Thursday, January 1

Final Weeks in Vietnam

After celebrating Christmas with the group in Quy Nhon, I visited Nha Trang on independent student travel with Emily and Renee.  We spent a couple of nights in the backpacker’s beach town, in a little hostel just five minutes’ walk from the ocean.  Of course, it’d been sunny all month while we were stuck in sweaty Ho Chi Minh City, but once we reached the shore, it clouded over and drizzled.  We got a couple of hours of sun in, lying on the beach, enough to redden a bit.  Other than that, we enjoyed the little town: we had an amazing Indian meal, homemade ice cream, browsed the book exchange shops, played badminton.  It was a fun challenge to make our own hostel reservations, secure bus tickets back to Ho Chi Minh, and be in charge of all our own meals. 

  We took a public bus back down to Ho Chi Minh City along a beautiful costal route.  We returned to impending media projects and planning for our student environmental conference.  That evening, though, when we went out for dinner, we could sense unusual activity in the city.  It was a Sunday night, but the place had more energy than we’d seen all month.  We learned at the restaurant that it was the night of the final match in the South East Asia soccer championships, with Vietnam competing against Thailand.  The game stretched on for hours, and we kept catching glances of it on TV as we worked on media projects.  It looked like it was over for Vietnam, but they won in the last moments on an exciting kick.  The city absolutely went mad.  They won at maybe ten or eleven o’clock, but the celebration lasted well beyond four a.m.  Around midnight I ventured out of the hotel to explore the festivities, and it was an absolute mob scene.  Everyone was joy-riding through the city on their motorcycles, waving the red Vietnamese flag, banging trash cans, and reveling in general mayhem.  At some intersections, it was so crowded that it was literally impossible for a pedestrian to make any headway.  It was probably the rowdiest crowd I’d ever seen, but it felt completely safe and good-natured.  I think in comparison to Red Sox rioting, this was a national accomplishment, and felt united rather than divisive.  On the other hand, I can also see how intense fervor could turn dangerous in a mob setting with that much energy and collective emotion. 

On New Year’s Eve, we hosted our student environmental conference.  We’d invited local university students, and about sixty attended.  For three hours, we shared our media projects, learned about Vietnamese students’ efforts in environmental clubs, and discussed conservation.  It turned out quite well – it was very organized and ran smoothly – but I think we perhaps overestimated the collective English level, and in the limited time, it was hard to get very many insightful ideas.  The Vietnamese students, however, seemed very willing to participate, and tossed around ideas about emissions-trading and governmental regulation.  The most concise point that I took away from our discussion was that Vietnam lacks two things in regard to environmentalism: awareness, and alternatives.  Most people remain ignorant of the consequences of their actions, and even those that realize the detrimental affects of particular behaviors don’t have many other options.  

We celebrated the New Year at a fancy hotel party where there was a buffet, live music and performance, and a balloon cascade at midnight.  New Year’s isn’t a very important holiday in Vietnam, but in Ho Chi Minh City it’s celebrated in certain neighborhoods.  The entire hotel district was decked out in more lighting than during Christmas, and one street was even named “Times Square”. 


Not long afterwards, we were having our last Vietnamese iced coffees and on our way to the airport to head for Thailand ...

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