Hands-on Learning

It’s amazing how much I’ve learned in just one day in Vietnam.  I did not carry my camera around today, knowing I have four months to capture some great shots.  Today I listened and observed, and filled my brain with all the new experiences.  Here are some of the things I still remember:

  • People smile here.  A lot.  And it feels sincere.  There is a feeling of warmth and respect from everyone I meet, whether it be a hotel clerk, a motorbike driver, or a university professor.  
  • The street-crossing skills I learned in India last year have definitely come in handy in Vietnam.  Crossing without fear is the key, I believe, even when hundreds of motorbikes are zooming past you on all sides.  Just inch your way across and don’t look back.  At least there are no cows in the street here.
  • Vietnamese is an incredibly difficult language to learn.  For months, I have tried to master “hello” and “thank you,”  but can’t make them stick.  There are so many ways to say things depending on the gender and age of the person you are speaking to.  And changing the tone of the word you are saying can drastically change its meaning.  Yet, today I’ve already learned how to order the famous Vietnamese beef noodle soup (phở bò) and the chicken version (phở gà).  
  • I remember these words because the signs are everywhere (restaurants typically serve one or the other) and I enjoyed an incredibly delicious phở bò today for about $1.50.  One bowl is an entire meal.
  • I also learned how to eat phở with chopsticks and a spoon.  It turns out I’ve been holding chopsticks wrong my whole life.
  • I am beginning to remember “thank you” (cảm ơn) and also learned “university” (trường đại học) because that is where I will be working.
  • Pronouncing these words is another thing altogether.  All of those accent symbols mean something, but I don’t know what.  Today I told my hosts that I would be studying lục bát, a traditional form of Vietnamese poetry, as part of my project.  They had no idea what I was saying and asked if lục bát was a Vietnamese word.  I repeated it several times, but they looked more and more confused.  When I wrote it on a piece of paper, they said in unison, “Oh, lục bát, that’s a Vietnamese poem.”  I still can’t say it right.
  • I officially became a millionaire today.  The two million dong I withdrew from the ATM is worth about $90.  Our thick, syrupy coffee today costs 25,000 dong, just over a dollar.
  • Kids love to say “hi” to strange-looking foreigners, just like everywhere else in the world.  Sometimes they just stare.
  • I experienced riding on the back of a motorbike while looking for an apartment.  Imagine a dozen or so lanes of traffic going in both directions, ignoring traffic signals, and a sea of motorbikes moving alongside larger vehicles.  Somehow I felt safe.  My driver was young but experienced and even provided me with a helmet, though it wasn’t much thicker than a baseball cap.  
  • There is so much to learn here.  I spent a good part of my first day with Nhuan, my Airbnb host.  He was 22 when he fought in the “American War” for North Vietnam.  He is one of the nicest people I have met, and I hope he will share some of his war stories as we get to know each other.  As he said to me over coffee, “I know what war is like.”  Of course, he said it with a smile on his face.  

Comments (12):

  1. Brandon

    September 1, 2016 at 13:59

    Glad you made it there ok. Sounds like it is going to be an amazing place. Stay safe and I can’t wait to read more posts!

    • Tim Flanagan

      September 7, 2016 at 12:31

      It definitely is unlike any other place I’ve been.

  2. Anne cylkowski

    September 1, 2016 at 14:12

    Incredible Tim! I am overwhelmed and I’m sitting at home just reading your post I can’t imagine everything that you are taking in. I can’t wait to read more and View the pictures.And of course we are the Flanagans and Cylkowskis don’t forget to take pictures of food you know how much we love that! Take care

    • Tim Flanagan

      September 7, 2016 at 12:21

      Food is good, but I’ve been cautious and still have a lot left to try. I’ll get some pictures soon.

  3. LInda Wight

    September 1, 2016 at 14:45

    HI Tim, also glad u arrived safely. I Would be in trouble with the pronunciation too- somehow that Bklyn accent wouldn’t help :). Hopefully, the repetition will help and one day you’ll realize , Wow, I’m saying it right. THe traffic would scare me. The food already sounds incredible. I’d be walking around with a little notebook writing amounts down to figure out the currency. Hope all goes well for you there. I’m a firm believer if we treat people with kindness, they will reciprocate and your one of the kindest people ai know . looking forward to your blogs love Linda

    • Tim Flanagan

      September 7, 2016 at 12:23

      Yesterday I ordered a chicken sandwich and got a fish sandwich . . . close, but not quite right. I am meeting some very kind people – shopkeepers, Uber drivers, etc.

  4. Lori

    September 1, 2016 at 17:04

    So happy you have arrived safe and sound! Looking forward to following you along your journey! I’m planning on sharing your posts with our students!

    • Tim Flanagan

      September 7, 2016 at 12:24

      Thanks for promoting my blog at school! Encourage the kids to ask me questions.

  5. Millie

    September 1, 2016 at 21:51

    Miss your wonderful photos but your descriptive writing helps me picture the various experiences. Jeff was wondering earlier what you had for dinner, now he knows! So, ” yes” to food photos.

    • Tim Flanagan

      September 7, 2016 at 12:28

      Jeff would not go hungry here. He might even put on a few pounds!

  6. VickyAnn

    September 27, 2016 at 12:38

    Stay safe,and learn how to order the right meal, especially in hopes of my visit!

    • Tim Flanagan

      October 6, 2016 at 05:57

      I know how to get the most essential items:) Beyond that, I’m just guessing, but I’m never disappointed.


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