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June 03, 2010


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So sorry your trip was marred by sickness and indifference. Still it sounds like you found a lot of good things there, both in the food and surroundings! =)


Garrett: The cultural part was way over the top for me. Who would have thought? Where did it all come from? Mexico is a piece of cake, but in Vietnam the cacophony of beeping horns and scooters drove me to distraction. The hawking store owners made me cringe. What is wrong with me?

I squatted on the street and ate some little thimble-sized deep-fried batter cups set on a bed of random green herbs and slivered onions with little banana leaf-wrapped sausages. You drizzle some fish sauce with vinegar over the dish and mix in a dab of hot chile paste (fantastic). The cook and her assistant were lovely and real...despite...or perhaps because of...our language differences. I ate there twice. Because it was real.


I was in Vietnam for 3 weeks in January. Its intensity is unmatched in my experience, and yes, Mexico is a breeze in comparison. But my experience was very different from yours. It was a lot to stomach, indeed, but I found it fascinating and the people welcoming. They seemed proud--even smug to Americans--but remarkably forgiving and progressive-minded. This contrasted starkly to the ambivalence and superiority I sensed in many Americans' reactions to the idea of visiting Vietnam.


Laura: There is no question that dicey food in the first couple days resulted in a relentlessly unforgiving stomach and this colored my experience in Vietnam. Definitely. But more to the point, I had some personal epiphanies about my place in Asia and in Japan. I saw Vietnam through the eyes of an ex-pat, no actually "foreign-wife-there-until-I-die" resident of Japan. Sure I saw those silly tourists and their ridiculous behavior. But that was not about me. I wasn't really interested in them. I compartmentalize, so have no problem separating myself from being "the American." Perhaps what was most disconcerting was that it was not my Asia. Japan, I know...Vietnam, not at all. When all is said and done, I think I'll just return to traveling in the countries where I can at least communicate in French, Spanish or Italian. Oh sure, I speak Japanese, but I don't need to travel in Japan because I live here.

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