Let's wind back the clock to mid-2005. We're enjoying a nice brew in a quaint coffee shop in a cobblestone alley off Flinders Street in Melbourne. Small talk is our thing and for some reason you ask me: “where will you be in 2015?” I can assure you that living in Vietnam would not have been mentioned, let alone living in Vietnam for rapidly approaching a decade.
So, what's the fascination with living in Vietnam for me? Am I just one of those odd folk who seem to like all things that others detest with a passion; a harsh climate; poor infrastructure; over population; rivers that 'flow in clumps' and infestations of rodents and parasites like you will not see anywhere else in the world. I'm talking rats the size of monkeys and prized cockroaches that would be more comfortable in a shoe box than a match box.
Over the past 3,000 years or so there have been plenty of other folk like me who have ventured to this part of the world from neighboring and far-off lands to spend time living in Vietnam. I'm satisfied that I'm not Robinson Crusoe but mindful that more often than not, those visitors continued living in Vietnam long after the 'welcome mat' was dropped from under them.
If you're still precious, there's a strong possibility that you will not like living in Vietnam. It's certainly hard work on occasions and frustrations are plentiful. Holding a passport from a thriving and wealthy country like Australia, as I do, is by itself a pretty good reason not to bother.
From the very first day I arrived in Vietnam, the fascination and attraction has been twofold: the people; and the opportunities. Why have I remained living in Vietnam when I have options available including returning Australia? The answer is pretty straight-forward; my fascination with the people and the opportunities is still present. Does this make me an 'oddball'? If it does, I'm happy to wear the title like a badge of honor.
Despite the multiple of issues that make living in Vietnam pretty tough, including the rodents, parasites and the rivers that 'flow in clumps' I referred to earlier, my personal experience with local people is that they are really happy with their' lot in life '. True, it has not always been like this. Hundreds of thousands of 'boat people' are testament there was a period not that long ago, when living in Vietnam was not an appealing option.
The centerpiece of Vietnamese society has not changed since 'King Hung' was a boy; it remains 'the family'. In stark contrast, I'm an excellent example of how western culture has shifted ground to its detriment. If you get fed up with your family, no problem, just get a new one.
In Melbourne I always fancied myself as a 'white picket fence' kind of guy with family and community as the foundation of a healthy society. I lost the argument in Australia, but time spent living in Vietnam has rekindled my faith.
When I came to Ho Chi Minh City in 2006 I was minus AUD $ 7,500 and 44 years of age. The debt thing is a long story. Let me just say the white picket fence came tumbling down on more than one occasion. Was I a product of the environment in which I lived or was something else going on? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly Vietnamese people could not care less. They're very accepting.
There's no doubt that time spent living in Vietnam has been a terrific healer for me and provided opportunities that simply would not have been available in my homeland. Do not get me wrong. I love Australia, I love the company of fellow Australians and I pine for some time with my daughters and other family members in Australia. I miss live Aussie Rules Football , freely expressing opinions on political & social issues and there's not much that I would not do for a paper bag full to the brim with Aussie ' dim sims ' from the local 'chippy'.
Living in Vietnam has given me the opportunity to 'reinvent myself' for the better. People who know me might go as far as to say, living in Vietnam has allowed me to 'find myself'. Maybe they're right. I can certainly point with a sense of pride to a few things that have occurred during my time here and it's good to know that the quintessential extended Vietnamese 'family', happy and generous, is always close to put things into perspective and offer support when needed.
Yep, I love living in Vietnam. It's all about the people who live here and the abundance opportunities. I'm very grateful.