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Many foreigners regret leaving Vietnam last year

June 02, 2021

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My parents gasped when I told them about the Vietnamese Government’s method of tracking cases and the swift blockade response.

I still remember the first time I came to Vietnam in 2014. At that time, I was just a backpacker wearing a tank top, sandals, and carrying a backpack, backpacking around Southeast Asia. The first impression of Vietnam is the overwhelming feeling: a lively, young, optimistic country, a place worth living. Then I decided to leave Europe, buy a one-way plane ticket to Vietnam to try living for a while, change the atmosphere and try myself. And I did not expect that 7 years later, I am still living here, considering the S-shaped country as home, my second hometown. Fate has decided.

Whether living in a country is happy or not depends on each person, each situation, each hobby. Some people like to stay in Vietnam because traveling is very convenient, riding a motorbike comfortably, but others who looking at traffic here just feel scared and tired. Vietnamese people too, some people immigrate to Japan, France or the US feel very happy, while others miss rice, noodle soup, miss their homeland, family, and friends, want to return home.

I have many friends who lived here for a few years and then moved to another country, continuing a journey in search of happiness. They hope another country will have more fresh air, more parks or health services, more modern education system. Perhaps, because the grass is always greener on the other side. Because happiness is more or less a subjective feeling, we cannot take this and that economic data as a measure.

When people asked me why I chose Vietnam, I said: “Because Vietnam has helped me find and pursue my dreams and passions”. In Vietnam, I work as a teacher, a noble profession that I have been passionate about since I was a child. I also studied Vietnamese, diligently read many Vietnamese books, and gathered a rich vocabulary. I fulfilled an old dream of mine to write articles. And not only that, Vietnam has encouraged me to challenge myself in many fields, from TV work to stock investment. Every day Vietnam grows, develops more, and so do I, every day I explore, learn, and find more out.

I know I am not the only one like that. I have many foreign friends in Vietnam who are attached and passionate about the culture, love this land sincerely, and want to contribute to the community. They do charity, do volunteer work, do business, or the cinematography. They want to pass on knowledge and inspiration to the locals.

However, not everyone has such noble aspirations as some foreigners who choose to live in Vietnam to serve their personal needs: a comfortable and leisure life, relatively high income, low expenses living. Vietnam is a developing country, so it is considered a land of opportunity, a land of freedom. A group of foreigners who are not afraid to take advantage of the situation to live illegitimately: work underground, do not pay taxes, do not have a work visa or a motorbike license, and so on. They have lived in Vietnam for many years but still have not accepted the customs, still do not know how to hold chopsticks properly or answer in Vietnamese simple questions like: “Which country are you from?”

At the beginning of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly broke out, causing many people to be confused and unemployed. Due to the unpredictable situation, many foreigners in Vietnam panicked and quickly packed up to return home. Vietnam decided to restrict entry, so they cannot come back anymore because only foreign experts and investors are currently entering Vietnam.

Now many of them also regret leaving Vietnam last year, because compared to most Western countries, the pandemic in Vietnam is much better controlled. While many countries are constantly facing blockade and social distancing risk, we in Vietnam enjoy a relatively peaceful and safe life. Although Vietnam also faced strong outbreaks of the epidemic, each wave was promptly extinguished.

Marko Nikolic

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My family in Europe widened their eyes in surprise when I told them that in Vietnam, sometimes, there are no cases of community transmission for months at a time. People live normally, even travel in the country. My parents gasped when I told them about the method of tracing cases and the rapid lockdown response of the Government. In Vietnam, an entire street or residential area can be blocked because of “only” one F1 case. People agree to comply with epidemic prevention measures, willing to sacrifice personal interests for the community’s common good.

This awareness is foreign to many countries. For example, many people in the West still refuse to wear masks, believe that Covid-19 is no more dangerous than the flu, even some people participate in protests against vaccines or against social distancing orders. I feel sad to see my fellow Europeans so fractured and divided. And at the same time, I put my faith in Vietnam, because in my opinion, in a country with consensus, solidarity can only develop stably and sustainably.

The pandemic will be over soon. But many socio-economic and environmental challenges will remain. And I hope that the Vietnamese people will be far-sighted and keep a sense of responsibility and solidarity to solve important issues in the future.

(Translated from the original Vietnamese – The title is set by the editorial office)

“At first, Hanoi looked like a strange, chaotic place, a dirty, noisy concrete jungle that caused a confused, uncomfortable feeling.

And now it looks so familiar, so intimate, that I feel an invisible but profound attachment to this city, I find myself in tune with it, like an old friend that I don’t need to hide anything because we already understand each other.”

About the author: Marko Nikolic is a Serbian, holds a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Belgrade, Serbia, and studied in Latvia, fluent in 4 foreign languages: English, French, Russian, Vietnamese.  Marko is the author of the novel written in Vietnamese, “Church Street” (Nha Nam, 2019).  This is his third book.  Marko currently lives and works in Hanoi.