Nellie & Gavin: Head (South) East
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Vietnam, etc.
My name is Nellie and my husband is Gavin. We lived in the States together and got the itch to travel after our first year out of university. We moved to Istanbul, Turkey in the fall of 2008 and started teaching English at a language center there. We fell in love with the ex-pat life style and knew we wanted to continue living abroad. After two years in Turkey we took a leap at a friend’s suggestion and applied for jobs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We arrived in the fall of 2010 and have been here ever since!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Before we moved to Turkey we started a blog so our friends and family could keep up with our adventures. After the first few months the blog fell to the wayside and was soon forgotten amidst the general revelry of life. Within the first few days in Vietnam, we found ourselves with an inordinate amount of free time and decided to start writing on our blog again and it developed into something a bit bigger than just a way to keep family updated. Gavin and I try to post a few times a week, with content culled from our diverse interests: music reviews, upcoming art and music events in Saigon, restaurant recommendations, travel posts, and recipes.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
This year I started doing "This Weekend" posts that document our weekend activities. Some of my favorites are This Weekend 27 and This Weekend 16. I think they give our readers a very real picture of ex-pat life in Vietnam. This post, In the Rafflesia Village: Looking for the World's Biggest Flower and Drinking Kopi Luwak, about our trip to Sumatra was another one of my recent favorites.
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?
"Comparisons are odious" - Cervantes. We do the same things as we did before, just in a very different setting. I think that our blog, really a lifestyle blog compared to a travel blog, depicts just that: life in another country. We are aware of and sensitive to the cultural differences and idiosyncrasies of Vietnam and instead of spending our time complaining about our adopted country (an all-too-common expat pastime in these parts) we take in everything with an air of equanimity and understanding. We still like to go out with friends, listen to live music, cook at home, and go shopping, we just do that in Saigon - a swollen, South-East Asian metropolis.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Vietnam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think we both regret not learning Vietnamese and if we could do it all over again, we would have started lessons from the first month. At this point it would be just peachy to spout off passages from Huy Can's early poems or be able to discuss last night's episode of Vietnam Got Talent with the gal at our local sinh to stand.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Life in Saigon is a comedy of errors: just sit back on any street corner and watch the speeding milieu race past. With unadulterated humanity constantly at your fingertips, hilarity is never too far off. Ever been pick-pocketed by transgender gangsters? Watched women in ten-inch high heels throw boiling vats of soup and plastic chairs at each other? Entered your workplace to find your middle-aged boss curled up in fetal-position, dozing away under her desk? All this and more awaits you in Vietnam.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Vietnam?
- You don't have to drive! Take a xe om (motorbike taxi) if you are intimidated by the endless rush of traffic, I do every day. It makes my life a lot less stressful.
- Live in town. The towering high-rises of District 7, with their Western amenities, are tempting indeed, but living in the heart of the city is so much fun.
- Go out and explore. There is so much to do and see in this city, so grab a camera and map and get out there! It goes without saying that Ho Chi Minh City is developing in every direction but down, so take advantage of it, as it won't be like this forever.
How is the expat community in Vietnam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Ho Chi Minh City is home to a huge ex-pat scene. I'm still amazed at the sheer size and diversity of the expat community. Despite knowing a lot of people here, I often find myself at parties or events where I don't know ANYONE! That diversity is a true gift as anyone can find a compatible social group and/or recreational niche in this town - whether it be playing beer-soaked darts with the guys, throwing raw-food dinner parties, getting to know the working girls, starting a band, clubbing till the sun rises, or taking a painting class. As Todd Shaw so eloquently put it - "Get in where you fit in!"
How would you summarize your expat life in Vietnam in a single, catchy sentence?
Life isn't easy in this tropical metropolis, but it sure is vibrant, thought-provoking, and fun.