You might say that a 4-day office outing to the beach is an unheard of luxury for a supposedly diligently-serving volunteer. But allow me to plead my case with the following excerpt from 4-part, months-long editing task I finished up just before we left for the beach last Tuesday:
“He was fond of creating tiny, compact, affectionate products with the warm, soft, tasty, dark coloured surfaces and raw materials jutted through a fantastic space, all together made it noisy, untidy, lively and boisterous.”--from “Nguyen Bao Toan—Prolonged Aesthetic Heritage”
So, while it might not often be apparent from my blog posts, life in Viet Nam isn't all weekend trips and cheap coffee; I do work sometimes, and the mid-week beach vacation was a nice break. Furthermore, being at the all-Vietnamese beach was an interesting (and often hilarious) study into the contrasting assumptions of American and Vietnamese beach cultures.
While some things are similar, like our excessive seafood consumption,
there were some marked differences. Notably:
The method of selling above-mentioned seafood.
And beachwear. At home I tend to feel like the beach is just an excuse to show off one's body while wearing as little clothing as possible. However, at Cua Lo Beach, swimsuits were more the exception than the rule, for women at least. No string bikinis here! Rather, it was not rare to see women swimming fully clad and girls walking the sands in their pajama suits. Men also do not have special swimwear, as a rule, but their choice of beach apparel is slightly less covering than that of the women: It was slightly disconcerting to run across my male coworkers lounging in the shallows in their tiny, Dandy brand briefs.
However, the most obvious difference between American and Vietnamese beach cultures has to do with preferred vacation schedule. Compare the following two schedules for relaxing days at the beach:
american beach day SLEEP IN eat brunch head to the beach mid-to-late morning lay out in the sun at peak tanning hours with short intervals for reading and swimming play ultimate frisbee or boccee WALK THE BEACH watch the sunset leave in time to catch a late supper.
vietnamese beach day GET UP @ 5 AM swim eat breakfast @ 8 am visit a pagoda eat lunch drink beer NAP return to the beach @4PM sit under an umbrella buy live shrimp eat supper drink beer sing karaoke.
At first I thought, look at those Vietnamese, they're crazy! Why would you want to get up so early to go to the beach? Why would you want to nap all day? Why would you want to avoid the sun and wear so much clothing?
But then I thought, they must be thinking, look at those crazy foreigners! They go out during the hottest part of the day! No wonder they're SO TIRED all the time! And don't they know the sun makes them uglier?
And you must admit, when you think about it logically, they have a point. Being out in the middle of a summer day in a tropical climate does make you tired. And while I appreciate my tan now, I will probably be a very wrinkly old woman someday (and am at a higher risk for skin cancer). That being said, I don't plan to change my beach strategy; I guess I'm set in my ways. But it just goes to show how many of our assumptions about the right way to do things are not necessarily because our way actually makes more sense, but because we are used to our way.
This is my boss, Anh Long, and me eating crabs and shrimp that were jumping out of the bowl 10 minutes prior to this photo being taken.