27
Oct
10

Vietnam Adventures: Backgrounder

This is the story of a story, the background to my current Vietnam trip (in both senses of the word) and how I came to be sitting on a bed in a Saigon hotel watching daytime soaps and blogging.

Enormous text wall coming. The short summary: I’m in Vietnam. But you knew that from the preceeding paragraph…

If you read my Facebook feed, you will probably have heard all this before, in pieces over the last six months. Consider it a refresher. It’s also a chance for me to test that my Facebook profile’s syndicating my blog correctly since I migrated to WordPress.com for blog hosting.

So, without further ado…

At the start of April 2010, one of my closest friends married a Vietnamese girl. (A specific one, not the first one he happened across) As is traditional in such cases, this happened in Vietnam. It also happened a month earlier in Melbourne, for paperwork reasons, but that’s not relevant to this story.

So I found myself with an invitation to a wedding I couldn’t miss, in a country I had only the vaugest impression of from Robin Williams and Martin Sheen. And where they not only don’t speak English, they don’t even colonially speak English. (The French are the European colonial power in question. Thankyou Martin Sheeen)

This was compounded upon by my almost complete inexperience with world travel. I had been to a conference in Los Angeles and a conference in New Zealand, and this prepares you for real international travel like watching daytime soaps teaches you Vietnamese. That’s not a lot, in case you’ve fallen into the immersion/osmosis fallacy of language learning.

As is typical, I left my planning to slightly past the last minute, I arrived in Vietnam underprepared, underimmunized and without even a phrasebook to my name.

The actual trip and wedding went really well, so I’ll gloss over it here, with only the notes that this was my first chance to try learning a language by read signs in shops (fun but not really efficient) and the important (pivotal!) point that I’d only organised to stay for the wedding itself, since I didn’t know any of the other guests well enough to organise anything with beforehand. This led to my makng the solemn promise to return again for a proper holiday.

And so the seed was sown.

The soil for that seed was already fertile. Back in the heady days of studying Computer Science and Japanese Linguistics, before I discovered the joys of tax debt, company finances, insolvency and full time employment, I had a plan. I was going to get my degree in Japanese (didn’t happen), move to Japan and work as a programmer (didn’t happen), learn Chinese (didn’t happen), move to China after five years, learn Korean… etc. The plan was to learn five or six languages and work my way down Asia.

Returning to the narrative, having recently turned 30, it seemed that my life had finally settled down into a happy, comfortable place. So it was time for a change. And being filled with confidence brought on by now being old enough to be considered an adult without having to prove myself (which is also how I got my pen license…) I decided to make it a big one.

So my sojourn plan was resurrected, with some minor modifications.

Firstly, I’ve been a video games programmer for over four years. That’s pretty long: it indicates you were either at one of those rare studios which was around for four years and were never laid off, or you were hired as a video games programmer on multiple occasions. The latter’s quite hard. It’s hard to get hired the first time, but the industry’s small enough that anywhere you apply, someone knows someone who knows someone who’s worked with you. A written reference from Kevin Bacon and Paul Erdős lets you bypass this stage of the interview…

Anyway, I’m an experienced and hirable video games programmer, an industry which seems to be quite strong and growing throughout SE and E Asia.

The other difference is that I am now friends with one seventy-millionth of Vietnam, and thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I’m doing a lot better at staying in contact than I did with my Japanese friends… (Sorry guys!)

So, germination! I returned home, impressed with the kindness, generosity, and general positive attitudes of the Vietnamese we met, as well as having enjoyed thoroughly the chance to apply my linguistics studies.

I was on a complete Vietnam trip. I bought a Teach Yourself Vietnamese book and CD, started buying my takeaway from the Vietnamese place next to my former haunt (Dickson Asian Noodle House) and even managed to enroll in a Vietnamese evening class at the ANU.

I was advised that Oct/Nov is a good time of year to visit Vietnam, which co-incided with the scheduled end of a project stage at work, and everything started to come together. I booked my trip, got my immunisations, and bought new luggage.

The actual trip plan: A few days in Melbourne with friends, fly to Saigon via Kuala Lumpur, a day and a half there before the tour starts, then ten days on the Intrepid Spirit of Vietnam Northbound tour and a weekend in Hanoi with a friend.

Anyway, that’s the background. I think I’ll go find some lunch, and then write up the first actual live-fire trip report.


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