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Xin Jao! Hello from Viet Nam!

Xin Jao! Hello from Viet Nam!

Xin Jao!

Greetings from Vietnam! So here are some interesting things about my trip so far (for the day I’ve been here). The country of Vietnam is SO CLEAN! When I left Indira Gandhi International in New Delhi this past summer, I was met with the stench of stale urine and auto exhaust thick enough to be soup and confronted with masses of people lying in the street dead, dying, somewhere in-between… Here, I was met with a warm blast of beach air and lots of people on mopeds…. and CARS! There are so many cars. Also nice cars too. If I had a dollar for every sleek black Mercedes I saw, we’ll lets just say I could get three meals a day from that here in Vietnam. Compared to India where there were no cars and a lot of rikshas, bikes, mopeds, donkeys, and camels. I keep comparing little things between our culture, India, and Vietnam. Like India, it is impolite to point fingers at someone, so to call someone you put your hand out flat palm down and pump your fingers toward yourself. However unlike India where smiling at people can be a very forward gesture, in Vietnam it is a great way to say hello, and lots of people have been smiling at me. So that’s good.

I met a few interesting characters on my connection flights to Ho Chi Minh. At the Chicago aiport, an asian guy who I presumed to be Chinese was sitting next to me. He looked at my hoodie and said, “Go Ramblers!”. I smiled and asked if he was a graduate, to which he responded yes. So I found a fellow rambler for my flight, even though he was an alum of several years. We were talking about the school and he also introduced me to his wife and son, Martin, who had gone to get food. It turned out he was not Chinese, but Filipino and was heading to Manila through Hong Kong.

It was also here that I met Vi, who was actually Vietnamese and had been staying in the US for some time to visit her boyfriend. She said, “When you are close to someone you love, your mouth gets tired from talking. When you live far away from someone, your legs get tired from walking. I would rather my legs get tired than my mouth. ” I thought that was very clever. Vi then went on to teach me some Vietnamese, Xin Jao (Hello) and several other words. She said my pronunciation was very good for a white person and asked if I had ever been to Asia before. I replied that I had been to India and see smiled and said, ‘very funny, Indians are not REALLY Asian’. Vi and I played with Martin, the 9 month old baby until our plane pulled up to the gate, a giant white and blue 747. This was my first time on a 747 as I had flow on Airbus to India. This Jet felt truly epic. After waiting for some time we boarded and I said bye to Vi who was seated farther up than me.

It was then that I met KiKi, a 36 year old merchant who devided her time between Hong Kong and China town in Chicago. She was really friendly and we talked a lot about the differences between Asia and the US. We even shared a bottle of Jack Daniel’s which I found appropriate because I had just listened to Kesha’s Tik Tok on the in-flight radio which mentions that brand. After a few rounds I was nice and toasty and snuggled in my blanket as we crossed through Siberia and we watched the movie Charlie Saint Cloud which was really cool because a Saint Jude medal plays a prominent role in the film (I wear a Saint Jude medal). Pretty cool.
Before getting off the jet, KiKi told me that she spent her youth working hard to make money to pay for school and come to America and while she doesn’t regret the success she has now, she sometimes wishes for her youth back, so she told me to tone down my hectic life a little and just live it up. I plan to do that in Vietnam.

I got off in Hong Kong to leave the Jet, go through security, and get back on the same Jet in pretty much the same seat. I was not too happy about being frisked by Chinese security because I wasn’t even going into China, I wasn’t even changing aircraft! Hong Kong at night was really pretty though. The lights of islands made little orange rings, and there were lots of freighters and smaller boats milling about. It was just like in the movie. There were also seven really bright almost crystal looking towers by the airport. It was breathtaking.

After Hong Kong we flew over the South China Sea for some time and what I saw reminded me of Genesis. Just Ocean, black sky, and clouds swirling over the water like the mist mentioned in the Bible before the creation story. I felt very awed and humbled at the same time.
On our arrival in Saigon, the city from above looked like a computer chip, if the lights were green I seriousy could have mistaken the city for an oversized motherboard. Closer to the airport, a large array of bright blue lights appeared all over the ground, a blue light similar to the towers in Hong Kong. It looked almost like pale snow flakes of LED Christmas lights. The sight filled me with mirth and I couldn’t help but smile. On a side note, while all of this looked amazing, I dont think any of it compares to the Hindu Kush (which is Persian for Hindu slayer) mountains dividing India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Those were simply breath taking! Now back to the airport…

I reconnected with Vi and I waited for her baggage because she was all by herself and most people had gone. When she finally got her bags she offered me her number, which I was about to ask because she had already been a great help. She reached in her wallet and I thought she was grabbing some loose paper but instead pulled out a business card. It turns out Vi owns the largest driving range in Saigon. Score, or should I say Fore?! (That joke was for you Dad). She said stop by whenever because the range includes a top notch restaurant. I think I’ll be taking her up on her offer soon.

I passed through customs which equaled putting my bag on a screening desk. They didn’t even check the screen, nor was I pat down! I just walked though into Vietnam! If I was to smuggle goods into any country, it would be Vietnam! (totally kidding, but really)

There were hundreds of people waiting with signs just outside of the airport with signs waiting for family. It is interesting to think that lots of them are waiting for expat Viet people who came to the US as boat people and are now returning to Vietnam to see their family after so many years. Pulls at your heart a little bit. I saw people running to the crowd and crying. Very powerful. I actually met a guy on the plane who flew sorties for the Americans during the war and had to flee during the fall of Saigon. He was wearing a baseball hat with a bald eagle and an American flag. I told him I liked the hat a lot and he told me the story of how the eagle is so important to him because he was a pilot. I’m wondering how many veterans I’m going to meet during my trip. My roomate said that in a few weeks that he will take me to his mountain village for Tet, the Viet/Chinese New Year. (Yes there wil be a giant paper dragon and lots of noodles). He said I will be the first white person to visit since the ‘Great American War’, which is the local name for the Vietnam war. Quite the honor? I’m not sure what I should do… just be myself I guess.

He also said that nobody speaks English, which is no different from here in Saigon where the only English I’ve heard is ‘motorbike?’ ‘thank you’ and ‘have nice day ok?’. I’m trying to pick up Vietnamese but the tone are throwing me through a loop. Makes me miss Hindi. At least they use the Latin alphabet.
Speaking of my roomate, I found him in the crowd thanks to his distinctive oval glasses and we got in a taxi to our dorm. His English is great, so I feel a bit guilty for not learning Vietnamese in advance. Oh well! On our arrival the driver got out and put his hand very close to me and said, “You give me tip now!” I was really tired, and if I hadn’t just flown 20 hours I could have said piss off you got your fare, but I remembered my friends denying a tip at a mosque in India and being chased by a mob, so I got out a few dollars and my best glare and cussed the guy out in Hindi since he knew English fairly well. Now that I’m somewhat rested and have my barings, my money is staying in my wallet.

This is a lot and I haven’t even got to my first (and now second, 3rd, 4th, etc) day in Vietnam. Gosh I am always playing catch up! So take care of yourself and look forward to my next email where I discover the American Embassy, the largest church ever built in the French Colonial Empire (named Notre Dame of course), get to know my roomate, run into my program director on a moped, eat my first mystery meat at a food stand which I’m really hoping wasn’t dog, and test out the hospital due to a nasty little viral infection. So in the meanwhile when you are shoveling snow up in Chi, think of me on the beach with a bunch of Viet friends drinking a mango shake and eating all the fried shrimp (wrapped in bacon which is absolutely amazing) I can get my hands on. Cheers!

Namashkar,

Jimmy

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