You wanna get personal, I’ll show you personal

April 20, 2009 70 Comments »

Vanity has gone out the window...

Vanity has gone out the window...

View pictures of everyday life in Vietnam

I realize that it’s been quite a while since I’ve left a personal update on my life here in Vietnam. I also realize that my last personal updates were full of struggle which left some people wondering what my future really held. Hell, I ask myself that question every day and still have no answer.

My first 4 to 5 months here were full of self-doubt, and a general dazed and confused state; I wasn’t myself and I hated it. Picking up your life in the ‘known’ to move it to the ‘unknown’ completely by yourself is something that any strong person would struggle with and any sane person would not do. And if you could all be here on the streets of Saigon for just one day, you’d understand what I mean. At least that’s what I tell myself to feel better!

But this post is not about my struggle to remain sane and strong…it’s to tell you about my last 2 months here which have been a big turn around from the first 4 months proving once again, time is the most powerful medicine there is. I got tired of fighting it all the time, and finally just accepted.

Bringing Home the Bacon:
No, I didn’t buy a pig…yet it might go nicely with my neighbor’s roosters. I’ve actually made some changes in my job, I mean jobs. I originally came here to teach ESL at a local language school in HCMC. I did that for 6 months on a part time basis, but just recently I made a big change.

My students

My students

I’m still teaching, but I’ve taken a private teaching gig with a French manufacturing corporation. I met the Managing Director of the plant and he hired me to come out to the plant and main office 3 times a week to teach the employees English. This job is much better for me in many ways; pay and schedule are the two big advantages. It’s still part time teaching 12 hours a week, but it’s enough to support me here. I love being in the corporation learning about their business and seeing a bit of the Vietnamese business culture. I find it fascinating. Plus, it has allowed me to meet and build friendships with some more local people which I always love.

I am also working part time in IT. I have been consulting for a small handbag company for the past year managing and running their website (you can check out their website at, but realize that we are completely overhauling it in a month!) and that work continues on. The most important thing about this work is that I have become good friends with the women who own the business. One of them lives in Saigon and has been a life saver for me in more ways that I can count. I’m also networking and getting asked to do other small project management gigs here in Saigon; nothing major, but they all have potential to make some much needed money.

Where My Heart Is…
No, I haven’t met a man; in fact I’ve realized that there’s zero chance of that happening in Saigon, but that can be a whole different post where I rant about how shitty it is to be a western woman here…oops…I digress. I’m actually talking about my love of the work that I do that I get no ‘bacon’ for. I guess I can call it a labor of love. I’m referring to my websites, writing, and photography.

Where the magic happens - not very ergonomically correct

Where the magic happens - not very ergonomically correct

I’ve been working a ton on Ottsworld changing some things around adding some features, etc.; which the goal of increasing interest/traffic, search engine ranking, and essentially ad revenue. Dammit…click on those ads! I’ve also been working with my biz partner, Michaela, on getting the one and only Career Break website for Americans off the ground. We have put a ton of work into Briefcase to Backpack; writing, marketing, pr, networking…what an adventure. If you want to escape from your cubicle, then check out the website and you are sure to be inspired at how easy it can all be.

Photography is going slow, but I’ve finally made some contacts here in Saigon with some talented photographers that I can work with. There’s a photography club that I’ve joined here which is a great from a social perspective and the assignments provide me some practice and focus. Notice that this work is under the ‘no bacon’ category…but it doesn’t have to be with help from people like you…remember I do sell my photography!!

So technically I’m working at 5 jobs…2 for a paycheck and 3 for the love of it and the hope of a future paycheck. This makes is really, really hard to answer the frequently asked question – “What do you do?”

