The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thoughts from the Thorn Tree

Busy morning on the LP Thorn Tree. I’m reposting some of my comments here.

In response to one of the endless complaints about having cloths made in Hoi An:

I'd never buy cloths made in Hoi An. It's just street after street of shops that exist solely to sell cheap souvenir cloths to backpackers, who they know will take their cloths and leave the country. When Vietnamese deal with foreigners, they never factor in the possibility of a repeat sale (why would they), so the quality is in the toilet. It's not just Hoi An--it's any city that has it's own special product that the tourists really dig. The best way to get really GOOD cloths, is to buy from a tailor in another city, who makes cloths for average Vietnamese people. I do that, and I've been wearing the same cloths every week for 3-4 years, and they are still as good as the day I bought them.

Regarding the pros and cons of living in Vietnam:

My positives:
- rainy season - everything is green and lush - no tourists
- freedom in my schedule, freedom and ease in my travel - motorbikes are the best!
- food. Lots of variety. I always feel good
- my allergies never bother me in VN
- cost of living
- good scenery/environment
- big fish in a small pond - I'm well-known & popular - I'm a novelty so everyone wants to meet me.

My Negatives:
- dry season - sand storms, drought, everything is dead - too many tourists
- holidays - most of what I'm used to is irrelevant - VN holidays seem boring
- people always trying to scam me. Even people I consider as friends can't seem to get over the $$ signs in their eyes.
- no matter how long I'm here, I'll always be an outsider. Even if I speak the language fluently, get married, have kids, own property, it won't matter.
- lack of reading material, movies and TV
- medical care. When you have a problem, it can be hard to get good treatment in a timely manner
- big fish in a small pond - I have zero privacy - I can’t go anywhere and be alone - I'm unique
- noise, pollution, too many people, no wildlife

Random recommendation on local customs:

- How to greet people you meet: Shaking hands is fine, but girls in the countryside may be shy. Hugging is very uncommon. If you speak any Vietnamese, pronouns are very important. Accept any gifts, business cards or other items with both hands. Always invite people at each stage (please come in, please site down, please try some...)
- How to address the elders: With smiling, bowing and nodding. Always make sure you greet the elders and say goodbye to them explicitly before you leave the room, even if you were not otherwise engaged with them.
- Table manners: Food in Phan Thiet is often spicy. Unlike my experience in China, it seems ok to leave food behind or refuse some items. In general, you can slurp, put your elbows on the table, and spit bones on the floor. Raising the bowl to your lips is fine.
- tipping: If it's an establishment that serves foreigners normally, then you should tip. If foreigners rarely visit, then tipping is not necessary.
- Lineup at the counter: Observe what others are doing around you. If there is a line, stay in it. If it's a mob, then push your way to the front like everyone else.
- haggling: Vietnamese merchants are stubborn. If they don't budge and it seems too expensive, it's better to walk away and try someone else than waste their time and yours.

1 comment:

The West Lake Review said...

I'm not so sure about some of your negatives, though I agree w most of what you said.
1. You will always be an outsider-I find that the more I learn the language, try my best to follow customs the less an outsider I feel, though I agree you will never be Vietnamese and it does take a long time to feel more comfortable, but I don't think even Vietnamese people want you to be Vietnamese!
2.Reading material, news and TV-Actually Ive seen more movies in VN than when I lived in America, they are also 1/10 the price. And if you learn Vietnamese, there will be no shortage of reading material! Same way around, if you live in America for example, not much VNese reading material there.
3. Vietnamese holidays seem boring- well, that's just personal opinion I guess, but from what I've seen, Tet is chaotic, loud, and colorful
Nonetheless, I appreciate you sharing with us your experience in VN!

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