We did it! After puffing and staggering our way through the gleaming corridors of Frankfurt Airport, we made our connecting flight to Bangkok by seconds. Phew! Time for drinkies, blankies, movies and sighs of relief.
Oops, maybe not.
We made it, but our luggage didn’t, and it’s pretty depressing watching a luggage belt going round and round long after everyone else has gone. And while they are ordering Margaritas at their poolside resorts, we are in a tiny office in Koh Samui Airport looking for our little luggage stickers. (You had them, no, you did!). We did eventually find the stickers, a taxi and even a Margarita. And to our surprise we also discovered there is an upside to a luggage-free life (well, couple of days).
The first realization is that no one notices what you’re wearing! All that time matching the scarf with the shoes was a complete waste of time. No wonder I haven’t finished the ironing, learned how to meditate or written the great Australian novel…too busy tossing up between the pink linen and the navy cotton. But when I appear in the same outfit three days in a row, not a word! Turns out people wanted to see me, not my apparel! (See below)
And when our luggage finally arrived we greeted it, not with delight, but dismay. All that stuff! Piles and piles of neatly folded frocks, T-shirts, shorts, shoes,togs, undies, scarves – and that’s just me. Hubs has his own pile of kit – just as big as mine – only neater. They represent hours and hours of choosing, buying, washing, ironing hanging up, taking down, packing, lugging, and – eventually – losing. It was a moment of confrontation that had us asking: which part of dragging half of the contents of our wardrobe all the way round the world seemed like a good idea?
And as for that wardrobe! Let’s just say it’s big, and apparently built on that old adage, ‘if you build it they will come’. Because they did…in walked enough shoes to rival Imelda Marcos, and don’t start me on Hubs’ polo shirts (well you never know when you’ll need to change your shirt 37 times in one day). And that’s just the stuff that we didn’t deem worthy of flinging round the planet using all that precious energy so we could look good. Vanity, thy name is four pairs of jeans when you only need one! And yes, my bum looks big in all of them.
So it was with firm resolve to kick our massive luggage habit and travel light, we arrived in Hanoi. One glance down the street where we were staying showed us travelling light at a whole new level. Whole homes tucked in behind the street vendors would have fitted in our walk –in wardrobe! It made sheltering a family seem rather more important than sheltering a bunch of jumpers and scarves. So not much room for storing vast sartorial splendour, but everyone looked just fine. Clothes were fit for purpose, and did their job of keeping the wearers cool/warm/dry in the sudden showers that pelt down at a moment’s notice in wet season. Plenty of scope for a colourful scarf or jacket and the slender beauty of the people ensured their bums definitely didn’t look big in anything.
But if their wardrobes were relatively bare, their lives didn’t look that way. They were full of people, of chat, of work, of traffic, and of sitting down on tiny chairs (even our chairs seem vast) being with and in each other’s lives the whole time. ‘Personal space’ is a foreign concept, and the street carries on in what looks to the outsider like low-level chaos with benign tolerance, smiles, talking, working, and generally busying themselves with life.
The last thing I want is to romanticise or patronise lives that look really hard, and which I would not choose. And let’s face it, I have choices, which most of the people in that street do not. One of our tour guides asked me how old I was, and told me I was very active for my age (!). I’ve been called a few things in my time, but active definitely isn’t one of them. He told me that a Vietnamese woman of my age would be broken down with hard work, and added that there would be little in the way of social services to look after her. All I am saying is that as a person with all those choices, I have chosen to accumulate lots of stuff, which needs housing, curating, fixing, and worrying over and one day chuffing off to Vinnies, where it will clutter up someone else’s life. And this is after reading any number of studies that tell us that it’s people, not things that make us happy.
So here I sit in my ‘huge’ house looking out over a peaceful – but largely empty – street, feeling ridiculously wealthy and fortunate. Time for a rethink? Absolutely! But maybe after I’ve checked out the jeans on sale at that lovely little boutique on Hastings Street. (Just kidding…no, really!)