To compensate for my costly holiday trip to Thailand, I have been on quite the financial diet. A five-day, school-funded excursion to Cambodia initially helped get my budget back on track. Loyola generously paid for educational experiences, lodging, airfare and even the occasional beverage. Some meals were not included, but a hefty portion of Siem Reap’s specialty “happy” pizza left me without much of an appetite, so food and drinks only set me back about $14 for five days of travel. My only other purchase was a silk table runner as a souvenir for my mother ($5).
Even though Cambodia’s impact on my wallet was light, the impact it left on my classmates and I was not light. A tour of a Cambodian Killing Field — where millions of people were brutally executed by the Khmer Rouge just 40 years ago — put the capacities of war and persuasion into chilling perspective. Seeing the colossal Angkor Wat temple complex at sunrise gave me a deep sense of respect for the arduous work, startling precision and overwhelming amount of faith that went into its construction. And, of course, the mere opportunity of being welcomed into a foreign country is always humbling.
Now that I’m back in Saigon, I continue to limit cab rides, eat in moderation and avoid shopping for items I don’t need. But this does not leave me unoccupied. One of the many reasons why city life is preferable to elsewhere is because there is so much to watch. Human life is enthralling. Cities offer a place to observe and analyze people’s private realities from the comfort of a park bench or public bus. Real life never seems to disappoint. Here is a running list of remarkable things I have seen in Vietnam completely free of charge:
- Countless public urinations
- A man on a motorbike getting knocked to the ground by a truck, only to have a quick, calm conversation with the offender before driving away
- Clothing with horribly mistranslated English words. One inexplicably read, “coffee, milk, heroin, cat food, bread.” Perhaps a grocery list?
- Green tea Kit Kats, which taste offensively like grass
- People sneaking in a midday nap wherever they can squeeze it in — on the job, atop parked motorbikes, across concrete ledges, in folding chairs surrounded by enough empty beer bottles to have hydrated a small fraternity
- The top floor of a hotel entrenched in flames but an inauspicious lack of approaching fire truck sirens
- Single motorbikes with more cargo than a minivan could carry. This includes crates stacked five feet high, large loads of rice overflowing the edges and hundreds of helium balloons. On top of this, the drivers are texting.
I would continue the list but I think I just spotted a hat shop attached to a motorbike and must investigate. Tạm Biệt!