Crawling on a Glass Floor

17 12 2009

Vietnam. It’s a bit strange to be here. Though I can’t pretend to understand the entirety of what Vietnam represents to our parents’ generation, the country does feel like a huge part of my upbringing, at least symbolically. I’ve been constantly told that Vietnam was the golden age of successful protesting (and why doesn’t your generation know how to do that?). It represents the mistake we never want to repeat (yet everyone keeps insinuating that we are), and the place where virtually every U.S. history class ends.

In our guide books and on traveler forums, we’ve been told that if we’re going to get scammed, pickpocketed, or taken advantage of in any way, it’s going to happen here. That warning, combined with any subconscious messages that slipped into my head during high school history class, have not created an ideal traveler-country relationship.

I’m on the defensive. It doesn’t help that life is chaotic here. Sidewalks are used for parking lots, which means we have to find spaces to walk along the edge of the street, dodging motorcycles, cars, and vendors as we go. We’ve been trying not to hold hands in public to respect the cultural norms, but after several attempts at crossing the street separately, Sunny grabbed me and said, “Forget this! Just hold on!”

I’m glad he did. The best (and only) way to cross a street is to start walking. We’ve been instructed to just start crossing, and the hundreds of motorcycles and cars will know how to weave around us. I feel like I’m in that experiment psychologists invented to determine when babies first feel fear.

In the experiment, a baby is put in a room with a favorite toy or parent on the other side. The trick is, the second half of the room has a glass floor, which looks down to a room below. The baby has to crawl across the glass to reach the desired destination. At about six or eight months of age, babies start refusing to crawl over the glass. At that point, the experimenters say, babies are scared of falling.

Every time we cross a street, I feel like I am crawling over glass. I know we’re going to make it, but boy, it sure feels like I’m going to get swallowed up by something.

The people are also more aggressive and confusing. Vendors approach us, try and push something in our hands, and say, “So! Here you go!” as if  we’re in the middle of a sale. A fruit seller caught sight of Sunny and threw her hat on his head and her fruit carrier over his shoulder.

“Look, Miss,” she yelled at me, “He’s ready!”

Not to mention the street and store names.

We were excited that we had finally reached a place where we can read the street signs. Unfortunately, similar to Boston, street names change from block to block without warning. Our two maps name each street differently, which is incredibly helpful when trying to navigate.

In addition, every successful and reputable restaurant or travel agency has a variety of impostors. I’ve counted six Kangaroo Cafes and at least twenty-five Sinh Travel Agencies. And there’s very little way to figure out which is the original. It’s like we’re on a page of Where’s Waldo? and we can’t get off.

I think you get the picture. In a word, we’re lost. For the first time in months, I’m craving pizza constantly. Talk about symbolism…

I hate feeling annoyed at a place, and probably because of the history, I feel compelled to work on my attitude.

Maybe it’s time to channel my five month old self. Glass floors, here I come.

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