Hello from Saigon! It's my third day of living here and I feel like I've been here for months. It's such an easy place to fit into. So far life here has lived up to everything I expected. I think it's funny that people were so freaked out about me moving here but I don't think they realize that I've lived abroad before and in my opinion if you've seen one third world country you've pretty much seen it all. Saigon reminds me a lot of Trinidad and as a result I'm very comfortable here. Sure I don't speak the language but I'm pretty used to being in places where I don't speak the language and I've developed my own system of communicating. If you want to buy something bring the item or a picture of the item you want to buy and show it to them. It'll save at least 10 minutes of miming what it is you need. For example, I needed to buy an adapter for my laptop plug yesterday so I walked with the end that plugs into the wall and when I pulled it out of my purse they knew immediately what I needed. Quite possibly the easiest thing I've done so far.
Despite having the ability to mime everything I've been trying to use the language. I know how to say thank you, no thank you, how much and excuse me. Using the language is the problem though. I'm forcing myself to speak it more often because I'd like to be fluent when I move back. I don't know if it'll happen because Vietnamese is a hard language but I think once I start working I'll take language classes.
I'm staying at Miss Loi's Guesthouse in the backpacker district, which is what District 1 is unofficially known as. After I landed yesterday my friend Katie picked me up from the airport with her driver Mr. Long. She took me to the money exchange kiosk in her apartment building (which is amazing thanks to her husband's job with Chevron.) We then went for some Vietnamese iced coffee steeped in condensed milk, juuuuust like what Anthony Bourdain drinks in the second episode of No Reservations in Vietnam. It was amazing! We sat outside near running water and with the sound of that, sunlight and iced coffee, it was as close to peace as I've been recently.
My first night here I met up with Lauren, my friend who did the CELTA course, and her housemates for dinner at a Vietnamese bbq place. I was almost talked into trying scorpion until Lauren insisted that it's not even cool to try it because it tastes terrible and that stopped me from trying it. I did however eat eel and ostrich, both of which I've had before, but fry or grill a piece of meat and it's just infinitely better. :)
Last night a CELTA course mate and I went to dinner on Bui Vien which is the main street for travelers in district 1. It was insanity. I prefer the quiet that my neighborhood affords. Especially when all the studying begins. I've heard from a few CELTA people who did the last two courses and their advice has been both encouraging and frightening. We'll see how it goes though.
Ho Chi Minh City or HCMC is an amazing place. I'm pretty comfortable here. Not a place I could live infinitely though. A year is probably good enough but we'll see. There are just so many random things that I love about this place. I love how nice everyone in my area is. I already have an older man who yells "HELLO" every time I walk down the alley near my guesthouse. I love Miss Loi who always asks me what I did during the day when I get back in the evening. I love that for breakfast I have a baguette, cheese, green tea and 3 different types of fruit. I love running into the Australians in my building. I love that I can still get Korean dramas here, even if they do have Vietnamese voiceovers. I love that I have a set of xeom drivers who keep trying to get me to ride on their motorbikes. Which I did today!!!! It's fantastic. It's scary as hell because you're just so...out there. I mean you basically have no protection except for the helmet and that's so basic. I tried really hard not to hug my xeom driver but after a while intuition kicks in. I thought I was going to fall off when we turned corners but somehow I just knew which way to balance when that happened. I did close my eyes a couple of times, like when we went through intersections and there is traffic (TONS OF TRAFFIC) coming at you from like 6 different directions. Plus it was like $7000VND for what would have been a 10 minute walk. I ended up giving her $10,000VND because I didn't fall off. For those that are freaking out reading those numbers the exchange rate is approximately $20,000VND = $1USD. It's ridiculous. For example, I got an hour long massage today and it was $80,000VND and I tipped my girl $20,000VND bringing it to a grand total of $5USD. Lunch was at a really great vegetarian restaurant and I had a starter, meal and a fruity non-alcoholic beer for a grand total of $3USD. I could probably get used to this. :D (Don't worry mom, I'm not permanently moving here. Unless I find a short Vietnamese guy and get married. :P)
Now I'm off to watch fireworks for Vietnam National Day (their Independence Day.)