HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Saigon's brilliant power company "accidentally" cut the DSL line in our neighborhood, and decided not to inform anyone about the mistake, so my house has been without internet for the past three days. The India posts will continue once the problem is resolved, but until then enjoy this post that I had already saved as a draft.

Originally published by Tuoi Tre News at: http://tuoitrenews.vn/cmlink/tuoitrenews/city-diary/a-wall-of-sound-1.35316

One thing that continues to surprise me, even after being in Saigon for ten months, is the sheer volume of life in Vietnam. I grew up in a very quiet neighborhood back in New Orleans, so I’m used to minimal disruptions as I go about my daily business, but that has changed completely here.

Obviously, the loudest areas are the streets of the city. The rush of motorbikes, which really only abates between roughly 11 at night and 5 in the morning, creates a constant, low roar that manages to penetrate almost any building you enter. However, I’ve managed to adjust to this sound, tuning it out as white noise, much like the vuvuzelas during last year’s football World Cup in South Africa.

What I haven’t been able to adjust to, and probably never will, is the cacophony of horns that is audible wherever you go in the city. Where I come from, honking is really only meant to be used if you are about to have an accident; otherwise it is almost seen as an insult. Honking at someone for no reason in the U.S. really makes people angry, and can even lead to physical violence, albeit rarely. In Vietnam, however, the ability to honk seems to be even more important than the ability to actually drive your motorbike (or car). People honk when they are simply driving through an intersection, they honk when they are turning, they honk at you when there are 3 seconds left on the red light, and some people just honk repeatedly every few seconds, even if they are going in a straight line and no one is in their way.

I understand why honking is necessary in some situations, although I almost never do it myself; such as when you are going through an intersection late at night and the stoplights are flashing yellow, so other drivers know you are there; or when someone is about to run into you; but most of the time drivers here are completely obnoxious in how much they blow their horns.

Another strange sound comes from the stores that blast music onto the street in a misguided attempt to attract customers. There is an electronics store on the corner of Cao Thang and Vo Van Tan that always has awful music playing out of speakers set up outside. One thing is for certain, I will never visit that store. There is a clothing store below one of the schools I teach at in District 5 that blares techno in the evening, and it can be heard in almost every classroom in the building. Usually I feel like I’m in a nightclub whenever I teach there. I don’t know who is attracted to such annoying sounds.

Finally, I find that Vietnamese people, in general, are quite loud. Americans have a reputation as being loud and obnoxious, and that is certainly true in some cases, but I’ve encountered many locals here that could put most Americans to shame. For example: One of the classes I taught a few months ago had just four students in it, so you would probably guess that it’s a pretty quiet environment, right? Wrong. Even when the kids are sitting right across from each other, they simply scream, even if they aren’t arguing. They could have been talking about what they had for breakfast, but it was approximately the same volume as a jet engine at takeoff. I loved the students, but I left almost every class with a headache from the noise. I’ve yet to understand how they could tolerate it day in and day out.

I can also clearly hear every conversation that takes place as people walk down the alley in front of my house. Personally, I like most of what I say to be more private; I don’t want people a block away to be able to listen in on conversations without even trying. Perhaps people here are used to having to talk loudly on the street so they can be heard over the previously mentioned din of traffic, but it’s just overkill when shouting goes on indoors or in a quite alleyway. I love living in Saigon, but when I visit home in August, I’m going to just sit outside my house for a while and take in the peaceful quiet of an average residential street.

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