The most common thing I get asked about living in Vietnam is if it’s safe. My answer is always, “if you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it.” To be frank, I think that I am fortunate for two reasons: I look like trouble and I don’t go looking for trouble. Being a muscular guy covered in tattoos, with cauliflower ears, a shaved head, and the fact that I can speak Vietnamese to an extent – I make an impression as a not ideal target. I also make it a point to be friendly and make friends at bars, shops, and even fuel trees (gas stations). Generally speaking, Vietnam is pretty safe overall albeit pettier crimes like stealing cell phones and snatching bags that are carelessly worn.
Crossing the road. Actual crossing lights aren’t exceptionally common and even when they are drivers and pedestrians typically choose to ignore them. Crossing the road is relatively simple albeit very intimidating initially. Stick a hand up in the air and start walking while keeping an eye on incoming traffic, slowly giving drivers time to predict your movement and vice versa. Cars and trucks you sometimes want to stop for depending on their speed and distance as they cannot brake or change lanes as easily and you have more ground to cover as a pedestrian in order to get out of their path.
The ninja women: In Vietnam most women believe that fair, white skin is the most attractive, therefore many choose to cover themselves up, regardless of the heat, from head to toe in clothing such as a jacket, hat, gloves and large sunglasses that make it difficult for them to see anything in their peripheral vision or turn their heads to check their blind spots when driving a motorbike. They are infamously mocked as the worst drivers in Vietnam because of this.
Taking pictures: I’m torn because I pass by dozens of beautiful and gritty photo opportunities on a daily basis, generally when I am in the middle of traffic. Stopping your bike on the road and taking your phone or camera out for a photo opp is giving an easy opportunity for a quick “grab and go” by thieves. It’s just not worth the risk in my opinion especially if you have one of the newer Iphones which are considered ideal loot for thieves.Tipping: It’s uncommon to tip in local establishments. Generally I tip for two reasons: 1. I see the server being treated poorly by patrons or management or having a busy night while still providing me with good service. 2. It’s a cafe, bar, or restaurant that I frequent all the time. A generally good tip would be between 10.000-50.000 dong (50 cents-$2.25).
Getting ripped off: I’ve given locals here plenty of opportunities to rip me off due to my initial lack of knowledge in both the currency and pricing. For example, the 20.000 is a little smaller than the 500.000 note but they look very similar as both are blue and have the same general look and feel yet one is worth less than $1 and the other a little over $20. Every time they would say too much or not right and give me the proper change back.The annoying hippy backpackers. I’m stereotyping, but no one likes the person who looks like they haven’t showered or shaved in god knows how long and is complaining over a matter of cents when it comes to buying something. Southeast Asia has a terrible distaste for what is known as “begpackers” meaning tourists who beg for handouts which seldom the actual locals ever do. If you’re playing an instrument, selling a product, or anything of that nature that is considered acceptable, but asking for money or accommodation in exchange for nothing or a bullshit “exchanging stories about life and travels” is a slap in the face to the people living here hustling and the expats who are offering something to the community.
Driving a motorbike (local dialect for scooter, moped, and motorcycle) I’ve been unlucky enough to have gotten five flat tires in Saigon in my three months of living and driving here. Fortunately I’ve learned enough Vietnamese where I can comically explain my situation by saying, “Em ơi, vá. Ah dụ, tôi xen xúi. Tôi tieng Việt không tốt. Hiểu không?” This roughly translates to, “Excuse me, flat tire. Oh fuck, my bad luck. My Vietnamese is no good. Do you understand?” As a result I now have a reinforced rear tire.Driving is incredibly intimidating to most foreigners who would rather resort to taxis, Uber, or Grabbike instead. I believe in living like a local so I rented a bike after two weeks of living in Ho Chi Minh and then bought the same bike after a month. The easiest way to understand driving here is it’s organized chaos. There are potholes everywhere, the streets flood, and people run red lights or drive on the sidewalk like it’s an everyday thing because here it is. Simply, when it comes to driving and especially the right of way the biggest vehicle wins.
Training my boy Rusty to ride on a motorbike which is the norm in Vietnam:Standard of Living and Vietnamese Women: A common issue with Vietnamese women is that a lot dislike the way local men treat them, traditionally it’s not uncommon for men to hit, scream, and treat women poorly as they are expected to be more subservient, even prearranged marriage is still common in north Vietnam. Western men are generally found more attractive for several reasons such as facial and body hair, bigger overall size and height, and generally possessing a better income and education meaning a better life possibly outside of Vietnam. The harsh truth is a lot of Vietnamese have not been outside of Vietnam and even less have been outside of Asia. A lot of foreigners are attracted to Vietnam because a man with average looks and income in their home country are much higher on the totem pole in Vietnam, this leads to a running joke that many expats are rejects or losers in their own country. A typical beer costs between 30.000 and 60.000 dong. 22.000 dong = $1. Many single apartments and rooms for rent don’t cost more than $300 including furnishing and utilities such as water, internet, and electricity seldom cost more than $50 or around 1.200.000 dong. Quite simply Western men can live like a king while being an average Joe in their home country.
Using the toilet. I’ll never get used to the concept of putting a mini shower head to your butthole, spraying it down with water, and then either letting it air dry or patting it down with toilet paper. I will also never get used to the concept of throwing your used toilet paper away in a trash can just so it can stink up the bathroom for everyone else.These are good representations of my teaching style:
My Vietnamese rescue “Rusty”.
Vietnam War: I get asked a lot about the Vietnam war and how “America got their ass kicked” I’m not a history or political buff but have learned that Vietnam won the war but lost in the long term aspect. Vietnam was considered an up and coming country in the realm of Singapore until the war struck. That and the divide between north and south Vietnam has set the economy and people back by decades and is indefinitely still considered a third world country. A place to bear witness to the atrocities and suffering as a result of warfare is the War Remnants Museum. Another place to see the divide between poverty and luxury is the Bitexo Financial Tower.
Bitexco Financial Tower:War Remnants Museum: