photos and article by Daniel Jun, Greenheart Travel Scholarship Winner in Vietnam
I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam on the night of Jan 1, 2013. I left home, New York, on Dec 31, 2012 and spent the New Years passed out on a plane. Although there were no festivities with the start of the New Year, there was the idea of starting a new adventure in a whole different part of the world. I was really excited, and still am, about spending 4 months volunteering in Vietnam.
My first surprise in Hanoi was the unexpected cold weather. Before leaving New York, I checked online for the past average temperatures of the city and packed for 50-60o F weather. What I didn’t learn from the internet is that these numbers are also the average temperatures of indoors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly capable of handling cold weather, especially from attending school in upstate New York where the winters last from November to March and the temperature regularly drops below freezing, but I feel pretty darn cold here. My house and worksites do not have heating and the concrete structures are poor insulators. So, everyone is always bundled up in jackets and extra socks when indoors.
Aside from the unexpected chill, my experience so far has been great. The food is awesome, the people are friendly, and the cost of living is cheap. I live in the CSDS guesthouse with 2 other males and 4 females (2 Brits, 1 Aussie, 1 Canadian, and 2 Americans), all of whom are great company. The house is located in the suburbs of Hanoi, approximately 4 miles away from the city center. But, this is not the typical suburbs that I’m used to; no green lawns or even sidewalks for that matter. The suburb here is a giant cluster of buildings and small streets and alleyways. Houses are no more than 20ft wide and are directly connected to each other side by side. All stores and restaurants are small local businesses and the winding streets and alleys are ruled by motorbikes, mopeds, and bicycles that weave around cars and pedestrians. Traffic laws are nonexistent and traffic lights are more like suggestions than requirements: “you should stop at this red light, but you don’t have to.” Street sellers and street fires (campfire style) are common place along with karaoke bars and restaurants that sell dog meat. The overall feel of this place is tough and gritty, which is awesome.