Vietnam: a conclusion

It was no great disappointment that we were ready to leave Vietnam one day sooner than anticipated. Hanoi didn’t do much to tickle my fancy. On our last evening there, we ate at the same restaurant we’d eaten at at least once a day since our arrival to the city because it was popular and reasonably priced. We met the Canadians we’d befriended in Halong Bay there, then went for a beer afterward.

Already the annoyance with Vietnam is fading. I know, though, that I had planned to write an unfavorable impression of the country. I suppose there’s no point in dwelling on the negative if one has to go digging through memory to get to it.

One impression is quite distinct: a woman washing her hair in the Mekong with a sachet of shampoo, then tossing the empty package into the river. Over and over we witnessed the same “the world is my wastebin” mentality–it was doubly baffling when there was an actual trash can in sight or when the garbage was tossed onto the person’s own store front. In some areas there are people, invariably older women, sweeping up after the litter bugs. They can’t get everything that rushes down the gutter–or the river–and isn’t it just like enabling the problem?  

We also struggled with the unshakable feeling that everyone was ripping us off. Finally in Hanoi we’d wised up enough to not pay more than 9,000 dong for a pineapple, It made us suspicious of everyone; a high school kid approached us in the park to practice his English, and to the end I expected him to ask for something.

Anywhere we went out of our way to get to fell short. I can’t say exactly what I was expecting from Can Tho, from Dalat, from the streets of Hanoi, but in each of those towns there was a good deal of seeking out bits of brightness. The waterfront was “lovely,” thought it was chock-full of rude teenagers. The view from the hilltop was “lovely,” thought it was dominated by construction scenes. The botanical gardens were “lovely,” though the noise of a generator shattered the peace and the monkey enclosure was utterly, cruely devoid of anything but monkeys.

It wasn’t a bad time, I just wish we’d gone tubing in Laos instead.

Ending on a good note: The most enchanting moment of Vietnam was also one of the first. While being cycled through the streets of Chau Doc, we were overtaken by dozens of young women wearing the iconic tunics made of white satin.


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