Anyone who knows me well, knows I love my independence. I have always found myself to be someone who walks his own path, regardless of where others may go. However, Vietnam has pushed me to ask for help from others, in ways I have never experienced before.
My first day in Ho Chi Minh City, I awoke early, ravenous from the previous day’s arduous journey. As I stepped outside our temporary guest house, I was greeted with the heat and humidity that I would soon become accustomed to. All around me, Saigon bustled with life. Hundreds of mopeds sped by on either side of the road, as a looming TV tower provided a brief respite from the sun. As I crossed the road with my fellow Duke students, I experienced the chaotic Vietnamese traffic I had been warned about. The current of traffic flowed around us like a river, with motorbikes flying by so close we could touch them.
I was definitely not in the United States anymore.
As we walked along the street nearest our guesthouse, I spotted a small, homely restaurant nestled on the edge of an alleyway. I locked eyes with Quinton, the person walking beside me, and my independent instincts kicked in. I called out to our group walking ahead that Quinton and I were breaking off to go check out the restaurant.
As I approached the minimalist restaurant, it was nothing like any place I had ever been to before. Eight steel tables were lined up against the tiled walls, four tables on each side. Alongside each table were two steel chairs, with a scratched, plastic cup in the middle of the table, housing plastic chopsticks, dented from years of use. Quinton and I slowly took our seat and I looked at the faded, laminated menu taped onto the wall. Instantly, I panicked. I had never looked at a menu before and didn’t have a modicum of an idea of what any of it meant. Rows of options written in Vietnamese greeted me. I had no idea what to order or even how to order. I looked up at Quinton and all I could muster was, “Help”. Thankfully, Quinton came to my rescue. Unbeknownst to me, Quinton had grown up in a Vietnamese household. He smiled and began to go through the different options one by one with me, even teaching me how to pronounce many of the dishes. With his aid, I was able to order a plate of cơm tấm sườn. Before long, I was greeted with a delicious dish of grilled pork, rice, and egg. I poured fish sauce (which is to Vietnamese cuisine, what ketchup is to American) onto my dish. One bite and I was heaven. I had never tried meat so flavorful, rice so soft, or egg so perfectly seasoned. I beamed and looked up at Quinton exclaiming, “One bite and I already love Vietnam”.
Though two weeks have since passed since this first day in Vietnam, through the help of many amazing people, my love for Vietnam has only grown. My roommate, Tinh, has been nothing short of amazing. From ordering seasoned frog legs (delicious!) to fixing my bike mid-scavenger hunt, Tinh has always been there for me, helping me at every turn. If there is one thing that this trip has shown me, it is to never be afraid to ask for a little help. You never know what you could be missing out on.
Picture of cơm tấm sườn from the restaurant on my first day in Vietnam.