Wednesday, June 22, 2011

5 Things I Love and Hate About Living in Vietnam

Our Beloved Hearts by Didier Ruef
So I've been living in Vietnam for quite awhile now and I keep getting the same questions from friends and family. "How is it over there?" "How do you manage?" "What about the food?" "Do you miss Western food?" "What about the culture shock?" and so on and so forth.  Let try to answer those any many other questions by simply stating my reasons why I :heart: Vietnam and why I :hate: Vietnam.  Actually hate is such a strong word.  I think annoying or irritating is more fitting.  So without further adieu...

Ha Long Bay by macrider
The Scenery: I currently live in Ho Chi Minh City so the scenery here is nothing to brag home about.  However, Vietnam as a whole is a very beautiful country.  Vietnam is home to some of the most beautiful and scenic bays in the world.  Ha Long Bay is regularly ranked as the #1 bay in the world.
The Food: This is of course subjective but I find the food here in Vietnam to be very tasty.  Everything from the noodles to the rice and everything in between just has an explosive taste.  Vietnamese dishes often use a lot of fish sauce and fresh herbs like mint and lemon grass.  Also, Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for it's fresh use of ingredients.  This is due in part because of the lack of efficient transit system.  Since it is difficult for Vietnamese to store and transport goods around the country most of the ingredients are grown locally and consumed almost immediately.
Pho Beef Noodles by Kham Tran
The People:  Most of the people I have met while traveling and living in Vietnam have been very friendly, helpful, kind and even go out of their way to speak what little English they know in order to better help and understand you.  Although, there are some cultural differences most Vietnamese are quite excited to meet and talk to foreigners.  Of course this has been my experience when being introduced to people or while at a restaurant or hotel.
The Way of Life:  If you value the simple things in life then Vietnam is the place to be.  Of course you'll still find superficial people, highly expensive boutiques and three figure cars roaming the streets but for most Vietnamese people it's all about family.  The average Vietnamese way of life consists of great food, great company, and good times.  It's difficult to describe, since moving here I feel as if my life has slowed down in a good way.
The $: As a foreigner I can really appreciate the cost of goods and the cost of living here.  I realize that for most Vietnamese it's probably very different but for me it always puts a smile on my face to be able to take my family out on a nice hot summer evening to a nearby restaurant and spend relatively nothing compared to the USA.  Of course I'm not blind to the obvious line between the poor (most) and very rich (few).  But that is a whole different topic.

I Dislike Vietnam:
The Traffic:  You knew this one was a given.  I despise the traffic here.  I thought the traffic back home (California) was bad.  It's almost scary driving here.  Motorbikes are constantly flying by you at ridiculous speeds coming inches away from you.  Nobody has any regard for the laws and trying to cross the street during rush hour is a death sentence.  Not all traffic is bad in Vietnam though.  For example, compared to HCMC, Hue is relatively calm.
The People: As I mentioned above most of my experience here with the Vietnamese people has been great.  However, strangers (particularly at markets and other highly congested areas) are rude rude rude.  I'm pretty sure it's a cultural thing but come on.  People never seem to get out of your way, people are constantly stopping right in front of you, bumping into you, smoking in your face and generally not acknowledging you.  Just today I was at the supermarket and trying to walk down an aisle while a lady oblivious (talking away) to the fact I was trying to get around her stops making me crash into her to only have her push me out of the way so she can walk back down that same aisle.  This is not an occasional thing.  This is constantly.
The Crowds: As you probably already know Vietnam is a relatively small country with a very big population.  Big cities are heavily congested and you are constantly being reminded of it.  No matter where you go or what time of day it is if you go out prepare to be in the middle of a huge crowd.  Forget about going about during rush hour and don't even think about shopping at a supermarket.  Supermarkets are small compared to western supermarkets.  So when it's packed it's PACKED!  It's like trying to get around in a sardine can.  And as I mentioned people just don't care to push you around.  While standing in line you have to constantly watch that nobody is trying to cut in front of you.  People aren't shy about it either.  They'll come right next to you and slowly, slowly get in front of you.
500,000 Vietnamese Dong Bills
The $: As I mentioned earlier I can appreciate the cost of goods here as a foreigner but I am not blind to the obvious.  There is a clear, very clear, line drawn between the common folk and the rich elite.  It's not uncommon to see a Ferrari drive down a street where the majority of the people are beggars, panhandlers, or just common folk trying to make a living.  From my experience the common salary for a Vietnamese person is somewhere around 3 to 6 million Vietnamese Dong (about $145 - 290 USD).  Sadly, there is nothing much I can do.  It is very heartbreaking seeing kids running around in rags selling lottery tickets just to make a living.
Crime:  *Before I begin let me first say that I have never ever seen any crime first hand.  What I state here is just from what I hear from friends and family.*  Whenever traveling to any foreign country it is in your best interest to watch out for yourself.  You will definitely be a target if you open yourself up to be one.  In HCMC it is wise to be aware of your surroundings and keep your personal belongings with you at all time.  If you are an American traveling to Vietnam register with and sign up for their travel warnings, travel alerts and STEP program.  Again this is mostly common sense so practice safe travel and your trip to Vietnam will go without a hitch.  You will often hear about tourists getting robbed or have things come up missing.  Just recently there was a headless body was found in a river in HCMC.  This is no different than any other Western city (Los Angeles comes to mind) so again take this with a grain of salt.

Thanks to Didier Ruef for allowing me to use his image "Our Beloved Hearts".  You can check out more of his photography at his site.

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