Ronan was a regular contributor to Eternity Magazine between 1993 and 1998 and I was intrigued to know how and why he ended up living in Vietnam. With so many people disillusioned and fed up with the way things are now in the UK and indeed in Europe, it was interesting to hear the story of someone who had decided to do something about a life they clearly were not happy with.
So Ronan… how the hell did you end up in Vietnam?
“Luck really, well lets just say that fortune dealt me a card so I took it. My brother had been bought out of a contract and had gone traveling around the world, he ended up in Vietnam and I was talking to him on the phone, bitching about life and he said ‘why don't you come out here, it will change you life… great weather, beautiful country, beautiful women and very cheap alcohol. That was me sold. I spend 9 months getting ready. I left the UK, gave myself a year but after 3 months I knew I had found a new home’”
So, did you have a job arranged in Vietnam before you arrived?
“No, nothing. My brother was living in a big 7 bedroom house, there were another two couples living there as well, it was like a big family, it was really cool. I came out with bonus money from leaving my job and I lived on that until I was down to my last £200 and then I got a job but for the first year all I worked was 9 hours a week, that's all I needed to work to cover all of my expenses.”
Why was it so cheap, because you were living with your brother?
“Well that helped but its so cheap to live here, the house was only $125 a month to rent, food and drink is cheap, we were eating out for every meal and out on the ‘razz’ every night. That’s all I needed”
There’s a lot of controversy over here with immigrants coming into the country, I know you keep up to date with the news back here, what are your thoughts on what’s happening?
“Well I’m an immigrant. Not only am I an immigrant now but originally I was born in Ireland and ended up in the UK, I used to have hassle at school for being an ‘Irish kid’ and now I’m an immigrant again. At the end of the day if these people are arriving in Britain from war torn countries and all they want to do is better their life then why the hell not. I wanted to better my life so I did something about it, I earn significantly less than I did when I was in the UK but I am more financially better off here.”
Well this is why I am asking the question. I don't live in the UK anymore, I live in Spain but that’s a lot closer than Vietnam. You have gone a long way away from the UK, don't you miss your family and friends?
“With modern technology, things like Skype, it keeps you in touch, I speak to my parents every week and see them on the video link. I do miss the camaraderie that I had with my friends and some of them are not that technically minded so I don't get to speak to them very much but I suppose its no different to when you were in there RAF, I bet you didn't find it hard when you were away overseas from your friends and family”
Well no, but I knew it wouldn't be too long before I was back in the UK. How often do you get back, how many times have you been back since you moved there, I suppose it costs quite a bit of money to come back?
“I’ve been back twice (laughs) I brought my wife and first child back in 2012 for a friends wedding, we were back for 5 weeks and it cost $7,000 but we did also go to Amsterdam”
Your wife is Vietnamese so I assume she speaks English, is English widely spoken over there?
“English is becoming a prevalent language here, Vietnamese is still main language, a bit of French. My wife speaks good English and I teach English so I am helping to spread the English language. English is very important in the education system here because it gives younger people an opportunity leave the country and get their degree overseas, they can then stay in that country or come back here with the qualification and get a better job earning more significantly more money.”
Do you speak Vietnamese?
“No, I don’t. Little bits but it’s a very hard language to learn. I can say the words but they have 7 different tones and if you don’t get the tone right, they will not understand you.”
When I think of Vietnam I think of Poverty, is it really poor over there?
“There is a significant proportion of the country which is in poverty and very poor. If you have been to Russia you will understand what I am saying because its like Russia here, you have the uber rich and then you have the rest of everyone else. A family will live in 25sq/mtr house and the whole family will share the bed. The national average salary is around $1200 a year. It’’s difficult for people here, even if you have money, because until recently there wasn’t anything like HP, if you wanted to buy a car you needed to pay cash and because there are such high taxes the rich would be paying $1.2million for a Rolls Royce which would only cost $300,000 in the USA and seriously, people would literally have to pay cash”
I can’t even imagine cars like that being on the roads over there, what are the roads like?
