A Raina Day In Vietnam...



My time here in Vietnam was like no other international adventure I have been on thus far. To begin, I have never visited any area that I can't speak or understand the language. Language is the key to any culture and I can't even sound out the words because the letters in the alphabet have totally different sounds. Before coming I also had no understanding of Vietnamese customs and etiquette. All that I did know was that the U.S. came to fight here in the 60's against Communism, and pulled out after a failed attempt. Period.

So one may wonder, "so, then why did you chose to go?" For all the above reasons and because the opportunity was so delightfully presented to me. So, I was there for two months.

I was based out of Ho CHi Mhin City in the south, also known of as Saigon.

HO CHI MINH CITY/ SAIGON
Ho Chi Mhin City is wild! I would guesstimate that 95% of the population own a motorbike. The streets are filled with people on bikes! The stop lights stop running after a certain hour and you take a risk crossing the streets at any time. I am not exaggerating at all.

Everyone wears a face mask because the pollution is so bad, and women wear these gloves that cover their entire arm and these face masks that cover their entire head to keep the sun off of their skin. It is hot and humid as all hell and these chicks are covered from head to toe to hide from the sun. I asked the house keeper why they would put themselves through this torment and she told me that it is to protect their skin from drying out?? I have also heard that it is to keep their skin from browning.

The fruit here is the shit man! Good god almighty!! There are so many different varieties that are not in the states like; Dragon fruit, Lechies, and other strange and divine creations that I cant pronounce. And the best thing is that they are all so very inexpensive. There are also some interesting looking new vegetables that I have never seen in the states.

Ethiopians in Vietnam! This idea surprised even the Vietnamese whom most didn’t even know what, who, or where Ethiopia was. My boyfriend and his family quadrupled the count of Ethiopians in the country and set the national record, I’m sure. We all ventured there to visit his sister who bravely moved there to work for a French law firm. Their system is very prejudice and Barka experienced an extremely hard time leaving the country. A trip that was scheduled for a month and a half ended up being twice that because of the slow, inaccurate, and discriminatory processes they put Barka through when trying to return to the States on his student visa!

I had never seen anything like the airport welcoming committee in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Hundreds of people lined the baggage claim exit with anticipation to see their long missed family member returning from the US. And then there was us.

On the way to the apartment from the airport the first thing that struck me was the way people drive. Mind you, it was late in the evening and hundreds of motorcycles (scooters) were buzzing throughout the narrow city streets, the traffic lights were not operating, and the taxi driver hit at least 20 people on the way. I later learned that was the norm and the number of motor bikes multiplied by 100 during daylight!

PHU QUOC ISLAND
After a few days in the highly populated and polluted nation’s capitol of Saigon, a needed move was made to a more remote spot about an hours’ plane ride away. The island of Phu Quoc is a piece of Vietnamese paradise. Phu Quoc is populated by over 75,000 people and most recognizably known for its fishing, fish sauce and quiet beaches. The family and I stayed there for a week and just relaxed.

DALAT
It was after we returned from Phu Quoc that our tour of Vietnam really got adventurous. Barka and I kissed the fam good-bye and jumped on a bus headed north the city of Dalat. After a 7 hour bus ride we reached Dalat, a Vietnamese honeymooner’s spot and the location of a university. The town is very clean, like all of Vietnam, and well manicured. A huge lake rests in the center and with many surrounding sites. Barka and I made sure that we rode a cable cart that crossed over a large part of the town. We ventured up to the town’s Buddhist Temple and were greeted by an enormous white statue of Buddha and evening chants * Note: It was while in Dalat that I became aware of a small, yet quite misconceived fact about Buddhism and Buddha his or herself, Buddha is represented in many forms and the Happy Buddha that most of us know of is only one form of the divine being.

NHA TRANG
From Dalat we took another bus to the city of Nha Trang. Our time in Nha Trang was filled with drunken delight but not much else. After being in Vietnam for more than 2 weeks Barka and I took the needed time to experience the culture of the nightlife. In the city of Nha Trang, like in most city areas of Vietnam, the bars and clubs close down at midnight. A selected few places find ways of getting around the law and stay open later and that’s where everyone ends up going. In Nha Trang it was this nice joint right on the beach front. It was wild as hell to see the way the Vietnamese dance to hip-hop!

