doing thing.

It’s essential to me to feel that the people working in a place are aware of what they are doing, how they are doing it and are willing to give their best – just as I will if I work there. More often than not, however, it seems like the boss who is supposed to be there for us employees and help us do our job well doesn’t know what he or she is doing or isn’t motivated to do his or her job well.

There is no such thing as a perfect work environment, that I know – but there are good opportunities to create a great work environment. It simply requires conscious effort.

So, maybe I’m picky, maybe I know what I want. Fine. But where to find that right kind of job?

The Language I Speak

For now, I have found two work ads that resonated with me and sounded like worth giving an opportunity to. I’m hoping to hear from them in a month or so. And this brings me to the next thing on my mind – both jobs are situated in Finland.

So, partly this post is about finding a job – but it’s also about where that seeking seems to take me.

We left Finland to find something better abroad, a different and maybe a more suitable culture. We both honestly thought we would be better off somewhere else.

But lately, as I’ve been thinking about working over and over, my mind leads me back to the land of forests and a thousand lakes. It’s because of my writing.

Not including this blog, I write mostly in Finnish. My journal entries, my fan fiction and my novels are all written in Finnish, a language spoken by approximately five million people living in this world.

The thing is, reading and writing are my greatest strengths, and these strengths have the best opportunity to succeed in Finland. Therefore, it would be in my interest to live in Finland to make a career out of writing. Right?

But I’m not homesick.  I don’t, per se, miss my social life or the Finnish food and culture so much that I would love to be back. I can see myself finding a nice yoga studio, the perfect writing environment, an active lifestyle somewhere else. In another Nordic country, perhaps.

I have no officially serious reason to go back. But because of my strengths in my own language, I’m drawn to my home country. I’m most likely to succeed on my career – if I get back to Finland and stay there.

It bugs me because it feels like my freedom to choose is being cut. At the same time, I’m curious to see what can come out of it. I have these ideas about my own small company, focused on writing and reading, and all my hopes for my author career – and I know the best place to make them happen is in Finland.

Our time on this trip has given form to these thoughts and it feels like the right time to try finding the paths to realising them.

But just to get back to where we got started – if I’m in a country I really don’t have a need to be in and I’m starting out with work that I might not even want to do and that might end up in another disappointment, where will that lead me? Will I still be able to hold on to all my ideas about writing?

So many questions, so few answers.

So, to sum up this blog post: I’m thinking about a lot of things, mostly about the future of work and where it will take me. I’m optimistic about the fact that things have a tendency to find their way. Things will work out. And hopefully something good will come of it – if I get to choose, that good will have to do with writing.

The Thing About Not Being Homesick

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In the process of less than a week, we sold our road trip car and booked our next flight tickets. Quick actions, one might think, but I believe we are doing the right thing. Australia has been a wonderful experience, a road trip even more so – but it’s time to move on.

The next destination is actually our main destination, the one we’ve been approaching slowly but surely for the last three months: New Zealand. A plan of ours that was born a few years back and the one we’ve been saving for since the plan was formed – to spend a year in this country, to see what it feels like to live on the other side of the world.

In other words, we are not going back to our home country – instead, we are doing the opposite by staying in the southern hemisphere with an eleven-hour time difference from Finland. One could think homesickness would be creeping in.

But I’m not homesick – and I don’t think I will be.

But why is that? Why am I not homesick. Shouldn’t I be?

No Home, No Longing

I believe one reason to why I’m not feeling homesick is that technically, we don’t have a home anymore. Last summer, we sold most of our belongings and gave away the apartment we had been living for the past eight months. This way, I don’t have a specific place for writing or a certain chair where I’d love to curl up to read a good book.

(Sure, my parents still live in the house I grew up in, but what used to be my room is used for something else and the house simply doesn’t feel like my home anymore. So it doesn’t count.)

I can’t feel homesick if I have no home – right?

