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Tag: Vietnam

Through the Lens of Hip-Hop: Vietnamese Youth Culture

Through the Lens of Hip-Hop: Vietnamese Youth Culture

A HipHop (B-boy) dancer landing a freeze during the Converse Street Festival
A HipHop (B-boy) dancer landing a freeze during the Converse Street Festival

Converse shoes, beanie caps, graffiti, and break-dancing are all elements of today’s hip-hop scene in Vietnam. While these facets aesthetically resemble a similar culture in the United States and other parts of the world, Vietnamese hip-hop conveys a deeper message hidden under the clout of imported flash. MCs, graffiti artists, b-boys, and DJs comprise only one of the counter-cultures that have developed in Vietnam through the processes of globalization. As one of the most youthful countries in the world, Vietnam must balance the traditional customs of past generations with the trends and developments of today’s world.

I have chosen this picture to expand upon for a number of reasons. Having been involved in the hip-hop scene in the U.S., I hope that I can relate to similar minded youth in Vietnam. I believe that Vietnamese hip-hop is a developing culture that is different than similar subcultures in other countries. Finally, I view the hip-hop subculture in Vietnam as lens through which one can visualize Vietnam’s progress and development.

In the early 1970’s hip-hop formed in the Bronx in New York City as a form of self-expression and protest by the youth. As it spread, the messages associated with the movement also found audiences in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. By the end of the 20th century, and with the economic success of the early 21st century, Vietnamese youth readily gained access to the rest of the world through venues such as MTV, the internet, and their neighbors in Asia. It wasn’t long after that a hip-hop culture developed in Vietnam.

However, in my observation and interaction with hip-hop artists in Vietnam, there is an almost entirely different message being portrayed underneath all the baggy shirts, flat brim caps, and break-beats. While American hip-hop music is notorious for off color language and a subculture that often lends itself an unsavory reputation, Vietnamese describe their brand of hip-hop as “clean.” Raps are often about romance, youth culture, dancing, expressing yourself, and being who you want to be. There are almost never political or societal issues conveyed through Vietnamese hip-hop. The overall message is resoundingly individual and being true to yourself.

As said in Saigon Electric / Yo!, a 2011 film exploring Vietnam’s street dancing scene, “We [Vietnamese] dance because we have to. It’s all we have to live for.” I believe that this quote highlights the ambiguity of the task Vietnamese youth have in forging their own culture. When President Clinton visited Vietnam for the first time in 20 years following the end of the conflict in Vietnam, he was exposed to a new generation of Vietnamese who had the freedom to find futures beyond the wars of their parents and grandparents’ generations. However, as Vietnam steadily opened up to the rest of the world, the next generation of youth have pushed the envelope even further in the creation of a unique, and thriving youth culture.

Converse’ arrival and success in Vietnam display just how eager Vietnamese youth are to ‘catch up’ with their contemporaries around the world. While Converse’s image might inspire images of old-school basketball or pop-punk bands and skater culture in the United State, Converse has harnessed a slightly different approach in Vietnam. The Converse Street Festival in Ho Chi Minh City represents nearly a decade of growing presence in Vietnam. While staple “Converse cultures” such as skate boarders, rock bands, and b-boys transitioned and took root in Vietnam, Converse successfully marketed itself to a population that literally grew up with the brand in Vietnam. While it seems that Vietnamese artists in the hip-hop scene earnestly take their inspiration from the United States, Europe, South Korea, Japan, and other hip-hop centers, a unique Vietnamese identity is slowly taking shape.

When I arrived on site at the Converse Street Festival, there was already a large crowd gathered on the main stage where the b-boy crews were battling. I noted that with few exceptions, nearly everyone in the crowd was my age or younger, and that their energy far exceeded what should have been possible for the amount of people. I have been to jams (b-boy competitions) many times larger in Chicago and the United State, but the excitement and talent of the performers, spectators, and judges in Vietnam was just as comparable!

Hip-hop in Vietnam, through conveyed through the same vehicles as ‘original hip-hop’ across the world, conveys a deeper story. The growth of this subculture parallels the development of Vietnam in recent years, not only economically or culturally, but also consciously. I believe that it would not be too farfetched of a statement to say that Vietnamese hip-hop is proof of Vietnamese identity taking new shape in an uncertain future. With over half of its population under the age of 30, Vietnam’s youth are eager to soak up the rest of the world’s trends. However, they do not seek to just catch up, but also gain the tools to forge their own of unique identity whether it be through industry, policy, or something as obscure as street dancing.

Roadside Tagging in Mui Ne

A B-boy starts his routine

A semi-related preview of my holiday break in Nha Trang

For more info on the Vietnamese Hip-Hop scene, specifically b-boying check out these links!

Vacationing before Vacation!

Vacationing before Vacation!

Vung Tau is a popular destination for short getaways. An hour and a half away from HCMC, the city used to be known as a petroleum capital of Vietnam, but also boasts a strong fishing industry and its beach resorts are a draw for tourists. This was our first spontaneous trip out of  the city that we Loyola students took of our own volition. While our roommates helped us book places and figure out what to do, we were going to be on our own there.

We traveled via hydrofoil to get to Vung Tau and were bombarded with sales pitches, persistent taxi drivers, xe oms, and rickshaw peddlers the moment we stepped off the dock. Most likely because of the impending Tet holiday, much of the resort city was already empty as people returned to their hometowns. This made us as fresh a group of tourist bait as possible. Between figuring out where our hotel was, gathering our return bus tickets, and finding out that the hotel reservation was actually for a “Tinson D.,” it was quite an experience.

However, the rest of the day and weekend were phenomenal. We explored the whole of the peninsula, and even ended up at the exact same beach that I visited with my family 5 years ago! Friday evening, we sat down for dinner at Ganh Hao, which nearly every local we met suggested to. Sitting nearly 5 meters away from the sea and literally have our pick of the day’s best catch available, it is nearly impossible to describe the ambiance as anything more than splendid.

We capped out trip by scaling the local religious/tourist attraction known as Christ the Redeemer of Vung Tau. Finished in 1993, this larger-than-life statue of Jesus stands over 32m as one of the tallest of its kind in the world,  larger than even the famousCristo Redento in Rio de Janeiro! Getting to the statue is a pilgrimage in and of itself as it is located at the summit of a 270m hill. Scaling the the hill, there are rest areas every 20-30m that showcase sculptures of prominent figure in Christianity such as Moses, the 12 Apostles, Angels, and etc. As a Catholic, it was really inspiring for me to see how my faith is practiced in my parents’ homeland.

When we finally reached the Jesus statue, we also found out that inside of the statue is actually a small chapel and a 133-step winding staircase that took you up to the shoulders of Christ! Unfortunately, shoulders and knees were required to be covered before we could step in, so many of us shorts-wearing Loyolans had to improvise.. By tying some of my extra bandanas to over my knees and throwing on an extra shirt over my tank top, the elderly gentlemen watching over the door nodded their approval, and I began my ascent to one of the most breathtaking views ever. Nearly 300m above the ground, on top of Christ’s shoulder, I saw city, land, air, and sea all at once. I did my best to take photos and video, but nothing could do that view justice than being there yourself.

A couple hours later, we caught out ride home at the hotel. As my friend Brian goes to detail to say, the ride home was very much like a ride on Harry Potter’s ‘Night Bus!’ Being the only Vietnamese speaker during the Vung Tau trip was an enlightening experience I’ll never forget. I have to personally commend tour guides and other bilingual professions on their efficiency in facilitating and helping large groups have as much fun as they do when abroad. However, I can’t say that I’ll miss being our psuedo-tour guide as it could be frustrating and difficult at times to navigate unfamiliar territory with such a large group. It was a fun and successful weekend though!  With the Tet holiday coming up, I’ll be venturing out on my own with my roommate to his hometown of Phan Thiet for another adventure and vacation.

If you haven’t had the chance already, you should really check out fellow Loyola blogger and friend Brian Priddis’ recap of our previous weekend in Vung Tau!


Sea breezes, sand castles, calamari, in february?

Sea breezes, sand castles, calamari, in february?

The week of New Years is about to start and Ho Chi Minh City is already starting to clear out. Everywhere, decorations are being put up and flags are being flown proud. So far, I get the feeling of 4th of July and thanksgiving is coming. National pride is everywhere, flags and banners are everywhere. Today I saw someone driving around in a Mercedes with a giant 6×9 flag attached to the roof. People are getting filing out of the city and traveling to stay with family during the celebration. The city is quieter and it is ten times easier to cross the street, even during rush hours. The excitement can be felt in the air everywhere around the city as people clean their shops and restaurants and post signs saying they will be closed during the New Years. I can’t wait for the fireworks.

Last weekend, a group of nine of us Loyola students took a trip to Vung Tau, which is on the coast just east of Ho Chi Minh City. We woke up early on Thursday morning to make it to the river to catch a hydrofoil boat. It was around $10 for the hour and a half ride through ports and forests, all while weaving in and out of huge container ships. This was really cool because we were going so fast and it was pretty smooth. When we got off the boat though, we were overcome with the sea breeze and sunshine. It is crazy how just an hour boat ride and the air clears right up and it is noticeably easier to breathe.

