Posted by: TheGoodPlant | April 11, 2007

vietnam: the world’s never felt so small

Back on the boat we managed to coerce the captain to drop anchor away from the other boats for the night so we could enjoy the peace and quiet a bit of solitude might provide from the obnoxious tourists aboard the other boats. We did stop away from the rest of the boats, but not quite far enough away. As everyone was standing on the roof of the boat contemplating whether or not to jump the whopping 20 or 25 feet, I got a running start from the other side of the boat and launched myself into the warm night air landing in even warmer water. Besides feeling like I was swimming in pee, it was extremely salty, so I became incredibly buoyant. I’m a terrible back floater usually but in this bay I could lounge around for hours on end without so much as an arm underneath me to keep pushing myself up. A few others followed in suit and finally jumped in, most of which were doing the stereotypical-one arm over their head, the other hand plugging their nose-dive, and a couple even screamed the whole way between roof and water. We all jumped and swam around for a solid 20 minutes when a couple of the people we were trying to stay away from came swimming over and asked if they could jump off of our roof. I assured them it would be fine, so they climbed up and jumped off, well, two of the three jumped off, the third one climbed down because she got scared. They were around my age and had American accents, so when the guy jumped off he swam over and we started talking. We rifled through the obligatory questions, “where are you from” being the key one here. As it turns out, when we cycled through the country, state, county and city that we were born and raised in, we both grew up in Huntington Beach, CA and knew a couple of the same people. I was absolutely blown away. I know it’s a “small world”, but holy shit. I was swimming in a bay half way around the world and I run into probably the only other Huntington Beach native in the country at the time. We spent a few minutes treading water, talking about our respective purposes in the country, mine, of course, was just to see it whereas he was working for the American embassy in Hanoi and he was living there for six months. He offered to buy me a drink when I came back through Hanoi, which I was fully entertaining the idea of, and then I got out of the water to climb up and jump off again.
Growing up in Huntington Beach was interesting. There are a great number of really cool people I grew up with who I still hang with on a regular basis; my very best friend is from Huntington Beach, however, the cool ones are definitely the exception rather than the rule. There is a very large concentration of “bros” in Huntington who have a bad reputation for being obnoxious, loud, pious, and tactless, driving raised white trucks with “SRH” stickers on them, wearing flat-billed baseball hats turned 45 degrees to one side with oversized dickies shorts, black socks pulled up and puffy skate shoes despite the fact that the vast majority of them can’t skateboard to save their lives. I’ve spent the better part of my youth doing everything in my power to not be a part of this uniquely grotesque subculture, and am perplexed every time I run into one of them by their demeanor, their lack of appreciation for things other than fake boobs and lifted trucks, and their rhetoric.
The Malay import had a very comprehensive appreciation for all things Western, including a lot of the slang and jokes used profusely in my hometown. He, like myself, was not a fan of the aforementioned type of people, and jabbed countless jokes at me about being American, especially being Californian, albeit his admittance that I was by no means a stereotypical Orange County guy.
That said, The Malay and I are standing on the roof of the boat, getting ready to jump, when the three roof jumping mooches from across the way announce that they will be swimming back over to their boat now, so we say farewell, and as a parting act of idiocy, my fellow guy from OC sticks a fist up in the air and yells, “Later man! Represent H.B. bro!”, which he said with absolute conviction, like, he isn’t just from H.B, he is FROM H.B. and it literally summed him up in one statement for me and innately placed him in the demographic which I just described. I was in shock for a second that he so quickly lost my respect, and I gave him a, “Will do, bro” from which he didn’t catch even five percent of my sarcasm. As the three of them swam off, I hung my head with shame and my Malay buddy nudged me and mimicked the guy, “Yeaaaaahh, H.B. bro!” Again, he had a very in-depth understanding of the jokes and slang from my part of the world, so he caught on to how shitty the call was. Having just spent the last few hours trying to convince this guy and the two Australian girls on board that all Californians aren’t like the kids in the show The OC, the one guy we run into in the middle of the ocean in Vietnam totally proves my point wrong.



