if travelogues are supposed to be comprehensive descriptions of places one travels, touching on such pertinent information as top attractions, demographics, geography, social and cultural overviews and so on, then I think I’m pretty bad at writing them. most of what I’ve written so far seems to be accounts of me taking a motorbike ride from one end of a town to the other, to do such-and-such and visit Uncle So-and-so (no, not Uncle Ho-and-Ho). I guess that’s just what I feel comfortable writing about: what I’ve seen and experienced, told from off the top of my head as if I was speaking about it in my own rambling, roundabout and (hopefully) amusing way. if any of you have been expecting Lonely Planet, please accept my sincerest apologies.
after putting so much effort into keeping my Twitter feed up to date, I stopped and realized that I’d been neglecting my trusty old blog. (I really need to add an automated twitter widget to this thing.) I suppose my recent work on the official website of the Baha’is of Vietnam is mainly responsible for that—most of my spare brainwaves have gone into solving all the web design puzzles needed to make it a reality. It was featured at the Vietnamese National Convention—which deserves another post entirely, of course—and received hearty rounds of applause from all pleasant. I went: d(^_^)b
after my first week in Vietnam—which was basically a write-off due to exhaustion and jet-lag—it seems like it’s taken the rest of the month of April for me to start getting remotely comfortable. confidence, as you may have guessed, has been building steadily as I try new things: shopping for my own groceries, cycling through traffic on my own, building my Vietnamese vocabulary bit by bit. curiosity, a sense of wonder, and openness to new experiences have helped me immensely in adapting to these new surroundings, with its particular culture, geography, climate, and so on. I basically tossed my guidebook—sorry, Lonely Planet, I still love you guys though—out the window and entrusted my life to my Baha’i hosts and their warm, friendly and welcoming family, who took it upon themselves to take care of me and show me the ins and outs of Ho Chi Minh City and, now, Da Nang. I got a great sample of Ho Chi Minh City’s hidden cafés, tucked away into the side alleys of Phu Nhuan and Tan Binh Districts, Districts 11, 10 and 3—all with wi-fi for me to carry on with my web design work without the nuisance of weekly power cuts. I was able to visit Baha’i pioneers along the riverfront in District 2—basically a residential haven for expatriates from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and the like—and marvel at the opulence so near to the dusty, beat-up streets of the inner city. I was able to scour the markets around Districts 1 and 3—Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown—ending up at Dan Sinh Market, a veritable gravesite full of dusty (and mostly fake) relics from the American War: reproduction helmets, uniforms, patches, even zippo lighters all greased and beat up to look their most authentic. I’ve gotten caught in Vietnam’s torrential downpours, forced to huddle under the back of a poncho as we zoomed (or attempted to zoom) back home on our trusty, rusty motorbike. And yes, I’ve had the chance to sample a wider variety of Vietnamese cuisine than I’d ever imagined existed—from four different kinds of noodles to baguettes to curry to all different kinds of meat, thankfully excluding such delicacies as dog and rat (to name a few).
there’s something undeniably appealing about Vietnam. my first impression was that of being plunged into a chaotic matrix of motorbikes whizzing past me on every side, surrounded by fluorescent shop signs in a mysterious language, with smells of gasoline, fish, incense, flowers and (???) breathing from every alley and corner. while it was foreign and frightening the first few nights, it seems to have become familiar—and slower, making the endless stream of motorbikes seem less like a frenzied race and more like the smooth, steady chaos of droplets coursing through the city’s bloodstream. the people here are friendly, and not just fake friendly like in Canada, but sincerely friendly, good-natured, happy to see you, ready to invite you in. Maybe it’s wonder that seizes them when seeing someone of my size walking through the narrow, winding streets—at 5’11”, I tower over most Vietnamese: men, women and children alike. the Vietnamese people are expressive, straightforward, and sincere; excepting social taboos, they are entirely unafraid of asking you any question or telling you honestly how they feel about any subject—including how ugly or handsome you might be. Vietnam teems with life in every shop, around every corner, from the city and the countryside alike. life is loud here—from the honking of horns and rumble of motors on the streets to the crowing of roosters, to the laughter of children and the shouts of shop owners, to the creaking of poorly oiled gates and the whine of machinery in impromptu factories—but once you get used to it, it gains a strange, familiar musicality, like an unwritten, de facto anthem.
a month into my visit to Vietnam, I’m already in love. will I want to go back to Canada at the end?