If You’re Not Working in Vietnam, What the Hell are you Doing There?

I’ve met a lot of people since moving to Vietnam – both Vietnamese who want to practice their English, and expats (the word we use for immigrants that are white) – and it’s usually assumed that I’m a teacher. Where do you teach? You teacher? So, you must be the new teacher at such-and-such a school. I’m getting a bit tired of having to tell them that I’m not a teacher, but what’s even more tiresome is trying to explain that I’m not working in Vietnam. At least, not in the traditional sense.

Two years ago, I traveled through Vietnam for about 25 days. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure I liked it. The people seemed pushy. They were always trying to sell something to me/rip me off. The pace of life was so rapid compared to Laos, the country I was just in. But once I got away from the tourist areas I found the people to be very friendly and helpful. I adjusted to the pace of life and enjoyed how quick and exciting everything was. Vietnam was taking a hold of me. One morning, I woke up early and walked out of my hotel to a lady selling soup on a corner. I ordered one bowl. It was promptly served. I lost myself in it. The atmosphere, the sights, the sounds, the delicious delicious bowl of soup. That was it. I knew that I’d be back in Vietnam. It had to happen.

bowl of duck soup in Vietnam
Inspiration from a bowl of soup

As all this was going down, I was reading the book The 4-Hour Workweek.amazon The ideas in it were so simple, so obvious, but so under-utilized. If you know nothing about it, click on the link, read the synopsis, and buy the book. It could honestly change your life, especially if you feel over-worked and unsatisfied. The author, Tim Ferriss is an efficiency machine. He’s constantly trying to become the best/happiest person he can be, and he wants to share his discoveries with you.

the book The Four Hour Work Week
Life changing book
So anyways, Vietnam and Tim Ferriss’ self-help masterpiece are a game-changing combination. My head raced along with the scooters in the streets. I don’t want to be a typical 9-to-5er. I don’t want to work for someone else. I want to make my own rules to life. I vowed to never work for a company again. I would generate my own income by living my life, the way I want to, and from where I want to.

When I went back to Canada, my partner Sara and I came up with a plan. She would finish school, get her teaching degree, and I would work for just one more year, saving up money for my first mini-retirement, a term I learned from The Four-Hour Workweek. Why work through the prime of your life and then retire when you’re less lively, and perhaps limited in your activities? Mini-retirements throughout your life are a much better way to do it. This was an incredibly obvious thing to me. My dad passed away without any warnings at the age of 55. He was less than two years away from retirement, and it was all he could talk about. It felt like he never got the prize that he was promised at the end of it all, so I definitely wasn’t about to bust my ass for it. When Sara graduated, she found a job in Vietnam and I excitedly started thinking about what I wanted to do there as a retired man in my early 30s. I wouldn’t be working in Vietnam, but I definitely was going to keep busy. I love photography, shooting and editing videos, and writing. Vietnam is a great big boiling pot of inspiration when it comes to those art forms. Every corner has something exciting and new. I also love Vietnamese food. I couldn’t wait to get to Vietnam and bury my head into all the culinary joys. I added that to the list of potentially profitable passions.

living room and front porch, where I do most of my work
Our living room and front porch.

Fast-forward to now, one month since moving to Vietnam. Life is good. Living in a third-world country can be very challenging — stressful sometimes, but it’s my stress, not the stress that someone else is projecting on me because they want me to make more money for them. It’s also very exciting — a trip to the grocery store is an adventure. I see or experience something new everyday. In the past month, I’ve made more new memories that will last a lifetime, than I did the entire previous year. Vietnam is a great place for me to start this little experiment. It’s so cheap to live here, and Sara’s school pays for our rent. The only things I spend money on are internet ($5/month), electricity ($25/month), water ($10/month), my cell phone ($5/month), petrol (approx $15/month), security ($2.50/month), food and drink (varies — I could eat every meal out and only spend about $300/month). That’s around $340 a month when you split the electricity, internet, security, and water between 2 people. I’m very very very slowly going through my savings.

My day usually starts by dropping my wife off at her bus stop, then driving around until I find a sign advertising a dish I’ve never tried. I order it, take a couple photos, and jot down some info as I swoon over it’s deliciousness. Then I head home and post up my findings to my website Vietnamenu. I’m hoping that after a year or so I’ll have enough content to generate a steady flow of Google juice, which I can turn into cash. If not, I’m happy just collecting culinary trophies while practicing my food photography, and learning about cooking and flavor combinations.

Computer, camera, and GoPro
My work gear
After sharing my breakfast with the world wide web, the rest of my day depends on what I feel like doing. Maybe I’ll grab a coffee and do some writing. Maybe I’ll strap on my GoPro and shoot some video as I zigzag in and out of traffic, then do some video editing, and post it up to my Youtube channel. By placing ads on the videos I’m able to generate a bit of an income. I started carrying a camera wherever I go, because you never know what crazy thing you’ll stumble across. Making money off Youtube is a bit of a slow process, but for me it’s more about keeping myself happy and creatively satisfied.

I know some people couldn’t do what I’m doing. Without a job they would feel valueless, like they aren’t contributing to society, which could lead to boredom and depression. Luckily, my hobbies lend to this lifestyle. I feel more motivated now than I ever have. Not having a job to get in my way, pin me down, and leave me exhausted at the end of a day, makes me feel free. Tomorrow could bring something fantastic. The world is my really tasty, fresh out of the ocean, with a little bit of shallots and garlic, oyster.