Ho Chi Minh City Day 6 – A fun but slightly disappointing day (Part 2)

Given that what I had originally thought was going to be a full day tour was only a half day I found myself back at the hotel at 2:30pm unsure of what to do with myself for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.  I figured what a better way to ponder my dilemma than over coffee so I headed off to flash coffee just down from the hotel to procrastinate.  The solution to my problem seemed resolved whilst sipping on a nice hot cup of Vietnamese coffee as there was an American guy sitting on the next table over with a huge laptop and an even bigger backpack so I figured what better way to spend time than to spend it in conversation so that is what I did.

As he had a camcorder and a laptop two things that I tend to be familiar with they proved to be a good conversation starter.  He is currently living in South East Asia travelling from country to country looking to meet locals and find out their stories and see how they live and has been in the region for the last six months, with the last 2.5 of them being in Vietnam.  He has a little camcorder that he uses to record the people he meets but mostly his own conversations with himself so that he will have them as memories to look back on and also takes some stills with them as well.

From memory he is planning on spending one to two years in Asia moving from place to place and teaching English when he needs to earn some additional funds, but thus far he has found his money stretching really well over here, given my time here I can easily understand why it is so easy to spend so little.  I asked him to share with me his thoughts and observations having spent two and a half months here in Vietnam.

The first point that he made was how busy the people are here, he has made a lot of friends here but does not get to spend a great deal of time with them, not due to the fact that they do not want to, but by virtue of them being so busy.  He was mostly socializing with people towards the end of their time in university and said that they tend to do university 5 – 6 days a week, plus the additional studies required but in addition to this they all seem to have part time jobs and have joined at least one social based club which virtually leaves them no time for other things.  Everyone that he meets and spends time with have all fallen into the same grouping the only difference being the social club in which they belong to.

Based on this it seems that the Vietnamese are a very industrious people and they like to keep themselves busy, if they do not have something to fill all their time with they will find something with which to do so.  Personally I like the quiet down time so that I can sit back and reflect on everything that has been going on, but it is certainly an admirable trait in a people.

The other topic we discussed was English and my surprise at it’s lack of penetration here.  Apparently though most of the Vietnamese especially younger can actually read / write English at a reasonable level, it is the verbal communication that they have the issue with.  Most of them do not really learn English until they hit university in which they then get classes on the language however the bulk of the time it is not a native speaker in which they learn from.  As their language appears to be tonal based they have a large amount of trouble understanding us as if the inflections don’t match up with how they expect the word to sound they will not believe it to be the same thing.

A case in point he made is that he went to see Madagascar at the movies here, when he asked for a ticket the counter staff did not understand him so he pointed to it and she said oh Madagascar sounding exactly the same to him but there must have been a slight difference in the inflection so she did not believe it to mean that.

Apparently robbery is quite common here, especially if you are a westerner and when it takes place do not expect anyone to come to your aid.  The people will just ignore it, have no information in regards to the perpetrator or what took place.  He had been robbed once and then attempted another time when he got boxed in front and behind by girls so he jumped onto the street and he could see the motorcycle waiting to whisk them away once they had his stuff.  Apparently it is your fault for having stuff worth being taken if you get robbed and it is fine for the people taking it from you.

Vietnam whilst having a reasonable number of tourists visit is still relatively small in relation to the number of visitors that their neighbors get and an even smaller percentage of them appear to be westerners so as this is likely to change in the coming years I think that this attitude towards the victims will need to change as being a victim of crime and then finding no support and you are the one to blame is not one that will go down well with most people I know, and nor should it.  Thankfully in my entire time here I have not seen it, or even felt threatened so overall I do think it is a relatively safe place to visit but if you have expensive things on you it does pay to be a little more mindful of them and your surroundings.

He is next off to Laos I believe for a month in a couple of weeks, and I must admit feeling envious again.  But with that and a successful 4 hours killed drinking coffee and chatting the afternoon away it was time to part ways and have something to eat.  A simple dinner of chicken rice and pepsi and it was time for bed as it was going to be an early day out to the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam.

Things Learnt:
– The Vietnamese are a very busy / industrious people
– Whilst more and more people are learning English the tonal based differences make it difficult and they could probably benefit from more exposure to native English speakers
– Don’t be a victim of crime
– This will be a very different place in 20 years

All in all I could definately see myself wanting to spend a great deal of time exploring all around the country here.

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