HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Torn

I'm not really sure how many people are reading this anymore, as I was hoping for more comments on the recent travel posts, but nevertheless I am now going to dive into how I feel as two major personal milestones approach: the 12th will mark three years of living in Saigon, and the 17th marks the beginning of my last month here before flying out 'for good'.

I've considered leaving a couple of times before, but Vietnam found a way to pull me back in, most noticeably early last year when I was hired by AsiaLIFE, and last summer when I decided to lead this year's H2H ride. A couple of months ago I finally decided that I really was going to leave, and a few weeks ago I made sure that would happen by booking a one-way ticket back to New Orleans. It's been interesting to see how my friends here have reacted to the news, compared to people I know back home. Family friends expect that I'm coming back for good, while several people here have asked why I would choose now to leave. That's a tough question to answer.

As nice as home is, I only plan to hang around for a few months while I figure out what part of the world I want to move on to next. Once you've grown accustomed to being an expat it can be difficult to give that lifestyle up. (That being said, if I somehow happen across a very well-paid job opportunity while home, I'll be hard pressed to turn it down, as I have an implacable foe in the form of college loans to face down.) Sure, being close to friends and family is nice, but being immersed in a completely foreign culture on a daily basis is so much more exciting than the same stuff you grew up with.

Oddly enough, my reasons for wanting to leave have reversed from last year. Previously I had wanted to get out because so many good friends had left and I was bored of Saigon's social scene, but didn't want to leave because work was going very well and was really interesting. Now, though friends continue to leave, there is a core group of people who will be here for a while that I can't really imagine living away from. The city's social life is changing as well, with focus moving away from getting shitfaced on Bui Vien to live music and other events at new-ish venues like Q4, Decibel and Saigon Outcast. I'm very interested in how this evolution progresses. In terms of work, though, I feel like it's time to move on. I still really enjoy working for AsiaLIFE, but month by month I'm finding it harder to come up with story ideas. The blank canvas of a new city and country would be a breath of fresh air.

To be sure, leaving Saigon, even with all of its frustrations, annoyances and pollution, is going to be extremely emotional. I expect to be a complete mess my last week here. This has become home in ways that people back home can't comprehend. I'm more familiar with, and plugged into, this city than any other, New Orleans included. When it comes to bang for your buck I can't imagine a better place to live. I work 20 regular hours a week, with weekends, evenings and almost every afternoon off, yet money is never an issue. I don't go out to high-end restaurants or bars regularly, but a couple of nights out a week and a few pricier international meals are no problem. And my apartment has a view that would cost millions in a developed country. I'm not completely ready to give all of that up, and as a result I usually try to ignore the fact that I'm actually leaving.

In some ways, though, I also feel like events in Vietnam could go downhill in the near future. I don't know how much impact this will have on expats, but the government seems to be going backwards. For example, a ridiculous new law banning the sharing of news items on social networks recently came into effect. Authorities claim it is meant to prevent copyright violations, but it's pretty obvious that this is just another attempt at censorship, coming on the heels of demands that all websites host servers inside the country. Rumors of bans on Facebook and Google live on, and corruption is alive and well.

Just as worrying are recent tragedies involving expats. A few have recently died of unknown causes, though it is widely believed that fake alcohol laced with methanol is to blame. As usual the press reported next to nothing on this issue and everything has been very hush-hush, but the word has still gotten out and a lot of people are being more careful. One gets the sense that authorities here are too worried about Vietnam's image, and instead of doing something to solve a problem like bootleg alcohol they simply cover up the deaths. Two teachers have also been raped in the backpacker's area recently. No details have come to light, but such violence is unheard of here, especially against foreigners. Is this the beginning of a trend, or just a few random outliers? I have no idea.

In the end, there are many good reasons to leave Saigon, but there are also many good reasons for me to stay. My friends keep joking that I'll be back, and who knows, perhaps I will be at some point. I'll certainly be back to visit in the future, as I am very interested to see how the city (and country) progress in the coming years. All I know right now is that I'm going to do my best to enjoy my remaining time in this amazing place. On that note, time to go stuff my face with softshell crab.

15 comments:

  1. emotional piece of writing. i too have been having second thoughts about this place. petty crime seems to be getting worst along with major crime like you mentioned. it just doesnt seem safe anymore, i mean who would substitute menthonal for alcohol, a person that just doesnt care about anothers well being, and thats really sad.

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  2. I think we all know the VN government is not concerned with copyright violation what with all the Apple flip flops to Apple helmets to Apple headboards. As much as I love being herev [I reside in the relatively more peaceful city of Vung Tau] I cannot help but feel that the authorities are simply unintelligent and insecure. Unfortunately this seems to have given them ideas which are so asinine that long term results can only be astronimically opposite of what they hope for.

    At least that is what I hope for but with international chain 'food' places arriving at a break neck pace [apparently Vung Tau is soon to have a Pizza Hut!] I don't see the origin countries of such chains giving a shit about human rights, the environment or much else other than the bottom line. Hence eliminating much needed foreign motivation / influence.

    Vietnam may have won many battles over the years but I am afraid it's going to lose much of the national and personal independence and freedoms it sought to protect.

    I'll miss your topical news and views of HCMC and Vietnam but I am glad this resource exists. Best of success in future endeavours.

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    1. Good points all around, thanks for the comment. I completely agree that the authorities seem downright stupid most of the time, I don't know where they find these people. And I'm glad you see this as a useful resource!

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  3. Dude, You cannot leave. You will stay put and continue this blog so that I can live through your experiences. haha.

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    1. Ha, sorry man, like I said the ticket out is already booked!

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  4. Your blog is among the best in VN. Sad to see you go. Good luck
    BTW, methanol laced drinks are common among locals as well. And it's not just VN, but much of south and southeast Asia.

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    1. Yea I believe it. Thanks for the compliments!

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  5. I, for one, will be glad to see the back of you Mikey. Your blog was just too well written.

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  6. Yes, I know, a delayed response to a great post :-)

    I think you have managed to put into words all of my scrambled thoughts and reasons for why I am also planning on leaving Saigon. It has been 8 and a half years in Vietnam, the last 5 of which have been full time in Saigon. It is my favorite place in the world, the best city to live in, but it is soon time to leave and I have also been struggling to explain to friends and family why. Maybe I'll just send them the link to this post and I can start from there.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, glad this post resonated with you! Such emotions are definitely tough to put into words.

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