HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Welcome to the Comfort Zone

I have now been in Vietnam for two months, and for all but the first two weeks I have been living in a house in District 3. Considering how much distance I covered and how many places I stayed before moving into the house, this feels like an eternity. I flew out of Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on the afternoon of August 26, stopping in Houston, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, before finally deplaning in Phnom Penh on the 28th, where I was immediately whisked away to the OK Guesthouse. There wasn't much time to settle in, however, because we took an 8-hour bus ride to Siem Reap the following weekend to visit Angkor. Another city, another hotel.

The weekend after that, we took another lenghty bus ride to Sihanoukville, home to Cambodia's best beaches on the Gulf of Thailand, where we became aquainted with yet another hotel. After getting roasted by the sun for two days, I had to pack up for another 8-hour bus ride, this time to Ho Chi Minh City, where I was scheduled to finish my teacher training. The bus dropped us off, burned, exhausted, and totally disoriented in the middle of District 1, and we were soon taken to yet another hotel. I stayed there for two weeks before finally moving into my house, where I was able to unpack my suitcase for the first time in a month.

After all of that moving about, did I settle in and relax? No, the first weekend after becoming a renter in Vietnam my roommate Andee and I took a weekend trip to the Mekong Delta. Since coming back from that trip on October 3, I haven't left the city. Now that I've spent so much time in one place, I have without a doubt fallen into a comfort zone. I see a friend of mine teaching in Taiwan is experiencing the same thing (http://ghiossimeetstaiwan.blogspot.com/ - Oh and AJ, I swear I was thinking of writing this before I read your post.), so I know I'm not alone in this feeling. This isn't to say that I'm comfortable with every single aspect of daily life here - the language can be an issue, and the traffic still annoys me at times, to cite two examples. However, I do definitely have a bit of a weekly routine: Soccer every Tuesday and Thursday, going out to eat a few times a week, relaxing at home during the week before I work in the evening, not going out on Friday or Saturday because I have work at 7:30 the next morning, etc. Given how easily I've fallen into routine, I've become a little worried that I may lose sight of what is, at least for me, the ultimate reward of living here: travel, both within Vietnam and to other countries in the region.

In order to minimize this loss of focus, I regularly assess when I may be able to travel, and what cities or natural sights I simply have to see before I head back to the States. Several trips are in the preliminary stages of planning, and one has already been finalized: 3 nights in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and 1 night in Singapore over the Christmas holiday (I'll talk about those places once the departure date gets closer). Having set plans helps keep me motivated for work each day, and the excitment and cultural enrichment that I know these trips will bring gets me through any tough classes I may have. Keeping upcoming adventures in mind ensures that I will keep my eye on the prize.

It's interesting how quickly one can establish a "comfort zone" in the city or country they live in. This goes back to the culture shock post I wrote a few weeks ago. Some people can easily adapt to totally new surroundings, while others aren't as adept at accepting different cultures. It feels a little strange to be writing about how comfortable I feel in Vietnam, a truly exotic place that many other Americans will never see, probably because they know so little about the place. Sights that amazed and astounded me when I first got here don't even merit a second glance now - the ridiculous things, such as washing machines and TV's, that people squeeze onto their motos, babies sleeping while riding on a moto, the sheer number of options when it comes to eating out, etc.

Again, this doesn't mean everything that I experience is a repeat. One of my classes tonight, for example, ended up being quite interesting. It's a small class of young adults, mostly my age or slightly younger.There are five girls in the class, and I realized tonight that they all have a crush on me. We finished our lesson with about 10 minutes left in class, so they spent the rest of the time grilling me about my personal life: Them - "Do you live with your girlfriend?" Me - "No, I don't have a girlfriend. But I live with two girls, who are friends." Them - "What if you fall in love?" Me - "Uhhh..." Them - "Mike, will you marry a Vietnamese girl?" Me, blushing heavily at this point - "Whoa, I'm not planning on getting married anytime soon, so I can't even answer that." I could go on, but I think you get the point. Anyway, I am now learning where to draw the line between being friendly with your students and flirting with them. One thing I'm not totally comfortable with yet is what Vietnamese people see fit to talk about in casual conversation. Sex, for example, is totally taboo, as is politics, for obvious reasons. Everyone, however, asks whether you have a girlfriend or not, and commenting on how you look - even negatively - is completely acceptable. This can make for some interesting conversations, ones that are much different from personal discussions in the U.S.

I realize this post was a little scatterbrained, probably because I am dead tired and coming down with a cold. So, to summarize: after finally settling down over the last month, I've eased into a comfortable routine, despite the fact that I'm living in a city that is vastly different when compared to any other place I've lived. Nonetheless, I am still regularly experiencing new things, and I'm sure that will continue over the next year or so. I just wish I could start going on trips tomorrow. Oh well, the wait will be worth it.

Finally, to commemorate two and a half great months in Southeast Asia, five of my favorite pictures that haven't already appeared somewhere on this blog:
Phnom Penh right before the start of a monsoon

On an island in the Gulf of Thailand
Inside the atmospheric Jade Pagoda in Saigon
Getting artistic in Chinatown
Playing with my camera - this was taken with a very slow shutter speed so the headlights of passing motobikes looks like one stream of light.


  1. haha. Clearly I hear where you're coming from. Malaysia and Singapore sound awesome. Right now looking forward to X-mas and Chinese New Year is the only thing getting me through some of these workdays...

  2. Just so you know- After reading most (though i admit not all) of your posts and looking at the various pictures you've posted, I am supremely jealous.