10 things I miss about Hanoi – and 10 things I love about the Barossa

When one of our friends declared late last year, shortly before leaving Hanoi that “the only thing she would miss about Hanoi was passion fruit juice”, she was set a challenge to come up with a list of 10 things she would miss. I think she actually got to 15 – but the idea of the “Top 10 things I will miss about Hanoi” list was born. I can’t remember if I did an actual list when we left– although I did tag quite a few Instagram posts #thingsiwillmissabouthanoi. So I thought I would put together a list of things I am missing two months after leaving and then add the things I’ve found to love about the Barossa so far.

My top 10 things I miss about Hanoi:

  1. Food – especially street food like Bun cha (pork rissoles and noodles), Pho Bo (Beef noodle soup), banh tom Ho Tay (West Lake prawn cakes), Pho Tieu (cold noodle dish) from Dong Xuan market, Cha Ca (fish in turmeric with noodles)

    Pho Bo - Beef noodle soup
    Pho Bo – Beef noodle soup
  2. Vietnamese Coffee – especially over ice, the yoghurt coffee at Café Duy Tri and Iced egg coffee (like Tiramisu in a drink) from Hidden café

    Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe
    Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe
  3. Lakes around Hanoi especially morning runs around west lake and the Lotus ponds

    Dragon on West Lake, Hanoi
    Dragon on West Lake, Hanoi
  4. Cheap fresh flowers
  5. Cheap fruit and vegetables, especially amazing tropical fruit – pomelo (like grapefruit), mangosteen, limes, pineapples
  6. The kaleidoscope of life in the streets – things stacked on motorbikes, street side cafes, and festivals in the street

    Heavily laden motorbikes in front of Hanoi's mural wall
    Heavily laden motorbikes in front of Hanoi’s mural wall
  7. Living amongst the varied cultures in an expat populations
  8. Opportunities to travel around Vietnam and to neighbouring countries
  9. Shopping – beautiful clothes especially from Chula, gorgeous home wares from Tan My, crazy t-shirts from Gingko and all the other lovely shops especially on Hang Gai and through the old quarter
  10. Amazing friends and colleagues and great support staff

Of course there are also a few things I don’t miss:

– Crappy weather – grey skies, humidity, too hot or too cold

– Pollution

– Rubbish on the streets

– Crazy traffic and trying to cross the road

– Rats – especially those that insisted on sharing our home (and eating favourite pieces of clothing)!

Now, having been in the Barossa 3.5 weeks, here are the things I have found that I love so far:

  1. Barossa Farmer’s Market – buying beautiful seasonal local fresh produce from the people that raised, grew or made it, great coffee, flowers and a fantastic atmosphere
  2. Loads of great food and wine – of course
  3. Great parks for the boys – including one a few minutes walk from home
  4. Being 5-10 minutes to school, gym, shops etc
  5. Having at least two cellar doors walking distance from home – one of which also happens to be Simon’s place of work
  6. Fresh air, (mostly) blue skies and beautiful scenery – especially all the vineyards and beautiful old buildings, Mengler’s Hill Lookout and the sculpture park
  7. Sense of community, history and place
  8. Proximity to everything we need and great roads to drive on plus parking on the main street with no restrictions
  9. Lovely school/childcare for the boys who have been welcomed by teachers and friends alike
  10. Friendly welcoming people who love where they live and are excited about sharing that place with visitors and newcomers
Around Tanunda, Barossa Valley, August 2014
Around Tanunda, Barossa Valley, August 2014

The story so far….

Common wisdom suggests you should start before you’re ready. I really wasn’t sure how to start this blog and was even less sure about what people would be interested in reading. But, thanks to some encouragement from a lovely lady I met this morning, I am just going to write like I speak and hope that something interesting appears on the page.

