News in Hoi An Ancient Town

Entrepreneur rises from failure to build new life in Hoi An

I lost every thing in Paris, but I found my life again in Hoi An," says Denis Bartard, a French businessman who made the historical seaside town his home 10 years ago. 

French businessman, Denis Bartard, build new life, Hoi An, French visitors
Joie de vivre: Denis Bartard (right) teaches French to a small class in Hoi An. The French teacher and businessman has lived in the historic town for the past decade, finding a peaceful, quiet life there. — Photo courtesy Denis Bartard

He first arrived in HCM City as a tourist in 2002, but it was a visit to Hoi An that really caught his imagination so much so that he rented a house there.

Bartard began his career as a history teacher at a high school in Paris and also set up his own trading company to bring in additional income.

The good times lasted for a while, but things soon began to go wrong. Eventually he had no choice but to file for bankruptcy.

"It was the worst time for me. My business and my love had gone. It was my own fault and I did silly things," Bartard confesses.

"Travelling and seeking new opportunities in other countries gave me some balance from my depression. In the time I spent wandering, Viet Nam was the place that I visited the most."

And so it was that he chose Hoi An as the place for him to start his new life. 

An ill-fated attempt to set up a business as an importer of furniture was soon cast aside and Bartard instead decided to open up a Parisian-themed restaurant in the town's old quarter.

These days he leaves other people oversee its day-to-day running and instead focuses his time as the teacher of a free French class for the people of the town.

"I volunteer teaching French for local young people. I have been living in peace here and I want to make my own little contribution. Hoi An is always crowded with foreign tourists from around the world and so I hope my classes can help local people communicate with French visitors," he says.

"I really want to settle down here for good, with the sun and the beach and the peace. I do not often return to Paris anymore as I feel sorrow for my past losses."

He has discovered a new lease of life in his Vietnamese home and has seized the area's opportunities for relaxation with relish.

"A friend of mine helps me look after the restaurant while the French class doesn't take too much of my time, so I have time to explore. I always feel free to travel to the suburbs, go fishing and visit handicraft villages. Cua Dai Beach has to be my favourite place to spend my mornings."

Bartard lives in a house in Dien Ngoc District's Tan An Village – where he is always welcomed by his neighbours.
"The villagers are very friendly and I am becoming ever more familiar with the local lifestyle. I go to the market and cook Vietnamese food. My neighbours also help me cook local cuisine as well," he says.

His neighbours are also drawn to his vintage motorbike collection, which includes a 1960s-manufactured Super Cub 50 and a rare T-bone SS50 model (also known as the Honda 67 in Viet Nam). He rides a Honda Sport Win 100 on the commute to his restaurant and for his travels around the region.

He has also bought two manual gasoline pumps to decorate his restaurant.

"I love searching for old things from local people wherever I go. It gives me a memory of each visit," he confides.

The Vietnamese language has eluded him so far and he says that his lack of fluency is one of the reasons he has yet to find a local girlfriend.

Instead of romance, he spends his time with six close friends (despite the fact that Hoi An houses a French population of nearly 100), who he eats out with most weekends.

He particularly embraces local festivals. "I participate in all of the city's events – the lantern festival, Japanese Day, national heritage celebrations. I think of myself as a local here and I want to share my heart with the other people living here," he explains enthusiastically.

"I live in a world heritage city and I have a responsibility to enjoy it and protect it for the future, not only for local people but for the country as a whole. While I am French, my heart seems to be Vietnamese. Hoi An has completely revived me." 

Source: VNS