So Far Phở-bulous! 3 Months In - Rate My Top 8

First up, what I’ve been doing in Hanoi for 3 months, apart from eating copious amounts of rice and noodles?

- Studying at Hanoi University of Science and Technology (as part of my Bachelor of Civil and Environmental Engineering)
- Learning Vietnamese
- Working part-time at The Asia Foundation
- Teaching English
- Playing in the university volleyball and ping-pong 'super' teams
- Exploring the insane organised chaos of Hanoi city and its rural outskirts 

Top 8 Lessons Learnt So Far

1. Eat together and ‘cheers’ often

Meals are better shared, even if the food is cold. Traditionally, meals consist of a variety of dishes meticulously prepared by the woman of the house which everyone eats portions of in their own bowls. You wait until everyone is seated and the eldest male starts eating. Drinking is a bicep workout as every sip of beer is celebrated, shouting ‘2,3, uống!’ each time you pick up your glass.

2. Language is powerful but spoken Vietnamese is often unforgiving

My beginner knowledge of the Vietnamese language has opened up so many relationships as people truly appreciate your interest in their culture. Unfortunately, the letter combination ‘nam’ with various tone marks can mean ‘5’, ‘year’, ‘mushroom’, ‘male’ and ‘south’ so people often have no idea what I’m saying. When I wanted to fix my punctured bike tyre I was looking for the mechanic - sửa chữa but people thought I wanted yoghurt - sữa chua.

3. Karaoke is life

Get used to noise because no matter where you are there will be karaoke. You may even see security guards on-shift with a personalised portable karaoke microphone. Whilst on a weekend trip to Ba Vi, a National Park just outside Hanoi, we managed to set-up our tent on a secluded mountain top. The serenity was somewhat disturbed by a large group of Vietnamese people singing ‘Shots’ and dancing in high-vis. At least I was allowed to put on ‘Footloose’ later.

When staying in the small Black Hmong village in Sapa, our host family brought out the karaoke microphones after feasting on nem (spring rolls). My friend and I later found out that our rendition of Shannon Noll's classic 'What about me' was streamed live on our host mum's Facebook (yes Vietnam is extremely wired).  

4. The relationship is the guarantee, not the contract

Business and social relationships are inextricably linked. The most important business decision making often occurs in a coffee shop drinking cà phê sữa (coffee with condensed milk).

5.  Vietnam is booming

It is no longer the poor Vietnam and the rich Australia. We are working together to leverage our strengths and create durable relationships and projects to collaborate on and support mutually beneficial and sustainable development.

6. Air, land and water pollution are ever-present

Environmental degradation as a result of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation is a harsh reality. The past 25 years has seen Vietnam transform into a middle-class economy with an average GDP rate of 6.4% in the 2000’s. This economic reform has brought unprecedented environmental concerns which need urgent attention by communities, businesses and government. I now buy N95 face masks for 20,000 VND each (about $1 AU) and wear them when in high traffic areas or when the air pollution is particularly bad (which I check on AirVisual) to filter out the dangerous PM2.5. 

7. ‘Normal’ is redefined

This makes daily life amusing. For example, I sat a very serious mid-semester ping-pong test which involved me writing, in Vietnamese, my thoughts on ping-pong in Vietnam (please note I do actual subjects including electronics and advanced physics). I now often have coffee with my beret-wearing ping-pong teacher and go to his house for meals.

I also witnessed the Australian Ambassador for Vietnam judge the cross dressing costume competition at Hanoi Mardi Gras whilst chatting to the Panama Ambassador (Panama is a small country in Central America). A new hobby of mine is playing volleyball in the afternoons with shirtless men. At the gym, I get my daily fit-spo from those who come in just for the photo-shoot, as well as various unusual techniques.

8. Be open

The sweetest moments come when you’re not trying to follow your to-do list. During Tet (Lunar New Year) I was dressed in the traditional áo dài, travelling to Pagodas and various homes with a family of 16 (8 to each car). I evidently blend in quite well.

...I have to stop myself writing, so for now I will leave you with this photo of a $1.50 AU bowl of insanely delicious phở bò.

Thoughts, questions, comments? Hola at me. 

Check out @tallgirl.smallworld on Instagram. 


  1. A great read Ali. You are certainly making the most of this brilliant experience.


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