Chasing After China

Entrance to Notre Dame
Cathedral - Ho Chi Minh City
ĐÀ LẠT, Vietnam
September 30, 2010

Much of what I've seen so far in Vietnam reminds me of China as it was 10 years ago.

Locally manufactured goods of every kind are for sale in small shops everywhere: elaborate, flashing LED signs; computer memory sticks; shoes; clothing--there seems to be no shortage of anything on offer. Above streetsides, bunches of long, black power lines dangle low, then snake up through tree branches before descending toward street level again. Infrastructure is ramping up, leaving the third world behind.

The cities are swarming with motorbikes. I see at least twenty zip by for every car or bus that I see. I remember when the cities around China--such as Guangzhou--felt just like this. But the authorities there prohibited motorcycles with internal combustion engines from driving within city limits, long-ago. I wonder when cities throughout Vietnam will get around to doing the same.

Another happy reminder here of how things were in China years ago: the prices here for meals and hotel rooms seem to be about half the amount I paid when I was last in China, just one year ago.

It isn't just the level of development in Vietnam that reminds me of China. The language clearly draws much of its vocabulary from Chinese. I don't speak any Vietnamese, but so many signs I've seen posted around make it clear that there are a huge number of loan words:

Shared vocabulary aside, I can't understand a word I hear. The fundamentals of the language (grammar, numbers) are completely different. Vietnamese uses tones different to the ones spoken in Chinese. Still, it's fun to see how much I can piece together.

Central Ho Chi Minh City

I've begun slowly working my way up across the country. My past couple nights have been here in Da Lat. Being here is a welcome repsite not only for being in a charming city developed back during French colonial days. It's so nice to be up in the cool mountains and out of the intense heat, pollution, and traffic chaos of Ho Chi Minh City. But, this afternoon I continue down out of the hills and to a small city on the coast: Quy Nhon.

Quy Nhon sounds like a pretty city with beaches. It's further along the route I'd be taking northward, anyway. But, I probably wouldn't have chosen to stop in that particular town if not for Eric and Lisa. They're taking a two-week vacation away from their life back in Beijing. They're making the entire journey of several-thousand miles by rail. Quy Nhon will be the farthest they go before turning around and flying back.

Next stop: synching up with those two and spending at least a couple days together along the coast.