Deena Hanley: Feeling 'Comfortable'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Several thousand Americans now live in Vietnam, most in the southern business center of Ho Chi Minh City. Some are here to try to make money, some for the experience, some to promote reconciliation - and many for all three reasons.

Deena Hanley came to Vietnam last summer as a backpacker, wrapping up a year of traveling alone that had taken her through parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In Ho Chi Minh City, she looked around. "When the whole city's under scaffolding, obviously you can see that things are happening."

She walked into a business center, wrote up her rsum, and delivered it to all the hotels and American companies she could find, sometimes getting around town in a bicycle-rickshaw taxi. A 1993 graduate of Oregon State University at Corvallis with 18 months of marketing experience in Portland, Ms. Hanley quickly got a job as the public relations manager at the Omni Saigon Hotel, one of the best in town.

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If aliens beamed her to New York or Paris, she wouldn't seem out of place: fashion-model looks, black tights, black skirt, and jacket. But it's not the sort of look one normally sees on Ho Chi Minh City's busy streets.

She lives in a serviced apartment, sends her laundry out, and has the option of eating three meals a day at the hotel. Her circle of friends includes Australians, Singaporeans, Britons, and a few Vietnamese, though she doesn't speak the language well. She exaggerates that she is the "only" person in town without a cellular phone.

Perhaps best of all, there's the steady stimulation of living someplace very different from home. "Every day you see something you would not see in a Western country," Hanley says.

There are drawbacks, too. "Life seems quite cheap here sometimes," she says. Although the economy has been booming, one doesn't have to look hard to see poverty and suffering. "You get so hardened to the devastation."

America's war in Vietnam is a nonissue for Hanley. Occasionally, Vietnamese old enough to have had close ties with Americans before 1975 or those who have family in the United States will greet the news that Hanley is American with special warmth. But otherwise, the war doesn't come up. "I was a little concerned when I first came because I thought there might be some animosity, but I've never felt anything but comfortable," she says.

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