So, today I swore at a child, and that’s when I realised I should probably leave Dalat.
And before the holier-than-thou come screaming at me with how could you! and oh you monster!, please know that the gawping child did not hear me and nor did his parents – and if they had, likely would not have known the Vietnamese translation for whatever this frazzled, stressed, monstrously-uncool blonde woman was squawking.
I snapped because the aforementioned child was staring his fricking face off. At me. And I am over being stared it. I am over being a circus monkey, and I am over taking it all in my stride. Sometimes, I lose my cool.
I am tired, I am over it, and I blame Tet.
Two weeks. Or is it three? I don’t know anymore. All I know is that there are still more motorbikes than tarseal, and more Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean bodies in the street than the security section of Hong Kong airport at Chinese New Year.
And that all of them, at some point or another, have stopped to gape. Point, or just, openly blatantly incredulously stare. At me. Me eating, me running, me inhaling oxygen through my nostrils. Me, just being in public.
And I am a little bit fucking over it.
Ok, I’m not unfamiliar with the joy people have in spotting a foreigner. India was much, much worse. Here, pre-Tet, I got the odd glance, the odd sheepish grin. The occasional preschooler shrieking from across the road, HAA-lo! Haa-lo! I can deal with that.
But then came this holiday, and Dalat’s entire dynamics changed. The locals went out, the tourists came in. Times four. I am not lying. One couldn’t walk down the footpath for motorbikes and legs and enormous BMWs parked whichever way they fit, or didn’t fit. One couldn’t stay upright for buses and cars and oh, motorbikes. I was hit twice. Once on a crossing (the female driver calmly zoomed off while I picked myself up) and once while dodging a slew of sunflower seed-chewing Chinese coach passengers.
I didn’t die either time, but I was mightily annoyed.
Okay, it’s a holiday, and people are here, in the flower city, enjoying themselves. Enjoying Tet. As they have every right to.
But they do NOT have to stare.
One of the things in beaten into me as a child by my Ma and Pa (not literally) was, “DON’T POINT.” Another thing was never to watch a kingfisher fly away. Skewed logic, perhaps, but from those things I learned not to stare. You ju don’t. It’s rude.
Nobody told South East Asia these things.
During Tet, I was a walking freak show. I’d go to a restaurant, my usual restaurant, open my mouth to order and – eyes. Faces. Beaming, half-smiling faces, halted mid-chew. Whispering, pointing, nudging one another; the entire restaurant forgetting their chicken soup in order to gawk at the strange white woman.
I’d go the supermarket, my usual supermarket, and place my groceries at the checkout. And – faces. A whole goggle-eyed family ahead of me twisting around, freezing, wide-eyed, wide-mouthed, giggling. Staring.
I’d look up halfway through my coffee to see a table of young women watching me, fascinated. Whispering. Touching their noses and pointing at mine.
I’d pass gnarled, smoking, older-than-my-Dad men grouped together on the footpath. And see them run their eyes from my head to my feet. Elbowing one another, snorting, muttering something-something in Vietnamese.
Excuse me for feeling uncomfortable.
Yes, I’m in a foreign country. Yes, I look foreign and yes, it’s human nature to notice the ugly duckling in a sea of swans.
But they do not have to stare. They do not have to laugh. They do not have to ask their children to squeal English at me. And they do not have to take a photo when I pass them in the street.
Maybe I’ve got this all horribly wrong. If so, then – please, I urge you, come and experience it for yourself. Show me how I should feel about it. I welcome you.
You’ll have to wait til next year though. Tet, thank Christ, is over.
And I’m off.