Opting Out

I am not a saint, although from some folks’ reaction to my personal story, it seems that they see me as such. While it’s true that I do try to be a “clear channel for blessing” as befits my adopted Quaker tradition, that’s not the same thing as being a martyr in the Catholic tradition into which I was born.

Every decision that my husband and I have made in the course of our Vietnam adventure, unconventional though it may have been, can be argued for in pragmatic, or even economic, terms. Selling our home in 2006, for example, and putting the proceeds of the sale into foreign-denominated CDs turns out to have been a pretty shrewd move, in retrospect. Certainly, selling our gas-guzzling vehicles and our oil-heated house does not look too foolish now that oil has reached $100 per barrel!

The monthly rental for our four-story Da Nang townhouse is less than the amount we previously spent for taxes and insurance on our American home. While electricity rates are about the same here as in the States, it doesn’t take much to power our small fridge, lights and electric fans. Likewise, although gasoline prices parallel those in the States, it doesn’t take much fuel to propel our motorbike.

Gone is the perceived need to purchase a myriad of insurance products to protect our assets and our stream of income. Car insurance, life insurance, long- and short-term disability insurance, liability insurance, homeowners and flood insurance—all gone. We opted to relinquish our health insurance also—you can read my thoughts on that issue here.

My husband Dave and I had wrestled for years with the ethical issue of paying taxes to support a government engaged in an illegal war. That dilemma is resolved for us now, as we don’t have an income that reaches a taxable level. And our teen-aged son is beyond the reach of military recruiters and a possible future draft.

Our jobs are history, along with the stress that accompanied them. The cost of living is low enough here in Vietnam that we can and do live off the proceeds of the sale of our home. (We had neither a savings account nor pensions.) Other expatriates that we know live comfortably here on modest pensions. Still others get by on what they earn by teaching English for a few hours a week. Without that constant immersion in the American consumer culture, we find that there isn’t much that we really need to purchase. We got rid of most of our belongings when we moved to Vietnam and we still have an embarrassment of riches.

 My volunteer work here consists of doing the kind of real-deal physical therapy that I dreamed of doing when I first entered physical therapy school back in the 1970s. I’m making a real difference in people’s lives here—without breaking my back and without spending any time at all doing meaningless paperwork! Does that sound like martyrdom to you?

Stepping out of the American rat-race and living a meaning-filled life in a third-world country is NOT impossibly quixotic. I’m here to tell you that it can be a personally gratifying and pretty darned comfortable way to go.