Let’s wind back the clock to June 2006. We’re seated in a lovely coffee shop located in a cobblestone laneway off Flinders Street in Melbourne. We’re enjoying a nice brew on a cold afternoon in the middle of winter. Small talk (and Aussie Rules Football) is our thing and for some reason you ask me: “where will you be in 2020?” I can assure you that the words ‘living in Vietnam’ wouldn’t have passed my lips.
In a few months from now I will have clocked up 14 years living and working in Southeast Asia, with Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as my base. Gosh, where has the time gone? How many other foreigners have I seen come and go? Many, but I’m still here for some reason.
So, what’s the fascination with living in Vietnam for me? Am I just an odd bloke who likes things that others detest (occasionally including people) with a passion; a harsh climate; poor infrastructure; high density living; rivers that you can smell a kilometre away and infestations of rats, cockroaches and geckos like you won’t see anywhere else on planet earth. It’s not uncommon in Ho Chi Minh City to see a rat the size of a monkey or a cockroach that would be more comfortable in a shoe box than a match box. I’m not a big fan of rats and cockroaches, but to be brutally honest, I could sit and watch geckos strutting their stuff on the ceiling of my living room for hours.
Over the past 3,000 years there have been plenty of people like me who have ventured to this part of the world from neighbouring and far-off lands. Whilst it’s comforting to know that I’m not ‘Robinson Crusoe’, I do make a point of reminding myself that I am a visitor here. It’s not my place to tell local people how to run their country or their life. History is full of stories about entire ‘armies’ that came here with their superiority complexes, thought they owned the place and ultimately were thrown out on their ear. While I love living in Vietnam, I will not outstay my welcome.
When I first arrived in Vietnam in September 2006, it was the local people and the opportunities that captured my fascination and imagination. Why do I remain in Vietnam after all these years, when there’s a comfortable life on offer in my native Australia? The answer is pretty straight-forward; the local people and the opportunities still capture my fascination and imagination. On this point, nothing has changed despite the passing of time.
My personal experience with local people is that they’re genuinely happy with their ‘lot in life’, despite the harsh climate, poor infrastructure, rats the size of monkeys and other things that most westerners would find intolerable. True, it hasn’t always been like this. Hundreds of thousands of ‘boat people’ are testament that there was a period, not that long ago, when living in Vietnam wasn’t an appealing option.
The cornerstone of Vietnamese society has not changed since King Hung was a lad. It was the family in King Hung’s day and it’s the family now. In stark contrast, I’m a classic example of how western culture has shifted ground to its detriment. If you get fed up with your family in Australia, the UK and elsewhere, no problem, just get a new one. In Melbourne I always saw myself as a ‘lovely white-picket fence’ kind of chap 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 first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City I was minus AUD $7,500 and 44 years of age. The debt thing is a long story. It’s enough to say the ‘lovely white picket fence’ was turned into kindling on more than one occasion. Was I a product of the environment where I was living or was there something else going on? Who knows? Who cares? Certainly Vietnamese people couldn’t care less. They’re very accepting. They’re focused on today – and perhaps tomorrow if pushed.
There’s no doubt that time spent living in Vietnam has been a terrific healer for me and provided opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been available in my homeland. 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. Vietnam gave me the opportunity to create things. Despite working at the epicentre of power in Australia for a number of years, I never had the opportunity or gumption to create anything. Creating new things surely makes the world a better place and it does marvels for your self-esteem.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ‘dirty’ on Australia at all and I have long since forgiven myself (and others) for the difficulties that occurred before I found my way to Vietnam. I love the company of fellow Australians and I pine for some time with my elderly parents, daughters, grandchildren and other family members in Australia. I miss live Aussie Rules Football, freely expressing opinions on political and social issues and there’s not much that I wouldn’t do for a paper bag, full to the brim with Aussie ‘dim sims’.
Yep, Vietnam has been good for me. It’s all about the people who live here and the abundance of opportunities.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. AVSE-TESOL is the largest provider of TESOL/TEFL training programmes (Australian Government accredited) for aspiring English language teachers in Vietnam and Cambodia. You can contact Peter directly via email: email@example.com Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn