HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ridiculist

Travel writing lends itself to the creation of lists, many a writer's crutch when they are out of ideas. Travel websites and guides abound with lists of varying usefulness: 'The Top 6 Restaurants in Paris', 'The Top 9 Scenic Sights in Turkey', 'The Top 4 Whorehouses in Bangkok', etc. The problem with lists is that they usually make the author sound as if they are the definitive expert on whatever it is they are talking about; if you don't do what's on their list, you haven't gotten the full experience. This couldn't be farther from the truth: ask five people to name the best pubs in Prague and you will get five different lists. Most list are innocuous enough though, and I'll readily admit that I enjoy perusing them from time to time. However, every once in a while you come across a list that is so misleading, so inexplicable that you have to wonder why it was ever published.

Take, for example, this list posted on the Huffington Post's website last week. Entitled "The 9 Best Things To Do In Vietnam", I was expecting something that more or less covered the length and breadth of the country, and included things accessible to everyone. #9, about visiting ethnic minority villages around Sapa, is fine.

But things start to go wrong with #8 - "Dine at the epicenter of culture at an exclusive dinner at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi." Huh? For those of you who don't know, the Temple of Literature hosted the first national university in Vietnam, and has a long history of education and spirituality. What it is not known for, however, is food. The temple is one of Hanoi's most popular tourist attractions (I've visited it), but I have never heard anything about the possibility of eating there. There is no restaurant. No one lives there. What is the author talking about?

Numbers 6 and 7 aren't any better, and at this point it becomes clear that the list should really have been called 'The 9 Best Things I Do With My Rich Friends In Vietnam'. Here is 7: "Enjoy a private reception at a first-rate gallery in Hanoi. The curator is our longtime friend, and the creme of Hanoi's artists are in attendance." And #6: "Take a private cooking class with a gourmet chef, our friend of two decades who is frequently featured on Vietnamese cooking shows." Since this list is not presented in a way that makes it clear that the author is talking about her personal 9 best things, one could assume that everything on it is available to anyone. So, does that mean I can walk into an expensive art gallery in Hanoi and shout, "Yo, curator, what's up man? That artist over there is hot!" If you're going to make a list where you just talk about what you do with your friends, say so beforehand.

But wait, we're not done with the friends yet (and who is included in 'our'?), for #5 is: "Visit the collection of antiques and photographs of the 'American War' by our friend Cuong, who photographed the fall of Saigon and was later sent to a Marxist re-education camp. His life story has been the subject of a PBS documentary." I'm sure this man's life story is a fascinating one, but seriously, what's with the name-dropping? And we aren't even given any details of where these things are.

Perhaps most revolting is number 4: "Enter a state of blissful oblivion at the breathtaking Six Senses Con Dao beach resort, located on a white sand beach of stunning natural beauty." I'll save you the effort of a Google search and tell you that the Six Senses is arguably the most luxurious resort in the country. The cheapest room is $500 a night, and the most expensive is over $2,000. Should you really be including something that costs nearly as much for one night as the average Vietnamese person makes in an entire year? 

Now, it's entirely possible that I just misread this article, but in my view this wasn't presented as a list of personal experiences that only she (or whoever 'our' is) could take part in. The author states, "Here is my list of the nine best things to do in Vietnam." Does that not give the sense that these will be things everyone should (or even could) do? The more honest way would've been to call this 'The 9 Best Things I've Done In Vietnam," and make it clear that they involve personal connections (and a lot of money) that not everyone has access to. The list uses the word 'exclusive' once and 'private' three times. Vietnam is a communal country. One does not truly experience it by hobnobbing with the elite.

If I wrote an article with the same name, would I put "Ride a bicycle from Hanoi to Saigon" at #1? No. Sure, it is the best thing I've done here, but not everyone could, or should, do it. Travel lists are meant to be guides, not proof of how swanky or amazing your life is. (The author is also very North Vietnam-centric, and she makes a grievous mistake at the end while saying you should drink a 'cold 33 Export beer'...it's 333, lady.) As someone who gets paid for their words, this article really pushed all of my buttons the wrong way. Sadly, people commenting on it seem to be taking it seriously. What a shame. End rant/

9 comments:

  1. Ah that's where you're wrong. It used to be 33, but at some point in history, acquired an extra 3. Google it.

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    1. Well, fair enough...but it's not called that anymore.

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  2. I feel insulted while reading that article. Sorry for my language but that's total BS. Vietnam is not Vietnam without 3 places: Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon. They have the most influence on Vietnamese culture. Ask any Vietnamese person or anyone with a slight understanding of Vietnamese cultural and they will tell you that Vietnam is actually divided into North, Central, and South and most definitely those 3 cities will always pop up.

    I might be generalizing and a bit biased but this is why:

    1.Hanoi is the old capitol ( Like Philadelphia during the colonial period and Washington D.C.)

    2. Hue is more of the cultural center due to it's imperial court and it's very distinct ( Comparable to Boston/ New York)

    3. Saigon is the commercial center ( Like LA/ New York)

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  3. I agree with you about the article in general. It is lazily written - Top X lists often are - but this one is particularly lacking in value.

    However, I think it's unfair to call a night in Six Senses "revolting". It's up to the tourist how they want to spend their money and in a list of 9 things to do in Vietnam I would absolutely include a high-end resort like Six Senses or Nam Hai because there is a degree of comfort and good service that can not easily be found elsewhere.

    Also, regarding 33 vs 333, while you are probably right that the author intended to say "333", there actually is a beer brewed called 33 which is produced in Saigon by a different company.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I've never had the chance to stay at a high-end place here, so I suppose I might not be the best judge of whether they should be included or not.

      Also, guess I should've double-checked on the beer - I've never heard of 33. My mistake.

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  4. Hi Michael:

    Funny. I read that same article and had the same reaction. THIS is the type of person who gets on the prestigious Huff Post site? Really? It was totally useless and showed how out of touch the author is with reality. Conde Nast sometimes presents very exclusive travel experiences, but at least they tell you how to do it (even if it costs thousands). Two thumbs down to the author.

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    1. Exactly! It is a bad list, but if it had been presented as some sort of 'exclusive' way to see the country, then I wouldn't have had such a problem with it. Glad you agree.

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  5. I lived in Viet Nam for most of the American War. Drank a lot of 33 and LaRue. Dalat is delightful. Danang has the prettiest girls. Vung Tau has the best beaches.

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