Six Years in Saigon (2004-2010)

It is hard to believe, last week I hit the six year mark in Vietnam.  Things have changed in the last six years I have lived in Saigon.  I have lived in several parts of the city, each with their own memories:

  • Thu Duc District (May, 2004, – September, 2004) – I volunteered for Jon Tinquist’s Amerasian organization, AAHope.  Jon and his assistant, Bao Chau, took care of me during my early days in Vietnam.  My lack of understanding Vietnamese culture and tension forced me to leave Thu Duc for District 1.  At the time I thought it was their fault, in retrospect, it was my fault but in the end, they helped me to grow…
  • District 1 [Le Lai Street] (One week in Sept., 2004) – Transition, my first real experience by myself in Vietnam though I had help from a friend and her mother.  I stayed in a mini-hotel for about 5 days and in a house for about 2 nights.  I left because the landlord decided to redesign the bathroom meaning no toilet.
  • District 5 [Tran Binh Trong Street] (Sept, 2004, – January, 2006) – Many memories.  I really enjoyed living in District 5.  I am still friends with the landlord and their children.  I raised Smokey there who was a gift from my ex-girlfriend.  My first Tet in Vietnam was in District 5.  One of my favorite roommates was Jeremy.  We had long chats at night about anarchism and Buddhism.  I saw Quan Am in this house which makes a good story to tell Vietnamese.  It is a true story…
  • Phu Nhuan District [Huynh Van Banh Street] (January, 2006, – April, 2010) – Over four years I lived in this house.  I really liked in but construction in the surrounding areas took it’s toll on the house.  I had 3 different roommates, Lucky and Smokey there with many kittens.  This house has many sad memories as well.  It was there that I finally had to confront the fact my ex-gf/ex-fiancée committed fraud against my client, embezzled from my company and stoled money from me.  It was not something that a sane person could easily deal with but leaving this house really helped me refocus on my life, friends and company again.  Unfortunately, before I left, Smokey got poisoned.
  • District 1 [Gia Trinh House] (April, 2010, – present) – Transition.  I expect to stay here at least 6 months.  I find that I am questioning who my true friends are at this juncture of time.  It was a question I should have asked a long time ago.  Smokey, my cat, died in this house…

Friends

This is the surprising part about living in Vietnam.  I have managed to keep close friends for the entire six years who gave advice to me along the way.  They did not tell me what to do, they just let me make mistakes and explain what happened after.  This helped me adjust to living in Vietnam faster.  These are true Vietnamese friends which are hard to come by.

I hate to say it, you cannot survive in Vietnam, or any other country, without the support of very faithful friends.

How would I describe my six years in Vietnam in one sentence?

“Vietnam is like attending an American high school all over again.”

Your first 2-3 years you are a freshman.  You are gullible, you believe everything.  You believe everybody is your friend and really want to help you.  You can’t defend yourself, you get used.  If you are a guy, you really do believe that your Vietnamese girlfriend loves you.  Many Expats get crushed during the first 2-3 years in Vietnam and run home with their tails between their legs.

Years 3-4 you start to understand Vietnam and the culture a little more.  These are your sophomore years.  You are still gullible but you can protect yourself.  You question every intention, whether good or bad.  You learn that being paranoid is actually a good thing in surviving in Vietnam.  The motorbike riders seem normal to you.  You begin to like Vietnam.  You may have been engaged to a Vietnamese girl this time but if you did not marry, then you will most like get divorced.  Culture is still biting you in the butt.

Years 5-6, you are a Junior.  You think you know many things about Vietnam but in the end, you realized the last 5-6 years you learned nothing.  These years are great times to fail in your business, for the first time.  These years you thing you are strong so you let your guard down.  That is why you will fail in business, just ask the Expats that lived here.  NEVER let your guard down.  Lick your wounds, move on.  Relationships during these times are worthless because you are worthless during these times.  Again, move on!!!

Senior, what is it like.  I do not know.  I am still a Junior in Vietnam waiting to be a senior.  I suspect it means growing up a little bit and being more confident.  I expect this to be a short phase lasting just a couple months before graduating to the real Vietnamese world.  It could also be a long phase, I do not know.

I will let you know when I get there, though… :-)

In the meantime, I welcome my sixth year in Vietnam.  I expect many, many more to come.

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Comments

  1. fitzecarraldo says

    Hello Kevin,

    Thanks for the insight on your time in Vietnam so far.

    Didn’t hear the high school analogy before but it fits totally to what i know about it.

    Can’t rank really in the grades as i am off and on Vietnam, but i can relate to it, as i spend a lot of time here.
    Guess i d be the exchange jun. stud thow :)

    You came a long way, wish you good luck in moving on.
    Sebastian

  2. mike says

    Kevin,
    Sorry to hear about Smokey.
    Gosh you sure have come a long way. I really look forward to meeting you when we arrive early next year. I hope you are still there. Fortunately, I have family in Vietnam and I’m sure they will lead me down the right path. I agree with you in that it is an extreemly conservative culture. I will email you privately in the next couple of weeks to get your opinion on different issues as the time is slowly approaching that I get off the dime and make ready for my new life. Continued good luck in your new house.
    Mike

  3. vincent jaubin says

    Glad to hear that you are almost graduating Kevin :)

    You are absolutely right to never let your guard down. You probably already know from your Vietnamese friends that Viet Kieu can’t even trust their own family, especially when they sense you have money. It’s sad but true. There is an emphasis on money that is disconcerting.

    There is no shortcut to be a senior in Vietnam and you have to learn certain things the hard way.

    Best luck to you.

    Vincent

  4. Scott Tung says

    Hey Kevin,

    Congrats on your sixth anniversary in Viet Nam!

    Thinking about all the districts you’ve lived in, have you ever had any impression/thoughts on living in Phu My Hung? I have my own opinions but would like to see you write about yours if you have any.

    Agree with Vincent that Viet Kieus, such as myself, have a hard time discerning which relative, friend and/or potential girlfriend are sincere in their intentions.