Day 1: 5.6.19
Now that the 30+ hours of plane rides and airport layovers are finally behind us, it was exciting to start exploring Ho Chi Minh. On our city tour, I immediately noticed the unique blend of cultures conveyed by the architecture. Directly across the street from the Central Post Office, which was filled with booths of beautiful souvenirs, was the Notre Dame Cathedral, both prime examples of French colonial influence.
Those paled in comparison to the most prominent building I saw while on the tour: an old apartment building that had been converted into a collection of cafes and shops, with each balcony displaying a sign enticing visitors to come in from the street. I had never seen anything like it, and it’s an intriguing example of how Vietnam rebuilt after the war. They took this building that used to house military personnel and turned it into a place where local businesses thrive.
Another sign of development became apparent when we walked down the city streets. There were several high ends shops, including stores such as Versace and Gucci, which made it clear that we were in a developed shopping strip. However, the interesting part was the way that street vendors had set up shop on the sidewalks right in front of these stores, offering their range of more affordable trinkets, a stark contrast against the windows showcasing thousand dollar goods.
Going into the Welcome Dinner, I expected that the food would be served family style, but what surprised me was how everyone would use their own utensils to serve themselves, compared to having separate serving spoons for each dish. Rather than making people uncomfortable at the thought of being potentially unsanitary, I found that this style gave the meal a pleasant sense of community. This made more sense once I remembered that chopsticks, when used properly, don’t touch the mouth, leaving no reason for extra serving spoons.
Usually I can be somewhat of a picky eater, but all of the food was incredible. One of the appetizers appeared to be mini corn dogs on a stick but upon further investigation, I discovered that they were shrimp on sugarcane stalks, and they were a hundred times more delicious.
All in all, a lot of what I observed today matched what I had learned from the Culture Smart book. A minor difference I picked up on was that the Vietnamese spring rolls weren’t thinner or more delicate than Chinese spring rolls, like Culture Smart had suggested they would be. Instead, they were thick and short, but nonetheless tasted amazing and my table had no problems finishing that plate!
P.S. We met our Vietnamese friends from UEF, University of Economics and Finance, and they are all lovely, I can’t wait to spend more time with them!