If home is where your heart is, then for now my home is Saigon.
Two years ago in April 2014, I was sent by my previous company to Ho Chi Minh (ancient Saigon), Vietnam to attend a 3-day conference which fell on Wednesday to Friday. It was my first ever travel outside the Philippines. My boss was gracious to allow me to extend my stay in the city until Sunday. My being adventurous just won’t permit me to stay in the hotel after the 8am-5pm conference sessions. So before I boarded the Saigon-bound plane, I did some pre-travel assignment. I reached out to some connections at my local church who know some contacts from Vietnam. Before I even landed Ho Chi Minh, I already have contacts to meet. 🙂 I met some members of Every Nation Ho Chi Minh and spent some time with them during the weeknights and during Saturday. I didn’t know Couchsurfing yet at that time but my experience of meeting contacts in HCM is just the same as using CS.
Among the handful of people I met there, mixed Vietnamese and Filipinos outside the conference, Praise is the one that I got to build the closest relationship with. I saw the city of Ho Chi Minh while I sit at the back seat of my new found Vietnamese friends’ motorbike. Our short but meaningful time together built a good friendship. When she went to the Philippines to study last year, we had some food trip and dates. She’s back in Vietnam now, staying at Da Nang. She and her starting family is one of the reasons why I’m coming back for Vietnam. 🙂 More importantly though, Vietnam has been the country that I’ve always longed to go back to, not just to tour but to live in.
Two years after that first trip abroad, I shifted my sails and headed back to Saigon. I recently left my job in the Philippines to embark on a new adventure, one that I haven’t tried before, i.e., living in a foreign territory. I wanted to do a lot of things like work for a humanitarian organization abroad that would touch lives of people, help in the ministry and travel at the same time. I thought I only had to pick one and wait for the next season to experience the other. However it’s starting to dawn on me that I can do all at the same time. With teaching, I could touch lives of my students while being available for the ministry during free time and spend probably one weekend every month to travel. I’m not sure how long the Lord will keep me here but I’m ready whenever he decides to move me.
Now that I’m back here, I don’t even feel like a stranger. I feel like I belong. I feel a close connection to the locals. I can really say that Saigon could be a good home to me. Aside from my personal feelings, below are 8 characteristics of Saigon that’s making me fall in love with it more as a Filipino. This is not to compare my lovely Philippines because to each is its own beauty and challenges. I just intend to show my appreciation to my new host country. 🙂
- Tight bond of the Filipino community. One thing that most people are afraid of when they think of long-term travel abroad is home-sickness. So far, it’s not been a problem for me because I am blessed to have found a Filipino community here who doesn’t just guide me as a Saigon newbie, but also helps me be closer to God.
- Vietnamese locals are kind and willing to learn. Although communication barrier between foreigners and locals is poses a great challenge to understand them and be understood by them, you would see from their facial expression their kindness and gratitude. A lot of younger locals who also wants to practice their English so you might get yourself caught in a good conversation with a local.
- Food. I always get giddy when talking about their food. It’s amazingly delicious, healthy and cheap! There are a lot of food stalls and stores where I could just go in and for me, whatever they serve is always delicious and does not pose a heavy damage to the pocket. With $2, I can already have a decent lunch/dinner. Add $1 more and I could already have a premium meal. Of course there are also other restaurants that offer other kinds of food like western, european and asian, but the price is generally lower compared with menus in the Philippines.
- Streets and transportation. Vietnam is the motorbike capital of the world. Since I’m an adventurer, I don’t mind the inconvenience of the sun or rain when I commute through bike. The traffic will not cause you headache. For me anywhere is near because of the fast travel time. GrabBike is a good option as well at a cheap price. There’s also a decent bus system within and going in and out of the city. I plan to learn riding my own motorbike though. 🙂
- Fast internet connection. You can leech WiFi from almost every coffee shop or restaurant, even the ones that offer cheap good stuff. This is especially important for me because I love having quiet time over a drink or snack, while writing, reading or probably just thinking. 🙂
- Authentic items are cheap. Forever 21, Zara, Under Armour, Adidas and the others. I’m not very familiar with the brands of dress and shoes but I care about NorthFace since I need outdoor gears 🙂 Original items are cheap here 🙂
- Opportunities are available for Filipino Expats. Most expats here work as an English Teacher and get a good pay per hour or per class. I know people too who are practicing IT and Marketing here.
- Beauty in diversity. Vietnam is a home to a rich history of a people colonized by Chinese and French. Many structures still resemble the architecture of the previous colonizers. There are also nature spots and remains of the war that became tourist attractions. Travelers here have a handful of options to put in their itinerary.
- Vietnam is a doorway to IndoChina. This excites me a lot because Vietnam is near Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Myanmar which means cheap fare and accessible transportation. 🙂 Cheers to the coming holidays!!! 😀
There are probably a lot more reasons to fall in love with Saigon but I only need some, like those in the above.
More than the physical and relational benefits i get from Vietnam though, I’m enjoying the most the time of not knowing what will happen next. I’m still looking for a job now. Of course uncertainty gives a feeling of fear and confusion. But it’s during these times that I get an opportunity to trust God more. I get to see him provide in ways I have never seen before. It’s the most exciting adventure so far. 🙂