EXPATS IN HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON) VIETNAM

I lost eight months of my life, one January 1st.On a day at the beach, of all things.

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To celebrate the New Year, I went khổng lồ the shore at Vung Tao with some of my Vietnamese colleagues from work.It was just a short, và cheap, van ride from Ho Chi Minch City, & seemed like a fun-loving và carekhông tính tiền tone lớn mix for the coming year.

We arrived & sat down at a seafood restaurant for a huge lunch. I skimmed the menu, smiling at a few unappetizing English translations. Flaccid Oyster was my personal favorite. We ordered the non-flaccid oyster, fried that is, as well as clams in lemongrass sauce, giant prawns, & a grouper hot pot.

While we dropped the saucy seafood onkhổng lồ our personal bowls of white rice, we talked about the future, which we all decided would be an improvement on the past. One colleague mentioned that now that he was 23 he hoped that our bosses would take him more seriously. This surprised me, since I had just turned 22 and was pretty sure that I was older than hlặng.

I mentioned this, and the group laughed. I was 23 too, they explained. It was simple math: you were born in 1987?It’s 2010 now, & that was 23 years ago. According to lớn Vietnamese age reckoning, a newborn is one year old & gains a year at each passing New Year. My early twenties were literally flying by


Rapid aging was an unexpected side effect of living in Vietphái nam, especially since I had never felt younger. I was living in a place where I struggled lớn read, write, hold a conversation for more than a minute, grocery siêu thị and even cross the street. In effect, I was a very large child.

I was growing up though. I was learning khổng lồ bởi things in new ways, & to solve problems I didn’t ever think I would have. Maybe this extra birthday wasn’t so off base after all.

Why Vietnam? Why Ho Chi Minh City?

If you know anything about Vietnam giới, it is probably that the country has been the setting for wars và foreign occupations for almost 2,000 years. The current peace is a brief anomaly in the country’s history. However, the bitterness of war does not seem lớn factor inkhổng lồ the national psybịt. The people in Ho Chi Min City are overwhelmingly friendly khổng lồ foreigners, forward-thinking & optimistic.

It is a đô thị characterised by shiny, new skyscrapers & non-stop commerce, but also by coils of incense burning in Buddhist pagodas and old women selling mangos out of baskets. A đô thị of contrasts is a cliché that gets thrown around too often, but I often struggle to find a more apt mô tả tìm kiếm.

I loved Vietnam from the moment I arrived as a college student on an abroad program. The country is full of new colors, sounds and flavors that kept me more curious và engaged with my surroundings than I ever felt back trang chính. And when I graduated, a year and a half later, moving baông chồng to lớn Vietnam was an obvious decision.

Living and working in Ho Chi Minh City allowed me the opportunity to get to lớn know this country &, in the process, turn a place, so foreign and new that it seems to belong to lớn the realm of fantasy, into lớn a trang chủ. It is a place for new sights & experiences, but more than anything, it is a place khổng lồ learn.


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Boat ride to Perfume Pagoda in Vietnam.

Learning the Language

In theory, Vietnamese is an easy language khổng lồ learn. For instance, the grammatical structure is almost non-existent. To ask a question, all you have lớn vị is make a statement và then add the word for "no" at the kết thúc. It sounds simple, no?

There are no verb tenses, no adjectival agreements, and no noun declinations.Gendered nouns?No articles anyway!Irregular verbs? No conjugation at all!Different alphabet? Vietnamese was Romanized in the 17th century!

But before you start lớn think you’ll pichồng up the language with the ease you learned Pig Latin, take note: Vietnamese is impossible lớn pronounce.

It’s one of those infamous tonal languages that draws a groan from any English speaker. When you raise your voice at the end of a question, as one does in English, it completely changes the word. “Do you like to fish?” becomes “Do you lượt thích to pinch?”

Learning the language is worth the effort though, and you should get started with Vietnamese lessons once you arrive. Even though it’s possible to get by with English and a few basic Vietnamese words, I felt more confident that this was my trang chính once I could carry on a conversation in the local language.

Learning to Shop

A lot of commerce takes place in markets and on sidewalks, for items without price stickers or receipts. In these situations, you are expected to lớn haggle with the merchant over the cost of goods and services. Coming from a culture of fixed prices, that can be uncomfortable or embarrassing. After all, most bargaining is done over the equivalent of a pocketful of change.

Whether you enjoy it or not, haggling is part of the culture và should be attempted. Besides, once I got over the initial hesitation, I found it was actually kind of fun. And good language practice, besides.

Other than learning lớn haggle, I had one other big problem with shopping: trying to find clothes or shoes that would fit my (relatively) gargantuan body toàn thân. A few of the more expensive department stores stochồng large sizes, but I found that the fit was usually off.

Ultimately, when I needed a new công trình of clothing, I would have it made by a tailor. Not only did my clothes fit, but I had complete control over the style và the fabric. And at $12 a dress, it was hard khổng lồ find a reason not khổng lồ have everything made-to-fit.

