Tammy and Seth Grabel honeymoon in Vietnam, reconnect to roots
In the 1989 movie, “Back to the Future Part II,” the main character travels to the future and sees the billboard promoting tourism in Vietnam. While a previous generation might find this impossible, Vietnam is just one of the many places offered by Compass Living featuring a retirement lifestyle for anyone who likes to travel while being pampered and making it surprisingly affordable.
The premise behind Compass Living speaks directly to its employees’ experiences. Living overseas has taught all of them that there is a huge demand for the lifestyle they live. “So many people tell me what an interesting life I have, traveling to many countries, experiencing the world,” said Vivian Palmer, a former auto manufacturer executive who retired as director of marketing China operations before coming to Compass Living as head of marketing.
According to Palmer, what you find in Vietnam “is surprisingly unexpected. It is a country on the economic upswing. They have an enthusiastic, hardworking and educated population. Entrepreneurship is everywhere from street corners to the myriad of small coffee shops competing with national and international brands.”
While there is growth in terms of tourism, many people from the United States, Australia, France, Russia, United Kingdom, China and Korea are not just coming to visit. They are making it their home and working or opening businesses.
“Beyond the beauty and vibrancy of the Compass Living Parkview location and the standard Compass Living amenities, the cost of living makes it attractive to live here. There is nothing I need or want here that I have not seen nor had access to,” Palmer explained. “One amusing observation is that in the Metro store (similar to our Costco or Sam’s) the product Spam is put in individual locked cases. They also offer Spam in flavors I have not seen in the states.
“The food is fantastic, both local Vietnamese and the plethora of other nationalities. If you really have to have your KFC, Baskin Robbins, Mickey D’s or Starbucks, these familiar brands are readily available,” she said.
One Compass Living guest wrote, “Last night we went to Ben Thanh Market, just a 10 minute walk from our suite at the Compass Parkview property. The lights and action from the city was mesmerizing. When we arrived, the market was spilling out into the streets with restaurants full of people.
Ever heard of International Pillow Fight Day? A guest explained, “Well the other day we attended the one in Saigon, Vietnam and had the time of our lives. Held in a local park, people gathered just for the privilege of whacking other people with a pillow. If you did not have a pillow, you could purchase one for 60,000 dong, about $3 in United States dollars.”
“There were hard and fast rules to follow—no violence, no hitting a person with a camera, wearing glasses or without a pillow and no pillows with zippers or anything hard on them. Energy built up and people were eager to participate. Cold, free bottled water was handed out to combat the heat.
“At the signal, hilarity ensued. Everyone began popping others with their pillows. Some started screaming and running as a group to do mass pillow walloping creating some of the most exciting moments. Surprisingly, it took more energy to whop a pillow than one would expect. After about an hour, everyone was exhausted.”
Julian Ajello’s group, Wake Up Saigon, organized this showdown. He and friends started Wake Up Saigon a few years ago, partly so he could get his fix of grown-up fun like water gun battles and zombie walks, 500-deep, through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and, of course, pillow fights. Some might consider this pure silliness but not Dang Chang who maintained a strategy. Chau Dinh is a city native and she is a little less Game of Thrones about this event. “I don’t really have a strategy,” she laughed. “My pillow is pretty small. I’ll probably just hit everyone I can in my range.”
Most of the Vietnamese locals, who participated like Dinh, were in their 20s and 30s. Ajello credits demographics. “The beating heart of this country is the young people,” Ajello said. “They want to do something new and different and they’re not afraid of being silly.” Some might say pillow fighting is a young person’s game.
“I would say they’re right but we held our own! We had experience on our side” Billy Kaderli said with a wink. “I think we’re probably the oldest ones here.” Kaderli is 61. He and his wife Akaisha came to this fight ready to rumble.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Akaisha Kaderli said.
According to Palmer, the Vietnamese have a great sense of humor that allows them to indulge the delightful craziness of westerners. International Pillow Fighting day was organized by westerners; still many Vietnamese people took part in the fun.
