Culture Shock.

When arriving in Vietnam for the first time, a person can feel overwhelmed by the drastic change from whence you came. If you are from any place like me, you are used to a relatively quiet atmosphere and calm logical streets. In Vietnam this is not the case. Someone in Saigon some time ago compared Vietnam to a jigsaw puzzle freshly purchased from a store. Open the box and pour the contents on the floor and there is what you see. Of course, the more time you spent matching the pieces, the clearer it will become, but in the beginning, it is a giant mess and no logical picture. That analogy is fairly accurate. Here is a walkthrough of what you might expect when arriving in Saigon’s international airport for the first time. I will not describe the customs clearance or any other flight related information.

When you exit the main doors you will be blanketed in heat. The air will most likely be breezeless and sweat will soak your shirt in minutes. On the other side of a railing will be hundreds, perhaps thousands of people all waiting for a returning loved one. Dragging your bags through the crowd of people it not to difficult and on the other side of the pulsing mob are young girls and women all selling ice cold bottles of water. Some of them try to get your attention by pressing that cold bottle into very sensitive areas of the skin. Brrrrrr. IF you do not have people waiting for you, there will be no end to the taxi’s offering their services. Off in the distance you will hear the constant roaring of thousands of motorcycles, but they are too far to catch your attention. The taxi drivers may be a bit hard to deal with. Many of them not wanting to use the meter, and giving you a set price that is above what the metered rate would be. Sometimes they will try to charge per person trying to double the profit. Using the meter is usually the safest bet with the reputable cab companies. A person can opt to take a local bus that stops in front of the domestic terminal however, as you leave the airport your ears will be assailed but the noise and your senses by the confusion. Vehicles are everywhere and the honking of the horns is endless. Exhaust fumes are choking and there seems to be no logic to the traffic patterns. People are driving on the wrong side of the road and pedestrians ire right in the thick of it. “What Chaos” you will think to yourself. The constant honking is not because people are angry, but a bat like sounding system that lets people know where they are in relation to others. There are rules and reason behind all the chaos, but it takes time to discern. Another sight that will shock the non initiated is that of the litter. There have never been any education campaigns that I know of and litter is not an uncommon sight. As a matter of fact, refuse is put into plastic bags or swept into piles along the curbs for collectors to sweep up later in the day. Small plastic bags that contained sugar cane juice can be seen everywhere and not being biodegradable, end up in sewers, trees, and almost anywhere you look. When you arrive in District 1 where most tourists go, you will have to walk on and off the sidewalks because of the vehicles that park wherever there is room. People will be sitting on the sidewalks offering all kind of services from the most common, to some that you will never figure out. The noise and confusion bedazzles many people but do not be discouraged. You have come to Vietnam because it is your holiday and you want to experience something different than at home. Take it all in and try to put the first piece in place. Once it fits, move on to the second. This is a very enjoyable place to visit but the culture shock one feels can be extreme. Have fun with it. See if you can put all the pieces together and make sense of it all. I have been coming here for a long time and the picture is almost complete. Sometimes a piece will not fit correctly and I will go on a quest to figure out why. Sometimes it is easy to figure out….. But other times not. I always have questions that have elusive answers such as what was within the walls of Old NhaTrang…. Or who? Why are all of the boats red white and blue? Why do all women and girls display a peace or Victory symbol when posing for photos? Ahhhh the mysteries.

Tomorrow is another power off day and I may not be able to get online at all. My new generator is on the fritz again and after a lot of arguing and brow beating, the company that sold it has said they would give it a complete go over. They started this evening but have not yet finished. They said tomorrow…… where have I heard that before? Tomorrow Carl and I are off to get our nails done. A new adventure……..

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Tour designer and Guide specializing in off the beaten track tours of Vietnam

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