Canada from a different perspective

Whenever I would read articles about Canada, they would always be positive and colourful. So I created an amazing perception on this country. And then I moved to Canada (with the aim to call this country my home – yes) and my perception changed. Canada is not bad but there is somehow a lot of hypocrisy and contrast in this country. Here are a few examples:

Political correctness aka impaired freedom of speech
The Canadians say they are politically correct. Due to the sensitivity of most Canadians, there is a 99.9% chance that if you have an opinion on something, someone will find it offensive, racist or undesirable. The Canadians call it political correctness. For other westerners, it would be no freedom of speech.

Country of friendliness but not inclusiveness
Canadians are friendly and smiley. However, they are not particularly inclusive or actually interested in other people’s stories. Given such a great diversity in this country, there is a lack of cultural awareness and authentic foreign food (at least in Toronto).

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Advanced country with not so advanced life
If you are from another western country and you move to Canada, it feels like you’ve moved 20 years back in the past. Lack of infrastructure, backward banking system and dated technology are things you’ll be dealing with on a day to day basis.

Country of new life with no job
Canada constantly welcomes new skilled immigrants yet the country somehow doesn’t provide any jobs for them. There is already a shortage of jobs for Canadians. It’s pretty common for an university educated Canadian to work in a coffee shop or restaurant.
I’ve met a lot of immigrants since my move to Canada who were engineers, doctors or lawyers in their home countries. They came to Canada and became admin clerks and taxi drivers. Canadian immigration says “we need skilled workers”, Canadian employers say “we need workers with experience and skills gained in Canada”.

Working culture that preaches innovation and practises red tape and rigidness
Canadian companies say they want innovation and efficient processes, yet they are risk averse and usually just watch what the US or the UK do and 10 years later they copy what these countries have done. The working culture in Canada is a a culture where employee loyalty (but not necessarily contribution) gets celebrated and promoted over employee capabilities. It’s a working culture with rigid rules and red tape, a culture in which good and young junior people have no career growth or prospects and so they silently stay and complain about their jobs as they have nowhere else to go while the not so good and old senior people stick around and wait for retirement.

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Low paid jobs and high mortgages
The salaries in Canada are shockingly low when compared to the cost of living. A good salary in Toronto is considered to be anything in excess of C$100k. On a salary of C$100k (which is apparently a top 10% salary in Canada), you spend C$33k+ on taxes (not including RRSP pension contributions), C$24k on accommodation unless you are willing to share or spend 3 hours commuting to/from work, C$2,000 on utilities and bills and C$6,000 on bad food. If you want good food because you refuse to feed your body with bread with 25 ingredients or coconut water with added “natural” flavours, GMO or other north-American specialty food, then be prepared to spend three times more on your grocery shopping trips. A shoe-box condo in Downtown Toronto goes for C$450k. In order to buy such a condo, you need a deposit of at least 20%. The motto of Torontonians is “work for nothing, pay for everything”.

Work, work…and…work
I appreciate that my last comment relates mostly to Torontonians. But here goes. Whenever you meet someone new in Toronto, be prepared to have a very fruitful conversation about their work, your work and work in general. You see, work defines Torontonians, work is what makes Torontonians more interesting. Work normally tends to be the main (and usually the only topic) of your discussion with Torontonians. I’ve warned ya!

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Why I left Asia only to realise I want to go back (aka your home is where your heart is)

I guess I left Asia for the same reasons I now miss that part of the world. While living in Vietnam and then Taiwan, at times I felt like I was living in a bubble – all the popularity and privileges of a blonde petite girl and the fun that came with it. I understand now what all the fuss is about, why a lot of Westerners come to Asia and never leave. The life in Asia seems a lot easier, colourful even than that in the West. However, in order to realise this, one has to leave first.  

I am now based in Toronto, Canada. They say Asians are materialistic. I say Torontonians are slaves to the rat race. It seems that Torontonians just work and when they don’t work, then they talk about work and when they don’t talk about work, they talk about their MBAs or schools they went to (and which no one else in the world has ever heard of). It’s almost like they think that work (or their degree) defines them; makes them complete, more interesting, more entertaining. I guess that if I had three cups of coffee, I’d stay awake.

I always say there isn’t much to do in Ho Chi Minh. However, Ho Chi Minh seems like such a colourful, vibrant and eventful city compared to the non-happening sleeping city of Toronto. While living in Ho Chi Minh, I’d go for an amazing cup of Vietnamese coffee or hang out at a pool party, out of boredom. Here, I spend money on clothes, shoes and nice furniture that I really don’t need, out of boredom.

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Towards the end of last year, I was given the option to freelance, which would essentially give me the opportunity to continue my nomad lifestyle and travel more while having Asia as my base. In the end I decided to choose stability and routine in the city of Toronto… I thought that maybe the stability and routine would help me settle down and eventually call Toronto my home. However, when making the decision, which I thought was probably one of the hardest decisions in my life, I completely ignored what my heart was saying to me – that it has chosen Asia as its home.

