A friend has recently moved to Saigon a couple of months ago (Hi Shirley!) and has been asking how I survived my first year in Saigon. Actually, in retrospect, surviving the first year wasn’t that daunting.
That was in 2009. I know people who moved here 10 years ago and I’m pretty sure they had a more difficult time. I’ve heard stories of supermarkets and other establishments shutting down for almost 2 weeks during Tet which led to panic-buying a week before the holiday. Christmas and New Year didn’t sound specially fun back then too. Actually, a year ago, I woke up to Christmas Day with some construction work being done at an apartment above ours. I had to call management to remind them that for some, it’s Christmas. And just last New Year’s Eve, our group had to plead to the restaurant at Binh Quoi Resort to open till midnight just so we can celebrate the new year.
So how was my first year like?
We arrived in July (hubby, me, and our 10-month old son) and had to look for an apartment ASAP. Hubby had to go abroad for training for the rest of the year. Can you imagine that? It was just me at home minding the baby. No wonder my son started talking early because I talked to him a whole lot. If I didn’t talk to him, I would have gone crazy.
What helped me survive?
1. The Internet
Luckily here in Saigon, we have good Internet connection (and cheap too!) so I was able to connect with people in Saigon (and at home). My favorite sites or group are:
- www.livinginvietnam.com – BMT (the mod) is such a wealth of information!
- firstname.lastname@example.org – terrific resource for people living in District 7
- email@example.com – resource for people living in District 2 (but its a real good way to know what’s happening in Saigon)
- firstname.lastname@example.org – resource for families with children especially on play groups, day care, clothes, baby stuff, etc.
Now there’s Expats in Ho Chi Minh City Facebook page which you can also check out.
I know it’s difficult to find English magazines here in Vietnam so knowing that Word HCMC and Asia Life are available are just wonderful!
3. Morning Walks
Since I had a lot of time in my hands then (I used to work in Manila for some 8 years before moving to Saigon), I’d go for my morning walks pushing my son in his stroller. These morning walks helped me get to know people in our area. Some locals would strike a conversation with me and I got to be familiar with the shops around. It helped too that I meet up with other Filipino moms in the morning and we’d usually spend mornings at one house where we’d talk and cook lunch.
When I say writing, I don’t mean just blogging. I was lucky enough to write web content and magazine articles for various clients. That really helped me a lot.
5. Visits and Visitors
I think our trip back to Manila to celebrate my son’s birthday and a vacation abroad really helped with my homesickness. Through my new found friends in Saigon, we got around the city. It also helped that a few friends from Manila started visiting. I really look forward to playing host and showing our friends and family our new home.
6. Maps / Bus Systems
When we moved here in 2009, the taxi fare was already expensive so imagine now just after 3 years. What helped was and still is knowing the bus systems around. I take the public bus and shuttle buses (Dong Khoi – PMH, Crescent Mall free bus, Waterfront, Cantavil) available.
7. Learning the Language
I really found the Vietnamese language difficult to study on my own. So I did study with a group of Filipino friends — but still it wasn’t easy if you’re not able to practice with a Vietnamese. But what was important is learning how to speak with the tones which is especially useful when telling the cab driver the name of the streets you want to go to. Either that or I write it down. At the very least study how to speak the numbers, directions, money, and basic questions. There are lots of resources in the web.
Speaking of, you might want to check out former resident James Glasson’s book, The Most Basic Vietnamese – All You Need to Know to Get By. It’s a book by an expat for an expat so that might help a whole lot.
8. Business Groups or Country Groups
You can also check if your country has a business group. Lots are very active in the social like the BBGV (British Business Group Vietnam), CanCham (Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, HKBAV (Hong Kong Business Association, Vietnam) and ours, SAPI (Samahang Pinoy sa Vietnam).
I know my list is not much but it was a start. When I did my best to get to know this country, I found out it wasn’t such an ordeal getting around and there are lots to explore. Communication was a bit of a problem at first but what I can’t translate through Google, I could mime. And nothing beats a smile.