HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why I Moved Back to Vietnam

This is a question I've been asked repeatedly over the past few days, and in many ways the answer is much simpler than the inverse, or why I left Vietnam last year.

When I moved back to New Orleans last October, I had no intention of staying for good. I still wanted to live abroad, but I thought I was done with Vietnam. Eventually I decided that I would've stayed in the U.S. if a good job opportunity had presented itself, but none did. (There was the possibility of working on a senator's re-election campaign, but that reality took far longer than expected to flesh out, and by the time they seemed ready for me I had already booked my flight out.) It's a real shame that there is a distinct dichotomy in America between people who enter the rat race right out of college and people who decide to do something different. My college friends all have steady jobs that they are well compensated for, and I'm often envious of their financial stability. Meanwhile, they are jealous of all the cool shit I've done overseas. There seems to be no middle ground, it's either stay home and build your network or cut all ties and get on a plane.

I briefly looked into working in another country, primarily South Korea or Japan, but in June I realized the easiest thing to do would be to go back to Saigon. As if to confirm this feeling, I had two promising job leads after just a few weeks of looking, in comparison to months of (admittedly half-assed) hunting in the states. Unless you're in a hard-science field or a lawyer, it's probably easier for someone in their 20's to find work overseas than in America.

Ultimately, the main reason I wanted to go back to Vietnam was boredom. I realize that saying I was bored in New Orleans, one of the most vibrant cities in the U.S., seems stupid, but bear with me. To be sure, I had some absolutely great times back home: I saw family and college friends in Pittsburgh (twice); thoroughly explored New York City; went to California for the first time; had a hilariously drunk Mardi Gras; ate loads of amazing food; saw a lot of fantastic live music (Arcade Fire, Jack White, Dr. Dog, Mogwai, The Dear Hunter, The Killers, etc.); and made some wonderful new friends, but I missed the lifestyle of being an expat, especially in Saigon.

I always had a hard time explaining this to people, since almost no one equates Vietnam with being a great place to live. The simplest explanation I could give is that there is so much freedom here. Yes, this is a strange thing to say about a city located in a country run by an authoritarian Communist government, but expats (particularly those from western countries), for better or worse, sit somewhat removed from the bureaucracy of living here. We can arrive at the airport, apply for a three-month visa with every intention of just getting another without leaving the country, work without a work permit, rent a motorbike without a license, and move into a house immediately without signing any paperwork. (It's not always quite that simple, but that's exactly what I've done since arriving on Thursday.)

There is also a much greater sense of optimism in Vietnam; a feeling that the future can still be bright. The U.S. has become depressingly cynical and close-minded; the political climate is sickening and ignorance seems to be celebrated in some quarters. (Again, I'm fully cognizant of the irony of writing this from a single-party state where dissent is swiftly suppressed, but people here learn to work their way around the government instead of just complaining and yelling at the TV all the time.) I hope that my generation of Americans can change this, but it will take time.

Anyway, I'm digressing. I moved back to Vietnam for more excitement, more cultural immersion, more travel, and more opportunity. When I arrived here in 2010 I knew nobody and nothing, and ended up carving out a pretty good life for myself. Instead of looking at my decision to leave last year as a mistake, I'm choosing to consider how much I should be able to accomplish this time around, with a solid network of friends and connections and a healthy knowledge of the country. I don't know how long I'll be here this time, but I'm looking forward to whatever is coming my way.

6 comments:

  1. Welcome back Mike ! Excited to follow your blog again hopefully I can do what you're doing someday...last year of college ugh lol

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    1. Thanks! I can't recommend doing something like this enough.

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  2. Hey good to hear you're back and all the best in your endeavors. Btw, did you bring your bicycle back or you plan to get a new one?

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    1. I left my bike in the U.S. since it's so cheap to buy one here. I already bought a used one off a friend who is leaving soon for $100.

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  3. Your story sounds so similar to my own. I also just had an unfruitful year back in the UK and your reasons for moving back to Vietnam sound so much like my own thoughts these past few months. There's such a different mindset and a sense of opportunity in Vietnam.

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