… can be summed up in just four words. We feel at home.
We had lived in England all our lives. We had a house, jobs, and children who had grown up and were making their own lives in different parts of the country. We were what is known as ‘empty nesters’ and needed something more to fill our lives. We were both teachers and had always looked forward to our holidays abroad. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful”, we thought, “if we could teach in a different country - just for a year?”
We knew very little about Viet Nam except that one of our children, who had taken a year off to travel the world, said that it had been her favourite country. On her recommendation we booked a 3-week ‘let’s check it out’ holiday, and in August 2007 our flight landed in Ha Noi and we set foot on Vietnamese soil for the first time. We then flew on to Da Nang, immediately fell in love with everything about it, and knew that this was the start of something much more than a holiday. We returned to England at the end of our stay, and within four weeks we had given away or sold everything we possessed and were back here living and working. Five and a half years later we are still here, and not for one second have we ever regretted our decision.
Carole and Ian
So - what is it about Da Nang that we love so much? It’s difficult to know where to begin, but we have to start with the local people. Without doubt, they are the most welcoming people we have ever come across. Despite the terrible wars and suffering that they have endured, the people of Viet Nam want to move forward and seem to have put the horrors and the sadness of the past in a pocket, close to their hearts. In English, there is a word that we feel describes them perfectly - stoic. It means ‘a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining’. They are full of smiles, kindness, warmth, and sincerity.
This is an appropriate place to say a huge thank you to our many Vietnamese friends who have given us so much help over our first years here. Too many people to name, but you know who you are. For a foreigner in a new country, every ‘normal’ thing can become a big problem. How and where can we buy a motorbike, and a mobile phone? How do we register with the authorities? How do we find an apartment? Where do we go for a medical? We have had to rely on our friends so much for many, many, things and without them our lives would have been fraught with difficulties. We are eternally grateful to everyone who has been kind enough to help us - and we hope that, in return, we have offered our help in many useful ways.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we realise now that learning Vietnamese should have been the top priority when we first arrived. Instead, work took up most of our week, and weekends were spent exploring our new city. We can speak a little Vietnamese now - but the problem is that the only people who understand us is us! Our goal for 2013 is to build on our very basic knowledge, and to find the time to improve our language skills. One thing that we have learned is that you cannot trust Google Translate! For the occasional word or phrase it can be a great help, but for anything more than that it can lead you into big trouble, like the occasion when I left the hairdresser’s with purple hair - yes, purple! It always amazes us though, that sometimes two people can have a very interesting conversation even when neither speaks the other’s language. Just recently, one of our friends who cannot speak English used Google Translate to try to speak to me. This is what she showed me on the screen: “Cop label this practice space untouched, no buy is no longer only in the skin on for hot nicer, based sprung drink beer drunk, please label the elephant sewing glass page you much now do you or lava.” I still don’t know what she was trying to tell me but we both ended up in fits of laughter …
Add to these wonderful people the jaw-dropping beauty of the landscape and the beaches, the wonderful climate, the unhurried and simple way of living, and the thrill of watching a young city develop - and you have everything we were looking for in our new life. Every day feels like an adventure. It might sound strange to a local, but just little things like riding down the beach road, or going to Han Market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, or walking down Bach Dang at night gives us a real sense of pleasure and excitement. We love Monkey Mountain, and one of our favourite pastimes is to ride to the very top on our motorbike and take in the spectacular views. Sometimes we sit there on an old stone bench, bathed in sunshine, with the sea below us, and we are surrounded by natural beauty everywhere - flowers, trees, wildlife, colourful butterflies of all shapes and sizes, and if we’re lucky a huge black eagle soaring in the sky above us, or a family of monkeys playing in the road. It feels like heaven.
We are so proud of Da Nang, and what we love best is sharing it with friends and family who come to visit - and they visit often. It’s usually not long after they leave that we receive an email telling us about ‘a friend of a friend’ who would also like to visit. Several times now we have driven to the airport to collect people who we have never met before! We welcome them to our home, take them to our favourite places, and they leave sharing the same love and enthusiasm for this city as we do. We feel so blessed and lucky to live in such a wonderful place.
If we could offer one suggestion for Da Nang, it would be this. It is lovely to see you progress, but don’t always think that ideas from the ‘developed west’ are the best. You have a lot that the west should learn from, so don’t change too much - we love you just the way you are.
Da Nang - our new home, our new life. This is a place we love. It is a place we never want to leave.
From Da Nang Today