We’ve spent over a month in Vietnam, traipsing through this country from one end to the other and back again. During our time here we’ve seen some amazing sites, including Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta but we’ve also been lucky enough to simply observe everyday life. The more I’ve watched my neighbours in our little alley in Saigon, the more I’ve realized that the Vietnamese have some very healthy, happy habits, so I share these with you just for something a little different this week.
The tropical weather in Vietnam is perfect for growing all kinds of fruits. Have a walk down our little alley and you’ll see the fruit lady selling everything from watermelon to mangos to durian fruit (which apparently are nicknamed “King of Fruits” although they’re actually banned from certain hotels and public transport because they have a rather pungent smell that is often associated with gym socks).
HHH #1 – Eating Lots of Fruit
Fruit is served as dessert on all the tours we’ve done and bananas are so plentiful that they are free at our little guesthouse. There are so many banana trees here that locals can go out in the country and grab a bundle of bananas growing wild, so no one needs to go without their daily potassium intake!
HHH #2 – Exercise
Unless you get up before 6am in Saigon, you may never know what activities your neighbour gets up to in the morning! A few weeks back we had to get an early start and while eating our breakfast on the rooftop of Rick & Jackie’s hotel, we had a chance to see our whole neighbourhood in motion in the park below us on Pham Ngu Lao Street. We saw groups of women using something that looked like a baton in a group exercise routine, badminton games going strong, people walking & running, and a group of seniors stretching it out before the heat of the day set in. A few days later in Hanoi, we witnessed a similar morning on Hoan Kiem Lake. This time I spotted out some ballroom dancers getting their groove on in one of the bandstands and a crew doing Tai chi, a martial art made popular when the Chinese were here.
HHH #3 – Veggies, Veggies, VeggiesVeggies were very scarce in all of Africa, save for a lonely tomato or onion, so the Vietnamese food was a fabulous change of pace. Every dish here has a number of colourful veggies that seem even more tasty when eaten with chopsticks. The “dish that built a nation”, Pho Bo, is a beef noodle soup that comes with a big plate of fresh lettuce, bean sprouts and fresh herbs to mix in. Stir fries are loaded with green peppers and carrots and steamed cabbage, morning glory or bok choy (similar to spinach) are regulars on the table. We’ve had no probably getting our 5 a day, frequenting the little family-run restaurants in ‘Nam.
Nat King Cole had it right…and so do the Vietnamese:
“Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.”
Everywhere we go in this country, we can’t get over the giant grins that the locals flash. Whether it was the little old lady offering us a ride in her boat in Hoi An, the cyclo drivers that give you an ear to ear grin when they offer you a ride, or the little kids in the village on the Mekong that smile and wave when you walk by their home, everyone seems to wear a smile. The people in this country have been through a lot and most of them live on very, very little but they are so friendly and they sure do seem to be looking on the bright side of life.
HHH #5 – Sun Protection
We noticed something when we were on the beaches in Phu Quoc and Nha Trang-the tourists were lying in the sun, roasting themselves to a lovely hew of dark brown/orange, while the locals roamed about with big brimmed hats, long sleeves and usually socks with their flip flops. For us it was a little over the top, but the idea of staying out of those UV rays is definitely understood by the Vietnamese (even if it may be more for the desire of light skin, vs. the health benefits). Aside from up north around Hanoi, it’s been sunny & hot during our time in Vietnam, so I decided to join the ladies here and grabbed a big brimmed hat as well (although not the cone shaped ones…I just couldn’t quite pull one of those off the way they do).
At each little shop or restaurant we often notice a small altar with offerings of fruit and incense sticks burning. These are Buddhist altars-85% of the Vietnamese people here are Buddhists.
HHH #6 – Spirituality
The Buddhist religion/philosophy has many components to it, one of which is karma. Spiritual or not, I think in it’s simplest form, the idea that you reap what you sow is an excellent guide to life, especially when traveling. Interacting with people in different countries with different languages can be hard, but your treatment of local people can leave a lasting effect. And back home, I think we all find that we are far more at peace at the end of the day if we are treating people with patience and kindness.
The Buddhist practice of meditation is also a very healthy habit. It’s sort of interesting to think that for many of us, the most difficult thing to do is to be still, be silent and think of absolutely nothing at all.