Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Vietnam Day 2 - Part 2: Lessons

After our afternoon nap, Matt and I met up with Danny, Matt Corliss and Oli for dinner.  We met in the big downtown square and walked around the busy streets until we found an restaurant that spilled out onto the sidewalk.  We morphed a table of four into a table of five and ordered up some Saigon beers.

Posing at the restaurant on the sidewalk.
Lesson 1: If you're going to drink something off the street, choose something carbonated.  Often, vendors will refill water bottles with tap water, then reseal them to resell and make more money.  If you drink that water, you will be very sick.

We looked over the menu and decided to get a little adventurous.  We ordered up garlic fried rice, steamed vegetables, minced snake and some sort of beef dish.  The snake was pretty darn tasty.  It was kind of like a sausage with a fragrant flavor to it.  Not sweet like sugar, but fragrantly sweet like jasmine tea.  We finished up dinner and paid our bill which came to about 650,000 dongs.

Corliss orders our snake with a
sophisticated, raised brow.
Lesson 2: We're millionaires! It's hard to get used to so many zeroes, but with the exchange rate of about 20,000 dongs to a single US dollar, that's the equivalent of about $32 for five people to have dinner and seven beers.  Not too shabby.

The snake is on the top right.

After finishing up, we decided to wander the streets and hunt down a location for Danny to do a couple time lapses in the streets.  Since it's the new year, everything is decorated with lights, and the square is packed with tourists and locals wandering around and taking photos and enjoying awesome street food.

Lesson 3: White girl equals photo opportunity in Asia.

I am an uncommon spectacle.  I'm tall, I'm blond and I'm pale.  We can't go anywhere without people wanting to take a photo with me.  It's a tad embarrassing, but also a little flattering.  Most of the photos are me clutching my money, thinking these people are going to flatter me enough to pick my pockets while I'm posing for the picture.  So far - not the case.

Danny set up his motion control time lapse rig in the center of the action, and we got a lot of attention from onlookers.  At first, they thought that we might be setting up some sort of performance as all of the stands and black tubes came out, but then, once they saw the camera, many posed in front of it thinking that they were what we were wanting to capture.

Lesson 4: Vietnamese people are pretty darn nice.  For the most part, they keep to themselves, but if you smile, they smile back.  If you joke with them, they joke back.  If you stumble, and they see you, they look concerned, but if you laugh, they laugh with you.

I feel safe here.  It's not like Shanghai where I felt like my smile was going to be slapped off my face, and it's not like in Japan, where people stare at us making it obvious that they know we're foreigners.  There were a lot of families around for the new year's celebrations, and I never felt threatened or afraid.

Speaking of fear...

Lesson 5: You should probably have a healthy amount of fear for the traffic.

You are not safe from motorized vehicles anywhere.  The mopeds and motorcycles will drive up on the sidewalks to cut a corner or go down the wrong way.  Matt described it best: "it's a chaotic system that shouldn't work, but it does."  It's smooth, people just predict where the person in front of them will be, and they act accordingly.  There's never a clear way.  If you'd like to turn left, you just turn left.  The motorcycles will go around you and the larger vehicles will brake or accelerate to beat you.  You just keep steady and predictable and all will turn out fine.

Yes...that's the director of Disney World park designs.
Yes, my friends.  Keep the healthy fear.

At one point during a time lapse, Danny was approached by a man interested in the camera rig.  Danny talked with him for a little bit only to find out that he's the head of park design for Disney World.  He's been working with them since 1977, and he designed Paris, Hong Kong and is now finishing up Shanghai to be opened shortly.  He even showed us his Disney ring!  Awesome!!  Nice guy, too.  He's here in Vietnam working on his tan, he said.

Lesson 6: Tourists like tourists.

People feel safe when they see someone who looks like them.  We got talked to by many Westerners who were just interested in talking with another Westerner.  It's fun to relate stories about things that surprised us, and people are so friendly.  All it takes is a returned smile, and let the conversation begin!

At about 10:30pm, the entire block basically shut down.  The lights on the buildings and on the decorations all shut off within minutes of one another.  The road that was blocked off for the pedestrians was - without warning - opened up to the motorcycles and taxis, and we were left in the middle of the road with a motion capture rig.

We decided we should probably head back to the ship, when we realized that the celebration wasn't just over for tonight, but that it was coming down completely.  We're talking at least a 10x10 section of city blocks that were decorated with flowers and lights being swarmed by crews and crews of people that began tearing it all down.  Not like delicately taking apart the 15 foot displays, but knocking them over into pulled up dumpsters and tearing down string lights.  Our way back to the ship was along the entire street that was decorated, and we were blown away by how quickly things were being taken apart.  They are pretty serious about closing time.  The year of the snake has begun.

We made it back to the ship, tired and sweaty, but with full bellies and fun memories.  Matt and I have tuckled into our bunk beds, ready to face another day in Ho Chi Minh City.

Good night, Vietnam.  So far, you've tugged on my little heart strings, and I'm loving you - quirks and all.