Some things, of course, remind me of things back home and awaken the feeling of ah, I wish I could do that or have that again. More than once, a smell of something has made me think of my grandparents’ summer cottage. First time, it was the smell of metal chains (yes, that’s right) and the second time, the refreshing smell of pine trees. Both reminded me of those early mornings at the cottage when you wake up with the sun, take a morning swim and enjoy the quiet.

But other than that, I’ve been fine.

Some thoughts in my head say that it’s wrong not to feel homesick, that isn’t there anything I miss and would like to get back to?

But my home, it feels, isn’t in Finland, not anymore. It is somewhere else – because other than those early mornings at the summer cottage, I haven’t really missed anything. I don’t need to go back.

Searching for Safe Space

However, even though I can write more or less anywhere (just give me a chair and table or just a lap and I’ll write), it doesn’t mean I am in no need for a home base. Quite the opposite, really: for weeks, I’ve been longing for a proper writing desk, a space where I can properly write, draw, plan and execute those plans.

But where to find that home base if not in Finland?

Quite randomly, as I was wondering about homesickness and the absence of it, I happened to stumble upon a quote by a Finnish poet, Eeva Kilpi, who said that the meaning of life is ‘to come home’.

This quote became the answer to my questions about homesickness and why I haven’t been feeling it.

For me, ‘to come home’ means finding a place that feels like a safe space. The moment you walk in, you feel safe and comfortable, like you can be and do anything you want in that place. Home also consists of the people around you, the ones you meet and who become your friends. It consists of familiar walking trails, cycle routes.

A home is somewhere you can think clearly, where you feel free to find a way to be yourself without compromising too much.

For me and my partner, it didn’t feel like we could find that in Finland. It just didn’t work out because of many things – the weather, the darkness, the language, the culture. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been feeling homesick?

After reading the quote from Eeva Kilpi, it made me realize that one of the reasons we embarked on this journey is to do precisely that – find a place where it feels like we’ve ‘come home’.

If we find it in New Zealand, only time will tell.

Experiencing As the Opposite of Writing

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After writing last week’s troubled blog post about my writing-not-writing situation, two quotes came to my mind.

Somehow, it seems, my brain thought it was time for me to do some changes so it picked these quotes from the long shelves of thoughts and memories, giving me a perspective on my current writing situation.

Funny enough – the quotes have made a difference.

Let’s just dive in and start with the first one. The quote is by Benjamin Franklin and goes like this:

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

If you have read my posts from the previous two weeks, you know I’m longing for writing something worth reading. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past year and half, writing almost daily – fiction, journal entries, blog posts. It’s what I know and love.

But now, as Mr. Franklin/my brain conveniently reminded me of, I’m doing something worth writing.

Or am I – really?

Learning About Prioritizing

Because –

I wonder if one can travel great lengths without actually doing anything worth writing about. Just linger, wander, pass curious details and interesting human beings without really seeing them and taking in their existence – and if I’ve done just that.

You see –

During these past months of travel, I’ve been looking for opportunities to write and been disappointed when day after day I haven’t had the possibility to do so. I’ve been having many negative thoughts of what I should be doing and what I’m not and, to be honest, it has consumed me and my energy.

And as I’ve been in this gravel pit of negativity, I wonder if I’ve actually given myself the chance to enjoy and experience, to take the days as they come.

However, the thing to realize here is that in the mode of experiencing, to write or not write becomes more like a side product of that mode. You have to be willing to ease on the writing part of being a traveling writer and focus more on experiencing.

But I haven’t let that happen.

I’ve kept writing as my main mode, my first priority, and that just may have hindered me from it’s opposite – experiencing.

Experience Requires Patience

This is where I’d like to introduce the second quote my brain reminded me of. It’s from a film called Stuck In Love I saw earlier this year (a movie recommendation for those looking for films about writing – it’s not a super awesome movie but it’s about writing and that’s the best thing about it).

A writer is the sum of her experiences.

