If you’ve read my blog before, you understand I love living in Saigon. The main reason is really the community and the fact that I can go to any bar, restaurant and will know people. Most ex-pats hang out mostly in District 1 and feels more like a village than a city. I can also just hop on my motorbike or take a xeom (motorbike taxi) and get to where I’m going in under five minutes.
This is what I’m afraid of losing most should I go back to the USA. The image is of isolating myself in my car, then cubicle, then car, then home which I think describes a typical day for most Americans. Should we go out on the town, we will be isolated in any bar, restaurant or cafe since we won’t know anyone.
It’s not a fear of meeting new people as I love doing that, but as an example, I lived in Columbus, Ohio for most of my life and when I go out to a restaurant or bar, I rarely see people I know unless it’s in a very small section of the city. I’m used to going out here and seeing at least 10 people I know.
I’m also going to miss the laid back, friendly people here. The Vietnamese are extremely friendly and happy people. It really is a love / hate relationship here though as since they are so relaxed, it can make an uptight foreigner like myself crazy.
So switching gears from my love Vietnam side to my hate Vietnam side, let me go into the things that have driven myself and my girlfriend crazy in the last week.
1. At the Restaurant – My girlfriend and I sit down at a table with place settings for four. The waiter clears two away and my girlfriend no longer has a place setting but the empty seat next to me does. She just gives me a look of disbelief and says the usual Japanese expression of complete frustration, “Baka!”
2. At the office – We have wireless on two floors, HP1 and HP2. I can usually get both signals but HP2 is stronger and I have used it for the past 4 months. The other day HP2 had disappeared so I call the computer company in the same building who takes care of the computer problems. They are notoriously bad though and manage to break things more than they fix them. So anyway, I ask them where HP2 has gone and they tell me it’s only for the floor below me. I said I used it before and they tell me I cannot use it in our office room.
So I take my laptop down to the lower floor and stand directly under the transmitter and search for a signal. The result was that I came up with signals from buildings all around ours but not HP2. He reset the system, and it worked for half a day. Now it’s doesn’t work again.
3. In the elevator – As a rule in Vietnam, when the elevator door opens, you should not let the people exit but instead enter immediately and make the people trying to exit bump into you and have to fight their way out.
3b. About 3 times a week, the people wanting to go down, get in the elevator going up and the reverse. The point is, when in Nam, do not check to see if the elevator is going up or down, just enter immediately while not letting people exit.
4. I arrive at my destination and get off my motorbike, and two or three taxi drivers will ask if I want a taxi.
5. At our accounting office. No matter what time of day you go in, the two smartest accountants have “gone out,” and the dialogue goes like this:
a.) where is Ms. x?
b.) she go out.
a.) When will she come back?
b.) don’t know. You come back tomorrow.
Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration but isn’t too far off the mark. Usually all I need to get is my salary, and although we have about 30 accountants, and they know where my salary is, and simply need to give it to me and have me sign, it’s only the job of the head accountant so nobody else can do it, except for the only other smart accountant in the room. But should the head accountant be out, you can be sure the other smart account – “He have a lunch.”
6. At the bar – At every single bar the waitresses will watch over you and the moment you have about an inch of beer left in the glass they will come over and ask, “One More?” And it’s always those two words, often before you’ve even had one and just sat down they might say “Fosters, one more?”
But if you’ve just finished your beer, and say you don’t want another one, another waiter will be along in five seconds to ask “One more?” And this usually occurs for about 4 waitresses/waiters.
I’ve found out why and it doesn’t bother me so much anymore. It’s because some of them get a commission of a few cents on every beer they sell. So if you just want to relax and not get wasted, leave about two inches of beer in your glass and finish the rest when you are ready to leave.
7. Censorship – While reading the International Herald Tribune at the Club, I noticed one small article had been blacked out with a pen. I was shocked to see this throwback to another era was still alive here. The progressing Vietnam, and one of my favorite countries was still practicing this sort of censorship? Besides, if you hold the paper up to the light, you can still make out what the story is. And with the internet, you just can’t censor everything although China is giving it a damn hard try. But Vietnam is a happy country unlike China so why do they still do this sort of thing?