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Good morning Vietnam

Julie Robertson

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This past winter break, I was lucky enough to be able to travel across the globe to Vietnam, where I backpacked for two weeks with my best friend and her family. This trip was not a long time coming, as I really only found out I was going back in November, then I left on Christmas day for a journey that would virtually change my perspective on how I view my life back in the states.

I had to pack all my belongings for two weeks in a 32-litre backpack, which presented my first challenge of the trip (and not a small one). I had to repack my pack three times before leaving my house at 3 p.m. on Christmas Day in order to drive to Houston to catch my midnight flight to Taipei, Taiwan. While the 32 liters of my backpack seemed small, the 32 hours it took me to get from my house to my final destination of Ho Chi Minh City in south Vietnam did not.  The flight lasted 16 and a half hours. We landed in Taipei, Taiwan, at about 6:30 a.m., all very disoriented. Although we had slept during the flight, sleeping on an airplane is pretty much the most uncomfortable place to sleep, so our sleep was neither deep nor restful. We went through customs in Taiwan, then went to are next gate where we would be taking our next flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, in the northern part of the country. That flight was about three hours and 45 minutes, so it was enough to sleep some more. Our final flight, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh lasted about two hours, and by the time we landed it was 6:30 p.m., and we were greeted by warm humid air and smells unlike anything we had ever experienced back in the States.

Driving in the big cities throughout Vietnam is an adventure in itself. Hundreds upon thousands of mopeds dart at you from each direction, making driving a task for locals only. Our first Uber ride through downtown Ho Chi Minh to our Airbnb was an eye-opening experience for all of us. We thought–multiple times– that we were going to get in a car accident, but by the time we finally reached [our destination], we understood that that was just the way people drove in Vietnam.

We stayed in Ho Chi Minh for three days at an Airbnb apartment tucked into what we initially thought was a sketchy back alleyway. After a day of being there however, we realized that it was a typical residence in the city. . What we thought was a dodgy place to live, was really just a friendly, normal place for them. I’m sure the apartments were not very expensive, and this was just the way that they lived. What they lacked in commodity, they made up for with community. Most people open their front doors in the evening cooking dinner, watching TV and interacting with their neighbors. As people from the United States, we were not at all used to this because often back at home, we shut ourselves away from the rest of the world by just doing the smallest things like putting headphones in or closing our doors at night.  They did not need very large houses or many possessions to feel like they had worth, something I observed so often it become somewhat of a theme throughout the trip.

After our stay in HCMC, we took the night train to our next stop in Vietnam: Bai Xep (Bi Zep). It is a coastal fishing village that is unlike anything you would ever experience back in the States. We were staying in a lodge that had a few houses on the beach, just along the edge of the fishing village. Although our lodge was owned by Westerners, the people who ran it lived and grew up in the fishing village, so the menu consisted only of local dishes. For the first three nights, we stayed in what was quite literally, a shack. The two-story house was made up of bamboo with no insulation or A.C. Considering the heat and humidity that I mentioned earlier, this absence of air-conditioning was remarkable to us. But most of the people I encountered do not have all the amenities that we are so accustomed to in the States. It was fine, because instead of air-conditioning we had mosquito nets and fans, plus the sound of the waves crashing 24 hours a day was also a huge bonus. I loved being able to hear all the conversations in different languages just outside our shack, plus the laughter that came with it. Here, there were absolutely no bad vibes, and everyone was in a good mood pretty much 24/7.

A persistent rain during our trip couldn’t even dampen our mood. In fact, on our last day at the beach,  the sun came out, and we were actually able to swim in the ocean. I definitely was not going to pass up this opportunity while I was at the beach, to be able to swim in the South China Sea, something I may never get to do again.

As we took the train to the next town and then onto the next, I started to notice a theme throughout my trip. The people in Vietnam live on nothing. Some would label it as poverty, but to them it was just a way of life. These people live in one-bedroom houses with families of five. And they seemed healthier and happier than many Americans do. As Americans we are so set on a status quo, and having the perfect image of what our lives should be like, instead of being happy with the little we have. The people in Vietnam were able to go to nearby markets and buy fresh fruit and vegetables and create amazing phu and other Vietnamese dishes. Simplicity was so key here, and in America most things are not simple, yet Americans never feel like they have enough.

As a U.S. citizen, I definitely take for granted all of the privileges I enjoy. I have a three-bedroom house, where I get my own room, iPhone and computer.  I also get three meals a day, without even having to think twice about it. I have 24/7 access to a nice car, just to name a few of the luxuries I have. Like I said before, a lot of places that I stayed in Vietnam did not have air-conditioning something we expect as a basic living standard. Yet we still complain all the time during the summer that it is not cool enough in our own houses. Everything during my trip left me with an understanding that it is possible to live with less.

I get so caught up at home about the all of my petty problems, that I forget the bigger picture. I can truly say that everyday I was in Vietnam, I was fully living in the moment. If I am getting so caught up in the little things back in the states, I am no living out these last couple of years here to the fullest. Things are changing so fast at home, I am thinking about college, my friends create drama, I worry way too much about school. I only have a year and a half left until I am done with highschool and the things I worry about now will seem so little later. I need to focus on seeing the big picture and just enjoying the limited amount of time left until school gets more serious and I have to make serious life decisions. Vietnam truly taught me that there and at home I needed to enjoy where I was in the moment, rather than wishing I was somewhere else. lion mountain lotte mopeds

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