We walked over to the bus station and bought our tickets, then checked into our hotel and straight to the beach we went! The waves were huge! It was so much fun to jump and play in them, even though it was really really really salty. After what seemed like 45 minutes, but was really 3+ hours of swimming and building sand castles, we all realized we were starving. We caught some xe oms to a restaurant that everyone was referring us to. Our table was literally 15 feet from the waves and we had some of the freshest seafood I have ever had. It was so yummy, especially the calamari.

That night, we played a card game in the hotel driveway on little plastic chairs, it was awesome, especially when the desk worker guy played with us. A couple people went to go get food and when I went to go find them, I ran into this guy who called himself “Crazy Moe.” I tried calling him just Moe a couple times, but he would correct me every time. He walked me to his house and I had a good forty-five minute discussion with him. He was 66 years old, fought for the South Vietnamese Navy during the Vietnam war, was “reeducated” after the war, and about his family. His first daughter was born in 1972, his youngest, 1992. It was great to hear someone talk about how the government really works in a citizen’s point of view.

After checking out of the hotel the next day, we traveled to the base of a giant hill that had a huge jesus on top. Kind of like in Brazil. It felt like the stairs went on forever, but we finally made it to breathtaking views and a strong breeze to cool off with.

The journey back was an experience unlike any other… a sprinter van pulled up to our hotel, we climbed in and the sliding around started. Our driver was one of the most aggressive drivers I have ever even seen. It reminded me of the Night Bus in Harry Potter, weaving in and out of thousands of motorbikes. We would just stop in the middle of a huge intersection, someone would climb right from the back of a motorbike into the van, then we would speed away. Another weird thing that happened was it was picking up more and more people as we went. It got to the point where someone hopped in and the driver handed them a little plastic stool to sit on.

Something really funny that I’ve been noticing here, restaurants must just pick “popular english music” playlists. I am currently sitting in a cafe, with Jingle Bells blasting. It really makes you smile, especially when you don’t know what you’re eating.

This weekend was weird, for the first time in my life, did not watch the greatest game of the year. I could not watch the Super Bowl. I tried to pull a How I Met Your Mother and watch it later without hearing any news of it, but I accidentally saw the score.. but nothing more! It is currently downloading on this super slow internet… at between 12 and 24 KB/s… not to mention the only one online that I could find was 8.9GB. I am anxiously waiting to watch it when it finishes downloading. It’s been downloading for over 15 hours, and just over half way.. I hope I can last!

Back to classes for a couple days, then now I am off until the 17th for the New Years. After growing up in Wisconsin, this whole hot weather in February stuff…. I feel like I might actually melt into the sidewalk.


Check out my photos here!

Recap: Reunion & Revelation

Recap: Reunion & Revelation

From the 52nd floor of the Bitexco Building, tallest in HCMC

Over a week since that first plate of rice at 3 AM  half-way across the world from Chicago, there have been far too many stories and topics to address in a single post. For the continued duration of this blog, I will attempt to address posts by specific topics rather than try to create a chronological narrative of my adventure in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City is a fascinating city; a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells that are both familiar and bizarre. Its people continue to surprise me everyday with their hard work, determination, and character. I feel that my experiences for these next 4 months will be undoubtedly shaped by my interactions with the Vietnamese. However, ever present in my thoughts will be the Vietnam–both the idealized and the actual–that my parents raised me by. I only hope that these juxtaposition of these two dynamics will enrich my study of Vietnam.

However, in my first few days living in district 1 of HCMC, I’ve been able to explore a great deal and meet a lot of remarkable individuals. Foremost, all of the Vietnamese roommates that we Americans have been paired with are incredible. They are each intelligent and talented in their own ways. Some of them have worked for the Argentine Consulate, others have traveled far from home to seek higher education, one teaches English 7 days a week to foreigners, and there is still more to learn about each of them. My roommate, An, has essentially become an adopted little brother to me. We have similar majors, and family stories and its just been wonderful to explore this city with him as a guide. Sometimes we know we’re going (because of his leading), and other times we end up discovering new diamonds hidden in the rough.

HCMC itself is host to a vibrant culture and city life that strikes a balance between the sleepy-town of my parent’s past and the bustle of a metropolis like Chicago. Many businesses are still managed by family, and they often close near dinner time, leaving the nightlife to commercial ventures and specific districts. By nighttime, many retire and if you are a night owl you’ll have to venture out to districts such as Pham Ngu Lao (Backpacker’s District) which cater to a foreign crowd used to a nightlife that wanes when the sun rises. Even though I’ve only extensively been through District 1, I feel like I haven’t seen nearly half of it yet and there’s still 20 other districts to visit!

