May 8th, 2017
Day one is finally done and man do I have a lot to say. First I’ll just give you a brief itinerary of today. This morning we sat down to a continental breakfast, and it was different to say the least. Eight different items labeled “cakes” and pho stations surely awakened my sense of how different of a place I am truly in. The sights, sounds and people blew me away as I wandered through in a town like no other. The differences, you ask? Well, the culture barrier seemed to be a ten-foot wall next to a fifty-foot trench, but through so much “lòng tốt”, I believe it was easily overcame. Not a single one of our group members could say more than hello in Vietnamese, but we couldn’t stop saying thank you in English. As for the Vietnamese students, there was no limit to cultural kindness. We were welcomed with homemade leis, pictures and smiles, which was more overwhelming than the CultureSmart book could ever put into words. The Vietnamese spirit of gift giving is as almost as vibrant and avid as the town. This brings us to the tour, the most exhausting part of the day. Hopping on and off of a bus gave us a chance to experience sightseeing and gave us a glimpse in what it is like to live as a Vietnamese too. They say there’s only two seasons here: hot and hotter.
Other parts about the city that interested me were the dynamic contrasts in globalization. Local market with all 100% locals comprised most of the area while high end designer brands like Calvin Klein, Audi, and GUCCI had no shortage of representation in the area. A major difference between Ho Chi Minh City and Pittsburgh is that in Pittsburgh you would never find a luxury watch dealer a block away from outdoor chicken-on-a-stick markets (engineering reference anyone?). Seeing as lots of construction took place during the day, it is clear to me that HCM City is rapidly evolving. One of the tour stop included the metro station, an under-construction building funded by the Japanese.
After the tour, we were treated to a welcome dinner with too many courses for me to count. Seafood, lettuce wraps, and coconut milk desserts continually filled my plate until I couldn’t have enough. While many of the foods differed from American cuisine, it was a wonderful experience to discover the versatility of shellfish. I could not name a single dish given today, but I can tell you just like the city itself, the cuisine is much worth the unique experience.