Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Rose and Sam

Rose moved to Saigon in 2012 with her partner Sam. In fact, Rose made it happen after she fell in love with ‘the smell of the place’. Rose explained: ‘I had been on two holidays in Vietnam and I was struck by the place. And I had seen [the film] The Quiet American. There was something about Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It was something I wanted to experience in a deeper way. Living there was the next exciting thing I felt I could do in my life.’

In Sydney, Rose had sold a business and the children were mature and independent, so she and Sam had few ties.  But at first they couldn’t get past the usual hurdles: Where in Vietnam would they live?  Should they buy a house or rent?  What would they live on?  ‘A host of places would have been good to live in, like Hanoi or Hoi An, but Sam was interested in working and Saigon suited him the best.  There was more going on in Saigon for him, more business, more opportunities.’

The couple prepared themselves extremely well. Before they moved to Vietnam they studied the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) course at Sydney’s Institute of Technology.  It cost about A$3000 and took Rose three months part-time to complete, though it can be done intensively over one month on a full-time basis.  Rose said the course was tough, and, even though she did it part time it felt like full-time.

Her hard work and preparation paid off.  Even though they were both over 60, they had little trouble finding employment in Ho Chi Minh City.  Both of them immediately got jobs teaching English. When they first moved to Vietnam, Rose and Sam stayed in a few hotels while they looked for apartments.  ‘We didn’t know where we were going to live, what schools there were.  It paid to do this as some schools and areas are pretty crumby,’ Rose said.

‘The choice boiled down to living in the expat area out in An Phu or living in the centre of the town in District One.

‘We had so much help already, but then one day a lady knocked on our door and said, “I would like to cook and clean for you.”  I explained that we didn’t need any more help but then she told me it would only cost $150 a month, so we agreed and she was just delightful.’  Tennis courts were opposite their apartment and Rose and Sam love tennis, so they played three mornings a week with their own tennis coach.  After that they would have a swim at the apartment pool.

Not that tough huh?

The markets were nearby and they loved wandering down to buy food and flowers and to practise the Vietnamese they were trying to learn. And, Rose said, there were very interesting people that lived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) as well.  And it was cheap, apart from their expensive accommodation.  ‘One day I had an armful of orchids, masses of them, and Sam said, “We have to stop this spending,” and I said, “Look, this cost us just $5.”  You just lose track of how relatively cheap the place really is.’

‘You can live well, buy clothes and flowers, eat in the street stalls or in more formal restaurants—they are all cheap.  ‘And the food in Vietnam is just delicious! We ate out constantly.  Often at street stalls, just sitting on stools, and if it started pouring with rain you rushed to get under some tarpaulin and ended up chatting with everyone else clustered there.’

Most importantly, they felt young and free again.  ‘We used to jump on the back of taxi motorbikes for transport around Saigon,’ Rose said.  ‘This was efficient—and cool.  At our apartment block, the same man was always waiting for me at 8.30 and he’d pillion me to work.  He just seemed to know my timetable, almost better than I did.  If we had friends staying, I’d sometimes ask my bike driver to bring a few other bike taxis and we’d do a tour of the city.  It was so much fun.’

Rose and Sam went to Vietnam for an adventure—they felt they needed to enrich their lives, and they did.  ‘I am a shy and nervous person,’ Rose said, ‘so the experience was initially a bit stressful but ultimately very rewarding.’ A  business commitment required that they return to Australia.  But Rose said,  ‘I could have easily lived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for the rest of my life.’.