I would like to think that every time I travel, I learn something from the experience. Never is the learning curve so steep than the few times I travelled to Asia. Below is my final instalment of “Notes from Vietnam”, recapping what I learned:
- The country is full of entrepreneurs and opportunists. People are just selling shit all day and never is a sale turned down for any reason! Don’t worry if you ordered a breakfast sandwich at dinner time, someone on a motorbike will be showing up soon with the much needed baguettes. And don’t worry if there are no seats available “al fresco”. The restaurant will just squeeze complete strangers together and bring out more tables and chairs from the back. Same with ordering beer. If they don’t have it, the cook will just walk down the street, buy it from her friend and then sell it to you. Never is a sale lost due to logistics- we were even chased down the street once when it was realized that they lost our business due to warm beers! They found ice!
My friend, Melissa, summed it up best when we were worried that we should book an appointment for our massages. “This is Vietnam,” she said, “they’ll just build new rooms and call a couple of their friends to come on motorbikes.” I think that next time I visit Vietnam I might try out ordering a meal in a nail salon and a pedicure in a restaurant just to see what happens.
- Motorbikes, motorbike, motorbikes. There are 7 Million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh alone! I’ve completely underestimated what could be transported on a motorbike until I went to Thailand, but I think Vietnam has them beat. I weirdly found the home-made highchairs cute. However, my favorite was the guy with bags of cement piled not only on the back but also on the front to the point I wasn’t sure how he could turn the handle bars. I’m also amazed that in a country with basically no traffic rules, that they are able to carry their entire family of five, talk on the phone, while also changing five lanes of traffic.
- The people love beverages– something this American can appreciate. Every café table is full of tea, coffee, iced coffee, egg coffee, beer, egg beer and whatever sweet drink you can think of. They also like ice in their beer. I’m liking that, too. And don’t worry if you want a beverage for your motorbike ride -they’ll just give you a plastic bag so that you can hang it from your handlebars and drink it while cruising on the free-way… while also changing four lanes of traffic.
- For such tiny and slight people, they spend their entire day eating. Considering my friend dubbed me as “an eating machine”, I can also appreciate this. From our experience, you can’t go wrong with meat on a stick or anything on a stick for that matter. You may think it is just chicken, but you are pleasantly surprised when you realize that it has been marinated in lemongrass. And maybe the lady making your dinner has the longest ash on her cigarette that you have ever seen, but whatever she is making is worth the chance. Plus, she is serving her dish with fried spring rolls. OMG, friend spring rolls, I love you!
- They do everything outside in the streets. I would hate to be the person in charge of regulating the side walk use permits. Mostly, the side walk is for parking motorbikes (duh), but what little space is left is used for making food, serving food, eating food (including family dinners), selling stuff (of course), washing-up, drinking beverages on tiny little plastic chairs, and business transactions.
- They love sitting in tiny plastic chairs and stools- westerners would say children’s chairs. I stopped sitting in the ones with arm rests as they usually came with me when I stood up. Although sitting in tiny chairs is probably made easier by the fact that the average height is 1.64m for a man and 1.53m for a woman, they seem to have mastered agility. Although their life has been about hard work, it has paid off in their elderly’s freedom of movement. I have no doubt that any 90 year old Vietnamese women could out-do any of my yoga teachers in yoga squat competition.
- Hotel maps, menu photos and driving lanes are indicative or suggestive only.
- But with all the cultural differences and observations, the thing I noticed about the Vietnamese is they laugh and smile a lot. They are very proud of their culture, their country and their families – as they should be.
Good bye Vietnam, Beep Beep.