Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
But staying with Phuoc and his family for four nights made our stay in HCMC memorable. We got along well and spent a lot of time together touring the city, eating local delights, playing card games, cooking together, practicing English, and even doing exercise videos! We wish we lived in the same city as Phuoc because we loved spending time with him.
When we eventually made it to his place by catching a local bus, Phuoc met us on the corner and navigated through the back alleys to his home in a residential area. There, we met his parents, grandmother, and his sharp 11-year-old brother, who often beat us in chess.
Phuoc must have come a long way because his English is excellent. He was always equipped with a notebook and observant of every word that we spoke.
“Wait… what was that phrase? How do you spell it?”
We became hyper-aware of our speech. Even after not being in an English-speaking country for three years, we still forget that most of the people with whom we converse cannot understand everything we say, especially slang.
It was a pleasure helping such a highly motivated person practice English. His mother gave him a large chunk of change to take English classes, but he secretly went out and used that money to get drinks and chat with foreigners instead. We told him that he’s absolutely smart because he probably learned more from practicing like this rather than sitting in a classroom memorizing vocabulary. We took note because as English teachers, we strive to have students apply their English in real life settings. It’s not easy to do in the classroom though.
Touring with Phuoc
Phuoc truly went out of his way to introduce us to Vietnamese culture. We got street food snacks and ate at many vegetarian restaurants. His mom even cooked us lunch a few times! Nothing like a homecooked meal.
Phuoc truly understands the purpose of Couchurfing. We spent all of our time together hanging out like old friends. We even practiced taekwondo and did exercise videos. Our days in Saigon might have been spent walking around aimlessly, but instead, we met a new friend.
Phuoc's parents didn't speak English, but they always welcomed us with smiles and snacks. His mother kindly prepared some meals for us. The first one consisted of frog legs, something a little too exotic for my tastebuds, but interesting nonetheless. She also made a scrumptious vegetarian meal. Homecooked food is something we don't get to enjoy often while on the road, so we were more than appreciative for the hospitality.
Brother David is a smiley fifth grader who is just brilliant. His English is quite impressive even though he’s shy about it. He even kicked both of our butts in chess and we have more years of experience playing than he has been alive! Spending time with him was nice -- he’s a quirky kid (in a good way).
Phuoc's grandmother, who sometimes mistook me for her daughter, always spoke to us in Vietnamese and we could only smile and nod back. She has a sad history of being captured and tortured in the war, so she experienced trauma and cannot sleep alone or be in the dark. We wish we could communicate and hear more about her life, but we also would not want her to relive such awful memories.
Never a dull moment
Our last night in town was spent at a language exchange at The Cube in District 1. It was a great opportunity to meet people from around the world and practice languages, although we mostly spoke English with English learners. A new friend we randomly acquired the day prior in a shake shop, Billy, accompanied us and we got a taste of the nightlife in District 1.
Lianne prepared banana crepes and coffee (Phuoc taught some Vietnamese techniques. "Serious" isn’t the appropriate term for how the Vietnamese are toward coffee). Billy and Phuoc then took us (and our bags!) on their scooters and we navigated through murderous traffic.
HCMC is infamous for its motorbike-filled roads, so that short ride was an adrenaline-rushed experience. If you have a brave soul, you must experience riding on a motorbike in HCMC. Wouldn’t recommend driving one yourself, even as an experienced driver, because traffic patterns should be learned for some time. To an outsider, there seems to be no rules, but locals seem to have it down to a science.
At the bus terminal, we embraced and said our goodbyes before moving into our next CouchSurfer’s place in Can Tho, 3.5 hours away. Hope we can meet again some time in the future!