As half a century of diplomatic relations ticks over between Australia and my adopted home, I share my own journey
This week I was featured in a national newspaper article that recognised 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam.
A journalist from the newspaper reached out to me via a mutual connection and asked if I’d like to be interviewed as part of it.
I was happy to do so and a lovely little piece about me and another Australian business doing great things was published in print and online in Vietnamese.
I was asked quite a few questions via email, but as it turns out, only a few of my answers were used, so I thought I might share them with Bureau readers in case you’re interested in the back story to my life in Vietnam.
Let me know if any of my answers resonate with you and mirror your own thoughts and experiences in Vietnam.
And feel free to let me know in the comments section below your own back story on how you came to live in Vietnam and what it’s like for you.
1. How long have you been in Vietnam?
Since January 2010
2. When was the first time you arrived in the country, and for what reason?
The first time I came to Vietnam was in 1999 as a backpacker. I flew into Hanoi and bought one of those open-ended bus tickets to Saigon. From memory it took me a few weeks to arrive in Saigon.
3. What was your first impression of Vietnam?
I was struck by the beauty of it. The drive from Noi Bai Airport into Hanoi was stunning. It was a sunny early-afternoon April day, farmers and buffalo were working the ricefields as far as the eye could see. The scenery matched the romanticised image I had in my head that I’d seen in all the glossy travel brochures. Of course, things have changed greatly since then.
4. Why did you decide to stay here?
That’s a great question. Initially it was for work as I was recruited out of Australia and since I’d been here before, I kind of knew what to expect, so I settled in reasonably well, although the first 12 months was a steep learning curve. Eventually my stay kind of turned into a mission.
After all these years, I still feel like I know very little about the country and culture – it would be a travesty to just pack up and leave now, I’ve only just scratched the surface. I want to spend a good chunk of the second half of my life trying to understand more about the place.
5. How is your life in Vietnam so far?
Full of ups and downs, but I think I’ve come out the other end reasonably well intact. For some reason I always had this impression that Aussie culture and Vietnamese culture were quite similar in that we both love a laugh over a few beers, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our cultures are vastly different so it takes considerable effort to gain the trust of others so you can then actually sit down for a proper beer and a proper laugh that’s beyond just surface level stuff.
6. What are the things you like most about living in Vietnam?
I think it’s the thing that keeps me here – everyday when I walk out the door, I’m never quite sure what’s going to happen next, which is interesting because I’m a bit of a creature of habit and not overly adventurous these days. Any given day in Vietnam can take me out of my comfort zone, I need that and I believe it’s good for me and it’s one step closer to greater understanding.
7. What are some difficulties that you have encountered?
Initially it was my health from adjusting to the environment. I think I was sick at least once a month with respiratory-type issues for the first 12 months, after that it cleared. Probably the main thing that continues to plague me is trying to get my head around why things are done the way they are – I really need to kick that habit, but as they say, old habits die hard. And, of course, the language – it’s an ongoing thing, lol!
8. Can you drive a motorcycle? If yes, when was the first time you learned to drive one? How was the experience?
Yes, I grew up on a dairy farm in northern Victoria about 200km north of Melbourne and learnt to drive everything from a very young age. I also got my motorcycle licence as a 16 year-old, so when I came to Vietnam, all I had to do was convert it and of course get used to the road rules. In the first couple of years I used to regularly get stopped by the police, but these days much less so, I must’ve learned the rules! I love motorbikes and I plan to hit the road and explore more often from this year onwards.
9. How many provinces in Vietnam have you travelled to so far? Where is your favourite place, and why?
I’m not too sure to be honest, but what I do know is that it’s far too few. I’m planning a lengthy trip by motorbike into the Mekong Delta soon and then later in the year I hope to do a Ha Giang trip by motorbike as well. While there’s nothing like the sleepy trails of the Mekong by slow moving waterways or riding alongside the ruggedness of the rocky ridges around Phan Rang, I still love Vung Tau, especially for its food, it really is a culinary hotspot if you’re prepared to go and look. And of course, Aussies have a great affinity with the town. It has a very interesting history and the rides up the coast from there can be stunning.
10. What is your favourite Vietnamese food?
That’s a really tough question. I’ve often pondered this and have never arrived at an apprioriate answer. Any dish done really well here is the best dish in the world on that day, lol, especially if the chips are down and you need cheering up. My go-tos for breaky are either pho ga, pho bo or bun bo Hue, lunch might be com ga, bun cha, mi hoanh thanh or nem cua, and dinner a whole bunch of different kinds of snails.
11. And how about the food you hate the most? Why?
For a long time I wasn’t keen on goat because the smell reminded me of the animal pavillion at my hometown’s annual show (exhibition), but I’ve come round to that and enjoy it now. Generally speaking, I’m not huge on anything with heaps of offal, like pha lau.
