Tết and Vietnamese Hospitality

So Tết is crazy. Times Square at New Years has nothing on Tết. HCMC has 7 million people plus. Imagine the end of a concert where everyone is in mass exodus mode. Now imagine that there are 7 million people on foot, in mopeds, cars, taxis – all trying to leave at once. Besides the copious amounts of bia consumed by the Westerners involved, the fireworks, and the giant blow up pig (it’s the year of the pig, so pigs are everywhere), that was Tết. Tết is one of those holidays that is really family oriented, so if you don’t have family here you’re not really experiencing Tết.

A few of us + a random drunk guy from Cambridge that we talked to for awhile. Oh, and a giant blow up pig. Tet

Something that really was made clear to me over Tết was the crazy niceness of the people here. After the fireworks, we were wandering around the block trying to find a taxi (for eight people, but seven person taxis are not that hard to find, so with a little squishing…). Our movement was limited because it was impossible to cross the street. I mean, it’s normally a gamble on crossing the street (Walk at an even pace, make no sudden movements, and hope that they slow down for you. If you don’t take the risk, you’ll never cross), but this was just impossible.
So we ended up in front of a hotel (not our own), looking for an empty taxi and a bathroom. The hotel manager let us use a bathroom and then not only called a taxi for us but aggressively (though unsuccessfully) tried to call/hail a cab for us. After we gave up, we went across the street to another hotel with a restaurant in hopes to sit and chill while we are waiting for the traffic to die down. The manager there brought out a whole table of snacks for us, opened a bottle of wine, and called a taxi. He then refused payment for anything and after forty minutes of snacking and watching amusing Vietnamese pop videos the taxi came – and we finally arrived home at around 2:30am.
Can you imagine that scenario happening anywhere in the United States?

This morning I woke up late (yay!) for the first time since I got in. I slowly went around my business and then meandered on downstairs to explain in half-English half-hand gestures to the receptionist that the socks left in the room were not my roommate’s or mine and that I was missing a bra. I need every bra that I have, I only have three and can not afford to loose another because they do not have my size here (it’s hard enough to find in the States).
This conversation was an interesting exchange. She wasn’t catching on to the missing bra part after several failed attempts I pulled at the bra-shoulder strap that I was wearing, showed it to her, and said “missing one, black.”
She looked mortified that I had shown my bra strap (which is really nothing in the States), but understood.
I was describing the bra to the laundry woman, and was a little creeped out when she said “I know your bras.”
I really would rather be doing my own laundry. O_o

Afterwards I wandered off by myself to a nearby cafe to get cà phê sữa đá (which is still only the best thing ever. Several of you will be getting the little french press things for souvenirs.) and write a bit. While I was there, one of the women in my program apparently had the same idea and when she arrived she joined me. Later we were joined by two Vietnamese students who wanted to practice their English with us, and we ended up talking to them for about an hour before we left. We have exchanged phone numbers, emails, and such – it looks like we might have made some friends.

In wandering around looking for food (now, it is three pm and neither of us have eaten all day) we found a fruit smoothie seller in the neighborhood. I did not notice until after we had ordered, but our fruit smoothie seller had no legs. He used little plastic stools on his hands to raise himself up enough to move by his arms. I ordered an avacado smoothie, freshly cut and blended right there from the friendly man with no legs and a nice smile.
That’s it, there is no going back to fruit juices back in the states for me. I am going to get so spoiled with all of this fresh fruit that is available here. Fresh, no sugar added, and sometimes picked straight from the tree/bush. This little hole in the wall family fruit stand was very friendly, smiles and such, and no English. I would totally return there for more. On maybe a daily basis.

The difference between downtown (District 1 – 3), where the tourists normally stay, and out here (Thu Duc) is just amazing. Thu Duc is sort of like a suburb of HCMC, out on the edges of the city. It’s still city like, but we as Westerners are accepted more as a part of the community than in downtown where people are sick of tourists or rip you off because they assume that you don’t know how to/won’t haggle. Everyone here is very friendly – but that seems to be the theme among the Vietnamese. We definitely get the “are you really, really lost?” stares but we also get random conversations on the street, restaurant owners inviting us to their house, and people joing us for coffee. I’m glad that we are living out here rather than downtown, I feel like I will have more access to more random people.

Classes start Monday. I added the Economics class, so now I am taking 15 credits (3credit hours x 5) rather than 12, though it might end up being 20 credits if they transfer in as 4 credit classes, but I really don’t know how that works. All of us are kind of like – wait – we were supposed to take classes?
Life is currently happening rather quickly.

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