Vietnam

Cultural Differences and Way of Live in Vietnam: Simplified Living that Will Inspire

When any discussion comes about in terms of certain hotspots and exciting destinations in Asia, people are often curious to debate the differences in culture, quality of living, cost of living and way of life between certain nations. Of course there are facts, figures and statistics that make it easy to come to some sort of conclusion on what a certain country has to offer, but it is about far more than that. Traveling and seeing Asia is all about dabbling in the cuisine and the music, meeting the people and opening your eyes to new experiences. Vietnam, for one, is all about new experiences. You can learn, see, and do things here that will teach you more than anything statistic or book can tell you. To put it simply, Vietnam is a place you need to experience for yourself before you can make any judgments or decisions on what it has to offer.

The curious part about Vietnam is that although there are infinite things to do, a unique culture, a unique language and a different way of life, it is not all that different or off the grid when compared to other countries. Especially other countries in South East Asia. Bicycles and motorcycles are the main modes of transportation and you will not be able to walk more than a block without passing some sort of small scale business operation. You will see old women selling crafted jewelry, farmers bringing in produce, and just about anyone and everyone trying to sell something.

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay

What you will notice in Vietnam is that things are beginning to change. Foreign investment is starting to surge in and the large cities are teeming with people selling, buying, investing and shuffling about. The low set up cost for businesses in the country and stunningly cheap labor are enticing for corporations and the Vietnamese government realizes that. It seems that with each passing day the doors are being opened wider for Foreign Direct Investment in order to try and boost the local economy.

Ban Gioc Waterfalls in Northern Vietnam
Ban Gioc Waterfalls in Northern Vietnam

If you are intrigued by the local culture and the relaxed, laid back way of life that you hear about, then you definitely want to travel into the heart of Vietnam. In the interior of the country you will find paddy farms and places where the traditional values of the Vietnamese people are held on to tightly. While the major of citizens in these areas are paddy farmers, it is all done on a very small scale. They run small, local farms to meet their friends and family and go about their business in a very routine and peaceful way. While language will be a major barrier when conversing with these people they are some of the friendliest you will find anywhere. If you are lucky you may even run into a family that is more than willing to show you around and even give you a home cooked meal of rice, fish sauce and lots of vegetables.

As with any country that is not your own there are a number of cultural differences that you will encounter when visiting Vietnam. Whether some of the characteristics may be described as abnormal by some tourists, it is a way of life here and you have to be willing to accept it. One of the first things that you will notice when dining out in Vietnam is the consistent slurping while they eat and the purposely loud conversations. While Vietnamese people are generally relaxed and quite they use meal time as a way to converse and almost let loose a little and they do not care who is annoyed by it, and who is to stop them right?

Emperor's Tomb in Huế
Emperor's Tomb in Huế

When shopping in Vietnam you are going to have to learn how to barter or risk being taken for a fool. A common phrase, even though many vendors do not speak English, is same same but different. You will hear this everywhere you go and every vendor no matter how poor their English is will understand. However, when conversing with vendors and other locals you want to keep in mind that when they say “ya, ya” it does not mean they understand. While in English speaking countries ya ya would be a communicative tool to express agreement or understanding, it tends to be more of a leave me alone statement in Vietnam. Vendors will say ya ya when they simply do not understand you, do not want to understand you and have given up trying to understand you. It is a hint for you to give up and move on.

The Temple of Literature
The Temple of Literature

A few other little cultural differences that you may notice when touring Vietnam tend to be a little weird in the eyes of many people. Just remember that you seem even weirder to them and who is to judge which person is right or wrong? However, you are still probably going to have to get used to nose picking. As unbelievable as it may sound to some people, nose picking is as common as rubbing your hair or scratching your face here. Everyone does it and no one thinks about it for a second. You may as well just sit back and enjoy the little bad habit that your mother always told you not to do. It might make for a nice change of pace.

Another subtle difference that people take notice of in Vietnam is that the locals regularly head to the barber shop to have their ears professionally cleaned. Even if it sounds somewhat normal it is sure to stop you in your tracks when you lay your eyes on it for the first time.

Lăng Cô beach, Huế city
Lăng Cô beach, Huế city

Vietnam is funny in a way that it is completely normal yet entirely different in many ways. What you will love about it here is the fact that there is always something going on, something to see, or something to do. Even just sitting on a street corner and watching passers by is entertaining here and can really give you a full appreciation of the little things in life. Vietnamese people have come so far and have seen so much, it will truly blow your mind to see how peaceful and pleasant they are after all they have seen.

Daegu

Living or Visiting Daegu: An Oxymoron Wrapped Up in Itself

There are many people in South Korea and outside of the nation that have tried to characterize the city of Daegu. It has been labeled as the center of the textile industry in the country and the city itself has also tried to define itself as the fashion capital of Korea. There are a vast array of differing opinions when it comes to what Daegu has to offer and it seems that no one can really agree. The reason for that is simple. Daegu is indefinable. The city can best be described as an absolute oxymoron. Around each corner you will see different people doing different things and different sights and different sounds. The minute you think you know what to expect or that you have a grasp of the culture in the city, something will happen to prove that you don’t really know what is going on.

Many people recognize citizens of Daegu as the most brash, rude, and obnoxious people in Korea. On the other hand many people praise the kindness, softness and laid back attitude of the people of Daegu. Some people say it is too polluted, some people love the smell of the mountain air. Some people say it is dirty, others say they have never lived in a cleaner city. What you need to know when visiting or living in Daegu is that you have to expect the unexpected. One moment you will have the experience of a lifetime and praise the city and everything it has to offer, then seemingly the very next minute something happens and you find yourself questioning how much you love it. You will come across some of the most soft-spoken and kind people in the world and then turn the corner and run into an older man who has been drinking and is cursing out foreigners. It is nothing to be worried about, just a way of life in the ever changing city of Daegu.

Daegu from Apsan Park
Daegu from Apsan Park

One thing that is constant in the city that is firmly planted in the middle of South Korea is the beauty of the mountains. Daegu can almost be described as a city craved into the mountains. The sun rises later and the sun sets earlier. The weather is different here than anywhere else in the country thanks to the shelter and warmth the mountains provide. That guided shelter does come with another little snag though, which is the abundance of mosquitoes in the city. One somewhat surprising theme seems to be that there tend to be more mosquitoes in the major, busy areas than in the rural, off the path communities. A night spent in Suseong-Gu, an urban and affluent area of Daegu, without bug spray is like packing for the beach without a swimsuit. Yup up north in an area such as Chilgok, which is literally built right into the mountains, people leave their windows and screens open all night without much of a worry.

While Seoul does get all of the attention when it comes to being westernized, shopping, restaurants and generally things to do, Daegu proves to not be much of a slouch either. There are a number of western restaurants and more than enough clubs and foreigner bars in the heart of downtown. Little basement dwellings such as Commune’s Rock Club and the Organ Bar attract a good mix of foreigners from all over the world. If you have had your fair share of Korean culture then these are the types of places to head. The incredible part is that within a 10 minute span you will run into foreigners from all over the world, 99% of whom are English teachers. Shocking in a way considering how little English is spoken here. Hagwons, or English academies, are present on every single block of the city even in the most rural of areas yet there is still not much English to be found. People will scream Hello, you will get an occasional thank you, but for the most part that is about it unless you run into a businessman, a Korean English teacher or a fellow foreigner. For the amount of money that is constantly plugged into English, it seems to go in one ear and out the other.

Hiking is one of the main attractions in Daegu and what the Koreans here do best. Mountains are dotted around the area in every direction and you can easily access Gondolas and hiking trails via almost any bus route or by hopping on the Subway. DongDaegu station offers a number of buses that come in handy for full day trips to areas such as GyeongJu, Andong and even other cities like Pohang and Ulsan. The subway is incredibly easy to master and comes in handy if you happen to live on one of the two lines. If not, then it really serves no purpose as both of the lines run from east to west and that is it. The good news is that taxis are pretty cheap compare to other countries such as Japan.

Daegu Night Skyline
Daegu Night Skyline

For the most part the roads in Daegu are more than hectic and you tend not to be safe as a pedestrian on the sidewalk either. This is something you will understand when delivery boys go flying down the sidewalk on their mopeds, cars hop up on the street an bicycles swerve in and out of traffic. It is all something that you will get used to though and can even help sharpen your reactions.

