Seen from Thailand, Vietnam was always a little scary. It was a little further than the immediately neighbouring countries, had a more or less unrelated language (with shotgun accents), and had an alarming effect on people. Travellers would drift into northeast Thailand from Laos and go on about how peaceful it was, how friendly, … ‘so different from Vietnam’.
Now I’m here, I’ve been amazed how pleasant Vietnam has turned out to be. Admittedly ‘peaceful’ is not the first word I’d reach for to describe it. Here in Thủ Dầu Một, a smallish town which is more or less a suburb of HCMC, the traffic is still loud (horns used constantly) and death-courting rather than -defying, but it’s not as spectacular as I’d imagined.
People have been delightful — somewhat surprised to see foreigners outside the big city, but non-threateningly curious and happy to attempt to communicate. Students so far are great: reasonably well-behaved, mostly on time, and most importantly (and surprisingly) very willing to practice listening and speaking in class, despite years of (I assume) decidedly non-communicative language teaching. Even their general knowledge (which in the context of English textbooks means knowledge of prominent Anglo-Saxons of about ten years ago) is not bad, considering the students were born after the first Gulf War.
The honeymoon won’t last forever. I’ll come across annoying people, and cheating students; I might get pick-pocketed; I’ll go to some of the tourist honeypots and wonder why I ever came here. But I’m glad that my first experiences of Vietnam were of living and working away from the tourist ghettos, and I’ll try to remember then the pleasant surprises I’ve had so far.