Western holidays celebrated in Asia
I pull into Bien Hoa, Vietnam and I wonder why the first thing I see is a giant Christmas tree in front of the four story mall, and why are the words BLACK FRIDAY written on the windows? That’s an American Christmas shopping tradition that occurs on the day after Thanksgiving. Am I in America or Vietnam? I thought this was a communist country. They’re not allowed to have churches or stuff like that over here are they?
Actually, they are. I’ve only been in Vietnam 2 days and already one of my preconceived notions has been debunked! This is the reason I chose immersion travel. I would never have seen this obscure town if I was on a tourist bus in Saigon or Dalat. Instead, I’m in Bien Hoa, locally described as a small town of 1,000,000 people outside of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. I’m teaching English here with 16 teachers from USA, UK and South Africa ranging from the ages of 22-65. So, not only do I get to experience this culture, but I get to learn about UK and South Africa, plus hear my own language spoken in different accents.
Traveler or traveller?
Here is something I learned from my British friends. Look at this word: travel. When conjugated, British English doubles the letter L: traveling vs. travelling. traveler vs. traveller. So if you are not from the USA and think these words look odd, you can now recognize that it is just the American spelling, not incorrect spelling. Most of my newly made friends have traveled here alone, some for the first time internationally.
Bien Hoa, Vietnam
Ben Hoa was the airfield during the Vietnam War, so some of my older American friends and relatives were not happy upon hearing the name of this town again. My biggest memory of the war is that my friend’s big brother was killed here. Every time I go to a Vietnam war memorial I run my fingers over his name. Vietnam seems to have forgiven the Americans for their part in the war and if you talk to some of the Americans working and volunteering over here, you will find that many of them are here because of what happened during the war and as Americans, they feel they should give something back.
A typical interaction with a Vietnamese local
Here’s some more culture I learned in my 2nd day. My friend, Bao Anh arranged our taxi from HCMC to Bien Hoa. The driver assured her that he knew the hotel location. He didn’t! He dropped us off at our address and left, but it was a private residence, not our hotel. Here’s how the next hour went: The suitcases are marched along the street searching for the correct address. A nice lady who was working at her outdoor food cart takes pity and drives off on her motor bike to find the address. She finds the address and sends me back in the same direction, but it ends up being the same private residence. I trudge back to her shop, where she gives up and places me in another cab, etc.
Culture Tip: What ever questions you ask of a Vietnamese, the answer will be YES. In Vietnamese culture, it is rude to say no, or “I don’t know how to do something”. Be aware of this so you don’t end up being stranded somewhere…or hopping on a bike without working brakes, or …..the myriad of other problems you will see me encounter when you follow this blog.
What do you know about Vietnam?