Roland (from Vietnam)
Dating a Vietnamese lady is complicated; nobody expects relationships to be simple of course, far from it, but when dating so far from home you have to be prepared to face some extra challenges. Culture clash - the differences are usually obvious when one arrives in a new place.
While most expats would tell you that adjusting to it all doesn’t take very long, that’s not entirely true. Yes, you do get used to seeing whole chickens, head and all, on people’s plates. You get used to the lawless traffic and the tiny chairs, but for most travellers, the bulk of the cultural differences won’t ever register. You could live here for years without noticing them, however, all that begins to change when you date a Vietnamese lady…
This is a lesson that my flatmate Andrew has gradually been learning. He’s lived in Vietnam for nearly three years now, the last two of which he’s spent dating a young Vietnamese lady called Ngon. Over the past two months I’ve lived with Andrew, Ngon has been a constant feature. She’s here most nights, friendly, always smiling, and she often volunteers to do the cooking and cleaning.
There was never any kind of suggestion that their relationship was heading for the rocks, they seemed perfectly happy. Then one morning I noticed that Andrew hadn’t made it home the night before. I knew the two of them had gone out for dinner, but I only saw Ngon return to the house.
The next day he sent me a message asking if she was home - they’d had a fight and he was avoiding her. Day three of his absence came and went and I still saw neither hide nor hair of him. Ngon, on the other hand, was there each night. Finally, I saw him the next day. I was standing in the street outside when Andrew pulled up on his motorbike. He told me again that he was avoiding his girlfriend, though this time he hurriedly amended this to ex-girlfriend.
Despite the odd comings and goings of the past few days, I was surprised. Doubly so when he let slip that he hadn’t actually told her the news yet. He left soon after, Ngon spending the night at the flat once more.
By the time he finally returned home again, after nearly a week spent sleeping at a hotel, the curiosity was eating me alive. I’m not normally one to pry, but I had to know the story. Andrew is an easy-going guy, and spoke unreservedly. Perhaps he just wanted someone to talk to. It turned out that their fight had been a long time coming. Unsurprisingly, Ngon was a very different kind of girl to those Andrew had dated before. The women in his native Newcastle were like him – independent, quick to speak their mind, and with no fondness for drama.
Vietnamese girls, as with much of Southeast Asia, are in many ways the opposite of western women. People here are more community-focused and tend not to speak very directly. It’s little wonder then that to Andrew, Ngon seemed both clingy and very emotionally dependent. Where he liked to have his space, she wanted to spend each day together. She was prone to jealously, growing upset with him whenever he chatted with a female friend. Andrew also told me that she was very quick to express her feelings, telling him she loved him after just a few weeks. The Englishman clearly wasn’t very comfortable with this.
Forestalling my next question, Andrew explained to me that there were many things he really enjoyed about dating a Vietnamese lady. Ngon was loyal and feminine, and she always had time for him. She was a good cook and insisted on taking on all domestic duties. I began to get an impression of Andrew’s ideal girl – a stereotypical 50’s housewife. That kind of girl, traditional, submissive and focused on her family, seems to be long extinct in the west but here in Vietnam such women remain common. Perhaps one could even consider them the norm.
The problem, it seemed, was that Andrew wasn’t really a good fit for that kind of old-fashioned relationship. That is to say, he’s not really a very family-orientated person. He wants to have fun. He wants to travel. He’s not even sure he wants to start a family at all. I could almost picture him trying to decide between having the cake and eating it. Andrew wants the benefits of a relationship with a Vietnamese lady, all the while behaving as if she were a western girl.
It seems impossible that they could have made it this near to a two year anniversary without matters really ever coming to a head. Then again, perhaps not, because of her more indirect way of communicating, Ngon never says anything outright. She leaves Andrew hints, becoming angry when he doesn’t pick up on them.
Andrew on the other hand expects her to be direct if she has any problems with him. All hints seem to pass over his head, and he simply avoids her whenever she becomes angry. Astoundingly, while they seem completely incompatible as a couple, the nature of their incompatibility somehow kept them together.
Andrew went out each night after that. He boasted about how quickly he bounces back, arranging a new date each night. Barely a week went by before they got back together, he told me that they finally managed some direct communication. They’re on the same page now so he says. As far as I’m able to tell he insisted that she be more direct with him, and that he wouldn’t put up with any more “bad moods”. He also told her that he’d likely be leaving the country soon, which she’d just have to accept. Ngon, true to her submissive nature, didn’t argue.
Now it’s all smiles and laughter once more. They’re the picture of a happy couple. How long it will continue this time, I can only wonder. In a few months Andrew will likely move on to a new country. He’s considered trying to take her with him but, unless they marry, it would be very difficult for her to gain a visa to most destinations. The Vietnamese passport is weak outside the SEA region, and the non-refundable visa application fees are a difficult pill to swallow in the case of a rejection, and applications are rejected more often than not.
Their situation sounds bleak, but I believe there is hope for them yet. Though they often don’t see eye to eye, it’s abundantly clear that their feelings for each other are heartfelt. Some sacrifices may be required, but if they’re honest with each other, and themselves, they’ll be just fine.
Their story has been illuminating for me. I’ve just recently started a relationship with a Vietnamese lady myself, and can’t help but wonder if she and I will have similar troubles one day. I don’t mind though; trying to understand the fairer sex might require a little more effort when dating a Vietnamese lady, but I reckon it’s worth the effort.
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