Day 1 is finally complete! After nearly two full days of travel, this feels like it has been quite a while in the making. Everything we experienced today lived up to the pre-departure hype. Our arrival at the University of Economics and Finance (UEF) was simultaneously hectic, exciting, and welcoming. A wide variety of musical performances, speeches, dances, and icebreakers entertained us and made us feel at home. Every Vietnamese student that I spoke with was so open, friendly, and eager to learn about me and the United States, and I was greeted personally by Lindsay (each of us were paired with one UEF student for most of the morning). We had our first of multiple language lessons following the opening ceremony where we practiced greetings and closings.
Following our busy morning, we had lunch downtown at Pho Hoa Pasteur – one of the first pho shops ever established in the city. I must say, I was very impressed with my first experience with the food, but the use of chopsticks is still a work in progress.
The city tour allowed us to see many different landmarks and buildings throughout Ho Chi Minh. Although it was not the focus of the tour, the jumbled labyrinth of moving motorbikes that weaved across every city street definitely stood out to me. With no real pattern to the flow, traffic mesmerizingly zoomed through the city; cars, motorbikes, and buses often mere inches from collision. Our visit to the Post Office allowed us to view some traditional Vietnamese souvenir shops and art. An intense afternoon rainstorm dampened the walking portion of the tour, but we still had a great time taking in all the sights from the bus. In terms of development, the abundance of technology – such as video advertisement screens and cell phones – was quite apparent and modern, but the severe pollution in the city is an indicator of the lack of modern, environmentally friendly equipment and processes. Additionally, a few multi-story buildings appeared to be decaying in a half-built state making me wonder why they had not been finished. On a global scale, although the process has been slightly delayed, an international Vietnam-Japan hospital is currently being established downtown to assist locals.
Our Welcome Dinner consisted of riding up and down the Saigon River and feasting upon six different “courses.” None of the customs or food differed from the expectations I established while reading the Culture Smart book. Spring rolls and nuoc mam sauce were served just like the book indicated they often would be. I was surprised however, when entire full shrimp were displayed in front of us before cooking in a hot pot. Overall, the food was all satisfying, and the trip offered great views of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.
I can’t wait to see what adventures the next two weeks will hold!