The first 24 hours in a new country … again

Cambodia had the last laugh. Would you believe this is the official landing jetty for the riverside immigration office?  Try getting a wheelchair off the boat onto that! We also had harsh words with the ferry company, which failed to pick us up as planned, let the boat go without us and then asked for more money to put us on a different boat.  So we grumped for a bit, and then shook ourselves free of that and decided to enjoy the boat ride, to Chau Doc, Vietnam.

There’s a kind of heightened excitement/anxiety when stuff is no longer familiar. Its amazing how familiar and comfortable we became after just one month in Cambodia. But as soon as we climbed off the boat in Vietnam, it was different. The speech around us sounded harsher, and more tonal. The people were taller, Meena said. It was so clean, Chris observed, as middle class ladies power walked past in white joggers.

The first thing we noticed is that everyone riding a scooter was wearing a helmet. Even the children. And there are some very funky helmets.  There are no tuk tuks, only cyclos. We’ll have to work out how we can fit in one of these. Looks both precarious and  fun.

It took us all of ten minutes to notice English was not spoken here as it was in Cambodia. Maybe there will be more in the big cities.

Consequently we are not sure what we had for lunch.  But it tasted good and five bowls of it was cheap. The coffee, however, blew our minds. It is amazing how vast the spectrum of things called coffee, and how little some of them resemble what we really feel like when we think ‘coffee’. Note: I’m being diplomatic about the coffee.

We were persuaded to follow a man to his daughter’s hotel and negotiated a large room with three double beds for $15 a night. Luxury. That’s only slightly less than half a bed each!  For the first time in SE Asia, they confiscated our passports on check in. We are not too comfortable with this, but we needed to use their fridge to keep medications cold. So we can’t make a fuss.  We also need to park Sparky’s wheelchair in the foyer, which is, of course, also their lounge room.

We went looking for dinner and were hailed by a family sitting outside their restaurant. They had a menu in English, and we had our second fantastic Vietnamese meal. After a demonstration, we managed to eat something called ‘beef dipper’.

There comes a moment in each day when nearly all at once, all children ‘hit the wall’  It happened about 20 minutes before we were quite ready for it. Climbing the hotel stairs, brushing teeth, keeping the baby out of the bathroom, running out of drinking water, losing the wet wipes, and all that stuff happened amidst a furore of shouting and wailing that would do any exhausted family credit.

We wangled the dodgy electrics in the bedroom to get a hot cup of tea.  And we slept on the sticky polyester sheets, with the unguarded, dusty fans clicking sluggishly over our heads.


In the morning, Tintin and Meena had actually started their journals. The very barest of minimums we insist on is the writing of journals, otherwise known as the wringing of blood out of a stone. They hadn’t written much, however, and I basically got cross.  Calling out ultimatums, threats and guilt tripping.  I’m not all horrible, I also do lots of helping, giving ideas, offering key words and sentence starters, I even let Tintin dictate prolifically once he’s had a wack at the pen and paper.

I’m realising I have a very self-centric view of the children’s journal writing, The harder the day I’m having, the more I want them to write, as if their outcome will somehow make my efforts worth it. Hmm, that is interesting. Maybe blogging is teaching me the flaws in my own behaviour.


We went out for breakfast and a wander and didn’t return until 2pm . The markets were fascinating, but raw.
































The pointing and staring was more in our face than ever before. If we interpret things the way we always have, then its true to say that a lot of people were very rude to us. But we’ve decided to leave the jury out a while longer.

After lunch we all wound down in our own way. Baby Boy climbed in and out of shelves.

The other boys played with the small and ever diminishing stash of Lego. Sparky lay under the fan cooling down, and Meena danced about, reading aloud from the Vietnamese newspaper, in a kind of sing song voice.

Its great to be able to read the Vietnames script, wouldn’t it be great if we also understood it?  I have been at the laptop using the wonderful google translate. There are some things we need to be able to say, and they can’t wait for us to get our tounges around the words. Things like ‘ milk but no sugar please’ and ‘two girls and three boys’

We ate again at the same place, after wandering around some stalls with no clue what was for sale, or how.  Or perhaps to feel like something was ever so slightly familiar, just for a few minutes.

Sometimes I tell myself I should live more ‘in the moment’.  Not that I refuse to learn from past mistakes or refuse to plan for the future. (of course, I have my favourite mistakes, and I make then over and over…)  Rather, I think I should take a break from stressing about the uncertainty of that future or guiltily re-hashing the past.


The first 24 hours in a new environment is a great catalyst for living ‘in the moment’; I didn’t even have to try. It’s all new, all senses are firing, all my skills are being called upon,  my assumptions and habits and expectations go out the window, and I start again.

In 24 hrs I’ve seen and heard and tasted and touched and learned what I didn’t know I didn’t know.  Do you know the feeling?


Related posts:

, , , , , ,

9 Responses to The first 24 hours in a new country … again

  1. Ash June 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    Love Tintin’s photo!

  2. Catherine Keall June 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    I love your writing Jill and all the pictures. really need a ‘like’ button for almost every sentence. You paint wonderful verbal pictures and I’m gobsmacked really over your travel with 5 children and a wheelchair!

  3. Bron June 14, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Lovely to hear you are in Vietnam and sounds all pretty typical to how it was when we went. I never gave the passport holding thing a second thought! Oh and vietnamese ice milk coffee is amazing! Hope you love discovering a new country xxx
    Bron recently posted..School. Tests, Humour and Travel.My Profile

  4. Edwin June 14, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Everytime I read your blog I realize more and more how brave you are to be doing this, and how envious I am : )

  5. Lisa Wood June 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Sounds amaznig yet a bit scary at the same time! And i so get what you are saying – we do get too familiar with staying in one place for too long :)
    At least you all got some down time after lunch
    And I think blogging sure is great for self-discovery.
    Lisa Wood recently posted..Cape Hillsborough In The Eyes of A ChildMy Profile

  6. Trudi June 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Loving reading your blog and seeing your pictures, Gill and Chris.

    I don’t know if it will be of any use to you, but I really like an app called iTranslate by Sonico GmbH.

  7. Jennifer Pearce June 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I love how you expressed it as learning what you didn’t know you didn’t know. Experiencing new places and people boils down to learning a lot of those kinds of things for me. :)

  8. Kara June 28, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    When I lived in Bangkok, I travelled to Vietnam three times over the course of my three years there. It was one of my favorite places to travel/visit. Your posts are so insightful as you are experiencing it on such a different level than I did as a single twenty something. I really appreciate your point of view.
    Kara recently posted..Date Nights and Hospital ToursMy Profile


  1. Welcome to Mongolia! | Going Anyway - September 6, 2012

    […] written a bit about our first impressions of countries, like  this post about Vietnam.  I think we’re getting used to this border crossing business! I’ve […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes