SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – It’s been nearly a decade since South Plainfield native Philip Veinott packed his bags and moved over 8,500 miles away to start the next chapter of his life. And, a lot has changed – both personally and professionally – for Veinott in that time.
In August 2016, Veinott married the love of his life, Helen Nguyen, and the couple is expecting their first child in October. Together, they have purchased their first investment property, tried their hand in the Vietnam stock market, and, over the past few years, traveled to 25 different countries. They spend their free time sampling new foods while also making sure to their fix of western cuisine on a weekly basis. Additionally, in late 2015, the Veinott’s launched Vietnam is Awesome (https://www.facebook.com/groups/VietnamIsAwesome), a company that helps bridge foreigners, travelers, locals and expats together in Vietnam in a positive manner.
“The company started as just a Facebook group to share my own personal travel stories and photos, but has transformed into a powerful platform for companies, brands, bloggers, expats and locals alike,” said Veinott, noting that the online group currently has over 54,000 members and is slated to launch its new website this summer. “The current goal is to reach 100,000 members by Christmas 2018.”
The oldest of George and Maureen Veinott’s two children, Veinott attended Sacred Heart Academy and South Plainfield High School, graduating in 2003, before going on to earn a business marketing degree from William Paterson University. He first visited Vietnam’s countryside back in 2008 with his former boss from Costco and, over the course of the next year, visited the country two more times.
In August 2009, Veinott made the decision to move there and has been living in Saigon’s Ho Chi Minh City ever since. “I remember going to the middle of nowhere, with no air conditioning, an outdoor toilet, and sleeping with three other men in a little room under a mosquito net,” he said, adding, “I fell in love instantly.”
Since 2009, Veinott has taught English for both the Saigon-based Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) as well as with the University of Technology’s international program.
He met Helen in 2011 and proposed Jan. 1, 2016 during a trip to Paris. They celebrated their marriage with ceremonies in both Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Yen Vietnam. “She is not only my wife but my best friend," Veinott said of Helen. "She brings me so much happiness and joy while always being there for me and motivating me constantly."
Before their wedding, Helen’s parents traveled to the states for the first time and, together, the Veinotts and Nguyen’s took a Caribbean cruise. “It was also the first time that her parents experienced cold weather like we have in New Jersey, and I remember being near the coast of Florida and everyone was freezing, even me,” he said.
Although he usually tries to come back home every 18 months or so, Veinott was last in New Jersey shortly after the weddings and with a baby due in the fall, Veinott said he doesn't foresee making a trip to South Plainfield until late 2019. “I really dread those 24 hour flights,” he said. “Imagine how a newborn might feel.”
While the cold, along with the ‘political landscape, are some of the things he does not miss about New Jersey, Veinott said there are things – like New Jersey bagels for example – and people he misses terribly. Although Facebook and other forms of social media have enabled him to stay in touch and, in many cases, reconnect with family and friends, Veinott said being away from so long is difficult.
“Sometimes time just passes by,” he said.
Despite the distance – and the 12 hour time difference – Veinott said he makes sure to call home four or five times a week, even if it’s just to chat with his mom for a few minutes. “I usually tell her to show me the dogs so I can talk to them even though they could care less,” he said, “My mother is always making sure I am safe, healthy, and asking me whether or not I am still a U.S. citizen.”
All joking aside, Veinott added that leaving was ‘hard.’ “I still remember leaving my mother at the airport when I left to move to Vietnam,” said Veinott. “It was tough for the both of us. Nothing can prepare you for that [but] she has always supported me and understands why I am living abroad. She knows I am in good hands with Helen and her family.”
Most recently, Veinott’s sister, Amanda, and husband, Chris, had a baby. “I am an uncle for the first time and I am not there to be with her. I lose out on the early bonding stages and time,” he said. “My little niece has the best hair in the world and I can’t wait to spoil her when I come back next year, and she will get to meet her little cousin for the first time.”
Veinott said he wishes his grandmother had a smartphone so that he and ‘Grams’ could message daily and share photos. “She’s almost 80 years old and shovels her own snow, gardens, and does whatever else she does. She has so much love and energy...” he said. “One thing that I love about my Grams is that she always sends me scratch off lottery tickets every month. Also, when I was home, every Sunday morning she would bring me bagels from the bagel pantry – a dozen. I miss those bagels, especially the everything bagels with cream cheese.”
