Ho Chi Minh Thoughts and Observations

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Nguyen Hue Walking Street in District 1.

You may notice that the site URL has changed. I have decided to make this more of a general blog with more topics than just my travel experiences. A place where I can post my thoughts and general observations. I hope no body has a problem with that.

Anyways, I have been here in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly 1 month. Its been crazy, but I’ve been having a good time. Let me see if I can paint a picture of what it is like to live here.

First of all, the culture is very different. Especially coming from Chiang Mai, Thailand where everybody is very polite. Almost too polite sometimes. Contrast that with Ho Chi Minh. I don’t think it is right to say that the people are rude. I thing the cultural standards for politeness, public behavior, and manners are just calibrated differently. Not all of it is impolite, more like unapologetic.

For instance, people will just flat out stare at me. I’m talking un-ashamed, head turning, non-blinking, stare when I am walking down the street. I think some of this might just be my appearance. With my size, my light skin, long hair and beard, I certainly stand out. But I think it is more than that. I think it happens to other foreigners too.

People drive on the sidewalk all the time. Its gets particularly hazardous during rush hour where the sidewalks have more moving motorbikes than people. You just sort of have to dodge them as you go on your way.

People also just set up businesses on the sidewalk. You have the usual corner businesses like street food vendors, fruit carts, etc… But then you will also have whole scooter mechanic shops on the corner. The sidewalk tiles spotted with years of motor oil stains. A cart full of tools, tires, and dirty rags leaning against a nearby wall. Forcing pedestrians to walk through or around the work area/parking lot of fixed and broken motorbikes.

Then there is the traffic. And to illustrate, I am going to tell a little story. It was late at night, like midnight, and I hadn’t eaten all day. So I went out to get some food. My options where limited since most places shut down at like 10:30pm, even on the weekends. Anyways, there was still some traffic this time of night, and I needed to cross a particular street. It was a rather busy street, so I waited until the light stopped the through traffic and stepped out onto the road just as 3 scooters came zipping around the corner making a right turn into my path. So I stepped back onto the curb to let them by. Then I stepped out again, and another 4 came zipping by again. This happened like 5-6 times. I then noticed an old Vietnamese couple sitting like 10 feet away. They were chuckling at me. (Rightly so. Lol.) The man gets up and walks over to me just as the light turns green letting through traffic go. A river of scooters, cars, and trucks came flowing endlessly past. He even tries to get me to hold his hand. Wow. Did I seem that helpless? lol. I didn’t let him hold my hand. So he just steps out into the flow motions for me to follow. He just sticks out his hand and slowly walks us through the rushing traffic. And the torrent miraculously flows around us. We make it to the other side, and, feeling foolish, I awkwardly say “Thank you…. uh… Cam on.” (Cam on = Thank you in Vietnamese) He just smiles and just walks back into the flow without any hesitation or second thought.

Anyways, I think this experience is a sort of metaphor for the culture here. In many other cultures you take a lot of care to anticipate other people’s thoughts or feelings, to give the right of way so to speak. But there is something pragmatic about how they do things here. How everybody just goes where they need to go and they all agree to try to just flow around one another as they get there.

Example of Ho Chi Minh Traffic.

Since then, I have been much more adventurous crossing the street and have felt less like a fish out of water. I’m starting to connect with the flow and rhythm of this place. It’s fast paced and impatient. It’s crowded and loud. It’s diverse and practical. It’s different and interesting, and that is what traveling is all about.