Dani: The Moggys Mekong Madness
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Vietnam etc.
I am a wife and the mum to two children (5 and 7). I have a passion for travelling which has no doubt been passed on to the kids which will leave me crying and waving in an airport departure lounge one day as I say goodbye as they begin their own adventures without me. You can't win them all. We moved here 2 years ago for my husband’s work. We have previously had shorter postings to Cyprus, East Timor and Cambodia. This has been our longest so far. I am also working full time now which has changed my experiences a little and curbed my shopping hours! Originally from Melbourne...the thought of returning home, which we will do eventually, scares me!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I previously blogged about our time in Cambodia as a way of keeping in touch with the family. It seemed like a natural progression to take it up again upon moving here. The blog kind of morphed into something a bit more geared to visitors and expats due to some of the fabulous feedback I was getting. I am still a bit astounded at the amount of hits it gets but it is nice to be able to pass on some information that others find useful. Looking at who reads it now has definitely changed the content. I tend to write less about the children and more about the city and what it is like to live here.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- I loved our Motorbike food tour. And also any of the restaurant reviews. I have had a lot of people write and tell me they follow my food trail!
- This one was a weekend getaway with a friend in Nha Trang. Very excited to be having a guest blogger soon!
- My husband blogged about a 5 day motorbike adventure he and 3 friends took in Northern Vietnam up to the Chinese border.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Vietnam differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
We always had a passion for Vietnam and just had a feeling that one day we would live here. We first visited over 16 years ago and just fell in love. How do you explain love...you just can't. I don't know what it is about the place. It just gets under your skin (and in your hair and on your feet). It is the polar opposite of our life at home. Very social as we eat out a lot more because it is so cheap and we have a helper around the house which frees up our time. It also allows us more time to spend with the kids although we struggle a bit finding activities to do with them which do not leave us in a molten puddle of flesh on the floor. We knew what to expect but were of course concerned about the children and how they would cope. That was a total waste of time as they adjusted immediately and much faster than we did! We are a real team here and have become so close. We always have each other’s backs and are there to listen and protect. Some days they don't mind the inevitable attention they receive on the street and others they are just not in the mood. That’s when it is up to us as parents to protect them and listen to their needs. They know we will always listen and understand. Our communication lines are very strong. It has definitely made us a very tight family unit.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Vietnam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
We more or less knew what to expect. We only have a brief period to prepare which in a way was good as there was no time to get nervous or worry about things. We have a great support network here with my husband’s job and they helped to make the transition as smooth as possible. As the kids were so young we basically brought everything they owned as they would have grown out of the clothes and toys by the time we return. This gives the added bonus of being able to give them away to charity when that happens. If anything, life here has been BETTER than we could have ever dreamed.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
A great thing to do when you first arrive is to try and take at least one language lesson a week. Yes, it is a hard language to learn but if you make a bit of an effort it is really appreciated amongst the community. I was having my weekly lesson when my teacher looked at me quite horrified. I said to her "Christopher (my son) ngủ" Which means "Christopher is asleep" At least I thought I did. I actually said "Christopher ngu", without the tone, which means Christopher is stupid!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Vietnam?
- Try and take a few language classes if you can. It really helps to land and have some sort of control to stop you freaking out. If you can get in a cab and say where you want to go, turn left, turn right, stop here, you feel a whole lot less intimidated. The sentence I use the most here is "Tôi không phải là một khách du lịch tôi sống ở đây. Tôi biết tiền, which pretty much means I am not a tourist, I live here and I know the money. Has helped in my shopping negotiations to no end.
- Leave your expectations at home, particularly if you are going to be living in the big smoke. Living in Saigon is not what the tourist brochure looks like. There are no green rice paddys and young boys prodding buffalo along a deserted road. Sure, you can find those things in Vietnam but not in Saigon. It is hot, busy, noisy, chaotic and crazy. It is also AMAZING! Fabulous restaurants, friendly people, full of adventure, colour, sights and sounds. One of the things I love about living here is that it IS hot, busy, noisy, chaotic and crazy!
- It's fun but it is challenging. To begin to understand the culture and the way things work will take time. It is very different to reading it from a book. Sure, do your research, but you will find once you get here things will fall into place. It's just different. Sometimes yes means yes but sometimes yes means yes but I really mean no. I think some aspects of living here could really drive you crazy if you let it. I find it best not to fight it. Just go with the flow and let the frustrations wash over you if you can. Some days I wander the streets and just cannot believe the experience I am having and how truly amazing it is. Some days, I'm just not in the mood. On those days I just hide under the blankets, switch on the Australia Network and transport myself for the day. Come morning, I am back in Saigon and realise how much I missed it.
How is the expat community in Vietnam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Saigon is fantastic! There are loads of people who have made their homes here and they all have one thing in common, that spirit of adventure. There are bankers and butchers, teachers and IT gurus. The range is diverse. There are many clubs that are geared for expats including an Aussie Rules Football team, The Vietnam swans, and an Australian netball team, The Saigon Shooters. These are a great way to meet other people and they welcome everyone, no matter what you skill levels are, with open arms. There are darts clubs and yoga clubs. Mums groups and reading groups. You could seriously find something amazing to do every night if you wanted to. It's a shame we have to work really! Most countries have a Chamber of Commerce here and they often run functions and gatherings also.
How would you summarize your expat life in Vietnam in a single, catchy sentence?
Living the dream from a little plastic stool.