A strange winter in central Vietnam


Wet? Dry? What’s going on with the weather?

This time last year, Hoi An, like most of the country, was recovering from flooding, flash storms and short-lived mini-typhoons. While there’s been some of that this year and who knows what between now and Tet, I still get the impression it’s been a very dry year – too dry.

Thank heavens I don’t have a green thumb or a passion for farming; I’d go mad. Although water is not that much of a problem as the flows from the mountains are still fairly consistent, the dams are pretty low. And who knows how that will play out in 2019.

Now…I wrote those first paragraphs before the big rains hit us. So the big Dry is now the big Wet… record flooding in Da Nang; and Hoi An is wondering if it should move everything upstairs and buy a month’s supply of munchies or dare the rain to cross the front door with an evil grin.

I’m more comfortable with big rainstorms than this persistent, gloomy overcast schmooze dangling over my head in the past few weeks. Besides, I do like jumping in warm water puddles! Bring it on! I need some impressive selfies of me wading through knee-deep water to impress the rellies back home.

It’s hard on the dog too. He stares at me with sad eyes hoping that I can do a sunshine dance so he can play more often in the garden. He loves his mid-day walks to the shops but seems disappointed that the spotty, intermittent rainfalls have somehow washed away all the smell trails that he likes to explore. Fortunately, he’s fat enough that the slight chilly weather doesn’t bother him too much.

But it plays hell with my laundry! Waiting four days for a T-shirt to dry infuriates me no end. How can I be a middle-aged fashionista if I lack dry imported super fabulous T-shirts? I’m a creature of routine; I like my little world to be organized and predictable, even though predictability isn’t something that’s taught in Vietnam! Still, my housekeeper is more optimistic than I and always hangs the blankets out in the courtyard believing they’ll be dry by lunchtime, even if the black and grey clouds are pointing out the obvious.

It’s interesting to see the Vietnamese flood the breakfast street food stalls yet stay at home if there’s the slightest hint of a cold breeze. For me, winter means more home food at night-time as restaurants enter that weird time of open, close, open and take your pick. What makes it more irritating for me is the lack of dependable cafés that offer decent winter comfort foods like soups, stews and properly cooked pasta. I hate cooking at home after years of working in commercial kitchens and restaurants when I was a young man. Call me spoilt but isn’t that what an old, jaded, vile expat should be?

About this time of year, I try to upgrade my raincoat for the motorbike. I usually wear the full raincoat that doesn’t open at the sides although I often have to stand up while waiting at the traffic lights to allow the accumulated lake between the knees of the raincoat drain away without flooding my shoes.

At the moment I wear a stylish women’s floral raincoat which attracts sniggers and giggles from the expat girls at my morning coffee shop. I’m looking for something more dazzling. But why, oh why, does everyone sell black raincoats that make you invisible in the evening drizzle? Is it some kind of mass insanity? Even if it was covered in bright, yellow Pokémon characters, I’d still wear it at night.

I think you truly know you’re in winter when your floor tiles feel like ice and the insects have booked with Vietjet to fly south. Although huddling together with your loved ones for warmth while channel surfing for old HBO movies is fun, the shrinking of your social circle as friends and mates are more reluctant than usual to meet up for a beer can be a real drag. However the down-time from chilling out at the warm beach and partying until the streets are empty can do your head and stomach the world of good. And admit it – you do need some time-out from being the center of attraction…

Moreover, staying at home in winter needn’t be a boring experience. It’s an opportunity to catch up on all those household renovation chores you promised you’d do since 2009. Re-painting the kitchen and catching that rat lurking somewhere under the fridge are useful projects as is kicking out that annoying housemate who steals your food and never cleans the dishes. Other promising ideas might include brewing your own home-grown rice whisky – don’t drink it yourself – and giving it to the neighbor who sings karaoke with a home system that’s louder than street celebrations after Vietnam wins any sort of football game.

Ah…winter. I’m so over it. Bring me back everything that’s famous about Vietnam – great summer sunshine, relaxing polluted beaches, café parking dramas on a warm summer night and taxi drivers who refuse to take you half a mile down the road.

I can’t wait!


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