Updated: Oct 6
Vietnam is home and has been home for the past two years. It will most likely be home for many more to come. Why here of all places?
Vietnamese and Australians alike are baffled when I tell them I left behind a life of comfort in a country which offers excellent, affordable (if not free) education, free healthcare and dental, fantastic job opportunities and salaries. For the luck of having been born in a country with such a high standard of life and social mobility, I am profoundly grateful. For my education which was heavily subsided by scholarships and interest free student loans, I am so damn thankful. For possessing one of the strongest passports and all the benefits that come with it, I am able to live life unencumbered by soul destroying mountains of bureaucracy. In fact, being born Australian (or American, French, German, Canadian etc) is like having won the lottery of life.
Had my grandparents chosen to stay in Vietnam and raise their family there, my life would be very different. When I visited family in various villages and towns in the Mekong Delta, the Central Highlands and Ho Chi Minh City, I was struck by how little separates us. We have so much more in common than meets the eye. Despite being brought up with a different worldview, we all want the same thing: a better life for ourselves and those most precious to us. Only by leaving behind what you love can you fully understand and appreciate the depth and complexity of your relationship with home.
As a person of colour living in Australia, you are constantly reminded you do not belong. Despite being born and raised in the country, you are treated as an object of curiosity. You are intelligent, well spoken, hard working. You have to be, you are representing your people. As author Toni Morrison said in a 1975 speech:
“The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary.”
Living abroad is a breath of fresh air. The burden of this niggling sense of Otherness is lifted from your shoulders. You are a foreigner. You do not belong. In this Otherness there is an exhilarating, intoxicating freedom. Instead of being marginalised, looked down upon, you are celebrated.
Down south in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's most populous city, there is a constant buzz of activity. With more than half of the country's 83 million people under 25 years old, the optimism of youth and the hustle instilled by older generations go hand in hand. Vietnam truly is, as Bill Hayton coined, a rising dragon. As a country on the come up, there are so many opportunities and possibilities. New niches are opening up every time you turn your head, and the dynamism of the big cities is contagious. This is the place for you to make your dreams happen.
In my case, I have an abundance of spare time due to the nature of my work. Per week, I average 24 hours in the classroom. Most of my colleagues work only 16 hours a week, which is sufficient to live comfortably, travel and save. Secondly, as a foreign English teacher, my wage is generous. Which means trying new things and starting up a side hustle is so much more accessible. Living in a country with a high wage and low cost of living means lower overhead and less risk. Finally, whatever skills/business ideas you want to develop, you can - thanks to the people here. Chances are, whatever you want to learn/start doing, someone else has already done it before. Put your feelers out there, listen, connect and make it happen. You never know where it will take you!
More on privilege, read Peggy McIntosh's article here.
More on the Black experience:
Toni Morrison - The Bluest Eye
Angie Thomas - The hate u give
More on the Asian experience:
Alice Pung - Unpolished Gem
Lac Su - I love yous are for white people
Ocean Vuong - On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
Andrew X Pham - Catfish and Mandala
Highly recommended POC authors and poets:
Highly recommended POC singers: