Here I am, back in Ho Chi Minh City for the third time. Although, this time is not only for a short business trip. In fact, I recently accepted a position based in the megalopolis I have learnt to love over my first two visits here. How did I end up here, and what happened since my last post? I know it's been a long time since you've heard from me, but in my mind it all happened in a split second. Things seemed to have happened so fast that I must take a step back and reflect on the series of events that brought me to relocate to yet another country in three years only.
Where did this opportunity emerge from?
Last summer, I had the opportunity to work out of China for a three-month short-term assignment. My assignment project was to optimize the current production process of the World Cup Match Ball for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia: a dream come true for a football geek like me! Toward the end of my assignment, my hiring manager offered to send me to Ho Chi Minh City for a one-week business trip. The official purpose of that trip was to transfer some knowledge about the supplier I was based at in China that just opened new facilities in the HCMC area. The underlining purpose - which I didn't know at the time - was for me to get face time with the Senior Leadership Team based out of the Liaison Office in Vietnam and explore the potential career opportunties here. At the time, the series of informal talks at the office and during happy hours did not lead me to think I would relocate here. I left Saigon pretty satisfied with the mission I was sent here for and flew back to Guangzhou for the final week of my assignment before heading back to Germany.
The very next week, during a one-to-one meeting with my hiring manager, it was mentioned that the Senior Leadership Team have been discussing my case lately. In her words, they have been pleased with my performance and, although there is no position open in their division at the moment, my name is currently circulating in other divisions and something might or might not come up in a near future. Although there were no promises at the time, something indeed came up very quickly as I got contacted to get through the interviewing process for a position based in HCMC in the footwear division. I was of course very interested and thrilled to see my hard work in "Nowhere, China" had paid off. From there, I passed the multiple interview steps and finally got the good news right before Christmas. I spent the whole Christmas vacation evaluating my offer and finally gave a positive answer right after New Years. It was now real!
The Impact of saying "Yes"
Saying "Yes" sounds so simple. I mean, it is only a three-letter word after all and it was indeed what I wanted for my career development. The efforts that come after saying it, though... You immediately get caught up into a butterfly effect where a simple "Yes" leads to a bureaucratic storm. Some might even compare it to the wedding planning process. Only, you are alone in your decision and therefore, alone in the preparation too. Accepting the offer brought me back to 2015 when I first said yes to adidas and moved to Germany. Whether I answered "Yes" or "No", the course of my life would have gone left or right and it had to be decided right now. The ball was in my court and the status quo was not an option. I was just about to decide how my future would shape up with a very short answer to a closed question. As you now know, I said "Yes" to moving from Montreal to Nuremberg in 2015, and it changed my lifestyle drastically. Today, I went through the same process and said "Yes" without major hesitation, again! Although, I still ran facts and figures in order to convince myself that I made the right decision. My process mind enjoys evaluating a decision through criteria analysis to avoid ever doubting of my decision in the future. With this approach, I am firm in my choices and very seldom change my mind after the fact. It's just my way of dealing with the decision-making process and it has proven to be very effective so far.
I knew I had to get the motions going as soon as I set foot back in Nuremberg after my Christmas Holiday. So many things needed to happen before I could finally kiss Germany goodbye until the next time and move my whole life to yet a third continent. It's so easy to focus on the end goal and the fact that it's so cool to live abroad. In the shadow of this awesome lifestyle, people don't realize how much effort need to be put on in order to make this happen. Think about wrapping things up in Germany while simultaneously preparing your arrival in Vietnam. It's no piece of cake! Here is a list of items I had to check off before even sitting on the plane:
Handover of projects at work
Deciding on the items I am bringing to Vietnam and leaving in Germany
Packing items I decided to bring to Vietnam
Finding a place to store the items I decided to leave in Germany
Storing the items I decided to leave in Germany
Work Permit application process
Health Check at the hospital
Legalization of documents
De-register from Germany
Booking hotel in Ho Chi Minh City
Booking flight ticket
Looking at this list, there is definitely something to give you vertigo. Just like everything else, when you find yourself facing a great challenge that seems unattainable, the key is to break it down into smaller and more manageable sub-challenges. This will allow you to reach your greater ambition through small incremental achievements. Between all these items and trying to cope with the fact that I needed to say goodbye to my friends and colleagues, I must admit my mind pretty much went into auto-pilot mode over the three months that preceded my departure date. I was not mindful at all and people could see it in my face that this whole relocation process preoccupied me a lot. Good thing I am an uber-organized individual by nature. I could not conceive how more creative minds cope with this bureaucratic storm.
Saying goodbye is never easy. So, I made sure to make it an "until next time" instead. Knowing that I would stop by Nuremberg for a couple of days this summer definitely released some pressure on having to say goodbye to the people I have learnt to love over the passed three years. It took a long time for me to develop a strong core of friends. It is Germany after all. As they say, it takes a lot of time ot make friends in Germany, but the ones will will make will remain forever. That's exactly how it feels, as the North American rapport with acquaintances is rather more superficial than in Germany. Having said that, it also helped that my relocation proces was taking so much time because of the Lunar New Year in February. This caused the whole paperwork in Vietnam to take more time than the usual since all offices are closed during that period. A little bit like the Christmas Holidays in the Western World, if you will. Consequently, I had plenty of time to see every one more than once. I even hosted my going-away party six weeks in advance (though, it was not the original intent). So much so that I was even still around for GBC (Global Brand Conference) - the annual adidas extravaganza that everyone awaits so we can release pressure over the free food, drinks and music. That night, I should have worn a t-shirt with a print that said: "Yes, I'm still here! I'm still waiting for my visa! I don't know when I'm flying yet!" I must have heard the questions to these answers about a thousand time throughout the night like a broken disc. It was still amazing to run into some colleagues I don't see often even at the office. Another question that came from (mostly) female friends was: "What will happen with your girlfriend?" A legitimate question to which I answered very susprisingly: "Wow, we haven't talked in a very long time! My girlfriend and I broke up more than a year ago and have been single eversince!" And, they came back even more surprised with a: "You're single? All that time, a few girls asked me about you and I always answered to forget you since you were taken." To that statement, I rolled my eyes as my inner voice thougth "...really?"
Finding an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City
I understood I was now living in Saigon when my relocation agent came to pick me up for apartment visits with his motorbike. From the office tower's main entrance, my administrative assistant introduced me to Nam and casually said: "I hope you don't mind visiting your apartments by motorbike. Welcome to Saigon!", and she left. I guess I had no choice but to get accustomed to the local lifestyle. So, Nam handed me his second helmet, hopped behind him and off we drove in direction of the Binh Thanh district where we would focus our search that particular evening. I must admit I was quite nervous since I had only hopped on a two-wheeler once since my bicycle accident of 2016 and it was when I came to Saigon for business last September. Actually, it's not that bad after all. Despite the overcrowded streets and what seems to be total chaos at a first glimpse, all motorbikers seem to respect each other on the road.
The whole experience of searching an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City has nothing to do with the one I went through in Nuremberg. In HCMC, you basically visit as many apartments you want and decide on the one you like the most. Once you made your selection, you tell them by which date you would like to move in and the deal is sealed. The next day, the contract is signed and you can move in at your convenience. While looking for an apartment in Vietnam, competition does not really exist. You find yourself in a "buyers market" where the supply is much greater than the demand and competition is limited to other expats. In comparison with Germany, finding an apartment was very easy. I spent two afternoons visiting about 30 apartments and finally made my decision based on the greatest value I could get for the price. I have written many posts about my unpleasant apartment search experience in Germany, where it took me close to six months to find an apartment. You see, while searching for an apartment in Germany, you find yourself in competition with other local workers, families, students, etc. It is a suppliers market where the demand is much higher than the supply. You often have to compete with 15 to 20 other applicants for the same apartment. Because of that, landlords come to the negotiating table with unreasonable requests that they use to filter candidates. Asking to buy the furniture in the apartment or pay to renovate the kitchen are examples of unrealistic demands that applicants have to agree to if they want to have a better chance of being selected as the tenant for the apartment. For better or for worse, Vietnam is very different in a way that locals cannot afford those kind of apartments. Therefore, you can pretty much select the apartment that you want. I will even go a bit further by saying that some terms in the contract could easily be negotiated to bend your way rather than the landlord's. A sad win, but a win nonetheless.
Not even an hour had passed since I landed in Vietnam that I was already checked into my hotel. Not even an hour had passed since I checked in that Chau was already waiting for me in the lobby. Yes, yes! The very same Chau that showed me around Saigon not once, but twice. That very same Chau that met me in Bangkok last November. It's quite nice to have a local friend who can help you with settling into your new country of adoption. With Janine - my friend and colleague from USA - also living here, it's quite funny to say I know more people in Vietnam than I did before moving to Germany. To be honest, I was completely brain dead from my long flight and all I had in mind was to catch up on some sleep. So, we sat in the lobby for a few minutes as Chau provided me with some useful information I could use during my first days in Vietnam. After a few minutes talking, she could clearly see that my mind was switched off, so showed mercy and let me go to sleep. We agreed to meet the next day for a bowl of Pho.
It's funny how life sometimes creates those opportunities to cross paths with friends. Aliki and I have been friends since 2010. We met at PMI-Montréal - the Montreal Chapter of the Project Management Institute - where She was a permanent employee and I was volunteering while trying to expedite my Project Management experience. Aliki is currently travelling the world. She started her journey in Central America and has worked her way through South America, New Zealand, Australia, and South East Asia. It was not planned this way at all, but Aliki and I would meet on my first day in Saigon, which also coincidited with her last day before continuing her journey to the North part of Vietnam. The last time we saw each other was in 2016 when I was a keynote speaker at the 2016 PMI-Montréal Symposium. Therefore, we had to meet and there was no possible escape to it! We only had a few hours together before her flight, so we decided to meet in my hotel lobby at 9:00am. It is with a very jetlagged face that I met her and together walked to a coffee place near by. Aliki had the idea of interviewing me for both her next issues of Aliki En Route and the PMI-Montréal blog. We ordered two Ca Phe Da (Vietnamese Ice Coffee), sat at a table, pressed record on her phone app and just started catching up on a bunch of random topics going from "how to streamline a project management process" to "where to get the best banh mi in town". The usual hectic conversations two good friends normally have while catching up after such a long time. We then went for a quick lunch at a ramen spot and, just the time of finishing our bowls, it was already time for Aliki to leave. We were both ready to initiate the new chapter of our adventures as she hopped on a Grab bike and I checked into my new office building.