No Apologies: My Vietnam Bias

I knew going in to Vietnam that I was going to fall in love, I just didn’t know how much.

For starters, it’s already unfair to any of the other countries that we had or would visit because Teresa is fluent in Vietnamese; she understands it, she speaks it, she writes it. How much more set can you be in a foreign country than to have your own translator who also happens to be your gorgeous partner? Xoxoxo for you baby!

Anyhow, in addition to Teresa being fluent in the language, it was also much easier for me to identify words and phrases written on shop signs, billboards, street signs, and so forth because of the alphabet. In Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, each respective written language uses a set of curvy, winding symbols that are next to impossible for a first-timer to decipher when they’re used to a Latin alphabet. Vietnam used to use symbols fairly similar (in my mind, at least) to Chinese characters. And I say Chinese, rather than Mandarin or Cantonese, because from what I understand, each is written the same, just pronounced differently.

The Vietnamese language as it’s written today was heavily influenced by its French colonizers. That’s why they use words like “café” for coffee and “bít tết” for beef steak. Of course, there are a series of accents and combinations of accents that go over or under certain letters which is where I have extreme difficulty in pronouncing them (unless I have a few Tiger beers in me which somehow loosens up my stiff, rigidly thought out speech). There is no J or Z in the Vietnamese alphabet. If the letter D doesn’t have a line through it (Đ) then it is pronounced as though it’s the letter Y.

What I’m getting at is that even without Teresa, it would have been an easier language to decipher on paper compared to those that I had experienced so far throughout my travels. Being able to fully communicate with the locals, and to understand every nuance of what they were saying, made a world of difference in our experience. It opened up more doors and presented us with many more opportunities. It was surreal when we first crossed the border from Cambodia and had begun to see recognizable characters. I certainly didn’t know what they all meant or how to pronounce everything, but I could at least begin to mouth some of the words and phrases.

But let’s talk about this border crossing. Like all the others, it was a fairly simple process, but certainly not the same casual feel we’d experienced up until now. Getting into Laos and Cambodia, we never even had to enter any building or facility, it was all done out in the sunshine. When we got to Vietnam, everyone on the overnighter had to get off the bus and bring our belongings into a small government building, not unlike any government office I was used to in Canada, except everyone here had a gun. Even the style of the building was sharp and militaristic, and the mood was much more serious, like you didn’t want to talk too loudly because you were afraid you’d get yelled at. All of the employees had very serious looks on their faces; there was no fucking around here.

In the end, though, we got through with no hitches, and as we returned to our bus and continued on our easterly route, we were only a couple of hours out from Saigon.

Officially, Saigon is now called Ho Chi Minh City since it was reclaimed by the Northern Vietnamese Army, the Vietcong, in 1975. Depending on who you ask, some refer to it as one, some the other. I prefer Saigon, but not for political reasons or anything like that. I just think it sounds better so that’s what I end up sticking to.

I fell in love with this country from the outset, before we even got in to its populous southern metropolitan region. I knew it would happen even before I arrived, and it was definitely one of the countries that I was most looking forward to visiting even before we set out to Asia. It didn’t take long to settle in to a guesthouse downtown and begin the hunt for the first bit of Vietnamese cuisine we’d enjoy for the next month (we utilized every last day of our visas). I got a vermicelli dish with spring rolls and lobster meat for less than the equivalent of $2. I also had the first of dozens of bowls of pho later in the evening, an everyday enjoyment from south to north, the variations of each region almost always contrasting with the last. So much more to talk about, so happy to reminisce of…stay tuned for more!

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6 thoughts on “No Apologies: My Vietnam Bias

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