Vietnam, the short version

This is an exercise I've done after almost all of my previous overseas trips. Sometimes it was just "The Short Version," and sometimes "The Essence Of ..." You can see Oxford, Paris, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, Venice, Scotland, and India, which started it all. All the others are outfitted with photos, but I'll pass on that in the midst of the blog. This trip is a bit different, but the idea is the same. It's a very enjoyable exercise. What is it about the place I've visited that makes it unique, that stands out to me? I should have done this for each country as I left it, but didn't think of it until now. Laos and Myanmar will be posted shortly, and I'll do Thailand and Cambodia when I'm finished visiting.

Look both ways before you cross the sidewalk or a one way street - there may be scooters, and convenience wins over the law 100% of the time. Crossing the street in a major city is always exciting, a bit of terror and a sense of power as you walk forward and the scooters go around you like Moses parting the waters.

Westerners can read the alphabet here, but it comes with a lot of extra markings to indicate the tones.

Pho Bo (rice noodle soup with beef) is probably the single most popular dish in the entire country (unless you count "anything with rice"), eaten everywhere for breakfast and lunch. If you've ever thought your coffee is too weak, Vietnamese coffee is instantly twitch-inducing with enough sugar to put you into shock. Nuoc mam, or fish sauce, is the heart of Vietnamese flavourings - you'll like it or leave the country. Baguettes are available throughout the country, and are very good.

Every square meter of arable land in Vietnam is in use, usually for rice - the number of rice fields is so great it's pretty much inconceivable. Unlike Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos, there are no stray dogs or cats in Vietnam. Yes, they were probably eaten.

The conical hat is alive and well. The ao dai (pronounced "ow zie") is both a school uniform and formal dress for women, and you'll see it on the streets constantly - more so in the south than the north. Women cover their faces with masks or cloths when they're out in the sun, and often wear very long gloves to stop their arms from tanning.

There are internet cafes in every town, where school kids fire up Gunbound and yell at each other at ear-piercing volumes. Another popular computer past-time is text messaging, with a webcam if it's available (which it usually is).

The concept of queueing to buy tickets hasn't caught on in Vietnam - just mob the ticket booth, and the person who pushes hardest gets their tickets first. I'm not very rude, but I'm invariably the tallest and heaviest, so it kind of balanced out. Men in Vietnam average around 5'6" (168 cm), and 50 to 55 kg (110 to 120 pounds). The women are smaller and thinner. I stand 188 cm (6'2") and weigh 83 kg (182 pounds) and I'm not remotely fat. I'm a giant, and at a train station I realized that I could stand in a crowd of thousands here and still see for miles over all the heads.

"Uncle Ho" (Ho Chi Minh) still dominates the country, a national hero. His face looks out at you from billboards and every bank note, although he's not on the very new coins. It's led to an expression here for being broke - "I'm out of Ho's." There are a lot of public sculptures and billboards portraying the badly drawn everyman/soldier/hero, a manifestation of the country's communist agenda.