*This is my experience living in my area (Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh).
As my first week living in Ho Chi Minh City comes to a close, I reflect on my experience so far in this beautiful and chaotic place I now call home. I have learned so much about myself and the Vietnamese culture just within this past week. A common question I am asked by friends and family is what it’s like living in Vietnam. I have written and rewrote this blog multiple times because it’s hard to put into words. So here goes nothing!
This is a quote that I look back to while living abroad:
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” -Clifton Fadiman
It’s easy to be ethnocentric and try to compare a country and its ways to your own. If you do this, you’ll more than likely find nothing but negatives and a downer attitude. You have to remember while traveling anywhere that they don’t design things for your comfort, they do it for their own comfort. When you realize this and open your mind, you’ll see the beauty around you. “Travel like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes, and an uncluttered mind.” That’s how you learn and grow as a human being. As an anthropology minor in college, I loved studying other cultures and decided to take myself out of the books and to learn first-hand. Short term travel is great, but you only get a slight peak of what’s underneath. So why not live long-term amongst a culture completely different than my own?
Vietnam is a world of its own. From the rainy days, messy sidewalks, and chaotic streets, to the wonderful people, good food, and beautiful culture; I have come to fall in love with it all in such a short time. The rain showers have become a refreshment during the hot and humid days, the messy sidewalks tell a story and make for a good laugh (and really who cares if you get a little dirt on you), the chaotic streets are full of life and energy. My friends and I joke that we always feel super powerful as we cross a street while motorbikes are zooming past us. I don’t know why, so I won’t have an answer for you if you ask. As I’m typing this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop blowing kisses to a little baby while she puts on her Hello Kitty pollution mask about to hop on a motorbike with her mom. You’ll find the craziest things watching motorbikes drive by that I’d like to declare motorbike watching is WAY better than people watching! I feel less stressed, carefree, and happier than I have been in my life. (And the food is some of the best I’ve ever had)
But the people here? That’s what takes the cake. The Vietnamese are the loveliest people I have come across in my life. They LOVE westerners. I have never felt so treasured, welcomed, and safe than I do here in Vietnam. Anytime I leave the house I receive tons of smiles, waves, and hellos. They are also not afraid to pull you in for a picture without asking and relentlessly stare at you – when I say stare, I mean STARE. Sometimes it can be a tad bothersome, but as soon as I say hello, I am greeted with a huge smile and enthusiastic wave like the rest and my heart melts every time. They call Thailand the ‘land of smiles’ and although I’ve never been and might be biased, I think Vietnam is the real ‘land of smiles’ hands-down. They are eager to have conversation with you to practice their English and help you with your Vietnamese. For instance, when my group of friends and I were exploring District 1, we were approached by a 10-year old girl named Ashley asking to practice with us, where we then had a 20-minute conversation learning about her and her family. They will also go out of their way to help you find where you’re trying to go, open doors for you, make sure you feel comfortable, and help you move tables when it starts pouring down rain on yours. The kindness I’ve been shown here I have rarely experienced in the States. So, to all of my loved ones back home who are worried sick, don’t be. I’m in good hands!
This unique country has already come to feel like home in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation to see what will come.
Until next time,