  1. I enjoyed the way the story started off and definitely have had the same experience in another part of the world. However, your attitude near the end really turned me off. Being a backpacker myself and growing up in a similar environment, I can completely relate to your story. But I think it’s entirely unfair to pigeonhole this man into a stereotype and shame on you for eating up the same negative perceptions the everyone else.

    To me, the most wonderful thing about traveling is to open my eyes to new cultures and experiences. To put aside all of my preconceived notions and go out of my way to really build a connection with the places I visit and people I meet. With this mindset, I’ve been able to meet and travel with many people who I would never approach when I’m at home.

    For example, while staying at the Bearded Monkey hostel in Granada I met a professional American football player. My first impression was that this man is a 6’5″ behemeath incapable of completing a sentence without talking about a) himself, b) sports or c) or himself. After a few drinks, a round of pool, and couple of hands of poker later that night I found out that: 1) He’s travelled to more countries during the off season that I have in my entire life 2) He has the same aspirations and fears as I do 3) He has an affinity for reading that I’m envious of and 4) hates it when he’s at home and people only see him as “that football player.” Afterwards, I felt pretty guilty for judging him off the bat and he told me it’s alright; he’s glad we have talked. I’m sure you can relate to this. However, you never really gave your fellow Californian a chance. You just brushed him off as a braindead surfer and worse, you reaffirmed the Malay that the rest of the American travelers are a bunch of idiots. How are you able to judge this man’s life so confidently and stereotype him so easily from just a casual conversation with him?

    You were so put off by this guy because you were afraid the others were going to judge you based on his actions. You didn’t want others to think everyone in the OC are “bros.” But from the way you so quickly labeled this guy, you seem more convinced of this than anyone. If you really wanted to convince foreigners that we’re not all alike all you had to do was hang together for a bit longer and get to know him. In my book, anyone’s who wants to lives in Hanoi for 6 months has already broken way from 99% of the American population. If given the chance I’m sure he’s more unique than you give him credit for.

  2. well said, and my only attempt at a defense will be that he acted in a way that didnt do anything but affirm my resentment for the cliche “bros” from my hometown. but youre right, i didnt quite give him a fair chance. and i whole-heartedly agree that some of the best experiences i have ever had while traveling have been meeting people from other cultures and finding things in common, that is certainly one of my favorite things about it.

  3. Yeah, I completely understand that feeling. I get it too when I bump into people from DC (my hometown). Part of the reason I travel is to ‘escape’ from my normal environment and experience something new. But when reminders of home, especially negative and no matter how little, criss-cross themselves into my journey my instinct is to separate myself from it. But when I work through that gut instinct and work hard at overcoming my worries, I get a whole lot more out of it.

    Best of luck on the rest of your trip man.

  4. […] vietnam: the world’s never felt so small […]

  5. Really great, compelling writing. I could envision everything. Someday I’d like to go to Vietnam.

    Enjoyed the site.

  6. […] vietnam: the world’s never felt so small Back on the boat we managed to coerce the captain to drop anchor away from the other boats for the night so we could […] […]

  7. Good posts. I’ve been enjoying reading them. Looking forward to reading more.

  8. People do change and maybe not all the Bros are that bad?

  9. You are freedom to travel in Vietnam with this guy

  10. Hey brundy, I was quite suprised when seeing the topic. Do you know why? Im vietnamese, so it is so exciting for me when i read the topic about my country by an American guys. Many americans have wrong point of view about my country and our history. Thanks for the writing. In my best try, I will bring to you the beauty of my country. Im pround of being Vnese as youre pround of being amercian

    Cheers and good luck

  11. Great blog you have!

  12. Hey very descriptive neighbour! :) Never been to vietnam myself. But hey. if you’re ever interested in some thai related culture drop by. im a beginner but trying hard to build it up. keep writing!

  13. I love this article so much

  14. i’m a Vietnamese
    and i feel so proud of my country when i read your entries.
    thanks a lot, man

  15. Dave-

    Don’t even ask how the hell I ended up here, but holy shit, man. I don’t really revisit high school by any means, but through the magic of the interweb, here I am. Probably not the best forum to catch up on old times (not that I can say we were ever that fond of each other at Edison), but it’s refreshing to read the reflective writing. Hope all is well with you, and that you continue on with your travels.

  16. 15 comments? Your popularity impresses me and makes me jealous.

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