MS. LONELY: TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS OF A HOI AN EXPAT
Please be nice to me, I have no friends.
If the look I am going for is lonely and nervous, I’m nailing it. I am sitting in a café on my third coffee in a row, doing my best impression of a nonchalant, seasoned local. Deliberately facing the entrance, I look up and flash a dazzling smile at everyone who comes in, pretending to casually look up from my ‘work’. One of them will love to be friends with me. Surely?
I had been in Dingo Deli for approximately two hours, and it was my second day in Hoi An. Craftily, I brought my laptop as a prop to make me look occupied. Truth is, I had nothing much to do except scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. I think everyone on Facebook had decided to post about what an unbelievably amazing time they were having with their millions of friends that day.
Two days into ‘life as an expat’, I am out of my depth. I am a very social person, and having no plans to meet anyone for the day, or any days after, is completely alien to me. I quite simply am alone in a new town, and honestly doubting whether I have made the right decision to move here. What am I supposed to do? I literally have no one here. Take me back to Sydney now, please. A day felt like it lasted a week.
At 2.30pm I looked at my watch, only to then panic again about what I was going to do for the rest of the day. Bed at 8 pm was looking a likely possibility.With the risk of a caffeine overdose growing more and more likely, I knew I had to leave my coffee shop haven. Out I ventured, into the big city lights (OK, beautiful twinkling lanterns) of Hoi An.
I went on a mission to find a bicycle and was decidedly chuffed with myself in finding one in the first homestay I asked. The owner was a miniature, middle-aged lady with a huge smile and a big love for her two ginger kittens. She gave me one to cuddle! I honestly would have paid anything she asked for the bike. I was in a smitten kitten-loving daze, and completely unknowledgeable about the price of hiring a bike. She told me to pay when I brought it back, which was refreshing. Coming from Sydney, where you need to leave your firstborn as a security deposit for that kind of thing, I paid just 20,000vnd on return, about $1.15 Aussie dollars.
The first task accomplished, now what the hell would I do for the rest of the day?
Building up the courage to talk to someone then chickening out each time, I circled the chaotic, noisy Central Hoi An markets for what felt like ages. Seeking out the friendliest looking market holder, or at least one who wasn’t just shouting at me to come over to their stall, I eventually scored 5 eggs for 25.000 dong. Later that day I was told that I should have only paid 15.000. What a rookie.
Exhausted from all my activities, I called it a day and went back to my place to recover/wallow in my own company for the rest of the evening.
In the days following, I continued to surprise myself with the lengths I went to, to muster up some friends. A low point was spending over two hours in a bar trying to act interested in the tennis on the TV in the hope of striking up a conversation. Nothing screams ‘lonely and desperate’ more than a person hanging out in a bar by themselves. Eventually, I reached out to a girl in a similar position on the expats’ Facebook page and blatantly asked her to be my friend, as she seemed to be in a similar situation to me.
But alongside being a little pathetic, I found a new pride in myself. I put myself out there. It felt odd to just write to someone and ask them if they wanted to hang out, but I did it and lost nothing. In fact, it worked. I made a friend.
It was then that a miracle happened. Finally, I had something to put in my lonely social calendar! A local beach bar was hosting an event, and my only friend in the world invited me to come along. There was hope on the horizon, I may meet people! Relief washed over me as I was introduced to others who had made the move to Hoi An. Some had been here months, some years–but suddenly I could see a glimpse into a possible future for myself. With views of the ocean and a few beers and a banh mi under my belt, I felt worlds away from the lonely coffee shop dweller I was only days ago. Plans to go out at the weekend were made, Facebook friend requests sent and received. It was official, I had a social life again!
So, it has now been a full week into my life here in Hoi An. A couple of coffee dates and a big night out later, and I can proudly announce,
I HAVE FRIENDS!