Although I have only arrived in Ho Chi Minh City for two weeks, with the help of my Vietnamese roommate, language instructors from the learning center and CET staff, I have gradually developed some “local” habits.
- Taking motorbikes to work: Since cars are really expensive in Vietnam, and the public transport system is not very convenient, 70% of the population chooses to ride the motorbikes to work. Since it is significantly cheaper to take a motorbike than a taxi, I also chose to join this enormous group on the first day of my internship. Usually, I book a “Grab” (A Vietnamese version of Uber) from the CET guesthouse to my internship place and it would cost me around 33k đồng (around 1.5 usd). However, onetime, it was raining when I got off work, so I had to order a car on Grab or take a taxi back, and it costed me 192k đồng (around 8.5 usd) for the same distance. Also, because of the special traffic conditions in HCMC, motorbikes could be much faster than cars during rush hours. Therefore, although I was first a little bit nervous about taking motorbikes, it has recently grown to be one of my favorite activities in HCMC.
- Applying everything learned in class to real life: Before arriving in HCMC, the only two words that I know in Vietnamese are “phổ” and “bánh mì”. In fact, the first day I arrived in the city, I didn’t even know how to ask the taxi driver to stop. Although there are many people in HCMC, especial the youth, speak English very well, the majority of the people working in local shops could only understand very simple English words. Despite all these difficulties that I have experienced with language, out of my fondness of Vịnh Hạ Long (Ha Long Bay), I still decided to travel alone to Hà Nội on the first weekend. Until the time, I had only had three Vietnamese lessons, but people are so nice in Hà Nội, and they would always wait for me when I look up the words. In the end, I was managed to tell people that tôi là người trung quốc (I am from China) and Tôi chỉ nói một chút tiếng Việt (I only speak a little it Vietnamese).
- A bottle of trà sữa trân châu (bubble tea) a day brings all the sunshine to your life: Since it feels like around 90 degrees in HCMC everyday, bubble tea is becoming my daily life support. In most of the streets, there is one bubble tea shop every 5 or 10 meters, and each of them has a long list of drinks. Some of the drinks are typical bubble tea, but there are usually various fruit teas and other healthier options. Cà phê (Cafe) is also an important part of Vietnamese culture. If it is raining outside, it feels warmed up to get a cup of cà phê sữa nóng (Vietnamese coffee); and while it is scotching, it would feel so refreshing after a cup of cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee). Coffee and bubble tea shops are not only for delicious drinks, they also offer an air-conditioned place for students to study and friends to meet.
- Having a taste of local life in HCMC: As one of the biggest city in Vietnam, HCMC is never lack of travelers from all over the world, but staying with CET, we got a better chance to immerse in local culture and to learn more about what their daily life is like. In the guesthouse, most of us are paired with Vietnamese students. Although my roommate is still in her final week, she would still bring me to different places to eat and teach me the Vietnamese names of those dishes. It feels so lucky to have her as a friend and a local guide. Also, all the local CET advisors are so helpful and gave us many recommendations on food and places that we should visit. Thanks to their help, it becomes much less confusing to live in such a big city without knowing the language.
With CET, I feel it very lucky to be able to see different sides of HCMC. There are certainly busy bar streets and skyscrapers, but there are also people living in areas filled with trash near the canal. It is hard to define HCMC with few words and I look forward to exploring more of its diversity and beauty in the next few weeks.