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From the UK to Canada to Vietnam: Saigon- Why Am I Here?

28 November, 2011 09:36  Erin Erin

elka kids Saigon Why Am I Here Xin chao! My name is Elka Ray. I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have spent the past 16 years living in Vietnam.

1. Why did you move abroad?
After high school, I backpacked around Southeast Asia for six months. I was 18 years old, blonde, totally clueless, and lucky to have survived! But I loved it. After doing a degree in Journalism and Asian Studies I moved to Vietnam “for one year” as I wanted to learn more about the country. At that time, Vietnam had only recently reopened to foreigners.

2. How do you make a living?
I have spent the past 15 years working as a writer and editor. I started off writing freelance and was then hired by various local magazines. Over the years I have worked for a business magazine, an airline magazine, a UNDP project, and BP. I also wrote for some guidebooks.

My current goal is to cut back on my editing work and focus on fiction, which is my true passion. My first novel (Hanoi Jane, Marshall Cavendish) was published last year, and I am about to publish three kids’ books that I also illustrated. I’m very lucky to be doing what I love!

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
After 16 years, Vietnam really is “home”. I do miss my parents, however, and call and email regularly. Facebook was blocked for quite a while here, so I got out of the habit of using it. The best way to stay in touch with old friends is to go and see them, which isn’t so easy lately as I have small children...

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Saigon?
Even after all these years, I still see things that make me stop and think: “Really?”

At just this moment, for instance, a guy down the street has set up a karaoke system in his front yard and is belting out sad traditional songs – off-key, I might add. It’s awful, yet hilarious. I just hope that he loses his voice before nightfall.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Saigon?
The traffic, which is getting worse by the day. When I first moved here, most people traveled by bicycle. Now, along with millions of motorbikes there are more and more cars, which people drive as though they were still riding a one-speed bicycle.

6. What do you miss most?
I grew up in Victoria on Vancouver Island, which is arguably the prettiest city in Canada. I miss the ocean and the fresh, cool air. But when I’m back there, I miss some things about Vietnam too. Nowhere has everything.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
In Vietnam, domestic help is cheap enough that even a struggling writer can afford to have a maid. I always hired women who spoke no English, which forced me to learn more Vietnamese.

As for friendships, one of the hardest things about being a long-term expat is that expats tend to move fairly regularly. Even my close Vietnamese friends travel a lot, so it’s hard to maintain those really old friendships.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Men’s willingness to urinate in public places.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
There is a lot of talk about Asian countries valuing “the collective” rather than “the individual”. I find it sadly ironic that in Vietnam, which is a Communist nation, people act more selfishly than in many other countries.

10. What advice would you give other expats?
The more curious you are, the more fun you will have.

11. When and why did you start your blog? Saigon Why Am I Here
My publisher suggested that I needed an author website. Given that my daily life is full of hilarious, strange and poignant moments, finding material is never a problem.

12.  How has the blog been beneficial?
By and large, I try to keep my blog light, focusing on the funny and absurd incidents that keep life in Vietnam amusing. By taking note of these moments, I appreciate them more.

Blog Link


Elka's blog, Saigon: Why Am I Here?



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