So this is my first time in Asia. Parts of it remind me of Latin America, but a lot of it is a world all of its own. I guess it goes along with the Vietnamese phrase “same same but different” (which is the name of many cafes and is plastered across souviner shop t-shirts). On my way to Egypt a few years ago, I had a layover in London. Walking through the Heathrow airport, I was enamored with the pictures of women in conical hats working the rice fields. I also assumed that those pictures were taken by someone who was far off the beaten path and thought that I may not see if for myself. It turns out that I was far from right with that assumption. Conical hats are very widely worn here, mostly by women. They have attached a hankerchief on the inside that they pull up over their noses and mouths or they where sugical masks in different patterns and colors. Luu explained that this is partially to filter out pollution in the cities, but it is also to protect them in the sun. In Vietnam, to have long fingernails (for men and women) and light skin are signs of prosperity. It means that you don’t have to work outside for a living. It is regularly 90 degrees and very humid here, yet then women are dressed in long sleeves, pants, sandals (but with special flesh colored sandal socks under them), their conical hats, face masks and sometimes gloves or their sleeves will extend long past their hands. I also found skin whitening sun screen at a store. All of us in my group have been whining about the heat and where the smallest amount of clothing that will still be considered modest here (usually a t-shirt and shorts to our knees and sandals with no special toe socks). Then there are the men who are wearing pants and t-shirts, but their t-shirts are rolled up to their arm pitts for a little midriff action.
People also have very creative ways of carrying stuff here. The older women still carry items to sell by slinging a large bamboo pole over their shoulder with a basket hanging from each end. Motorbikes (which are small here, not the huge ones that people drive back home) frequently have more things on them then you would ever think possible. Once I missed a chicken coop on the back of one because I was sleeping. I’ve seen postcards with 3 dead pigs tied to the back of one.
People’s restaurants and shops are frequently the front end of their home. When you go to use the restroom, you will usually find some bath towels, a tube of toothpaste, and a couple tooth brushes. Sometimes you accidently open the wrong door and find someone sleeping in their bedroom.
Toilets are always an adventure, sometimes it has a seat and flushes, often it is a whole in the ground covered with a piece of porcalien with two raised ovals to show you where to place your feet. Sometimes there is toilet paper, sometimes there is not. Sometimes there is soap and water, sometimes there is not. Sometimes there are doors that lock and sometimes there are no doors at all. The appearance of the rest of the establishment is no indication of the quality of bathroom. The most exciting are the ones of the train, because they are usually pit toilets, but the train is moving, so you have to squat and balance all at the same time. Us girls have started warning others as to if they should stop drinking or not, if we will be stuck somewhere for awhile and toilet is less than desireable.
Photocopying books is apparently a very common thing here. I may have already written about this, but just in case… We had an all day train ride a few days ago. I picked up a book from a rack at the hotel lobby. I had already read about how sometimes books in english in vietnam are photocopies. I hadn’t looked at the book closely but on the train, I realized that the cover was for a different book (by the same author, who I had read before). it was good, because the book I read sounded better than the book I thought I was going to read. Anyway, I checked out the cover, and sure enough it was printed on photo paper and the writing on the pages were all crooked. It was pretty funny.
People frequently cook and eat their food on low plastic stools on the sidewalk outside of a shop or home. I am not sure if these are like street restaurants or if they are just people hanging out outside of their house and saying hi to their neighbors during breakfast. Breakfast is always pho (noodle soup) with meat and veggies, which I have eaten a few times and does make a good breakfast (with a yummy fruit shake!). A random tidbit: at restaurants, every meal that is served on a plate is lined with tomato and cucumber slices around the rim of the plate. You also get a wet napkin to wash your hands and face with. This has been true through out the country.
Political proganda is inescapable here. Large posters of “my president Ho Chi Minh” (as all Vietnamese that we have met this far call him) are all over cities and in the middle of parks. There are pictures of him young and old, alone or holding babies. Apparently it is compulsory in either high school or college to take a course on Ho Chi Minh ideology. Ho Chi Minh is the leader who lived around the world and fought for Vietnam’s freedom and comunism from the French, Americans, and everyone else who has waged a war here (there have been many wars in Vietnam up until maybe 20-30 years ago).
Speaking of national leaders, the Vietnamese love Bill Clinton. In fact, Luu’s son is nicknamed “Bill” in honor of him, which apparently is quite common here.
Lastly, there are alters everywhere for deceased relatives (in the roof, on boats, on sidewalks, in the walls, on the roadside, everywhere). That means that there is constantly incense burning everywhere.
Okay, that’s all for random information of Vietnam. Five more days (and then 2 days of flying)!