Vietnam: Just, Vietnam

“Err… we eat the pets.”

That was the response I got from one student, in my first ever class I taught, in Vietnam. The subject for the English lesson was ‘Companies,’ and I had been tasked with teaching the fundamental ideas and vocabulary behind limited liability companies, publicly owned companies, mutual funds… you get the idea. Part of this involved touching on charities and non-profits. The line above was in response to a question based around shelters; I probably shouldn’t have asked if they know of an equivalent pet rescue establishment.

Whilst I’m not sure how accurate or truthful that statement was, the eyebrow-raising factor of that occurrence was reminiscent of many of its kind that I’ve experienced in the five or six weeks I’ve been in Vietnam. Whether it’s something someone says, cooks, transports, does (or doesn’t do), coming from New Zealand there is never a shortage of entertaining, amusing and informative experiences.

The first thing to understand about Vietnam is that there aren’t many things, except maybe a building, or a truck that can’t be transported on the back of a 110cc scooter. This skill has been honed by generation after generation; this is a bicycle used to sell fishing equipment back in the day.


You’ll often see people that have welded up to 3 additional shock absorbers per side of the bike in order to deal with the extra weight of, say, a generator. I’ve also seen a fridge being moved on the back of a scooter but I wasn’t able to get a photo.


Live chickens.


Not-so-live pigs.


A selection of live fish and turtles.


Other than the diversity of transport options available, the next thing you’d notice here is the food and drink that gets consumed. When it comes to meat, nothing gets wasted, and there’s no shortage of weird things that get added to the ‘rice wine’ (tip: if someone offers you some of this stuff, make no mistake, it’s essentially a spirit that can range in strength between vodka and pure ethanol).


This is a concoction of sweet foods. A few of us got quite excited when we were told we’d be visiting a sweet shop, only to find the Vietnamese classify sweets by a different system. This is a soup made of coconut milk, and…. well, I don’t know, actually. It was no mud cake, but it was sweet, that’s for sure.


In case you were wondering; yes, you can purchase fresh dog on the side of the road.


This is an example of rice wine with weird shit inside it, like cobras for example. Apparently the ethanol neutralises the venom of the snake.


Often places don’t have English on the menu, so what you get can be a bit of a lucky dip. In this case, parts of a frog, including any and all of the skeleton.


If you ever thought you need expensive equipment in order to construct the concrete framework of a building, you’re wrong; sticks do the job just fine.


Now, buying wholesale foods. In a country where a dollar really makes a difference to a lot of people, it’s important to get the morning price on your supplies. I couldn’t sleep one night so I went for a walk and came across the 4am meat markets.


Apologies for the potato photo. Here is a classic Vietnamese barber. They set up shop on the side of the road, running an extension cable to a power point on the other side of someone’s fence. A haircut here will cost between $2-4. I’m not sure if he does colouring. Probably not.


Meanings lost in translation are always good for a giggle. “Keep the environment tidy. Any violation must be fine.”


Have I mentioned how things aren’t really built for 6-foot-something foreigners?


Shortly after my arrival to Hanoi, I went with a couple of other volunteers on a ‘field trip’ day (when we go with some of the students to an attraction of sorts in Hanoi). We had quick look in what was essentially a huge cave, where I came across a couple of local boys taking pot-shots at bats with an air rifle. I asked them why they were killing them, and all I understood was that they wanted to use them in soup. Obviously not too concerned about rabies, then?


I don’t know where else to write this, but I’ve had many a good laugh with a couple of friends that are also volunteering at the same place in Hanoi. Certain things get misinterpreted with the difference in accents between American and the correct way (New Zealand). Example:

“Yea, I love a big Trance festival.”

“Yea? There are just huge festivals for it?”

“Yea, dude. It’s good fun.”

(A minute or two goes by)

“So what happens at these festivals?”

“Music, partying. You know, just a big dance party.”

“Oh, TRANCE. I thought you said ‘trans,’ as in you were into transvestites.”

It’s also worth nothing that ‘deck,’ as in, a deck of cards, sounds like something else to Americans, if you’re from New Zealand. ‘Hold this deck in your hand’ initially required clarification.

Shout out to my Irish buddy Jack, who answered, “So, do you drink a bit of dark beer?” with, “No, not at all. I only drink Guinness.”

Anyway, back to Vietnam. The epitome of  flushing efficiency is displayed in the below photo; using the rain water for your flush bucket. Commendable.


Something else you’d notice in Hanoi is that there is a designated street for everything. You name it, there will be a special street with a couple dozen shops all selling the same thing. Cellphone street, computer street, BBQ Chicken street, red Chinese things street, wooden artefacts street, beer street, hat street, the list goes on. If you’re after something in particular, Google it first; there’s most likely only one place you’ll have to look.

Beer street.


A Lego shop in Toy Street. Prices were pretty similar to New Zealand.


Bright lights and white appliances street.


I called this one repair street. The road was full of little sops specialising in repairing usually just one thing. Old microwaves, drills, toasters, or blenders (below). It’s quite handy, I guess. If something breaks, you take it down here and you’re bound to find someone who will know exactly how to fix it.


Don’t be surprised if your ‘sleeper’ bus is kitted out with interior neons and plays techno for the entire duration of your journey.


On the subject of music, it’s not uncommon for a bar to be playing Christmas carols in February, either.

I’ll finish this up with a photo of the Vietnamese equivalent of a hacky-sack. You see this being played in the streets everywhere. People kick it to each other, sometimes over distances of over 15 metres. It’s made of feathers and washers. Most locals are usually pretty good at it. We played it quite a bit inside the apartment when it was super cold.


Tips and tricks:

  • Logic doesn’t necessarily apply in Vietnam.
  • Definitely try the Vietnamese egg coffee.
  • WC (water closet) is the sign you need to look for if you can’t see one that says ‘toilet.’
  •  Bring ear plugs when you come here. They’re not really a thing in Vietnam, and are very difficult to find.