So far it has been 1 week since my first day in my program here at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I have learned so much about this amazing city but that also could be just that I knew next to nothing about this city before I arrived. I have learned so much about the culture here and feel a lot more confident and happier to be here. Embarrassingly, in my time here, I learnt that Ho Chi Minh City also goes by the name Saigon. Now, I can laugh at my previous fears of traveling alone to a completely new place and culture.
The first night I arrived, I remember all I could think was, “Wow, that is a lot of motorbikes.” Motorbikes dominate and fill the streets. I always had read and heard about the amount of motorbikes here, but I didn’t fully comprehend it until I saw it. The amount of motorbikes made the streets seem so chaotic and hectic, however the longer I stayed, the more I saw an order to it. I rarely ever saw motorbike crashes and there was a reason for it. To describe it, I would say as if the motorbikes were just an extension of the people here. When you’re in traffic, you feel more like a person in a big crowd trying to walk around and get to your destination. It was a big change from the U.S. road system as it felt like I was learning a completely new driving system. One of my biggest struggles here has been having to learn how to cross the street. No longer is it the standard look both ways before you walk to make sure it is clear. Now I had to hold up my hand and just start walking across, trusting that the drivers will be able to either make their way around me or slow down enough.
At my placement here, I am staying in a local college dorm with 7 other beds in my room. This college hosts all the people from IVHQ working in Vietnam so I am meeting a lot of people doing different work. Something that actually surprised me about my placement, is the amount of French people in my program. I did not know if there would be a lot of other foreigners in the program with me, but I expected there to be a lot of Americans doing volunteer work. However, my first week here, there was only 3 other people from the US with me. For my placement, I am working in this small local restaurant about an hour bus ride away from the college. Their goal is to serve the poor, elderly, and disabled of the community but they cater to anyone. We make the meals ahead of time and the customers can buy one ticket for one meal or spend a little more for food to take-out. A ticket costs 20,000 VND or around 10¢ USD. At the program, we usually help prepare ingredients for the meals, clean up the restaurant, and serve food. One of the best parts is the smiles, the thumbs up, and the energy they show us from some of the elderly customers. It makes me feel so welcome even though I may not speak Vietnamese or know how to properly show respect to these amazing customers.
At around 10¢, you would not expect the most amazing food but the food that we serve, just like most Vietnamese food, tastes amazing. At the restaurant, we eat what we serve and the food there is simple but tasty. One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to do the Food Outreach program was I wanted to work in a food orientated environment since one of my passions is to cook. I was hoping to better understand what it would be like to cook as a service to others rather than to cook for my own pleasure. After working here and learning that I will be able to work in a restaurant that provides tasty cheap food to the community, I am excited to see what I learn both about myself and the culture here.