Today we started the day off with the warmest welcome at the University of Economics and Finance. We were greeted with smiles, face stickers, and flower leis. We took so many pictures together as a group and with our new Vietnamese friends as well. We went into a large assembly room and got to see performances with dances and songs as well as speakers from both the school and the Vietnamese government. We received bamboo hats and plush dolls with the school’s name embroidered on them. We played many icebreaker games with the Vietnamese students to get to know them and have fun. We then switched floors of the school into a classroom setting. We sang many songs with them and played more games while waiting for our first class to begin. We also got pulled out of the classroom to get fitted for áo dài which is a Vietnamese traditional clothing. We also got fitted for handmade and tailored suits. I decided to get a blazer with both pants and a skirt in a black material. Our deposit on the suit was 2 million dong!! Which sounds extremely expensive but it’s only around 80 USD. Next, we had our first language class in Vietnamese. It is so challenging and completely different than any language I’ve ever tried to speak. Following class, we had a lunch of bánh mì sandwiches and fruit.
We then took a city tour of Ho Chi Minh by bus to a few different places where we would get out and walk around. We saw the Notre-Dame that was built using French pieces, the post office, the oldest scribe, the building where the last helicopter took off in the war, a propaganda poster, and a large statue of Ho Chí Minh. We then traveled to their version of Chinatown with hundreds of little shops with dried herbs, dried fish, fried chicken heads, and many trinkets and toys. We saw a pagoda that was meant for praying for children. We could not go all the way in because our legs were showing, and it is seen as disrespectful to the spirits to not wear full-length pants. Outside of the Pagoda, we saw two stone lions and our tour guide asked us “Which lion do you think is the male, and which is the female?” With almost no visible difference, many of us were confused. The tour guide explained that the one on the left is the male and the one on the right is the female to help them remember that the female is always right! (:
One major component of the city that stood out to me was the overwhelming majority of motorbikes in the city, and the lack of traffic rules they follow. They will ride up onto the sidewalk, and bend around any cars in the road. You have to be focused and paying attention when walking the sidewalks or crossing the street. We also saw so many restaurants it made me wonder how each of them remains in business. The city is a developing city, with many old remnants. There is a subway being built with the assistance of Japan. It is hard for the government to build it because of the sheer number of people they’ll have to displace in order to do so. There are also skyscrapers on the horizon, literally. Many are being built but the city seems to be still stuck in the past with their ways of conducting themselves.
To end the night we were taken to a welcome dinner at Nhà Hàng Ngon. We ate around 6 courses at dinner. The majority of the food contained shrimp, noodles, bean sprouts, various meats, and lettuce wraps. It ended up being fairly good after I got myself over the hurdle of not knowing what I was eating. The only difference from the Culture Smart book I found is that smiling isn’t as big of a deal as we all thought it would be. Typically smiling in Vietnam is seen as a symbol or apology or nervousness. However, the students and many people we came into contact with smiled at us and were all so friendly and welcoming.
The hoards of motorbikes.
One of our first Vietnamese language classes.
A market in Chinatown.