The GoGlobal Blog

Hit the Ground Running

Hit the Ground Running

After a good night sleep post 3 5 hour energy drinks (and others…) and 20 hours of continual flight across the world wide awake, I was ready to hit the ground running in Vietnam! I woke my roommate and we ventured out of the dorm into the streets. The night before they had been dormant with almost nothing but our little taxi, but now there was a bustle reminiscent of the Indian roads that I loved sans camels, donkeys, and little green auto rickshaws. However like India there were definitely lots of little mopeds, bicycles, and motorcycles. Differing from India was the large amount of cars, especially nice new cars. There were cars every once in a while in India, but here the streets are clogged with brand new sedans, lots of taxis, and an excess of black S class Mercedes. I’ve seen five brand new Bentleys and on our first night on the town a tough white Ferrari prowled by followed by a silver Bentley. This blew my mind, especially after Fr. Julio told me that cars here are taxed between 70-100% to support the communist party. Wow. Take that Ferrari and double the price. There a definitely some high rollers here in Vietnam.
What surprised me is that these cars are not driven by communist party card holders (otherwise the license plate would be blue) or by white expatriate investors who seem to be abounding here, but are rather driven by Vietnamese citizens, most of whom are entrepreneurs who have made successful businesses after the country opened up the economy and loosened it from centralized government control. YAY CAPITALISM! While on the subject of cars, there are lots of Mercedes buses around here that seem to hold a special cargo: Nuns. I’ve seen so many vans full of nuns. It makes me smile to see so many little nuns being shuttled around first class. I live by two convents, so that might be why… Also, unlike the huge trucks that I saw in India that were monolithic transporters, the little Toyotas here could probably fit inside the minivan my family owns volume wise. They are quite a sight to see.
To finish my little tangent on cars- there is quite the variety here. I can be walking on the street to Loyola’s office and be passed by Bentleys, BMWs, Mercedes, strange three wheeled contraptions (opposite of India, because here the third wheel is in the back), old woman in conical palm hats on bicycles, nun vans, every strata of society on mopeds, and even Buddhist monks whizzing by on their dinky old motorcycles with robes flying in the air. If cars in Vietnam interest you, I suggest you check out my buddy Robby DeGraff’s blog. He has a special section on cars in Vietnam, and he’ll be a good resource. His area of expertise is in cars whereas mine is religion, so check it out!

http://www.robbyaroundtheworld.com/

Anyway back to my story. So we crossed the street, which is a little adventure here in itself. In America if you tried to cross the street with oncoming traffic you would be pulverized. In India you had to time your crossing between the spurts of animals and vehicles jostling for control of the road. In Vietnam if there a no heavy cars coming which you usually have to wait for and the road is full of just motorbikes, you can take the Moses approach and part the Red Sea. I can cross and a path will pop up. Motorbikes and cars if they come will swerve around me like water moving in a clear path. It is simply amazing. At first it was kind of intimidating but now I can do it in confidence, but my iPod definitely stays off during crossing. A phenomena of Vietnam is that motorbikes like to take shortcuts on the sidewalks during rush hour and that even though there may be four lanes clearly marked, these can be arbitrary and as before, water finds a path and motorbikes go anywhere there is an open path. So you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings during those busy times of the day.
For example once I was crossing a street and had looked both ways. I was good and began to walk because the cars coming from the left had stopped and were waving me on. I began to cross when a motorbike turned a corner (going the wrong way) and clipped my arm. I yelled out and looked up in surprise. The bike sat three teenage girls and they all said ‘sorry sorry sorry’ with worried expressions and continued swerving between cars still going the wrong way. I was not expecting anything to come around the corner which was supposed to be empty because the cars on the other side of me had stopped. But hey its not as bad as the Forth of July this past summer when a car in India hit me and knocked me over. I actually probably did more damage to the car than it did to me, but that’s an entirely different story and I have to get back to my story of the first morning that I keep veering from!
So we crossed the street and headed down a few back alleys filled with small vendors and little children playing. My roommate Nghiem decided on a little restaurant and we sat down to eat. I looked around and saw a Christmas tree in the back adorned with tinsel and a bright yellow star on top. There was also a large red banner reading Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! A third interesting thing was a large mother of pearl looking Icon of the Madonna and Christ Child prominently displayed behind the register and gazing out lovingly over the dining area. This restaurant was one of the many Catholic establishments in the city. Being about 10 percent of Vietnam as a whole, Catholics form a large minority in Ho Chi Minh/Saigon itself and their presence is definitely felt.
I didn’t know what to order so my roommate ordered a simple noodle dish for me and I attempted to use chopsticks. It was quite funny, even for myself. I have rapidly improved in my short time here and hope to be a chopstick master by the time I’m back stateside. The food was delicious and as I digested then, I’ll let you do so now… with my blog. I’ve thrown a lot at you, and before I go into my day proper I think I’ll let you mull over what I’ve written. It’s a lot and I apologize, but there is just so much to say. More soon!

Namashkar,

Jimmy

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