Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I'm alive in Vietnam

Although I've been here less than a day, I'm already missing some of the "familiar" sights of Korea, believe it or not.

My experience here began with getting off the plane. my senses were assaulted by a variety of smells, ever-shifting, ever-changing and always interesting.

After that bit of not-so-shocking sensory overload, i headed over to the visa office. I chose to get my visa "on arrival," meaning a company organized the approval and all I had to do was show up, have a couple passport photos in hand and pay $25 and I would be golden to enter the country. Except I forgot the passport photos and legitimately had zero American dollars on my person.

So first thing, waiting in line for the appropriate paperwork to fill out, the government official is winking at me like those 18-year-olds that hang out at Ranch Market. I just smile my freshest smile and inform him that I don't have my passport photos. He gives me the paperwork without a word.

Twenty minutes and 65,000 won later and I was on my way to immigration...finally. I had to spend a little extra to get the visa because I had no actual US dollars on me - a bribe, if you will.

So I'm at immigration and the officer starts with the questions - why are you here, who are you staying with, your boyfriend? When I tell him no, he says "so you'll call me while you're here?" I explain to him that I don't have a phone, but I think it got lost in translation. He's very persistent! Finally, I make it through immigration and am on my way, yet again.

I meet up with my couchsurfer host, Couch Surfer Dude. He whisked me away on the back of his moto and pointed out all sorts of sights along the way (although I'm sure more than a few were made up). Once we got to his place, I laid down and crashed hard.

In the morning, he was kind enough to show me the Ben Thanh market, a couple French colonial-era buildings that have been appropriated by the socialist regime and the backpackers area. I think my host must not have been used to so much activity because he needed a midday nap (or maybe he didn't sleep well the night before).

In any case, while he caught up on his beauty rest, I walked back to Ben Thanh, bought a purse, scarf, pants and a trinket or two, all the while really sharpening my haggling skills (got a 75% reduction on one of the items). The Vietnamese LOVE their bargaining and they are so GOOD at it, too. I really learned some tips and tricks from the women I dealt with.

As first impressions go, I am in love with most of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City is definitely one where you need to be careful and aware. I can only compare it to Mexico, in that there are some things you just need to use your common sense about and you will be safe(r).

This country is MUCH more diverse than Korea, both in regards to the Vietnamese population and to the city's population as a whole. The women all have a very unique look and sense of style, something that Korea's homogenous-leaning society tends to spurn. I've seen many, many of the women who are both much smaller and larger than the Koreans, in both size and stature. That's something I thought impossible, considering all the Korean women I've ever seen make me look like a frumpy cow.

Anyway, this is just off-the-cuff observations. I'm looking forward to trying the many varieties of food in the coming days, and maybe even get some super cheesy, fatty, delicious Mexican food! Look out world!


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