I remember arriving in the Atlanta International Airport after a 24+ hours long flight (with a canceled flight night in Seoul, Korea- an adventure I will write about next time).
In three words, it was: quiet, cold, and lonely. Where were the loud honkings? Where were the street vendors on every corner? The dozens of people trying to sell you tropical fruits? The motorbikes? I distinctly remember all those things being really annoying and obnoxious, but without it, I suddenly feel empty.
Reverse culture shock is a real thing. When I went home, all the trees were bare, the house was empty. The neighbors stuck to themselves. It was like I had never left.
I missed Vietnam a lot. I still miss Vietnam, and fondly remember all the people I’ve met and cherished. On this quiet night in a mountains of North Carolina, I want to dedicate a post on what I really wished I had right now.
Noise, Noise, Noise!!!
The grinch would have hated Vietnam. To properly pinpoint a specific noise is a difficult task since there are so many contributors to it. People. Motorbikes. Music. Cars. Honking. Dogs. Roosters (and their roosting). Cows. Cats. Machinery. Trucks. Boats. Noise is everywhere (unless you live in a really mountainous town or tiny village).
Yes, I realize I’m listing the 10 reasons why I didn’t want to leave Vietnam. However, I strongly feel that the cons were Vietnam’s pros. So hear me out.
Perhaps one of the most memorable traits of Vietnam is that 80% of vehicles on the roads are motorbikes. And 99% of the time, they are honking. I understand it’s something that could give someone deep migraines as a newcomer, but after awhile, I learned started to find it quite practical. See, with technically no constant enforced laws on the roads, motorbiking around will look reckless and dangerous.
Honking is a constant form of communication between drivers of automobiles and motorbikes. It’s a way of saying, “Hey! I’m here, just a quick reminder…”
I miss being able to jump on a motorbike and go pretty much anywhere. Being on the road in Vietnam is like playing MarioKart in real life. Sure, there are pot holes on the roads and no room to ride between all the legit motorbike riders out there, but it’s the thrill of being in the open and riding next to your family members.
Haggling in the markets is a culture trait I despise taking part of while in Vietnam. However, I can’t deny that the markets would not be the same without the loud, and oftentimes intimidating, bartering back and forth. There is a beauty in it, once you listen for awhile. If you listen even longer and not afraid of being embarrassed, you could barter just like a local.
Dirt. Cheap. Food.
Vietnam is definitely in my favor as a vegetarian. The country is 70% Buddhist and vegetarian meat substitute are abundant and have stellar quality.
Not only that, I could get one big bowl of quality vegetarian stirfry noodles or pho (noodle soup) for less than $1!!
Kilos of tropical fruits with value of over $10 could be bought for $2. In my many posts in the past, I have divulge that I’m a huge fan of good cheap street food. Only in traveling to other countries do I get a chance to try delicious cheap street food (unlike the $5 for a tiny serving street food in New York).
With three main regions in the long “S” shape strip of a country, Vietnam has everything to offer. It has beautiful islands, lovely ancient cities, famous plantations, undiscovered caves, and beautiful mountains.
Some of my favorite sightseeing moments are driving by rice fields and looking at dilapidated houses.
A picture speaks more than a thousand words. Need I say more?
Cheap Everything Else
Overnight buses cost $5-$10. Compared to overnight buses to New York, Vietnam buses are heavenly. Nice 3-4 star quality hotels costs range from $10-$20 a night!
I’m addicted to being on the road. Cuong and I would often argue over who gets to drive first. We were like kids riding a bicycle.
(I can’t believe I’m including this, but…. ) Soccer/Football
Soccer/Football, the one you play with your feet, is a huge deal in Asia. While we were in Vietnam, we were in the midst of a U23 international soccer competition. Vietnam supporters were very passionate about our country making it to the almost-top. I’ve never been a sports fan in my life, but I have found soccer to be the easiest to understand.
When the time and day arrives, all of Vietnam’s eyes were on the TV, no matter where they are. It’s amazing how even the people with the biggest differences all sit down and watch the same thing, cheer for the same things. If there’s anything I found out from soccer games, it’s that the Vietnamese are united and proud, not of the communist government, the the people and the country itself.
When Vietnam won the semi-final match, we all stormed the streets. Hundreds and thousands of people took their motorbike and rode through town with the flags in the air. “VIETNAM UNDEFEATED!!!” they chanted.
Enjoy Tet Celebration in Its Entirety
Something I got to do differently this year was take part in the searching and buying of flowers. We had a seven foot tall lime tree sitting in the back of our motorbike while one person drives and one person holds it up. The vase took 5 people to carry, and was huge! When in Rome, am I right?
Another favorite new experience of mine is cooking the traditional Banh Tet! We spent over 7 hours cooking outside with wood fire to completely cook a giant pot of banh tet. I wrote about the entire experience here!
Family and Communities
When my parents fled Vietnam in the 1990s, they had left behind their entire family. We’ve been back as a family a total of 3 times in 20+ years. I did not meet my extended family until I was a teenager. When I came back, I feel like a part of me was missing, because, well… they’re like family to me. Now, whenever I have problems with my parents, I can’t come running to my aunts for safehaven or advice anymore. Now, I have to deal with my issues like the adult that I am. /sigh.
See, Vietnamese people have a very special and close-knit bond with each other. Families live near one another and children often live with their parents in their old age. Neighbors come to one another’s house to play board games, eat, cook, party, and especially gossip on a day to day basis.
Way of Life
Vietnam is so different from the United States in so many different ways. Some for the better, and some for the worse. Cuong and I often mention how we were able to freely make decision in Vietnam.
Children wander around on their blocks and ride their bikes out to the beach (up to 3 miles from home).
We like living a minimalist lifestyle.
Vietnam is truly beauty in chaos. It’s hectic, it’s loud, it’s dirty, but it’s endearing. I’ve never felt so much at home. I understand everyone and everything, and can feel where my roots are.