Turning 60 in Vietnam  

I’ll be 60 years old on June 30th. So now I’m struggling to work out if I’m middle-aged, which means utterly nothing or a senior citizen, which gets you lots of goodies in Australia

Stivi Cooke (L) and a professional colleague in Ho Chi Minh City

You know you’re getting old when you use a laptop in the coffee shop instead of a smartphone.

I always thought I’d never make it pass the next seven years. So at seven I imagined in blood-soaked horror that my 14th birthday would never happen. At twenty-one, I couldn’t envisage my battle-weary survival to twenty-eight and so on. 

I’ll be 60 years old on June 30th. So now I’m struggling to work out if I’m middle-aged, which means utterly nothing or a senior citizen, which gets you lots of goodies in Australia. 

Pretty much everything I do from now on is a bonus. But I’m not complaining – I’m not one of those “whining expats”…

They say that you get between 2 and 4 billion heartbeats in a lifetime. After that, you should contact the Queen to let her know to put that 100th birthday champers on ice. However, like most people, I’m just thrilled to have a heartbeat.

Now I’m a fat, old, jaded, colonialist expat who lives alone with his plump Vietnamese dog who refuses to obey my orders to get the beer from the fridge for me. He knows there’s no money in it for him. Pfft!

But 60 in Vietnam? Fabulous. It’s pretty selfish of me to snigger on my veranda as I drink another beer and think of all the down-trodden middle class people in Australia that I left behind, still arguing about penalty rates, the state of the government and spending hours trying to get home on Australia’s rust-bucket train system. While I’m kicking back in shorts and I don’t have to do a single thing tomorrow, I’m doing quite nicely. Thanks, cheers!

But being an old foreigner in Vietnam is not quite as easy as it seems.

Unlike Thailand, there’s no ‘retirement’ visa, meaning you can’t stay long-term without leaving to renew visas. If you’re married to Vietnamese, you buy land and build a house via your wife and family. You can get permanent and temporary visas for a few years which help off-set living costs and time-consuming visa runs as well. Since it’s quite hard to buy a house here (basically…you can’t), yet you can buy an apartment (confusing), the no-retirement visa makes it a lot harder, particularly for older expats to stay and savor Vietnam.

I think it’s a shame as many older retired expats contribute hugely to the work of the non-government organizations across the country and often stay for years yet despite proving their worth to the community, the paperwork doesn’t get any easier or less expensive.

Amazingly, I’m still in reasonable health. Sure, health care in Australia is great but for a retired expat, it costs a fortune to head home. We know Vietnam’s health system isn’t the best however living in Hoi An, I’m only thirty minutes from three good hospitals in Da Nang and I have Bao Viet insurance – that’s a good position. Also health insurance in Vietnam is reasonably priced for the most part.

Many of my Vietnamese friends tell me I should ‘get’ a wife to look after me when I’m older. Well…I’m too selfish for full-time relationships and I like my ‘man’s cave’ existence. I’m not gay and I adore the beauty of Vietnamese women but I’m just lazy! I blame my dog for all of this but he says that’s not plausible and I should get a life.

My eleven years here have calmed me down a lot (except the traffic) and the Vietnamese around me are fairly tolerant of my Western weirdness. So hopefully I’ll get to use a few more of those heartbeats. Dietary-wise – I’ve got into using a lot of the local herbs in my cooking and I think there’s some point to all of that. Hey, I follow trends, you know? That’s why Facebook loves me…

But the healthiest part? The young cheerful Vietnamese. Every morning when I sit down at the coffee shop, the waitering kids all giggle and smile like they’re on drugs. It’s refreshing. Last time I was in Sydney, the coffee shop staff looked like zombies with their hearts torn out by evil politicians preying on their votes. But it could have been something in the coffee and I was just imagining that…

I guess the best part of 60 in Vietnam is the feeling of leaving the rat-race. I meet a lot of older expats here doing work with charities, doing art and writing, pursuing their own dreams. I’m growing my hair again as I did when I was twenty-one. Heck I’m thinking about dyeing it pink and orange…again. 

When you’re older and you do silly stuff, the great thing is nobody cares. Just do it! So to anyone thinking of retiring here – do it. It may be hard at first but ultimately it’s less stressful and a lot of fun. The adventure is no longer about status, wealth or prestige.

Why? Because living at 60 in Vietnam feels like being 21! 

Even my dog agrees with that…

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