International Insights:

Tam M. Dao

In his song “Bonjour Vietnam,” Marc Lavoine wrote, “Tell me your house, your street; tell me this unknown entity / The floating markets and the wooden sampans / Someday, I will go there, someday to say hello to your soul / Someday, I will go there, to say hello to you, Vietnam.”
What is special about Vietnam that makes this French composer develop such a great affection for a country that is foreign to him? What is in Vietnam that makes him want to go there so much?
The answer is not clear until you have a chance to come and “say hello to Vietnam” yourself. Right now, let me just take you a couple steps further on your passage to Vietnam.
A Vietnamese day starts with the morning market for everyone. Farmers bring their products to the markets in nearby cities and people buy fresh food directly from them. This is a daily event since people don’t buy and store foods for a long time. We usually only buy enough for one day.
If you have ever gone to a farmer’s market you can imagine how the market in Vietnam is, except for the fact that Vietnamese markets are a lot more crowded — we have about 84 million people in our small country! These markets are a fun and distinguishing trait of Vietnam.
Markets and stores are not the only places where people can buy things — vendors going from street to street sell flowers, fruits, brooms, carpets, clothes and other items. While they sometimes walk, they can also be found on bicycles. It is amazing how much these people can carry on their small bicycles while still keeping them under control.
Bicycles are one of the most popular means of transportation in Vietnam besides motorbikes. There are very few cars except for buses and taxies in the cities. Therefore, instead of gas stations like in the United States, you can find people on the side of the road earning their living by repairing bicycles and motorbikes.
Along the road there are also two- and three-story houses built very close to each other. Stores and housing are not separated — people tend to use their first floor for their family-sized enterprise and live from the second floor up.
That’s the sketch of Vietnam in my mind. There are so many more things about lifestyle and culture that words cannot fully explain. Now as you have made a step closer to Vietnam, hopefully you will have a chance to visit my country some day. Vietnam always welcomes you!