As I walk out of the airport I can barely breathe – the air is too thick and wet for my lungs. I text my husband: I’ve made a mistake, I shouldn’t have come here. He doesn’t reply. This is meant to be my last adventure, a final escapade before we start trying for a baby. I’m 29 years old. I will enjoy the oppression of Vietnam’s climate only slightly more than the oppression of motherhood.
Hội An is a picturesque tourist hotspot; a large seaside town, minus the sandy blue beaches of Australia. Elderly Vietnamese women row traditional boats near the bridge at dusk for tourists to photograph. The Aussie kid in me emerges as the heat strangles the night, and I fight the urge to discard my clothes and run full pelt into the water. The Mekong is dark and I wonder what secrets lie in her deep, silty water.
I shower quickly each morning under a trickle of cold water in the courtyard of my modest lodgings. I sit by the river with friends in the evenings, downing cheap cocktails. The annual lantern festival is in full swing and the night glows hazily. A young girl approaches us to sell her woven bead bracelets. She looks 12 but sounds 40; her voice is raspy, painted nails long. I buy two of her bracelets for my nieces back home, similar in age. She badgers our group to buy more trinkets but they ignore her. I wonder if she feels sorry for us, plump Westerners looking around anxiously for her mother. The restaurant owner comes out and shoos her away angrily, and she heads back towards the city centre towards the lanterns.
Dress shop saleswomen spend their days measuring us for custom-made clothing, handing us cold bottled water in air-conditioned rooms until we stop sweating. I’m roughly the same height as most Vietnamese people I see on our travels, but I don’t fit into a single off-the-rack garment. I too am large in this country. Large and red, like a good lobster. I part easily with my money in each transaction, and hope I’m somehow making some small difference to some young girl’s fortune. My fellow holidayers laugh at me for not bartering. I arrive home after 10 days of sweltering humidity, fat and waterlogged. A fat red lobster in perfectly-fitting shoes.