Lean On Me, When You’re Not Strong…
I’ve admitted the first 4 months I spent here were the most lonely months of my life. I still have my moments, but I have met more people and made some new friendships. I’ve met other people who were just as lost as me and we’ve bonded. Put a bunch of lonely, lost people together and all of a sudden you have a group of friends; or maybe it’s called a self-help group. This has also led to me behaving like myself again; I’ve started to go out and be social. I’m back to taking on too much socially, which reminds me that some things never change. My social activities in Saigon include the holy trinity; eating, drinking, and dancing. These are three things that make me whole. Woo hoo! Granted, the nightlife is a far cry from what I’m used to. The city closes at midnight and everyone flocks to the same 4 bars; I feel like I’m back in the Midwest minus TGI Fridays. But it’s better than staying home and feeling sorry for myself!

Assimilating – Resistance is Futile
If you recall, I made a new year’s resolution to learn to ride a motorbike, and to learn Vietnamese. Both of these skills are necessary here if you aren’t loaded with expat money (and I’m a far cry from that). Plus, one of my personal goals in moving abroad was to really involve myself in the foreign culture. This is actually one of the few times I’ve actually followed through on a New Year’s resolution! I’m riding in the chaos of HCMC traffic (follow my motorbike journey on the Motorbike Diaries) and I recently started taking Vietnamese classes. The language classes have proven to be about impossible as I murder the tones and pronunciation. I actually tried to introduce myself yesterday to a Vietnamese neighbor and she had no idea what I was saying; I might as well have been speaking Dutch….hell, maybe I was. I’ve also gotten involved in a Vietnamese pastime that I’ve always had a secret yearning for – dance classes. Every week I ride my motorbike to Lindy Hop/Swing classes where the women outnumber the men and I’m taller than everyone. Regardless, I’m learning and it’s a bit of fun exercise too as I leave the class dripping in sweat. The class is actually a mixture of locals and French expats…why French – I have no idea.

With the good, comes the bad. HCMC is full of pollution, smoking is allowed everywhere, it’s hot and tropical which makes it mold. One of these things is making me sick.  Actually I have no idea what is making me sick, but I’ve unfortunately developed what the doctor thinks are allergies. This is also why I’m wearing the fashionable mask in the picture.  I’m on inhalers, and daily allergy medicine and it still seems like I hack up a lung everyday. There are no cats around, so I’m baffled at what’s happening to my sinuses and lungs. I seriously don’t think I could stay longer than a year here or I’d die.

A Place to Call Home

My narrow room

My narrow room

My living arrangements seem to be anything but normal. Since I’ve moved here my two suitcases and I have been sleeping all over; and I’m not talking about sleeping around in a fun way . I started at a guest house for 2 weeks, then to a friend’s house for a month, then back to a guest house for a few more weeks, then to a sublet a room in an apartment for 3 months – which has now turned into 5 months, and I’ll be moving my growing bags of possessions to yet another place in June. So for all of you that ask “what’s your address?” This is why I can’t answer you. I do miss having a home. Traveling around from location to location is great when you are on an around the world tour, but when you are simply trying to live somewhere – it sucks.

There you go – now you know what I’m doing, who I’m hanging out with, and where I’m living. In summary, I’m doing a lot of different things; probably too many. As for the inevitable question that everyone asks me, “What’s next?”

I have no idea. I live each month here without knowing what the next one holds; where I’ll be, or what I’ll be doing. I have to say that it’s a challenging way to live life, with no long term plan, only living in the short term. In fact, it goes against every ‘type A’ gene that I have which is probably why I still have ‘bad’ days here despite all of the good things that have been happening the last few months. I do know that this experience has made me really tough. Tougher than I ever thought I could be. I’m not sure that tough is what I was striving for as I think that all of my friends back home would agree that I need to actually soften up a bit and learn to trust people! All I can ask is to have more good days than bad and to keep following my dreams and know that good things will come.

Finally, if you like following this blog, please let me know (that’s what this comment section is for below…duh) and most importantly…TELL YOUR FRIENDS (preferably friends who like to click on ads, are publishers, or are in the travel industry!)

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