When I was little, I read a fantasy book called The Prophecy of the Gems by Flavia Bujor. It was Bujor’s first (and only) book but the thing that made it cool was that she was only 14 years old at the time. I was amazed by her young age and, as I already at that point had my dreams of becoming a published author, thought I could do the same.

But the thing is, it is very hard to write about themes such as love, loss, freedom and loneliness if one has never experienced those things. No matter how much I would have wanted to write a publishable book at the age of 9, I don’t think I could’ve done it because I didn’t have enough experience of the topics that make books feel real.

Becoming experienced in this thing we call life takes time and waiting out time takes patience. And during that time you shouldn’t just sit and wait but experience, instead.

And even then, you’re not done.

Even though I feel I’m somewhat more experienced than I was at the time I read Bujor’s debut and could put together a realistic novel, at the same time I realize I’m not done experiencing.

There’s so much more to learn about life’s quirks that I haven’t gotten to yet.

I believe one of those quirks has been presented to me during these last couple of days.

The Lesson To Learn

I don’t think it’s too late for me to switch my focus and re-organize my priorities. Even though writing is one of the most meaningful things in my life, I can let it rest for a while – that doesn’t mean I will never get back to my writing routines and never become a published author.

I just have to be patient, give time to this period in my life. Remember that experiences give me something to write about.

And even though I’ve been obsessed about writing-not-writing, I think I’ve squeezed in some experiences and observations:

I have used my senses in the desert landscape of Northern Australia: seen the drought, felt the heat and sweat in the small of my back. I’ve heard the wind rustle through the dry hay, smelled the smoke coming from forest fires, tasted the refreshing water after a hike.

During the long days of driving, I’ve had time to listen to audiobooks and in the evenings, listened to audiobooks or read fiction. Thought about my own works of fiction, the characters and what makes a book feel real.

I’ve had time to think of who I am as a person and as a writer, thought about what life’s meaning really is about and if it’s necessary to find something that feels meaningful or if the meaningfulness of things already exists there or here, I just can’t see it yet.

So I’m already on a good path here – I just need to be patient and forgive myself for not writing.

It won’t be an easy switch to just ”forget” about writing and only write when the opportunity presents itself. And I need to be careful not to put too much weight on experiencing and instead just take the experiences as they come.

This road trip might be about learning to enjoy, to experience without stressing out about experiencing, and write when the opportunity presents itself – but not force myself to do anything.

If I learn that, I might have an experience on my hands really worth writing about.

The Traveling Writer, Pt. II

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(You can read part one here.)

I haven’t written about writing in a while because it has been… complicated.

The thing is, writing and traveling don’t go too well together. It’s because both forms of doing consume time and energy. It’s an either or situation where you have to choose what you want to focus on.

However, that has not stopped me from doing it. I mean, you’re reading this blog post that I’ve written while sitting in a rooftop tent in Kakadu National Park in Australia – so I am traveling and writing. It is possible!

But you have to fight for your writing time, for sure. Be prepared for compromises, for flexibility. Give yourself a little mercy for not being as prolific as you’d wish to be.

And realize that maybe traveling and writing don’t go together as well as you might have thought in the beginning.

When Your Focus Goes Elsewhere

While traveling, it is easy to just go with the flow, to be consumed by all the things that come to traveling: planning the route, the food, and where to stay the night. You focus on what you see, smell and feel. In the end of the day, you are tired and ready to go to bed – although you haven’t written a word.

In Vietnam, as we preferred our homestay rooms more than the touristic sites, I had plenty of time to write. I got into writing regularly and could keep up with my writing projects. But now, as we’ve changed country and continent (yay for Australia!), my writing time has decreased noticeably.

It has been on hold because we have been preparing ourselves for a different mode of travel.

As the best way to travel in Australia is by car, we decided to buy one. After a few days of searching, we found one that we liked and had a reasonable price, and bought it. Then, for a few days more, we prepped the car: cleaned it, fixed small things, got necessary kitchen equipment and a rooftop tent.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to write.

