Monday, February 16, 2009


I like silence. I find it difficult to sleep unless it's very quiet. I wear earplugs to sleep back home in Sydney (I live under the flight path, on a busy street). And if I'm sleeping beside a snorer, well, that means I get no sleep.

So you can imagine that I'm struggling a bit with the noise in Vietnam. I feel like I haven't had a decent sleep since, I don't know, December? I also get migraines - I've had a few since being here, and let me tell you, they're not much fun. Thank God for triptans.

Having been here before, I knew that I would constantly hear horns - motorcycles, cars, buses. After a while you get used to them, because they rarely stop. And I'm staying in hotels, so of course there'll be noise from other guests and their TVs, and clueless hotel staff.

In Hanoi there are always renovations happening somewhere, and the workers start early and finish late. They're currently restoring the "footpaths"* in the Old Quarter, so that's additional noise.

My hotel backs onto Tin Street (Hàng Thiếc), where various tin products are constructed and sold. So from first thing in the morning until the evening, I hear hammering on metal and angle grinders.

Tin Street

In an earlier post I mentioned that I was woken on Tết (New Year's Day) by the sound of ABBA singing "Happy New Year". I waited for it to end so that I could go back to sleep, but it was not to be - I had to listen to the whole "Best of ABBA" CD. (It sucks you in though - I was singing along to "Super Trouper" in the shower.)

With music and TVs, there are only two possible settings here - off, and VERY FUCKING LOUD. Everything goes up to eleven.

In Hanoi, the other thing that gets you first thing in the morning is the loudspeakers that suddenly burst to life with either a woman speaking very loudly in Vietnamese (apparently, she's announcing the lotto numbers), or very loud music (a muzak version of Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" was especially memorable).

And in the evening, there's a distinctive clanging noise that goes on for about half an hour. It's the garbage collector making the rounds of the Old Quarter on foot. Granted, it doesn't wake you up (unless you're trying to nap, WHY BOTHER?), but it's just another sound competing for your attention.

The garbage collectors in Hanoi's Old Quarter have nothing on the collectors in Hoi An though. One Sunday morning I woke at 6 am after hearing some repetitive music in the distance. I thought to myself, "Don't wake up KT, just roll over and ignore it." That worked for a few seconds, but then I realised that the music was getting louder. Before long, it was blaring in my ears. I stumbled out of bed and looked out the window. On the street below, a garbage truck was parked. The music was their way of letting people know to bring out their garbage for collection. Aaaaagh! After the truck left, there was no getting back to sleep - everyone in the hotel was awake and making noise. Very frustrating.

The worst sleep interruption I've experienced was in Danang. We stayed at a bible-recommended hotel that wasn't far from the Catholic cathedral. In fact, I could see it from the window in my room. However, on the first night, I was woken at 4:20am by the church bells ringing! It wasn't even a tune - just "dong, dong, dong, dong...". It lasted for about five minutes, after which I was well and truly awake. We soon discovered that this happened at exactly the same time every single night. Incredible. Luckily I found a different hotel for my second week, nowhere near the bloody cathedral.

View of the cathedral from my Danang hotel room

I do have some solutions for a better night's sleep. Earplugs are obvious. White noise is a good idea - one of the other students over here suggested turning up the air conditioner fan, and that's worked quite well for me. I've tried using my iPod, but I'm yet to find the perfect music that's loud enough to block out external noise, but calming enough to let me fall asleep (suggestions are welcome).

And then there are drugs. I came over here with a Stilnox prescription. I've used it several times and it's worked well. I wouldn't recommend using it if you have to get up at a specific time the next day - it's better if you can just wake when you're ready. One day at the hospital I was out of it all morning. Another student is using temazepam. When that ran out, she went to a local pharmacy and they gave her diazepam over the counter! She's reluctant to use that though, and has tried Valerian root, which they also sell at the pharmacy. So far, it's been successful.

Maybe I'll get the chance for a decent sleep on my beach holiday in Thailand...

* Actually, there's rarely room for people to walk because of all the motorcycles and bicycles parked there, and the families eating their lunch and dinner on plastic stools. It's much simpler to walk on the road and dodge the oncoming traffic.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leave me alone, I'm lonely

I'm very comfortable with my own company. I lived alone for many years, and loved it (I have a housemate now, but I may as well be living alone). Despite this, I wish the situation was different. I'm so tired of not having a significant other to share my life with.

I've been particularly affected by this while in Vietnam. I'm spending a lot of time with two other med students from my uni (one male, one female). Both have partners at home, who they talk to every day. I don't really have regular contact with anyone from home. I've Skyped with my Mum a couple of times, and with my sister (and nephew), but that's it. Whenever the other students talk about their partners, it depresses me - I wish I had someone special to miss, or someone special who missed me. (Yes, I know my family and friends miss me, and I miss them, but it's not the same.)

I had a mini-meltdown in relation to this on (lunar) New Year's Eve. We'd been drinking for about seven hours, and I was also a bit hormonal, so it's hardly surprising that it all caught up with me. We'd just watched the NYE fireworks around the lake in Hanoi, and were taking silly photos with the locals. One of the other students said something to me about how he wished his girlfriend was there to experience it. It was weird - I was immediately struck by a feeling of overwhelming loneliness and despair, and walked away so that no-one would see me crying.

One of the female students from a different university spotted me, and tried to comfort me with a hug. Bad move - I'm not a hugger (unless it's a big bear hug). I shrugged her off quite rudely and walked away. All I wanted was to go back to the hotel and cry myself to sleep. Eventually the others talked me into staying out, and I had an OK time - we went to a smoky pub, and had street food at 4am (better than a dodgy kebab!). But I was putting on a brave face - I really felt like complete crap. When I eventually made it home, I did cry myself to sleep. Sometimes it feels good to do that (I know how strange that sounds).

Anyway, this situation isn't going to change while I'm on holidays, so there's no point dwelling on it. Sorry about the 'woe is me' post - I'm alone in Hoi An for the weekend, and I guess I'm feeling reflective.

More on the Vietnam trip soon, with photos...