Hong Kong, 29 June 2017 Vietnam will always be a special place to me. There were just too many stories to tell within one and half months stay. Everyday brought brand new things to discover, be it a new local delicacy to try, fun friends to hang out with or unexpected things to do. For once, I let life surprise me everyday.
I still remember how the culture shock almost brought me to tears. I couldn’t stop complaining to everyone about my living condition, particularly the transportation. My parents pitied on me so they told me to just book a flight ticket back home. I wasn’t happy at all. Basically, the first week was horrible but I survived and even grateful for it, and here’s why.
My homestay and host family were very modest. Despite being far from my ideal type of house, the overall condition was adequate. I hid my discomfort because I knew I shouldn’t complain on my own choice. They lived in modesty yet, they still warmly welcomed a foreigner to live in their house and help me to adjust. And, they became my family in Saigon 👩🏽👧🏽
The house was located a bit far from my work place and city centre. I couldn’t afford to take Grab Bike or Uber every day so the only option left was public bus. Similar to Jakarta, the public buses and transportation system in Saigon were sucks (even though Ahok had made a lot of improvements in recent years #masihbaper). So, if it’s similar, what was the problem?
The problem was: I NEVER TAKE PUBLIC BUS IN JAKARTA FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE. It’s considered not safe, inconvenient and risky. I’m lucky enough to have parents who will ensure that there is driver and car available to take me anywhere (Love ya, mam pap). Thus, the idea of taking bus was so scary to me. Sounds so spoilt, I know.
During my first attempt taking bus all by myself, the bus was freaking full. I had to stand for the entire journey, so packed without air conditioner in the middle of burning Saigon. I didn’t know how to pay because there was no space to move. The conductor was in the middle of the bus while i stood at the front side. I didn’t even know how to stop the bus when I had to get down. For the whole journey, I was paranoid about robbery because I was reminded over and over again to put off all my accessories (but I didn’t do it yet), hug my bag and wear proper clothes that did not attract people’s attention. I was sweating and obviously wanted to cry!!! I asked my self, ‘how are you going to do this for the next six weeks???” 😭
What’s worse, the bus stops were not anywhere near my homestay or work place. I had to walk for at least two kilometres in total everyday! Walking wasn’t the major problem except the fact that Saigon’s sun had no mercy. The city was burning. Besides excessive sweating, I got so much tanner, no matter how much sun screen I applied and long sleeve I wore. I was frustrated and eventually stopped trying to maintain my skin colour. One of the reason I lost weight was probably because the sun burnt my fats!!
The surprise wouldn’t stop here. Motorbikes were actually the most common mean of transportation in Saigon. Every night, after class, there were no more buses heading to my home so, my friend would give me a ride on his motorbike. It was very much convenient since I didn’t have to walk from the bus stop to my house. It’s just bizarre to me since, in Jakarta, I was never allowed to get a ride on a motorbike due to (again) safety reason whereas, in Saigon, motorbike was such a privilege to me. There was no single day passed without sitting on a motorbike.. 🏍
Thankfully, human was gifted with the ability to adapt. Things got better in the following weeks. I made a lot of friends, travelled around Vietnam, celebrated Vesak day in an unusual way, got the chance to lead my own class, and regularly volunteered in an orphanage full of adorable kids. I mastered the art of stopping a bus and used to carry my own helmet everywhere, in case my friend pick me up. By the end of the program, I cherished every moment I’ve been through and considered myself as half Vietnamese 🇻🇳
In terms of living condition, this was the most difficult one I’ve ever lived. There were days when I got dehydrated because I sweat too much without drinking enough water, or got in the wrong bus and ended up nowhere. Life would be so much easier if I simply chose having internship in Jakarta. However, even if I can rewind the time, I’d still choose going to Saigon all over again.
A year ago, today, I left Vietnam. I was ashamed of myself for often complaining about life while, in fact, I have more than enough. Those six weeks might be the most uncomfortable one but once I look back, I realised how much stronger I have become. They taught me countless life skills and definitely levelled up my survival ability. Most importantly, I learn to be content with my life and appreciate little things. Trust me, it makes you happier! ☺️
“Sometimes you have to look down in order to realise how much you have”