Not sure how accurate some of these really are, but here is a list of observations from my week in southern Vietnam (including some highly unlikely theories behind them):
- Paper tissue is a prized commodity here. Never leave home without it. The higher value-added wet tissue is readily available everywhere, but for some reason not its simpler, cheaper cousin (or at least I assume it would be simpler and cheaper). Of course the paper tissue requires the destruction of trees, whereas the wet one seems to be made of some synthetic crap, so the two probably have entirely different cost structures. Speaking of wet tissues, in restaurants they bring them before the meal, as opposed to afterwards, which I thought was a bit weird. If anything, they should bring them both before AND after the meal, as people tend to use their hands a lot while eating. I guess the reason why they serve it before the meals is so that the diner would feel their hands are clean before they start to eat, in the absence of soap – and sometimes running water – in many of the region’s bathrooms. However, it does not look like any of those tissues are antibacterial, so your best bet would probably be to carry a hand sanitizer with you as well, especially if you are a germaphobe like me.
- Vietnam has some of the least welcoming public bathrooms I have ever seen. Almost all bathrooms lack all or a combination of the following: running water, soap, toilet seat (not that you would want to sit on it even when there was one), flush, paper tissues (again), a lock on the door. Still, the bathrooms are not nearly as stinky as you would expect given the above. In fact sometimes they do not smell at all. Is it possible that the people there have evolved to produce odorless excrement? Well, probably not, so my next best guess would be that they must always pour water down the toilet when they are done with their business (often via the plastic cup floating on the bucket of water next to the sink). Maybe the flush itself doesn’t always exist, but flushing seems to be in the culture (can’t say that about every place I have visited), which is great.
- Vietnamese people get up super early. Even as early as 5 am, you will see a lot of traffic on the roads. I think this has to do with the fact that a lot of people keep live poultry in their house. What is the connection, you might ask? Well, poultry does entail roosters as well as chickens, and we all know what a rooster likes to do best before the crack of dawn. Try hearing a loud cock-a-doodle-doo a few feet away from your ear and going back to sleep. And these animals like to repeat themselves like 15-20 times, in case anyone is still sleeping. My tablet has a “rooster” alarm, which I had set up for 7:00 am once because we had a tour to catch the next morning. Ironically, the actual rooster from the house next door to our hotel was louder and “went off” much earlier, so we were up way before my poor tablet was trying to sound its weak alarm to wake us up.
- Vietnamese people are exercise freaks. I don’t know where they get their energy from, but it is sick how so many people are able to get up before dawn and start their tai chi or running routines with the first rays of sunlight. And this exercise routine is not just early in the morning, but at nighttime too. Can they please tell me their secret?
- The famous Vietnamese noodle soup known as “pho” is a bitch to pronounce. It’s not pronounced “fo” or “po” (cringe), but more like “pheu-uh,” in two distinct syllables and with an especially dramatic emphasis on the latter. Of course there is no way one would know this unless they have been to Vietnam and received blank stares from waiters and waitresses on repeated occasions when they ordered a “fo.” We couldn’t take it anymore and asked our tour guide to pronounce it, and were utterly surprised by the result. Speaking of pho, not every large noodle soup with meats and herbs is one. This is only the name of the type of noodle and there are many other similar-looking soups with different names, due to the type of noodle used.
Well, that’s it for now folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed my first entry. I’ll try to post here often – keep yourselves tuned in.