Culturally Immersed in Vietnam

Singapore – When you live like a local, work with locals, and hang out with locals you can expect to have what I like to call “cultural experiences”. The people of Vietnam were so warm and open – always smiling and laughing and willing to help – that you couldn’t help but be pulled into the country’s and the culture’s embrace. Vietnam will always hold a special place in my heart, not because of the trips I took or the volunteer work I did, but because of the people I met and the cultural experiences and exchanges I had with them. I may not have seen much of Vietnam besides Hanoi, but I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything in the world.

Besides playing football, here are some of those “cultural experiences” that made this such a special place for me:

  • It doesn’t get much more Vietnamese than riding the bus to work in the morning. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, riding the business in Hanoi brings its own set of crazy circumstances and experiences. For instance:
    • One of the funnier moments occurred during our city tour with the local volunteers. I was standing at the front of a crowded bus when the ticket guy leaned against the seat in front of me. He was short enough that when he looked in my direction he was staring directly into my chest. Obviously not expecting to see someone that much larger than him, the guy proceeded to slowly move his gaze up with a look of growing incredulity. As if saying to himself, “Where did this guy come from? He keeps going and going and going.” I realized what was going on and tried to keep a straight face, but everyone on the other side of the bus just started laughing uncontrollably.
    • Always follow the cue of the locals. If they don’t look worried or frazzled there’s nothing to worry about. However, if they start taking pictures of how crowded your bus is, you know you’re not the only who feels like a sardine.
    • Likewise, if the locals are holding on for dear life with both hands and have a scared look in their eyes, you know you’re not the only one thinking this is a crazy bus ride. Especially when the bus driver decides to make up time by:
      • Driving as fast as he can before slamming on the brakes at each stop (while only really slowing down to 5-10 kmh as people jump on and off the bus)
      • Going the wrong way down a boulevard and pulling a u-turn with the ticket guy hanging out the open door waving at oncoming traffic to stop (somehow it worked).
      • Plus, I think I concussed a girl as I got off the bus. She tried to duck under me as the bus was stopping. Unfortunately, it was at the exact time that I took my hand off the overhead bar and was bringing my arm down. The driver slamming on the brakes only added to the downward force of my elbow hitting the girl square in the top of the head. She took a few wobbly steps to the right before correcting and heading left.

  • Rush hour traffic is normally crazy in Hanoi, and it only gets crazier when it rains. However, the morning I saw two way car traffic (with motorbikes thrown in for good measure) start to develop on the sidewalk definitely wins as the craziest traffic jam I saw.
  • Working and being in an office environment in Vietnam was definitely an eye opening experience, especially for someone used to the rat race and pressurized environment that is Corporate America. For instance:
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