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I just finished a few week romance with a boy I really liked but just wasn’t into. He sensed it and I didn’t fight it. He thought I had issues and I let him believe it. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t bring my heart to Canada, I didn’t tell him that my heart stayed in Asia. He wouldn’t understand. 

 

Women of Vietnam

A lot of my friends I have spoken to have asked me to write about the kind of people I meet. My first write-up on this topic is on Vietnamese women. The below has been collated based on my observations as well as observations of my male expat friends.

The Vietnamese purpose of motorbikes mirrors

I always thought that mirrors on vehicles are there so we are able to see what’s going on behind us and to avoid any rear-enders. Not for Vietnamese women. The Vietnamese ladies have found a different use of the mirrors – they are used solely for the application of lipstick or mascara.

Warriors in the past, superwomen in the present

A large number of Vietnamese women served in the Vietnam War. They all were volunteers and true warriors, and to date the women in Vietnam are proud of this fact. I’ve been to the Vietnamese women’s museum in Hanoi that has a section dedicated to female veterans – it’s pretty impressive. The Vietnamese women nowadays resemble a modern prototype of female warriors; they are full time workers, full time mothers and full time housemaids. They are super women. Sometimes I wonder why they bother with men. The Vietnamese ladies seem to be pretty capable of looking after themselves.

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Heavy weightlifters

You see tiny Vietnamese women carry enormous boxes of groceries and pull heavy carts with other clutter that they aim to sell at markets. Gotta work those muscles. I also see Vietnamese men on motorbikes on the streets taking naps all day long in the sunshine. Gotta work on the tan!

The celebration of Vietnamese women

The Vietnamese ladies have the entire three days in a year dedicated to celebrating them: the Valentine’s Day, the Women’s Day and the Mother’s Day. Lucky ladies! During these three days, women take priority over other activities of the Vietnamese men (work gets unfinished, the deadlines are not met, drinking with friends and female companions gets rescheduled, etc.). The rest of the year the ladies of Vietnam are taken for granted and are often uncared for.

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The outside over the inside

The Vietnamese ladies take pride of their appearance and look after their external image accordingly. They keep slim, they moisturise, they get their nails and hair done, they wear fake eyelashes and lot of them have fake boobs (I always wondered how such tiny creatures could have such big boobs – until my male friends told me).  In fact, they spend so much time taking care of their outside that I sometimes feel they do not have any time left for taking care of their inside. The Vietnamese women somehow seem to (due to poor education) or pretend to (due to social expectations) lack personality, opinions, global awareness and general knowledge. From the conversations I’ve had with a lot of male expats, the lack of such traits seems to be desired amongst the male population of Vietnam. If a woman shows a bit of personality or has opinions, she is not attractive for Vietnamese men. I guess birds of a feather flock together.

Umbrellas are for sunny days

Just like the Japanese (or rather because of the Japanese), the Vietnamese women are obsessed with white skin. The whiter, the better. Unlike in the western world, where umbrellas are used exclusively during rainy days, umbrellas in Vietnam are used exclusively during sunny days. In my opinion, the whiter the Vietnamese ladies are, the more ghostly and unhealthy they look. The lack of sun, vitamin D deficiency and weakened immune system mean they are always sick.

Yes to marrying a foreign man

A certain category of ladies of Vietnam are crazy about marrying a foreigner as they associate “foreign” with money and the freedom to travel the world. Now, these Vietnamese females know that it is important to choose their foreign guy wisely. The more desperate, uninteresting and intellectually slow the foreign guy looks, the more chances the Vietnamese girl has to get married to them. A lot of expat men I’ve met are only interested in flings and tend to “date” a number of Vietnamese ladies simultaneously while actually looking for someone who can intellectually stimulate them. Intellectual stimulation with a Vietnamese girl will happen once in a blue moon.

 

Backpackers and their stereotypes

Whenever I categorise people based on their personalities, behaviours or traits, rooted from my experience in dealing with them, I get a response “omg, you are stereotyping again”. Well, the word stereotype was invented for a reason. There is also a valid reason for certain stereotypes. I agree, stereotyping makes us ignore unique differences but it also creates certain expectations and as such helps us act / prepare accordingly.

While backpacking through South East Asia last year, I had a chance to meet a lot of backpackers from different backgrounds and nationalities. Slowly, I started placing them into my small boxes:

  • I stereotyped the backpackers I met based on the type of their backpacking / travelling style and created three categories.
  • I also paid attention to similarities based on the nationality of the backpapers. I would only stereotype someone based on their nationality if I got a fit for purpose sample (i.e. if I met more than three backpackers of the same nationality non-simultaneously or a group of backpackers of the same nationality at more than one occasion).

Stereotypes based on a backpacking / travelling style

  1. Tourists
  • The backpackers I categorised as “tourists” tend to:
    • book organised tours,
    • hardly ever choose activities based on their passions or interests,
    • tend to follow guide books and do what all tourists and holidaymakers do.
  1. Travellers (including the nomads):
  • The backpackers I categorised as “travellers” tend to:
    • do most activities on their own,
    • use public transportation and hang out in local places (not just touristy areas),
    • choose activities based on their passions or interests.
  1. Drunkards
  • The backpackers I categorised as “drunkards” tend to:
    • drink all night, sleep all day,
    • not to do much apart from the above two activities.

