Culture Shock :: Vietnam

29 01 2009

After traveling in the ultra-culture-shock land of Cambodia, Vietnam has been relatively normal by comparison. Or at least a bit more normal for a western traveler. The Vietnamese culture, food, and architecture seem to have been pretty heavily influenced by the French colonization and even their “Communism” is close to invisible to the tourist. Generally, visiting Vietnam feels like being in a strange post-Communist, European-Asian fusion country with a massive population and millions of motos zooming around the streets.

As normal as it may seem though, there are at least a few cultural shockers that are worth noting…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1.1

:: Plastic Mini Chairs ::

The Vietnamese people are short, yes, but not that short. For some strange reason though, they insist on using small, some would say tiny, plastic chairs and tables that one would expect to see at the Umpa-Lumpas family reunion. These chairs are found at small cafes and restaurants that serve mostly locals, but we had the pleasure of testing out the space saving furniture for ourselves on many occasions. If you don’t mind having the top of the chair resting in the small of your back and your knees in perfect position to rest your head, these cost effective chairs are a great way to save on plastic and closet space.

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These chairs make even Jen look like a GIANT.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1.2

:: Tree House Cafe ::

We found a new addiction within in the cafes of Vietnam. We like to call this stuff Vietnamese Crack-uccino. It’s basically a big shot of espresso with the consistency of chocolate syrup which is traditionally served with some condensed milk. Strong. Sweet. Creamy. And oh, so deliciously addictive. The strange thing about all of this is that while we were developing this addiction in local cafes, we started to notice the severe lack of women enjoying the national drink. The more midday coffee breaks we submitted to, the more we realized that if women were in the cafe, they always seemed to be the person serving the drug (or a friend of the server) rather than sitting and enjoying it. We have no idea why this is, but my best guess would be that it’s the men’s way getting even for the nasty habit of the older women – betelnut chewing, which gives you a narcotic buzz and bloody looking teeth.

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The waitress took the photo while the all-men clientele stared.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1.3

:: Movie Censoring ::

Since just about every hotel room has a TV with movie channels, we may have accidentally spent a few evenings inside the relative comfort of our room resting our brains on some Hollywood blockbusters. Luckily one of us had already seen just about every movie we watched, and this helped us to realize that some rather crucial scenes seemed to have been chopped out. At first we thought that it was a mistake, but we soon remembered where we were and started noticing a common theme in the censored content. Apparently the Vietnamese government isn’t too fond of women hitting men, men kissing each other (even if by accident) or anything that could encourage anti-government behavior.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1.4

:: Basket Ladies ::

Unfortunately Vietnam doesn’t have the same level of street-food addiction that we grew to love so much about Thailand. Here, the main source of street snacks are hauled around by impressively-strong little women carrying two baskets perfectly balanced and hanging from a bamboo pole which bounces on their shoulders as they stroll through town. We didn’t get to see a lot of these vendors, but when we did, we were always in awe of how much they managed to carry in two little baskets. Beyond just food, they seemed to be shoulders for hire as they transported what seemed to be recycling, trash, large toy cars, shop supplies, used clothing, or anything else that some one wanted out of or into their home. With their conical hats, pjs, and hanging baskets full of various goods, these women will be one of our most iconic and visual memories of this country.

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This basket lady was serving up some tasty waffle snacks.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1.5

:: Saigon Super Frogger ::

As mentioned before, Vietnam has a moto for just about every citizen, or so it seems when you’re walking around their crowded city streets. Driving on the wrong side of the road, onto sidewalks, and zig-zagging around the other motos helps to make the Vietnamese traffic very unpredictable. We quickly learned the life-saving habit of looking both ways when stepping toward the street because you really never know which direction a head-spinning moto may be approaching from. Though the most important trick comes when attempting to cross to the other side of a busy road. When you enter the crosswalk you have to make sure you keep your eye on the oncoming traffic, briefly looking the other way every now and then, and you must walk at a slow and steady pace the entire way across. If you do this correctly the traffic will part in Moses-like fashion to avoid thrashing you as they zoom past. If you change your direction or speed during this deadly frogger game the drivers won’t be able to adjust for your movement correctly, and you’ll probably end up as roadkill. With proper execution though, crossing a fifteen moto-wide street in Saigon can be as smooth as sipping an afternoon crack-uccino, but with twice the rush. Just be careful, because traffic accidents are the number one killer in Vietnam.

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We were too scared to take a photo of the busy streets. This is nothing.
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One response

3 02 2009
Rondad

Your description of the beverage got the better of my sweet-tooth’s curiousity. Are sweetys as popular there as, say, in the West? It wouldn’t seem so judging from the lack of observed obese people. Thanks for another great update and education!

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