Vietnam survival guide or how to assimilate to the life in Vietnam

No one has ever said “I love living in Vietnam”. No one has ever said “I hate living in Vietnam” either. The majority of the expats who have assimilated into this country “accept” living here and those who haven’t, leave.

The cognitive process of assimilation in Vietnam could be broken down into three stages, as follows:

  • “Beauty to beast stage” (0 – 6 months): From a person with a lovely soul you turn into a nasty savage. This period brings the worst in you, in fact it brings up the personality traits you never thought were part of your character.
  • “Digestion stage” (6 – 12 months): You are digesting. While digesting, you are becoming more accepting and tolerating. Your expectations and standards have decreased dramatically. You have stopped caring; you have started assimilating.
  • “Acceptance stage” (over 12 months): You have accepted the life in Vietnam and now believe that it is normal too. You have assimilated. Congratulations!

I have collated the following fourteen tips that should serve as a guide on how to survive the first two stages and achieve the ultimate state of acceptance of life in Vietnam. The list is not exhaustive and more tips are welcome!

  1. Don’t have expectations. If you don’t expect anything, no matter what you get, it will be bonus.
  2. Lower your standards on everything and everyone. That way nothing and no-one will ever disappoint.
  3. Change your wardrobe – “the cheaper, the better”. Recommended colour – grey. Only grey can absorb the dirt and dust and yet retain its original colour.
  4. Keep your belongings with you at all times, or give them to the charity instead as the pickpockets will take over their ownership.
  5. Beat the traffic by becoming a fume hoover on a motorbike or “fail” the traffic by using taxis.
  6. If you are not used to smiling, learn to smile. Most of the communication with the locals is done through smiling. So keep smiling. If you are English, get yourself a good dentist first.
  7. Learn how not to take No for an answer or accept No as the answer you’ll get.
  8. Learn to be patient. An estimated time for something that takes five minutes to resolve in the western world is approximately two hours in Vietnam.
  9. Get an appartment with a washing machine and do your washing yourself or risk losing half of your clothes and the other half being damaged.
  10. Learn to haggle effectively or you’ll end up paying almost western prices for non-western quality services and goods.
  11. Find yourself Vietnamese friends – you will need their Vietnamese language skills at some point. On this note, if your aim is to sort out a certain problem in an efficient manner, don’t involve your Vietnamese friend in helping you do so. They have a talent to turn a small problem into a big one…sigh.
  12. Learn to ignore the locals on the street or practise “no, thank you” as you’ll have to say it over a hundred times a day.
  13. Learn to use the correct words for describing certain services. For example, the response you give when someone asks how good the massage place was, is “clean”. In Vietnam, clean means good. Learn the meanings of these words and use them accordingly.
  14. Teach yourself to make the “small talk” or learn to drink heavily – with most expats you either small talk or booze. If you are not a fan of either, stay at home and read books or write blogs.

Happy Vietnam living, folks!

 

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Vietnam in the eyes … of male expat guys

In my previous blog I wrote about my perspective on Vietnam. Based on the (fruitful) conversations I’ve had with some expat guys I’ve met in Ho Chi Minh over the last few months, I’d like to give an overview on how I understand their perception on life in the Nam.

Smiley people

The people in Vietnam are lovely, they really are. They always have smiles on their faces, unlike the miserable people you meet in London, Paris or certain Eastern European cities. I sometimes wonder what tragedy has caused their faces to turn so sour. The Vietnamese smile constantly; when they screw up on something that really matters to you and your face goes red, they smile, say “sorry” and keep smiling – “don’t lose your face, don’t lose your face…”. Such lovely smiley people, aren’t they just?!

“Free” country

Despite the fact that Vietnam is a communist country, you feel free. You can pretty much even piss and shit in the middle of the street in Ho Chi Minh – literally. The other day while I was on a bike, I noticed an elderly “lady” taking her pants off and squatting in a park (not sure whether she was doing number 1 or number 2).

You can smoke in most public places and while doing most activities, including driving a car or riding a motorbike. The Vietnamese lungs have an endless capacity – they are capable of hoovering the road fumes while simultaneously inhaling cigarette smoke. So efficient!

I should also mention that you can drink and eat anywhere in public places, and there is no need to take the rubbish with you afterwards.

