How to Make a Bunch of Friends in Ho Chi Minh City
During my stay in Ho Chi Minh, I will admit I got lazy. I settled into a familiar routine and stayed in my comfort zone. Yet by doing so, I was able to get to know and learn a thing or two about Vietnam’s younger student population.
While staying in the touristy district 1, a.k.a The Backpacker district, I would grab my art supplies and ukulele then head to ABC Bakery for coffee and a pastry. The snacks there were familiar, tasty and inexpensive.
After drawing for a few hours, I would go over to the park across the street (Công viên 23 Tháng 9) to play my ukulele and get a change of scenery.
Originally, I went over to the park to escape the crowded streets and pushy vendors, however, I was not left alone. As I sat and played, a group of smiling young locals approached me asking if I spoke English.
My first thought was “Oh great, they want to sell me tourist crap.” Because I am a polite kinda guy I answered yes and a conversation ensued without a hint of a sales pitch or chachki hustle.
Later, I would find out the park is where students learning English would come to practice their conversational skills. Once I learned this, hanging out at the park became part of my daily routine.
I would meet my new friends there and talk with them about their lives in Vietnam and mine in Hawaii. They would laugh and smile at my attempts to pronounce Vietnamese words. And I would help them with English words that gave them trouble.
Many of them were quite friendly and spoke good English. Others were timid and not as comfortable with the English language. When asked why they wanted to learn English all replied “To find good paying jobs.”
My new friends would ask me to play my ukulele and to see the drawings in my sketch pad. I went to lunch with them to their favorite nearby restaurants where they would order food for me based on what I told them I liked.
For a few hours each day in a park in Ho Chi Minh, I was felt I was akin to an American celebrity. Each day I was greeted by a small group of fans who were eager to talk to me. At the end of each visit they would ask me when I was going to come back so we could meet again.
By far the connections I made with the curious and hospitable students was one of the coolest and most memorable experiences I have ever had anywhere.