The 9 Most Dangerous Habits I Picked Up in Vietnam

by Jacqueline Kehoe May 22, 2015

1. Not giving a rat’s ass about what’s “legal”

If a cop ever pulls you over…wait. Ha. By “pulls you over,” I mean “casually waves a stick at you.” So if a cop ever “casually waves a stick at you,” just ignore him like you would if anyone else casually waved a stick at you. Duh. Where’s the struggle, here?

Oh, and if something ever “can’t be done,” remember that there is nothing 500,000 VND, an hour, and a stern voice can’t handle — even if they tell you to get back on a plane to Tokyo because you “don’t have an entrance visa.” Sure, sure. Good times at Tân Sơn Nhất had by all, but mostly the staff.

2. Living on nothing but trà sữa

It’s just so good and so…everywhere. Bubbly Bubble. Bubble Time. Hello Boba. Apart from the adorable shop names, it’s a drink, sure, but you also chew it! Think of the time you save not sitting down to 2 or 3 meals a day! But then you’ll also be constantly nauseated and the three days you’ll last will ruin trà sữa for you forever.

But during that three-day bubble tea diet, I did totally lose a couple of pounds. So, score?

3. Forcefully launching myself out of elevators

Because if you don’t, there’s a chance you won’t get out. Those people are trying to flock inside that little metal box like salmon launching upstream and you’re the lone fish that’s all, “Fuck this, guys, I’m out.” Throw a few elbows, don’t be afraid to use your death stare, and keep up your momentum or you’ll be stuck in CT Plaza, Parkson, or Vincom until your visa expires. Just be sure you don’t accidentally step on any small children or run into a wall on your way out. Yeah. Oops.

4. Laughing in vendors’ faces when I know I’m being swindled

The next time a man tries to charge you 200,000 VND for a dừa, well, for starters, don’t pay it. However, I might not also suggest laughing in his face, because A, he might have a crowbar (that’s a long story), but B, he’s probably also pressured to charge that much. Turns out there are actually “gangster rings” when it comes to street vendors, and if he charges you more or less than a certain amount, he could get beaten six ways from Sunday. So while being kind of rude to get vendors off my back was my definite go-to for getting them to stay away from me, looking back, maybe it shouldn’t be yours. It’s not the best — or safest — option.

5. Being a traffic ninja. Or something like that

Ninja is code for not giving a damn, just like everyone else. It happens eventually –admittedly, for the first few months in ‘Nam, I was all judge-y. “What’re those people doing on the sidewalk?! That isn’t right!” “What…that guy just ran that light that was so red it was almost purple!” “What are people’s problems?!”

But then I started doing it, too. Because once you watch a thousand people cut in front of you and beat you to a place because they were willing to run over a few pedestrians or squeeze so close to you that you have to move the handlebars of your motorbike to not fall over, that’s what happens. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

6. Flipping off every car that deserved it

There’s this thing about Vietnam — most motorists can be a little dickish. Whether they’re going too slow or weaving or cutting you off like it’s their job or hitting you in the face with the edge of the queen mattress they’re carrying on their motorcycle — whatever. But cars? Even worse. They’re 10x bigger and thanks to some quick math, they think they have 10x more right to do whatever the hell they damn well please. In some of my angrier moments (when I’m being almost run over, for the record), I’ve slapped the windows to celebrate the fact that I’m still alive, and in other instances — when they’re going too quickly to slap — I let fly the bird.

A couple times a man has driven up next to my side and said, “You might not want to do that. See those plates? That’s a government car.” Whoops.

7. Asking for extra sugar on my sweet popcorn at the cinema

Brief tangent, cinemas in Saigon are totally messed up. You have to pick your seat and they make all the people sort of clump together, so even in a virtually empty movie theatre, Loc and Nghi will be sitting next to you giggling while they text with each other in the middle of the movie. Sigh. And we haven’t even talked about how they sometimes censor scenes — bloodbaths often get cut out of movies that are about bloodbaths. Like, seriously? I didn’t come here to see the Hulk turn green, walk around all confused-like, and then watch the credits.

But what makes it worth it? The sweet popcorn. Salty is so 2014. Insider tip? Go to Galaxy or CT Plaza and ask for “extra sweet”. What will they do? They go grab a bag of sugar and start pouring it over your popcorn. Heaven. You’re welcome. Also, tell your dentist you’re welcome from me, too.

8. Trusting handsy xe-om drivers

Okay, this is less dangerous and more just…questionable. The fact of the matter is that these xe-om guys are practically superheroes. If you tell them you need to get from D7 to Gò Vấp in 15 minutes, they’ll say, “Không sao!” in a heartbeat. You’ll hop on and they’ll weave between Honda Cubs, navy-and-white school children on bicycles, side-saddled-and-heeled women, and Vinasun taxis like an Asian version of Flash Gordon. You’ll speed down alleyways that you swear you’re too fat to walk down. You’ll run red lights like you’re colorblind, and it’ll be incredible.

Until he forces you to wrap your arms around his stomach, and when you retreat, grabs your arms and wraps them even harder and holds them there. This forces you to breathe in the stench from his neck and always have a view of his mole-hair in your periphery. But at least it’ll all be over soon!

9. Going to strangers’ houses for cheap beer

Sure, I’ll get drunk with you. Why not?! Another Tiger? Don’t mind if I do. Which reminds me…anh tên gì? Me? It’s Jacqueline. Em la nguoi Mỹ. Oh, you know America? You like? That’s where you lost your eye? Oh. Shit. Uhh, sorry? This just got awkward. Uhhh…mot ly nua, làm ơn. Cám ơn, weird stranger. Cám ơn.

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