Monday, January 18, 2010

Week One

So it's been a week since I got to Hanoi. That seems kind of hard to believe, yet at the same time it feels like it's been a lot longer. But I suppose that's how things always work. I'm still definitely feeling some culture shock. It's not nearly as bad as it had been, but I think as long as I have the crutches I'll feel at least a little bit uncomfortable here. I have an appointment to (hopefully) get the cast off next saturday, I'm very excited. I've also had a kinda bad cold for the past few days, so all in all I haven't had that great a time here so far, though i think that'll change really quickly once I'm feeling better and can walk again.

Today was our 5th day of vietnamese class. It's an incredibly difficult language, at least when you're first learning it. There are 12 vowels and 6 tones, so saying a word slightly wrong will completely change the meaning. Luckily the grammar is fairly simple- you don't even need to include verbs in some sentences, there's a structure of topic-explaination. For example, you could say "my name Laura", and it's completely grammatically correct, which is quite nice seeing as how I hate grammar. So far we can introduce ourselves and where we're from, count, and say a few other basic phrases.

Other than our language class, we're taking Intro to Vietnamese Studies, Modern Vietnamese History, and Environmental Sustainability. We've only had one class each of History and Vietnamese Studies (we only have them once a week), and Environmental Sustainability won't really start until we get to Saigon, so the class load isn't too bad, and it mostly doesn't actually feel like school.

We're starting to meet a lot of other westerners here. A big group of kids from Connecticut College moved into our guesthouse 2 days ago. Most of them are a lot more preppy than the people I'm used to hanging out with, but it's nice to have other college kids around. There's another American who lives on my floor who has been here for about a year and a half. She has a mohawk and is altogether a rather cool person, and she takes classes at the same school we do. Most of the other westerners I've met are also students at the school. There's a surprising number of Americans there, and I'm starting to recognize some of them and have introduced myself to a few people.

Today was the first really sunny, warm day we've had in Hanoi. "Sunny" might be giving it a little too much credit- there's so much smog here that the sky can barely be called blue. It's definitely the result of all the vehicles on the road- anything you've heard about motorbikes and traffic in Vietnam is completely true. Almost nobody here owns a car, the motorbike is the main form of transportation. I'm sure there are traffic rules that you have to know to get your license, but nobody follows any of them. To cross the street you just sort of go, and hope the motorbikes successfully avoid hitting you. I usually wait until the traffic is a little less heavy, but the Vietnamese people usually won't wait, and they always make it to the other side.

I've been on a motorbike three times so far. The first time was last Wednesday, when Ruby (my roommate) took me out to go shopping and see the city. We bought a lot of fruit from curbside vendors, most of which I'd never seen before. I'm not sure we even have names for them in english, if so I've certainly never heard of them. They are all delicious though, I hope I can find them somewhere when I get back to the US.

On saturday, our trip leaders set up a game they called The Amazing Race to help us get to know the city. It was a series of missions that, together with your roommate, you had to complete in order to get the next clue. Because of my broken ankle, they gave me the option of either playing by taxi (which no one else was allowed to use) or being one of the people giving out clues, so I chose to help with the clues. Ruby and I were placed at a restaurant downtown, and in order to get the next clue from us they had to crack open roasted watermelon seeds that had been dyed red, a traditional snack for Tet. We had a lot of time to relax and eat lunch while everyone else ran frantically around the city, trying to figure out where they were supposed to go. Personally I think we got the better end of the deal.

That same night Ruby was meeting up with two of her friends for dinner, and invited me to come along. We ate a dish called a Hot Pot, where you get a boiling pot of broth on a stove, a plate of raw veggies and a plate of (in our case) raw seafood, and you cook the food right there at the table. It was quite yummy, and I ate a lot of kinds of fish I never thought I'd touch, such as squid. After dinner we went and ate ice cream on the steps of the Opera house, which is a popular hangout spot for Vietnamese teens.

That's all for now, I'm meeting the rest of my group soon for a big week-one check-in dinner.

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