There’s Truth in Skyping

Wednesday morning, post-jog Skype sesh: sitting in my robe, cup of coffee, laptop in my lap, feeling all warm and good after a shower and a bowl of pho.

Routines are one of my favorite things (because I’m officially old and boring). Watching the routines emerge in my new life here in Hanoi has been a sweet, kinda precious thing. And one of my favorites are Wednesday mornings. It’s my only weekday morning off right now, so I force myself to make the most of it: wake up at 6am to go jogging before the worst of the heat presses down. It doesn’t really help much; after ten minutes I’m a fucking slip-and-slide of sweat and after twenty minutes I’m woozy from the heat. It’s really more of an excuse to get up early—cause as it turns out, dawn is one of my favorite times in Asia and who really says, “I’m getting up early to go strolling”? Well, most of SE Asia, judging from how many people are out and about, stretching their limbs and buying vegetables and sitting on little plastic stools drinking tea. But not me—I’m the giant, red-faced tattooed girl ducking from all the low-hanging tree branches, curly fro flopping in the breeze. (Majestic, really.)

Anyway, I do that for twenty minutes and after I’m sweaty and disgraced enough, I go down the block and get a bowl of pho, stroll over to the market and buy some fruit, stop for a coffee, come home, shower, BLAH BLAH BLAH and I’m on the computer and (in theory) ready to write by 8am. Killer.

Except 8am here is 6pm on the West Coast, 9pm on the East, and a reeeeeally good time to catch up with friends. So I end up chitty-chatting for a couple hours, that Word document slowly getting buried behind Skype and IM and FB windows. Like most writers, I feel a sense of urgent, impending failure unless I’m writing 2000 words a day, but I try to reassure myself that maintaining connections with folks back home is important. Because I love my friends, but also because they know, really know me, in a way I often don’t know myself. (And besides, I enjoy the fuck out of a witty IM.)

So this morning I’m Skyping with a friend in Oakland. She’s telling me about this nightclub debacle and I’m telling her about my wading-through-sewage debacle and we’re laughing and shit. And then she goes, “You sound so much happier!”

Okay, so this is like fourth time I’ve heard this from someone. Granted, they’re not here in person and all they’ve had to go on for the past 10 months has been my voice, maybe a grainy little video box that freezes a lot and makes my skin look yellow. But still, I think there’s something to that. You know how they say when one sense is shut down, the others become heightened? Like blind people are supposed to have mad good hearing? I don’t know if this is true but I like the sound of it and it goes along with my theory, so let’s assume. Cause it would then follow that if your only contact with someone is through their voice, you’d get pretty good at reading and gaging it.

So I tell her, “Yeah, you’re like the fourth person who’s told me that.”

And she goes, “Well do you feel happier?”

I answer without missing a beat: “Totally.”

Now, the transition to Hanoi has been turbulent. I don’t find Hanoi a particularly accommodating city, and I had to hit the ground running. I’ve had more demoralizing breakdowns in my move to Hanoi than I did in Phnom Penh, and the air is worse and the traffic is mental and I think it might actually be hotter here.

But it’s true, I’m happier. I’m happier in this hard-to-name, only-vaguely-aware-of way, in the same way hard-to-name, only-vaguely-aware-of way I was UNhappy in Phnom Penh.

I’ve been trying not to talk about it too much. One, because you don’t really wanna sound like a smug bastard and two, because I don’t know how to explain it. Why am I happier here? Life is easier in Phnom Penh in a lot of ways—it’s a smaller city, it’s less polluted, there’s more access to foreign products, food is less expensive, people are damn friendly, there’s tuk-tuks, etcetcetc. People here have asked me, you know, what was Phnom Penh like, why did I go there, why did I leave, and I usually just shrug and say, “Hanoi’s a better fit for me.”

So I keep chatting with my friend, then I pop on FB and holy shit, Angelo’s online. So we start IMing, about curly fries and an on-the-job fender bender and some ridiculous Champagne Party an eccentric millionaire gives, when holy shit, ANOTHER friend pops up. (Cause I am so damn popular. In online life.)

It’s this dude I knew in Cambodia. He left before I did, in March, and we haven’t talked since then. So I’m bouncing between windows—curly fries, Cambodia, curly fries, Cambodia—when Dude goes: “I’ve been reading your blog.” Like. “It’s funny.” Like. “And negative.”

Wait, what?


“It’s all about how hard everything is and how bummed you’ve been.”


I’ve been trying to walk this line between being honest and being a total fucking Negative Nancy. Cause right now, to be honest, I’m pretty down on Cambodia. But I’ve been trying to keep my mouth shut about it, cause I know it’ll pass and that really, that’s not how I actually feel. It’s just that it’s really fresh; it’s like I was dating someone and I got burned.

