Visiting Vietnam

A hastily planned trip is always a good time to note down some pretentious observations even if they’re being posted a couple of years too late. Here goes…

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I really wonder what goes through the minds of American or French tourists when they visit a country like Vietnam. The emotions are much more stronger than say what the British would feel in India, because wars like the Vietnam War are so much fresher, more real. There are people alive who’ve been through them everywhere. What are the emotions someone feels when he reads about, sees documented evidence, and can view everywhere the atrocities committed by maybe his or her fathers, uncles or friends? What motivates these journeys? Is it a form of penance, is it an objective way to understand the past or is it just another developing country which is awesome to have a cheap vacation?

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I understand the Western World has this obsession with coffee in the mornings, much like tea is in a lot of India. Although I do think to base your life and so much pop-culture around love of caffeine is a bit much but anyways… I know people who drink a mug of hot tea/coffee as well as the small cuttings. But when you expect iced drinks, you expect a decent amount. Not this shot-glass sized serving of coffee poured over some ice cubes. And I thought CCD is bad.

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Signboards. Everywhere. At every junction. With this simple act, your city becomes so much more friendly for both tourists and locals. Even language ceases to be a stumbling block. Surely this is not so difficult to execute and is hardly attractive to vandals either. Why wouldn’t you do it mere desh ki sarkaar?

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The more I have traveled, the more I’ve understand what kind of food I like. We think we’re being very worldly-wise by eating in very foreign joints in our metropolitan cities, but I think the menus are cleverly tweaked with a local touch to ensure that the authenticity is never at the cost of  you swearing not to eat at that place again. I was a little underwhelmed by Vietnamese cuisine, probably because it was so hyped up (looking at you Lonely Planet). For one, I think Indian palettes are just abused by the amount of spice we need and the need for the spiciness to overwhelm everything else. Delicate, nuanced flavours therefore just don’t seem to appeal despite my best efforts. It’s a meat lovers paradise all right, but after a point of time I just wanted a plain sandwich.

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Eating street food has always been a bit of a taboo or a guilty pleasure growing up in a city. It’s supposed to be unhygenic, questionable ingredients, hoarder of disease (as per all those Adarsh Balak posters). Therefore as a teenager, there was a simple rule – if you did eat outside with your friends, best not to speak about it at home. Vietnam was a  bit of a revelation here. In cities, the whole country seems to eat outside – especially for breakfast and dinner. And these are no Mumbai style vada-pavs or NYC style hot-dogs, but properly cooked meals in at best ramshackle joints if not hawkers. And meat too! No one seems to be scared of their chicken biryani actually having crow meat (as the rumours around Byculla go) or any scares of avian flu.

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Also selling alcohol or beer so freely and openly on the streets is a bit of a surprise. I can only wonder about the potential for vandalism that would cause in a country like India where even liquor stores are guarded closely with grills. I guess it has something to do with the acceptability of beer as a drink and the willingness to distinguish it from other more potent forms of alcohol?

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