Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taking It All in Stride

The stress level in Vietnam is confusing. As a westerner, I feel considerable stress walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The traffic is horrific - even at 4AM (believe me, I've been awake to check). There are vans, taxis, buses and enough motorbikes to fill your mind of honking for weeks. How they weave in and out of traffic without getting killed is beyond me. To me, the road looks completely blocked with traffic. Dead stop. Then the honking begins (actually never really ceases). And the foreigner in me thinks - "You can honk, but that won't make us move" and amazing as it seems, up comes a motorbike, even a few dozen, and they swish through the crowd of stopped vehicles like a hot knife through butter.

The scary thing is, we have seen very young children on these bikes. They get attached to their adult with a special cloth strap, seated behind, and they go along for the ride. That would make me crazy. No helmet, no fear, no worries. Amazing.

The point of this blog is not to poke at the Vietnamese as doing something different from the western world, and therefore wrong. I am quite amazed at how they are able to live this way and not be completely stressed out. Crossing the street is really a chance to take stock of your life as you never know if you will make it to the other side in one piece. But the Vietnamese take it all in stride. The folks I've met who have made it to the States remark on how QUIET it is - even in the big cities.
Many people here eat on the streets. They literally pull their little stoves, chairs, tables and food out from their homes or storefronts and cook, then eat their meals right on the sidewalk. Each morning at 8, I see a group of women sitting around a little pot of something cooking, stirring, chopping and talking, each with their straw hats over their heads to shield the early sun. They look like they've been there for hours, making everything ready for the day. And they will come out in the evening again. Men cook as well - really you would see people all day, on every street cooking, sitting, drinking, talking. But with no indoor cooking facilities, what do they do in the rainy season? As they move through the morning or evening, people just walk around their cooking apparatus, food, the folks sitting on their chairs. It was described to me as the living room on the sidewalk. I agree. I would be stressed not to have a complete kitchen, and to have to cook on my sidewalk. But this is a way of life for the Vietnamese in this city. And the food they cook smells SO good!

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