I love a lot of things about living in Vietnam: being near the ocean, how cheap everything is, cafe sua da, the food, changing my perspective, all of that stuff. But today, to distract myself from the itching, I’d like to talk about one thing that I hate about living in Vietnam, and that is the mosquitos.
There are two things that are important to note here. One is that there are also mosquitos in Michigan. But those mosquitos tend to only come out at dusk, and are only around during certain times of year. Mosquitos in Vietnam also have an affinity for dusk, and for the wetter weather. They didn’t strike during the heat of the day in the hot hot months when I first arrived, but they are ever present now that we’re into rainy season.
The second is that mosquitos love me. I am to mosquitos as a fine steak is to Ron Swanson or an expensive martini is to Lucille Bluth—a delicacy that, once tasted, becomes quickly devoured. They must seek out more. You don’t need bug spray if I’m near you, because all of the mosquitos in the area will bite me, leaving you unscathed. This has always been the case. But now I’m a deer lick in an overpopulated forest, and it’s simply uncool.
“Wear bug spray!” you shout at your screen.
If only it were so easy. After arriving in Da Nang, I found out that most expats brought their own bug spray from home, or had their visitors bring it to them. The only thing that exists here is an odd lotion that smells much too sweet to be effective.
While I was preparing for my move to Vietnam, I did some research on immunizations. My health insurance didn’t cover any of those that I needed, so I went to a place specializing in pricking overseas travelers, with a set rate for a consultation and supposed low costs for the shots themselves. I hate shots, but I love being prepared, and the latter won out.
The “immunization clinic” was in a large brick building full of suspect small businesses and little-known offices that I had driven by many times without ever noticing. After consulting the directory near the only front door that functioned, I walked down the dim hallway and into a sterile empty waiting room, a row of chairs lined up against a wall that was covered with a dated world map. I peeked around the corner to see an elderly woman sitting in a chair behind a desk. Her profile on the website had said she had done immunizations for corporate travelers earlier in her career. I ducked back around the corner. She said, “Come in,” as if I had knocked on the door to her house and she couldn’t be bothered to get up.
This woman provided me with a consultation that was intended to strike fear into my presumed-medically-and-geographically ignorant mind. Among other things, I was told never to go barefoot in Vietnam and not to eat the fruit or vegetables.
“But I’m going to move there. As in I plan to be there for a year or more,” I explained. Who can live without fruits and vegetables for that long? I like fruits and vegetables! “And I’ll be living near the beach.” Nobody wears shoes on the beach, lady.
“You can never be too careful,” she dismissed me callously. Every white-blue hair on her head was just where it should be. I didn’t find the result remotely pleasant.
In addition to stabbing uninsured people with needles, this woman also sold a variety of other goods, displayed prominently on her desk in the impermanent-but-deliberate vein of a Mary Kay saleswoman.
My lecturer then brought up malaria, turning the page in my immunization handbook—which came bundled with the depressing consultation, as a take home—to a map. Vietnam was highlighted as a place where malaria had struck.
Referencing the map, she said, “Would you like some malaria pills? I can write you a prescription.”
I looked closer and found a note about Vietnam that said some cities, including Da Nang, were safe from malaria. I pointed this out to her.
“Well I’ve never known a mosquito smart enough to distinguish city borders!” she exclaimed, clearly disgusted, though it wasn’t clear whether this disgust was with my flippancy or for being called out.
“Can I get a shot for malaria?” I asked.
“No. You have to take a pill every day. I have people come to me asking for more all the time.”
What was this, a narcotics dispensary? I had worked to get myself off of all prescribed medications and didn’t want to take a daily malaria pill if it wasn’t necessary.
“That’s OK,” I said.
“If you won’t take the pills, do you at least want some bug spray?” she asked, nodding toward one of her displays. Bottles of varying sizes proudly proclaimed the high % of DEET in their contents.
“DEET?” I asked. “As in the stuff that destroys earth’s atmosphere?”
Now the real-life Mrs. Medlock not only though I was stupid and unprepared but worse, I was a stupid, unprepared, tree-hugging hippy. And a hard sell.
“If you want to stay safe, this stuff is the best,” she sighed.
I passed, she pricked me a few times with vaccinations for other perilous diseases, and I was on my way.
If only I had listened and bought a bottle of DEET bug spray, I’d be wearing it every day until it was gone, walking around smelling like a chemistry lab but free of the leper-like bites that cover my ankles and feet and sometimes weird places like under my right eye. How did that one get through? The itch is constant, but not consistent. Some of the bites open and leak, and one even swelled up to a weird clear dome blister that I eventually had to pop after it didn’t go away on its own in an appropriate period of time (judged by me to be three days). That one might have been something other than a mosquito. I can send you a picture if you want to see it, but probably shouldn’t subject innocent eyes to that oddity.
“You need to develop an immunity,” joked a friend.
That is one shot I would be happy to sit through, and pay for, even if it came with a giant heap of condescension. But unfortunately it’s not on the menu. I am.
I quit a job I enjoyed at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and left my family, friends, and beloved dog to join my boyfriend in moving across the world, in search of adventure and new experiences. I arrived in August 2015.