MY EXPERIENCE IN HOI AN
Hoi An Now is committed to helping young, aspiring writers. As part of this effort we publish non-commissioned articles submitted independently by young authors. This allows the young person to experience being published. The following article ‘My Experience in Hoi An’ was submitted by 19-year old Anastasia Bolshova who is currently on a gap year before she begins her university studies in England.
My decision to move to Hoi An was quite an impulsive one. I’d spent the last seven years in Portugal, finishing school. After being accepted by a university in England, I decided to take a gap year and take some time off before moving away to study in the U.K., but had nothing planned for how I would spend it. Moving to Hoi An was a downright spontaneous initiative proposed by my boyfriend, whose family had already been residing there for some months. It was an appealing idea, as I had travelled to Asia only once before, and only for a short period. Impatiently, I began to look forward to starting a new chapter of my life in an entirely unfamiliar country, one whose language and customs I possessed no knowledge of. And so, one month later, as we had determinedly planned, we moved, along with all of our belongings, to Hoi An.
Even before exploring the city in depth, I was immediately taken aback by its affordability. It took us no time to find a good standard of accommodation for a very low price. I’ve been in Hoi An for a just over a month now, and I still remember vividly – and will, I expect, for a very long time – the first impression that it made upon me. I was astonished by the gorgeous architecture of this ancient town. It felt surreal to me just how well Hoi An has been preserved throughout the centuries. Photos, which I had excitedly looked up on the internet prior to coming, did not by any means do justice to how beautiful and scenic this town is in real life. The walls of the buildings breathe with history. No matter where you look, something will catch your attention.
Expecting to be surrounded purely by Vietnamese culture – and, admittedly, beyond the few bowls of pho I had had in the handful of (European) Vietnamese restaurants I’d had the occasion to visit, not even knowing what that was, what ‘Vietnamese culture’ consisted in – I was surprised at how culturally diverse Hoi An is. The impact of historical French and Chinese colonization is evident in the mosaic of architectural designs that make up the Old Town, and in the mishmash of ingredients, flavors, and cooking methods that have produced the distinctive strain of Vietnamese cuisine found here. To be completely frank, the moment I learnt about the plethora of coffee houses and restaurants scattered about Hoi An was the moment I really became infatuated with it.
A minor inconvenience I discovered upon our move to Vietnam was my initial dislike of the copiousness of herbs in much of the cuisine. Mint, basil, chives, coriander, chili, betel, cockscomb, perilla… they’re used altogether and abundantly, with many dishes seeming to me to be not so much seasoned with them as half-composed of them. Fortunately, I soon overcame that aversion to greenery – to mint, in particular – and was able to fully enjoy my dining experiences.
However, the main hurdle that I’ve faced while living here has been the disarray and chaos on the roads, something to which I am still becoming accustomed. During the initial days, I was pretty petrified crossing the streets, yet with time I got used to the lawlessness that occasionally occurs on the roads. No matter where you look, I said earlier, something will catch your eye in Hoi An…given the state of the roads here, something’ll catch your eye even – and, indeed, especially – when you aren’t looking, and chances are it’ll be a motorbike.
I fell in love, though, with Hoi An within the first week of arriving. On the way to Vietnam, I felt uneasy about such a drastic change of environment. I was anxious about how well I would integrate into the Vietnamese community, and if I would be welcomed into my new home. Yet once again I was proven wrong. On the second day in Hoi An, we were invited over for dinner by our landlady, who wanted to help acquaint us with our neighbors. Despite the obvious language barrier between us and our hosts and fellow guests, we soon found ourselves singing karaoke and dancing with our host’s family. A couple of weeks soon passed, and I came to the conclusion that the people of Hoi An are some of the most amiable and generous I have ever encountered. Living in Hoi An made me realize that you don’t have to share the same language or traditions to be kind and helpful. People here take pleasure in the little things in life, like spending time with their family or simply having a delicious meal. And this experience has come to teach me a moral lesson – to be content with what is in front of me.
Hoi An is unquestionably a place I can see myself returning to in the future. I adore this town – for its beauty, for its people, and, above all, for its selection of food. Every chance I get to walk around the center, seeing how festive and vibrant it is brings me sincere joy. Regardless of the time of year, regardless of the occasion, the town is permanently decorated with colorful ornaments and glowing lanterns. Walking along the riverbanks beneath the dreamlike glow of the lanterns… it tricks me into believing that I ought to be celebrating something every evening. To experience Hoi An is to experience the very opposite of dullness: you will find yourself constantly exploring, as every street and every corner has its own charm.
Initially, coming to Hoi An, I expected to get very homesick. Six months away from my family and friends seemed daunting at first, but with the friendliness of the locals and the diverse expat community, my concerns and anxiety quickly faded away. I couldn’t have ever foreseen myself getting so easily accustomed to the life around here, yet here I am, and here I have. I can, undoubtedly, say that I feel at home in Hoi An.
By Anastasia Bolshova