This video was taken from the window in our office earlier today.
Well, I’ve been in Vietnam for two weeks yesterday – I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on Saturday, July 14th at about 1:00pm local time after a 28.5 hour flight from Atlanta via Los Angeles and Taipei, Taiwan.
My friend Tim Bennett picked me up at the airport and we went straight to a massage parlor! Well, it was more of a salon where we got neck and shoulder massages while drinking cold tea, then got our hair shampooed for haircuts (during the shampooing they gave us face and scalp massages and I almost fell asleep), then got haircuts, a little more neck and shoulder massage, and we were done. I think it cost a total of about eight bucks each. (I actually got another, shorter haircut the next day in more of a traditional barber shop. It is so hot and humid here, you really want your hair to be as short as possible. That haircut was $2.00.) That was the extent of it, so for those of you looking for more salacious details, I’m sorry to disappoint!
The first few days I spent more just adjusting to the time change and the climate here more than anything else. The time here is eleven hours ahead of eastern time in the USA, so when it’s 12:00 noon on say Sunday in Atlanta, it’s 11:00pm Sunday night here. For the first few days I was going to bed between 5:30pm and 7:00pm and waking up wide awake at 3:00am to 4:00am every morning. Over time, though, I got adjusted. I am still sleeping a ton for some reason and I can’t figure out why. I’m averaging about 9 hours every night, which is more than I’ve ever slept in my life. Maybe it’s the climate; I really don’t know.
I joined a very nice gym here called Star Fitness. It is actually nicer than any gym I’ve been a member of in the USA. One of Tim’s business is to import high-end gym equipment (Life Fitness, Hammer Strength, Cybex, etc.) and build out gyms in health clubs, condo and apartment fitness centers, etc., so he was able to point me in the direction of a very nice gym owned by a friend of his. I’ve been working out regularly and have taken yoga and boxing (!) classes so far. I’ve lost about 6 pounds in the two weeks I’ve been here, which is probably due to a combination of working out more, the climate, walking around more than I’m used to, the cocaine, not sitting behind a desk for 10 to 12 hours a day, and having less of an appetite. (Just kidding about the cocaine. It’s really the heroin.) I don’t know why my appetite is less – but I am just not all that hungry very often. I need to get off the ca phe sua nong (coffee milk hot), which is coffee with sugar and condensed milk. Vietnamese coffee is very good but very high in caffeine and sugar, so I’m staying a little wired all day.
I started Vietnamese language classes on Monday, July 16th, and have been going three days a week since then. Next week I start with a private tutor on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I really enjoy the classes but Vietnamese is very difficult. The pronunciation is the hardest part, as they use a lot of sounds that are just not used in English (and, as my friend Dave C. says, sounds which should not be used, period). I have a very good Vietnamese teacher who is funny and makes class entertaining, and there are some nice people in my class. The class is at Ho Chi Minh University. I never in my life thought I would be a student at Ho Chi Minh University, so it’s kind of interesting. Unfortunately not in my classroom, but in the larger classroom next door where we sometimes hang out and practice the language before class there is a large bust of Ho Chi Minh himself. I’ll take a picture of it and post it when my new camera gets here.
I haven’t posted or emailed much since I’ve been here for a number of reasons. My big Canon SLR that I brought is just too bulky to carry around with me since I’m normally also carrying around my laptop, language textbook, etc. I have ordered a small digital point-and-shoot that I can keep in my pocket and carry around with me so I can take more spur of the moment pictures. Also, I haven’t had very good internet access here. They have broadband here, but it’s very slow compared to the USA as the infrastructure is just not here. It is also very spotty and constantly slows down to a point where it’s not practical to use or crashes altogether. Since I’ve started working out of Tim’s office vs. internet cafes, I have better access. Once I move into my new house on September 1st, I should have a lot better access as well. (I am currently staying in a guesthouse near the downtown area right now. It is kind of like a bed and breakfast. It’s $250.00 a month including daily maid service and daily laundry service. I am getting a little spoiled by the daily service. On September 1st I am moving into a house in a quiet neighborhood a littler farther out but still very convenient to downtown. It is a 4-story, 4-bedroom house that I will be renting for somewhere between $550 and $600 a month. I can hire a 24-hour, live-in maid for $80 a month who will do all cleaning, cooking, laundry, and errands.)
The other reason I haven’t posted much since I’ve been here is because, as I’ve found when I’ve traveled before, the experience of coming somewhere like Vietnam is kind of overwhelming when you first get here. You’re kind of over-stimulated and it’s so different that you’re just tying to take it all in. It’s hard for some reason to make myself sit down and write about it at first. Now I’ve gotten into more of a routine and am feeling much more comfortable about being here, so I finally feel like I can take the time to describe what it’s like and what I’ve been doing.
The Vietnamese people are very friendly for the most part. When they realize that I’m studying Vietnamese, they go out of their way to help with pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, etc. I’ll be sitting in a cafe having a cup of coffee or eating lunch and they’ll see the Vietnamese textbook on my table and the waiter or waitress will sit down and start helping me with my language skills. The other night in class we learned how to count from one to 100 in Vietnamese. I was taking a taxi from class to the gym and I was sitting in the back seat looking at my notes and counting out loud from one to 100. After I got to about 50 my taxi driver couldn’t take any more of my terrible pronunciation and started chiming in telling me how to count. I’m sure he thought I was an idiot.
It is unbelievably cheap here. Most mornings I walk to a little cafe near my guesthouse and have a huge bowl of vegetarian pho noodle soup, a large ca phe sua nong, and a mixed fruit and yogurt smoothie. The total is 29,000 VND (Vietnamese dong), which is about $1.81 USD. Most meals here average between $3 and $4 total, and you can get around town in a taxi for an average of $2 to $4. But you can also get anywhere in town on the back of a se om (which is a guy on a moped) for 10,000 VND, which is about $.63 USD. The traffic is insane here, but I actually find it fun to ride on a se om. You can also buy bootlegged DVDs here for $.75 USD. I actually bought 12 DVDs for $9 USD earlier today.
I have a Skype account, and my Skype ID is my first and last names, all one word. (I don’t want to spell it out in case this blog is trolled by a spambot.) If you have a Skype account, add me to your contacts list and we can chat or talk. I also have a Google Talk account, and my ID is my Gmail address.
Hope you are all doing well and please keep in touch!
Tim, Lisa, and Henry