Some of the earliest influencers of the new Vietnam includes the work of Kyle Le and his YouTube channel, kylele.net. Kyle’s casual and insightful storytelling of his experiences in Vietnam has led to an impressive 70,000+ subscriber base from around the world.
We managed to get some FaceTime with Kyle to understand his vision for the new Vietnam and how his experience building his YouTube channel has given him a unique perspective of the change that Vietnam has undergone and will continue to experience in the years to come.
Are you seeing more Viet Kieus coming back to Vietnam?
Almost six years since moving here, I still love sharing stories of what Vietnam has to offer. I want more people to think about Vietnam in a different light.
The majority of Viet Kieus know a superficial view of District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. The bars, restaurants, hotels. But they don’t meet the visionary locals, the Viet Kieus who have called Vietnam home for years, the vibrant expat communities, the international schools. Most casual visits to Vietnam don’t allow Viet Kieus to fully wrap around their minds of living in Vietnam. Hey, it’s actually liveable here. You can have a family here. Most of my content emphasizes travel and food. That’s how most Viet Kieus can connect to the homeland.
A lot of the movement between overseas and Vietnam is also gradually becoming more economic. In the late 2000s, there was very little information in English. Now is the time to experience all of Vietnam. Ten years from now, Vietnam won’t be as raw as it is now. ‘Viet Pride’ is a common saying in America. What does that even mean for most Viet Kieus who have never spent more than one week living in Vietnam. Not vacationing, but actually living.
What sort of new content can your followers expect to see soon?
I’ll be in Europe producing videos for a couple of months. Meanwhile, I’ll still be releasing Vietnam-based content and India. Some themes will include videos on the Vietnamese European communities. 2017 will be on Vietnam outside of Vietnam: on a broader, more global scale. I have a crazy dream to feature Vietnamese people in every American state. Chronicling older and younger generations and businesses related to Vietnam. I’m also hoping to contribute more for The Huffington Post.
I want to showcase a different side of Vietnam. I’ve met so many Vietnamese abroad. Danish, Norwegian, French, German, the list goes on. My YouTube channel has become an online gathering for Vietnamese people around the world.
What are some of the most memorable Vietnamese diaspora communities that you’ve interacted with?
The top of the list is Cambodia. Vietnamese people living in Cambodia are stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty. They have little stability and they just float. Many can’t come back to Vietnam because they don’t have the money to get a proper passport or education. It’s a constant struggle. There is a sense of discrimination over there too. Many long to come back to Vietnam.
Any other communities?
Vietnamese-Parisians, pre-1975. Many of the oldest generational Vietnamese-Parisians were exchange students that left Vietnam before or during the War. They never had the opportunity to return home. And many have never seen Vietnam still to this day. Most of this community wants to relive their past in the age of Vietnam before 1975.
On my last visit to Paris, I went to a cafe with karaoke nights on the weekends. It was the real “Paris by Night”. Many of the older Vietnamese-Parisians would sing about their hometowns of Dalat and Saigon. This first group of overseas Vietnamese remains very Vietnamese. They didn’t lose their sense of culture, identity, and language. Their Vietnamese heritage is frozen in time. Yet, they’ve adapted to French culture so well. They kiss each other on the cheek and drink French wine. The way they handle their knives and spoons.
What KyleLe.net video is the most meaningful to you?
The water hyacinths in Cambodia.
What does the ‘new Vietnam’ mean to you?
There are two schools of thought about the change that Vietnam is undergoing. When people reference the ‘good old days of Vietnam,’ what does that mean exactly? Rural Vietnam? Cities are full of construction and development, but the countryside is still quite prevalent.
In my opinion, globalization in urban Ho Chi Minh City is okay. If you go ten minutes out of the city, you have the countryside. I’m a firm believer in Vietnam’s progression toward increased urbanization. I’m not concerned with the idea that Vietnam is losing its charm. It will develop and grow regardless of what anyone thinks. It’s true that some charm will be lost. But at the end of the day, you just need to know where to look. And the countryside will be around right next to the cities.
If people are still concerned that the good old days are vanishing, then now is the time to visit Vietnam.
What were your first impressions about Vietnam?
At first, I was negative about Vietnam. But that was because I was surrounded by negative people. Lots of this sentiment came from the stigma of my parents. And my own ignorance. The weather was pretty awful compared to Southern California. Traveling and living in Vietnam are also two different things. When you start working, it’s different. You must work a lot to have a lot in Vietnam as a Viet Kieu. It’s easy to make an income just to get by, I can’t make it by with a minimal income in Vietnam with the production costs of video and life beyond Vietnam. I wanted to make more. Everyday for the past years have been non-stop work. There was a point that I taught at three different schools to supplement my income with night tutoring as well. When I branched out more outside of teaching after four years and focused primarily on YouTube, I met more people, more travel, more adventures, and more opportunities. YouTube was a simple hobby that turned into something a lot more.
What are some interesting things about Kyle Le.net that people don’t know about?
People don’t realize the work behind it. They see me with friends, eating, traveling. But they don’t see the camera work, editing, and storyboard formatting. YouTube is not a full-time job, it’s a full-time life commitment. If you reach a certain level you can hire people. But I’m not there yet and do everything myself. I can’t just create another video about eating pho again. It gets more and more difficult as I make more and more videos.
I’m a bad traveler. I have an inner ear problem and I get dizzy easily. Boats and windy car rides? Bad. Airplane rides? If I don’t vomit when flying, it’s a blessing. On camera I look like a worldly traveler, but it’s not glitzy at all.
Consistency is key. It’s my biggest challenge on a daily basis. TV can take a break with commercials and new releases every week. YouTube does not, it’s a continuous and on-demand resource. If you’re gone for a week, you lose your audience. If you do too much, they get bored. Daily vlogging almost killed me during the summer. I wasn’t sleeping.
Where do you hold your follower meet-ups? What sort of people come out for them?
Every time I go back to America I put together a meet-up. Many of the past meet-ups have been in Dallas, Houston, Austin, Orange County. San Francisco. Most of the turnout is overseas Vietnamese. People of all ages from high schoolers to grandparents. And on occasion non-Viet Kieu people will show up. Most of the time it’s because they’re dating or in a relationship with Vietnamese people. They watch my channel to get a better understanding of Vietnam.
One time, I hosted a meet-up in Arlington, Texas. When I walked in, I didn’t realize that the table with 15 or so people already inside the Kung Fu Tea was waiting for me. It was so ethnically diverse and a pleasant surprise to see what sort of audience was out there watching videos to learn more about Vietnam. Many Americans still know very little about Vietnam and its food, travel, and social potential. I’m proud to have shed some light on various topics and places on a more mainstream level, especially with The Huffington Post and my appearances with the Travel Channel on Bizarre Foods (link to the episode where I appeared on and helped produce).
I prefer hosting more intimate meetups, where I can speak with everyone. Otherwise it’s just a photo-op. This is why I also avoid posting meetup announcements on YouTube, I only use Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.
Can you tell us more about who watches your videos?
Each media distribution platform has its own unique content and audience. I’ve noticed that more of my hardcore fans are on the email list and are Facebook page fans. My Snapchat followers are almost entirely millennials. It’s a fantastic, highly engaged demographic.
My main audience is 25 to 35 years old. People interested in discovering for the first time or rediscovering their homeland. But of course, many older people enjoy the content, which allows them to relive sentimental aspects of their past.