To avoid rambling on in a single post, here are some pictures of my first week in Vietnam. With each picture is a story that will be expanded upon later.

Collection of Snake and Scorpion "wines" at Ben Thanh Market

A HipHop (B-boy) dancer landing a freeze during the Converse Street Festival

Vendors selling goods in the streets during "Night Market" near Ben Thanh Market

Reuniting with some of my uncles

One week, one day, one month? Who knows on Vietnam time, either way it’s a blast!

One week, one day, one month? Who knows on Vietnam time, either way it’s a blast!

It has been a week and all I can say is WOW. Vietnam is exactly what they say, a totally unique study abroad experience. Everything is dramatically different than life back in Chicago. From the millions of motorbikes crowding the streets to being able to barter for anything, even groceries and on to buying a decent DVD copy of Skyfall for 10,000vnd. Loyola University Chicago’s Vietnam Center is a truly immersive study abroad experience. Vietnam has everything from living with an awesome Vietnamese roommate to getting a ride on some random guy’s motorbike. Just walking down the street is like a sensory explosion from the sights and smells. Cell phone stores line the streets next to family run bakeries and restaurants. This program is everything a student who wants to study abroad somewhere unique wants.

Globalization is very prevalent here, Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese for over a thousand years, then the French colonized it and the Americans were here in the sixties and even more. Even though it is not a truly developed country, the effects of globalization can be seen everywhere. Here I am, typing this up on a computer that was designed by an American company, then built in China. Then, I am sipping on some of the freshest orange juice I have ever tasted while savoring some ice cream from New Zealand and listening to music from the United Kingdom. I would say the orange juice rivals Spain’s.

Now I bet you are wondering what I have been up to other than class and homework. I have been exploring Saigon a lot by foot, walking around is great because you get to capture every sight as it happens. I’ve visited the backpacker’s district and it was pretty crazy! I visited a museum yesterday, and it totally changed my perspective on the Vietnam War.

The War Remnants Museum here in Ho Chi Minh City, I honestly have never been so impacted by a museum. At first you get there an are amazed by the American jets, helicopters and tanks, but then you get inside and read the stories and see the pictures of the monstrosities that occurred during the Vietnam War. Now I know that this museum is very propagandaish towards the Vietnamese, they did ‘win’ the war so they can tell any story they want, but it truly made me feel a wide range of emotions while walking through the exhibits. They had a section on American war crimes of aggression, I always knew a lot of bad stuff happened during the war, but they had pictures of everything. There was a picture of American G.I.s waterboarding a Vietnamese, another where someone was being unruly while being transported in a helicopter and they threw him out, another of a G.I. holding up a man ripped apart by a grenade launcher. There was a section though in that exhibit that hit me the hardest, it was pictures that were taken by journalists. One that sticks out the most in my mind; of an elderly man who was so weak he couldn’t walk who looked like he was begging, his face showed one of pure terror. The photographer noted that he was ushered away after clicking the shutter and a minute later heard two shots. In another exhibit, it displayed the dramatic effects of Agent Orange, a defoliate agent used by American troops to clear the jungle canopy. Agent Orange devastated the country, from destroying land and farming livelihoods to birth defects seen by pictures in the museum as late as 2008. I do not want to share too much of the museum though, because I feel that it is a must go place to anyone coming to Vietnam, even if you come with a main purpose of spending the 15,000vnd to get in and experience it. After some reflection, the propaganda side of the museum comes out; with portraying Americans as evil and the Vietnamese as peace loving farmers, but the facts are still there. I highly recommend everyone to visit the museum.

Well, on a lighter note, living with a Vietnamese roommate is one of the greatest things about Loyola’s Vietnam Program! My roommate, Trung, is an amazing guy. I feel like I got really lucky, especially since we both love to sleep in past the time the cleaning lady comes in to clean on weekends. Which is one of the most vivid differences between America and Vietnam to me. When staying at a hotel, at least the guest house, when it is time for the cleaning lady to come clean your room, even if you are still sleeping, she will come in and clean the bathroom and sweep/mop the floor. At first this really shocked me!

Vietnam truly is an amazing place, and I cannot wait to explore more of it! With Tet coming up, I will have a break to walk around Saigon with less traffic and people about. I cannot wait to see and experience as much of it as I can. I hope everyone had a great weekend!


