I think I speak for most of the group when I say that I felt like royalty today – the opening ceremony put on by the students at UEF was amazing, and a great start to the first day in Vietnam. Seeing all of the UEF students excited when greeting us right from the bus made me enthusiastic for not only the first day, but what is in store for the entire trip. Even though our Vietnamese lesson was difficult, the morning part of the day was truly awesome!
After Vietnamese language classes, we started our city tour of Saigon. First, we ate lunch at a restaurant called Pho24, and although I have had pho before, it has never tasted this good. After lunch, we were off to see Ho Chi Minh City. Our tour guide explained that we were making our way to the Central Post Office, and on the way, pointed out various buildings and monuments. Along the way, I noticed many top brands from all across the world, like Gucci, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. When we got to the post office, I was very surprised to see the beautiful inside and preserved detailing, as the structure was clearly built many years ago but still maintained its original state. As such, I discovered something interesting about Ho Chi Minh City, in that even though there are signs of globalization through multiple popular brand-name stores, the city still has historical elements like the Central Post Office that have been preserved over many years. This is interesting because Vietnam has a very complex and fascinating history, and while their country is globalizing and developing, there is still a strong connection to their cultural background that they seek to maintain. The multiple name-brand stores are both a sign of globalization and development. While it can be described through a globalization lens in that Vietnam is becoming more connected and involved with other countries in various industries, it can also be a sign of economic development, as lower unemployment rates and better incomes allow people to buy more expensive items from international stores, and increase the quality of living.
After our tour of Ho Chi Minh City, we had a quick break to walk around, rest, and become familiar with the area. I walked with a few others to find a grocery store and a pharmacy. At around 5:00 pm, a tailor came to take our measurements for traditional clothing as well as tailored suits. Once this was over, we got back on the bus for the Welcome Dinner.
The Welcome Dinner was definitely something to remember. We were driven to a boat on the Saigon river, where we ate dinner and listened to live music and performances. Although I knew that many restaurants in Vietnam were family style, I have never experienced this style of eating before, so it was fun to try something different. The rice was served at the end of the meal, like our Culture Smart book said, and I really enjoyed the different courses that we received. Additionally, all of the musical and dance performances while eating were amazing. One of the musicians played and entire song only using a leaf, and somehow was able to change the pitches and tones to play beautifully. The various traditional instruments were also amazing to not only see but hear them being played, and I am amazed at how skilled the musicians were. Through these performances and their typical family-style meals, the Welcome Dinner was a great introduction to some aspects of Vietnamese culture.
Overall, today was a great day filled with new friends made at UEF, an exploration of Ho Chi Minh City, and a delicious dinner on the Saigon river. I cannot wait for new experiences to unfold on this trip, and I am already in love with Vietnam.