My visit to Vietnam this March (pics are finally up in the Photos link) wasn’t the greatest. My first two visits in 2009 and 2011, respectively, were great and kept me wanting to go back despite some red flags (metaphorical) I encountered. The country was still kind of new and wild to me so I could overlook the problems. The third visit broke the charm down and I saw more of the crusty underbelly of a corrupt turd world. …Okay, not really, I just wanted to say “crusty underbelly” and “turd world.” But it did paint the place in a different light for me.
There was one particularly terrible day where we visited this temple on top of a mountain, called Yên Tử. There are cable cars for much of the journey (you can also take stairs), but then the “trail” to the very tippy top does not have stairs, or much of them, and pretty much requires you to climb up boulders and stuff. What made it really dangerous, though, was how crowded it was since we went during the temple’s spring festival season. And because Vietnamese people don’t queue or have the same personal space boundaries that we in the West have, there was a lot of pushing and shoving, all while trying to balance on very precarious ledges. It was also windy and misting quite a bit so the rocks were wet and slippery. I also got separated from the rest of my family and our phones didn’t work up there so there was that added stress. It was so crowded there would be times when everyone was at a complete standstill for minutes at a time, packed worse than sardines, and assholes would still try to shove through. There was no way to turn back around so all you could do was follow/get shoved along with the crowd, no clear end in sight. I thought I was going to get crushed up there, or fall to my death. It was the worst.
When I got to the top (or near enough, I just wanted to find the way down), I simply sat down and cried for a long time. I thought the worst was over, but the way down was just as bad. Steep steps, more crowding and shoving, missing the signs for the cable car, not knowing when the “adventure” would end… Just awful. Worst day of my life. There is a reason the photo album for that place has markedly fewer pictures than any other album. Yên Tử is my most hated place on Earth.
It wasn’t all bad, though. I came out of that experience a changed person. When I’m stuck behind slow people on the sidewalk (which is nearly everyday in NYC), it doesn’t bother me anymore because it’s better than shoving and being shoved all the time. When I’m stuck in queues, I’m ever so thankful there is even a queue at all. I’m incredibly grateful that we have an orderly, regulated society with only a few assholes to ruin things. I get the whole “different, not better” ideal when it comes to different cultures; hard not to when you grow up juggling two cultures. But when it comes to queuing vs. not queuing there is no contest that queuing wins and all societies that practice good queuing are better for it.