Saigon Orientation Day 1

I am exhausted, but I want to try to get a post in now that I have finally gotten my wireless to work.

Today, we started our day with Phở and cà phê sữa đá, which our director says previous programs have nicknamed “crack.”
It is, quite simply, the best true, well strengthed coffee I have ever had.
The day seems like it went on forever, two days squished into one – I hardly remember that amazing drink. We went to the mall (Diamond Plaza, which has a Pizza Hut and a KFC) mostly so we could buy mobile phones. Got lunch at a cafe outside of the mall because several of us could not bring ourselves to eat at pizza hut or KFC. I paid 18,000 VND for my lunch at a sit down cafe – about $1.13. Walked a lot through District 1, which feels the presence of tourism a lot more than our District. Handfuls of confused white people walking around. I saw a western woman wearing a tank-top dress with a full view of the backstrap of her (white) bra and I almost choked. That’s not really appropriate in the States, let alone Vietnam. What do they think of us? Considering we have been laughed at twice today, I am just going to ignore that question for now.
Saigon is unlike any city you have ever known. I have tried to make comparisons to cities in India and Mexico but aside from the fact that I have never been to either of those places – you can’t, really. The traffic is amusingly frightening. It is not unusual to see whole families on cyclos, people talking on their mobile, a guy picking his nose while speeding around a corner…
Horns are a constant. They are used as signals, as reminders, as get-the-fuck-out-of-my way. Lanes and stoplights, despite existing, are ignored for the most part. Every time you walk across the begs the question of death by speeding taxi/cyclos/cars.
Saigon smells. The bathroom in our guest house smells. The streets smell of a mixture of sewage, pho, flowers, and fruit depending on where you are.
This is such a better way to learn a language. I see signs, I want to know what they mean. I want to know what everyone is saying, how to not get ripped off, etc. Not just know but practice all that. If that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is.
I am literally falling asleep here. Tomorrow we leave for a Tết celebration along the Mekong River (I don’t remember the exact town). We’ll be there overnight and mostly on boats. I will be sunburnt.

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5 Responses to Saigon Orientation Day 1

  1. Jonathan says:

    To paraphrase the Robert Duvall character in Apocalypse Now, “I love the smell of pho in the morning…it smells like VICTORY.” The java sounds good, too!!!

    Love the blog; love the links explaining stuff. When you say Tet celebration, is it some kind of anniversary? Will they make you wear a red kerchief and sing hymns to the dear leader? Wait a sec, different country….

    This is exciting. Keep it up. Be safe

    U.J.

  2. Q says:

    My friend Josh bets Korea smells worse.

  3. Becky says:

    I’ve had that coffee at a Vietnamese restaurant – I can see why it gets that nickname.

    Glad you’re busy and excited. We miss you here.

  4. jackson says:

    i love pho, and your well described updates.

  5. Christine says:

    Robin and I got that coffee in a restaurant on a whim, but it was just called “Vietnamese coffee” on the menu and no one explained it to us; somehow neither of us saw the condensed milk at the bottom, so we never stirred it. We felt silly later, but I think I like it better that way, nice and strong.

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