Stereotypes based on nationality

  1. English guys
  • The better looking English gender,
  • Great sense of humour and banter.
  • Can’t handle alcohol well. 
  1. English girls
  • The worse looking English gender,
  • Can’t handle alcohol well,
  • Tendency to call you rude at 4 am when they get back to the hostel from a night out and you ask them politely to keep their voices down. Tendency to call you rude again at 10 am the following morning when you accidently drop a bottle of shampoo on the floor and wake them up. 
  1. Germans
  • Gotta love the rules!
  • There is nothing that will make the Germans change the rules – have you ever played card games with them? 
  1. Swiss
  • A stronger version of the Germans. The rules are RULES. 
  1. Asian nationalities (born, brought up and living in an Asian country)
  • Seem to have their hearing and / or speech impaired. Don’t say hi to you; don’t say hi back when you say hi first. 
  1. Americans
  • In your face all the time,
  • Very literal,
  • I also met (male) Americans who claimed they were “sarcastic”. If you are English or European, you must be thinking Americans and sarcastic? What? Well, I’ve conducted a research on this topic and there is such thing as American sarcasm. It’s just not really funny or clever the way the English or European sarcasm is. It’s more forced and “in your face”. Unless you are American, avoid at all times! 
  1. Canadians
  • Know how to get a party started,
  • Friendly and inclusive,
  • Hate when other people think they are American when they meet them for the first time. 
  1. Australians
  • Easy to impress,
  • Love making new friends. 
  1. Egyptians
  • Drink like a fish,
  • Can be a bit too serious at times. 
  1. Dutch
  • Fun,
  • Proud of the fact they get on well with the English. 
  1. French
  • Loyal backpackers; once they’ve found a travel companion, they tend to stick with them. 

 

Ten tips on what to do in Ho Chi Minh, a city that has nothing to offer

A lot of tourists that come to Vietnam either don’t bother visiting Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon – the westernised version of the original Vietnamese name Sài Gòn that’s still used in daily speech nowadays) or they do and the verdict seems to be the same – “there isn’t much to do”. While I am of the opinion that this city indeed doesn’t have much going on, I have composed a list of ten “must see” and “must do” things and activities while visiting the business hub of the Nam.

  1. Go to the Saigon pool party that’s held every Saturday at the New World Hotel. I bet you won’t have seen so many tattoos, six packs and inter-racial inter-generational couples in your life. If you are a fairly well-rounded intelligent individual, the median IQ of people at this place will be increased dramatically when you visit.
  2. Pay a visit to one of the many speakeasy coffee shops and order a cà phê sữa nóng (Vietnamese hot coffee with condensed milk) and expect the staff to serve you a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk). The Vietnamese are obsessed with ice and iced drinks and drinking hot coffee is almost unheard of amongst the Vietnamese – “but the hot coffee is hot, lady” is usually the response I get when I return the iced coffee back and ask for a hot one again.
  3. Visit one of the many rooftop bars, but I would advise you do this only after sunset. During the day, the view is spoilt by the unattractiveness of this city. This unattractiveness is cleverly camouflaged by the lights at night.
  4. Spend a day at Thao Dien, the expat bubble. It really is a completely different world out there. You may hang out at a bar pool, get your hair and nails done at western beauty salons, do your grocery shopping at a western supermarket or get a good quality massage (not the crap massage you get in District 1).  I’d say that the majority of expats who have been living in Saigon for a while eventually move to this area for its convenience. One thing to mention – parts of Thao Dien get flooded really badly during the rainy season. So if you are visiting Saigon between May and October, bring your raincoat and wellies.
  5. Spend a day sightseeing. The sights you should visit include the Independence Palace, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the War museum, the Ho Chi Minh City Hall and the Municipal Theatre. I guess the sights will take less than a day. Now, if you do not visit the aforementioned sights, you haven’t missed much.
  6. Explore the famous Cu Chi tunnels, the immense network of connecting underground tunnels built during the war around Ho Chi Minh. If you are tall (i.e. over 180 cm) or fat, you may wish to reconsider as you may not be able to fit into the narrow spaces, designed for the tiny Vietnamese. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you may wish to give the Cu Chi tunnels a miss altogether.
  7. Go on a Mekong Delta tour. I haven’t been and I still live. Do the maths!
  8. Grab a bike or uber a moto and see the city from a different perspective. Sit back and enjoy the ride, relish the adrenaline and watch the chaos, craziness, dirtiness, ugliness of this city. If you think that grab / uber bikers have mastered the traffic or driving in Ho Chi Minh, think again. I’ve already been in an accident while taking a grab bike.
  9. Visit one of the many markets and buy all the clutter that you don’t really need while celebrating the victory of having haggled the price down slightly (hint: you still get ripped off anyway).
  10. Hang out in the backpacker area. Get drunk and be ridiculous – show the Vietnamese how absurd the Western people can be.

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 a 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!

 

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…

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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?

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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.

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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!

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