February 2010
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Things I admire about the Vietnamese

Hard working street seller in Saigon

Since I’ve been a bit whiny lately….I thought I would try to put something up a little more positive today.  And although some of my posts the last few weeks may make it seem like I am miserable in Vietnam….that is far from the truth.  Being in Saigon has helped distract me  from all the negative things that has happened in the past year….and allowed me to direct my energy towards doing something more productive.  I am grateful to my relatives and all the people that I have met here for being so kind and generous with me…which has helped me adjust to being in such a different culture.

Though I do love the United States and would never consider making a permanent move elsewhere…I have not missed it these past few months.  I do however miss my family and that has been the hardest part of being away from The States.  There are some things about Vietnam which I will never get used to ( “A night at the movies in Saigon”), but I have also seen a lot to admire about the people and the culture here.  Here is a list of things I can think off on the top of my head.  I hope to refer back to this list whenever I start feeling like I want to pack up and go back home:

1.  I admire how hard they work.  Many people do backbreaking work from 6 AM to midnight daily just to make a few dollars.

2.  I admire the shyness and childlike innocence of many young adults.  Men and women in their 20’s will flirt and joke with each other in a manner you never see in America anymore.  People take time to get to know each other over here and can date for months before the relationship turns physical.

Stinky Fruit!

3.  I admire how they can eat a fruit that stinks as bad as the Durian.  I don’t know how the Durian tastes…because I can never get past the smell.  I have heard people describe the smell to be like, “a gas leak”, “a putrid fart”, or “rotten onions wrapped in feet”, etc.  To me, it smells like bitter medicine mixed with cat piss.

4. I admire how so many people here can wear heavy coats in 90 degrees Fahrenheit and say that it’s “mat” (cool).  Not cool in the way that young kids in America use the term….but they actually think it’s makes their body cooler.

5.  I admire how men get so drunk they will just pass out on the streets.  Better than getting half way drunk and killing someone with a vehicle.

6.  I admire how much patience people have in traffic.  Americans cuss and moan while sitting in a cool air conditioned car….myself included.

7.  I admire how parents in Vietnam seem to really dote on their kids.  They talk and play with their kids constantly…and run after them to make sure that they don’t get hurt or injured.  Most parents I’ve seen in America seem to zone out on their kids after coming home from a long day at work.  I know that is a broad generalization and that there are many bad Vietnamese parents and great parents in America.

8.  I admire how people in most traffic accidents over here can tumble to the ground….brush themselves off…and just get back on their bikes and continue on their way.  No cops, no lawyers.

Sleeping on his motorbike

9. I admire how Vietnamese people can seem to sleep anywhere.  Men can often been seen sleeping on their propped up motorbike, or passed out on the ground, little kids asleep while wedged in between 2 parents on a motorbike, and everyone was able to sleep on that horrid bus ride to Gia Lai except for me.  The roads were so rough I felt like a kernel of corn in a popcorn popper.

10. I especially admire the women in Vietnam.  They seem to have some of the most difficult jobs, work the longest hours, and are still expected to single-handedly take care of the kids and prepare the family meals.

Guy doing the "Asian Squat"

11. I admire how people can do the Asian squat and sit like that for hours.  I’ve tried it for a few minutes and my back was killing me.

12. I admire how people in Vietnam seem to be able to sleep through any kind of noise, IE. the constant honking of traffic, the sounds of heavy construction outside their houses at 2 AM,  blaring music from bars and karaoke lounges, etc.

Dog on a motorbike (photo from Ottsworld)

13. I even admire the dogs in Vietnam.  They must be among the smartest and toughest animals in the world.  Not only do they have to avoid being run over by cars and motorbikes every second of the day (even on the sidewalks), they also have to avoid being the main course at dinner.

14. I admire the special kind of  faith that people have when driving into oncoming traffic.  It’s like Moses parting the Red Sea.

15.  I admire the kids and old people that sell lottery tickets instead of just begging for money.  I always try to help them out whenever I can.

16.  I admire the people that can carry more stuff on their motorbikes than I can in my pickup truck.

17.  I admire the bravery of the kids that walk and ride their bikes across the street during rush hour.  They move as nonchalantly as if there was no traffic at all.

18.  Most of all I admire the love, dedication and respect people in Vietnam have for their relatives, ancestors and friends.  Almost every family will pray, burn incense and give offerings not just for their immediate families….but to long lost great grandparents, distant nieces and nephews, and even friends for generations.  I’ve seen distant relatives travel hundreds of miles just to pay respect to my late Uncle during Tet.  People will have their children come and pay respect to people that they have never even met.

That’s my list for now.  I’m sure there are many other things to admire about the people here in Vietnam…and I will try to update this list occasionally when I think of more things.  Please feel free to add anything else you might think of in your comments.

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12 comments to Things I admire about the Vietnamese

  • Toan Nguyen

    Great post. And I am glad that you feel better about your stay in Vietnam and you can find all these positive things about Vietnam. By the way, I am one of those people who love Durian. Cannot get enough of it. hehe… I love the smell.
    Well, here is some of the things that I admire about VN:
    19. I admire how business oriented minded Vietnamese people are. Give them a small space (enough just to put a table even) and they will turn it into a store/restaurant/whatever…
    20. I admire how Vietnamese people can put up with the red tape, corruption, bribery all around them. I spent 1 day at the custom office just to check out and almost lost it. It took me and my friend 3 full days of waiting at the office to get his container.
    21. I admire how willing Vietnamese people are to take care of each other eventhough they are in such bad condition. I went to the orphanage many times to help out and every single time, I can see that they help one another and take care of each other so much.
    Anyway, there are many more.
    Hope you will experience more positive things in Vietnam.

