A Vietnamese at Heart

April 21, 2013
By , Chiang Mai, Thailand
“The bus will shortly arrive in four minutes. The bus coming from Seoul University will shortly arrive in four minutes.”

The electronic, monotone announcer from the bus station’s speaker quickly reminded the motionless people focused on their tablets with eyes glued on to the screen, that the bus will soon arrive. Exactly after two hundred and forty seconds, a green bus halted to a stop. From my left pocket, I grabbed out the T-money card, and lightly pressed it onto a sensor which gave out a short “beep.” As I walked in and grabbed a chair handle, a hospital advertising nose plastic surgery grabbed my attention, but as I look around, most of the people were too preoccupied with their gadgets to even catch a glimpse the stereotyped advertisements. As the bus came to a halt again, I stepped out of the bus just in time to avoid a high- speed motorbike fly dangerously past me.

The putrid smell of garbage and left over scraps of food circulate the air, while the searing hot sun stroke down on top of the victims suffering from heat. Despite the temperature of fortdegreees celsius, many motorbikes are on the streets with people fully armed to fight against the sun. I look down at my armor; a red helmet with an opaque glass covering, a light blue mask covering my nose and mouth, a long pink sweatshirt that reaches down to my fingertips, long pants to protect the strong rays of the sun, finished off with cuff ankle- dress socks that cover between the ankle and the calf. With my protective covering on, I quickly run across the street to ride behind a “Xe-om” or a motorbike taxi that I have known for a few years.

The two very contrasting descriptions were situations I had faced before. The first passage occurred in Korea when I went for a short visit. The fast, efficient ways of transportation and the advanced ways of conveyances Korea amazed me! Though Korean, three- quarters of my life had been outside Korea. The little things that nobody noticed was different and unfamiliar to me. For example, as I got on the bus I was astonished that nobody paid money. No one. Everybody had a small T-money card, a card to pay for transportation fares. The people would place their card on to the sensor, which would automatically withdraw the charged money inside the card. I quickly familiarized with this transit system familiar with and soon, it became an accustomed routine.

The second passage was a short image of me, Vietnam, and transportation. I have lived in Vietnam for more than eight years. In Vietnam, many of the students including, middle, high, and college, ride a bicycle (Xe ?a?p) to go to school but the motorbike (Xe Máy) has become the most dominant method of transportation in Vietnam, and approximately 80% of the population has a motorbike. As I ride on a motorbike, the first thing that I notice are the long river- like sewers that are placed in the city are pitch black and a horrible acrid smell is usually in the air.
Also it is a common sight to see people, particularly men,  facing towards a dirty concrete wall and slowly vibrating their backs as yellow liquid dribble down the wall and into the black sewers.

Furthermore Vietnam is notorious for applying motorbiked to transport everything. Yes. EVERYTHING.
Pigs are strapped on with rubber ropes on to the back seat of a motorbike and are carried around everywhere. From cows, chickens, goldfish, balloons, refrigerators, coconuts to even wardrobes, everything is strapped onto a motorbike with thick rope.

This is true even for people; as many as six can go on a small motorbike, and even our family of four used to ride on a small motorbike! However, as a result of the paramount number of motorbikes, they cause huge traffic jams in the early morning and late afternoon, and the atmosphere is horribly clogged up as all the pollution from the motorbikes causes difficulties in breathing.

Abnormal scenes occur everywhere in Vietnam, but foreigners especially think its bizarre to wear long shirts and jeans in a steaming hot weather of forty two ’C (107.6’F). Vietnamese women value white pale skin and with too much exposure from the sun, a higher rate of skin cancer is likely to occur. Therefore, people cover their faces with masks, wear hats, and put on long arm- length gloves that extend to the shoulders. Very contrary to the thoughts of Americans who value tanned, brown skin as ideal beauty.

What I have seen so far and also according to statistics, Vietnam is a developing country. From my understanding Vietnam is a nation that is “a step behind,” compared to developed nations. However despite the little flaws, it is rapidly becoming more and more developed every day. In just a few more years the “step behind” will sooner or later catch up and jump right in with the developed countries. As BBC states “Vietnam...has one of south-east Asia’s fastest growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020.”

Vietnam. With that one word, my mind clicks, and responds instantly. Just like a dog pricking his ears when the owner calls its name, or like an adopted girl who’s proud of her parents. I’m not a Korean, neither am I Vietnamese; I’m not a half-blood either. I am a Korean but a Vietnamese at heart.

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