I cannot think of a better first day to have in Vietnam. After a delicious breakfast of pho, I was out the door to UEF, the local Vietnamese business university. Saying that the Vietnamese students are friendly would be the understatement of the century. After getting off of the bus, I was given a flower lei from my UEF student partner and new friend, Albert. There was a boisterous welcome ceremony with music, games, and dancing. And even though my dancing wasn’t good, I certainly did have a lot of fun. After that, there were Vietnamese language lessons which I thought I nailed, but I’m sure that any native speaker listening to me would disagree. The second half of the day consisted of a bus/walking city tour and a lunch of the best pho that I have ever had in my entire eighteen years of existence. That’s right, I had pho twice in one day, and it was even better the second time. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to get fitted for traditional Vietnamese dress wear and tailored suits. Then it was off to dinner on a boat with a beautiful view of the city. The fantastic food paired with the scenery was something straight out of a movie, it looked so perfect. It was a very amazing day that I was lucky to share with great company.
Right off of the bat, the most significant, noticeable difference between any American city and Ho Chi Minh City is the number of motorbikes. The two words that I would use to describe the roads would be ‘controlled chaos.’ One half of me enjoyed the bustling crowds and exciting city lifestyle, while the other side feared to step out onto the street. During our city tour, another interesting aspect of the city is its distinct architecture, which can vary from French colonial to very modern, sleek buildings.
One of the city’s biggest development strides hasn’t been built yet, but coming in 2022, Ho Chi Minh City will have a fully operational subway system. The project is a partnership between Vietnam and Japan. The subway system should help to streamline traffic and help reduce motorbike pollution. The architecture in the city is a mix of traditional Vietnamese alongside influences from other countries. The subway and architecture both exemplify global influence. Additionally, most storefronts have English and Vietnamese names, and many younger citizens are fluent in English.
The welcome dinner was just the cherry on top of an already amazing first day in Vietnam. To set the scene, it was on an old, elegant boat with a fancy dining hall, cruising down the river with the illuminated city in the background. The food was amazing, and I learned that there is no such thing as too much fried sticky rice. One of the musicians was playing an instrument (some kind of xylophone) that looked like a vertical spine of a dinosaur. Towards the end of the evening, I was out on one of the ship’s balconies with some other students, and we all agreed that it was like a quirky, beautiful scene out of a Wes Anderson movie.
The Culture Smart Vietnam book is a nifty little book that all of the Plus3 students used to prepare for this trip. And so far, the book has been pretty spot on; however, I disagree with what the book had to say about the amount of smiling Vietnamese people do. The book stated that Vietnamese people only smile to convey embarrassment; however, the second that I walked off of the bus at UEF, I was greeted by a sea of smiling faces. I have never met a more excited and friendly group of people in my entire life! My whole morning at UEF was spent smiling and laughing with the other Vietnamese students as I seriously struggled through my language lessons. The students are what made my first day in Vietnam so memorable, and I can’t wait for tomorrow!