BY: RAINA REYES (FROM THE ARCHIVE)
When I first started writing about living in and falling in love with Saigon, I felt like I could go on and on about how good this city has been to me. It was the perfect place for someone who was moving away from home for the first time – think good food, next-to-nothing living expenses, amazing (and possibly life-threatening) adventures, and the most real, down-to-earth people I have ever met in my travels. Saigon draws you in like that. You arrive fearful and unsure of what it has to offer, and then it starts to welcome you with open arms.
I would say I was lucky that way. I managed to meet the right people, find the perfect job, and discover the city in a very personal way. Life is easy here – comfortable and simple. I wake up in the morning; grab a drink in the coffee shop across the road; drive through the city; fill my belly with delicious street food; work for a few hours; grab a few beers by the canal; and head back into my cozy little alleyway to call it a night. That should have been it, the happy ending to my story of living abroad. In truth, I’d be a fool to ever want to leave.
Then, slowly, the comfort of it all starts to make you feel uneasy. It turns out, millennials like me can’t get a break from this constant “search for meaning and adventure” thing.
Most people would call it being stuck, but I never really felt like I was trapped in Saigon. Saigon is the definition of freedom, particularly for expats. I still and will always love it here. But such is the tragedy of falling deeply in love with something that you knew you could never call your own. It was good to me, and there’s no place I’d rather be, but my whirlwind relationship with Saigon is slowly coming to an end. There is nowhere else for it to go.
Before we even get into the stressful process of actually moving away (e.g. figuring out WHERE the heck I should go), I figured that anyone who may be feeling “stuck” or in the midst of a major life transition might be able to relate to these existential questions I asked myself before I made the decision to leave. Hopefully, they serve as a little guide for you too, should you be considering to “stay or go”, may it be in relation to deciding on a place to call home, a long-term relationship, or a possible career change. Life and all its aspects seem to be inevitably intertwined, after all.
Existential Question #1: Who are you?
So maybe you don’t know. You don’t really have to know so early in life, and some people may never even figure it out. But think about how you are living your life now, and look around you. Do you feel like you fit into this scenario? Do you belong to this community?
The fact is that Vietnamese is a tough language to learn. I have made my attempts, and the only (very lame) excuse I can give to not progressing in my learning is that “life got in the way”. However, language is crucial to being fully integrated into society. I merely survived in this country without learning the language, but I have always felt that if I had just made more of an effort, I could have created deeper and more meaningful relationships with people.
Existential Question #2: What are the things you value?
There is no judgment here. Some of us value the practical things in life, having a stable career, saving up for early retirement, or starting a family. Others want to enrich their knowledge of the world through travel, or maybe want to tick a hundred things off their “bucket list”. One scenario is not more or less meaningful than the other, but are you able to enjoy the things that you value? Or are you able to take steps towards attaining the things that you value?
My career as an occupational therapist has always been on the top of my personal list. It is not ALL that I am, but it plays a big part in what I want to be able to achieve in my life. Currently, I am one of only 4 qualified occupational therapists in Vietnam, and maybe the only one working in the field of pediatrics in my current district. Working in Vietnam has taught me to adjust to different cultures, believe in my own capabilities, and accept the barriers of working in a place where my field is practically non-existent. Despite all of these, there is still so much to learn and experience, and unfortunately, I’ll have to look elsewhere for continuing education and mentorship. There is great value in being surrounded by people who challenge you to be better in your chosen field.
Existential Question #3: Is this really IT?
Think about your life 10 years from now (It makes you cringe doesn’t it?) If you stay where you are now, will you be satisfied with the way you have lived it? Have you experienced all there is to experience, or rather all that you WANT to experience?
Saigon is the first city out of Manila that I’ve actually lived in. I’ve never been to Europe, and I’ve never really been outside Asia. I’d like to think that life has much more in store for me. Saigon has changed me so much as a person, so it would be interesting to see how that “new person” lives in a new city.
Existential Question #4: Did you do it for YOU?
There is a constant struggle with living a life for others and living it for ourselves. Family and friendship are so strongly ingrained in Asian culture that they are impossible to dismiss, and sometimes much easier to use as a reason for the paths we choose to take.
What I have found by living in Saigon is that learning to live alone doesn’t mean you want to BE ALONE. It just means you recognize that your life is your responsibility. Making your own happiness your responsibility is so important, especially when you’re trying to keep yourself afloat in a foreign country. On the other hand, accepting the grave consequences of your actions, teaches you to respect the uncertainties of life. Whatever path you choose, make sure to take your happiness into consideration.
Still, I have to keep in mind that I haven’t left Saigon just yet. There are still quite a few cups of caphe sua da and motorbike trips to be had. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a leap of faith and YOLO-ing our way through life (that’s what brought me to Saigon after all), but I just find that coming to terms with the WHYs in your decision-making keeps you anchored to the path you’ve chosen to take. There will be struggles, and all hell may break loose, but at least you’ll have a reason to cling onto.