Good Morning Vietnam (part 5) by Shane Brierly

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th May 2011

Shane Brierly is a New Zealand born Executive Chef who spent most of his culinary career in Australia from the tender age of 18 which is many moons ago. Now old and grizzled, he loves the expat life and so far has worked in Dubai UAE, Kazakhstan, Thailand and Vietnam.

His website is chef-a-gogo.com which has photos, food & recipes from both his day to day cheffing  and also the more exotic side of his travels. Or follow him on twitter @chefshane.

Part 5 - Expat to read Part 4 click here

This month we are well into summer, which means avoiding the gloom and doom of indoors and hitting the streets, bars and beaches. As it gets warm, the beaches get hit early morning and late afternoons with hordes of eager swimmers and exercise junkies. The expats also pop up from times to time, a bit like black sheep really. Expatriate communities are interesting and change from country to country. One often thinks of 'expats' as a single community. While it is true that cores of expats will get together or communicate through one medium or another, it really is a variety of different people from different backgrounds trying to sort out where they (we?) really belong. In Da Nang, Bamboo 2 is a popular hangout for expats and visitors, but we also have things like golf, industry events and the five star hotels to bump into other foreigners and do some hob-nobbing. Expats are a funny breed, and we like to bitch, argue and do the one-upsmanship thing as well as settle into our new homes and work. Every country has a different 'style' of expat, and a different attitude towards other expats. Thailand had one of the most negative and overbearing expat communities I have ever seen, and a read through thaivisa.com can be hilarious with the various factions attacking and belittling each other over the slightest issues, blowing them up into major events and atrocities. There were Thailand lovers and Thailand haters. New expats, old expats, and even older expats - and then the Thai speaking expats who really lorded it over the others, often taking other expats to task on points of Thai grammar. At the end of the day though, there are plenty of expat sub-cultures and "˜tribes' in Thailand, and one ends up with quite a few friends and acquaintances, both foreign and local. In Vietnam the expat community is somewhat smaller, also with some colourful characters. Twitter is a great medium to follow Vietnam and the expat tweeters. There are also some interesting blogs being regularly posted to, and several groups on facebook. Facebook is really popular in Vietnam, even though it is blocked by the government here. Everybody uses 'workarounds', especially the locals. Expats are using it as a tool to communicate, organise and get together, making the world just that little bit smaller. Local restaurants are all the rage for everybody but we tend to bump into other expats in the 'expat places' - other foreign owned business, or those run specifically for foreigners. I suppose that makes us moths to the flame, ripe for the picking. It's almost amusing, the predictable niches that we fall into, and a rich part of the expat experience is assimilating and getting local friends and the support of our work colleagues. While it seems 'daunting', it really is the same as foreigners coming to our country, sticking in their niche groups and not having anything to do with the local culture. It's not good for anybody. This is why choosing a good location for a posting is so important. It's easy to take a hardship posting for the cash, but after landing and getting the first paycheck, reality sets in and you have to look closely at lifestyle, eating and social habits, personal safety, people and influences around you. Having a good support base is essential. Think about your ability to access medicine, get help with local language and culture, find friends and companionship, and also food that is palatable and to your taste (and budget). Cost of living is also and important factor, so the salary is not just to be assessed by the monetary value, but also by what you can save or use after basic living expenses. This can really impact enjoyment of a posting overseas and one's ability to socialise and communicate with friends and peers. Established expats are pretty easy to meet and it is normal to find some sort of bond or 'clique' with a core of people that share your  interests or values - for better or for worse. Google 'thaivisa' and 'sexpat article' for an amusing avalanche of accusation, wrath and hatred to see that expats are not one small, loyal happy community of contented foreign workers. It was a hilarious recent article that really polarised the expat community into an 'us and them' battle of intolerance and over-the-top denial. As expats are posted in different countries for different reasons, there are often quite intense differences of opinions or intolerance of other expats (and locals) values,  attitudes or reason for being there. Developing a thick skin and a degree of tact helps to insulate one from becoming embroiled in 'flame wars' but it is amusing to see the different factions take aim at each other over often irrelevant things. Taking a 'foreign'attitude is easy, perhaps even normal, as our values and beliefs are instilled by out own culture, upbringing, religion and peer group. They don't just appear overnight. Often these things don't export well, so living overseas can be a mind-opening experience where you learn as much if not more than what you are there to teach. Adjusting to local ways of thinking and acting is a long, hard, winding road - and sometimes the local ways are just wrong. Often though, they teach us a different way of approaching things and widen our horizons. Sometimes it is a frustrating experience, especially if the values and customs of the host country directly clash with your own beliefs and methods. Always touch base with the expat community before leaving overseas for a job and check out what you are in for, how helpful they are, and some general info about what to expect. It could be a lifesaver.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th May 2011

Good Morning Vietnam (part 5) by Shane Brierly