In recent years, Vietnam has made a humungous effort to make Phu Quoc Island into the next Phuket. They have built a new airport and have been consistently adding direct flights to the island from all over the world. They have also relaxed visa requirements. While a visa is still required to go to mainland Vietnam, many tourists who go to Phu Quoc, plan to stay on the island, and will leave in less than thirty days don’t need a visa. And it’s worked. Take a short drive around the island and you’ll see all kinds of development projects. Open your ears and you’ll hear a huge variety of languages. While there, we met families from Sweden, Germany, Italy, and Russia.
When I moved to Asia in 2005, I made a list of places I wanted to visit. Vietnam had been on the top of that list from the beginning, and yet for thirteen years I never went. I know . . . how can I come up with excuses for thirteen years, right? But as we all know, life happens. One time I actually had tickets in hand and tours and hotels booked, but Hubby had a health crisis only a couple days before we were scheduled to leave, and we cancelled all of our bookings and thanked God it didn’t happen while we were traveling. After that failed attempt, every time a holiday rolled around, we had other things to do. My son and daughter were born, and we wanted destinations that would be easier to do while toting preschooler and toddler around with us. Or Hubby was in grad school, and we had to forego our vacation to pay tuition (and so he could use the time off work to write those papers). There was always something that took precedence . . . for thirteen years.
In my last post I talked about the frustrations of living in China. Simple errands—opening a new bank account, changing phone plans, returning items to the store—become complex projects. Even mundane tasks—buying groceries, driving a car, communicating simple sentences—can become grand accomplishments.
And yet even if I sometimes have bad days and miss home, there are many things I love about being an expat, and I wouldn’t want to give them up by moving back to the States. Here are eight things that I love most about expat life.
I never moved as a child. My parents still live in the same house that they lived in when I was born. I graduated with many kids who I remember in my kindergarten and first grade classes. But my own two children, for better or worse, will grow up as third-culture kids. By the time they graduate from high school, they likely will have attended five different schools and will have lived in as many countries. Moving from Korea to China was only the first of several transitions for them.
After over four months of living in Beijing, I step back into my house on a cold, wet winter day, and as I hang up my coat, the heater blows on my numb fingers. The kids’ toys are scattered everywhere, there’s a pile of dishes in the sink, and the vegetables in my grocery bag need to be cleaned and chopped for dinner. The sum of all those things—the mess included—makes me breathe a sigh of gratitude. It feels like home, and when we were still in Korea and looking ahead toward our move, I wasn’t sure that Beijing would ever feel that way to me.
I didn’t want to come to China.