Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vietnam motto - 'do what you want'

Now that I have been in Hanoi for about two and half weeks, I am going through the stages of culture shock. One thing that I keep realizing and keeps surprising me is that common sense is not the same everywhere. I knew I would be introduced to new customs, new ideas, new foods, new ways of doing, but I did not expect to learn new realities, practicalities, logic, and common sense.

I learn new and different 'ways of doing' in Hanoi everyday. One of the most obvious things to me is that the say starts much earlier here. Parks and lakes and streets are filled with people doing their early morning exercises as early as 4am! They are doing aerobics, walking, jogging, doing different kinds of martial arts, sitting on benches, cuddling on benches, meditating - all kinds of things! Then, after that, around maybe 7:30am, the parks calm down and for some, become almost deserted, lest for a few gardeners in conical hats and zooming motorbikes. That is when the traffic begins to really pick up. Crossing the street becomes less of dodging zooming motorbikes and more of walking through a stationary maze of them. People are always on the sides of the streets sitting on mini chairs at mini tables (the kind we use as home in the States for little kids' play things) eating pho or some other kind of noodle soup. Or they are on the side of the road washing the plucked ducks for dinner that night. Or they are setting up their temporary kitchen, again on the side of the road. As you walk down the street, especially during meal times, there are so many smells mixed up in the constant air pollution from cars and motorbikes. I think that everything is even more new and different to me because I have never lived in a city, let alone a foreign one!

Ok, enough with the little descriptions - here is why, so far, I am saying Vietnam's motto is 'do what you want'.
1. If there is a ton of traffic, and you are not even able to maneuver your motorbike around others, then you can just drive your bike up on the sidewalk. It's just like a mini-road, I mean, it is flat and their are people and things to beep at. So I have learned that the sidewalk is not as safe as I had imagined! During rush hours, I now know that I always need to be aware of horns and motorbikes. Even if I am on the sidewalk, they could be beeping at me to get out of their way!
2. If you want to dig a hole in the sidewalk, or build something, or start a restaurant outside of your house, then you do it.
3. If you are hungry and you need food, you can eat dog.
4. If you want to buy a big new flat screen tv, a mattress, maybe a kitchen sink, some groceries, and you have your two kids with you, no big deal, just put it all on your motorbike and go.
5. If you need to turn right, but it is a one-way street going the other direction, whatever, just turn right. Make sure you beep.
6. If you want to charge one person 50,000VND for a bottle of water and another person 10,000VND for that same bottle of water, then do it.
7. If you don't want to pay that much money, then don't. Bargain for a better price.
8. If you are tired, it doesn't matter where you, do what you want and go to sleep!

I will have to continue this list later, but there are so many examples. Basically, there is no yielding in Vietnam. That is not to say that it is malicious in any way. What it seems like is people saying, 'sure you can go, but I am going first' or 'whatever, do what you want, I'm just doing what I want first'. So yeah, Vietnam - do what you want.

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