Eating at different restaurants around Vietnam is quite like eating at the Melting Pot. Before you, there is an assortment of fresh vegetables, rice, a variety of different dipping sauces and of course, the meat. Or fish. And last but not least, the pot to cook it all in.
Having thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the Melting Pot in Albany, NY, I’d have to say that the experience here is just as good if not more interesting and more fun. The food is way cheaper, and tastes even better. The ambience is the best part, though. Most restaurants in Can Tho are set outside, with tiny tables surrounded by even tinier chairs (for big Western butts, anyway) and the food just keeps on coming. Food is a HUGE deal in Vietnam. It brings family and friends together in the best way possible – through a good meal and a tranquil atmosphere. Everyone here is always smiling and no one ever seems to be hungry. A pretty impressive feat considering that this country was in shambles less than thirty years ago.
Yesterday, An took us to a swimming pool. I didn’t think that I’d be getting many, if any, aquatic activities in during my stay in Can Tho, especially not within the first few days. But I’m quite glad that I did. I hopped on the back of her motorbike (only my second time ever on one of those) and enjoyed the scenic route on the way to the water hole. We drove over a couple bridges, and through many cute side streets. I say that as if the majority of the city wasn’t made up of these “cute” side streets. Everything here seems so much smaller through my American eyes, but then I realize that this size of daily life is the norm for them. “Cute” is probably an insult.
Once again, the madness of the motorbike drivers in Vietnam never ceases to amaze me. How there aren’t a hundred accidents every day is astoundingly ludicrous. There is only one rule to follow here whether you are crossing the street or cruising along on wheels: NEVER stop moving. Just go.
Once we got to the apartment complex, I was disappointed to discover that the pool water was slightly warmer than I imagined it would be. However, that didn’t stop myself, An, Christine and Zen (a boy from Belgium who has an internship with the Aquaculture department of Can Tho University) from enjoying the pool and the fact that we were the only ones using it. (Since many Vietnamese don’t have much access to a swimming pool, many of them still have not yet learned how to swim.)
Today, Christine and I went to breakfast with Zen. Get used to eating rice and chicken and soup for breakfast if you ever plan on visiting Vietnam. It might seem weird in the beginning to eat these typically Western-dinner items in the morning, but think of the benefits: everything is way healthier, and a lot less expensive than it is at home! And to top it all off, everything is of such formidable quality: I have only eaten ONE thing here that I didn’t like so far, and I felt a lot better when An told me that most local Vietnamese hate it as well. It was a dish of fat, ham and some other product that I’m forgetting, all stuck together. I was impressed that I kept it in my mouth for as long as I did before I (hopefully) discreetly spat it out into my napkin. Gross!
After breakfast we walked along the streets of Can Tho. Being that this is a university town, there are Internet cafes everywhere, and many young people putting them to good use. What I find so funny is that the computer game World of Warcraft (one that my boyfriend and his roommates are huge advocates of back in the States) is quite popular here. As are many American movies and TV shows. Walking around two nights ago, I noticed that many Vietnamese crowd together and watch American films on a big TV screen outside a store or in a bar. America seems to be quite the popular guy on campus here.
It’s obvious that a culture which promotes wealth and beauty and many other desirable things to be attractive to a culture that has very little of them. In a way, though, that’s sort of sad. I won’t say that I’m not happy to have the Internet and be able to connect with folks at home. That is certainly a plus for me, as well as this otherwise would-be-empty blog. But the fact that America seems to be infiltrating every corner of the Earth, causing these remote places to become less and less original and more and more similar to what we know at home, is in a way a form of extinction; an extinction of different cultures and different customs that so many people in the West have very little idea about. Vietnam is certainly special in many ways, but is also becoming very much the same as home. All I can say is, get here to see it before there is not much more “Vietnam” to see.