It's the middle of the night Toronto time, and I can't decide whether I'm hot or cold. I'm already regretting the amount of luggage I have. My bag of pretzels is empty. I'm watching an episode of Broad City that I've seen too many times, but it's calming my nerves a little. Soon I'll be on a 15 hour flight to Taipei, and eventually on to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
As I step onto the plane, a tremor of panic sets in. I'm leaving Canada to teach English for an undetermined amount of time, heading into a completely different culture. I'm saying goodbye to my relying on my native language, farewell to friends, family, my job, comfort, burgers... I begin to question my decision. But as I arrive at my seat, I learn that a friendly girl, who looks about my age, will be my neighbour throughout the many hours to come. I also soon learn that her name is Winnie, she's a Vietnamese international student originally from Saigon who has been living in Canada for the last 6 years, and she speaks English. My mood changes; I'm about to pick her brain.
Winnie shapes my first impression of the Vietnamese people, one which hasn't changed since living here for 5 weeks. She was kind, genuine, sweet and friendly. She let me ask her a million questions without seeming annoyed. And then she offered to show me around the city sometime during her three week visit home.
I took her up on it, of course. Not only did Winnie make time for someone who was basically a stranger, she also went above and beyond to show me a good time. We went to her house to drink from coconuts, visited her brother's coffee shop, ate street food, drank bubble tea, saw a movie, and spent the whole day on her motorbike. When the day was over, she asked me if I wanted to go to the beach with her and her best friends tomorrow. I was absolutely baffled by her kindness, and couldn't help but wonder if I would do the same for a stranger.
Again, of course I agreed and went along with them to a beach about an hour and a half from Saigon, called Cần Giờ. It was another amazing day spent with some of friendliest people I've ever met. They seemed to think it was perfectly fine to have a random newbie along with them on their trip. It was so humbling. Here are some shots from that day.
After an afternoon spent napping and eating seafood, we set off on motorbikes to return to the city. I was filled with gratitude, appreciative to have experienced a day like this with locals and to have been so welcomed; I was reassured that I made the right choice to come to Vietnam.