Monday, 13 August 2012

Dear Charlie - 22 months

Dear Charlie

You turned 22 months old on the 2nd of August. It's been six months since I've written you a letter. Sorry little one.

We've had some huge changes over the last six months Charlie. Lily started school and you desperately wanted to join her. Then we tried a childcare for you - just three hours in the morning - and you really hated it and we bailed. But I still had to finish writing my PhD and so you spent more time with Papa and your Grandparents while I hid away in my funny cupboard study and eventually took myself off to the State library for a full week of full-time writing. Unlike childcare, you handled that really well. Although you did make up for the lost breastfeeeding time at night and I'm still suffering for that.

Finally, we packed up and moved from Melbourne (where we'd been for less than 9 months) to Hanoi. You've handled this transition well too. Although you have asked to go home on the plane a number of times. I'm hoping that when we move into our new house and get all our stuff it will be even easier.

In the last six months you've grown up so much. Your language is incredible. There is little that you cannot say now. You express yourself clearly and recite your favourite books from start to finish. You still mispronounce a few words, but I have to admit that these are my favourites. You say 'entient' for elephant, 'boon' for spoon, and 'gayfu' for thank you. You say 'gayfu' a lot too, as you have learned the value of being charming.

You remain a friendly, gregarious little soul. This is lucky because people treat you a bit like a rock star here in Hanoi. Your little head of blonde curls is a bit of a novelty, I guess. People gather around to touch your head and to seek cuddles from you. Sometimes you do give them a cuddle, but mostly you just smile and say "xin chao." I am looking forward to the day when you can speak more Vietnamese. I'm guessing you'll be better than me shortly.

You are quite a kooky, strong-minded person. You like to dress yourself and have very particular ideas about what you want to wear. You love to wear your backpack and pack it with things for "work." You also love beads (necklaces & bracelets), hair clips and head bands - much to the distress of people with very fixed idea of appropriate gender roles.

Another non-comformist preference of yours has been an enthusiastic interest in meat (we are a vegetarian family). Lately you have taken to crying at night, "I want meat!" (And I mean crying, with tears and all.) You have also insisted on trying a few different types of meat at the hotel breakfast buffet. You rejected ham as "yucky," but enjoyed both bacon and a chicken nugget. Earlier I would have found this really challenging, but for some reason I just find it amusing. I guess I'm mellowing... The real test will come when I have to decide whether to cook it for you. At least I know where to buy organic meat here, if it does come to that.

I'm looking forward to the next six months, little one. I hope to write you a few more letters between now and then.


Early days in Hanoi

We've been in Hanoi for three and a half weeks and it's starting to feel like we are finding our feet in this city. We've found a house, although we are still in a hotel for another week as we wait for our things to arrive by boat. Lily is enrolled in school and starts this Wednesday. She's made several friends, all of whom will be at the same school with her. We've also found a nanny for Charlie and she's great. So all up things are going well.

Living in a hotel for so long has been odd. There are upsides to it. Many of the guests here are longterm residents and there is a real sense of community. It is also well set-up for families with kids. There are two playrooms, a large outdoor playground, a kid-friendly pool, and more high chairs than tables at breakfast. The kids have been enjoying the ready-access to playmates, the playroom, the pool and the seriously-friendly staff. Nonetheless it has been a bit crazy-making being coped up in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. The heat and the regular downpours have made getting out and about less than appealing at times.

Jetlag has exacerbated Charlie's tendency to wake up at the crack of dawn, but at least this is totally normal over here. The footpath outside by the lake is packed with people exercising - walking, running, riding, or doing callisthenics and tai chi. They also swim or row in the lake. Peak hour at breakfast is from 6-7:00am and the shuttles to work leave before 7:30am. As a morning person, this all appeals to me. It's nice to have company when I'm at my best. It must be tough for night owls.

We've ventured into town a few times - down in the main tourist area and into parts of the old quarter. But the bustle and the heat make it hard for the kids and so real exploration hasn't been possible. I'm looking forward to having the chance to get stuck into that on my own. In the meantime we have explored more of our immediate surroundings in the relatively suburban Tay Ho (Westlake). This is an area just north of the centre of town where many expats live (amongst many Vietnamese too). There are more trees and less traffic, and more shops geared towards our indulgences (mini-marts with treasures like tahini and Vegemite, pricier furniture shops, boutiques with 'Western-sized' clothing and the like). On Saturday mornings there is even a Farmers' Market stocking organic veggies and ethically-raised meat. Sometimes I feel bad for living in such a strange bubble, but then I register the culture-shock that Lily is already experiencing with the lack of footpaths, the language-barrier and the dust, and I think that we have made the right choice.


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