Hai Duong, Vietnam
I found out that being ‘famous’ isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I guess it’s different if you were born into it or have an actual legitimate claim to fame; you probably get used to it overtime, or at the least have some pretty good disguises. My daughter and I however did not have a legitimate claim, and while the attention at first was very flattering, it soon became tedious. This may sound a little mean spirited especially when everyone is so happy to see you ~ they only want to get to know you better. Everyone was very kind and generous without exception, but, it’s very much like what I imagine being stalked is like: you are always being watched, followed, scrutinized.
What was our claim to fame? Simply being Westerners in the small town of Hai Duong (Hi Zung) in Vietnam. Being a small town just outside of Hanoi with no attractions to speak of and not much to do, Hai Duong doesn’t get many tourists ~ so since we had come to live & work there, we became the Main Attraction for the locals ~ the token Foreign English Teachers. We had freakish celebrity status! Everywhere we went people were constantly calling out “Hello!” to us, watching us, smiling at us, wanting to practice their English with us, wanting our face book ID, following us, wanting us to talk with their kids, hold and kiss their kids, wanting to know where we’re from, wanting to take a picture with us, etc., etc. Like I said before, it’s all very flattering (…at first), the people are very kind and generous but it can be very tiring being on display all the time. When you’re tired, in a bad mood (yes it happens on rare occasions!), or just in a hurry, you still have to stop, smile and be polite since we are upholding the ‘Foreign English Teachers ‘ image and so we never get time off. Another factor to this fame is that very few people over the age of 10 can actually speak English, when they can it is often so broken that it takes extreme concentration to understand what is being said, so most of the time conversation is painfully drawn-out and awkward.
In our first few weeks there we were booked to speak to 8 classes of high school students, each with about 100 students and each class wanted a Q & A session with time for pictures. We were in so many pictures that one day while we were having a meal at our favorite Punja place; the restaurant owner comes over to show us her pictures. I thought we were about to see all her grandchildren etc. but no, she shows us pictures of …us! It was such a shock to see our mugs on a stranger’s laptop!
Among our calendar of events: being presented with big beautiful bouquets of flowers at school functions, (the schools way of getting unwarranted status); being seated at the head table for all school functions, being the featured guests at many dinner parties, and; given an exclusive guest spot in an elaborate school Christmas Event where we were interviewed on stage before an audience of 100’s on “Christmas activities for kids in Canada”.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I do not like being in the spotlight so this whole experience was difficult for me to get used to, and I just listed the headliners, there were countless of other smaller events. I guess a big element to travel is the stretching of your personal boundaries, and that we have done in spades.