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​What keeps me in Hoi An?

Saturday, November 04, 2017, 07:30 GMT+7
​What keeps me in Hoi An?
Two women wearing ao dai (Vietnamese traditional costume) are seen having street food at a stall in teh central city of Hoi An - Photo courtesy of Hoi An - based French photographer Réhahn

I wake up every morning to the sun shining through my window and the warm air gently pushing into my bedroom.  My dog and I both do our ‘stretches’ on the bed and then I let him out to play in the sunny garden, surrounded by large potted plants, gold, pink, and red paper moon trees, and sunflower brush grooving away in the morning glow.

It doesn’t matter whether the skies are cloudy or clear, it’s always an endlessly wonderful way to greet the new day – no city noise, just lots of greenery and a simple country lifestyle on our humble farmers street. 

Living in Hoi An is still as much of a joy as the first time I visited ten years ago and I have no intention or desire to return to my own country, Australia.  But why?  What keeps me here?

“Peaceful escape”

Although Hoi An is a booming tourist town, the sheer luck of its location – proximity to different landscapes, tranquil rice fields, rivers, mountains, beaches – makes it a pretty unique to both live and explore.  And all of its beauty is less than a thirty minute ride from the town itself.

After spending so much of my life rushing to work, staggering home late at night, dealing with megacity pollution, noise, stress, and the ‘first world’ cost of living, life here is delightfully uncomplicated. 

However, I’m in the very the fortunate position of having enough time to go slowly, appreciate the scenery, sit in the shade, stare at the river while having a cold beer, and count my blessings that I’m out of the ‘rat race’.

I love the heat and the fact that I need not wear a shirt in my little house for nearly ten months of the year and never have to wear a jumper or jacket, except for a few short weeks around Christmastime.  I adore sitting in the coffee shop for two hours in the morning watching the Vietnamese in their mad rush. 

I don’t have many Vietnamese friends.  Our lifestyles usually don’t mix well.  They’re often busy and I usually work from home.  Yet I know more people in my neighborhood than I ever did back in Australia’s cold suburbs, where people live isolated from each other. 

There’s the little grandma who collects wood at 6:00 am with a big grin on her face and the fruit farmer’s wife, wearing a heavy flannel shirt every day, usually with a puppy at her heels ready to follow her into the forest of mandarin orange trees to fall asleep in the shade as his ‘mum’ waters the trees.

Now that I know my shopkeepers, we have a chat as we sit outside the plain exterior of the shop and sip green tea as the world goes by. Often the local mechanics wave as I stop at the traffic lights next to their Yamaha repair shop.

Hoi An and its surroundings are full of great views.  I often stop my motorbike on the highway to take in the timeless view of a farmer tending the rice fields or for a glance at the sky as the heat builds the clouds into huge castles and pillows.  You can feel the stress leave your body as you simply look but don’t analyze the situation – just accept it for what it is.

As a tourist town, Hoi An has brilliant attractions – not just the old town – but also the quaint, well-tended temples along the back roads, the valleys in the west that lead to mountains whizzing past waterfalls, forests and tiny, yet tidy, little villages perfect for escaping the outside world and soaking up the rural lifestyle.

I chose Hoi An to live mainly because I was so sick of the big world life.  Vietnamese food is fabulous and there’s a wide range of western food to choose from too.  It’s got all the creature comforts as well – good internet, cafes everywhere, and peace and quiet no more than five minutes from anywhere you choose to stay.

Hoi An through the lens of French photographer Réhahn
Hoi An through the lens of French photographer Réhahn

Young energy

One thing that really kept me for ten years in Vietnam – and I’m hoping to stay here until my death or very old age – are the young people of the country.  Sure, kids are cute anywhere, in any country, but the energy and good humor of young adult Vietnamese is infectiously cheerful.  The kids running my local coffee shop laugh and joke and always seem to enjoy their lives.  When I went back to Australia earlier this year for a visit, I had the impression that everyone was grumpy and struggling.  Here, I feel as if I’m part of the future of the world – the next new exciting thing – and I love to observe that development.

Vietnam is an adventure wrapped in a warm cozy sense of peace that can be hard to find anywhere nowadays.  I meet a lot of tourists who want to stay longer and soak up more of Vietnam’s unusual ambiance of serenity and energy.  There’s even been a huge increase in the number of foreigners choosing to stay away from the messy northern and southern megacities, instead opting to take up residence in Hue, Da Nang, or Hoi An for many for the exact reasons mentioned above.

Finally, I have to point out the women.  It’s an absolute wonder to live in a country with so many good looking women.  I’m single, so I get to meet a lot of Vietnamese girls and most of them are the nicest, most polite people I’ve ever met.

My best friend, Hong, is a great example.  She unfailingly helps me in every situation and has never criticized me without strong reason.  She’s funny, smart, and always brings puts my mind at ease in times of confusion.

With all these advantages…why, oh, why… would I want to live anywhere else?

Stivi Cooke

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