    • odgnut

      Thanks for the great additions to the list. I thought about #20 but I forgot to put it down. You’re absolutely right about #19 and #21 too. One more I forgot:

      22. I admire how almost nothing is wasted in Vietnam….anything that can be recycled will be. You can’t put your trash outside on the curb without someone coming within 5 minutes to dig through it to find something they can reuse/resell. My Aunt is pretty well off compared to most people in Vietnam…but shes uses a knife to slice open a tube of toothpaste so that she makes sure that every little bit is used. You also very rarely see any leftover food thrown out over here.

  • Benny


    Genuinely heart-tugging post. Damn it! I came here to laugh, not to well up. All levity aside, there is a lot to admire about the resilient VNese people. I admire the abiding faith that they still have after years of internecine war, famine, and excruciating heart aches.

    As for me, the smell fresh durian (sầu riêng)reminds me of raw sewage. There is a reason why that fruit is not allowed in most public places (i. e., hotels, subways) in Southeast Asia.

    • odgnut

      But the question is Benny….despite the smell….can you eat Sau Rieng? Funny thing is, I love mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste)….which literally smells like ass pick….but I just cannot eat Durian.

  • Craig N

    I have tried Sau Rieng, and it tasts MUCH better than it smells. When it is nearly frozen, on a hot day, it is like a fruity sherbert.

    I am not much of a fruit eater. Apples and oranges used to be the extent of what I would eat. In spite of that, while in Vietnam, I tend to crave more fruit, and I can see why people like durian. If you are a fruit eater, I reccomend trying it. (and I think people exaggerate about the smell).

    • odgnut

      I have to admit I’m not much a fruit eater…so something like Sau Rieng could never tempt me. Since you like it, you can have my portion whenever you’re in Saigon. 🙂

  • Benny


    I eat fruits and other things which I will not admit in this public venue. Nevertheless, I have tried durian, and thereafter will not voluntarily shove it in my mouth. In summary, I will not eat the fruit, or anything which has that smell or flavor. Bakeries sell cakes (like bánh trung thu) with that malodorous fruit, and it repulses me. One of my friends proudly baked a birthday cake for me with ground durian in the cake mix. I really tried to swallow a few bite, but simply could not. You guys get the picutre. Enough said about this fruit.

  • Thuy

    you have a picture of a dog on a bike—were you looking to start a digest of pictures with dogs on bikes in VN?

  • You either love the smell/taste of Durian or you can’t stand it… there’s nothing in the middle so I don’t think there’s any hope for those who think it smells bad!

  • ThirstyDog

    Good piece but not all accurate. In response to some of your points:

    1. I admire how hard they work. Many people do backbreaking work from 6 AM to midnight daily just to make a few dollars.
    * True of the older generation, not so true of the more privileged younger generation who have a real sense of entitlement. They are getting lazier & lazier, and I speak as an employer.

    5. I admire how men get so drunk they will just pass out on the streets. Better than getting half way drunk and killing someone with a vehicle.
    * Vietnam has a terrible problem with drunk driving. Guys will stagger out of restaurants barely able to stand up and then get on their motorbikes to drive home, and at that time of night the traffic police are nowhere to be seen.

    6. I admire how much patience people have in traffic. Americans cuss and moan while sitting in a cool air conditioned car….myself included.
    * Excuse me? Have you ever actually been in a traffic jam in Hanoi or Saigon? People sounding their horns, driving on the pavement etc. These are the least patient people on the planet.

    7. I admire how parents in Vietnam seem to really dote on their kids. They talk and play with their kids constantly
    * true of mothers but most definitely NOT of fathers!

    8. I admire how people in most traffic accidents over here can tumble to the ground….brush themselves off…and just get back on their bikes and continue on their way. No cops, no lawyers.
    * Unless the accident involves a foreigner, in which case the Vietnamese party, whether it was their fault or not, will make aggressive demands for money

    14. I admire the special kind of faith that people have when driving into oncoming traffic. It’s like Moses parting the Red Sea.
    * You admire illegal, dangerous driving? If someone did that in the US would you still “admire” them? No, so why tolerate it in Vietnam? 12,000 people a year die on Vietnam’s roads because of stupidity like this.

    Agree with the rest of your points!

    • odgnut

      Calm down Timmy. Many of the points I made were meant to be “tongue in cheek”. I don’t actually admire drunks and people that drive down the wrong side of the streets. 🙂 I have also been in plenty of traffic jams in Saigon and Hanoi…where you can’t even move an inch in an hour… and I still think the Viets are more patient than Americans…this doesn’t mean that EVERYONE is that way….it’s just a generalization.

  • Quyen Bui

    Dear odgnut, Iam a saigonese who is living in Hanoi. After reading your note, i feel like you’re a real saigonese and how i miss and wish to come back to saigon. You see things with their positive sides. I love your photo of street vendor, i don’t know if u tried some iced-fruits or cakes that they sell, but they were the most delicious to me when i was in my secondary school. And abt the ability to sleep whenever or wherever, I think it’s simply bcoz they r so tired or so bored. Moreovers, we get used to te lliving condition so it may appear strange to you but normal to Viets. Anyway, I hope u enjoy ur time in VN, esp in SG

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