After that, when our traveling home was ready for the road, we started the engine and were off. (A side note: there is something very symbolic about starting the motor of your car for the very first time).

As it is in the beginning, new things take so much time and energy to focus on planning: where we want to drive, how long it takes, when do we need to fuel up or go to the grocery store. It takes effort to put up the rooftop tent, to cook food, to clean up and prepare for the night. It’s a full-day job to be on a road trip that will take a few months – it’s nothing you can plan too well before-hand.

So, even if we hit the road, I didn’t have the time, the space or the energy to write.

But I have noticed my feeling of restlessness growing from one day to the other – I want to write, I know I have to write. Get those thoughts, ideas, plot twists and character developments on paper.

Finding the Balance

I know I have to make traveling and writing work together – because I, as a writer, am most satisfied when writing. But how?

A week ago, I tried something: instead of writing in the morning, which is my best time for writing but also the best time for waking up and getting going in Australia, I changed my writing hours to the evening.

Why? Because when the sun goes down, the bugs come out from their hiding and take over the world. Therefore, at 7 PM, we pack everything in the car and take the steps up to our rooftop tent to take shelter from the blood-thirsty devils. But who wants, or even can fall asleep at seven in the evening? No one. It is the perfect time for writing.

Or… You’d think it’s the best time to be writing.

I’ve noticed that although it is the perfect time for writing, it’s not the perfect time if you plan on sleeping after writing. It’s the blue-screen-brain thing – sitting in front of the computer for an hour does not make you sleepy. After you’re done with your words, you lie in the rooftop tent literally for hours waiting for sleep to come. And you wake up tired.

It’s far from an optimal situation. But at the moment, it’s the best I’ve got. Otherwise I’ll be scratching my writing minutes together with blood, sweat and tears and it’s not nice. But I have to say – especially when traveling together with someone, it’s tough to combine both writing and traveling. You can’t be in two places at the same time.

I’ll keep on working on my writing and trying to find a way to keep going with this traveling writer thing. Sometimes I do remind myself of the fact that I have actually managed to put together over 25,000 words while on this trip and that is something to be proud of. But at the same time, I know I could’ve produced twice as much if not for traveling.

An easy choice would be to choose – for now – traveling over writing. But it feels like something I don’t want to do, it feels like I’ll be betraying myself if I just let my laptop rest instead of trying my best to write.

I can’t choose writing over traveling, not quite yet, but until then… I’ll just have to keep on finding that time for writing and find a way to see my situation in a better light, from another perspective.

I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

Unsuited For Travel

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For so many years already, backpacking has been something many dream of.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just leave everything behind and live from your backpack for months while traveling around the world? Be free from the ordinary life you’ve learned to know, let the days melt together and forget the meaning of Fridays and weekends?

There are so many who would love to do that. Who love to backpack, travel to foreign, exotic countries, sleep in hostels, spend days sitting on buses and trains, do things you wouldn’t or couldn’t do back home.

But there are also people who do not have a need for that backpacker life.

After more than two months of travel, I’ve realized I’m one of those people. Those, who do not get the thrill of visiting new cities and towns, who don’t get excited from the freedom of spending their days doing whatever they want.

While traveling in Southeast Asia, we had all our belongings neatly packed in our backpacks. We were constantly moving around, from hostels to homestays to Airbnb apartments. Every three or four nights we would pack our things and get going, take the bus to another city to settle down there for a few days. We would explore the city for a few days before packing up everything again and moving on.

That’s how we traveled in three different countries. For me, it was exhausting.

An Introvert On A Holiday

As I only see people loving this lifestyle we’ve tried for two months now, I’ve been trying to figure out why I seem to feel different about backpacking. Why am I not enjoying it like everyone else? Am I not a backpacker, am I not able to adapt to this kind of lifestyle?

