Two months ago, I booked my flight to Ho Chi Minh City a week before the flight with jitters in my stomach. I never visited a South East Asian country before (other than Singapore). I have heard of the tourist scams, food poisoning risks, and robberies that painted an uneasy image of Vietnam for me. I decided to go because of my volunteer work with Better Life Vietnam. Flash forward two months and I am already thinking about my next visit to this country.
I wrapped up my journey through Vietnam in Da Nang. Da Nang is the third biggest city in Vietnam and the government has the vision to transform this modern city into the next Singapore. Despite ‘being another city’, I was very excited to come visit to see if this is the city that makes me want to stay. Normally, people skip or only spend a night or two here since Da Nang is not very big. It separates itself between the city center and the neighborhoods by the beach. I spent most of my time relaxing by visiting coffee shops and unwind before leaving the country. Perhaps, I had a little too much time here and was pretty bored within a few days. I also decided not to go on any tours to visit the tourist attractions nearby like Marble Mountain, Ba Na, and so on.
Da Nang did not have that big of a draw to entice me to stay and find a job. I did enjoy sampling the foods of Central Vietnam here. My first meal in Vietnam was mi quang. I was more than excited to taste these wide rice noodles again. It is a Central Vietnam specialty so I made sure to sample this again. The wide noodles reminded me of the Chinese hor fun, or flat rice noodles. They are usually served with roasted sesame rice cracker and vegetables on the side. The broth should be just enough to cover the noodles. Note that the yellow color is due to the turmeric used in making the broth.
During my visit in Hue, a fellow traveler was asking a local about the name of this noodle dish that sounded like ‘banh ca’. Curious with what she was referring to, I kept an eye out for something that resembled her description and stumbled upon banh canh noodle shops. I was confused by the name since banh means ‘bread’ in Vietnamese. Is this really a noodle dish? My first bowl of banh canh was at a local restaurant I passed by right before a thunderstorm. The delicious bowl of noodles was only 15,000 VND, or $0.66 USD! Banh canh is made with thick rice and tapioca noodles so they are slippery and chewy in texture. There was one restaurant that I particularly enjoyed and that was where I had my last meal in Vietnam. I ordered banh canh xương, which is the tapioca noodles with pork bones. I think banh canh is my favorite Vietnamese noodle dish. I hope I can find this back home!
I’ll have a separate post later on Vietnamese food. There are too many things to eat!
I did not expect to experience cultural shock or reap a change in perspective in Vietnam. Coming from an Asian heritage and being a well versed traveler, I did not expect to experience cultural shock in Vietnam. I rarely experience cultural shocks since I have been exposed to many different environments and Vietnam being the third developing nation that I have visited, I thought I would be more mentally prepared. I wasn’t.
The first shock was in the heavy traffic with motorbikes charging at you in every direction and on pavements. There really aren’t many rules enforced in Vietnam. After playing the game of Frogger on a daily basis here, I think I have mastered the arts of crossing the chaotic streets of Vietnamese cities. The second uneasy circumstance is the prominence of men dwelling on streets and local establishments; there were many instances where I opted not to go into a local coffee shop or eatery because only older men were there smoking and playing cards. Traditionally speaking, women in Vietnam are expected to be at home adhering to household chores and taking care of children so they would not be hanging out in a coffee shop. Lastly, the difference in mindset for a nation where most of the population had never left the country due to visa challenges and financial limitations. When you are limited to only experiencing the way of life in your home country and can only get a glimpse to how others live through media and other entertainments, your imagination of the possibilities in ways to approach life is limited.
Raised in a privilege society, I never understood the true value of education. Yes, I knew education was important, but I always viewed it as an outlet to getting a better job and leading a better life. I undervalued the importance of education in shaping one’s mindset, values, and mannerism. I used to believe that one’s intelligence is a natural gift; if you are born a bright one, not necessarily a prodigy or genius, you can still excel above others even without special attention or nurturing. Education is a privilege. The opportunity to explore and exploit your full potential is also a privilege. I am grateful to be able to make an impact on the lives of children in Vietnam by providing them with the opportunity for better education since resources are limited in remote areas of the country.
I am looking forward to revisiting Vietnam someday and see how this nation has developed in this land of opportunities.