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Six Months in Vietnam

It’s been six months since I arrived back in Vietnam. I got here in February after spending about 5 weeks in the US. I’ve been in Hanoi, Saigon a few times, and Da Nang. Today I got my second visa extension completed so I’m good now until November 18th. I can get one more extension then which will take me to February 2021. At that point I have to leave Vietnam. I can come back on a new visa if Vietnam opens its international borders and grants new tourist visas again. No one knows what that looks like so I just stopped considering anything besides enjoying my day to day.

The visa game is huge for retiree expats. We tend to bounce into friendly Asian countries that either have visa on arrival or no visas at all. There are a number of countries if you have an American passport you do not need a visa. These are Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore. Japan also offers visa free entry. All offer a stamp for free and 90 days. Other countries offer extensions but you have to be aware of which visa you get. In Cambodia they have tourist visas which can be extended once and ordinary visas which are the gateway to much longer stay extensions. I’ve gotten the retirement extension of stay in Cambodia before which lets me enter and leave as I want for a year.

I mention all this because visas are a game. How you can stay, clear customs and immigration and then re enter on a new visa is part of the game. There are expat forums keyed to retirees to help with questions about so called visa runs. The important thing is don’t break the rules of the game. Don’t take illegal substances in or out unless you like primitive prisons. Don’t lie to customs and immigration officers. Games have rules.

Now with Covid-19 all the rules changed. Or I should say the ordinary rules don’t work. Country borders are closed. Visas are not being granted. The friendly Asian countries I would hop to like Malaysia and Cambodia are not issuing visas. Many retiree expats are here now and extending visas. The hope is that borders will open or countries will do travel bubbles and we can cross over from Saigon to Phnom Penh on the 50 minute flight or the 8 hour bus. For the quickest the land borders offer walking across and then coming back to get a new visa. Buses do this with scheduled visa trips. Not any longer.

So the ability to plan or define is gone. Now I extend my visa one more time, enjoy Vietnam to the utmost which is not difficult and take it all day by day. Living here requires no special skill besides perhaps an adventurous soul and an ability to accept basic differences between cultures. I’ve talked before about food. Other things are language and social mores. It’s just different here. Technology like cellular service is completely different. You don’t buy two year plans. You buy prepaid service that can renew each month and then you top it up by recharging your phone number. I have a plan called v120 which gives me 2gb of data a day each month. Then at the end of the month it recharges and I get a text message telling me in Vietnamese it’s renewed. To recharge you can buy little scratch off cards from just about any small store, use a service online, go to the store, or visit a convenience store.

How is language dealt with? Well, when you go to a store where no one speaks English and it is common like going to a pharmacy, it’s google translate. If it’s a question about cost everyone has calculators and they show you. Or people selling fruit or other stuff will show you the currency amounts. I bought cheap socks from a vendor and she just showed me the money I need to pay. Restaurants are easy because they all have pictures. Coffee shops are very easy. I have gotten spoiled with my Vietnamese friends because they just take care of ordering for me.

So six months is not so hard. In fact, Vietnam is very enjoyable. Most things are much cheaper. Some things are not. Apple gear often costs a bit more here. Day by day is fun. I go for coffee or breakfast, sometimes see friends for dinner, go for beers by the lake. Time does not count really. It’s the rich moments that I treasure. Wedding celebrations and dinners out, time alone to simply wander around Hanoi, find new restaurants to try or revisit old ones.

I guess I know time will come to decide a thing. It always does. It’s not today though. And today is all that counts living day by day. Blogging here has helped me to put down the things here I’ve done or places been to. By far, the regular writing and posting here helps me frame the days. Just like looking back at the months in Taiwan or back in the US; the blog, my notes ,and my day one journal let me see what I did then.

Tomorrow is a chimera. We don’t know what it brings. So I don’t plan. Now I just live. It’s my six months here. Wonderful times in a beautiful, sometimes strange, and wondrous country. Filled with some of the most friendly, authentic and outgoing people that I will forever remember giving me a hearty Xin Chao.

Hello to you too Vietnam. And thanks for everything.

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