Archive for October, 2013


Broken Down

A lot of my travels have been really exciting or interesting. But I’ve also come across a few unsettling situations.

I was in a taxi, and looking out the window, when I saw someone crawling on the side of the road. He was severely disfigured – no legs and his body was covered in scars.

A part of me cried out, “Someone, help him!”

But what can you do in those siutations? If I had been walking along that sidewalk, would I have stopped and offered him money? Food? Helped him get to where he needed to go? Or would that have been insulting to him? While I was watching, I saw that he was moving along himself, not once pausing to ask for money.

What if you came across the same situation, wandering the streets of Toronto? What would you do?

Photograph: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP

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One of my uncles sells ice cream, and kids will come in and out to make their purchases.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that since kids often handle money here, they know how to do calculations/make appropriate payments.

Well it turns out that’s not always the case.

Today, a little girl comes in to buy some ice cream. She has a grand total of 2000 dong (0.10 USD equivalent). My cousin, Dat, tells her that it isn’t enough to buy anything. She asks what the cheapest thing is. Dat says 7000 dong for a popsicle, come back with 5000 more dong. She leaves momentarily and comes back with a total of only 5000 dong. Dat gives her an “Aw, that’s cute, but no-can-do” look. He walks out with her to show her the signboard, with the prices of the different treats. She heads back home and a few minutes later, comes back with the 7000. As Dat fishes around the freezer for the little girl’s popsicle, he realizes to his dismay that we’re out of stock of her selected flavour. The next cheapest thing is 8000 dong. Another 5 minutes, and little girl retrieves the extra 1000 and finally receives a creamsicle. Hooray!

Less than minute later, another girl barges in with 7000 dong in hand. Dat laughs at the timing and tells her that won’t be enough. Out of stock!

Even though things can be pretty different here, I never really got hit by true culture shock. Vietnam just feels like home. Perhaps it’s because I have so much family here? But for those who’ve never been to Asia (or to any other continent for that matter), the differences may be striking at first.

Random differences between VN and Canada

Those moments that will stop you in your track:

– Ice cream trucks take on a bicycle format here, with a cooler strapped onto the back of the bike. Still plays the same tell-tale music though.

– City/construction workers sometimes wear orange jumpsuit uniforms. No need for a double-take when you spot an “outlaw” fleeing via motorcycle.

Did you hear that someone escaped from prison yesterday?

Did you hear that someone escaped from prison yesterday?

Things you need to watch out for:

– Be careful where you step. Pets will wander outside, and no one cleans up after them.

– The mosquitoes are savages here. Expect to be bitten everywhere. It’s not even the number of bites that’s irksome, but the fact you can’t see perpetrators in the first place. They’re pretty tiny and very elusive.

– Beds are hard as rock. Okay, I exaggerate somewhat. But don’t expect cushiony springs. Solid foam, no padding. Enjoy night #1.

My cute nephew. Oh yeah, and that's a standard bed behind him.

My cute nephew. Oh yeah, and that’s a standard bed behind him.

The everyday stuff:

– If you’ve been reading past posts, you’ll know that inside washrooms, there is usually no separation between toilets and shower. No biggie, just close the lid.

– Heated showers are not a matter of simply turning the tap a little further. There is a whole device which provides heated water. You turn on the shower tap (cold water), turn on the water-heating device, then turn the dial for the desired level of heat. Those are the simple ones. I’ve seen some that have additional wall switches. The worst is when the switch is located outside: you’ve changed out of your clothes, are ready for a nice hot shower, turn on every switch, and freezing cold water shoots down onto your unsuspecting body. You realize in misery that you forgot to turn on that random switch outside. Either call out to a good Samaritan to flip it on, or grab a towel and make a mad dash out and back in before anyone catches you in all your embarrassing glory.

Below, a semi-upscale washroom:

And something a bit more typical:

– Beware flickering lights. I haven’t quite figured out why this is, but everywhere, everywhere, I go, lights will flicker momentarily when you turn them on. It takes a few seconds before the lights actually stay on. Pretty sure they’re seizure-inducing. Make sure to close your eyes as soon as you flick that switch.

Things that will take getting used to:

– Sometime, drinks/other liquids are sold by plastic bags. Make sure not to puncture it!

Below is nước mía, sugarcane juice:

– There’s always lots of sound in the afternoon. Since people keep their doors open, you’ll hear neighbours’ music/karaoke, street vendors calling out, chickens, motorcycles coming in.

– Roosters can be heard around 6am. Everywhere T-T

– Age calculation is weird here. As I understand it, you’re your normal age plus one (time in your mother’s womb counts for one year). Also, you are traditionally considered to be one year older after Tết (Vietnamese New Year, the Lunar New Year). Although birthdays are still celebrated here. Which is kind of odd.

– Even very little kids know how to use money. My cousin sends her kid (aged 6) out to buy things from the store nearby (just down the street). I see kids all the time ordering drinks, buying snacks.

The plain bizarre:

– One of the few things that did surprise me: during one night, I heard a band playing (drums, trumpets, trombone, the works). A fanfare, by the sounds of it. I’d heard that funerals were a big ordeal here, and that they’d play loud music. Could it be…? No, the music was way to happy. But, when I headed out and asked my cousin about it, he said yes it was indeed a funeral. Go figure. For a great description on exactly what this event entails, check out Tara and Tyler’s blog: Going Slowly.

Photo Credit:

Road Worker: Geordieb
Typical Bathroom: Shawn Smith

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