Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good-bye Vietnam

It was our last day in Vietnam, and we decided to grab any final b-roll around the city that we had missed.  We went to the Ben Thanh marketplace again and spent some time in the raw meat section.  We met a cute couple who live in California that are originally from Vietnam.  They’ve lived in California for 30 years now, but come back each year for Tet to visit their family.  The little man was picking out live shrimp for lunch.  He told me that you pick out your meat and then head inside the market to the food vendors who cook it up for you, and you can take it home and eat it in your hotel.  Brilliant!  We didn’t try it, but it sounded nice.

Matt was filming in the market and getting attacked by little crawfish jumping out of their buckets at him.  Matt made friends with one vendor by returning the shrimp to the bucket unharmed.

We were pretty exhausted and a little bit Ho Chi Minh’ed out, so we found a Pho place for lunch, then headed to our favorite coffee shop with shady, rooftop seating overlooking the Cathedral and post office in the middle of town and got ourselves some afternoon beers.

It was about time to wrap up and get back on the ship, so we walked back to the bus and loaded ourselves onto the ship for a special event on the back deck: a barbecue!  We had ribs and coleslaw and macaroni and cheese!  It was amazing!!  Such a fun moment to sit in the humid heat of Vietnam enjoying a barbecue rib and great company.

We talked about our adventures and our thoughts on Asia, then had a meeting to pitch the stories we filmed for the Vietnam episode.  Matt and I pitched Pedro’s story pretty well, so you just might get to experience that day via video.

One interesting thing about Vietnam is that fact that there is Wifi virtually everywhere.  If you go into a restaurant or food-selling establishment (aka open garage on the side of a tall building), you might have to ask for a password, but you can get it anywhere and everywhere.  Sometimes the cab drivers even have their own little network right in the cab.

I was picturing a very rural place with many rice-paddies and minimal buildings, but instead I found a city with the usual extremes that come with any large city – wealth and poverty.  There were rugged torn down buildings that didn’t look like they’d stand much longer next to brand new, glass skyscrapers with gold-plated steps.  Street vendors were selling ice-cream on the steps of the Gucci purse store, and at the market a woman was cleaning her apron on a sopping wet floor with a bucket and some powdered soap beneath dangling cuts of raw, room-temperature meat beside a Rolex watch seller.  (Probably knock-off…but still an interesting dichotomy.)

Every country we have been to has caught me off-guard.  What I was expecting and picturing because of the imagery associated with them in the states has more often than not been completely wrong.  Technology has connected our world, and the motorcycle taxis play Angry Birds on their smart phones during their lunches.  People are people.  They’re clever and manipulating, but they’re also interesting and funny and welcoming in every single place we’ve been to.

It’s a lot safer than people make it out to be, too.  Of course, you need to be aware of your belongings and your surroundings and avoid getting into cars with strangers, but the world is not out to get you.  You’re often targeted by street vendors since you look like a rich tourist, but for the most part, it’s just like anywhere else in the world.  People are people.

The other huge learning is how different the countries’ cultures are in Asia.  Even within a country, like China, Shanghai and Hong Kong were night and day.  My learnings as an American had me lumping them all into “Eastern” compared to our “Western-ness.”  What a shallow world-view I had (and still have as my stereo-types continue to be broken.)

It’s been two days on the ship, and time has flown by since I’m working on the Shanghai episode about Tendekayi’s visit to Solar Ear, and we’re arriving in Singapore tomorrow morning.  Our pre-port got us good and scared because they will cane you for spitting, and if you’re caught using, buying, or even having traces in your blood of illegal drugs, you can be sentenced to death via hanging.  I don’t think I’ll be pushing my luck with the authorities tomorrow.  I’ll just stick to the Chili crab.

Side note: with all of these extreme punishments for chewing gum, jaywalking or drug use, prostitution is still legal in Singapore.  Priorities, I guess.