The first night in Vietnam, I watched ‘Music & Lyrics,’ ‘Dreamgirls,’ and ‘Knocked Up.’ Yes, in a row. From my sagging hotel bed. Utterly pathetic, I know. But I was hiding from the bustling streets and, honestly, the Vietnamese. They rolled their eyes when I walked into their shops, they cut and pushed in line, they badgered me incessantly about prices, and they would not let me get away peacefully without making a purchase even if I wasn’t hungry and had no interest in their sliced mango. I couldn’t hang and instead forced myself to watch Hugh Grant again play another stutteringly sappy role.
Before long, I got used to the Vietnamese culture and realized that being in Vietnam is like hanging out with your fun new stepmom whose first three husbands happened to have died mysteriously. You really like her because she is interesting and different and likes to go bowling. Yet you sort of get the feeling she might stuff a pillow over your face while you‘re asleep. That is Vietnam: a country who offers its landscapes, beaches and friendly smiles but will come in the night and force you to give it all your money.
I was sad when I finally made that realization. But no matter how hard you try to erase the divide, it is relentless. And there will always be tourists vs. locals, white vs. dark, those with dining rooms vs. those who eat off the floor. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, always being the prey, the walking ATM. But it’s understandable.
Perhaps it stems from the several wars that Vietnam has perilously fought throughout the last few decades: first the Chinese, then the French, then America, then Cambodia. These probably taught the Vietnamese never to trust a foreigner, especially the white ones who raped a lot of women or, in the case of Americans, had no problem popularizing prostitution or stealing Vietnamese daughters away to the US. Plus, the culture here is very family and ancestral based. It has always been sort of Communist in that sense, taking a job for the good of the family and sacrificing for them as well. Sticking together. Shunning outsiders.
With this being the case, tourists have no chance of making local friends over here. It’s all about money. And when I finally gave myself over to such a sad realization, I began to have fun. And I became a pro at bargaining. In fact, I am wearing an entire outfit at the moment for which I paid only $8. Started at $16. Who’s ripping off who now, bitches?