Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Come on Y'all Let's Take This Town

When settling down in a city, whether it be for three months, three years, or three decades, it's evident that you will find the little nooks and crooks that make the city your HOME rather than just a place you visit. These little pieces of familiarity and tradition become ingrained in your very being and before you know it, you forget about the time when you first landed in your new city, unsure of what lay ahead and confused by your new surroundings.

Hanoi is no different, and while it may take some people longer to adjust to their new life here, it is filled with little things that make it livable and home.

When I was in the U.S. this summer I tried to explain to people why and what I loved the most about this city, but just like an inside joke between friends, it's difficult to comprehend unless you were there. You have to experience this place to fully grasp all it has to offer.

During a long walk through Central Park one late night, I managed to convince someone that Hanoi is a place to try out, enough so that they were enthusiastic to declare that they'd take the plunge and move here as well. Several months have passed and I decided I wanted to send a reminder email as a form of inspiration and incentive to keep the decision of emigrating to Hanoi alive.

As I was compiling my list of reasons (some serious and some personal-which i can't share-sorry!) I realized it would be a good blog post, so I asked some of my nearest and dearest in the city what they loved about this place and have compiled a working list.

REASONS TO LOVE LIVING IN HANOI (in no particular order, more the order the texts came in/I thought of things)
1. The Vietnamese people. Warm, friendly, hardworking.
2. Alcohol. Beer is 1 dollar, wine is $3-10, and mixed drinks you can get for $3 at most places.
3. Currency. There is something exhilarating about being able to not blink an eye when something costs two million. I drop 100,000 at the drop of a hat. It’s nice to be a millionaire. Also, if you're a frat boy you can get generate a lot of giggles from yourself from name of the currency, which for those of you who don’t know, is dong. Examples: "I've got a lot of Dong" “Do you want any dong?” (It never fails to amaze me how grown men never tire of this)
4. Work hours. Most ex-pats enjoy flexible work hours which means much more play time then work time, and definitely more free time then you’d get at home.
5. The food. I don’t even know how I can expand on this. I could write a whole blog just about the culinary experience that living here is. (I'd check out stickyinhanoi instead though)
6. Romance. (if you’re a guy) Hanoi has a lack of hot men, and an abundance of gorgeous women
7. Motorbikes. Living in Hanoi you get to unleash your inner badass because you will, without a doubt, need a motorbike. You will be scared of it at first, then get overly confident and probably crash. (Maybe that’s just me) It’s only a matter of time before if becomes second nature and you’ll become a much better and more confident driver overall (though it may take a while to re-adjust to western driving since there are actual rules involved) It’s also nice to be able to take motorbike trips. Finally, it’s a giant sense of self congratulations when you realize you can navigate and drive without getting lost or hurt. It’s like a daily accomplishment you can relish in.
8. Perfecting Charades. There is a language barrier which can be frustrating, but you can work around it by acting out what you want. The good news is, after living here, it’s doubtful your team at home will ever lose in charades again.
9. Charisma and Culture. Hanoi is full of it, from temples to winding roads to old buildings, this city is beautiful and charming and can make you feel like you’re stepping back in time but still a part of the future.
10. Customs. Sometimes they seem a little weird to us, but let’s face it, they probably think we’re crazy too. I personally adore living in a place with such strong rooted traditions and way of being. Hanoi has been around for 1000 years and is still flourishing. It is fascinating to see how it works here and what we can learn from them. That being said, can you please not park your motorbike in the middle of the intersection?
11. Xe Oms. Thrilling, exciting, they know where they’re going and it’s like an amusement park ride without the long lines.
12. Weekend Trips. While Vietnam has many amazing and beautiful cities that one can go on for a weekend trip, living here is also a great jump-off point for traveling throughout Asia. Weekend in Bangkok? Singapore? Shanghai? Hong Kong? No problem.
13. Gaining strong skills in adapting navigation-don't expect to walk on a sidewalk
14. Learning how to vocalize what you want...for example...if you want the bill, you must shout at your waitress. In the future, I bet you won’t be so shy about taking charge and going after what you want.
15. The pure elation that comes with saying a Vietnamese word or phrase and having a local understand you.
16. Learning humility. When a local shouts at you or gives you a dirty look after they hit you with their bike you will learn that this is actually your fault and you will accept it with grace and dignity.
17. Opportunity. There is an abundance of opportunity for people here, whether it be for professional or personal growth. (Example: It is the only place where a 20 something year old can begin their modeling career)
18. The arts scene. Hanoi has a great arts scene, the talent is immense and manages to blow me away each time. And there are no shortages of art galleries. Amazing ones.
19. Community. The expat community is small and tight knit, giving one a feeling of community and comfort of a small town while actually living in a capital city. (This can also be a negative, everyone knows everyone so if you mishap, then everyone knows. If you want to behave badly, I recommend hanging out with backpackers when you do it, they’ll be gone before you learn their name and they probably won’t remember anyway)
20. Being pale is attractive.
21. It is never boring. How can it be? Even crossing the street is undertaking an adventure.
22. It’s challenging and provocative, it will change you and force you to grow.
23. As it's a fast growing emerging market, there is no better or more exciting time to be here.
24. Perfecting negotiation skills. Bargaining is a part of daily life, and you will become adept at it. You will also learn the art of the perfect time to walk away, which can be applied to other aspects in life.
25. There is a street for everything. While I still don’t understand why this is the case, anything you need is readily available in Hanoi, but it’s all broken down by street. Toy street, underwear street, bedding street, FOOD street, computer street…the list goes on
26. Hot Topic. People back home automatically find you more interesting and worldly if you live out here. They will respect you and think you’re adventurous and exciting. You have good small talk at cocktail parties, because let’s face it, how much can you really talk about the weather? Your loved ones back home will also be very jealous of you and brag about you to others.
27. The people you meet while living as an expat are unlike the majority of those you'll come across at home. It takes a certain type of spirit to pack up and move to Asia, and so any stereotypes about nationalities must be disregarded. Most of the people I've met out here are educated, interesting, adventurous, and approach life with a fresh outlook.
28. It’s Yours. Moving here you can start over in a place where no one knows you. There are no preconceived notions, you can just be. For the first time ever, I feel like the life I am leading is mine.
29. The winters are not (that) cold
30. High standard of living at a low cost. You can find an incredible house, great gym, eat well and go out like a rockstar for a fraction of the cost it would be at home.
31. Exploration. Getting lost is fun in Hanoi. As is wandering. There are so many amazing walks to walk in this city. It may not be Central Park (smile) but there are spots that can rival it.
31. The tailors. Custom, high quality clothes designed for you.
32. Hanoi Cinematheque is just one of the many gems this city has to offer, and you wouldn’t know about it/them unless you lived here.
33. The tailors are exquisite. you can leave the most fashionable person with clothes designed specifically for you that are great quality.
34. The chaos has order. And between midnight and five am the city has a beautiful kind of calm.
35. You will learn who and what back home are really important.
36. The National celebrity is a Ho (I wasn't going to put this in but Viet's text made me laugh)
37. The pharmacies are great.
38. The New Hanoian. What other cities have a resource like this? Not many.
39. You never know when going for a bowl of pho will turn into a job offer
40. I’m here. What reason is better than that? :)

