Jameelah and I returned from our trip to Vietnam. After four weeks, we learned to cuss like the locals. “Do mat dich!” I would say, which I think literally means “You thing that has lost a duck.” I don’t know why that’s an insult. Maybe it’s because ducks are so valuable, and anyone who loses a duck is obviously a moron.

The last few days of our trip, we flew to the beautiful and charming city of Hoi An, where we discovered the magic of “fresh beer”, which is ridiculously cheap at the equivalent of 20 US cents per glass. Unfortunately, you have to drink a whole lot to get drunk. Hoi An has a historic quarters filled with ancient Sino-Japanese architecture and decorated with hundreds of colorful lanterns. At night, motorcycles and cars are prohibited and the lanterns are lit up. And despite the heavy presence of foreign tourists and God-forsakenly awful tourist food, I found it magical. Maybe it was the 25th glass of fresh beer…

Now, we are back in the US, and I miss Vietnam already. The country has a vibrant energy. People are trying new things. On the Saigon skyline there is a shiny new skyscraper with a saucer-shaped helicopter landing pad, a symbol of Vietnam’s future-oriented philosophy. According to one of my friends, in about 15 or 20 years, Vietnam will the 17th largest economy in the world. That’s amazing, and not altogether unexpected. However, I’ve observed a few things that Vietnam should pay attention to as it develops.

First, the children have become chubby, especially in the cities. The presence of KFC and other greasy fast-food places means tons of little fat kids waddling around. In fact, Jameelah and I started making a game out of it. “There’s a chub!” we would shout, and punch each other in the arm, kind of like “slug bug”, but with obese children. I know, we’re horrible people who need to attend sensitivity training. But after getting badly bruised arms, we realize Vietnam needs to be aware of the growing obesity problem among its increasingly rotund children.

Second, customer service in Vietnam needs to improve. While people generally are friendly and kind, tourists have reported severe shafting, and not in a fun way. The “tourist discount,” for example, is generally 50 to 500 percent more than the local price. The dishonesty and advantage taking create a bad environment full of lies. Jameelah and I had a brilliant idea of pretending she was half-Vietnamese. She practiced saying, “My dad is from the US, and my mom is from Da Lat, and I love Vietnam.” This sometimes charmed the locals into giving us better prices. Another strategy we used, when getting hotels, was for Jameelah to wait at a nearby café while I pretended to be a local. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. “Your accent sounds kind of dim-witted…” one receptionist told me.

Third, the public urination has to stop. The less tactful men will pee just about any place: walls, empty corners, behind a bush, at fleeing animals, etc. The squatting toilet is dying out and is being replaced with flushing porcelain thrones, thank goodness, but the public urination remains constant. If Vietnam is to be a developed country, stricter laws and better availability of clean public restrooms need to be implemented.

Finally, the littering and abuse of the environment need to be curtailed. Vietnam is pretty, and some scenes, like Ha Long Bay, are so breathtaking they just make you want to punch someone in the face. But everywhere there is garbage: pristine beaches, exhilaratingly verdant mountain paths, cloud forests, bone-white sand dunes. It is sad and disturbing to see these scenes destroyed by piles of crap and columns of smoke from people burning crap. It is, unfortunately, ingrained in the culture. Even my cousins will toss a plastic bag out a car without a second thought.
This is not to put a negative light on Vietnam, of course. There are plenty of great things. Once it fixes the negatives, including a few things not mentioned here such as the severe income gap, the country is well on its way. Oh, one more thing. The toilet paper could be improved too. It’s like using porcupines…

Look, an easy-to-remember website: www.Jaggednoodles.com.

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