Ho Chi Minh City: First Blog Post!

Today was the first morning I went to school from my homestay. My host mom, Cô Lan, takes me to school but she leaves early for work so I got up at 6. She prepared me a big bowl of pho with green beans and an egg on top. It was so delicious I ate it all but I could feel it sloshing around in my stomach the whole time. It was so worth it though. She asked me about what my name means in English. I didn’t really know what “Kate” means but she said hers was a flower. I found out from my friend in language class that Lan means “orchid” in Vietnamese. I like that most Vietnamese names have a meaning beyond just being people names. I was early to school so I went out on the fire escape and listened to the city wake up. It was clear and sunny, but there was that faint misty quality to the air that only happens in the mornings. I admired the pastel mosaic of rooftops as roosters crooned and motorbikes revved their engines. A woman practiced tai chi on her balcony. A man watered the plants on his rooftop garden. It feels a little surreal, like I’m an imposter in someone else’s life at times.

In language class we practiced basic conversation questions and pronouns. In the Vietnamese language there’s a whole array of personal pronouns based on the age and gender of the person you are talking to and your relationship to them. For example, if I want to address a woman who is older than me by a decade or two, like my host mom or teacher, I use the pronoun “cô” for her and “em” for myself. But if I’m talking to a friend or peer that is close to my age I use “ban” to address them and “tôi” for myself. Okay so here’s the revelation: your OWN pronouns don’t only reflect who you are but also WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO. You explicitly acknowledge your relationship to your conversation partner practically every time you open your mouth. Perhaps this is a reflection of collectivist culture in language? The other point to get from this is that language is really hard and I literally am still struggling over the ABC’s after two weeks of being here. But, you know, I can count to three and use sign language to order food and drink so I would count that as a success.

Today I went out to lunch with a few students from my program, as we do most days. We walked a couple blocks through colorful alleys and a street market to get to an open-air food stand. Most stands here only sell one item, which makes ordering simple. We each got served a plate of broken rice, fresh vegetables, and crispy (potentially free-range?) chicken. It was the most incredible meal and cost a little over 2 US dollars; I may never be able to go back to US food again. After the chicken, I accompanied a couple of my lunch pals to a coffee shop where we lounged on the rooftop and enjoyed the time we had before class in each other’s company. There’s a whole other pace to my life here and It’s the most amazing thing to not be rushing from class to meeting, meeting to meal, meal to homework and gulping caffeine in between. The days are still full and tiring for sure, but the difference is that at the end of the day I feel like I was actually awake to experience it all.

I was going to write about this gorgeous fun exciting excursion we went on to the Can Gio Mangrove Forest, but I was too overwhelmed with where to start, so I’m just posting this short cute video.

Can Gio Mangrove Forest from Kate Woodall on Vimeo.

3 thoughts on “Ho Chi Minh City: First Blog Post!

  1. Jean

    Really leaving home is so expansive. I can hear it taking hold in each of your observations and insights. You are already forever changed. I am bowing to your courage. I can’t even imagine attempting such a glorious but challenging language. I am doing the wave for you and thank you for re-kindling my own wanderlust!


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