That's the list so far, but I think it will keep expanding. Thanks everyone for your help.

When you first arrive in Hanoi you're struck by the noise and chaos and wonder how anyone could live here, if YOU can live here. But it doesn't take long to see the beauty and magic this place has to offer, and once you do you're smitten and one of us.

PS-I hope you still want to move here :)


  1. you make Hanoi sound incredible but I don't care. come home. BUT I guess since you are so happy in your new home I should just come and visit you instead.

  2. It's nice list, but I'd advice against cajoling your friends into moving to Hanoi with you. I've lived in Saigon, so I can tell that the experience is somewhat similar. It's like acid, where good time is not always a guarantee, and I reckon you really don't want to end up bearing the blames cuz someone's had a freaky "trip".

    On a different note: have you ever wondered why the US One Dollar bill has always been a monotone thing? It's cuz the CIA doesn't want the American people from knowing George Washington looked like a tranny with his whig and powdered face, and please don't get me started on how creepy the eye on top of the pyramid can be after a few puffs of herb.
    Hey, I wonder if the central bank of Vietnam will get a new design for their bills, once the CPV's bosses have figured out their most favored onkel Ho is on a lotta Dongs.
    Sheesh!If only the founding fathers of the world could've forseen the burdens their progenitors have had in store for them. Hmm...I wonder if Viet will blame you for cooking up this list, when he's chilling nicely in a "re-education" camp. Don't wanna insinuate anything-just saying a Communist with a sense of humour is a thing few and far in between.
    Is that finger of yours itchy yet? LOL.

  3. Lol Robert, don't worry about me, I am a bright example of communist party with a flawless background and clear future in the government ruling party.

    One or 2 or billions of un-harmful sarcastic remarks won't get me in camp.

  4. @Viet: Don't direct your sarcasm at any living member of the CPV Central Committee. Otherwise, you could find your self in a lot of hot water like the blogger Co Gai Do Long did.

  5. Did you know that NDM got a law degree from a "forest and plants" university in Russia?

    We joke about how he is fluent in Jungle law all the time.

  6. enough. you two. i like my blog and don't want it shut down. exchange emails like normal people. (and spare me the comments about how you're not normal)

  7. and Robert, I am not cajoling my friends. just a certain one...:)

  8. Where you are, e-mails and cell phones communication are being monitored by the "Ban Chỉ Đạo Tư Tưởng Trung Ương", AKA in Evil American Capitalist's tongue as the Central Thought Directorate. Where I am, it's the NSA's job. How deep down the rabbit hole do you want to go? LOL

  9. This is probably my favorite post of yours. Can't wait to come visit you and have you show me around like the pro you are!

  10. I love visitors and playing tour guide. :)