Here’s another round of Tips, and things to prepared for when you set foot in VN:

Expect to be poked fun at for your weight.

Not so much with strangers, but if you have family or friends, well…

I’m a pretty average weight here in Canada. But boy, in Vietnam, I’m a freaking an elephant. I fit size XXL shirts and tops there. Don’t even get me started on pants. While shopping one time, I decided to try a pair on. Needless to say, I struggled (I pulled them up to my knees before I gave up).

Looking back at all the group pictures, the size of my leg always looks about the same as my cousin’s torso. It’s rather depressing.

Don’t get upset! They can laugh all they want. I like to think I’m well-nourished.

Do not publicly display your support for democracy.

Before we visited Vietnam last year, my brother was packing his clothes. He was picking out t-shirts when he came across one with the Democratic Vietnamese flag (yellow with three horizontal red stripes – it was the flag of South Vietnam before the Vietnam War and represents the Vietnamese who support democracy or live in democratic nations). My mom started joking: “You can’t wear that in Vietnam, they’ll shoot you on sight.”

Yes, the locals know you support democracy (coming from Canada, the United States, etc.), but that doesn’t mean actively flaunting your belief system in Communist Vietnam. Maybe you won’t get shot, but it could still get you into trouble with the officials.

Seriously. Don’t do it.

Saigon vs Ho Chi Minh City

Perhaps there is some confusion on what exactly to call that city, since both names are used. To explain: Saigon is the original name used for Vietnam’s previous capital. They renamed Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976 (following the Vietnam War), after the leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam. You’ll still see both names used. While Ho Chi Minh City is the official name, a majority of the locals still call it Saigon. You’ll also see Saigon used in travel brochures, bus transportation, and so on. By the way, the Vietnamese who fled overseas after the Vietnam War never call it Ho Chi Minh City (see Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh City). So, safest bet to prevent offence is to use Saigon, at least until the other person uses the name Ho Chi Minh City themselves.

Be careful where you put your generosity.

To illustrate why, here’s something that happened to me:

A man approaches me and begs for some money. My cousin Phat takes me by the arm and starts leading me away. When we’re out of earshot, Phat says:

“That guy has a job, but he comes to this street corner everyday to panhandle.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know?”

“I see him leave work, then he comes here afterwards. He makes a lot of extra money that way.”

“Huh! Con men like him.”

My cousin sighs, “Yeah, he makes more money than I do.”

So what do you know? A rich panhandler. You’ve just got to be careful that your generosity isn’t wasted and is actually going to help someone in need.

Want to share some other tips on staying alive abroad?