12. When did you establish The Bureau Asia, and what is the meaning behind this name/brand?
I started it in January 2018. The name has a couple meanings behind it: 1) A bureau is like a central agency where information is submitted or gathered and then disseminated; 2) A bureau can be a type of furniture, a writing desk. And of course Asia refers to our region.
13. What topics has The Bureau Asia covered so far, especially topics about Vietnam?
Anything about travel, F&B and lifestyle.
14. Are there any collaborators who write stories for the platform?
I’ve had a few over the years, generally people who have an interest in writing and telling stories, but generally speaking, about 95-plus per cent of the content you see on my channels is done by me. I’m basically a one-man band, but with tons of moral support from wife, Melanie. She also contributes a lot to The Bureau Asia’s Instagram page and often appears on my podcast, The Bureau Asia Podcast.
15. How do you choose the topics to be featured on your platform?
Another great question as it’s something I grapple with a lot, it’s hard to know what content will perform well that fits within your niche. For example, I can get 10K views on an Instagram reel about someone cooking banana roti, but less than 100 views on a reel talking about a Vietnam issue that I think is more meaningful and educational and that’s taken a lot of time to put together. Generally speaking though, if something falls within The Bureau Asia’s three content pillars and is entertaining and/ or educational, then I’ll consider it.
16. How long does it take to have something ready for publishing on your platform?
How long is a piece of string? Lol. I create content for multiple platforms from Instagram reels to 800 word articles for my website to 45 minute podcasts to 15 minute videos for The Bureau Asia YouTube channel. Put it this way, it consumes most of my time! A lot of time goes into coming up with ideas, planning, researching, creating and then publishing. Creating content for social media like Instagram and Facebook is a full-time job in itself!
Sometimes pieces of content are a chore and take a long time to get to publishing stage, but then there are others like a recent article on my website that I posted about the impact ChatGPT might have on content creators like me in the near future that took me just a couple of hours to write and post across my channels.
17. What is the story that you find most impressive or interesting about Vietnam that has been featured on The Bureau Asia?
One of my favourite ones was about my mission to find the whale cemetery in the small fishing village of Phuoc Hai north of Vung Tau. I didn’t write an article about it per se, but I documented it with video and mentioned it on a podcast episode. I’d love to go back and document it again, but properly this time because my filming and editing has improved since then.
On that same trip, I came across the fishermen who pull their fishing baskets out of the ocean with tractors, I’d never seen it before and because of my farming background, I had a blast watching them and chatting to them about their lifestyle. They were using very similar tractors as the one I used to drive as a kid on the farm, so they got a real kick out of me telling them that!
18. What are some values that The Bureau Asia has given you during your journey with the brand?
While I would never recommend anyone take the path I’ve taken to get to this point, I’ve met some amazing people, made incredible friends, gained access to places and events I would never have usually gained access to and I get to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t be able to do if I had a 9-to-5 job.
Of course, the downside is that it’s been a massive drain on my personal finances and I’m continually wondering where my next paying job is going to come from – which tends to be the nature of the media beast these days, especially for small creators like me.
It’s the complete opposite of my past life, but I’ve stuck to my guns because the last thing I ever want to do is die wondering. I’ve learnt a lot along the way.
Not too many foreigners I imagine go through a complete career change at the age of 40 in a non-English speaking country like Vietnam and somehow manage to survive, which I owe a lot to my wife who backs me up, supports me and probably gets more of a kick out of it than me watching my progression in creating media.
The funny thing is, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else at the moment, despite the hardships, I love creating and thoroughly enjoy it when people reach out and tell me that they loved a particular article or video that I published.
I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do what I do, so I hope it continues but with a little extra income. That would be really nice!
19. The Bureau Asia currently presents on Spotify, Instagram, YouTube, Apple Podcast, and Facebook. What is your long-term vision for the platform? And, how about the plan for this year in 2023?
I would love for The Bureau Asia to gain greater reach throughout Asia, after all it’s an “Asian” platform, so in order to try and achieve that, I’m working hard at growing my YouTube channel and trying to improve with each video I produce.
I have a list of video ideas that I want to get filmed as soon as possible. I said to myself at the start of this year that I wanted to be more consistent with putting out content on YouTube, the website and the podcast channel, so that will keep me busy for this year and let’s see where it goes.
I’m on a mission to get 1,000 subscribers on YouTube. I think at the moment I’m edging up to 600 which is amazing. I’m amazed that almost 600 people would want to subscribe to my channel, so I hope I can produce enough content that’s both educational and entertaining about Vietnam and the rest of Asia that’s good enough for them to stick around and continue following me!
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