As the title suggests, this is a blog about my career change and my move from Hanoi, Vietnam to the Barossa Valley in South Australia. After 15.5 years as a public servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (including two postings in Beijing and Hanoi), I decided I wanted to do something different. Unlike many people who decide to change careers, I didn’t have a hobby or a passion that I thought I could turn into my own business. In fact, I wasn’t sure (and am still not) that I wanted to work for myself. What I did know is that I wanted to change the way I worked and the environment I worked in. I wanted to be surrounded by entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiasm and excitement – something that the bureaucracy doesn’t always promote. I wanted to be flexible about when I worked and where I worked. After 3.5 years in Hanoi where blue skies were few and far between, I wanted to be able to make the most of beautiful days and work outside, or from a café. And as I began to explore social media further, I wanted to do something where I could engage with people online – as well as in real life.

Not quite two years ago, I learned the value of jumping in without a plan, when a chance comment to my boss about wishing I could do part of my colleague’s job saw us doing a job swap five days later and me taking over a significant program of events to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam. Suddenly I was not only managing the Embassy’s bilingual Facebook page with my team (only the second Australian Embassy to have a Facebook page) but I was coordinating a Vietnam-wide program of events that included performances by Bangarra, a three city 40 piece Questacon exhibition, concerts by Katie Noonan and Elixir and numerous other events.

So, the idea of a career change and some new exciting work came together. There are two moments that still stand out. One was after Bangarra’s second performance, in Ho Chi Minh City. After running the Hanoi event with my team, I was really only there to support my colleague and to farewell Bangarra when they left Vietnam. There was a moment during the post-performance reception I remember thinking – “this is I” but not really knowing what “it” was – apart from a feeling about how I felt. Emma Grey from Work Life Bliss talks about a scene from Wind in the Willows where Toad is sitting in the dust beside his damaged gypsy caravan, drooling over his first glimpse of a car. As she describes it “A whole world of possibility opened up”. This was reinforced a few months later watching a veteran Australian ballet dancer – 79 year old Colin Peasley instructing a group of dancers from Vietnam’s national ballet company. Sitting cross-legged on a couch in a sundrenched studio, I realised I couldn’t stop smiling because I was surrounded by the passion of people doing something that they really loved.

I decided to test the waters and start a Masters in Arts and Entertainment Management, reasoning that it was perhaps better to spend a few thousand on a unit of study, than tossing my 15 year career in. At the same time, I was able to continue running events and applying what I was learning, as we started to plan our return to Australia.

The opportunity to take a voluntary redundancy came along (and was a long drawn out process not worth recording) but at each step we would ask ourselves whether we were doing to right thing, as I prepared to quit work without still being 100 per cent clear where exactly this course of study would take me – or where I wanted it to take me.

Around Christmas, we spent some time in Hanoi exploring our options. As much as we loved Canberra, we both agreed that in a climate of public service cuts; it was not going to be somewhere that provided the opportunities we were looking for. With a husband who had spent most of his working career in various aspects of the wine business, we’d also entertained the thought of moving to a wine region and South Australia stood out, partly due to the cost of living. Gradually I started following people and businesses in the Barossa on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and in my mind’s eye, I started planning our move to the vines.

I can save the ups and downs, stresses and worries of quitting work and moving to a place we’d previously only visited for another day, but 2 months after leaving Asia, and here we are. It’s only been three weeks and while our world is still quite small, it all just feels right. From the first day we arrived, I was blown away how welcoming people are, how friendly, and most of all, how much people enjoy living here. And while there are obviously lots of families who have been here for generations, newcomers are welcomed. Most of all, life is easy, and after the chaos, pollution and hustle of Hanoi, we can’t help but love being five or ten minutes to wherever we need to be, a great gym close by, fantastic schools, great cafes and amazing food and wine – just as we’d imagined.

As for the career change, while my studies continue, I’m even more excited by the chance meetings and the opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’m hoping this blog will be an opportunity to record some of our adventures as we make a new life in the Barossa, while also taking some time to sit back and reflect on a very busy 3.5 years in Vietnam.