I knew I was in trouble for neglecting to update my blog consistently when I plugged my camera into my computer and it asked me to upload 394 photos. Though I wish I could share all of them, my sharing ability is limited (as are my photography skills; you don’t want to see all 394 photos). Since my last post I have traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and tonight will be in Myanmar! I had three very different experiences in the countries I just visited within a two week time span, and so the next couple of posts will give brief outlines of my experiences and pictures that can probably sum up a scene better than my words can.
I really didn’t take as many pictures in Vietnam as I would have liked because there was barely time to keep up with the bustle of the city, let alone find time to take out a camera and capture the scenery. I rarely use the word “literally” because it never accurately depicts a scene accurately in my imagination, but there are no other words for it, there were literally hundreds of motorbikes surrounding people at all times. Ho Chi Minh City fails to abide by any traffic rules so crossing the street (or even walking on a sidewalk) is questionable in terms of being safe. There is no flexibility of walking around with a camera because so much intention needs to be put into letting bikes dodge you as you try and walk across the street. Watching the city go by was probably my favorite part about Vietnam, though. As intimidating as it seems, there’s a sense of satisfaction when you’re able to walk across the street and not even flinch at the bikes two inches away. I also saw some pretty interesting (impressive?) things occur on these bikes. Be it a toddler wedged between two parents with no seatbelt, a basket of puppies being held above the driver’s head, or a woman nursing her baby while driving: I’ve seen it all.
The markets were another iconic aspect of Vietnam that I wish I could have captured on camera, but close quarters of the markets made it an easy place for someone to steal something while you’re distracted by the thousands of items surrounding you. They were dusty and humid and smelly, but worth the trip in to. They had everything! Vegetables, clothing, suitcases, watches, paintings, makeup, toothless men on bikes wanting you to pay them to take you around the city. Americans, especially white blonde females, walking through the markets were frequently pulled to the side aggressively to get “very nice deals” on Prada, Tory Burch, and Burberry. Or, should I say, “Prada,” “Tory Burch,” and “Burberry.”
If I hadn’t wanted to save most of my money for pho and those baggy, colorful hippie pants that every past SAS student has (they’ll make an appearance in one of these pictures coming up), then I definitely would have bought a couple bags. The knockoffs were pretty accurate. Then again, I don’t think I have ever seen a real Prada bag up close so my perception could be skewed.
Bargaining with the shop-owners really tests a person’s confidence (or even just acting ability). I hated it at first but now I love it! I remember when I went to China for the first time I couldn’t bargain at all, and the prices may have been knocked down out of pity due to my meek attempts at saying “taiguile” (too expensive) in Chinese. But now, and especially after a couple days of getting better at it, I can bargain like a pro. The mildly hostile relationship between shop-owner and bargainer is just a game, especially when it gets over-dramatic, so it was really fun! Our last night in HCMC gave me a satisfying ending win at the night market. I was set on getting four pairs of those awesome pants for $12, but the woman selling them wouldn’t budge on her price of $15 (“only three dollar more, the quality is better than anything else you’ll find in this market, these pants were made for you, only three dollar more”). I could have gotten rid of a pair so I could get my desired price, but I really wanted all four pairs. So I left. Exasperated and over-dramatic, I stomped out of the stand and told her I would pay her $12 or pay her nothing. I was worried I would actually leave the market pants-less, but as if on-cue I could hear the woman shouting behind me, “okay okay okay, Blondie, $12 and four pair of pants! Just for you, because I like you.” (a compliment given to most of her customers, I’m sure, but I had my pants and $3 to spend on food before I left, I considered that a victory.)
Hidden behind the horrific bike traffic and damp, smelly markets there is an incredible city that I wish I had more time to explore. Ho Chi Minh City lacks the modernity I saw in Tokyo or Shanghai, but it is uniquely modern! Someone described it as “organized chaos,” which I really like. After dodging through nighttime traffic and entering a park, it’s not uncommon to see huge groups of people doing organized aerobic workouts in the middle of the park, or salsa/tango dancing (no swing, unfortunately), or socializing with friends. They have some really impressive architecture due to the French influence as well. Also, French bakeries are everywhere! So delicious (and cheap)! A beautiful replica of the Notre Dam is nestled in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City, and stunning architecture is prevalent in general. It’s such a fascinating city! But now I need to finish my Cambodia/Singapore posts before I arrive in Myanmar.