Space. One aspect of American culture that I’ve definitely come to appreciate in this past week is SPACE. Nobody has any of it in Vietnam. And there is no exception for travelers. We are just as crammed and tightly packed as everyone else, forcefully jammed together in a chaotic mess that sometimes I feel a tad bit claustrophobic. Maybe that makes me sound like a brat. I can’t help it. I’m an American girl...I need my SPACE!
Hmm, so where to start with this week’s misadventures? Perhaps I’ll begin by describing the suffocating crowds and heat in Hanoi, or the not-so-friendly people we encountered during our visit up North? Or maybe you folks at home would like to hear about my visit to Phu Quoc island, the romantic get-away for various European and American couples alike, and our ingenious decision to visit this mystical place during the time of year when it rains, ALL the time? Or maybe you’d like to hear about the roommates Christine and I didn’t know we had, during our stays at various hotels in the South. Of course, I’m referring to the three-inch long cockroach at our hotel in Rach Gia (pronounced rock-ee-ah) and the dozens of fire ants that eerily crept around our mosquito nets in Phu Quoc. Ahh, so many great stories that have derived from a week that was anything but great.
One thing that gets me the most, though, is how unfriendly other Western-looking people seem to be. Jody Cohen, the woman who trained me during my Oxford Seminar class for TESL certification, let us on to a little secret: “Many other 'white' people traveling around South Asia," she said, "are there for a very specific reason, and most likely, not the same as all of yours…”
“So why are they there?” the class asked, in unison.
And her reason was simply this: "They are there, either to escape a past life and start anew, or simply because they just didn’t belong at home."
At first, I thought she was a little judgmental for saying this. What did she know about the past lives of total strangers who were wandering throughout the Far East? But over the past couple weeks, I’ve begun to realize that she’s totally right. These people don’t want to be seen, they just want to blend in. And that’s not a very easy thing to do in Asia if you’re Caucasian and over 5’7”.
I could let this bother me, but that would just ruin the rest of my time here. For now on, when Christine and I travel throughout Southeast Asia, I’m making a conscious effort not to flash my humble smile toward anyone who looks anything like me. And I think this is good, because it will keep me from cursing my own kind of folks.
Okay, enough of that. On to the better stuff. Err, better isn’t really the right word here, but I guess we’ll go with it for now…
Hanoi wasn’t all that bad, really. Just painfully hot and painfully boring. The lake, Hoan Kiem, is quite beautiful, and we took some nice pictures around it. We also went to a prison museum, where pictures of American soldiers held captive during the American war (known as the Vietnam war for you, folks!) were everywhere. A couple still shots of John McCain, too. The funny thing about these pictures, though, was that it showed these soldiers in every possible state of being besides miserable: we saw them engaging in recreational sports, having Christmas dinner together, laughing with one another. This museum was very biased (from a U.S. standpoint, at least) and made these boys look as though they were on vacation. Strange.
The only other touristy thing that Christine and I did was visit the Temple of Literature. I wasn’t all that impressed with it, but I also didn’t feel too great during our visit that morning (thanks, Tiger beer!), so I wasn’t really feeling much of anything. We were happy to fly back to Can Tho, unload our dirty laundry and pack up all other odds and ends before heading off to Phu Quoc island. Yay! Finally! A beach!
Ha. No. Any word but “yay” and “finally” came to mind by the end of our second day in Phu Quoc. We knew this was the rainy season, but we didn’t know that this implied constant downpours, every day, with little to no sunshine for us to enjoy. Christine and I put our feet in the water for a total of two minutes before we had had enough. Seeing a beautiful ocean endlessly sprawled out in front of you is the last thing you want to look at when you can’t go in it.
The most unforgettable part about this trip was undoubtedly the ferry ride. I’m using the word ferry very lightly here. This boat was going SO fast (as the green-faced and seasick passengers could tell you) and the waves were SO rough that at one point, we both thought the ship had submerged completely below the surface. It was very reminiscent of that scene in Titanic when the captain is standing at the wheel and millions of tons of saltwater are pushed up against the glass, momentarily ready to burst. Well, okay. Maybe it wasn’t THAT intense. But for a good five seconds, visibility was zero. And so was our hope of getting to Phu Quoc in one piece.
We’ve got a cute little saying here in Vietnam when things just don’t seem to go your way. T-I-V, homie. This is Vietnam. Deal with it, whether you want to or not. If anything, this trip has certainly built my character, if not my desire to travel during the rainy season ever again…