Right now I’m sitting in the lobby of the SIT program guest house, taking a break from the whirlwind orientation that we have been doing for the past 5 days. Since everyone in the group landed on Wednesday we have been exploring the city, listening to lectures on expectations and policies, and trying to pick up a little Vietnamese here and there (emphasis on the trying). The language is REALLY hard. I knew coming here that a tonal language would be tough to pick up, but the actual words themselves are pronounced so differently than they appear on paper. We’ve been spending lots of time with volunteers from the BELL(Business English for Learners and Lovers) club who go to the University of Economics where we take classes. They speak really good English and it’s been super fun seeing Ho Chi Minh City from the perspective of someone my age.
The volunteers also took us on our first motorbike rides! Being a pedestrian in HCMC is scary in itself. As one professor put it during his orientation power point “The buses don’t stop for you (never). The cars don’t stop for you (never). The motorbikes don’t stop for you (never).” Crossing the street is almost always an adventure, so you can imagine that I was a little nervous to be a passenger on a bike. And at first, it was a bit nerve wracking dodging bicyclists, weaving between motorbikes, and having buses drive inches away from you. However, after about 10 minutes or so I was in love. Yes, at times it does feel a bit dangerous, but it’s also really liberating and one of the only times you feel cool without air conditioning. I can see why so many people use them here.
Saturday was a pretty packed day. In the morning I went to Saigon Square with some friends. It’s a gigantic overwhelming market that sells tons of clothes, shoes, and other things for cheap cheap cheap. Afterwards we went to lunch and headed to the Reunification Palace for a tour. It was kind of like touring the White House or any other castle: lots of rooms and lots of history. The information was pretty interesting, but the tour would have been infinitely more interesting if I could concentrate on anything besides the heat. Five flights of stairs and no air conditioning in Vietnam is not a good combination. When we got back to the guest house, everyone in the group met with more volunteers from the Bell club for “the drop-off experience”. Everyone was assigned a different place in the city to go to and make observations about with their volunteers. Most students went to museums or pagodas, but I lucked out and was assigned to observe environmental issues at the Ho Chi Minh City Zoo and Botanical Gardens. It was super duper fun and afterwards I met some other student/volunteer pairs at a nearby restaurant for awesome food and great company.
I consistently come home totally pooped every night. I can’t wait until real school starts and I fall into the rhythm of life in HCMC, but for now the newness and novelty of everything is pretty darn great.