This month, Dana Filek-Gibson looks for adults in Ho Chi Minh City and finds none.
Last month, between researching dildos on the internet (for WORK), cursing in traffic and catching up on the newsfeeds of my more attractive Facebook friends, I thought about filing my Canadian taxes. Of course, it never happened. I’m still trying to remember why expats bother in the first place. But at some point this month it crossed my mind.
To be clear, taking stock of how much money I earn excites me about as much as the queue at the supermarket or getting into a verbal altercation with a gas station attendant. In fact, so determined am I to avoid my TaxAct questionnaire altogether that June is not so much an annual reflection on my finances as it is a renewal of my vow to coast through life scraping together a negligible paycheque, never buying nice things and refusing to care for children or the elderly.
But someone recently spent the time and money to print my name on business cards, and so I’ve really been trying to pass for an adult these days. Using the portion of my income not devoted to coffee, boxed sets and Japanese takeaway, I’ve bought shoes without holes in them. I’ve been eating less chocolate for breakfast. Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially mature, I’ll even put on an outfit that makes me look like I was raised by other humans. It’s not much but, as they say, it’s something.
Specifically, something that gets ignored during happy hours and on weekends, when I’m feeling hungry or during sudden bouts of ADHD. I haven’t altogether abandoned the idea of adulthood but I feel compelled to say that, as someone trying to be more of a grown-up, Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to remain an adolescent. Whether you’re a businessman or a banh mi lady, no one in this city walks around pretending to be too old for cartoons or an afternoon of amateur glamour shots in the park.
Instead, even the most accomplished professionals finish their midday meal, put that computer on hibernate and slip silently beneath their desk for a half-hour nap or a quick game of Candy Crush. CEOs and xe om drivers alike never stop asking, “How many beers can you drink?” And on the streets of Saigon, every Nguyen, Phong and Harry has cast themselves in the starring role of their own imaginary, action-packed 17th installment of The Fast and the Furious: HCMC Traffic. As someone looking to the outside world for examples of maturity, I’m coming up empty.
Of course, people try to offer sage advice on adulthood. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been encouraged to “just be myself.” While I appreciate the sentiment, this is perhaps not the image I’m going for. As recently as last month, myself drank a half-glass of chardonnay at a local restaurant, stood up in the middle of dinner service and convinced four of my closest friends to hold still while I traced their profiles onto our paper tablecloth in crayon because I felt it would be artistic. Myself is fun, but she’s not the type of person you’d trust with breakable objects or anything that requires feeding.
So here I stand, torn between maturity and a burning impulse to go out and indiscriminately shop for things. As I struggle to find the guidance of an adult, I can feel the very things that define who I am: caffeine, road rage, the wardrobe of a 12-year-old boy, fighting to remain. In a city where no one really acts their age, how does anyone grow up?
Dana Filek-Gibson is a Canadian expat living in Ho Chi Minh City.