Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Why I don't love Vietnam

If I'm being honest, I haven't fallen in love with Vietnam.

I want to love the country; I really do. I'd like to be able to think back on my month spent there with nothing but a smile on my face, but I just can't. Because while there are some great things about Vietnam - the food and the beautiful scenery along much of the country for a start - there's also a lot of frustrating things about it.

It's dirty. The air quality is terrible in most of the towns, perpetually full of soot or dust. The buildings are all filthy because of it, and it makes large parts of the country seem strangely colourless and dull. Everything appears grey and faded.

I've also never seen so many rats in my life. It doubtless doesn't help the rat situation that many locals seem to just chuck litter on the ground, so you're perpetually walking past mounds of rubbish on every street or waterway.

There's also a lamentable tendency by some to see anyone who looks like a tourist (ie., non-Vietnamese people) as walking wallets. Hence, all the taxi drivers and peddlers who hassle you on the street, shouting and whistling and waving their arms at the first glimpse of a white face, like a racist Pavlovian response. And don't get me started on the dual-pricing....

There's also a different sense of privacy and personal space here than I'm used to. Strangers will touch you without any sense of impropriety. And some of the public toilet stalls don't have doors - not a great country for shy urinators.

And while we're talking, can I ask: why do people keep smelling me? I've caught several people trying to surreptitiously (or not-so-surreptitiously) sniff my hair - what's that all about?

But to summarise my feelings, I'll give you an example of my last memory of Vietnam, my departure from it (via Hanoi airport).

My flight was early, at 8:00, so on my hotel's advice I arrived at the airport before 6:30. There are a lot of tired-looking people with luggage milling about, waiting, but almost no staff in attendance. Most of the lights in departures were still off, so I'm wandering about in the dark. I finally find one restaurant that looks like it's open - the door is standing wide open, all the lights are on, and the neon "Welcome" sign in the window is turned on.

I walk in, thinking about breakfast.

The woman behind the counter ignores me.

I try to speak to her.

She barks: "Outside!"

I'm assuming her incredibly rude way of ordering me out of the restaurant was her way of telling me they weren't open yet (despite the welcome sign and open door). What makes a person think it's okay to speak to another human being like that? She could have said, "Sorry, no" or "Sorry, closed" in either Vietnamese or English, and I would have understood and been content. But instead I'm faced with yet more unnecessary rudeness, something I've encountered time and again in Vietnam.

I leave the restaurant.

An hour later, I leave the country.

I won't be back.

No comments:

Post a Comment