This photo was taken almost exactly one year ago. My partner and I had been living in Hoi An, in central Vietnam for a few months. It was an experiment to see whether we could do this mature age digital nomad thing.
We were living in a fabulous designer apartment in a great location, with an even more fabulous Italian landlord. The apartment was so cool, in the place of a bathroom mirror it featured a textured slab of polished concrete. I quickly became used to the liberation of my mirror-less existence. Until one day it was time to shoot some professional profile pics.
To say I was horrified to discover that I’d been having a month-long bad hair day would be a gross understatement. My roots were as long as my middle finger and I’d paid two more months rent in Vietnam. My resourceful expat friends were adamant. “Don’t even think about getting your roots done in Vietnam.”
What to do? Get depressed, of course. Two days into my epic bad-hair-day depression, I decided to self-medicate with some Buddhist meditation in a beautiful temple on the outskirts of town.
It was late afternoon, the light was perfect, I was cycling through the ricefields among water buffaloes and farmers in conical hats. I stopped to take a few pictures of classic, pastoral Vietnam.
I wasn’t the only one taking photos. Before I knew it, a professional team of Vietnamese photographers had invited me to become the model of their promotional photoshoot.
Really? You want me? In your photos? They spoke enough English to let me know that yes, they really wanted me in their photoshoot.
I was knee deep in mud, balancing the classic prop, two gigantic yellow lanterns, when I caught my reflection in the water. How had I gone from bad hair day to model in a photoshoot?
What I love about the nomad lifestyle
When we travel, we move away from what we know into the unknown. If we allow ourselves to be open to the unexpected, anything can happen. For me, living in a country where they don’t do blond highlights comes with a great sense of freedom.
If you embrace it, the challenge to step out of your comfort zone, live with the inch-long grey roots, be who you are, regrowth and all, can be profoundly liberating.
It makes you a guest in another culture
South East Asia has been the playground of western creative and spiritual seekers for many decades. As with everything, there is the good, the bad and the ugly. Living the nomad lifestyle makes you a permanent guest in another culture. To live as a nomad, we need to learn the rules of our host culture. Intercultural Communication is what I used to teach at University, and it’s what I practice now. But this time I am not the teacher, I am the student. Every day I go to school, learn about Vietnamese culture and how to respect it.
It keeps alive a sense of wonder
I’ll never know why those Vietnamese photographers were pointing their massive telephoto lenses at a giant prop without a model. Was it synchronicity that I and my bad hair came cycling past? Was it serendipity? Who cares. What I know is, that by moving away from what is familiar, we keep alive a sense of wonder.
I was singing and smiling all the way home that day. The next day we started our own photoshoot of me with my bad hair.
It makes you do things you never thought you’d ever do, not in a million years
Here’s a confession. All of the photos you see of me on this website were taken before I had a chance to visit a hairdresser. Yes. That’s. Right. My profile pictures were shot on an epic bad hair day.
It’s a year later, and we are back in Hoi An. We arrived just over a week ago – my roots freshly done, my hair cut into a short bob. It took less than a couple of days to settle straight back into the nomad lifestyle.
While strangers who find our home on Airbnb sleep in our beds, we’ve rented a small house tucked away in an alley in the middle of the ricefields. We go to bed with the farmers and we wake to the roosters that crow from 4 am. The organic scent of fresh cow dung wafts through the house all day with the breeze and we have yet to find a TV channel in English.
Every day is a new discovery
My mum shakes her head at my apparent madness. For me, every day is a new discovery. Today I discovered that learning Vietnamese might be beyond me. But still, I try. Yesterday I tasted squid filled with pork in spicy sauce. It looked way too disgusting for my reformed Vegetarian sensibilities, but still, I tried. It was super delicious.
It’s the challenge to go where I haven’t dared to go before, that keeps the fire burning in my belly.
It’s better than botox
If it weren’t for mirrors (we’ve now got two bathroom mirrors!), I swear, I am still the curious young backpacker I was more than 30 years ago when I first left home.
What’s your preferred lifestyle?
Nomad? Sedentary? Yogini? Couchpotato? Detox-addict?
I’d love to hear from you. Bathroom mirror preferences and all!
Over the coming weeks, I’ll share more about the digital nomad lifestyle in Vietnam.