Cause I didn’t hate Cambodia. It wasn’t some shithole with no redeeming qualities that I was absolutely miserable in. There were things I loved about Cambodia, loved in that full-body, heart’s-gonna-leap-outta-your-chest way that you can’t quite explain. I friggin moved there, from across the planet.

But things didn’t go well for me there. I went with big dreams and they totally fell through. I had to work my ass off at staying emotionally balanced and healthy, and as dramatic as it sounds, I feel like I narrowly escaped with my sanity. I loved Cambodia and it broke my fucking heart. That’s not Cambodia’s fault and it’s not mine. But it’s easier to be negative about it, to keep a mental inventory of everything that’s more developed and better here—and there’s a lot—because I’m still too close to it to look at the full picture. It doesn’t yet feel safe to delve into the complexities of why Cambodia didn’t work for me or what exactly happened to me there. Maybe it won’t ever be safe—that’s another thing I learned in my time there: that some things aren’t safe in delve into. Why did this thing or that thing happen? In a way it doesn’t matter. I’m not a psychologist; I’m not a historian; I’m not a policy maker. What would the knowledge of why do for me? “If you understand, things are as they are. If you don’t understand, things are as they are.”

I’ve been thinking all this, secretly. But not-so-secretly, it would seem. Totally fucking obviously, perhaps.

So, what I’ve learned from this morning’s Skype/FB/IM marathon: I’m happier in Hanoi; I’m down on Cambodia.

Not exactly late-breaking news. But the truth.

42 Responses to “There’s Truth in Skyping”

  1. 1 bani.amor July 19, 2012 at 1:04 am

    I like this, it’s really honest. I definitely have those places in mind that have burned me in the past, and I would be totally angry about it, but you grow up and realize it’s no one’s fault. It just is, for now.

  2. 2 anonymous coward July 19, 2012 at 8:11 am

    “that some things aren’t safe in delve into.”

    too true, too true.

  3. 3 Lynn vdV (@othermuse) July 23, 2012 at 2:55 am

    We simply mesh with some places more than with others, I think; it\’s a combination of factors (personal, physical, temporal, circumstantial) that make one place feel like home and another not. I loved PP when I was there and was not enamoured of Hanoi, but were I to return to both tomorrow, who knows?
    I have the same feelings for former Yugoslavia; I spent a disenchanting two weeks in Dubrovnik and Belgrade in the winter of 1976, and the mere mention of those two places still casts shadows. I went there with an open heart and left feeling weighted down with the unpleasantness I had experienced. My soul burst into song when we finally crossed the border into Greece.

  4. 4 sambapati July 30, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Enjoying your blog which I stumbled into from Matador which I infrequently check but like very much..all in anticipation for my first trip to PP.. I like the observation powers similiar to Paul Theroux with an honest and humorous angle…i will be in PP for 6 days staying near the river so I can jog in morning..but with absolutely no other plans…will it take one day at a time and soak it in.. if you have any tips for a Bohemian visit, I’d appreciate it.. I’m a Chinese-American male or American Chinese the way they like to call me in Asia who left his heart in SF back in 1995… Thanks and keep up the good work (Hanoi is a bit austere isn’t it compared to HCM?) Cheers!

  5. 5 Sure Am August 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I had an experience with Seoul like you had with Phnom Penh. I’ve bitched a lot about Korea in my blog, but really it’s not Korea’s fault, just like you said it’s not Cambodia’s fault in your case. It’s just that I was having a hard year while I was there. Now, incidentally, I live in Phnom Penh, so it’s interesting to read your perspective.

  6. 9 Mikalee Byerman August 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    I love your style — honest and raw and real. Your writing voice is so clear, I feel like I’m just sitting across the table from you, chatting about your life and experiences … even though I don’t know you!

    And yes, even though I don’t know you, I wish you continued happiness in Hanoi. Some places just resonate — with our style, our vibe, our soul. It sounds like you may have found some serious resonance!


  7. 10 afterthekidsleave August 7, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Really interesting post and as an expat (LA, HK, UK) myself, I totally identify with your observations!
    I remember running in Hanoi 4 years ago and feeling like I was inside a tumble dryer full of soaking wet towels.
    Thank you for sharing,

  8. 11 loubr78 August 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    thank you for your really nice article 😉

  9. 12 dlaiden August 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    You write as you feel, is all that matters. It might seem depressed and melancholy to some, but sometimes life gives you lemonade, and sometimes it gives you sh*t. Personally, I like truthful, raw, human blogs like this. I’ve always wondered what life’s like as an expat; been thinking of moving to China in a couple of years to be honest.