While it seems everyone has differing opinions on what Daegu is like and what it has to offer, there is one thing that remains constant. If you are a foreigner you are going to have to get used to the staring, the screaming of “Hello” and the general shock of you actually existing. It almost seems like a number of the Koreans in the city only read about people from other countries in fairy tales and do not believe they exist until the see one. Yet you can walk by the same person everyday for years and they still get that shocked and surprised look. In the end though, it is just one of those character habits of the city and what makes this city truly unique. One thing is for sure, there is no city like Daegu and it is an experience you have to take part in to truly understand.

Bhutan

Bhutan, a landlocked country, is located in South Asia and is nestled on the eastern edge of the Himalayas. Because of its geographical location, Bhutan was at one time, one of the most difficult countries to reach by outsiders. Increased modernization with the Internet, telephones, and television have allowed Bhutan to balance modern culture with ancient culture. Since the changes to Bhutan are recent, many of the Bhutanese people live as they have been for thousands of years.

Haa Valley
Haa Valley

Bhutan is known for its beautiful natural scenery and unspoiled environment. Due to this and the fact that Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist country in the entire world, many call Bhutan “the last Shangri-La.” Many tourists in Bhutan enjoy hiking and trekking in the Himalayas, cultural tours, and viewing wildlife. Because of how closed off Bhutan has been to the outside world, the country has only recently seen a tourist industry. The country’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries have recently started drawing crowds due to the rare and beautiful wildlife that live in this region. Birds of paradise, takin, tigers, leopards, hares, and bears are all indigenous to the area. Many of these animals can be viewed in the wildlife preserves that dot the country as well as actually in the wild!

Gangkhar Puensum from Ura La
Gangkhar Puensum from Ura La

Bhutan is considered a very poor country, but because of Bhutan’s small population of only about 697,000, poverty is not a major issue here. Since the country offers a lot of land relative to the size of the country’s population, there are literally no homeless people. The land is fertile so the crops grown here are sufficient enough in number to feed the entire population so it is almost impossible for someone here to go hungry. The sales of tobacco in Bhutan are banned for the health of the Bhutanese people. Also, Bhutan offers its citizens free education and free medical care. In another show of Bhutan’s uniqueness, the country does not measure how well it is doing with only economic achievements, but also places importance on the level of environmental protection and cultural preservation. The high importance that the Bhutanese government places on the environment have even caused things such as plastic bags to actually be illegal. Bhutan’s high environmental standards and well as the humane government have come in line with the country’s strong belief in Buddhist traditions. Hydroelectric power, tourism, and farming are Bhutan’s largest sources of income. However progressive many may paint Bhutan to be, the people here are still very poor. The life expectancy here is only 66, but has been steadily increasing since many of these major governmental changes have come into place.

The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest
The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest

Although Bhutan is a fairly small country, the weather here varies greatly. Where Bhutan borders Tibet, there is snow almost year round. In the mountainous In western, eastern, and some parts of central Bhutan, the weather can be quite cold with very mild summers. The southern part of Bhutan experiences much of India’s hot subtropical environment. The best time of year to visit Bhutan is either in the Spring or the Fall. Dates ranging between June and August are unfavorable because of monsoon season when wet weather can easily ruin a hiking trip. Monsoon season here is also known for closing roads due to many poor built roads and falling rocks & landslides. Winter in Bhutan is also nice in some areas such as the foothills.

Changlimithang Stadium, during a parade
Changlimithang Stadium, during a parade

The capital city of Thimphu is fairly small for a country’s capital with just under 100,000 inhabitants. However, the small size of the capital city allows travelers to enjoy a deep and rich culture as well as meet friendly faces. Beautifully made handicrafts can be purchased in Thimphu for great prices and the range of crafts is wide with woven crafts, clothing, and jewelery as top crafts in Bhutan. Thimphu also draws nearly 30,000 tourists in the late summer/early fall for Thimphu Tshechu which is the largest religious festival in Bhutan. Here festival goers can see the dancing masked monks which is an experience to remember. This is an ancient dance which is said to imbue ancient symbolism into the watcher so the dance is done carefully by each monk.