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Learning lớn Drive

There are over 7 million people in Ho Chi Minh City, & an estimated 3 million motorbikes. It would seem that all of these motorbikes are always on the road, specifically the part of the road you are trying to cross.

Traffic in Ho Chi Minc City is legendary, & you’d be hard-pressed to lớn find a travelogue or guidebook that doesn’t mention the solid walls of motorbikes that stream through the đô thị streets like schools of tuna. Crossing the street can be a daunting task lớn new arrivals, especially when someone explains that the trichồng khổng lồ street crossing is simply stepping inkhổng lồ the road under the assumption that people will drive around you. Swell.

Once you have gotten the hang of crossing the street, its time to lớn learn how lớn drive sầu. Learning the mechanics of the scooter is easy enough, but learning to lớn navigate streets that seem khổng lồ be a vacuum for road rules can be difficult.

The best advice I ever received about driving in Vietnam was simply not lớn worry about anything but what is immediately in front of you, và khổng lồ let the people behind you worry about reacting to lớn your breaking or merging. It was explained khổng lồ me as an illustration of Confucianism—everyone helps each other to ensure harmony on the roads.

When it Rains, it Pours

There’s a quote from Forrest Gump, part of his narration when he describes what it was lượt thích lớn be in Vietnam:

“One day it started raining, & it didn"t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin" rain... và big ol" fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed khổng lồ come straight up from underneath.”

Whoever wrote the script for that movie most certainly spent some time in Vietnam giới.

Rainy season was one of the things I was most anxious about when I moved to Vietphái nam.My expectations of rainy season were that one day it would go from being hot và humid to being hot và humid và raining non-stop. I was convinced that I was going lớn spkết thúc four months sitting in my room; cursing the rain as I drove to lớn work, sheathed in a vinyl ponmang đến lớn protect myself from the rain; sitting at work; & then cursing the rain as I drove sầu baông chồng home page.

In reality, it doesn’t rain all the time. Sure it rains, downpours even, every day from May lớn October, but it’s not raining all day—usually only for a couple hours in the afternoon.It also cools the đô thị down significantly. There is nothing better than leaving work and driving into the dusky cool Saigon afternoon, puddles in the gutters but the sky clear.

Accommodation

Some expats rent pricey rooms in one of the Western-style apartment buildings, but many more rent out Vietnamese houses with other foreigners as roommates.It’s also possible to find single apartments in houses that have sầu been sectioned off by floor.

The easiest way khổng lồ find a place khổng lồ live in Ho Chi Minh City is to go there and book a room in a cheap guesthouse for a few weeks while you check out local properties. Look on the Internet, but also ask around the expats you meet—you never know who’s looking for a roommate.

Vietnamese houses are tall and narrow and generally without windows except in the front, and maybe in the back or on one of the sides. Don’t mind the wrought iron bars across your window—those are to lớn keep burglars out & are standard in every house. Break-ins and robberies are unfortunately common in Ho Chi Minh City, và you should make use of any locks provided & keep windows locked tight when you are out or asleep.

Working in Vietnam

Most foreigners are in Vietphái mạnh to lớn teach English. The hours are short and flexible, the pay is good & your co-workers quickly turn into lớn friends. To l& a teaching job, you need a college degree and/or an ESL teaching qualification like CELTA or TEFL.

I chose not to lớn work in education, specifically because I laông xã to lớn patience to teach anyone the reasoning behind pronunciations lượt thích "through," "tough," và "thorough."Fortunately, there are options available to non-teachers.

Foreigners can legally work in Vietnam if they can demonstrate a skill that is not available in the Vietnamese workforce. As a result, many expats (myself included) cash in on English fluency và work in hospitality, sales, marketing, or journalism.

Unless you have highly developed and desirable professional skills, it will be difficult to arrange employment from outside of the country.You can, however, enter the country on a tourist visa and have sầu your immigration status changed once you find a job.Your employer should take care of the new visa.

Cost of Living

The exchange rate between the United Sates and Vietnam giới is about $1 lớn đôi mươi,000 Vietnamese dong (VND)—it only takes $45 to become a millionaire.Sure, being a millionaire in VND doesn’t exactly earn you a private jet or a beach house, but it is enough to lớn live sầu on very comfortably.

On an averagely extravagant Saturday, with lunch out, dinner out, a new shirt and drinks and karaoke, I would spkết thúc about US$15. My rent was only $175/month, và that was only a small fraction of my income. Of course, the savings don’t add up lớn much when you transfer it back khổng lồ American dollars.

A Last Bit of Advice

If you decide to lớn move sầu lớn Vietnam giới for a few months, or years, arrive with an open mind và an abundance of patience.There is little that will work out exactly how you expected it khổng lồ, but the misadventures và frustrations that go along with learning the ropes of a new culture & country are all part of the fun.