The next evening, when we finally made it out of the hotel room, we took advantage of cheap $12.00 (192,000vd) para-sailing and then jumped on a bus to the next town.

HOI AN

After a 10 hour overnight bus ride we awoke in the town I enjoyed greatly, Hoi An. The town is known for its clothing market. Every store in this small area boasts its ability to make ANY clothing item that the customer desires. So, I had to put their skills to the test and designed 3 dresses to be made within 24 hours. On a scale of 1-10 I rate the final product at 7. But, the hell that I had to go through to get them to understand what I wanted in the first place brings the value of the experience down to a 5! The language barrier was, for me, the hardest part of moving throughout the country. Charades doesn’t work when you want detail!

While in Hoi An, we also took the opportunity to visit the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site of My Son. The trip was pretty interesting but this racist Australian couple killed the vibe with their ignorance and ability to breath. * Note: Vietnam is full of Australian & French tourist and business owners!

HUE

A couple days later, we arrived at the city of Hue knowing very little about what a land mark the region is for the American, French and especially the Vietnamese. We took an all day (6am- 6pm) tour of the zone and by the end of the trip the way we came to view the country had been deeply affected. The other side of war is no joke and the version we get state side is nothing when compared to the reality. To add to the painful emotions of being in this area, I was reading for the second time the book Bloods by Wallace Terry. The entire book is made up of recounted memories of African-American soldiers during the Vietnam War. To go to the different places mentioned in the book, see the effects on the areas described by these soldiers and meet the people that are still affected from the fucked up chemical warfare (Orange Agent) the US enforced really upset me. To know that my family took part in the cause of the effect I was seeing was hard. Also knowing the circumstances in which these Black men were forced to and chose to go to Vietnam as a result of really boiled my blood. Those images and known truths will stay with me forever.

While in Hue we also took a tour of the underground tunnel system that the Vietnamese constructed in the North, during the war. Yo, I have so much respect for the engineers, construction workers and families that managed to create, protect, hide and survive in those tunnels. Honestly, I have never seen anything like them. An entire world was constructed underground; school rooms, living quarters, rooms, bathrooms, wells, places for mothers to give birth, ventilation holes and multiple secret entrances and exits. The tunnels go on for miles and a large portion of them have been preserved and toured daily. It was one of those experiences that I was able to do once, to try and better understand their situation, but I would never willingly go back through those dark, claustrophobic tunnels a second time.

HANOI

After coming to really understand the meaning of war, Barka and I moved our educational exploration even further north to Hanoi. Hanoi is a fly city. The once capitol of Northern Vietnam, is made-up of small narrow streets, corner store restaurants with hundreds of squatting Vietnamese, sugar cane juice, flowers sold on bikes AND an amazing Ethnological museum. An anthropologist in training is what I am, so the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology was a real treat to explore. I honestly do not think that any of our divine/ highly sophisticated museums in the Nation’s capitol can touch the extensive ethnographic displays presented here. Entire minority homes were recreated at full scale and vividly detailed exhibitions of every minority culture in the region were described in great detail. I loved it and recommend everyone to place it on their list of “Must See Museums!”

While in Hanoi we visited Hoa Lo Prison. The prison is otherwise known by captured US fighter pilots as “Hanoi Hilton.” That was a disturbing tour. Much of the prison had been torn down to make room for the growing Hanoi business district to grow, but even when looking at the area they maintained for tourist makes you pissed off with grief.

HALONG BAY

Our last stop in the North was Halong Bay. I felt like I had jumped into pages of National Geographic the area was so exquisite. We splurged the $34.00 is costs to take a house boat out into the bay and spent the night on the water. Amazingly peaceful was that nights sleep!

Vietnam was wild ride that I can go into great detail about if anyone really desires. This was just a day to day taste of how I was able to see the country. I purposefully did not express great sentiment, because all in all my time was all good. But, being Black in Asia is a trip. Viewing the homeland of War is dramatic. And, being a young, open, and inquisitive traveler got me into a bunch of great and no-so-great situations that could never begin to be summarized correctly in this article. So, with that said, holla back if more detail is desired!

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