Why Write About This?
I write this article to let you in on some of the issues you can have interacting with foreigners whilst you are abroad. You meet an interesting mixture of people when you are traveling, and in spite of their differences, the usually have one thing in common: extreme personalities. Another issue is that there are nearly always cultural differences that can muddle interactions. To make matters worse, many people living abroad are scared, stressed, or thinking that they are beyond the reach of consequences, so they will do extreme and selfish things from time to time.
So how do you tell the good from the bad? It's hard. Only time can tell if the people you meet are good people with a sense of adventure, or troubled people who left home for negative reasons. The following is the story of those kind of issues arising, bad things happening, and the situation being handled on the fly. It was a stressful ordeal, but something that many expats will go through as a sort of rite of passage. So let's get into it...
It wasn’t my fault, I promise
To fully explain this I think it’s necessary to go back in time a ways. The house that I showed off earlier on in this blog (ARTICLE HERE) was not without its drawbacks as it turned out, not the least of which was that it was next to a small, urban chicken farm. Their normal social hours were from 4-7am so I was always getting woken up to the point where I was having actual dreams where I hopped over the wall that separated them from our property with a shot gun and blasted them all away in a puff of feathers. These dreams usually played out like a first person shooter video game such as Halo or Call Of Duty. Anyway, I digress.
Setting The Scene
The real issue with this house is that although its residents had been steadily changing over time, it had historically had issues with the neighbors, which I will share with you in chronological order.
- Supposedly one of the French girls that had lived here before my arrival had woken up in the middle of the night to a stranger standing in her room. Needless to say, it was terrifying, and she screamed, causing the man to flee.
- There was one other instance in the past where a stranger had gotten into the house by sneaking in when the door was unlocked and then hiding in a closet until people were sleeping. However, this time nobody knew until he had already gotten away. I think he stole some things from them.
- An Australian guy whose room I moved into when he moved out had had a bicycle stolen out of our garage. This was impressive because the gate to the courtyard was locked!
- An Irish girl who was my roommate for a brief time had her motorbike stolen out of our courtyard. This time the gate was unlocked though. (oops)
- One of my current roommates (who is Canadian) had the gas line on his motorbike cut and his gas tank drained once.
- He (the Canadian) also tells a curious story in which he bought a set of tools for his motorbike and put them in the garage only to discover that they had also been stolen when he returned 6 hours later. Since then he’s been adamant that our house is being actively watched by somebody nearby.
Personally, I have been pretty oblivious to all of this. I had good relationships with all the neighborhood people that I interacted with. I had shops where I was a regular. The shop owners knew me and have even helped me carry things back from their shops to my house. My only real complaint was the chickens. But I think the consensus was that there was some sort of ill will towards us amongst the neighbors.
One of my roommates (who is Vietnamese) had a job at a bar in the Old Quarter (Hanoi’s party district) and regularly came home in the wee hours of the morning on a motorbike with a missing muffler. I don’t imagine that the neighbors appreciated this too much. This was not the catalyst, but it may have been what put us on thin ice.
I really don’t know how this started (and I wouldn’t write about it if I did) but one night our Vietnamese room mate was very upset. Upset might actually be putting in lightly. This was some sort of melt down.
It was about 4am when I woke up to people yelling outside my window in our courtyard. As I lay in bed I heard others of our housemates grumble as they walked down stairs to help diffuse the conflict. Eventually I got up and went downstairs, but by the time I got down there somebody had had the good sense to move the ordeal somewhere a bit more sound-proof.
This roommate later went and apologized to the neighbors, but they apparently just chewed him out through their windows. A few weeks later we got a call from our rarely seen or heard from landlord. This landlord was an old woman who spoke no English and would show up at our door unannounced every month and a half or so at 7am to pray to the ancestors at the shrine on our roof.
She was calling to tell us that she was giving us the boot. The neighbors had apparently complained about the noise to the police. We had to be out within 10 days. With Tet (the Lunar New Year) just around the corner, this was pretty sudden.
The New House
Within a couple days we had managed to secured a MUCH better living arrangement than the one we were being kicked out of. We were taking over the house from a group of angry South African assholes, but once we finished our dealings with them, the house was great.
Unfortunately, in an act of extraordinary selfishness, one of our housemates backed out the night before we were scheduled to move in. They had an epiphany over their morning coffee apparently and changed their mind. They also apparently didn't feel the need to help us in our search for a replacement, help us financially, help us in anyway at all for that matter, or even apologize. So that was hurtful and random (again, you meet some weird people on the road). But putting my gradual and inevitable loss of my faith in humanity aside, this left us less than 24 hours to find a new roommate to pay their share of the rent.
We pay in 3 month increments so this was going to be a big chunk of change - just a huge and needless financial set-back. So how do you find a new room mate in Vietnam one 24 hour's notice?
The answer is Hanoi Massive.
What is Hanoi Massive? Hanoi Massive makes a decent case for being the most useful piece of social media in existence. It is a Facebook group that is approaching 30,000 members who are the past, present and future population of English speakers in Hanoi. Need a job? Need a place to live? Need to buy/sell/rent a motorbike? Need a date to prom? Have any question at all? "Ask Massive" are the words that so many expats have repeated to me over and over again. This Facebook group has bailed me out so many times, I don't know what I would have done without it.
So at about 2pm the next day I posted in Massive looking for a new roommate. Within the next 4 hours I had been contacted by no less than 6 people. 5 of them came in to visit that night and 1 of them moved in the next day. And all thanks to my mad Facebook posting skills.
...okay, it was probably more due to the pictures of our new, month-old kitten, Shaniqua that I included in the post. The secret to the internet is kittens. A friend of ours saw little Shaniqua in the middle of a huge road about 2 seconds from getting run over in rush hour traffic and dove off his motorbike to rescue her. And he gave her to us. So meet our (second) newest house mate!
All things considered, I think it worked out for the best. I lived with those same room mates in that same house happily until the day I left Vietnam. I miss it sometimes.