5 key things I have learnt from Saigon:
1 Obey the Hand!
So I think it’s fair to say that the traffic out here is a little bit mental, case in point:
I’d go as far to say that traffic lights are more for decoration than traffic control, as demonstrated by an old, popular Vietnamese joke:
‘A police officer pulls over a man who has just skipped a red light. He asks the driver “Didn’t you see the red light?” The driver responds “Of course I did, I just didn’t see you”.’
It is hard to believe, but the moment you immerse yourself in the chaos, on a bike of your own, it does become a much less daunting place. Against all logic and reason, the flow of traffic just seems to work and you get from A to B much quicker than you would anywhere in the UK. This is, of course, under the proviso that you adopt one rule whilst driving; The ‘Obey the Hand’ Rule. Indicators are null and void in HCMC; they are used but rarely acknowledged. Instead, the use of your hand as a flappy wing-type device tells those around you where you intend to go. This gives you such a great feeling of power, I mean, in what world does a hand have more power than a traffic light or indicator? Incredible.
2 I am a Goddess
I’ve always appreciated the female form and been a strong supporter of women’s empowerment but, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never felt as confident in my own body as I do out here. I guess this has developed after 18 months of people just casually staring at my breasts, AT EVERY AVAILABLE MOMENT. Turns out, my two little mates are mini goddesses out here; they have been groped and ogled at more times than I care to remember. And before you jump to any unsavoury conclusions, it has been predominantly local women who have been the perpetrators. It is a strange and unique experience to have a local woman greet you and her eyes immediately drop to your chest, it is much more satisfying than a builder’s wolf whistle I can tell you. It also kind of makes me wish my high school bullies were here just to witness how wrong they really were…
3 The male form is to be appreciated too
There is a new generation of young adults that’s emerging in Vietnam, heavily influenced by both Hollywood and the Korean pop scene. As a result there are millions of twenty-something men walking around the city like they are part of a 90s boy band. And for me, this is quite possibly heaven on earth. I am constantly surrounded by Asian versions of 90s Justin Timberlakes and Nick Carters. Truly living the dream. You know you’re jealous really.
4 My digestive system is made of stone
The food out here is great, I mean it really is. It’s cheap, it’s tasty and it’s pretty damn healthy. Until, that is, you get served a dodgy prawn at a market that ties you to a toilet for 16 DAYS SOLID. Or, you walk past a rotisserie with a roasted dog skewered on it. Not to mention the constant stench of vomit that is diffused by the ‘delicious’ Durian fruit. All that aside, I have been introduced to some Vietnamese delights. Cơm tấm has rapidly become my new favourite lunch, a simple concoction of a pork chop, rice and a sweet chilli sauce (I have to tell myself it’s sweet chilli because if I acknowledge the truth that it’s actually ‘Fish Sauce’, I’d never eat it again). I’ve also been introduced to some fruit and vegetables that have literally changed my life forever; Star Fruit (a fantastic cocktail addition), Okra (BBQ’d is just divine) and Zucchini Flower (boiled with just a dash of salt, could happily eat it on toast to be honest). It really is a strange place for food – I still can’t get my head around to eating noodle soup for breakfast or even eating the head AND shell of a prawn, but I guess it’s all part of the fun!
5 Confidence is key
Shopping in Vietnam is ruled by bartering. In the first few months of living here, I hated it. I really despised walking into a shop or market and having people pounce on me, pushing and pulling me around like I was a piece of meat. This really quite depressed me because I love a good ol’ shop (the teenage puppy-fat ridden me hated the notion, but I like to think I’ve matured since). Although now, after learning a few stock Vietnamese phrases, shopping has actually become quite banterful. Shouting ‘mắc quá’ (too expensive) at them blows their mind and the minute you are established as an expat (still don’t really like that somewhat pretentious label) and not a tourist, they actually show a bit of an interest in your life (whilst staring unwaveringly at your chest, naturally).