This is perhaps the most popular phrase in Southeast Asia. Since arriving in Thailand we have seen it everywhere, especially on t-shirts and in the names of cafes and guesthouses. But not until Vietnam have we actually heard people use it. And use it they do! The Vietnamese love to work this all-purpose but useless phrase into the conversation. It means what you'd expect: that something is largely the same but slightly different without explaining how. Really, a perfect phrase for Vietnam, where one is expected to blindly trust everyone.
We thought we'd take an opportunity to fill everyone in on some elements of Vietnamese culture that have stood out to us.
Bookshops sell only bootleg books. The only real books they will sell are used ones. Bootleg DVD stands are everywhere, and an English expat we met told us that she wouldn't even know where to buy real ones. She also told us that selling pirated material is not considered an illegal, unsavory trade in any way. The DVD makers are fond of putting random quotes on the xeroxed covers, and we have seen a English-title movie with a French critic's quote. We have also seen a DVD with, "Cheap and unsatisfying, a poor-quality film that manages to be entertaining enough." At $1 a movie, why not?
The other night we went to a bar called "Why Not bar," which we found to be a very fitting name because many of the pushy vendors in this country will ask 'why not?' when you don't want to buy their wares.
And they will sell you anything. In Hanoi, a woman sitting on a bench with ONE bottle of water (so it must have been one she was planning on drinking) held it up to us as we walked past.
It is not considered impolite to have a finger knuckle-deep in a nostril for a prolonged period while having a conversation. Hocking a big loogie or having a big sneeze near someone else is also perfectly acceptable.
The Vietnamese, especially the elderly, love to squat as opposed to standing or sitting. We've even seen someone squatting ON a bench while enjoying a view of the beach.
Restaurants are usually in people's homes, so it is not uncommon to be served (even at dinnertime) by someone wearing pajamas.
If a requested good or service is not able to be delivered (such as a beverage at a cafe, or even, a windsurfing lesson) you will not be told that you are not getting it, it just won't come. The attitude must be, "Well if they don't get it they'll obviously figure it out."
Personal boundaries as we are used to them do not exist. When our TV in one of our rooms was not working, a kid from the hotel came up to our room and fixed it for us. On his way out he helped himself to a qtip that was in a closed ziploc and stuck it in his ear in front of us! He did smile and say thank you.
Anyway, we write to you from paradise. We are staying at the beach in the small town of Mui Ne and we love it here. We have been waiting for a place like this and it feels especially good to be here considering it took us well over 30 combined hours on the bus from Hanoi. Before arriving here two days ago, we took an overnight bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang where we stayed for two nights to get a break from the bus. But Nha Trang pretty much sucked. The weather was crap, as was the beach, which was crowded with tons of people selling stuff. There were two nice enough pagodas in the city, but they were hardly worth the time spent there. Another four hours on the bus brought us here to Mui Ne, a town with one street that runs along the beautiful, 6 mile long white sandy beach. We are staying at the Sunshine Beach hotel which has the most beautiful grounds of any mid-range place we have seen, with spacious lawns shaded by palm trees abutting the beach where there are always plenty of free chairs. The service is excellent and they even have a DVD library so we can select a movie at the desk and then it'll be on the TV in our room at the time requested. Of course, the DVDs are not real (not that there's anything wrong with that), so we could not watch the movie we picked as the quality was so bad. We watched one on another channel picked by someone else, the quality of which fell apart in the last five minutes. Classic.
We're going to stay here more than a week! We thought we'd want lots of time at all of our stops in Vietnam, but most of them we raced through, so we have plenty of extra days before our next scheduled flight. We took our first windsurfing lesson today with a nice instructor from England. Of course, it was a struggle to get in the water with him. Combine universal surfer mentality with Southeast Asian lack-of-caring-about-detail and it's tough to schedule anything. The surf was raging today, which made it even more challenging, but we both steadily improved over the hour and are looking forward to the next time. Sorry no photos. We'll try to get to it when we have some free time. Ha! Stay warm everyone! ;)