I am often asked by people in Australia why I love Vietnam.
The answer is easy: it’s because life here is so easy.
It’s easy living. It’s easy to find work. It’s easy to get around. It’s easy to form networks and friendships. It’s easy to have an interesting life.
Back in Australia, it’s the opposite. There are so many barriers and obstacles that make life difficult. It’s hard to find work, it’s hard to get things done. It’s a completely different mindset in Australia, and it’s about no, rather then yes. It’s wearing and frustrating having to deal with knock-backs all the time.
At least, I think so.
I’ve loved Vietnam since 2010, when I first visited this wonderful country. Not having travelled internationally before, I was blown away with how different it was to Australia. It was chaotic and messy and dirty and ancient and beautiful and fascinating, and that was just the landscape!
(Of course, Asia — as I found out — is so very different to Australia. And that’s exactly why I love it.)
But it was something more: I felt a connection to its people, its story, its history. Here was a country that had almost been annihilated by war, many wars, and yet people just got on with things. They hold no grudges (but don’t mention the Chinese), are warm and helpful and friendly. They are industrious and hard working and entrepreneurial, and just want to improve life for their families. And they do this by just getting things done.
This “just getting things done” thing spills over into every aspect of life here in Vietnam, including mine.
Instead of a facing the next chapter of my life on the scrap-heap, fighting to be noticed let alone employed, I find I am in demand. This is what it must feel like to be a rock star.
If I walk out of my apartment building, within 20 metres is a mini-market where I can get almost anything I need: eggs, vodka, pesto, curry powder, fresh tomatoes and bananas. Even Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese. Another 50 metres either side are more markets. Another 100 metres up the road, I can have a beer or a coconut or a feed of authentic Mexican, along with a margarita or three. A further 300 metres up the road is a bakery that sells a scrumptious chicken mango salad and delicious iced cocoas and gorgeous baguettes, among other things. Around the corner, another 300 metres away is a co-working space that has friendly obliging management, craft beer and free wifi. My bicycle repair guy is about 400 metres away, as is the nearest public pool. Conveniently within walking distance is really a thing here.
If I want to go further — say one or two kilometres — I ride my bicycle. If I want to go even further, I grab a motorcycle taxi: it’s a cheap, reliable and convenient service.
I mostly work from my apartment, or I go to a co-working space or a cafe (apart from my days at KOTO where two out of three are spent at Yen Vien or the restaurant in Van Mieu). Wifi is everywhere, and it’s free. Work has been easy to find. What makes me ordinary and uninteresting in Australia (English speaking, tertiary educated, fifty plus) makes me highly employable here. Instead of a facing the next chapter of my life on the scrap-heap, fighting to be noticed let alone employed, I find I am in demand. This is what it must feel like to be a rock star.
Because of the writing work I do, I have been wooed by Playboy Establishment and whisked off to Halong Bay to experience luxury cruising. I see my name in print every month. I’ll be travelling to Hong Kong, South Korea and Myanmar this year for work, not to mention Saigon and Danang here in Vietnam. It would be almost impossible for this to happen in Australia.
(KOTO and the trainees keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.)
Another day in Hanoi, and another social engagement. My friendship group here is broad and deep and diverse, with friends made quickly and easily. Here is not like home, where I have set groups of friends, and someone would have to drop off the perch to be allowed in. I stayed home a lot, not because I didn’t have anything to do, but because I couldn’t be bothered doing anything. Every day, every week, every month, every year was the same old, same old.
It’s different here. So very different. Yesterday, I did a scooter trip with an Australian-Korean-German-Indian-Vietnamese-Chinese group I happen to have accidentally become a part of. We left at 9.30 and headed west, 50km out of Hanoi in searing heat. It was hot and sweaty and my butt hurt, but it was fabulous. Tonight, I’m having dinner with an Aussie friend and his mate, who has literally just flown into Hanoi.
A few days ago, I was watching episodes of Supernatural with a French friend. On Monday, I waded through floodwater (I’m not kidding… the water was six inches deep) to keep a dinner date with fellow Australians and a UK lass I love hanging out with. A couple of weeks ago, I was slightly hungover, but went for lunchtime Margaritas with a Tex-Mex friend.
A month ago, I went to a bia hoi with another lovely UK lass to watch Game of Thrones. Two months ago, I went to Dalat for the weekend with an American friend. My real estate guy, who is Vietnamese, is a dear friend, as is my Vietnamese teacher. And a fortnight ago, I “visited Hanoi” with my Vietnamese “son”, a KOTO graduate I met in Saigon a couple of months ago — he was in Hanoi for his graduation. This is a snapshot of the things I do, and the cross-section of people who are in my life. It is indeed a rich tapestry.
Everyone I meet is a potential friend, or companion, not to mention my KOTO connections that add a glorious, meaningful depth to my life in Hanoi. Every time I go to the restaurant, I am greeted by at least 20 Hello, Ms Dianes and smiles and waves and (sometimes) hugs. And when I go to the training centre, it’s also like that.
Yesterday, I went to lunch at Pullman Hotel — a scrumptious buffet lunch I’d won in a KOTO fundraising raffle — with three lovely friends who are leaving Hanoi, and I bumped into a KOTO graduate. Or rather, she bumped into me. Hello Ms Diane, she said. I’m Loan, from Class 27. She was a KOTO graduate. They literally are everywhere. She remembered me from just one assessment task I did with her: a 20 minute job interview.
Qua dep. How beautiful.
In Hanoi, I am wanted, loved, admired, respected, valued and needed here in a way I’m not back in Australia. And because of this, I am calmer. Kinder.
I don’t have to fight to get anything done here.
Things just happen.
Is it any wonder I love Vietnam?
This is the 15th essay in the #52essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’ll be writing (or trying to write) one personal essay a week: 52 in total. And I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice! And if you are interested and want to join the #52essays2017 challenge, you can find out more information here, and join the Facebook group here.
Photo credit: Halong Bay by me.