**figured separating these anecdotes would prove easier on the eyes, leave commentary if you agree/disagree**
Favorite activity= eating
There’s not much more to it- Vietnamese food is great. I’ve never really had it before, and it is a little bit more challenging as someone who doesn’t eat beef or pork, but it’s great. We actually found a solid vegetarian restaurant and I had the best fried rice there. Yesterday we tried a Hanoi-style restaurant, a very informal place, where we would not have been able to order without Kayla! It was incredibly cheap- we split the bill and paid about 30k dong each, which is about $1.33. Speaking of paying for food, and currency: we suck at it. It’s hard to grasp the scope of the currency, because the smallest bill is 1000 dong, and most common is 20k or 100k. We haven’t split all our 500k from exchanging currency at the airport, either. So it’s hard when we’re collectively trying to pay the food bill. Like at the vegetarian restaurant: all our food didn’t cost the same so we decided to pay for each of our meals plus the service fee. The total bill was something like 1 million dong, and we spent at least twenty minutes counting the bills, and coming up short or miscounting or just generally messing up every time. I’m sure the restaurant was either amused or displeased, probably displeased because we were so loud and touristy. So this is something crucial that we ought to get straight!
Ho Chi Minh is everywhere
It’s not hard to run into Ho Chi Minh’s stern face in Saigon (technically Ho Chi Minh city anyway). He’s at the post office, he’s on posters plastered on outdoor walls espousing propaganda, he’s of course on the currency. Probably our favorite is the large Ho Chi Minh watching over the track by our guesthouse: he’s smiling in this one, and lifting weights. Probably these small things are the most visible signs to us of Vietnam as a one-party Communist state. We learned more about the significance of this with Dr. Christophe Robert, CET Vietnam Program Director and all-around amazing guy (see blog-post-to-come)
"A rock in a river”
If anyone is keeping up with our entire group’s blogs you will probably get tired of hearing about this. But it’s still worth a little mention: it’s a big skill to cross the street. According to Jared it’s like being a “rock in a river”. In AP US History in high school my teacher showed us video of exactly this, of crossing the street in Saigon (look it up on YouTube- it’s insane!) and it’s so real. Basically you just have to go for it and trust you won’t get hit. The motorbikes, which are by far the most abundant vehicle on the road, swerve to avoid pedestrians but do not stop for you. Red lights, green lights, crosswalks are nearly irrelevant. The thing is, it was crazy to us for the first two days, but now that we’re getting the hang of it, other than how proud we are of ourselves, we’re starting to really not care about it. There’s honestly a kind of beauty to it, the way it always works out like an elaborately choreographed dance.
Vu was very right in telling us to kind of trust the system, and accept that this is Vietnam: just because we are unfamiliar with it doesn’t mean anything needs to be changed or fixed. Sounds simple but hearing that really helps broaden our perspectives in experiencing so many facets of Vietnam.
Saigon is truly so alive. One of my favorite places here is the exercise park by the guesthouse, which consists of a track with crabgrass soccer fields in the middle and basketball courts on either end. In the corner there’s some exercise equipment that middle-aged women seem to frequent, and there’s some indoor equipment too. It’s surrounded by the skinny four-floor pastel buildings common here in Saigon, a smaller oasis of activity amid the overwhelming activity of the entirety of the city. Katrina, Jason, Grant and I went yesterday and got memberships (30k for a month!) and I’m so glad I did. The first day, we went around 6:30 am before the sun began to hit hard, and it was buzzing already. Kids of all ages were there for some sort of exercise camp, wearing blue jerseys and doing stretching drills along the track or dribbling soccer balls. Some teenage guys wearing Warriors, Celtics, and Heat jerseys were playing pick-up. Lots of people were walking and running laps and playing badminton, and a group of older men and women were practicing tai chi in the corner. It was beautiful. That day we just walked a bunch of laps and soaked it all in: all this life and it wasn’t even 7 am during these kids’ summer break. Grant joined the basketball game for a few minutes but it didn’t go too well for him, but at least for the week we have left in Saigon I’ll be sure to go back.
Vietnamese is hard!
As a group we want to depend less on Kayla when we don’t have our Vietnamese buddies around, but it’s hard because we are not great at Vietnamese. It’s my first experience with a tonal language and that’s the biggest challenge. Even “hello” is hard: the pronunciation of “chao” can change the meaning from a greeting to a bowl of rice! Our buddies laugh at us but they’re patient when we try to learn how to say these simple things like thank-you. (Our official lessons start next week! I’m excited.)
Last night at dinner, we taught our buddies some American slang as well. It’s hard though because I learn most of my slang from my twelve-year-old sister!
Some of the phrases we shared: