Vietnam – A Tough Nut To Crack

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Tourist boats taking off in Trang An in Ninh Binh, Vietnam.

During our two months of travel, I’ve written about many of the places we’ve visited, how I’ve felt and experienced the different cities, attractions and the traveling life in general. But writing about traveling in Vietnam has been tough and I’ve been avoiding writing this text for a couple of days now.

Why? Because I’m not having very warm feelings towards this country.

Two months ago, we started off in Thailand which, after leaving Bangkok, was a surprisingly friendly and gentle introduction to Southeast Asia. After Thailand, we travelled to Malaysia, where I experienced my first culture shock but as we got out from Kuala Lumpur, I had a great time exploring the country.

Vietnam, however, continues to be a struggle even after two and a half weeks. I’ll do my best to explain to you why.

Dread Behind Every Corner

We started in Hanoi which was a traffic hell and where we learned the hard way that in this city, the locals are after the tourist’s money.

(The money itself takes a while to get used to: the value of Vietnamese Dong has drastically reduced because of inflation and you end up with a lot of zeros. 25 000 dong equals one euro or one dollar. So, in Vietnam, you have the chance be a millionaire. Your million, however, isn’t very valuable.)

For instance, in a restaurant, there’s a separate menu for tourists with fixed prices and one for the Vietnamese locals without prices. And here, many of the taxis drive according to a taxi meter but some of the meters tick with hell of a speed – an 8-minute trip ends up costing 250 000 dong, more than 10 times we agreed upon with the taxi driver (yes, we got scammed).

We have learned that this hunger for money is the only reason many of the locals are friendly – they want you to buy something from them. Whether it’s tailored clothes, a trip to Halong Bay or just a photo with a Vietnamese fruit seller – they want your money. Or they try to sell you motorcycle parking, a fan or even a squirrel (or maybe it was a photo with the squirrel) – it’s about the money.

Behind every corner there is someone who wants something from you.

And the things is, when you politely say no thank you, their friendliness disappears. Suddenly, the smile fades away and the friendly words feel fake. We have met only a handful of genuinely nice locals – and that’s sad. This has led to the point where we, subconsciously, are taking distance from the Vietnamese people.

The Language Barrier

Another issue has definitely been the language. There are some in Vietnam that can speak good English but the majority in this country can only the basics of it: hello, thank you, one cold beer, bye bye. But that’s all – and that only gets you so far.

In Thailand and in Malaysia, things were very different. In both countries, it was easier to communicate with the locals and deal with unexpected situations such as problems with transportation or food orders. In Vietnam, however, it is almost impossible.

Because there’s a different price for tourists, and it is mostly higher, we would like to bargain or argument for our own benefit. In this country, it has proved to be difficult. For instance, with the taxi scam, the driver kept on yelling police! but didn’t understand (or listen to) a single word we were saying, therefore making it impossible to deal with the situation.

And, in a restaurant, when we tried to explain that we had the same day in that same place gotten a cold water for the price of 10 000 dong, and the lady was now asking for 12 000, and why aren’t we getting the same price again – she didn’t understand but thought we wanted a cold Coke instead (that would have been 15 000 dong).

This leads to the point where we try to avoid all sorts of communication with the Vietnamese people. We just end up loosing and it doesn’t get us anywhere – or we end up having to say no thank you to all their offers on “great” deals and prices and get the fading smiles and some Vietnamese words said in a sour tone.

How To Trust and Understand If…

The continuous trouble with money and the difficulties with communicating have led to the point where we have the feeling that we cannot trust these people.

This is a generalization, of course: some of the hostels and homestays we’ve stayed at have been wonderful and we’ve gotten very good and genuinely nice service.

But the common man we meet on the street, we cannot trust. For me, it’s very difficult to accept this because for the most part I like to give a chance to everyone. I like to give the benefit of the doubt – but here, I’ve been forced to change my attitude.

Trusting would be easier, if we could understand the locals (after all, feelings related to fear come from not understanding). If we could talk with the Vietnamese people, hear about their opinions and views on their country, about the heavy tourism, their view on their history and future, we would be able to understand these people better, meet them differently.

But we cannot. Issues with money and language aren’t solved overnight. Therefore, we are stuck in our situation, in feelings of discomfort and the need for distance from the locals and their culture. We have one week left before leaving this country and flying to the next and I’m happy for it.

Vietnam is a tough nut to crack – and I don’t know if I want to crack it at all.

When Death Collects One

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(This post deals with death and suicide – no gory details, but still, please read with caution.)

We all distract ourselves from the realities of life in different ways. Some turn to Netflix to watch TV-series for an hour or two. Some spend time on social media watching what others our doing. Some go out and get active, running or playing pool or trying to escape from Escape Room in less than 60 minutes.

And some distract themselves from the realities of life by leaving it.

When a person one knows so well decides to take his own life, it forces oneself to think about the world in a very different way. And it forces oneself to think about death in a very different way.

About what led to the point of no return.

About how strong but at the same time selfish the act has been, the person has been.

Was there something I could have done differently – or how much do we actually have control over this kind of things? (the answer is: very little)

How is becomes was.

One thinks of what happens after death, if there’s a place for the deceased to go to and if that place looks like Nangijala, the land of campfires and storytelling as depicted in Astrid Lindgren’s book The Brothers Lionheart.

About how we humans consume mystery and murder novels, have no trouble watching Game of Thrones or Handmaid’s Tale where people are shot, hanged, beaten, or killed with a sword or a bow or by a monstrous beast. How we voluntarily watch people die and suffer in TV-series and movies when the reality of someone dying is so horrible. It’s a weird conflict.

And one thinks about the statistics. How both the person who passed away and oneself become a part of the statistics on (1) young people who decide to take their own lives and (2) on people who know someone who has done it. And how crap that is, especially when one knows the specific statistics in Finland.

Lastly, and this is a more consoling thought, one thinks about stoicism and how a person has no or very little control over other people’s choices. I can only appreciate this person’s will and believe he is better now.

And remember that the best cure to deal with death is to live; to be active, to try new things, meet new people, stick to what gives meaning to one’s life and remember the ones who have left this world with warmth.

Reconnecting, part II

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Another advanced election week only a month after the previous. Another 70 hours of work requiring constant alertness squeezed into seven days. Another week of stressful sleep that leaves me dizzy when the alarm clock goes off at 6.30 AM.

You could call this post Reconnecting, part II.

Why do I do the work? A good question – especially when you consider all the negative aspects of the whole thing. Why would anyone want to put oneself through that?

For the democracy?

To show my respect towards the fact that we are able to vote and it’s a great honor?

Because of the voters? The atmosphere? The politics?

Unfortunately, no.

I do it for the the money.

(Side note: I also do it for the great company – we have an awesome crew at the place where I work so I’ve had fun times as well, but money is the main reason I put myself through the week.)

I am graduating in just a few weeks – if my thesis is accepted, which I’m pretty sure will happen – and after that I am taking a break from the ordinary, day-to-day life of this work-driven society.  To be able to do that, I need money.

(I’ll tell more about my plans later.)

So, here I am: tired both physically and mentally, taking a few days break from more or less everything before diving into new projects.

Despite of that, I’m kind of happy I did this week of election work, too.

My bank account is happy and my mind a bit more free when it doesn’t have to think too much about economical things.

But most of all, the good thing about the 70 hours of work in a week is that as I haven’t been able to write during those days, my mind has still been actively thinking. Right now, my brain is filled with ideas for blog posts, fan fiction short stories and revisions on Yellow Tails and I can’t wait to get to dive into all these things.

However, right now, this is all the text I can manage to produce today. I’ll be back next week with some new thoughts on life, the future and the past. See you on Thursday!

 

 

Still Life Sunday: An Optimized Route

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14 An Optimized Route

I stand on a crowded street, letting people, bikes and cars pass me by without really seeing them.

I am here to test something. A route. A passage that I have planned for days.

For days, even weeks, I’ve taken notice of how other people walk from one place to another. On which side of the road they opt to stay on, in what traffic lights to cross the street to the other side. Who of them step over to the lane meant for cyclists in order to walk faster and who stay on the pedestrian side.

All these things I’ve observed.

And what I’ve concluded from my many observations is that hundreds of people opt for a route that isn’t the fastest, most efficient one. No. Instead, they waste seconds that turn into minutes by choosing streets that are crowded and traffic lights that do not change color in the favor of pedestrians.

What a waste of time, I think. What a waste of energy! I would like to tell this to these wasteful people walking the streets.

I’ve spent most of my life optimizing my time. I am an optimizer (I ask you kindly not to confuse it with optimist, because that I am not). Therefore, I have planned and altered and optimized this route I’m about to take. I’ve put down so many thoughts, so many hours to be able to save as much time and energy as possible.

It is important, I tell people. I am optimizing my well-being.

Some think it’s unnecessary, pointless to put this much energy to plan something so little. It’s only a few minutes from your day, they say. Why make such a big deal out of it? Why not enjoy the fresh air, the commotion, the moment?

I tell them that instead of enjoying the moment on a crowded street with honking cars and sometimes angry but mostly passive-aggressive cyclists (you might notice the sarcasm here), I want to enhance my route, develop it into the best possible route from place A to place B. I want to be in control of my own time and resources, I say to them.

So here I am, in the beginning of the route I’ve thought out in advance. I am about to test the passage for the first time today.

It is Monday, the most stressed out day of the week. As I stand on the street, I can feel the stress in the air. The impatience, the sweat. I can almost smell it. So unnecessary, I think to myself, such a waste of resources.

But after taking only a few steps along my pre-planned route, I halt to remind myself of two things.

Reminder number one: My route may not be any better than the energy-draining route other people walk every single day. I might be just as wasteful of my resources as they are.

But my case is different: I am in control of my route.

Therefore, reminder number two: As long as I’m consciously thinking about my route and critically evaluating it, I will be taking many more steps forward compared to all these people who walk their routes in an auto pilot mode. I am developing while the others waste their time walking these streets.

I start taking steps again on my pre-planned route and I think: I’m already ahead of them.

 

Still Life Sunday: Caretaker

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6 The Caretaker

Of the four siblings, only one had children. It was the wife of the eldest son who gave birth to a daughter. They were both already older than the age parents usually are when having their first-born. She was the only child and the only one to carry on the family genes to the next generation.

As the years went by, the siblings grew older. All four of them were born during a time span of ten years, and therefore everything happened to them almost at the same time.

One of the siblings, the younger brother, died of cancer in his seventies but the three others lived on.

Since they were from the same family, they also shared some of the same personality traits. One of these traits was utter stubbornness. And the other one was the willpower to survive on one’s own without the help of others. Especially when they all started having symptoms of dementia or even Alzheimer’s, these two sides became painfully obvious.

When they started having trouble getting to the grocery store, none of them wanted help from the outside. Not even when they started falling in their apartment, stumbling upon some thing or another and could not get up on their own. One of the sisters even claimed that an emergency phone would only be a way for the government to spy on her and refused to have one in her apartment.

So, the only one who could take care of these three siblings (and the wife of the eldest brother, because he was the only one who got married) and who was trusted enough not to release any information to the government, was the daughter of the eldest brother. Suddenly, in only a few years, the daughter had four elderly people with dementia to take care of.

It felt like a circus. It was a circus. Phone calls to different care-taking companies, and the same phone calls made again when the siblings declined to receive the help of the others. Visits to the homes of the siblings to make sure everything was okay and to keep them company, since they became more isolated as their condition deteriorated. And when someone would fall or become sick, it was the hospitals the daughter called to and visited.

It was crazy. But she was a person with a heart too big even for herself.

At the same time, as she made the phone calls and the visits, she secretly hoped for a relief. That even one of the siblings would leave this world and by that make her world somewhat lighter, easier to handle.

But since all of the three siblings shared the same stubbornness, they all lived on. Grinding their teeth and holding on to this world as both their memory and body deteriorated, making life hard for themselves – and for the daughter.

Luckily – if you can call it luck – the daughter had inherited the same stubbornness and even she held on. She would hold on, until one day all three of them would have died and she would be free to live her own life.

If there was one left for her to live.