Happyish - Diane Lee

Happier New Year

This is new. Well, new as in I haven’t felt this happy and hopeful for a long time. From memory, the middle of 2018 was the last time. In 2018, I was living in Hanoi and my rose coloured glasses were still camouflaging the realities of living in a developing Asian country. I had not gone up against the Vietnamese Immigration industry. Yes, you read that correctly. Industry. I was hit with an administrative penalty because I trusted a “friend” with my business visa. It took a couple of years to sort out, and it was expensive. And awful. I did not yet understand that the lovely man I had started dating was a covert narcissist and that he would almost destroy me. My liver hadn’t imploded which saw me seeing Christmas and New Year in a Vietnamese hospital, on a drip. Again, more expense because I discovered the expat insurance I had taken out six months earlier wouldn’t cover me. There wasn’t a pandemic in 2018, and I didn’t have to fight with my own government to get darling Bella and me home

Don’t get me wrong: 2022 was a bitch of a year. A see you next Tuesday of a year. Sure, there were high points, but they were few and far between. I did well at my law degree. Really well. Better even than I expected. I made some lovely friends within my student cohort. But I had news about my daughter — who is no longer talking to me — that caused my relationship with my family to suffer because of a tangled web of decisions and choices and actions and justifications. And, of course, Bella died. Her death nearly broke me, and I thought I couldn’t break anymore. I thought wrong because then I received news about my daughter on the same weekend. She was pregnant, and I found out via my niece’s Instagram feed. My family knew. They all knew and didn’t tell me. I can’t reconcile that and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to.

Actually, 2021 was also awful. It should have been brimming with joy and pride, but it was anything but. My daughter stopped talking to me a week after she got married in March. It was over money, although the lead up was unpleasant. As the weeks turned into months, and Mother’s Days and birthdays and lockdowns and Christmases and New Years came and went, I know that she was and is punishing me. Why? A few reasons off the top of my head. I made her lose face. I can’t be manipulated. She’s uncomfortable with accountability. I don’t make her feel special enough. She has a new family now and they make a fuss of her, and – with it just being me – I am easily discarded. Thrown away. Her mother-in-law said to me at my daughter’s wedding that she “hoped I didn’t think they’d taken her away from me.” I thought it was odd at the time, and shrugged it off. In my experience, people are only seduced — and she has been by the large extended family, by the show of wealth, by how special they make her feel – if they want to be. I didn’t realise, until it was too late, that I was in a competition for my own daughter’s love and respect.


So it’s no wonder that I haven’t, law degree aside, felt any sense of joy or happiness or belonging. When Bella died and finding out about my daughter’s pregnancy – on the same weekend, talk about a double whammy — all I could think about was getting away. Travelling. Finding a way through the mind-numbing sadness and betrayal to something positive. Having something to look forward to. I could see my end-of-year university break stretching out into endless summer boredom, punctuated by heat and reading and Netflix and people asking about my Christmas plans. So I booked a trip back to Vietnam, coinciding with when I finished my last exam. My thinking was that I needed to get away, but I wanted to go somewhere that was a safety net. So Hanoi it was. I looked forward to the cold of winter and a non-existent Christmas and catching up with friends and ex-colleagues. I planned to write and make art and find a remote job and learn podcasting. I would eat all the food I had been missing and go for massages and take Vietnamese lessons. All worthwhile aspirations, and I would stay until mid-February 2023, coming back to Australia just before university went back.

Except I landed in Hanoi and it didn’t go according to plan. The Vietnamese government only has a 30 day tourist visa available now. No more three month multi-entry visas. This had an impact that I didn’t factor in as I’d never had to deal with it before: I couldn’t rent an apartment because landlords did not want to rent apartments to short-termers. So my plan to stay in a hotel for a few days before moving into my own apartment was scuttled. I ended up renting an AirBnB apartment, which was lovely, but so expensive: three or four times what I would pay for an apartment. I was chewing through cash just for accommodation. And then there was the visa run factor: to renew my visa I would have to fly to another country (likely Thailand) for a day or so and then come back into Vietnam with a new 30 day visa. It was all getting rather expensive. So I made the decision in my first week – when I couldn’t get an apartment – that I would come back to Australia, that by the time I spend money on a ticket to Thailand (or similar) and accommodation, that this was a great portion of my flight cost back to Australia.

Plus I wasn’t feeling it. My friends worked so I only saw them on the weekend. I wasn’t working, so I was at a loose end. There are only so many LinkedIn and Udemy courses and job applications one can do in a day. I was left bruised and battered after a massage. I wasn’t a tourist, so I didn’t have the “looking at things through fresh eyes” thing that one usually has with a new destination. I was eating a lot of takeaway or going out to eat because, while my AirBnB was lovely, it wasn’t equipped like my kitchen. I missed proper cooking. And the mattress was so hard I scraped my elbows and hips turning over. Within a week, I remembered why I left. The frustrations that had me screaming internally were still there. The language barrier (and I have reasonable Vietnamese, which kicked in as soon as caught the bus into Tay Ho from the Airport), dealing with the minority of Grab drivers who were unprofessional (shitty helmets, smoking while driving, poor navigation), the internet on my phone (to recharge your credit, you need a Vietnamese IT qualification) all contributed to me booking a flight home for three weeks after I arrived in Hanoi.


So I came back to Adelaide and was relieved. So relieved. And happy. I had missed my home, my chickens, my kitchen, my bathroom, my garden, my bicycle, my mattress, my washing machine, my things. I even missed Adelaide’s public transport, which is not the best. At least I didn’t need to grapple with internet on my phone to wait for a Grab motorcycle taxi that may or may not show up. My chickens came home two days after I did, and I resurrected my garden, which had suffered in Adelaide’s summer. I rode my bicycle to the supermarket and library and local farmer’s market and felt… joy. I did Christmas early with a dear friend and her family, and ordered in salmon and cheese and ice cream for actual Christmas day because I didn’t tell anyone (my family) that I was back in Adelaide. I was on my own and it was wonderful.

I bought a proper turntable (with Bluetooth!) to play my vinyl, which I hadn’t played since before I went to Vietnam. I cried when the crackle of vinyl launched into Stars on 45. I started a podcast which will capture the stories of people like me who were stranded overseas by the Australian government. It’s launching in February. I’m going to MeetUps. I was elected as a Society and Justice student representative on the Academic Unit Board. I’ve been accepted as an editor for the University of South Australia Law Review. I’m fostering a cat through Safe Pets Safe Families. I’ve met some new people who may become friends. I may have found a cool, remote job in a law firm (talks are progressing) and a volunteering position that looks promising. I am so much more connected than I was this time last year. I’m loving being home, and I don’t know if or when I’ll travel again.

2023 has a different, happier new year vibe from the last two years. It’s a vibe of hope, of lightness, of moving forward, of contentment, of progression. I’ll take it.


2 thoughts on “Happier New Year

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like this essay? Don't miss the next one!Subscribe now ♥