My last days flew by and before I knew it I had left Indochina behind me. Already life in Leeds feels back to normal and it is almost as if I never went away.
I spent Saturday preparing for the presentation I was to deliver in the evening as a part of my leaving do. In the end I was not best pleased with the delivery of the presentation and felt that I could have prepared more. I hadn't applied enough genuine thought to how this experience has affected and changed me; in the days since I've done much more self-reflection and got my head around the past nine months as an entire entity- it has felt like such a lifetime that it is difficult to realise how my attitudes and outlooks have changed over the full period.
My friends came out for a meal with me after the presentation and ended up taking me to Apocalypse Now, the nightclub with the notorious reputation. I had somehow avoided it the whole time I was living in Saigon and felt I should experience it before I left. In fact it was nothing like how it had been described to me as being, and I had a really good time.
My last day in Vietnam was so busy that I didn't have time to fully take in the gravity of moving away. At the time I wished I had more time to relax, but in hindsight I was glad that I was able to keep busy as it kept the sad feelings at bay until I sat down to eat a last meal with Jessica in the evening.
In the morning I went to a Zumba class taught by my friend Huyen and later had lunch, sat outside in the sunshine with Huyen and some other friends. Then it was time for more goodbyes. I spent the afternoon desperately trying to fit everything into my two suitcases and handbag, and then angrily trying to close said suitcases and handbags. Huyen dropped by to give me the DVD of the presentation the day before, the filming of which was paid for by Yvonne, a friend who couldn't make it to the presentation itself. I've been told there is a surprise at the end of the film but I've not been able to watch it yet. Another very thoughtful gift came from my close friend Nga, who had a portrait made of me, which she inscribed with a message.
Before I knew it it was time to get my things together, make a last check of the little room that had been my home for nine months, give my parting gifts to Jessica and Thuy and get ready to say goodbye. It was very sad, especially as poor Thuy was heartbroken; I had never seen her upset before. As I stuffed my remaining things into my bag, she came into my room and presented me, red-eyed, with a plain green mug. "I bought this for you when you came, you drink from it every day, now you take it home and use it", she said solemnly. I really didn't have room to take anything else but I felt that it was such a symbolic gesture for her that I had to take the mug, which I put in my handbag.
I said the difficult goodbyes and was loaded into a taxi which took me away. It was silent in the car so I asked the driver to put the radio on on. "Vietnamese?", he asked. "Yes, good", I said. At the airport I lugged my heavy bags to be checked in. My big suitcase was even heavier than it had been when I arrived, but now I could carry it myself.
However, it was so heavy that I was told I had to remove one kilo of weight or else pay a $60 charge. This was the first of much hassle as I later had to remove scissors, a laptop and a tablet from my hand luggage and then sign something in Vietnamese which I hope was about the scissors that has been confiscated from me.
I boarded the plane and felt really sad when I saw Ho Chi Minh City disappear beneath me. I remember the sight of the city lights from when I flew in; I didn't remember how spectacularly colourful the scene was.
From then I travelled to Dubai and arrived in Manchester on a beautiful bank holiday morning, a lovely welcome home.
I am settling back into life in the UK again. I had lots of thoughtful messages from friends in Vietnam as I left the country, which I was very grateful for. It has been the most incredible experience; I think that the impact it has had on me will become more evident as my life goes on.
But although I have left Vietnam and am beginning a new chapter of my life, my project isn't over until my presentation evening in Leeds on September. I will continue to update my blog with work I have been doing towards the project. The challenge for me is not yet over and there is still much to be done. I will miss Indochina and the life I lived there. I have been so lucky to have this experience and I am incredibly grateful to Jessica for everything she has done for me.
|Last night out in Saigon. L-R: Michelle, Hien, Uyen, Nga, me, Huyen|
|Me with the beautiful Nga|
|Almost ready to go|