It has now been one week since I have arrived in Dong Hoi. Time has passed very quickly and intensively as I have been absorbing openly and eagerly many new impressions and encounters with interesting people. Everything is new and exciting. I adore immersing myself in new foreign settings and way of life as well as adapting quickly to local cultural habits. I like walking through the local market and appreciate the intense and fresh colors and flavors of the (for us) exotic cooking ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, green lemon, chili or coriander.
I arrived last Tuesday morning after a one-hour flight from Hanoi. Shortly after I moved into my room in the nice little family-run Nam Long Hotel, I went full of anticipation to the SC/LSN-V office, which is only a two minute walk. There I was introduced to Ms. Dung (director) and Ms. Hong (operation manager), as well as Nga (monitoring and evaluation officer) and Jasmine, a Canadian girl, who is also volunteering with SC/LSN-V. I was warmly received and now, only a couple of days later, I already feel part of the team. The enthusiasm and commitment of the LSN-V staff to improve the livelihoods of persons with disabilities was immediately evident to me. Within the first week, I had the chance to visit two beneficiaries of SC/LSN-V’s small business development project, which aims to reduce poverty among persons with disabilities by providing employment opportunities and building capacity to start their own small enterprises. Read more here.
Dong Hoi has 100’000 inhabitants and is the capital city of the Quảng Bình province, located 500 km south of Hanoi. (see map). Compared to chaotic motorbike-crammed Hanoi, this marvelous little coastal city is rather quiet and relaxed. Between two sips of ice coffee, a businessman from Ho Chi Minh City explains me why he loves coming here. Dong Hoi is famous for its excellent fresh seafood, its beaches and for the hot climate – and most importantly for its nice and friendly people. I can only agree with him.
All the crab, fish, squid, and shrimp I have had during this first week in various seaside restaurants were amazing – and very cheap. And the weather is hot. Really hot. In the afternoon, the thermometer climbs up to 35 – 40 C degrees, and that does not include the humidity. Luckily, one can generally rely on fans and air conditioning. But every other day, the state-owned electricity company cuts the power for a couple of hours in certain areas of the city to save money. Imagine!
At first sight, Dong Hoi has little to offer tourists, and is not on Lonely Planets’ hot spot list for Vietnam backpackers. But the fact that it is not touristic at all is, in my opinion, one of its great advantages, especially if you plan to stay here for a long time. As a result, people are not very used to seeing many foreigners, except for some development workers and a couple of passing tourists. This explains the curious looks and smiles I get here, whether entering a busy restaurant at lunch, or simply walking down the street. It is not uncommon for motorbikes to slow down, as the driver and the up to 4 others passengers (including kids without helmets) turn their head to stare at me. But I don’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, because people have only been kind and friendly towards me.
I am impressed by the hospitality of the people from Dong Hoi. I feel welcome here. However, even basic communication is often difficult, as I only speak a couple of clumsy words in Vietnamese, and most of the people in Dong Hoi don’t speak English at all. So exchanges with people on the street, in a restaurant or a store are basically limited to some standard sentences like “Hello, how are you?”, “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?” If you want to enter into a deeper discussion, you have to be creative and use alternative ways to communicate, including hands, legs, pens and paper. It feels as though you were playing Charades or Taboo with a complete stranger, and it can be very entertaining. But luckily, I am able to speak English with my Vietnamese co-workers from SC/LSN-V and with my Canadian friend.
After one week in Dong Hoi, I am quite sure that this is a place where I will feel fine during the summer.
Posted By Simon Kläntschi
Posted Jun 22nd, 2010