Writing & Living in Hanoi, Vietnam
As much as I find Vietnam utterly surprising and intriguing, there are just as many constants as curve balls. Let me explain.
No matter where you eat, toothpicks are always within reach. No meal is complete without the coda of the toothpick. In fact, I have a theory. If you invited a gang of Vietnamese people to your house and served up ice cream and jelly they would be asking for a toothpick at the end.
Equally as certain is the dearth of obese cyclo drivers. No one is going to get fat on that job.
Just as absent is “L” plates on the cars of learner drivers. Or, for that matter, the complete scarcity of driving school instructors. I can honestly say I have never seen anything to suggest a driver under instruction. Is this because people automatically graduate from two wheels to four? If you know, please enlighten me. Certainly, it is an adage that motorcyclists make better car drivers.
Talking of the roads, another surefire certainty is gaining a bruise or two on your upper arm after having been grabbed by a kindly Vietnamese person recognising your hesitancy and literally taking matters into their own hands to guide you across the road to safety. Cam on.
And the more Vietnamese I learn the more I appreciate the steepness of the learning curve in front of me. I now keep a record of all the Vietnamese words that sound same same to me. I have so far compiled a list of five Vietnamese words I am going to struggle with. They are the words for ten, nose, salt, mosquito and smell.
Namely, mười, mũi, muối, muỗi, mùi. You can hear for yourself by clicking on the speaker icon here: https://goo.gl/exboE7
Another conundrum, for me at least, are the words for smile and wedding, cười and cưới. Curiously, smile has a down tone and wedding has an up tone. Cynics among us might think it should be the other way around.
Other sure things include the MC at the aforesaid wedding wearing a powder blue suit that’s too tight and about two sizes too small. And if you are the only Tay male in the 300-strong company, various bad Vietnamese men will try to get you drunk on rice wine.
And finally, speaking only for myself, the longer you live here, the less tolerant you become of other Tay. Maybe it’s an age thing, but if I go to a bar and it is wall-to-wall foreigner (especially twenty-something English teachers) I will generally jog on elsewhere.
Mmmm. It is an age thing, isn’t it?