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Eight simple things

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 8 July 2009 | Views [424]

Everything in Vietnam is fast-paced: traffic moves fast, economies grow quickly, buildings are thrown up in months and the weather changes in a blink of an eye. While for the most part living in such a rapidly changing environment is very exciting, it is an unfortunate side-effect that I’ve found my mood swinging like a pendulum at an equally accelerated pace.

I’ve never really suffered from mood swings before so in order to keep a rational grasp on matters I’ve decided to compile a list of things I love and things I hate about living in Vietnam.



PHO – Before I moved here I was concerned that I wouldn’t like the local cuisine because I presumed it would contain a lot of seafood and fish. I was right, but fortunately Vietnam’s national dish “pho” is a beef noodle soup and is delicious. It is available everywhere from street vendors to high-class establishments and ordering it remains one of the only things that I can do through Vietnamese.


Driving – Saigon is famous for its millions of motorbikes and there is no more iconic place to drive one then here. I love zipping around on my Honda Wave because I fit in with everyone else: I am transformed from a tall, lanky obvious white pedestrian to small, inconspicuous, black Japanese motorcycle and can flow freely in the traffic without hassle (apart from the occasional police officer out to make an easy dollar).


Students – Having taught a range of kids, everything from French to Uzbekistani, I can honestly say that Vietnamese students are the nicest I’ve encountered. Even if they don’t want to learn they are polite enough to hide it and that’s something I really appreciate.


Coffee – I didn’t drink coffee before I left the UK, but I sure as hell do now! It’s a little known fact that Vietnam is the second big coffee exporter in the world and I have come to see why. I usually drink Café Sua Da which translates literally as “Iced Coffee with Milk”, in this case condensed milk. This sweet concoction is more like a strong Italian desert than a coffee but I have come to both love it and rely on it to get my through my long weekends teaching four to ten year-olds.



Heat – When I first arrived here from the wintery wastelands of the UK I was delighted to find a deliciously warm environment that was hot but not unbearable. Unfortunately, it is now wet season and the temperature is 34+ degrees everyday. This kind of heat combined with high humidity makes any kind of outdoor activity impossible. Even walking is unpleasant and as a result I end up driving everywhere. Maybe it’s something I need to acclimatise further to but at present I find it too hot to handle.  


The traffic – I mentioned earlier that I love driving here, I do not however like how anyone else drives. To pass your driving test in Vietnam you need to simply drive your bike in a figure of eight, even with such an easy test the majority of drivers are unlicensed and every Tom, Dick and Harry (I should really say Tien, Dat and Hieu) has a motorbike. The other day I saw a pregnant lady sitting side-saddle on the back of a really old Honda Cubb with her ten-year-old son driving, neither of them had helmets but both had a death-wish.


Dishonesty – This is something that you only notice after living here for a while but it’s something that has really come to bother me. Some differences are to be expected and can be overcome. For example, being offered goods at twice the price they should be but this can me amended through haggling. However, pure cheating with no sign of shame or guilt is something I cannot expect. From expensive surprises such as rigged taxi meters and the recent burglary of my house to small inconveniences to such as people pushing in lines and being served last in a shop. Even the kids in school, particularly the older ones,  appear to have no shame about cheating and cutting any corner possible. Today I caught one student trying to cheat on three separate occasions during the same five-minute activity.


Lack of greenery – I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind me that outside Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam is a beautiful and green country. This city is many things both good and bad (sprawling, unrelenting and smelly all spring to mind) but green it is not. The greenest it gets are the tree left over from the French colonial period that line the main roads and the occasional socialist park full of people doing synchronised exercise in. At home I live opposite a park and although I rarely actually venture in there, it’s reassuring to know that it’s there if I need it, a reassurance that I lack here.  

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