  10. 13 Loni Found Herself August 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    The need to find a balance between being braggy-happy and, as you said, a Negative Nancy definitely resonates with me. I’ve discovered that, with some people (friends included), it’s like you’re never allowed to express feelings of sadness, or anger, or shock, or grief, or whathaveyou. They’re the types who will always say that you need to “look on the brightside,” and “make do with what you have.”

    My self-work right now is to just be honest and get on with it. If I’m feeling less than happy, well, I’m allowed to. If I’m bouncing-off-the-walls happy I have to let that ride, too.

    I appreciate your honesty. Cambodia broke your heart and that’s okay. Being negative about it is okay. And feeling like Hanoi is a better fit, yet not quite knowing why, is fine, too.

  11. 14 reluctantmediumatlarge August 7, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    I’ve been travelling on my own most of my adult life. It was more difficult when I was a young woman, but things began to smooth out in my middle years. I’m a writer too, but have done mostly reporting (just released my first book). There’s nearly always a English paper nearby. Working on deadline is a great way to get into the habit of writing everyday. Good luck!

  12. 15 pavel triska August 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Very good article. Everybody use skype, but…

  13. 16 Andreas Moser August 8, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Was this blog paid for by Skype?

  14. 18 jessicajhill August 8, 2012 at 12:11 am

    This is a hilarious, honest, wonderfully written post! I spent a week in Hanoi and really enjoyed it. I had heard very contradictory reviews of the city before I went, and I think it’s true – you either love it or you hate it. I’m glad you love it!

  15. 19 lifesincelove August 8, 2012 at 12:16 am

    first of all. im so glad u got fresh pressed cause this post is fantastic. i often hold grudges against cities that have shattered my dreams or even my heart. i feel it makes finding the the place where you should be that much more thrilling tho.

  16. 20 Trying to Feed My Soul August 8, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Routines are great for the record. Doesn’t make ya old and boring. You’re allowed be down on a bad experience. Focus on learning the lessons and moving on. Life’s too short to look down into the valley when you’re on top of the mountain

  17. 21 Samantha August 8, 2012 at 12:20 am

    It’s so true, even when it comes to people, that it’s easier to just hate on it rather than delve into why something happened, because it hurts to go there with yourself, to explore your own weaknesses and things that just happened and there was nothing you could do about it. I think you’re a very good writer, I laughed and resonated with this post. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  18. 22 mandyf August 8, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Reblogged this on Views From The Bullpen and commented:
    Wednesday morning, post-jog Skype sesh: sitting in my robe, cup of coffee, laptop in my lap, feeling all warm and good after a shower and a bowl of pho.

    Routines are one of my favorite things (because I’m officially old and boring). Watching the routines emerge in my new life here in Hanoi has been a sweet, kinda precious thing. And one of my favorites are Wednesday mornings. It’s my only weekday morning off right now, so I force myself to make the most of it: wake up at 6am to go jogging before the worst of the heat presses down. It doesn’t really help much; after ten minutes I’m a fucking slip-and-slide of sweat and after twenty minutes I’m woozy from the heat. It’s really more of an excuse to get up early—cause as it turns out, dawn is one of my favorite times in Asia and who really says, “I’m getting up early to go strolling”?

  19. 23 Claire 'Word by Word' August 8, 2012 at 2:08 am

    Awesome post, wow Hanoi must have changed since I was there, it was all bicycles and ‘ding a ling’, not like the pollution of Saigon, but I remember all the early morning fitness freaks, badminton, Tai Chi, joggers, if I hadn’t caught an early morning train I wouldn’t have known.

    I also remember not wanting to leave, there was something about that city that made me want to stay there, I recognise it in you too. Bonne continuation.

  20. 24 midnitechef August 8, 2012 at 2:22 am

    Be who you are and love what you are doing. It won’t matter where you’re doing it 🙂

  21. 25 juliannayu August 8, 2012 at 3:00 am

    I admire your honesty. Great post! Congratulations on Freshly Pressed!

  22. 26 hangryhippo August 8, 2012 at 3:07 am

    it’s so wonderful that you’re traveling now and finding joy in that. relish it! and i know exactly what you mean about hearing emotion in someone’s voice…my last move made me infinitely happier (before moving back home, where i’m not so happy) and everyone who talked to me on the phone said “you sound wonderful” and i felt it too.

  23. 27 cmsaunders August 8, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Great post! You speak a lot of truth. Travel broadens the mind… Who knows? Maybe one day we will bump into each other somewhere in Asia! Take care.

