Vietnam 2011

Before I forget, I want to jot down my experience visiting Vietnam for 3 weeks. To dissolve my reputation as a negative person, I will start this by listing four positive impressions I had of Vietnam:

  1. Halong Bay is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The shrub covered rocks jutting out of the blue ocean is absolutely breathtaking. Hard to describe in words or pictures, but something you just have to experience. Much like how I felt when I first saw the Grand Canyon.
  2. Tropical fruits are a mouthwatering treat available everywhere you go. Rambutan, Mangosteen, Longan, Soursop, Durian, Jackfruit, Sugarcane, and Coconuts. In my heaven, I would be surrounded by overfilled baskets of these wonderful fruits.
  3. The Vietnamese people are extremely innovative – In a country stricken by poverty and lack good work opportunities, the Vietnamese people have found extremely creative ways to survive and make money. The myriads of restaurants that litter the streets, a man who makes sandals out of old car tires, factories manufacturing bricks out of mud collected from the riverbed, and locals making rice-pop using every part of a rice grain, even the husk!
  4. Being a good neighbor is a way of life. In a country where living and personal space seems to be a limited resource, the Vietnamese have learned to live as a community. I witnessed two poignant examples of this camaraderie. 1) When giving directions, one guy told me to go to the intersection and ask for the house I was looking for by name. He told me everyone in that neighborhood should know where the person I was looking for lives. Good luck trying this in America. 2) When we came upon a family member’s house and they were not home so the door was locked, the neighbor came out and opened the door  for us. In my neighborhood, I feel lucky just to know one of my neighbor’s name.

But alas, among all the beautiful scenery of the Vietnam country side and its creative people, there are unescapable environmental, social economic, and cultural problems that must be discussed:

  1. Traffic – You can say anything you want about how it’s just a way of life there, but the reality is, it is very unsafe and thousands of Vietnamese die every year because of it. My advice is to never cross the street in front of a cab, they will never yield to you.
  2. Polluted waterways in the city – it’s sad that the Republican party wants to do away with environmental regulations and the EPA. If they want to see what happens when government does not come out to protect the environment, just look at Vietnam. In the afternoon, the river thats runs through the city is completely black, and covered in garbage.
  3. Police corruption – ask anyone about how the police system works in Vietnam and you will hear the same story. If you get pulled over by a Vietnamese cop, you have to pay a bribe 100% of the time. It makes me wonder how Vietnam will ever get better if all the money that should be designated to public works such as fixing roads, are going into the pockets of corrupted government officials and police officers?
  4. Wealth Gap – You will see 5 years old begging for money on the same street that LV toting women and men are driving their Mercedes through.
  5. Building Codes – When you are in Vietnam, look up. The criss-cross of wires that looks almost like a bird’s nest will surely scare you. No wonder there are so many blackouts. On top of that, buildings are stacked like Legos. I say Legos, but I really mean Jenga. It is unbelievable how they can build dilapidated shacks one of top of another. God forbid if there was ever a fire, or earthquake, the whole city would be up in flames. One again, I am so glad that we have government regulations to help us build safe and beautiful living spaces here in America.
  6. Bartering and scams – The Vietnamese people do not understand the concept of honest business. There is no such thing as fixed pricing in Vietnam. You have to barter for everything. It’s annoying. On top of that, there are plenty of stories about fake products. I was afraid to drink coconut water because I kept hearing stories about how they drain the milk out of the coconut and refill it with sugar water to save money.
  7. Business Regulations
  8. Water and Food Quality Regulations – I will never take the FDA for granted again. Three days of diarrhea made me appreciate all the regulations we have in food preparation and sales. In Vietnam it is not uncommon to see slabs of meet sitting out in the hot sun COVERED in flies. Even after the meat is cooked, it is again left to sit out for flies to feast on. In Vietnam flies eat first, humans eat after. If you look closely, you will also see that washing dishes in many of the Vietnamese shop consist of rinsing the bowls and utensils in a bath of soapy water and that is it.
  9. … to be continued