Vietnam. For a 20-something American the name signifies a war more than a place. I have seen the movies, but have little understanding of the place and conflict. I know we went due to the Domino Theory, but I never grasped how a theory became a war. I know we fought and lost.
I headed off to Vietnam without doing any research. It was only recently that I had learned where Vietnam was on a map. I heard Vietnam was a fast developing country with factories producing for the West. It sounded like many places I had gone, but on arrival it gave me some shock and awe.
When I arrived from Singapore I was surprised by how large, clean and new the airport was. It could have been in any developed country and was nicer than most American airports. The change was especially stark coming from Singapore’s Budget Terminal which was like the sanatorium in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The only airport hassle was picking up my Vietnam Visa on Arrival from a bureaucratic regime that was holding up 30+ people. Luckily, my visa processed fastest of anyone on my plane and faster than most on a plane that had arrived earlier. After gathering myself and belongings, I exited the airport expecting a crush of touts, taxi services and unsavory individuals that hound tourists in many airports. As I exited I was surprised by the calm and order.
Outside I met a Finnish man who was being hassled by a taxi tout, in hushed tones only good English speakers could comprehend we surmised that we were heading to the same area. I told him I wanted to take the bus and he agreed. The taxi tout told us the last bus had left as service ceased at 6pm. It was 5:55pm. We haggled to an agreeable price and the tout told us to wait in the parking lot. Realizing he may not be allowed to fetch passengers at the door, we obliged and waited. Minutes passed and the tout was nowhere to be seen. Then the bus arrived. With no taxi in sight we boarded the bus which was 94% cheaper than the taxi would have been.
As we barreled through rush hour traffic it became clear that our driver used the bus’s size to his advantage. He stopped for nobody, neither motorcycles nor pedestrians. At least two pedestrians were pushed along the front of his bus and gave the international sign of driving disapproval. Motorbikes would swarm like gnats, but this bus was on a mission. The Finnish man said he had seen some aggressive driving in SE Asia, but this was the most impressive. I responded “we’re on his last route, I bet he just wants to get home.”
When not evaluating what we may or may not crush through the front windshield, I took in sights of the city. It is a massive city, reaching high as it does wide. Skyscrapers are under construction everywhere. No piece of land is too small, there are 10-20 story buildings on footprints as small as 20×30 ft. The height to width ratio is comical in many instances.
There is activity everywhere. On the bus and after I had checked into my hostel I was inundated with sound, activity, and lights. It reminds me of Singapore when I was a small child, but more likely Singapore of the 1970s. The wealthy own cars, but not just any cars, there are many newer Rolls Royces, Bentleys, and Mercedes. As I wandered the city on my first night awaiting the arrival of LOCAVORista I was enthralled. There was a permagrin on my face and I knew this was the type of place I could not only visit, but live. I love the action, the excitement, the growth and change.
The best lessons in life are hands on and Vietnam shall be the current curriculum.