One explanation to my discomfort could be my personality.

First of all, I have a tendency to try to please other people. When a people-pleaser like me, who tends to believe the best in people and give almost everyone benefit of the doubt, is forced to say no and know locals are only after a money… It’s uncomfortable. It is exhausting to constantly shake your head, or worse, ignore the seller.

And for the second, I’m an introvert. While I enjoy meeting new people, to play cards, drink beer, go on hikes with people I’ve never seen before, I also need to balance out that social life with some privacy, my own time and space. Otherwise, I’ll drain my energy.

But as being social is one of the essential parts of backpacking, I tend to feel guilty for taking time off people, shut the door to the room or the curtain to my bed. Somehow I feel like I’m doing it wrong – backpacking. And still, I know I need that time for myself.

Backpacking is a balancing act for an introverted person. It can get tough, exhausting, even frustrating at times, compared to an extrovert who doesn’t seem to have any problems chilling with people around the clock.

However, at the same time I know being an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t do certain things. You can be an introvert and a backpacker at the same time – you just have to be selfish enough to take the time for yourself.

Which makes me think there is something else that explains my unsuitability for travel.

Freedom, Sex, Distraction

It feels like many backpackers come to Southeast Asia for freedom.

It’s the kind of freedom you see in their behavior: how they drive scooters without helmets on, how they drink rice wine and have random sex with random people in shared dormitories, how they spend their money how they wish without needing to think about the consequences.

Many travel to Asia to escape something and to get something they can’t get at home: the freedom, the sex, the careless attitude. The also get the kind of attention they don’t get in the western world: the friendliness of the locals, the attention they give you when they want to sell you something.

It’s attractive.

And they have a great time in Asia because their money actually has more value here. They get the benefits they would like to have back home without having to dress up, drive a fancy car, behaving according the etiquette and social norms and have huge amounts of savings and investments.

But even more than the freedom and sex, they get a distraction. In the chaos of Asia they momentarily lose themselves, their former goals and dreams or the lack of them. For a while, they don’t need to think about the future, their career plans, the expectations they are expected to meet. It’s liberating to backpack, to be free.

However, what I’ve realized is that I have no need for that kind of freedom – and that, reader, is liberating.

I’ve realized that I have things going on already that I like and enjoy. I already have my plans and dreams for the future, I already know what my own expectations for myself are. Therefore, I have no need to escape the feelings of helplessness and anxiety that come from not knowing what one wants to do with his or her life.

This comes from the fact that I’ve already discovered the thing I can see myself doing the rest of my life: writing. Writing both fact and fiction allows me the escape and the freedom many seek in backpacking, and I’m comfortable to do it wherever I feel at home.

(Where that place is, is still bit of a question mark but I do believe there is a place where I’ll feel comfortable enough to actually stay.)

The Realization

Realizing this, the difference between me and 80% of the people we’ve met on our trip, has helped me get away from those guilty feelings of introverted behavior and the thoughts of am I doing this wrong when I’m not enjoying it?

I get tired of constantly moving around, of constantly meeting new people and getting excited about things that mostly have to do with the freedom of an exotic, foreign country. Part of it can be explained by my personality, my biology, but it’s also about the fact that I don’t get the thrill of backpacking because I already find it somewhere else.

It’s nice to know this. At the same time, it took two months in Southeast Asia to realize it – and I can’t yet say if the trip was worth it. But here I am, aware of what is important to me and what is not.

And that is very liberating.

Vietnam – A Tough Nut To Crack

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Tourist boats taking off in Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

During our two months of travel, I’ve written about many of the places we’ve visited, how I’ve felt and experienced the different cities, attractions and the traveling life in general. But writing about traveling in Vietnam has been tough and I’ve been avoiding writing this text for a couple of days now.

Why? Because I’m not having very warm feelings towards this country.

