Most travel experiences are a riot of new sights, tastes and sounds. Your senses can be bombarded when you’re in a new country with so many previously unknown influences. I find this especially true here in Vietnam. Being here is so incredibly different to being back home in the USA, or in England or even in Australia.
All this “new-ness”, the impact on my perceptions, has made me stop to think about how I’m experiencing Vietnam with each of my five senses.
So, I’m going to write five blog posts, each focusing on one of the senses. In these posts I’m going to try to share with you what I’m experiencing here in Vietnam, what I’m smelling and tasting and, in this post, what I’m hearing.
Vietnam is loud. Don’t let those old movies that show white-clothed women biking silently through remote rice paddies fool you. Vietnam has cranked up the volume, literally.
Every store, every bar, every hotel blasts music. We were in a grocery store yesterday and I could not hear Andy speaking from two rows over in the produce section. Instead, there’s a constant, often maddeningly screechy, soundtrack of limpid voiced Vietnamese pop stars warbling as you buy your apples, step into a mobile phone store or simply walk in the park.
As much as this propensity for pumping up the jam drives me bat-shit crazy, there are other sounds here in Vietnam that I find reassuring and comforting.
Roosters. All over Vietnam, even in the centre of big cities, you can hear roosters crowing. Having spent the previous six years living in Sydney and Winchester, I can’t tell you when I last heard a rooster crowing. It’s a homey, old fashioned sound and I love it.
I also love the the soft click of the board pieces as men play xiang qi. The Chinese version of chess, this game is played all day long by groups of men sitting in cafes. The board pieces are made of heavy plastic and they make the most enjoyable soft, “chunk” as the players move them across the board. Of course, you also hear whoops of joy and bangs of defeat when watching men play this game, but that just adds a bit of excitement to what may otherwise be a very staid soundscape.
And, finally, perhaps my favourite sound here in Vietnam… “Hello!” Many Vietnamese children only know this one word in English and when they see us walking down the street, they shout “Hello!” with wild joy and abandon. Two days ago we were strolling back to our hotel when a group of three young children, they could not have been more than about four years old, starting jumping up and down, waving and laughing and “Hello!”ing us! They were precious and their enthusiasm was infectious. All the adults standing on the street started laughing and waving at us as well. The frequent shouts of “Hello!” make me feel welcomed here.
Amongst the constant beeping cars, zooming motobikes, hammering, sawing and singing that always form the background music of a nation on the move, the sounds of roosters, games and greetings have made the biggest impact on me so far.