My Instant Family in Ho Chi Minh City

The Situation

I had a good job back in the Philippines, the pay was adequate, too, but I felt that there’s something missing, something I have yet to find. Purpose? Mission? Maybe. Love life? We’ll see. I have thought long and hard and decided to risk everything. So I quit my job and packed my bags for the “greener pasture.” There’s only one plan – that is, to land a job in Singapore before my tourist visa expires. 24 days later, I was still funemployed at the most expensive city in the world. You’ve read that wrong – it should be f’ing unemployed. But don’t curse, kids. Leave it to the adults, especially the jobless. Anyway, I needed to exit and so I booked the cheapest flight to Vietnam. I was all down, sickly and stressed the entire time I was in Singapore. I could easily say that was my lowest point – alone and far from my loved ones. To make matters worst, I learned that our puppy died back home mauled to death by her older sister and brother. Murphy’s law everybody!

There’s a famous saying from Mark Twain:  “…you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” But why do I feel like the universe is really determined to break me? Why do I feel like I made the wrong decision? A massive mistake.

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As depressed as I was, I had to move forward and pray. And by forward, I mean out of the country, else I might get deported. I prepared everything from my flights, to hostel bookings and itinerary. This way, I won’t have problems in the airport. I also posted my travel plans in Couchsurfing. I wasn’t expecting much from that app since I wasn’t able to find hosts here in SG but I was shookt with the responses from Vietnam. I got 2 hosts and a handful of local travelers willing to accompany me on my impromptu trip. I decided to cancel my hostel booking and accept Ricardo’s offer to host, I figured I can save money while living with the locals and learning their culture. I also didn’t want to celebrate my birthday alone roaming the crazy streets of Saigon.

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S A I G O N

I arrived at Saigon in a humid, Thursday afternoon, 26th of October. I took a Grab Bike from the airport to District 9. Lakas maka Hunger Games. Saigon boasts a lot of skyscrapers, soon to rise buildings (perfect for my rooftop climbs), and vast highways catering to the progressing economy of the city. The streets were overrun by motorbikes, undeniably alarming to a point when you’re literally rubbing elbows to a fellow commuter. But the riders were just chill and reserved, so I wasn’t scared at all – documenting the 22km ride through my Instagram stories. District 9 is situated 21km away from the more popular, touristy districts which only means it’s way cheaper here. Guhreat.

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Easy English Community

Finally, I met my host Ric and he introduced me to his cousins and students. Apparently, he’s a full time English teacher who rents an entire building for his company – Easy English Community.

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And yes, that’s where he lives and teaches at the same time. How cool is that? Later that night, I joined his classes and got to meet more of his students. They’re all warm and welcoming. I really felt that I didn’t deserve their kindness. This was the first time that I traveled with no concrete plans whatsoever. I just wanna get out of Singapore and get lost in Vietnam. But the Easy English Community found and took me in like I was no stranger. The following day, Paul brought me to all the famous spots in HCMC with his motorbikes, offered to treat me drinks then took me to must try restaurants and coffee shops.

I got to visit some of them in the University of Technology and Education (UTE) c/o Ric where we had small chit chats, a few get to know you’s and exchanged Ph to Vn cultures. They even greeted me a happy birthday which I really appreciated.

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From L-R: Diamond, Sally, Maria, Roger, Eric, Kid, Michael, Lufy, Paul, Dylan, David, Sarah, Julia, Ricardo, May and Richard. Whew!

The one thing I will never ever forget was the fact that Ric and his dear students prepared a mini party for my birthday, they cooked and stayed up late just to celebrate my birthday. They even let me watch them play Football.

Motorbikes in the City

The next day, I got not only one but four tour guides. They volunteered to join me as we all explore District 1. As it turned out, they are tourists in the city. Most of them didn’t have the time to see the famous spots and I was so happy they got to visit these places the first time with me. It also made the trip into an adventure slash Waze and Google maps dependent ride haha!

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Kicking it off with one of the many pagodas here in HCMC. Viện Minh Đăng Quang pagoda is such a beaut!

And then, I found out that Kid (this kid in white shirt) skipped his class to accompany me. More so, he can talk and practice English. Not an excuse but I’ll take it. Here’s a sneak peak of our fun times in Saigon Zoo.

I arrived in Vietnam alone and lonely but in a matter of hours I gained friends, a family even, I never thought possible. That was the first time in a long time that I felt genuine happiness.

Hồng Ngự and Nong Lam

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Sally’s parents preparing food for the goats in a laid back afternoon in Hồng Ngự

Ric’s kindness is never ending – he brought me to Hồng Ngự, his hometown, which is a 5 hr bus ride from the city. I got to experience the country side of Vietnam. I will be featuring more of this on my next article.

His students were just as kind. Kid, Lassu and Yumi insisted on bringing me to another university – Nong Lam. We had photo shoots, long walks, a quick volleyball game, interactions with a few students, had some good street food finds and lots of laughs.

I Can Get Used To This

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Speaking time with Clinton

Thank you Ric for reaching out, for doing the extra, extra mile in making sure I am enjoying my stay, keeping me involved in your classes and to Diamond for teaching me how to make Vietnamese coffee. I love talking to your students, sharing a bit about myself, my hometown and helping them in my little way to be confident in speaking the English language.

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Typical Speaking night here in Easy English Community

To cap off my stay here, Ric decided to bring me in the early morning to the infamous Black Lady Mountain (996 masl) and later that night, I got to be a teacher to one of his classes. I really didn’t want to leave HCMC but I know I have to.

My first ever international students, we pulled it off guys and girls.

Ric, keep doing what you do best, who knows I might join you in the future! I know it’s hard doing everything all by yourself, just ask if you need help and always take it easy. Til our next adventure my brother from another mother.

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Ric and I hiking the Black Virgin Mountain before I return to Singapore

Thank you for accepting this lost stranger and kept feeding me baby duck haha!

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Not as instant as their coffee but here’s my instant family in HCMC.

I am still on the process of figuring things out, we all are. I don’t know where my feet will take me next. But I have a pretty good idea where I might be next month.

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For now, quickies out…

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Credits to Noob GFX for the Lightroom Creamy presets I used for some of my photos here. Follow them and see their awesome stuff!

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