Sunday, August 28, 2011


Like I said before, this experience so far has been somewhat of a roller coaster. And I have only been here for 5 days. After moping around for a few days trying to figure out my life, I have come to establish a few pros and cons about my initial impressions here:

+  The motorbikes are probably my favorite part of this place. I find them quite charming and the constant beeping has not bothered me a bit. Crossing the street was somewhat terrifying to begin with, but now it is no problem and kind of forces you to pay attention to what is going on around you. I was able to ride one the other day with Lien (translator/new friend) when she took me around the city to get my life sorted out. I thought I would be scared out of my wits but it actually was quite fun. Although there are many people riding next to you that make you think "what in the...?" (for example: people texting while motorbiking, people cramming 4-6 people on a motorbike including very young children, people texting while motorbiking with 4-6 people on a motorbike...), but all-in-all it was not as bad as I was expecting. In fact, it has convinced me to hopefully rent one in the near future, as it is clearly the best way to get around.  Now to have someone teach me to drive it...

-  There is no Facebook here. I guess its blocked or something and I know it sounds a bit shallow but I guess I was relying on it a little bit to let people know that I am alive and keep in touch with others. And on making clever, witty statuses that people can "Like".  Now since I know everyone cares about every move I make, I am requiring them to make a Google+ account so they can keep tabs on me.

+  There is no Facebook here. Here's to not wasting countless hours looking at people and details I don't care about (no offense). Although it makes me sad I won't be able to see what my close friends and family are up to, I do not have to even think about people I have not talked to in years. I feel someone refreshed to relinquish from this distraction. It gives me time and energy to focus on important things such as my sanity (in an Eat, Pray, Love kind of way) and (ahem...) my project (oh yeah, that's what I am here for). As I was talking to Duc and Truong about times they expect me to be in, they looked at me strangely as if I was asking them to require me to do work. Wasn't it implied that I was to come in when I was ready in the morning, work my tail off, and go home when I was tired? Duh, Laurel...not everyone wastes as much possible time on the Internet looking at recipe blogs and Twitter and this and that until you run out of things to look up and THEN start on your work. What I have noticed (and I only worked in the office for one afternoon so far) was the work ethic and productivity of everyone. Everyone is very serious about what they are doing and I look forward to working in this environment.

+ The road conditions. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-paved the streets are here. Although they are stuffed to the brim with millions of motorbikes and bicycles and Lexus' and giant, crazy buses, the roads themselves seem rather safe. I would actually rank them more smooth than some of the streets of Chicago (**cough cough** Granville Ave **cough cough**).

-  The condition of the sidewalks. No offense to Saigon or anything, but to sum them up in one word, it would be: "Ew". If you are not spending your time fending for your life while crossing the street, you spend your time trying not to sprain your ankle in the giant potholes basically found everywhere, trying not to step in stray dog poop, dodging the random motorbikes that decide to drive up on the sidewalk out of nowhere, holding your breath to avoid breathing in the random piles of garbage, all while trying to politely nod "no thank you" to the "xe oms" as they yell "MOTOBIKE MOTOBIKE" at you trying to give you a ride somewhere because you stand out like a sore thumb being pale with red hair and it looks like you might have an ounce of money to spare.

++ The cheapness of this place. I can definitely get used to this $1-2 a meal thing. If it weren't for my shopping spree with Lien to buy settling in essentials, I would have spent less than $20 my first week here. And every meal I have had has been absolutely delicious (more to come on food...).

-  Finding food. I know it sounds idiotic. There is food everywhere. But I can't seem to figure out what to do. Most "restaurants" don't greet you and there are usually no menus or anything so I don't know what they have or how to say anything because barely anyone speaks English (see next point). I spend much of my time looking for a welcoming place to eat. I'm hoping when I go to orientation this next week I can talk to people about this.  Wahh.

-  There is not nearly as much English spoken here as I was hoping. It's not that people are unfriendly, it just makes things harder and more uncomfortable for me to get used to. It makes eating a bit lonelier and it makes walking around a bit more confusing. I am hoping to get into a crash Vietnamese course starting Sept 5. It's a little pricey so we will see. I guess I am living on an average $3 a day though...

-  I sweat a lot here.
+ My new friend/translator Lien. She works at the CBD but she has been a lifesaver. Just when I was feeling completely lost, she came in and took me shopping for essentials/sightseeing.

  • First we spent the morning trying to open up a bank account here so I won't be charged a million dollars per ATM withdrawal.  I definitely could not have done that on my own. We'll see if it works out...
  • Next we went to the supermarket. Now I know what comes to mind when an American says supermarket--Dominick's/Krogers/maybe even a Super Wal-mart. It can be very easy, even relaxing to casually browse for your groceries on your list. Now, imagine cramming a Super-Walmart in a building 1/10 of the size. Still the same amount of people and still the same amount of crap. Everyone is screaming and ramming their carts everywhere. It is rather stressful and it is best to get in and out of there as quickly as humanly possible. Thankfully Lien was perfect for that task and I was able to obtain everything I needed such as computer adapter, towels, etc. When it came to getting a hair dryer, it required the two of us to track down an employee and having them "test it" before we bought it to see if it worked (requiring them to find an outlet within the store) and then they had to sign off on the warranty? Don't ask...just a quirky Vietnam thing that I will add to the pro list because it is hilarious.
  • We then proceeded to hit up the cell phone store, which had about 20 high school students working at once and horrible music blaring throughout the store. I am proud to introduce my adorable purple Nokia:

  • Now on to seeing some of the sights:
    • Ho Chi Minh City Post Office

ultimate tourist pic--but couldn't resist
    • Ben Thanh Market (minus all the accent marks): imagine Canal Street in New York or Trader's World crammed into one building with no AC and crazy food and candy booths. Yohe family--I know where I am doing my Christmas shopping (*cough* buy me ticket home *cough*)
candy candy candy candy candy

candy stand

shoe stand, then there would be a bag stand like this, and on and on and on

There may be quite a few negatives but I am trying to be optimistic about them in that I am trying to tell myself they are teaching me a virtue of patience--something I lack quite a bit of. 

And now after writing this huge long post I am exhausted. I'm sure you are too after reading it. I hope you at least looked at the pictures :)

One last note--I went to the War Remnants Museum today and would like to post on it soon. It was what I was expecting but also quite jaw-dropping at times. Stay tuned...dun dun dun.

Oh and one more note...I am flying to Hanoi tomorrow for orientation. SOOO excited to meet other Fulbrights. Finally some daily interaction with people. I won't be back in Saigon until Friday. But I should still have internet....I'll keep you posted. Ta ta for now though.

1 comment:

  1. I got a Nokia too!!!! We were meant for each other. Miss you love you! Lets chat soon :)