1) You can get ANY food delivered to your door for pennies.
There’s this incredible website, www.vietnammm.com, that has almost every restaurant in the city on it. You pick your district, the restaurant, and the food you want and they deliver it to your door for the same price as eating in! It’s like a takeaway website but for any food you could ever possibly want, from sushi to pizza to noodles to ice cream. I’ve just ordered pesto gnocchi for lunch for the costly price of £2 to get it delivered essentially to my bed.
2) The culture is so different. Obvious and predictable I know, but cliches are cliches for a reason.
I know people say travel broadens the mind but I think until you’ve lived in an entirely different culture, it doesn’t count. Europe is full of interesting and cool places, but you really need to go to Asia or the Middle East or India etc. Somewhere non-western to fully appreciate that there’s not just one way to ‘do’ life. Seeing an environment that for thousand of years developed a culture completely different to the western way is fascinating. Although there is obviously a heavy western influence here now, a lot of the things people do and say and the way they act are heavily influenced by cultural values and traditions very different to our own. The social hierarchies, the national consciousness, the religions and the way of looking at and interpreting the world.
A mundane example would be that no one shakes their heads to say no; you do this shaky hand thing instead. It’s suitable for pretty much any situation and means ‘no’ or ‘I dont have any’ or ‘I don’t want any’ or ‘I dont want to talk about it’ etcetera etcetera. I use it so much it’s going to be confusing when I get home to England, because it looks just like the flat wavy hand thing people at home do to mean ‘ooo it’s a bit iffy’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘in the middle’.
3) The variety of different people
I don’t just mean Vietnamese, I also mean the Americans, South Africans, Australians and other teachers I work with. I really love having international friends. I’m learning so many great new things, for example a host of new music, TV shows and swear words.
The other day I told an American that my lesson had gone ‘tits up’ and that I’d ‘lost the plot’, I then had to explain both these phrases. Is it coincidence that translate and transatlantic are very similar words? I also had to explain what a toasty was, apparently it’s a ‘grilled cheese sandwich’ to others!
I don’t ride one myself but all my housemates do and there hasn’t been a day here where I haven’t been on one. They are to Saigon what red buses are to London. Just an hour ago my friend’s bike ran out of petrol at a busy roundabout. From no where an old lady appeared with a water bottle full of petrol and filled up his tank! They make it easy to get around, they are fun and they are just such a ubiquitous part of life here.
5) My Vietnamese teachers
I say teachers because although I officially have two teachers, one at work and my friend Linh who is giving me private lessons, I think I actually have five. Those two, plus my xe-om driver Minh, the lady at the supermarket and Giang who runs the guest house I stayed in when I first came. Minh drives me home from the gym and he doesn’t speak a word of English. He also gives me far more credit than I deserve for my language skills and always chats away to me in his native tongue. About 95% of the time I have no idea what he’s saying but I try to say things like ‘ahh’ and ‘yes’ every now and then. He also teaches me words and makes me repeat them on the journey home. Although becuase he doesn’t speak English I have no idea what words I am learning! Sometimes he drives really slowly and points at things and teaches me how to say them.
The lady at the supermarket also does this and she refuses to give me my bag back until I have read to her the number on my ticket in Vietnamese, which given that it’s a five figure number is quite hard!
Lastly, the very lovely lady who runs the guest house, Giang, is also trying to teach me things. I actually love her, I went to see her today after not seeing her for a month, she literally ran out of the door and jumped at me screaming ‘Emmmmaaa’. She’s 35 but looks about 18! Most of the time I have no idea what she’s saying to me either but she is so smiley and happy so I just nod along and make non committal noises of approval or disapproval depending on what I think she might have said.