After an amazing time in Bali and Lombok with old friends, new ones, and family — we made it to Vietnam last night. We’re in Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) and here are a few Vietnamese life lessons that I can share with you so far:
1. Traffic is hectic and has no pattern; walk slow homie, and keep your pace.
Motorbikes, cars, bikes, rats, kids, weird cats… all come at you from every angle when crossing the road. Of course, you should look right, left, front, back, in between your legs, before you cross. But my strategy once I’m engaged is to walk slow, close my eyes–or rather, keep looking straight ahead (not sideways at oncoming traffic) — and keep my pace. The moving creatures somehow find a way around me.
If you open your eyes and take in the hundreds of motos coming straight for you, you may stutter and slow down, at which point, you become unpredictable — and so do the people coming for you.
2. Ancient toothless ladies will come up from behind and smack you right in the ass; you need to be okay with it.
I was peacefully standing on a busy street corner waiting to apply my strategy outlined in #1 when I felt a vigorous slap on my ass. I thought, wow Kevin, that’s bit aggressive, isn’t it? But I turned around to be greeted by a toothless (uni-toothed?) old woman no more than 4 ft tall flashing a massive smile. “Did you want something, lady?” No, it appears she didn’t want anything. She was just having a party. With herself. And me. Apparently…
Old toothless broads will smack you in the ass, and I suppose you need to learn to like it. Perhaps get used to saying, thank you?
3. People will ignore you when you need them, so don’t feel bad about ignoring them when they need you.
We spotted this dank looking food stand selling street meat and juicy spring rolls atop a bed of rice noodles, basil, and cucumber. We were on a mission to try every street food we came across, so decided to pick up some goods (I for sure wanted to tap those spring rolls.) We stood in front of the stand for a good 10 minutes waiting to make eye contact with one of the three ladies manning the operation.
10 minutes. We were the only ones standing right in front of them. They were busily taking orders on their cell phone, sending off dozens of meals. Us? Nothing. No eye contact. No acknowledgement. Certainly no spring rolls in my belly, which I really, really wanted. WTF?
Next time a street vendor interrupts my coffee break to sell me sunglasses for the 10th time in the span of four minutes, I won’t feel bad about completely ignoring her. She’ll get mad and aggressive (unlike in Indo when people just smiled and walk away), but that’s okay. You shouldn’t feel bad about ignoring people either. I’m learning to get it over it.
4. Don’t hold any money in your hand when you’re about to make a purchase.
This was a noob move on my part today, but on two occasions, I bought something from street vendors while holding (tiny amounts of) cash in my hands. People don’t speak English well here (something I took for granted in Bali), so when you ask for the price, it’s unclear what the number actually is. When it came time to pay the first woman I bought something from, I flashed 3 bills of 2,000 dongs (she said “dongs.”) This amounts to about 60 cents. I asked her, “how many of these [to buy yer mighty fine lookin' corn fritters]?” She just smiled and slowly grabbed one, then two, then all three of my bills. I looked at Kevin and laughed, knowing I had just gotten got.
Same thing happened when I tried to buy a bottle of water. I walked up with a 10,000 dong bill (she said “dong” again – she stoopid). I asked, “how much?” I don’t know the price of things here yet, after all. Guess what?!? It was 10,000 dongs! OMG! I’m sooooo good at guessing the cost of things here!
Regardless of the size of the purchase, don’t hold any cash in your hand when you ask for the price. Otherwise, the cost of whatever you’re trying to buy will miraculously become exactly the amount you’re holding in your hand!
And those are my tips du jour. P.S. The lovely lady in the photo above did not rip me off. I just needed to add a photo to keep you entertained.
Joking aside, I really like it here so far. We also went to the War Remnants Museum today, which was really intense. I definitely need to read up on the Vietnam and French Indochina wars. Any book recommendations, friends?