Forging bonds through rice and pork.

Forging bonds through rice and pork.

My first taste of Vietnam


Once again, insomnia strikes me. It is roughly 5 A.M.right now in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m happy to report that all of us Loyola students who left Chicago on Thursday afternoon have made it without incident to the Vietnam Center.
After a grueling 20+ hr flight, terrible airline food, and a brief layover in Hong Kong, we were able to meet up with our Vietnamese counterparts by 1 AM! Having been restless for most of the journey, several of us had, and still have our sleep cycles thrown off (yours truly in particular). Luckily, some of the Vietnamese students, including my roommate were of the same mind and were more than willing to lead us out on an early morning adventure.

We traveled to the Backpacker’s District, which is known to stay open late and cater to expatriates. There we settled down at one of the street-side restaurants and indulged ourselves in plates of delicious broken rice and grilled pork. Weary travelers always find respite in warm food and conversation.

Eventually, we trekked back to the guesthouse. However, restless as ever, I struggle to catch enough sleep for orientation tomorrow.

Shipping out!

Shipping out!

It is less than 12 hours until departure, and I cannot sleep.

The last week and a half back in Chicago have been phenomenal. I’ve never had such a chance to appreciate my surroundings and my friends as I have during this time.

In a way, it is almost somewhat bittersweet and a little bit cruel that the Vietnam Center students leave so late compared to those at Rome or Beijing. However, I know that a great adventure awaits me, and I hope that everyone is ready to come along for the ride.

For now, as I count down the hours, I’ll be cleaning, packing, and preparing myself. In 40-some odd hours, I’ll be back to my parents’ birthplace.

Au revoir !

About to go off to a new land

About to go off to a new land

Well here I am, in limbo between Winter break and the Spring Semester. All of my friends at Loyola are already almost half way through their first week of classes, and I am procrastinating packing for a semester in Vietnam.

I leave on Thursday for the grueling trans-pacific flight and have hit the “what am I doing with my life” stage of packing. What do I bring? Am I forgetting anything? Quick! I have to go pick up something at Target! With one more full day here in Wisconsin, I am gallivanting around with my thin rain jacket, freezing while convinced that pulling out my winter jacket from the basement closet for a couple days is far too much work.

I am really excited and cannot wait to meet all of my new classmates. I have been emailing back and forth with my Vietnamese roommate, but still feel like I have not even scratched the surface of getting to know him. I actually think I am getting more nervous than excited to go, or maybe it’s just because I have an empty suitcase and a starving mind for all of the new experiences that I will have starting in less than a week.

I’ve been abroad before, but from what I have been seeing in movies, videos and reading about, Vietnam is going to be a totally new experience for me. I was at the John Felice Rome Center for both Summer 2012 sessions. That was a blast! So far while preparing for this semester though, all I can do is remember all of the memories from last summer. I cannot wait to make more.

I will check back in once I get settled into Saigon, until then, I hope everyone is having a great week!

A Waiting Game.

A Waiting Game.

Stephanie Morrow, World Traveler…well not yet…it is more like Stephanie Morrow, American Mid-West Traveler; BUT that title is too long so I am going to stick with the first.

I have spent the majority of my life in the mid-west region of the United States, living in a secure Kansas City suburb.  Most of my preteen travels included vacations to Colorado and Iowa to visit the grandparents and to partake in many family bonding activities.  In my teen years, I began to branch out to the far ends of our country, California and Washington D.C. to name a few, for mission experiences. As college approached, I boldly chose what very few choose to do from my high school and that was to go out of state for Undergraduate school.  So, my recent college years have involved bus, plane, and train rides from Chicago to Kansas City and back again; wherever I could find the cheapest deal.

On August 23rd, 2012 I will begin the international chapter in my life and ignite my Fall 2012 semester in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  Many inquiring minds have asked, “Why Vietnam?”  I just tell them, “Why not!” or if it is a close friend or relative I say sarcastically with confidence, “Because I CAN!”  But in reality I was encouraged by a high school teacher (Mr. Gatewood I hope you are reading this) to go ANYWHERE in your undergraduate experience if you get the opportunity.  This is my opportunity and I have very few expectations.

I know when my plane takes off and lands.  I know what classes I will take.  I know where I will be living.  I can look at other student photos and imagine the surroundings.  I know I will become accustomed to the cockroaches (thanks Anthony for the heads up).  But, as I know all of these things I really have no idea how I will feel or react to a drastically different environment and culture.  I am anxious and excited and COMPLETELY freaked out.

The game of waiting has begun.  It is the slowest game I have ever played.


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!

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!