I am about to leave Hoi An, the place that I have called home for the past 10 months. It’s been a long and wet winter and I look forward to clean sheets and dry clothes, but there is much I will miss.
It won’t be a tearful goodbye, because I am leaving most of my things here. I’ll only be gone for a couple of months, to do annual maintenance on my ageing home back in Australia.
Before I leave this week, here are 11 reasons I come back again and again. 2018 is the third year I am based in Vietnam and have no plans of stopping.
11 Reasons why I love living in Vietnam
1. I love that I can never be sad or lonely here.
The moment I step outside, I look into a smiling face. I may never be able to speak the language beyond what I need in order to do my shopping at the local market. But living in Vietnam reminds me every day that you don’t need many words to connect. I love how the Vietnamese appreciate even my pitiful efforts at conversing in their language. “You Vietnamese good,” they say, even when it’s dreadful. I love how my neighbor will not give up chatting with me every morning despite my blatant lack of progress. I love how strangers stop me to say hello and offer warm, open smiles.
2. I love how easy going life is in Vietnam.
I love that I can go to the shops in my pajamas because everybody else is in pajamas. I love that I can live with very few possessions here. I love how I can arrive after a few months absence, rent a new house and call it home within days of returning. Nothing is impossible here.
3. I love how affectionate Vietnamese women are.
I love how even with 2 inches of re-growth, with no make-up, at over 50, every other day someone will say “You beautiful.” My Vietnamese sisters stroke my thinning hair that hasn’t seen a hairdresser in five months, and touch my big arms, and my big legs and give me warm hugs. “You good body,” says a petite, drop-dead gorgeous woman. Another new friend at the market always says “I love you”. It makes me feel like a soap opera star. I couldn’t think of a better community to live in at over 50.
4. I love how caring and hospitable my Vietnamese community is.
I love how I can break down on my motorbike and know that within minutes someone will rush to my side and help me, even if we don’t speak the same language. I love how I can run out of petrol at night in my small fishing village, as happened last week, and someone will find a plastic water bottle filled with petrol for me to make sure I get home. I love how the Vietnamese will always pull up a chair, fill your glass and plate and insist you join their party or family gathering, because nobody should be without a family.
5. I love how hard working, resilient and resourceful the Vietnamese are.
It’s one of the main reasons I came to stay. I built my website here and I developed and ran my first online course here. I am surrounded by farmers who rise at the crack of dawn, no matter the weather, to tend to their fields day after day. Living in Vietnam has helped me become more productive. I struggled to keep a self-motivated routine when I first started as a nomadic freelancer. But here, every street food stall is run by an enterprising ‘freelancing’ woman, who carries an entire pop up shop on a bicycle. Old women, permanently bent in half by a lifetime of hard work, can’t help themselves but continue to work. In the early mornings the streets of my local fishing village are full of ancient women sweeping the streets or pushing heavy food-carts with big cauldrons of broth they cooked in the pre-dawn hours.
6. I love the food.
Obviously. It’s famously delicious, it’s cheap and, best of all, street food in Vietnam is clean. I’ve never had an upset tummy here. Unlike in other parts of South East Asia, there is no ‘Vietnam belly’ here. I love that if I wanted to, I could eat all of my meals out. In Australia even a simple sandwich is a small luxury. But here, even the poorest go out for a bowl of steaming hot bone broth with freshly picked greens, served from one of the many pop-up shops that line the early morning streets. I love how living in Vietnam, I have access to an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. It makes life so good!
7. I love that anything is possible in Vietnam.
A writer friend, who’s lived here for over two decades, taught me a new word the other day. Chưa It means not yet. She insisted I make it my go-to answer for the many questions Vietnamese people ask. I’ve always wondered how to answer the standard inquiries “Are you married? Do you have children,” without disappointing my new friends. “Not yet,” is my new answer. At over 50, that’s totally acceptable. Anything is possible in Vietnam (even when biologically it ain’t). Need a suit tailor-made over night? No problem. A pair of handmade shoes? No problem.
8. I love how the Vietnamese live in the moment.
I continue to be surprised that there seems to be absolutely no resentment towards a citizen of a country that’s fought a senseless, atrocious war on Vietnamese soil. Life here happens in the present moment. Yesterday an old man with no English and a prosthetic leg served me a cup of tea. He smiled as he pointed to his false leg. Then he pointed to the rice fields in front of us. “Bummh!” he said, his hands mimicking the explosion of a landmine. He smiled and poured some more tea. “Úc” (Australia) he repeated my answer to his question of where I am from, accompanied by a thumbs up and a broad smile. The past is the past. What counts is the present moment.
9. I love the respect old people enjoy in Vietnam.
Elders, ancestors and parents are revered in this country. People over 50 are treated with respect. Every wrinkle is honoured as a mark of experience. Age and the earned wisdom it brings is respected here. By bidding respect to elders and ancestors, one makes sure things stay in balance for everybody. It’s a natural hierarchy. Living in Vietnam, I’ve gained a fresh perspective on ageing. I feel empowered rather than invisible.
10. I love how you become part of the extended family.
You can’t feel lonely living in Vietnam. It’s a society build around the family. Living for four years in Sydney among people of my own demographic, felt painfully lonely. Here, living among fisherfolk and farmers whose language I can’t speak, I feel very much at home. I love how in Vietnam you become instantly adopted into the extended family. In any neighbourhood we’ve lived in the last two years, we’ve always been warmly welcomed to join the many impromptu parties and beer drinking gatherings, including a neighbour’s wedding. I am always invited to cuddle the many babies in my street. This makes me very happy, because getting older I’ve become very clucky. Go figure.
11. I love living in a small Vietnamese fishing village.
I love how my new community has accepted me with curiosity, generosity and true warmth.