What are your Expectations?
I learned a new word in Vietnamese class the other day: nhu cầu. It means demand, as in people often have many demands.
My teacher asked me to use it in a sentence. I said that when I was in the United States I had many demands. In Vietnam, I had few demands.
Let me elaborate. In the U.S., I was a lawyer and I did pretty good for myself. I had a nice house all to my self. I had a flashy Nissan Cube (no comments, please). I had money to eat out at restaurants all the time and to buy myself the newest toys.
Lots of demands. And lots of time spend servicing them.
In Vietnam, two of us lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I had a motorbike that looks like it dates from the early 1980’s and runs accordingly. I normally ate street food and had coffee by the lake. I arrived with one suitcase and one carry-on full of the things I thought I would need. Short of toiletries and other disposable items, I bought nothing else.
Few demands. Little time spent servicing them.
What did I do instead? I read. I walked around. I drank tea with old Vietnamese people. I drank beer with my friends. I took photographs. I wrote.
And you know what? I was a hell of a lot happier in Vietnam without all that shit than I was in the United States. It was all nice but it was all…unnecessary.
But, I haven’t been able to wrap my head around why it took me moving to Vietnam to begin living like that. No one forced me to have all the demands I used to have.
Is it our society in the West?
The constant barrage of advertisements constantly lets us know that we are unworthy or unhappy in some aspect or another. They also helpfully point out the one product that is sure to solve the problem.
Maybe it is the people?
Speaking from experience, it is hard to go through life at 90 mph when all the stores close for afternoon nap time.
It’s definetely hard to justify spending $700 on a new iPhone when you stand at your window and watch old women selling homemade cakes for $.20 and know that they probably don’t make $700 in a year.
I haven’t turned into an ascetic. The new iPhones, to use my earlier example, are terrific. I just can’t justify spending the money on one when 1) I really don’t have that much money in the first place and 2) so many people around me live on so little.
I think one of the fears about returning to the West was that I would get pulled right back onto the hedonic treadmill and all of those demands would return full force.
Now I am in the West again and I can see it happening. Today, my landlady upgraded her Internet. Nerd speak: I am pulling 50 mb/s down. In Vietnam, I was lucky to get 10 mb/s. Already, I am wondering how I ever lived without these speeds. But I did. And I didn’t notice.
I hope that as I readjust to life in the West, I remember my experiences in Vietnam and in other less-developed places in the world. I hope that I will be able to remember the happiness of fewer demands.