Packing up my life and moving to a new country sounded exciting and romantic at first. I mean, what could possibly be better than leaving it all behind for new adventures and friendships?
It’s been two months since I left Chiang Mai for Vientiane, and three months now since I left Australia for the unknown that is expat living. There are too many words to describe the vast range of emotions I’ve experienced since starting this new, charmed life – anticipation, nervousness, rage, frustration, apathy, terror, joy. Each day brings something different and I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt such a rollercoaster of feelings in a single week.
To summarise succintly, it’s fair to say that my experiences so far can be categorised into ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’:
Eating and drinking – I was hoping to lose weight during my stay in Vientiane, but no such luck. The wide range of food and cuisines available is jaw-dropping and waist-expanding. From local Lao cuisine, to French, Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Indian… the list goes on. Prices range from anywhere to USD$1 to over USD$10 so it’s easy to get carried away and have five meals a day. Also the coffee here is magnificent – my go to for a daily pick-me-up is Naked Espresso and I’m not the only one who thinks it’s the bees-knees; they now have three cafes in Vientiane! (below L-R: traditional sticky rice made in bamboo tubes; a delectable coffee from Naked Espresso complete with latte art)
Attitude to life – ‘bopenyang!’ is equivalent to ‘hakuna matata’ and literally means ‘no worries’. If Laos rebranded themselves, ‘bopenyang’ would be their slogan. The people here take a very relaxed approach to everything which can be wonderful and infuriating at the same time. My favourite anecdote (so far) of ‘bopenyang’ is when my workmate told me I could either come to work a bit later, or go home a bit earlier if I was feeling a bit tired. I smiled nervously and muttered, ‘Thanks, but that’s a bit unprofessional’ to which he replied, ‘But your health is so much more important than work!’. Bopenyang.
The familiarity – even though I’m in a new country, I have moments where I think ‘oh, that feels a bit like home’. And by home I don’t mean Australia, I mean home like that place in your soul that captures memories and experiences in your life that you often draw upon to create a sense of peace. Growing up Asian in a Western society, there are certain things you learn and experience that other Aussie kids don’t and seeing those things here makes me feel a bit more comfortable in my surroundings.
The humidity – being a Pilbara Princess means I’m used to the heat, but I’m talking about the dry heat that burns your skin and turns your car into a death box. Humidity is whole other level that I am not, and will probably never get used to. I don’t think I’ve ever complained so much in my entire life about being hot, and that says a lot when I’ve experienced 45 degree plus summers each year.
The pollution – yeah ok, I know, Southeast Asia is generally a polluted country so I shouldn’t be surprised. But when I have to ride my bike to work everyday and out and about on weekends breathing in that crap? Yeah, it gets on my nerves. Wearing a mask is an option – if I want to asphyxiate on my way to work. It’s something you get used to and you develop special breathing techniques and learn not to ride behind big trucks or tuk-tuks.
Lack of shopping opportunities – ok, this should technically be a positive but when retail therapy is the only therapy that works, you can understand why this can drive me a wee bit insane. Yes, there are malls in Vientiane but the products are either incredibly overpriced or not really up my style alley. The worst part? I can’t even get online shopping delivered here. Yes, feel my pain and never complain again about how you can’t get certain US brands delivered to Australia.
The flailing Australian currency – ’nuff said. I think anyone who is living or travelling overseas is cursing the drop in the Aussie dollar. And when your local bank converts your currency to US dollars, it hits even harder. Boo you, economic downturn.
Homesickness – something I didn’t think would affect me so much. I mean sure I’ve missed people when I’ve been on holidays, and also missed the red dirt and flat landscapes of Port Hedland but living overseas is a different story. Don’t get me wrong – I have a great bunch of friends here who are wonderful but it’s not the same as having your family and friends from home around. It’s even harder when you know there are big milestones at home you’re missing out on and you see pictures of everyone celebrating and having fun… without you. However, it’s not all doom and gloom as I’ve found celebrating little milestones here with gusto, such as birthdays, makes up for missing out on all the things at home as your new group of friends become your family.