I jumped back farther into the sidewalk as a scooter drove over the curb and vroomed past me. Annoyed but unperturbed, I stepped forward again to continue counting the number of motorcycles that passed by.
Road users in Ho Chi Minh City drive by their own rules. While I found the behavior of Vietnamese drivers shocking at first, it had now become a familiar experience after having spent the past two summers here with my expat family. This trip, however, was not just about visiting family. I was also here to assist a Johns Hopkins researcher with projects focused on injuries in Vietnam, the most prevalent and fatal among them being road traffic injuries.
So, here I was, standing by the sidewalk of the Ho Chi Minh Post Office. I was sweating in the heat, humidity, and dust, swatting mosquitoes away while squinting hard at the road. I almost wished that I could be back at the air-conditioned Hanoi-based office crunching data, preparing report summaries, or even proofreading English translations. From the corner of my eye, I noticed several locals squatting around a lady street food vendor and her variety of ingredients, which I later found out from my supervisor, make "bánh cuốn", a roll with Vietnamese pork sausage. I convinced my spoiled self that if the locals can enjoy themselves on the streets in this weather, then I, too, could "immerse myself in the culture."
After 15 minutes of staring, I was done and ready to start observing and recording the helmet use of motorcycle riders. From construction helmets to helmets shaped like caps, the Vietnamese could wear their helmets in ways I could not even imagine. I tried to ask the other data collectors for clarification at the end, but with my limited Vietnamese and their limited English, I could only guess what they were saying.
Through watching and working with people, I was able to rediscover Vietnam from a broader perspective. I learned about public health issues in the country and, more importantly, grew to appreciate the daily nuances that contributed to my third culture experience.
About the author
Wen Wen Teh is a member of the Johns Hopkins University Class of 2018. Teh is a neuroscience and economics double major who served as a research intern at the Hanoi University of Public Health, Vietnam this summer. The university is a local collaborator of the Johns Hopkins International Injury Research Unit.
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