Through Facebook, the South Plainfield native also is able to keep in touch his aunts and uncles. “They see what I am up to and I can see what they have going on,” he said. “Whenever I need medical advice I contact Uncle Bob; if I need academic support I reach out to Aunt Lisa; and if I need some love I message Aunt Cheryl or Aunt Trish.”
Veinott said he also misses his Aunt Nicole and Uncle Mike – referring to them as ‘love birds that can make any couple jealous.’ “I really miss her Brazilian cooking and the backyard summer barbecues,” he said, adding, “Growing up, Uncle Mike was always helping me and giving me awesome gifts and now that I am an uncle I can’t wait to give that same love and support to my niece.”
Veinott also misses many he grew up with, including the Sikanowicz, Grady and Behr families. Growing up, he used to walk over to the Sikanowicz’s house, grab some chips and a coke from the outside fridge, and go sit down on the couch and watch TV and hang out with their cat Jack. “I miss those days…” Veinott said.
The Behrs, he said, have been family friends for decades and were also his ‘go to’ whenever he needed to discuss relationships. “I could always count on Aunt Lisa. She and her husband are the ‘cool Behrs’ for a reason,” Veinott said, adding that he also wishes to thank Hank Grady ‘for always being the person her could talk to and turn to for a laugh.’ “I want to let Hank know that I always check out his guitar videos. He’s a rock star in the making.”
About to become a father himself, Veinott said he garnered a new appreciation for his own dad and all he did to provide for the family. “I am really appreciative of all those years he did shift-work and sometimes I didn’t see him. I understand why he did what he did and some of that work ethic has rubbed off onto me,” Veinott said, adding that he also wishes to thank his father for helping him ‘understand money, especially the value of saving.’
“I should tell him more how much I appreciate him for what he taught me because, over the last three years, all I did was save money, and it has paid off, especially with my little baby coming in October,” Veinott said.
Although he is living on the other side of the globe, Veinott said he hasn't forgotten where he comes from. He misses his Little League baseball and South Plainfield basketball buddies as well as all his Sacred Heart friends.
“I miss those times and those days,” he said, “This may sound crazy, but I do have dreams about playing basketball at South Plainfield High School when I was younger and have always wanted to coach the basketball team. Maybe when I retire I can return home and make that a reality.”
He also credits several of his former South Plainfield High School teachers, including Angela Gallagher Green, Cameron Green and Taryn Decker for always believing in him. “Without your support through my high school years I definitely would have a harder time getting to where I am now. I wish I took education more serious back then, especially in your classes,” he said. “You were always good to me. I never really said thank you, so thank you.”
While he loves living in Vietnam, Veinott said he hasn't forgotten where he comes from and hopes to one day give back to his hometown. “I would love to give back to South Plainfield, whether it be with the youth or community. I have so many experiences that I would love to share with people and especially those who are keen on traveling to Asia, whether for business or pleasure. I would love to help bridge my fellow SP community and Vietnam together,” he said.
Veinott said he also owes a ‘thank you’ to many of his former Costco colleagues for making going to work fun. He has fond memories of sneaking to the back of the building and talking to Manny, Alex and so many others. “I could count on a good chit-chat at anytime,” he said.
Working at Costco is where he met Andy Tran, the former boss who took him to Vietnam for the first time, as well as other ‘really awesome Vietnamese people.’ “Because of them, I started to learn and love the culture years before I would even step foot in Vietnam,” he said. “My Vietnamese colleagues set the foundation and taught me everything I needed to learn about the people, the language, the culture, and life even before I traveled there for the first time.”
He continued, adding, “I just want to say ‘cam on chi vi tat ca,’ which means ‘thank you for everything’ in Vietnamese. Crazy how that all shaped my future.’
Over the years, Veinott has shared his experiences as an American living in Vietnam with various local, national, and international news outlets. He has also been featured in a video for Asia Life magazine as well as written about in Oi magazine and inseaasia.com. Additionally, he featured in the Tuoi Tre newspaper (https://tuoitrenews.vn/lifestyle/33152/meet-the-us-man-who-promotes-vietnams-awesomeness-to-world, at http://thegioibantin.com/why-vietnam-is-my-home.html, and in a March 2015 TAPinto South Plainfield article (https://www.tapinto.net/towns/south-plainfield/categories/south-plainfield-top-stories/articles/phil-veinott-living-and-loving-life-in-vietnam).