Catching up in Việt Nam

Friendships in Việt Nam run deep and long.

Old schoolmates greet each other decades later as if it were only yesterday.

The people you hang out with at university stay in your memory years later.

Friendships here are built up one step at a time until they are cemented forever.

Friends here care about every aspect of your life – that’s why there are so many questions!

My students often talk of ‘catching up’ with old friends they haven’t seen since elementary school.

For all the size of the nation and population, it seems Vietnamese run into each other an awful lot!

No wonder they need so many coffee shops!

It’s one of life’s little pleasures here for me to catch up with former students and the people I first met here seven years ago.

In Australia, it sometimes seems superficial, not quite real, to meet old friends who talk about their money or fancy jobs.

It’s a much simpler, basic goal here.

Their stories are often an eye-opener into the twists and turns of the struggle to make a life and a living here in Việt Nam.

Vietnamese_girlsYoung girls drink coconut juice together in downtown Hồ Chí Minh City

I occasionally run into students from former teaching positions at Phan Châu Trinh University in Hội An or Đông Á University in Đà Nẵng or become surprised to be served in a restaurant by a former hotel English student.

For a lot of them, graduation from university didn’t result in the great jobs they were hoping for.

In the West, base salaries for junior staff fresh out of school are reasonably generous – a good reason to stick to the job until they learn enough to gain promotion or transfer to more interesting work.

Here it’s often a different story with people leaving jobs frequently, in search of more money or losing patience with menial office training and horrible bosses.

Others found their occupations disappointing; I know of three previous students who became engineers only to quit for the more lucrative and exciting jobs as tour guides.

It seems surprising how much talent goes to waste.

At least a dozen who became English teachers left to become receptionists or work for import/export companies or kids who studied accounting because their parents thought that was a good idea only run away to another city to be a waitress and in one case, a writer!

I ran into a friend recently who had just finished a master’s degree in management, can’t find a job in Đà Nẵng, and is now contemplating leaving the family home in search of work in Hồ Chí Minh City.

For many, it becomes a cycle of working in the family business, leaving for a job elsewhere and returning in frustration or loneliness.

For a lot of the girls, marriage pressure builds and their search for a good job gets put on hold for marriage and children.

One great thing here is that since many young people have large friendship groups, it’s still fairly easy to remain cheerful and hopeful as they run around town chatting.

Many of the friends I’ve met in recent times have found themselves caught between working long hours for low pay and that ever present extraordinarily powerful urge within the Vietnamese to find someone to love.

An accounting student who’s just graduated from a university in Hồ Chí Minh City and is now back in Hội An told me wistfully with her eyes gazing far into the fading evening light that she hoped her boyfriend still in Hồ Chí Minh City would come to Hội An soon.

I didn’t know what to say to that so we sat in silence for a while until I could change the subject.

A friend in my local area who I haven’t seen for weeks came over and we chatted in my garden with the kids loudly running up and down the street outside my fence.

She graduated as an English major but now works in a restaurant.

Her biggest worry?

Finding a boyfriend.

Again the working hours make it almost impossible to meet friends socially at night.

I can’t think of anything so worse as being single in a culture where everyone does something in a group or as a couple.

There’s the occasional success story.

Some students email me:

‘Teacher!

I’m working in Đà Lạt!’

or

‘Stivi!

I got that job finally – I’m so happy!’

It’s heartwarming to know that it’s not all downhill.

And the nicest part I sometimes think is when I met some old friends proudly holding their first born or riding a new motorbike with the money from their jobs.

Yeah, catching up is interesting – I’ll have to do it again soon!

By STIVI COOKE

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News

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