Why do I stay in Vietnam?

I come from Australia.

Not a bad place, quite nice really.

I’m an English teacher so I’ve wandered around Southeast Asia because teaching in Australia became routine and somewhat boring and required too much paperwork…

Also I felt that I really needed to understand why my overseas students in Australia couldn’t speak effective English despite having studied it for nearly 10 years in their native countries.

So why did I move to Vietnam?

Why did I decide to stay?

What was the attraction?

I could have continued to live in Japan or South Korea or Thailand.

I came by accident and a subconscious curiosity about Vietnam.

I grew up during the beginning and end of the American war in Vietnam.

We watched the news every night broadcasting the sad and terrible images of that time, and even though I was quite young, I noticed that local Vietnamese people on the television seemed nice and harmless.

When I was 12, a strange orange-brown dog with incredibly strong dark eyes and a curled tail arrived on our family doorstep.

All these years later, my memory of him is mirrored in the short, stocky pups I see everywhere here.

I like to think he was typically Vietnamese; short, and tough and ready to defend his territory no matter how big the other dog was, yet every night he lay next to me, quietly, without fuss or trouble.

And there were other things, my lovely friendly laundry people, all Vietnamese, living in Sydney who always gave me a smile, a good price and wonderful smells in the fresh clothes.

And there was the local Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from my place in Sydney, where they always laughed and joked with me.

Somehow, I was constantly, softly reminded that there was this country called Vietnam that something deep inside me whispered I should go to…

I finally had my chance to visit in the summer of 2006 with a friend who encouraged me to come and visit Malaysia and Thailand.

We had a great time and then took the great leap into Vietnam.

We arrived late at night at the airport in Hanoi.

My friend freaked out at the madness and mayhem of Vietnamese traffic and later, while trying to deal with local traders in Hanoi.

He ended up staying in his hotel for three days!

He wouldn’t come out until we flew down to Hoi An to visit an Australian friend who had been living in Vietnam for a few years!

Hoi An was a dream.

Although every bit as noisy and chaotic as the rest of the country (and getting more noisy every year! – Hoi An is a boom town) yet somehow a slower pace of life, even though the Hoianians (as we foreigners like to call them), it seemed then, were only interested in our money and creating businesses as fast as they could.

We had a great time, however, my friend raced back to Langkawi, off the west coast of Malaysia, as soon as he could.

He couldn’t handle the amazing way of life here.

Many westerners become shell-shocked by the speed, energy, persistence, friendliness and surprisingly frustrating ways of the Vietnamese.

I stayed…

I loved it, the madness, the business, the strange houses, the great food, the constant street yells at the foreigners to buy something.

You name it, I loved it…

But there was another side that finally swayed me; the sheer feeling of peace I was beginning to sense.

I was standing on the small bridge overlooking the river not far from Cua Dai Beach outside Hoi An, taking in the sunshine, the twinkling, sparkling river, a gentle warm breeze and my heart said, “stay…live here”.

It took three more years for me to organize myself to live here.

I’m now in my fourth year of residency.

Although in that time, I’ve made many mistakes, lost money, struggled to make things and come to accept the Vietnamese as they are, not what I would wish them to be sometimes, I have never regretted coming here.

The kids giggle, the adults smile, the food’s great, the summer weather is a dream, my students are very nice (usually!) and my local area is quiet at night.

I often like to sit out in my garden in the dark late at night, drink a Larue and watch the stars on a clear, hot summer’s night with not a sound in the air.

In the news, we read about all Vietnam’s troubles and problems, its rights, wrongs and injustices, but what country doesn’t suffer from this?

I often feel, although the issues are important, that the news misses the point.

Here is a young, energetic nation just beginning to gain speed and expertise; for all that’s wrong there’s also a lot that’s very satisfying.

In the Western world, we don’t see a lot of kids running everywhere laughing on the streets or just peacefully chatting as they cycle down the streets.

We don’t get so much fresh food sold just down the road from our houses.

We don’t seem to remember the peacefulness of sitting on chairs in the evening talking about life and the world – we’re too busy on the internet or hypnotized by the television.

You begin to know something about the people in your street.

Vietnamese celebrate their life often, if sometimes a little bit too quickly!

There’s always a funny wedding party to gatecrash, my neighbors “I’ve got something new” mini-parties, schools and universities seem to spend more time on organizing concerts and beauty pageants than education!

And when the pop stars come to town, its total mayhem on the roads.

As I roll around Hoi An on my motorbike, I love all the different colored houses, the big bamboo trees swaying in the mid-day wind, the smell of Com ga and fresh Banh Mi in the mornings, the chatty middle-aged mums all walking in a group for early morning exercise.

It’s just so nice to smile as you’re going to work.

I adore the late summer sunsets over the western mountains, long red sunbeams streaming though the tall stacks of the late afternoon clouds.

Often, I love just to stare at the early morning sea glittering at dawn on a blue, blue day.

I have never stopped being amazed at the colors of the rice fields, the riverbanks and the local forests.

I often joke that Vietnam’s tourist slogan should have been “The color of your dreams”.

Although my Tieng Viet is not good, I do have some good Vietnamese friends and they are quite wonderful.

Our conversations are part English lessons and discussions about Vietnamese life in cool coffee shops near the rice fields or the Hoai river in the afternoons.

While some Vietnamese believe western men come to Vietnam to find a wife, I never thought about it too much.

I believe in fate, destiny and serendipity (finding happy things by accident) so if I am fortunate and a good man, perhaps I will meet a nice girl.

Yet Vietnamese women are definitely quite beautiful and everywhere and I think this too is part of the attraction.

I struggle to make money in Hoi An, its difficult because it’s a small place but I love being here and would only live again in big cities if I really, really had to.

I have the option to complain about many things here but that would not be fair to the great feelings I have received while living here.

If things make me crazy sometimes, that can be just as much my fault for not understanding or being patient.

And I can’t judge the Vietnamese for the way they do things, they are still learning and growing.

I stay here because I fell in love with this place and I’m still in love with it…

 By STIVI COOKE

Source: Tuoi Tre Online

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