Vietnam so far… The good, the bad and the ugly

So, since arriving in early August my impressions and emotions of living in Ho Chi Minh city have taken some ups and downs.

Lets start with impressions of the city so far… its pretty busy and polluted, but at the same time there is so much to do. When it comes to food and necessities the city offers everything you will ever find in the UK. However we have struggled with dairy free products for Jonny and some skincare creams and lotions for my horrendously dry eczema prone skin. In terms of food, its got it all. You can find anything here from Vietnamese to Mexican, Steaks and Italian cuisine. The other night Jonny and I even found a proper English chippy where we demolished a greasy plate of fish and chips with mushy peas and gravy, winner! We have really been enjoying finding new places to eat, but I must say when in Vietnam the local cuisine is really something special, and pretty healthy really. In Vietnam, locals usually sit together and (like we would do with a Chinese in the UK) share all the dishes. Small plates of meat and fish and big bowls of rice, noodles and vegetables are what is normally on the menu. The Vietnamese cannot be faulted for their use of spices and herbs for flavouring, there is usually either a garlic, ginger or lemongrass taste to most dishes. It’s fairly sociable though and tables are normally left pretty empty including lots of empty cans of tiger beer. When it comes to Vietnam and the price of eating out, it is amazing. Most places I have been to eat I have spent no more than £6-£10 on my dinner and drinks… pretty cheap right?

When it comes to the surroundings and the people, I have mixed opinions. Ho Chi Minh isn’t really a sight seeing city, there are a few things to see and do in the centre to do with the war and French colonial times but other than that it’s just your average busy city. Nothing is overly cared for here. I always notice walking along the street how all the pavements are cracked and concrete slabs sticking up. It’s pretty dirty in places too because there isn’t such thing as a road sweeper here and you don’t find many litter bins around the streets. So you can guess what happens to it… But you learn to look past it and embrace it. No one ever died from being a little bit unkempt did they…?

One thing everyone does notice about HCMC and its surroundings are the masses of bikes. Mopeds, pedal bikes and motorbikes crowd the streets with horns beeping, sometimes for no apparent reason. On the road in Vietnam, anything goes. You can drive on the wrong side of the road – no one cares. You can undertake people – no one cares. You can cut someone up – no one cares. You can make a U-turn into on coming traffic – no one cares. It is literally is a free for all. You should see the roundabouts! Just imagine mopeds and cars on a roundabout all at the same time, no right of way, just everyone together. The phrase everyone uses here is ‘spot the gap and get into it’. Its very true. All these things would send people into an upward spiral road rage in the UK or you’d probably end up with a speed awareness course.

The people in general here are friendly. White westerners are still stared at and seen as rich people in well earned jobs. Although we are highly respected by most, some Vietnamese see wealth as an opportunity to make money. In Vietnam, as bad as it sounds, there is a price for westerners. By this I mean the people of Vietnam will often increase prices (especially at local shops and markets) when they are serving a westerner, just to make a few extra bucks. After living in Vietnam for only a few months and having a solid base of how much things cost, we now know when someone is overcharging. Tourists and travellers who aren’t to know the difference are the ones who get targeted the most.

An example of this happened to Jonny only last week. We had parked in the local supermarket car park and whilst going through the barrier picked up a token which we would later use to pay with. Jonny left this token in the front pocket his bike, easily accessible to anyone walking past. But who would want a parking token? We returned to the bikes with our shopping and low and behold Jonnys token was gone. He said he knew that one of the security guards had taken it, as an extra 100,000VND (£3) could be made off a lost token. They were hovering around his bike when he parked and their sheepish manner was suspicious. Luckily Jonny stood his ground and accused the guards as he was adamant he wasn’t going to be ripped off. He threatened getting the police over before they eventually got bored and allowed him through the barrier. Let’s be honest, anyone would have spotted that trick!

The lifestyle in Vietnam is something that I will always love. Its very laid back and relaxed. Also the Vietnamese love to sleep, definitely after my own heart. But by sleep, I mean sleep…. anywhere! On their motorbikes, the side of the road, under bridges, up trees and on deck chairs on the side of busy highways. When lunchtime hits the hours after this are for napping. Even the Vietnamese staff at work nap. The kids get time to sleep in their lunch break at school and some of the staff see this as a chance to get their heads down too. Desks are pushed aside in the classrooms and cushions (like ones off sunbeds) as delivered to each classroom door for a comfy nap time. A very weird concept at first, but now its totally understandable. Because of the climate and heat, it makes you tired very easily. Often when I get back from work I am totally knackered and require a good half hour nap to pick me back up for the rest of the evening. Something I never did in the UK unless I was ill or hungover!

Adapting to everything out here is taking some time. With our school routines being different every day with start and end times varying, its been hard to find a proper routine. Routine is something I crave so I’ve been finding it difficult to be a little more spontaneous. The gym is my favourite hobby away from school however even that has been a bit unstructured – only going when I have enough energy after work. Just trying to hit 4 or 5 sessions a week to keep me ticking over. But I guess priorities have changed. Back home gym and work were my life. Where as now work and gym are less important as settling in, meeting new people and discovering new places. Don’t get me wrong losing my routine does get me down sometimes, but I guess thats one thing that a new beginning throws up in the air. I wouldn’t say I’m homesick but some things about my new life do make me miss home and my family mainly. But Jonny is the best when I have my little meltdowns and knows exactly how to set me straight again!

So much support out here though, its like a little community of people all going through the same thing. I’ve been told time and time again that the first few months are the rollercoaster for the emotions and after 6 months or so you really start to settle. But I can’t say I’m not embracing and enjoying every minute I can. Lots of exciting plans in November coming up which I will share with you all on here.

Lots of love xxx

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