Finally, while the Vietnamese law requires you to hold a Vietnamese driving license when riding a motorbike in Vietnam, the rental shops don’t. Not sure who is in violation of the law, the rental shops or the renters?! If you cause an accident and don’t have a driving license, well, I guess you are in trouble. So don’t ride (and make the rental shops go bust), don’t cause an accident or get yourself a Vietnamese driving license!

Ps: I believe there is a Facebook group for expats only living in Vietnam (no Vietnamese are allowed to join this group) that’s dedicated to sharing interesting (read disturbing) anecdotes and photos from a daily life in Vietnam – worth checking out.

Girls, girls, girls

From being able to get zero girls for months and sometimes years in the western world, foreign guys can have a different (Vietnamese) girl every night in Vietnam. Mr Don Juan Casanova would be proud.

Vietnamese girls, just like most Asian girls, have beautiful silky hair and amazing smooth skin (no sarcasm here). They are small, slim and petite – they are pocket-sized, and hence practical. They are usually very nice too and sit quietly and obediently in a corner at all times on a night out. No leash required.

If you are a foreign male, you are handsome

If you are an ugly or mediocre looking male in the eyes of western girls, the female Vietnamese eyes will “see” you handsome. There should be a scientific research conducted on this – I sometimes think that my eyes don’t quite see what the eyes of the Vietnamese chicks do.  Or maybe just our definition of “handsome” differs. Who knows…

I’ve also heard from my male friends that the Vietnamese females have interesting synonyms for the word “good-looking”, which include white skin, colourful eyes, light hair, tall, etc.

From nobody to somebody

If you have failed in the western world, it’s very likely you’ll make it in Vietnam. If you were average or below average in the west and / or are not particularly gifted or talented, the chances are that you may become a super star in Vietnam. Have you ever heard of “FILTH” (failed in London tried Hong Kong)?

Luxurious life is affordable

You can afford a “luxurious” life on a regular “expat” salary. You can live in an apartment with an outdoor swimming pool and a gym. You can afford to drink fine liquor at fancy rooftop bars every night. You can also afford to pursue expensive hobbies, such as tennis or keeping multiple Vietnamese female gold-diggers.

Food

If you are a proper guy (i.e. a guy that loves meat), Vietnam is the country for you. It’s almost impossible to find vegetarian dishes in local restaurants so you don’t have to worry about not getting your daily dose of protein (pork, beef, dogs).

If you are vegetarian, you can get yourself a cook for the cost of VND 2mil per month (approximately $90) + the ingredients. Just make sure that you thoroughly explain to your cook what your “western” food allergies and intolerances are; the cooks in Vietnam don’t usually speak good English and don’t understand the concept of “western” food allergies or intolerances. So good luck!

Stunning countryside

The countryside in Vietnam is beautiful; the serenity, the calmness, the honking out of the blue … the pigs and the cows on the road … the dirt and the litter everywhere…

The Vietnamese are innovative aka the multipurpose of motorbikes

The Vietnamese are super innovative, particularly when it comes to the use of motorbikes. Their bike does not provide just a means of transportation for themselves but also for their pets and oversized items of groceries. I’ve seen fifteen pigs travelling on a motorbike (read tied to a motorbike) with a Vietnamese guy. I’ve also seen a man riding their bike together with twenty 20-litre bottles of water.

A bike is big enough to transport the entire family (husband, wife and two kids) from a point A to a point B. If you want to try it, this is how it’s done: you sit one kid on a chair in front of you and your second child will sit between you and your wife. I would recommend you only try this if your wife is pocket-sized. I’ve mentioned before that Vietnamese girls are practical, remember?

Coffee culture

The coffee culture in Vietnam is massive. I absolutely adore Vietnamese coffee and am obsessed with the combination of black coffee with condensed milk. If you haven’t tried it, you haven’t lived. I also think that’s where the Vietnamese culture starts, and also ends.

The game of haggling

While at a market, the price you are told for the item in question is usually substantially overstated. I’d say that the real price is normally half of the asking price. So you have three choices: you choose not to bargain and that way you help the sellers meet their daily earnings target faster (they are the winner) or you bargain to the point where you pay the “real price” (you are the winner) or you meet them in the middle (everyone is the winner). The Vietnamese love the haggling game – you should play too!