Fun and adventure is not exclusively for the young. Baby-boomers are considered the most adventurous older generation preferring to enjoy different experiences. Increasingly, they are finding that after 20-, 30- or 40-year careers, their grandparents’ or parents’ retirement style doesn’t work for them. “And they are continuing to redefine expectations, this time what it means to retire,” said Robert Yuan, founder and CEO of Compass Living.
While many have always desired to retire overseas, either full-time or part-time, the barrier has always been steep in adopting extended stays overseas. “Selling a house is hard; selling one in a country where you don’t understand the laws and may not even understand the language is darn near impossible,” said Emily Higby, currently in Southeast Asia opening Compass Living’s Parkview property. It should be noted Compass Living does not sell real estate.
Higby, who retired from the hospitality industry after opening a number of hotels, has lived all across Southeast Asia as well as travelled extensively before retiring in Las Vegas. She even owns her own travel agency.
But it is not just baby boomers who want to travel and live overseas. Newlyweds Tammy and Seth Grabel recently visited Vietnam for their honeymoon. In their 30s, this trip was very special because Tammy Grabel is Vietnamese.
“Once in Vietnam, I felt at home. Pieces of my childhood experiences came to light once again by being immersed in the Vietnamese culture,” she said. “I found that the Vietnamese are resilient people. They are extremely creative with their resources and work incredibly hard. I had a realization during our trip that looking at my mom and family, I can proudly see this type of work ethic rooted in them. We are hardworking people, determined and grateful for life.”
Tammy Grabel was looking forward to learning the language but when they arrived in Vietnam, they discovered that many of the locals spoke English, which is helpful for many Americans visiting or moving to the country. However, she explained, “I wanted to feel more connected to my roots so I made an effort to always speak a little Vietnamese. By the end of the trip, the locals could actually understand what I was saying!”
Tammy and Seth Grabel had many adventures. “This may sound crazy to us Westerners,” she said, “but one of our adventures was crossing the street. The streets of Vietnam are filled with mostly scooters. In fact, it is estimated that the country has 10 million motorbikes, one of the highest per capita levels in the world. At any one time, there are hundreds of scooters on one street going in all directions. There are no crosswalk lights to get from one side of the road to the other so you just have to go for it. Crossing the streets in Vietnam was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done.”
Another memorable adventure was, “visiting the Buddhist pagodas (temples) that our Compass Living concierge and driver arranged for us. This was one of the most touching experiences of our trip. My mother practices Buddhism, and growing up, I watched her light incense and place fruit offerings in front of the Buddha in our home. Seeing these pagodas gave me a deeper understanding of the religious traditions that my mother continued in our own home.”
The Grabel’s favorite part of the food experience was the abundance of fruit. The land is rich in fruits and vegetables, and at any street corner there are fruit markets filled with beautifully displayed tropical fruits like mangos and dragon fruits.
Tammy and Seth Grabel noted that upon their arrival in Ho Chi Minh City Airport in Vietnam, Compass Living’s concierge service navigated a seamless transition into Vietnam living. “They provided us with a phone we could use in Vietnam, a driver, laundry service and even a massage if we needed to relax from our daily adventures,” she said. “With the concierge number pre-programed into the cell phone, they took the guesswork out of our excursions so we could just sit back and enjoy our outings. In our suite, we were impressed with the quality and cleanliness of the furniture and our kitchen. No expenses were spared, down to the quality of the towels in the bathroom. Seth and I loved the towels so much; we wanted to buy some to take home. At the end of our trip, we loved the staff so much and were sad to go … that just means we need to make plans to go back and visit them!”
By the end of the trip, both Tammy and Seth Grabel knew that they could easily live in Vietnam for several months soaking up the culture.
Compass Living makes your dream living affordable. Whether it is retiring overseas, becoming a world traveler, or taking an extended vacation, Compass Living is the answer offering meals, housekeeping and laundry and with affordable add-ons like weekly full-body massages, manicures and pedicures.
Compass Living truly is better living worldwide. For more information, visit compassliving.com.