Zanna K. McKay: Multimedia Journalism, HCMC

Name: Zanna K. McKay

Age: 24

Current Country: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

How long you have been living here for: 2 months this time, 2.5 years in total

Frame of Reference: I grew up moving around a lot and lived in Wyoming, Mali, upstate New York, Ho Chi Minh City and then went to college in Western Massachusetts.

Current Company and Role: Freelance multimedia journalist (Portfolio: http://www.zannamckay.com/)

Current Industry: Journalism

A short summary of your work experiences:

Since graduating from college I have been to Italy, Mali, Vietnam and Cambodia working mostly in cooperation with a nonprofit that supports young journalists by finding outlets for their pitches and paying some expenses for stories. I also work as an editorial assistant for a collective of magazine journalists called Deca that publish long-form kindle singles for mobile devices. For them I do everything from social media to producing their podcast.

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THE MOVE: REALITY VS. EXPECTATIONS

I moved to Ho Chi Minh City for practical reasons: it’s affordable for a recent-grad freelance journalist like myself, I was somewhat familiar with the city from living here in high school and it gave me access to all of Southeast Asia to find and pitch stories to editors. I really couldn’t have imagined how much HCMC had changed since I lived here in high school and how quickly it continues to evolve. It far surpassed my expectations for quality of life and I am still constantly meeting new people who are doing interesting, innovative things that would be very hard to pull off in New York, for example.

SAIGON IN A NUTSHELL

Saigon is an up-and-coming city that is still affordable enough to attract young entrepreneurs, artists and freelances from both in-country and abroad. The energy is frenetic, young, dynamic but also with an element of leisure and luxury, since the cost of living is pretty low.

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Zanna modelling a design from Ran’s Design, illustrating the collaborative and creative environnment that HCMC offers

ITS COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

I think what makes Ho Chi Minh City unique is the phase of development that it’s going through. Because Vietnam went from under-developed to middle-income within a decade, there is a unique combination here of comforts a foreigner might expect and affordability. There is also a wealth of interesting people who are truly “following their passions”-as cliché as that sounds-because the barriers to entry as an independent person are lower here than in many developed places (as an artist, fashion designer, restaurateur, freelance designer, etc.). In ten years, I don’t think it will be as affordable but I have the feeling it will maintain a unique identity built by the people-both local and foreign-who are experimenting in all sorts of industries here now. I will always have a soft spot for HCMC because I spent some of my teen years here but as a temporary stop (up to five years, I’d say), I would rank it as the best place to be for someone who is independently employed, driven and interested in a stimulating environment.

“I think what makes Ho Chi Minh City unique is the phase of development that it’s going through. Because Vietnam went from under-developed to middle-income within a decade, there is a unique combination here of comforts a foreigner might expect and affordability. There is also a wealth of interesting people who are truly “following their passions”-as cliché as that sounds-because the barriers to entry as an independent person are lower here than in many developed places (as an artist, fashion designer, restaurateur, freelance designer, etc.).”

LIFE AS A FOREIGNER (The Cost of Living)

I spend about $300 on rent, about the same amount on food (I eat out every day, a mix of Vietnamese street food and Western restaurants) and probably about $100 on partying. If you go on vacation you might throw in another $150 for a very nice local getaway. Visas cost around $85-$150 for a three month single-entry, depending on where you are applying and if you are extending or not. If you made $1000 a month here as a young single person you could live in the center of the city, only cook if you wanted to, go out for drinks pretty often and still save a little money for travel or savings. If we’re speaking candidly about money, making so little of it actually allows me to dodge my student loan payment (for all you Americans out there), though I am accruing interest, which is not sustainable.

THE CURRENT BUSINESS INDUSTRIES

In terms of numbers, I think petroleum, tourism and manufacturing (perhaps especially electronics and clothing) are booming in HCMC and Vietnam in general. Most of the people in the circle I run in work in marketing, design (all kinds) and media production.

THE WORK CULTURE

I only have experience working freelance for foreign publications but I can say that there is an emerging co-working culture in Saigon that caters to freelancers of all stripes who like quiet, bright working spaces with good coffee and snacks.

12584070_10153154880115728_1751025583_n Work Saigon, a co-working space in HCMC that attracts the creative and tech crowd

ON BUSINESS: THE MULTIMEDIA PRODUCTION INDUSTRY

Ho Chi Minh City has a lot of talented, mostly local, videographers and photographers as well as quite a few English-language publications. The industry is not very mature or steady. Well-paying work with local media companies is hard to come by, even for very talented people here.

I think that Vietnam will become increasingly more important for global political/economic relations which will make it more attractive to mainstream foreign media. I predict that agencies like the Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC will start treating Vietnam as a base for covering important events in Southeast Asia, as is the situation in Thailand at the moment. 

“I think that Vietnam will become increasingly more important for global political/economic relations which will make it more attractive to mainstream foreign media. I predict that agencies like the Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC will start treating Vietnam as a base for covering important events in Southeast Asia, as is the situation in Thailand at the moment. “

THE RANKS:

  • Ease of travel/ getting around – 6 (Uber and Grabbike have significantly increased the ease and affordability of getting around HCMC recently. Many foreigners drive motorbikes as well but the traffic is not for the faint of heart.)
  • Beauty and appreciation of the city(Ho Chi Minh City feels endless to me, there are whole streets dedicated to handmade cards, lanterns, shoes that come straight from factories and basically anything else you can imagine. If you are an explorer, you will never be bored.)
  • Security – 8 (You can always find someone who can recount a horror story about a robbery gone wrong here BUT from my personal experience purse and camera snatching are the biggest threats, guns and violent crime are very rare.)
  • Ease of setting up – 7
  • The dining, retail and lifestyle scene– 7.5
  • Facilities and outlets to lead a healthy lifestyle7
  • The social and networking scene – 10
  • Personal growth – 6
  • Affordability of the city – 9

Learn more about the ranking considerations here

 

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