Two months ago, we started off in Thailand which, after leaving Bangkok, was a surprisingly friendly and gentle introduction to Southeast Asia. After Thailand, we travelled to Malaysia, where I experienced my first culture shock but as we got out from Kuala Lumpur, I had a great time exploring the country.

Vietnam, however, continues to be a struggle even after two and a half weeks. I’ll do my best to explain to you why.

Dread Behind Every Corner

We started in Hanoi which was a traffic hell and where we learned the hard way that in this city, the locals are after the tourist’s money.

(The money itself takes a while to get used to: the value of Vietnamese Dong has drastically reduced because of inflation and you end up with a lot of zeros. 25 000 dong equals one euro or one dollar. So, in Vietnam, you have the chance be a millionaire. Your million, however, isn’t very valuable.)

For instance, in a restaurant, there’s a separate menu for tourists with fixed prices and one for the Vietnamese locals without prices. And here, many of the taxis drive according to a taxi meter but some of the meters tick with hell of a speed – an 8-minute trip ends up costing 250 000 dong, more than 10 times we agreed upon with the taxi driver (yes, we got scammed).

We have learned that this hunger for money is the only reason many of the locals are friendly – they want you to buy something from them. Whether it’s tailored clothes, a trip to Halong Bay or just a photo with a Vietnamese fruit seller – they want your money. Or they try to sell you motorcycle parking, a fan or even a squirrel (or maybe it was a photo with the squirrel) – it’s about the money.

Behind every corner there is someone who wants something from you.

And the things is, when you politely say no thank you, their friendliness disappears. Suddenly, the smile fades away and the friendly words feel fake. We have met only a handful of genuinely nice locals – and that’s sad. This has led to the point where we, subconsciously, are taking distance from the Vietnamese people.

The Language Barrier

Another issue has definitely been the language. There are some in Vietnam that can speak good English but the majority in this country can only the basics of it: hello, thank you, one cold beer, bye bye. But that’s all – and that only gets you so far.

In Thailand and in Malaysia, things were very different. In both countries, it was easier to communicate with the locals and deal with unexpected situations such as problems with transportation or food orders. In Vietnam, however, it is almost impossible.

Because there’s a different price for tourists, and it is mostly higher, we would like to bargain or argument for our own benefit. In this country, it has proved to be difficult. For instance, with the taxi scam, the driver kept on yelling police! but didn’t understand (or listen to) a single word we were saying, therefore making it impossible to deal with the situation.

And, in a restaurant, when we tried to explain that we had the same day in that same place gotten a cold water for the price of 10 000 dong, and the lady was now asking for 12 000, and why aren’t we getting the same price again – she didn’t understand but thought we wanted a cold Coke instead (that would have been 15 000 dong).

This leads to the point where we try to avoid all sorts of communication with the Vietnamese people. We just end up loosing and it doesn’t get us anywhere – or we end up having to say no thank you to all their offers on “great” deals and prices and get the fading smiles and some Vietnamese words said in a sour tone.

How To Trust and Understand If…

The continuous trouble with money and the difficulties with communicating have led to the point where we have the feeling that we cannot trust these people.

This is a generalization, of course: some of the hostels and homestays we’ve stayed at have been wonderful and we’ve gotten very good and genuinely nice service.

But the common man we meet on the street, we cannot trust. For me, it’s very difficult to accept this because for the most part I like to give a chance to everyone. I like to give the benefit of the doubt – but here, I’ve been forced to change my attitude.

Trusting would be easier, if we could understand the locals (after all, feelings related to fear come from not understanding). If we could talk with the Vietnamese people, hear about their opinions and views on their country, about the heavy tourism, their view on their history and future, we would be able to understand these people better, meet them differently.

But we cannot. Issues with money and language aren’t solved overnight. Therefore, we are stuck in our situation, in feelings of discomfort and the need for distance from the locals and their culture. We have one week left before leaving this country and flying to the next and I’m happy for it.

Vietnam is a tough nut to crack – and I don’t know if I want to crack it at all.