One Day Earlier…
As our plane approached the runway, the television screen before me suddenly flickered to life. For what I saw illuminated on the very tiny monitor was none other than Ho Chi Minh City—glowing and pulsating in all its glory in the night sky. At last we finally arrived, and my heart pounded as I was suddenly swarmed with a mixture of emotions. I can’t exactly put to words what I felt in that very moment, but for me it came close to what I would think seeing your baby’s sonar for the first time is like. Because after years of pent-up anticipation for this very moment, it finally has come to fruition. And boy, was it a sight!
“Seeing your baby’s sonar for the first time”
My first day in Vietnam started with a reception at the University of Economics and Finance (UEF) in the Dien Bien Phu Campus. Going in to it, I truly had no expectations of what I was going to experience since everyone was closed lips about it and wanted to surprise us Pitt kids. Looking back now, I am grateful that I was left out of the loop of what was to occur during that reception because it was a surprising treat. Setting foot off of the charter bus onto campus, I was immediately greeted with UEF students waving and smiling at us. They carefully placed a beautiful floral lei around my neck and started taking pictures of all of us. In all honestly, I felt like a celebrity during this time because the whole scene was hectic with everyone in a frenzy trying to squeeze into pictures. If only people back home were as eager as the UEF students to take pictures with me.
As for the reception itself, we were repeatedly overwhelmed with spectacular performances by the UEF students and presentations by the head representatives and faculty at the university. Though I was initially nervous and shy about meeting everyone in UEF, the reception definitely eased any concerns I had and made my first day far better than I could have hoped. Not to mention the students—some of the most genuine and kind individuals I have met—who made an effort to talk to us and make us feel welcome in any way possible. If it weren’t for them, I can’t imagine how my first day would have gone.
Later that day, we set off to take a city wide tour of Ho Chi Minh City. From getting a glimpse of the areas in the city that were influenced by the French to exploring the supermarkets and China Town, it was a stark reminder of the differences in development and globalization in Ho Chi Minh City in comparison to the states.
For one, I was shocked to see the large amount of businesses and companies scattered about the city. Not only were they everywhere, but they were also contemporary in appearance and similar to ones you would find back in America with big plated logos to display their name and enormous glass panes decorating the exterior. Some global big names that I saw while touring the city were Deutsche Bank and Audi. Considering all of this, development appears to be a major goal here in Vietnam because construction was taking place all over the city with some massive structures being built that challenge some of the largest buildings even in Pittsburgh.
Yet if you look closer around you, you will start to see that these impressive firms are a distraction from the reality that the Vietnamese people face, which is: many Vietnamese are still in fact poverty-stricken and struggling to feed their families daily. As I walked around the city today, I noticed many Vietnamese were sitting on the side of streets barely clothed in hopes that someone will purchase any goods they sold. It was an absolute eye-opener to me to see these people outside in the blistering heat going through great lengths to make ends meet. Especially given my fortunate upbringing in America, I couldn’t help but imagine the life I might have had if my parents hadn’t fled Vietnam. Roaming the beaten path of Ho Chi Minh City, I came to the sudden realization that being born in America was one of the greatest gifts of all and that my life trajectory could have been completely altered had one of my parents decided not to make the bold move of moving to America. So for that I have to say: thank you mom and dad.
“Being born in America was one of the greatest gifts”
Later that night, we ate dinner at Ngon, an authentic Vietnamese restaurant that conserves the culture and integrity of the South prior to the Vietnam War. Again, it was an incredible experience because they sure knew how to feed us—especially yummy food—while educating us about South Vietnam’s roots. By the second course, I was positive that dessert was next because everyone was starting to feel the weight in their bellies. But sure enough, more food kept getting served and by the end of it all we all ate a total of five courses. I don’t know how I did it, but once I cleaned everything that was on my plate, I found myself heaving in exhaustion and rubbing my stomach to help ease the loads of food in it. Yet an interesting observation to note during this dinner was that all the UEF students were very open about their lives and kept asking us questions to gain a greater understanding about us. It really hold true to the Vietnam Culture Smart book we read which stated that the Vietnamese people are inquisitive in nature and will ask all the questions in the world to find out more about you. Further, the UEF students I interacted with were not reserved at all as I was led to believe and spoke their minds on various topics in discussion—which I greatly appreciated. Picking up on the fact that I am a Vietnamese American, they asked numerous questions about my origin and where I was born, which caught me off guard since I rarely discuss those details about me with others.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t have asked for a better first day in Vietnam (besides the humid weather of course) and am excited for what awaits.
Until next time friends