The people of Vietnam and the thousands of ‘hidden spaces’ nestled in the nooks and crannies of Ho Chi Minh City are among things that outgoing Canadian Consul General Kyle Nunas will miss most after finishing his tenure in Vietnam.
With his three-year term as Canadian consul general having ended on August 7 after three years on mission, Nunas sat down for an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre News in late July to look back on his time in the Southeast Asian country and discuss the connections he has built with Ho Chi Minh City.
The following conversation has been edited by Tuoi Tre News for clarity, consistency, and coherence.
Looking back on your time in Vietnam, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
I came at a very interesting time. I arrived in August 2017 and within a few weeks I learned that I would be receiving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November that same year.
When I arrived, many aspects of the two countries’ relationship were getting stronger, but some were just starting.
At that time, the number of students from Vietnam studying in Canada had just gone from 5,000 to 7,500. The next year it was 14,000 and the year after we hit 20,000.
I think that one thing I'm very proud of is that over the time that I've been here, the bilateral relationship has grown. Many more Canadian companies have grown interest in Vietnam.
|Outgoing Canadian Consul General Kyle Nunas speaks to your correspondents at an interview with Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City on July 29, 2020. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre|
I was also very delighted to be able to champion a campaign on anti-single-use plastics. We are now seeing Vietnam starting to develop strong ideas about addressing plastic pollution.
I've had chances to meet many young entrepreneurs and female business leaders. We created a campaign called ‘Consul General for a day’ where we were able to engage with three generations of young leaders.
Each year, we make the competition a little different and a little bit more challenging and I've really enjoyed meeting dynamic young people, especially young women who are proud of showing their fantastic skills and knowledge.
This past year, we had a boy win our competition.
After returning to Canada, what will you remember most about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City?
I'm going to miss the people. Everyone is always so warm, helpful, and kind. I think those qualities are all extremely touching.
When I first came here in 1997 as a tourist I was struck by how warm the people were. I was in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta and I noticed that everyone had big smiles and was always welcoming.
It's the community-mindedness of people in Vietnam that I find very inspiring. People look after each other.
In many cultures in the West, we tend to focus on the individual a little bit more, sometimes too much. And I think during days like in COVID-19, we have to learn a lot more about how to do things for the greater good than just our own selves.
That's a value held by Vietnamese people that I have really come to appreciate.
|Outgoing Canadian Consul General Kyle Nunas at an interview with Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City on July 29, 2020. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre|
As I’m also into photography, one of the things that I find interesting about Vietnam in general, but particularly in Ho Chi Minh City, is all the hidden spaces.
There are places where you would never guess there’d be a restaurant unless somebody told you. Sometimes you have to walk past scooters into the back of a building and find some hidden staircases to find some completely fantastic worlds you didn't know existed.
And they're all over the place. You just never know what's down an alley or around a corner. I think that's something about Vietnam — there's always more than meets the eye.
I've done my best to explore. A few weeks ago, I went to an antique market which was amazing. Many foreigners don't even know about it because it's nestled between buildings with staircases, but there is a stage where people were playing music and there were all kinds of antiques.
It’s pretty much only Vietnamese there enjoying coffee and taking in the atmosphere. It took me three years to discover it.
|An antique market outgoing Canadian Consul General Kyle Nunas consider as one of the 'fantastic hidden worlds' in Ho Chi Minh City he discovered after three years living in the city. Photo: Kyle Nunas|
Lately, I’ve been visiting a coffee shop near Tao Dan Park in District 1 where local people bring their birds to let them learn songs from each other in the early morning. People catch up with each other and keep the birds comfortable and out of the sun.
Another thing that's really interesting for me is that it’s so hard to figure out where you are in Ho Chi Minh City. In my home city, we have a river that is almost a 'straight' river. If I'm looking at the river from my house, I'm facing north.
But here with the Saigon River, you can face any direction and it will pop up everywhere. That's when you just have to allow yourself to get lost and discover.
Why do you find these hidden spaces so attractive?
I guess things here are very different from my hometown. I come from a very different climate and buildings are built very differently in Canada.
So, for somebody like me from my country, we see those things as just incredibly exotic. The structures are very different.
In Vietnam, people often have a lot of greenery inside their buildings. I also find those little courtyards very peaceful in the middle of a city. There's a lot of chaos but in a very exciting and artistic way.
|Kyle Nunas is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News showing him during his visit to a bird cafe near Tao Dan Park in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1.|
How about other places in Vietnam?
I had been to a number of places, from Sa Pa to Hue, Hoi An, Da Lat, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc, and more. There is so much to see and it's breathtaking.
Since I came here in 1997, I have learned that Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries and boasts such a dynamic landscape, including mountains, oceans, beaches, deserts, dunes, swamps, and rice fields.
It’s really pretty and it’s hard to not take photos because there are always features that just jump out at you.
|In this supplied photo, Kyle Nunas poses while sitting on a cyclo during his first trip to Vietnam as a tourist in 1997.|
Talking about tourism, I think the future of Vietnam depends on the future of its natural environment. There are natural treasures that many people would be jealous of.
I believe that if you could protect the beauty of Vietnam, you can attract more and more tourists.
How would you describe Vietnam to people who have never been?
I pull up my pictures [laughter]. Over the past few years, the number of people from Canada that have said they're interested in coming to Vietnam has risen.
How does one describe Vietnam? Well, it's different as you go from south to north. There is no places that is just like another and I think that's fantastic. If you don't like something in one place, there's a whole other part of the country that you’ll probably love.
There are countries you can visit for a week and feel that you’ve visited them, but during my first two visits to Vietnam I felt I had only just scratched the surface.
Even though I’ve now lived here for three years I still feel as if I haven’t seen everything. There's a lot more to see.
I would tell people about this beautiful place with so much diversity and it's a place that you need to take time to appreciate.
Below are some photos captured by Kyle Nunas during his time in Vietnam:
|A man sits by Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi in 1997. Photo: Kyle Nunas|
|Kyle Nunas and his son at Hoan Kiem Lake in 2018 in a photo provided to Tuoi Tre News. 'I took a photo of a stranger from nearly this exact spot 20 years ago,' Nunas captions this photo.|
|Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee building is seen in a 2020 photo taken by Kyle Nunas from Nguyen Hue Street in District 1.|
|Saigon Central Post Office is seen in a photo taken by Kyle Nunas in September 2017.|
|Photo showing the courtyard of an apartment building in Ho Chi Minh City by Kyle Nunas.|
|A 'xe om' (motorbike taxi) driver is seen taking a nap on the sidewalk in a photo captured by Kyle Nunas.|
|A sidewalk barbershop in Vietnam through Kyle Nunas' lens.|
|Basket boats, a kind of fishing boat used by fishermen in Vietnam. Photo: Kyle Nunas|
|A cyclo driver on Vietnam street through Kyle Nunas' lens|
|Two women who are having coffee down an alley in Vietnam smile for a photo taken by Kyle Nunas in July 2020.|
|A man is seen playing chess with a smile on his face in Vietnam. Photo: Kyle Nunas|
|Kyle Nunas and his family during a trip to Fansipan mountain in Sa Pa, a famous resort town in the northern Vietnamese province of Lao Cai, in 2018 in a supplied photo.|