Visiting Vietnam: Part 1

It's a good thing blobbing only requires the use of your brain and fingers, and not your back, legs, voice, or a complete grip on sanity. Those latter-mentioned are all sore, tired, lost, and long-lost. Add in a splash of Safeway brand NyQuil and ready, set, go!

This is going to be a little epic, not Samsung Epic, but mega long series of blog posts epic. So let me warn you now, it's gonna get really Vietnamesey up in here.

Normally, I would start here with a short video of Emmy running around the international terminal of SFO, looking up at the brightly lit ceiling, about to embark on her first ever airplane ride, a 13 hour transpacific flight. Then I'd post a picture of all of us smiling at the ticket counter, surrounded by our luggage, ready for the red-eye, Emmy looking a little delirious because it's already 10:30PM and our flight doesn't leave for 2 hours and there's  zero likelihood she's going to sleep with all the sights to see and sounds to hear.

BUT since I promptly lost both my small point and shoot camera, and the brand new 32GB card I bought just for this trip, within 24 hours of taking that video and photo, you will have to re-create those images in your mind.

Emmy's face says how I felt when I realized the camera must've fallen out of my pocket on one of the 6 taxi rides we took in just the first few hours of landing in Saigon. One bright spot, better to lose that camera on Day 2 of the trip than Day 12. Signature Vicky move: Start trip with minor disaster. Move on. And it was a blessing in disguise, forcing me to use my big Nikon SLR more than I would have, resulting in much better pictures.

My second cousin Thanh, holding Emmy, was about the same age as Emmy when I last visited Vietnam, 18 years ago. 

Here's what I remember about my first two trips home, at the ages of 11 and 14: heat, humidity, blood-thirsty merciless mosquitoes, crowded buses, dirt roads, dearth of toilets, flies, an abundance of children asking for money on the streets, dust, the scent of street food mixed with incense and wetness and what the world smells like when it isn't paved and shiny and cemented. 

I told The Good Doctor to prepare for the unyielding heat, the absence of air conditioning in most places, the possibility of pooping while squatting, the ferry rides we'd have to take on the way to the village where Asian Grandma grew up, the vicious mosquitoes, the total opposite of all that we're used to in America--convenience, comfort, seatbelts, white people.

Turns out, I was wrong about everything but the seatbelts. Even the rural village area of Vinh My near Bac Lieu has some homes with A/C these days. And Vietnam has plenty of tourist accommodations, no matter how white your skin. In fact, we learned the Russians and Australians love the place and Vietnam now attracts about 5 million visitors a year, a number that's expected to grow, a lot. 

One of the recurring themes of this trip was me turning to The Good Doctor and saying, "Oh my God. I can't believe you don't have to _________." Accepted fill in the blanks include: "scratch 18 bites on your ankles until they turn into bloody scabs," "ride a hot sweaty bus with 87 other people for 10 HOURS to get to this village," "sleep under a mosquito net with an electric fan pointed at your face," "use an oil lantern to see at night," "bathe yourself with scoops of cold water while standing in a small concrete 'bathroom' which is the room the flies and other random aerial bugs flit around because it also houses the 'toilet.' I mean, really?! He lived The Good Life the whole trip because Vietnam has changed so much in the past 18 years.

Saigon is home to places like the Bitexco tower, which Emmy is pointing to in the photo below. It's the tallest building in the city at 68 stories.

You can see the other cranes in the distance as well--construction, commerce, and a vibrant sense of growth, and people with jobs and opportunities to better their lives. All things I was so happy to see in Vietnam, with Saigon at the center of the hustle.

This was taken from the 8th floor of Lavendar Hotel at breakfast, just as the sun was coming up over Saigon. Thank you, jet lag, for the wake up call.

Next photo--the main traffic circle in Saigon and Ho Boy, it's early in the morning so you don't see the thousands of scooters carrying, one, two, three, and four people interweaving at 20 miles an hour, but I promise you, that's one of the most memorable experiences you'll have in your first taxi ride in the city. I would pay good money to see White Grandpa's reaction to the way people maneuver the streets here. 

If you are not going to GO as in capital G, capital O, you best get out the kitchen. There's no road rage in Vietnam, you're too busy focusing on the next death defying merge. Plus, getting cut off is part of the charm, really. There are so few traffic lights, and even where the lights are posted, they're more like suggestions. Red suggests you stop, but slowing is fine too. No yellow. And green means, "Whatever strikes your fancy! Just keep moving."

The horn is the driver/rider's best friend, and Vietnamese drivers use their horns the way American chefs use butter. Liberally. Honk to turn, honk to warn the scooter ahead that you're coming, honk if you speed up, honk if you slow down, honk to say hi to the next driver, honk to make sure your honk works. 

And no matter what, don't look behind you. All that matters is what's in front of you. There's so much going on, with the mix of cars, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, tourists, trucks, vendors, old people, that really, you only have the brain cells to deal with what you see ahead. And here's my proof--the "rear view mirror" in one of cabs. Yes. It's a mini TV screen playing DVDs. No. I'm not kidding you. Who needs a rear view anyway? 

Finally, vindication for the way I drive. It's in my blood.