Why I’m Moving to Vietnam

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This almost looks like it fell out of a head full of fantasy.

A week ago today, the magnitude of the events I had set in motion really began to sink in.

Almost a month ago today, the ticket to Vietnam was booked. A week later, I got my visa.

At the time of this post, I’ll be in the final stages of leaving behind the closest thing to home that I’ve felt in few years.

Today’s post is about my big move, from the Catskills of Upstate New York (about 2-2.5 hours north of New York City), to Saigon, Vietnam, clear on the other side of the planet. Many have asked me why I’m doing this, and I’ve provided a multitude of answers. Today we’ll see a compilation of reasons that have me uprooting myself and, quite possibly, living for an extended period of time in a country the likes of which no Rebock has ever set foot.

To more business oriented people, my answer to “why” is for the opportunity to be found there. My skillsets as a writer, freelance editor, and teacher of English as a Second Language have given me tools that have ultimately primed me to become something I didn’t know I really wanted until recent years: to be location independent. To be mobile. Saigon has a low cost-of-living, and is a place frequented by many other people like me. Entrepreneurs, writers, people whose livelihood does not depend on a cubicle and a boss, but on their laptop.

To the more creative and open-minded peers of mine, my answer is that my heart is in Asia. No, I’m not moving for a girl, and while I do romanticize the entire ordeal, it’s not that kind of romance. What I mean by this is that I have always felt an affinity for Asian thought and cultures, having been drawn in that direction since an early age by art and music. To say “Asian,” of course, is a vast generalization, and to narrow it down, I mean South/East-Asia (which I hope comes as no surprise to anyone that that, in fact, is where you’ll find Vietnam). Saigon, also known as Ho Chi Minh City (I prefer Saigon) is a place where I can surround myself with things that I love.

It is a place of digital nomads, one of several such places, where men and women go to chase their dreams.

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My dream, as a creative, is to write.

The idea of having a home base is something special, but the freedom to uproot and go somewhere else is a unique thing few people really possess. It’s not really encouraged by our culture. I grew up in the general area where I’m in now, as of this writing. The Catskills of New York have their charms, and in many ways they were my home for most of my life, but being comparatively itinerant for the last few years embedded seeds of curiosity, wonder, and confidence.

Who’s to say whether I will find a permanent home anywhere, ever, but I have reached a point in my life where I essentially know that wherever that home is, it’s nowhere near where I grew up. Vietnam is about as far away as you can possibly get from New York, and while I am open to the possibility of staying there for an extended time, the distance from my childhood home did not factor into the decision.

If cheap cost-of-living were to be found on the moon, I’d probably jump on that next.

I had a conversation with the Firebeard (you know who you are) before leaving, about the concept of uprooting and planting one’s self in another place. In ancient days, tribes would wander the plains and, sometimes, settle in places to form villages. But others would keep going – over mountains, across seas, through forests. To this day it astounds me to think of our ancestors, after leaving Africa, spending hundreds of generations to spread across the globe. Villages established, nations sprouted, languages formed; everywhere.

And then after these places are formed, there were travelers between them. The Silk Road comes to mind, a long and arduous path rife with danger.

What in the hell possessed people to strike out into the unknown, to risk life and limb to find someplace new, or maintain trade between distant places? Such a journey would likely be the worst experience in one’s life.

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During this conversation, the idea of colonizing new worlds came up. For the sake of argument, we devised a simple thought experiment. Imagine a fully habitable planet were discovered, and a project were set in place to send colonists there. Insert your own reason here. However, it would be such a tremendous draw on the global economy that one ship could be launched from Earth, at maximum, once every 100 years or so. In other words, it’s a one-way ticket, and you as a potential colonist would never have a chance to return to good old Terra.

Yes, on this new world the air is breathable, the plants are edible, and there would be ample other people going with you. Details such as animal life, nasty diseases/parasites, or even tribal races already being there only complicate the thought experiment. So, the basic question is, all this considered: Would you go?

Firebeard decided he would not, and I regard him as one the most adventurous people I’ve ever known. Yet, he feels drawn back to the area where he grew up, and as of this post, to this day he lives there, having traveled various parts of the world but always returning, and is in the process of setting his roots in place.

I said that I would go.

It isn’t so much disdain for what I am leaving behind. It isn’t disappointment with family, friends, job opportunities. It isn’t an inability to “make it” in America or in this culture, whatever American culture is. No, I would go on this one-way ship to another world because if I did not, I would spend the rest of my life wondering, wishing, what it would be like if I did.

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That is why I am going to Asia.

Perhaps I am over-romanticizing it. I’ve no doubt that after I land and adapt, getting over that “honeymoon phase” of moving somewhere new, there will be a couple of reality checks that I’ll have to face. Likely I’ll encounter bouts of loneliness, depression, those dreaded “oh shit, what am I doing?” moments. But there are two benefits to this.

One is that exposing yourself to the possibility of failure is how you grow.

The other is that, as a writer, the key question will not be “What am I doing?” but “How can I use this?”

I’ll be leaving behind family and friends, and am open to the very real possibility of not coming back except to visit. We’ve seen this narrative before in stories, some of the best. The Hero’s Journey, in fact, often begins with the character leaving his/her place of comfort, their home. I wouldn’t dare consider myself a hero, but in terms of the Monomyth/Story Circle narrative, it wasn’t until Firebeard pointed it out that I realized there’s something in common here.

So, in a nutshell, we have:

  • Low cost of living
  • Proximity to like-minded people (entrepreneurs etc.)
  • Job opportunities (Teaching ESL, while continuing my freelance editing)
  • Can continue creative ventures
  • Fascinating culture. This includes a new language to learn, food to taste, music to hear, places to see, and of course, people to meet.

~~~

Today’s music choice comes from Princess Mononoke, a Studio Gibli animated film. Somehow, calling this an “anime” doesn’t sound right to me, though that is in fact what it is. The track comes from the beginning of the movie, after the Introduction of the Problem, and right as the hero leaves his home and family forever. It’s a symphonic suite of the track, as opposed to the original soundtrack.

I feel very strongly about this piece, as I feel the tune and mood it evokes fits strongly with the narrative of my life at this time. Granted, I haven’t fought off any cursed monster boars, nor am I riding a red elk, nor do I expect to set off a chain of events that will change the course of a region. Just this moment, this “traveling between places” moment, is perhaps my favorite part of the entire movie.

 

 

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3 responses to “Why I’m Moving to Vietnam

  1. Jesse,

    I’ve often fantasized about what you are about to do. I talked myself out of it every time. I wish that I had it to do over again and I am happy that you will not be troubled by that sense of longing. By the way, I once had an offer to go to Vietnam all expense paid but turned it down. That was in 1972 😉

    All the best

    Jeff

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