People, Ho Chi Minh City
The custom of handshaking, formerly considered barbaric to the Vietnamese, is now achieving popularity due to the Western influence in the country. Men will generally shake hands and say the equivalent of "how are you" and tip their hats when greeting people.
Women, especially those in the countryside, still shy away from shaking hands, especially with men from their own country. It is best not to offer to shake hands with a woman unless she offers her hand first.
Walking along Vo Van Tan St, I chanced upon two separate drink stalls. The locals seem to enjoy the "Al Fresco" way of having breakfast. I chose not to participate in their breakfast ritual as I could barely speak a sentence of Vietnamese and would have caught some glancing eyes.
No, this is not riesling, or shiraz, but your medicinal wine that is suppose to help those with rheumatism.
Locked in the bottle was a cobra and coiled around it, grass snakes, you'll need to take the wine twice a day. Other known useful herbs included in the bottle are ginseng and little red seeds.
So did I try it... Are you crazy???
We have been warned not to eat food along the roadside unless you have a stomach of steel. I heeded that advice but was still tempted to try some of the carrot cake that the lady was preparing.
I stood there for about 15 minutes (Not to salivate over the carrot cake, but for my wife to finish her shopping) and actually saw two ladies eating at the "stall".
I'd still wouldn't try especially when she was cooking just at the side of the motorcycle-filled road. But if you're in HCMC for the long haul and don't mind trying out some roadside food, do tell me how it taste. Can't sleep well without knowing the truth!
From my own observations, the folks in Vietnam are very warm and are not restrained by the normal uptight Asian ways of expression, and if they like you, they will touch you (in appropriate places of course, such as on the shoulder and the arms) as a form of affection (which probably explains why so many guys fall for Vietnamese ladies but that's a different story). However, gentlemen, please do not let these signs mislead you unnecessarily, just in case you get a slap across your face for trying to get fresh!
This is something that would go un-noticed by the locals and possibly many asians in general, but to anyone european, it is something totally unusual.
Many of the women over there wear above elbow length gloves when riding a bike (motorised or push). The come in many hues, but all long virtually covering the upper arm totally.
For most europeans this is something you would only see on the society ballroom floor of yesteryear, but I guess its something to do with protection from the sun.
It is just something that caught my eye in a big way.
A lasting impression for any visitor to Vietnam is the beauty of the women dressed in their ao dais. Girls dressed in white pick their way through muddy streets going home from school or sail by in a graceful chatter on their bikes.
Pronounced 'ao yai' in the south, but 'ao zai' in the north, the color is indicative of the wearer's age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully lined outfits symbolizing their purity. As they grow older but are still unmarried they move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear gowns in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants.
Before I reached Vietnam I was terrified by the reaction I may receive from the people who live there being half Vietnamese and half American. But let me tell you if you are half Asian you have nothing to worry about. I was crazy to be scared. What I came to discover as I traveled throughout Asia (including Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam) that many of the actresses and singers are half Asian just like me. If you are half Asian and shy you will find that sometimes it can be uncomfortable walking down the street because many of the people stare at you because of your looks. I don't know how many times I was asked when I was in Asia if I was half Asian and told how beautiful that is. When I was in Asia, I even called my younger brother who is 6 feet tall but half Asian like me and told him, heck if college doesn't work out, he could always come to Vietnam and be a soap opera star.
In Asia, which is much different than most of the rest of the world, women want their skin to remain as fair as possible. The whiter your skin means that you have a higher place in life and usually means you are not a farmer or laborer having to be in the hot sun all the time. You will see women and girls when they are out on the streets in Saigon with long gloves on that cover their entire arm and fabric masks that cover the majority of their face except their eyes in order to protect their skin from the sun, no matter how hot it may be outside. Literally these girls look like ninjas.
It might seem like a simple enough task, but, until you get there, you have no idea how tricky this can be! Luckily I met some people who'd already been to Saigon before I arrived and they filled me in on how to do it. If it weren't for them I may just have found myself stuck on the same block during the whole of my stay! Unlike anywhere else I've been, there's no point in waiting for a gap in the traffic, this never happens! And the green lights on the pedestrian crossings are a bit of a waste of time too. Basically, the trick is to just go! Stick you're head down and walk slowly and steadily accross the road and the millions of motorbikes that fill the streets of Saigon will just go around you - kind of like water flowing around a rock in a river. The first couple of times you do it are incredibly scary, but you get used to it pretty quickly! If in doubt then just find a local and shadow them! Good Luck!
This is the new Vietnam, acculturation into the consumerist culture.. I was taken to the Diamond Shopping centre as part of the sightseeing of Saigon and I was absolutely nauseated. This is the new Viet Culture.. and the friends who took me there all had not seen a doctor or a dentist for years and it was obvious in their teeth and their eating habits and body habitus. What sort of development is this?
Most of he Viet.. young, trained at universities are eager to go to foreign countries ( I love to visit Disneyland! said One of her visit to Paris). While they save money to buy the futile symbols of westernization, they cant afford to see a doctor. so they wait till it is very late for medical attention. I saw a few younger ones in their twenties with extremely bad teeth and poor personal concepts of health.
After Cuba, this is a poor example of Public Health
As you are leaving Saigon, you pass through a suburb built specially for wealthy foreigners. Mainly Koreans and Japanese with full service hospital and Korean, Japanese and French schools . well manicured streets.
This french school in vietnam teaches nothing about VN culture! Viet/Mixed race children who go to school here grow up liek those viet/native children sent up to colonial schoools of the french and the british who thought the native culture and the native people as inferior
Watch out! The locals, especially the guys, just "do it" anywhere, anyplace. Be prepared to see the sights of guys facing walls and hedges, doing the deed. I had seen one guy doing his deed next to a traffic pole at a busy traffic junction in HCMC, oblivious to the passing human traffic.
Take some time to atleast learn some basic phrases in Vietnamese. It helps with bargaining and the locals are usually impressed you took time to do it. Even if you murder the pronounciation, they will help you out.
The next time when you're calling for the restaurant check in VN, write on an invisible piece of paper on your palm . Of course, make eye contact with a waiter when you do so or people will just think you're plain out of your mind. This really beats having to say something in unintelligible Vietnamese and getting more than just a check...
The same custom holds for Singapore. It doesn't seem to work for Korea and Japan though, I tried it and it cast serious doubts on my IQ level.