  24. 28 Sarah August 8, 2012 at 4:36 am

    Terrific post, and interesting to see in the comments how many people have had similar experiences. I spent two years in Budapest and they were among the most difficult of my adult life. I went in with hopeful expectations and an open heart and instead was horribly lonely and felt like I got smacked in the face at every turn — not true, of course, but it felt that way. I was shocked one day when a friend said, “You really hate this place, don’t you?” I didn’t hate it at all, but also didn’t realize that my unhappiness showed. Nothing dramatic happened, I loved many things and met some wonderful people, and still miss the beauty of of strolling around that city. It’s just that a lot of factors converged in an unexpected way to make me miserable, to the point that it took close to a year after I left that I could talk about it without crying.

    Anyway, thanks for the honest post. It sounds as if you’re doing some very interesting things — and yes, those contacts with friends at home are important, so don’t skimp on the Skype! Congratulations on being FP.

  25. 29 Mechasketch August 8, 2012 at 5:32 am

    Haha, I’m an expat of sorts also and I was just thinking about how hard it must have been to be one when technology didn’t exist especially since I’m really not big on technology in the first place. Great article!

  26. 30 iRuniBreathe August 8, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Definitely love that feeling of being happier without really noticing and then having other notice and feeling happy about it. I smile reading your post. Sometimes it takes us the long way around to get to a good place, but I’m glad you have found something that suits you better and you are okay with that.
    Skype to make you happy.

  27. 31 girlinisaan August 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Great article and I know what you mean about the balance between being smug and happy and a Negative Nancy. When you are living abroad life can vary between feeling like a permanent holiday and the gritty reality of living and settling somewhere where at times everything is difficult. I find when I write some of the ‘gritty reality’ it can sound negative but I’m just pointing out how things can be different to that holiday feeling sometimes.
    And re. places being right or wrong – there are so many factors – the place itself, the age/stage in your life you go there and random events out of your control. There can be no right or wrong – just where you feel like you fit or don’t fit at that particular time.

  28. 32 ssrijana August 8, 2012 at 10:51 am

    great post Skype 😀

  29. 33 markwebermusic August 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    My friends moved from Buffalo, NY to Nairobi, Kenya recently– hopefully I can Skype with them sometime. I’ve used Skype a few times before from NYC to Buffalo and it was ok. One thing I know for sure is I like being “home.” I don’t know if I could go and live abroad.

  30. 34 followechoes August 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this. Great post and read 😀

  31. 35 MrRommie August 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    I think that when people leave home for the first time to live abroad they tend to think that “home” will simply move with them. Even on a sub-conscious level, we expect that wherever we go, things will be pretty much the same as we know them. But those are obviously not. Learning from that experience makes any next move easier. Or acceptance of it makes the first one more bearable.
    Great style, like it a lot.

  32. 36 home, garden, life August 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Why torture yourself…live in Hawaii!

  33. 37 Luna August 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Know how you feel, moved to ecuador and life cant be better… Heres our story if interested.

  34. 38 littlecitybot August 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    brilliant read. can i just tell you how infinitely jealous i am that you walk down the street to get pho in the morning? pho is quickly becoming my all time absolute hands down favourite. ever. so yes..jealous!

    this is really honest writing and i admire your ability to be so open! nice work here, keep it up! 🙂 x

  35. 39 adeepanalysisofwhatiswrongwithme August 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Love this, love skype. My blog is about 23 years of failed romance, although some of it is funny, living in a different country I would have really struggled without being able to speak to my friends back home via Skype. It brings the world closer together!

  36. 40 candelacouture August 9, 2012 at 9:55 am

    i wouldnt be able to live without skype! Do you mind checking out my blog, its new and i would love to see what you think!
    great posts btw!

  37. 41 Ebriel August 17, 2012 at 12:33 am

    “I loved Cambodia and it broke my fucking heart.”

    Yep. That sums up the couple of years I lived in and around and was obsessed with Cambodia. Chronically sick, sad, euphoric there. Went back last year for a visa run and felt just the same way.

    Great post.

  38. 42 Katy August 20, 2012 at 12:48 am

    It was good to read this. Felt the same when I was in Shanghai and I’m staying with a friend who’s feeling the same about New York of all places, but when you’re supposed to be having the time of your life it can be hard to admit it’s not great, or even be heard actually, because people assume you should be having a brilliant adventure. They seem to forget that most great adventures have their ropey parts!

    Knowing you went through that, but don’t count it a waste or failure is really valuable to anyone currently struggling, so don’t worry about it 🙂 Kx

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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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