Whoa. This country is…. I don’t have any expectation actually. But I guess I thought it would be very similar to Thailand, being so close. But it’s been very different so far.
Socialism, for what it’s worth, feels the same as everything else. How do you tell on the surface what water currents under the water are like? So far Hanoi feels like another big city; dirty and with too many tiny corners to ever explore.
Every country has been different so far but with many elements of sameness. Less English is posted here than Thailand. My favorite “country” so far is still Java. The people in Java always smile, it makes me smile all the time. I brought that habit with me to the land of smiles (Thailand) where they did not smile like they did in Java. Not a lot of English in Java either. But Vietnam feels so much less for some reason. The Vietnamese say “hey!” to get my attention and it was a bit jarring at first. That’s basically the extent of the verbal communication that either party can for sure understand. It’s a different vocalization than the monkey sounds the men made at the Thai boxing match. Now that’s another story entirely.
The conversation with the hotel manager this morning was great. The whole time I’ve been here I’ve been worried about a stigma towards US citizens because of the war. It seems to me all we know in the US is Vietnam is the place our soldiers went to die. That and Pho and it’s a beautiful, cheap place to travel when backpacking South East Asia after college. I haven’t seen Good Morning Vietnam, but I’m sure that’d be on someone’s mind too. From our two Kundalini teachers who are from Vietnam, I’ve heard it’s beautiful.
Here in Northern Vietnam, men wear the green Vietnamese army hats. On this island (Cat Ba), the green army hats and Hawaiian shirts seem to be the go to outfit of choice. The first time I saw a few men floating by on a fishing boat I got a flash of old war propaganda and a cartoon image of these men’s silhouettes with their army hats and the feeling of “badness” come over me. Until I opened up my eyes and saw these men for who they were; fishermen with huge smiles and leathery skin from all the hours they have spent in the sun on their fishing boat. The people here don’t reflect the propaganda posters we see in America at all. Instead they smile and say “Halo!” I’ll admit, their “Halo” can seem a bit harsh and guttural at first, but it’s the same way they pronounce halo when they answer their phones or call to each other on the streets or from boat to boat. It’s the sound of a language and it’s tones, not the speaker’s attitudes.
Vietnam so far is the same as anywhere – city folk smile less than country folk. Small town folk smile at everything and try to share it with you. The children play in the street here with dogs & livestock and have no problem staying in the road. Trash fires are lit on the sidewalk toward the end of the day when the sweltering heat cools. Horns honk to let us know we are not alone on the road – whether we are in a car, scooter or on foot. It is not an aggressive honk, rather a beep that’s almost saying”What’s up?” There is trash in the water. So much trash. Bamboo is a major part of building. The air isn’t clear and surgeon masks are abundant. Flip flops are a must and rice hats are a plenty.
In Hanoi the road is shared by everyone. Just stay alert, aware and respectful of others. In Vietnam, everyone calmly works around each other, as everyone shares the same space. Road rage would be too exhausting here. To show road rage would be to show a sense of entitlement that just doesn’t exist here.
The young manager at our hotel explained what’s to be expected.The Vietnamese don’t have a lot of money to travel. If they can save enough they will buy a mode of transportation.
Saigon used to be the richest city in Asia, but around 1975 after the Americans and French left, socialism was the great equalizer, our friend told us. It was good and it was bad,but more than anything it just is what it is. Times change,people adapt and life moves on.
The architecture here reflects the age of French colonization. The buildings are tall and skinny, even if they needn’t be because they are the only building on a big plot of land. The colors are more saturated than Java. The food in Hanoi was the best and the coffee was my favorite coffee in the wold world so far. Seriously. Religions blend together and live as one like the roads are wild but without rage. On the surface level I have seen, I love Vietnam.