“The roads aren't great, some of them are getting better but if you are on a bike for example, you wouldn’t want to be getting your knee down on the bends, there are too many pot holes. I will put a camera on my helmet and send you some video but seriously you should come over”
I’d love to come over but I am hoping that this interview will encourage others to come over and maybe think about starting a new life for themselves, people are stuck in a rut, it sounds like people could come over there with very little and make a life for themselves?
“Well they could but it’s harder than it was. It’s more difficult to get a work permit now, when I came over you could just come on a tourist visa and work but now you have to leave the country, get your employer to sort you out with a work permit and then you can come back. I understand though that this year they are going to make it easier and reduce the demands on teachers wanting to come here”
There must be other skilled workers that they are wanting to come to the country though, not just teachers?
“Well things like a mechanic would be a ‘no no’ because you would have to speak the language to work in a garage but IT for example, they are employing international people for those type of roles but obviously you still need to get a work permit”
So you would come to the country on a tourist visa and find a job and then leave to get your work permit and come back again?
“Yes, people generally leave and go to Thailand, the visa and work permit is issued there and then they come back again”
You have obviously seen quite a to of changes whilst you have been there, have you seen a lot of English people come and stay like you did?
“I have been here 10 years and everything has changed. The biggest change is the traffic, when I arrived there was 80 million people in the country and 90 million motorbikes. But now there are so many cars on the road, the traffic problems are terrible. When I arrived in Hanoi there was one taxi firm and a handful of police vehicles, some army trucks and government cars and that was it, there just wasn’t any private car ownership back then but now the ratio has totally changed. In the way of people there is a constant cycle of people coming and leaving but the expat community is growing, people come with the intention of saying 1 or 2 years and they fall in love with either the country or a partner and they end up staying because honestly life here is, if you let it be, virtually stress free and that was the biggest thing for me, how easy life is, as I said I was only working 9 hours a week, so semi-retirement, because that’s all I needed to do to cover my expenses and I have only worked full time for the last 5 years since my wife became pregnant”
I was going to say is there anything you miss about the UK but other than missing your friends it doesn't sound like you miss much at all?
Laughs…. “No, other than my friends, nothing”
Do you think you will ever come back to the UK to live?
“The only thing that could bring me back is my kids, when they are older, if they wanted to go to university. I’ll be back for holidays but its cheaper for me to pay for my parents to come out here for 3 months rather than myself going back for one month and here we have the weather.”
And what is the weather like there, is it sunny all year around?
“In the South it is but here in the North we have four seasons, up to 40 degrees in the Summer and down to around 6 degrees in the winter but in the winter its very cold here because we are all on motorbikes and people don't have heating in the house, they also don’t have carpets, its tiles on the floor so its very cold”
Well there are plenty of people that in the UK that are cold in the winter, unable to afford heating.
“Yes, that’s true and from the end of March through to November your guaranteed to have good weather here, maybe even into December.”
So you would recommend it to anyone who is fed up with life over here?
“Anything is better than the UK right now. If people are wanting to have an adventure and a total flip on their life, even coming out here for a long holiday, it will change your life, it will give you a totally different outlook on life. I have some great memories from back in the UK, my days raving with remain with me always but for personal development and discovery, traveling through Malaysia, Singapore and coming up through Vietnam, completely opened my eyes. From having a 9-5 job back in the UK, constantly chasing my tail and always thinking about having more money, a new car or whatever… you just don't need that. I don't worry about money now, its the furthest thing on my mind, as long as I have enough money for the house and the kids that's all that matter and that’s why I do a full time job now.”
Well there are going to be a lot of jealous people when they read this, I certainly look forward to coming out there to see you. Hopefully this will give people inspiration to do something about their life if they’re not happy and hopefully Ronan we will hear more from you maybe with some contributions for Eternity?
"Indeed, I have some planned along with a video cam of myself riding to work on my motorcycle, so watch this space!"
If you have taken the plunge and moved overseas do leave comments below to give others inspiration to follow in your footsteps. Life is not a rehearsal, we are only here for a limited period of time, make the most of it, don't just sit and moan.