One of the best things about Bình Dân district was how friendly, open, patient, and just plain kind everyone was. There was a fairly significant language barrier even after my four month crash course in Vietnamese, as the audiobooks I used featured a Hanoi accent, and everyone in HCMC (obviously) has a southern accent. I could talk to people, but as soon as they delightedly exclaimed that I knew Vietnamese and started chattering back to me, it became clear that I couldn't understand a word out of their mouths.
This didn't deter the people in the neighborhood. Every morning and evening when we came walking down our small side street, everyone waved and said hello. And the day we left, unsteadily toting our suitcases down the uneven gravel, people spilled out their doors to say goodbye.
A group of ladies a few storefronts down from us had a sinh tố (fruit smoothie) operation running early morning to late evening, and they always stopped what they were doing (gnawing corn on the cob and gossiping, usually) to fix us strawberry, durian, avocado, mango, sapoche, or passionfruit drinks for $0.60.
Another thing that would happen regularly is that a random English-speaker would show up at the most opportune times and lend their services.
In the local market, chợ An Lạc, I wanted to buy some candied ginger, but didn't know how to convey the concept of 'half-a-kilo'. No worries, a college student showed up behind me from out of nowhere and negotiated the transaction!
Down the street by the park badminton courts, I wanted to buy a cheese bánh mì to fortify myself for a bracing game of hot and humid badminton. But I had forgotten how to say 'cheese' (it's not a common ingredient in Vietnamese cooking). Not a problem! A worker selling New Year mooncakes came running across the street to translate.
At a restaurant advertising cơm gà Hải Nam in giant yellow letters, the English menu had 50 items, none of which were Hainan chicken. A waiter rushed over to point out that this was actually a category of dishes, and that I could choose from duck, pork, chicken, intestines, or any combination thereof and order it Hainan style. Then he apologized for his poor English. I couldn't tell him he was being ridiculous because my mouth was full of melting pork fat and wonderful ginger sauce.
(Bottom dish: $2.75)
There was only one exception to the 'exceptionally friendly' rule.
In a surprisingly spacious area for a place that served only one dish, bánh xeo, I sat down one table away from a group of boisterous men who were getting unabashedly sloshed at 4:30 in the afternoon. Accustomed to respectful curiosity from everyone that I'd met, I remained open to the possibility of civil conversation when one approached me.
This was not to be the case. He sat with his face three inches from mine as he slurred Vietnamese questions at me. When I didn't understand them (I could understand most questions spoken at a clear, slow pace, but Drunken Slurring is not a dialect my course had covered) he would smack my arm or leg with his hand and repeat them in exactly the same way, but louder and more spitty. The owner of the restaurant looked on with detached amusement as his friends roared with laughter and pointed fingers.
I put up with this for exactly three minutes before I grabbed my food and took it to a faraway table.
Since I ate at lightning speed to escape this situation, and I didn't take photos lest Drunken Man grab my phone and use it to slap my arm, I have little to say about the food other than that it sustained me long enough to walk to the bò lá lốt I wrote about in my last entry. It only cost $1, though.