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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 16 December, 2019

'Christmas dinner definitely won't be the same': Here's what December 25 in Vietnam is like for an Irish expat

Alison Griffin is one of the stars of this year’s An Post Christmas ad campaign.

Image: YouTube/An Post

THIS YEAR, ALISON Griffin will be waking up on Christmas morning thousands of kilometres from home – 11,100 to be exact.

Being away from her hometown of Old Kidimo, Limerick at Christmas will be tough, but it’s become normal for Alison now.

The 28-year-old will be a familiar face to anyone who has seen An Post‘s Christmas ad campaign this year, which was filmed in Alison’s adopted home of Ho Chi Minh City.

“I left Ireland on December 28, 2015 to travel Asia for four months. I had friends living in Vietnam so decided to stay with them and teach English over the summer,” Alison recalls.

“That was three years ago now, and the Christmas before I left was my last one in Ireland.”

Source: An Post/YouTube

A home away from home

After falling in love with the “relaxed, stress-free style of life” in Asia, Alison heard about a temporary role as a school nurse in an international school in Ho Chi Minh City via a local Facebook group.

“I went for the interview in 2016 with the idea that I’d have the job until the January after and then return home. In the end, I absolutely loved it, and when the school offered me a full-time contract, I jumped at the chance.”

Alison calls Vietnam a “home away from home” – she’s even a member of the local GAA team, the Saigon Gaels – but at this time of year the culture shock is especially noticeable.

WhatsApp Image 2018-12-19 at 07.05.17 Playing tourist during a family visit. Source: Alison Griffin

Many businesses in Ho Chi Minh City lean into Western influences with Christmas decorations, but on December 25, life goes on as normal for shops, bars and restaurants. “There are no Christmas traditions here,” says Alison of the mainly Buddhist country.

“You’ll see lots of decorations but Christmas Day just isn’t a thing.”

Missing the Christmas catch-ups

Back home in Old Kidimo, the Griffins’ family-owned pub, The Seven Sisters, is usually the base for Christmas get-togethers with locals and friends – and Alison says she’ll miss the chance for some face-to-face time with her dad.

“I come from a very close knit family and I miss that opportunity to catch up with everyone on Christmas Eve. I’m in contact with my sisters and mum by text a lot, but my dad doesn’t have a smartphone which kills me.

Dad is a real old traditional Irish country man. I miss being at home and just being with my dad, having a pint at the end of a night when the pub is closing. 

“By closing time, the day’s work is over so he can finally relax and just chat.”

WhatsApp Image 2018-12-19 at 07.05.16 Alison with her mum, dad and sister during their visit to Vietnam. Source: Alison Griffin

A message from home

Even without her family around her, Alison does have a touch of home in Ho Chi Minh City thanks to her mum’s dedication to Christmas care packages – one of which she opened on camera during the filming of the An Post ad.

No matter where I have lived in the world, my mum has put a care package in the post. She is well known in my family for it, and I have a collection of Irish flags and badges here, sent to me over the last few years.

“On my birthday, she’ll get cards from my sisters, aunts and a few other people and she’ll send them all together in one pack. I line them up on my desk at school to show them to the students as they walk in.”

When people ask how she manages being so far from home at Christmas, Alison often tells a story from one of her other Christmas Days outside of Ireland, back when she lived in England.

“I was working as a nurse in an acute hospital at the time and couldn’t get Christmas Day off. I was finding it so difficult being away. That same day, one of my patients received really bad news about his prognosis. I remember watching his six-year-old son sitting beside him, with his dad so ill, and realising that I had a lot to be grateful for.”

Yes I am far from home but once we are all healthy and happy that’s really all that matters.

Whether they’re around the corner or around the world, make sure your loved ones know you’re thinking of them. Send love all year round with An Post

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