After spending so much time in SE Asia, the word “expat” started to take on a fairly creepy meaning.
If you’ve been to Vietnam (or any other Asian or developing country), you’ve seen them. White men. Somewhere between the ages of 50 to 65 years old. Big bellied. Almost always smokers and readily spotted at a bar of some sort. You don’t often see him talking. He just sort of sits there. Beer in hand and a local woman sitting next to him who is half his age and quarter of his size.
A lot of the older, long-term expats in Vietnam are Americans who couldn’t leave the country behind after loosing themselves to the ironic addictions of war. Some of them are French, descendents from the legacy of colonialism. Others are Europeans who came maybe for the women, maybe for the easy lifestyle this new world offers them with a foreign currency pension.
I have always been fascinated with these men. I’ve never known a group of people to appear completely alienated, alienating, lonely, unapproachable, and haunted all at the same time.
It usually takes a fair amount of booze in my system to actually make any contact with them. And the times I did never went particularly smoothly.
An American veteran in a backpackers in Da Nang viciously accused me of knowing nothing about the country my father came from. I got in a heated shouting match with a Frenchman/bar owner in Sapa who thought Americans were “fucking idiots” and that the Vietnamese were basically the worst people ever (even though he was married to one, had children with her and had lived in the country for a ridiculously large amount of years).
All in all, these were never the most pleasant of encounters, albeit interesting and entertaining in their own right.
But this afternoon, humility smacked me good and hard across the face.
Today, I walked down to New Zealand Immigration’s Wellington Branch and submitted by migrant levy fees to finalize my recently approved New Zealand residency status. As I walked home, it hit me.
I am an expat, too.
Up until now, I’ve never found any commonality with the people I associate with the word “expatriate”. In fact, I’ve always been sort of disgusted by these guys and have judged them pretty harshly (as evident by the first half of this post).
But perhaps I was being unfair.
Because the stark truth is that in many ways, we are kindred spirits.
Maybe some of those guys expatriated for love, like I did. Maybe they moved because they were trying to find a sort of satisfaction and sense of belonging that they never could find in the places where they were born and brought up in, like I did, too.
Maybe we are all just trying to find a piece of home that a strange past and an unconventional personality just sort of screwed up for us.
I mean, I’ve shacked up with a local, too. Have been known to enjoy Asia’s cheap beer. Sometimes lose myself to memories gone and get so desperately frustrated by Kiwi mentality and culture that I curse it, hate on it, and critically compare it to America and all the things I miss about my home country only when I am far, far away from it.
In any case, I may look more like the Vietnamese woman these guys have hooked up with, but I am pretty sure I have more in common with them than these girls do.
So it’s time for me to claim my title. Be proud of what it means. Because that is the first step in recovering from whatever hardships an expat inevitably suffers from at some sort of level.
“Hello, my name is MaiLynn. And I am an expatriate.”