Vung Tau, Vietnam
Dan, a conscript, spent six months at Nui Dat during the Vietnam War. At 55, after the sudden death of his long-time business partner in a menswear business in small town South Australia, Dan had another look at his life. ‘We had a good business,’ Dan said. ‘It was going well, actually, but my business partner and I were getting a little bit older—it’s a young man’s game—so we got out of that, around 2008. Within six months, he died.
‘That was a shock. He was everything I wasn’t. I was a bit crazy. He was a lot more conservative, happily married, a God-fearing man. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke. He went for a check-up for prostate cancer, as it was in his family, and then he was gone. ‘And there was me. Drinking and doing everything else wrong, and I was still going. So I thought, “I better live my life now.”’
Dan thought there should be a lot more to life than what he was doing. He felt like he was wasting away whatever was left. ‘My wife was a good woman, don’t get me wrong,’ Dan explained. ‘She had a fair bit to put up with, with me. But she was one of those people who would stay at home all the time, sitting in the armchair watching TV. Occasionally we might go along to see the local singing group—all these geriatrics, like, our age, up there on stage, singing and clapping and whatever. And I thought, “I don’t want this shit. I might be old but I’m not old up here,”’ he said, pointing to his head.
Dan already had his doubts about the direction of his life but a visit to Vietnam made up his mind. ‘After that, I just walked out. I said to my wife, “You can have everything, the lot, I don’t want it.” And she said, “What’s the catch?” “There’s no catch,” I said. “You can have it all. I have my war service pension, and that’s enough for me. I just want to get out, do my own thing.”
These days Dan is living with a 40-year-old Vietnamese lady in Vung Tau. ‘I met her the second time I came here. But irrespective of that, I would have come to live here anyway. The cost of living is just so cheap. I can easily live on A$500 a week and that’s going over the top.’
Dan rents a classic Vietnamese terrace house, much like what you’d find in Surry Hills in Sydney, which costs A$250 a month, plus A$50 for electricity. He has two floors of the terrace house, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and two verandahs, both with a leafy outlook. Bikes and cars zip along the street. The area is busy and noisy but full of life. Bars, restaurants and shops are just 50 metres away and the beach 250 metres.
Dan and his partner travelled for a holiday around parts of Vietnam for about ten days: ‘That was 20 million dong [A$1000] for the two of us. You can have a great holiday on a wing and a prayer. ‘We’ve hopped over to Hong Kong for the races. I’m going to Thailand next Anzac Day. You can afford to do those sorts of things from here. Everything is so close.’ But Dan cautioned: ‘It is very easy to get bored here. Very easy to fall into the trap, like a lot of veterans do—a lot of them get on the grog mid-morning then drink all day.’
To avoid this, he tries to keep to a healthy routine: ‘Normally I’ll go for about a two-hour walk. I’ll walk for a while, then sit down and have a coffee, then continue my walk. I’ll also go to the beach and have a swim, and there’s a good pool close by as well. ‘The lifestyle here is great. I can walk everywhere. There are the two beaches. I can walk along one then across the peninsula and back along the other. That’s seven kilometres and a lot of that is on sand.’
The move to Vietnam has been rejuvenating, Dan said. It made him feel young again. ‘Coming back here, you just don’t feel old. If you look around here most of the Westerners are around my age and they’ve got girlfriends who are 30 to 40 years old. From the Vietnamese perspective, you’re an old girl if you’re over 30. These women have no chance of marrying a Vietnamese man who’d do the right thing by them. We treat them with respect.’
Dan does not, however, spend his entire life in Vietnam. He flies back to Australia two or three times a year, and stays with his children, his brother or friends. ‘I generally spend a few months here, then back there a month. Then a few more months here, then another month in Australia. Over the year I have about eight months in Vietnam and four in Australia.’ He pointed out that the money he saves living in Vietnam allows his regular return to Australia.