I’ve Gone To Saigon (Part I)

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posted by Darren Barklie
on Apr 16, 2014

I had never truly experienced the concept of culture shock until my arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. With only a modest amount of travel experience across Europe and America, some encouragement from the NIFTIT team prompted me to make the journey to explore some of Southeast Asia.


My ambitions during this trip span an arc of personal growth including; acclimatization, cultural competence, social development, eventual independence and of course – professional development. This blog series will document my successes and (many) inevitable failures!


To make such a transition to a foreign place, I should have spent numerous months meticulously preparing for the journey ahead. But if there’s an easy way and a hard way to do something, I’ll always pick the hard way and traditionally make it harder.


My life beats to a rhythm of short-sighted craziness followed by periods of more considered, concentrated effort. The 48 hours prior to my arrival in Saigon definitely fell in to the former; a snap decision to actually follow through on my ambition, a last minute online flight booking, two hours of frantic packing, a short flight to London, international meetings and local drinks with Craig, then twelve hours in the air to finally reach my destination.


When I eventually met up with Phi-Lac at our hotel, I was completely over-whelmed as I realized just what I had committed myself to. I quickly realized that I was a baby out here; I didn’t know where I was, where to go, how to speak, how to eat or even how to walk (crossing the streets in Saigon is a subtle art form)! The scale of exactly what I would have to achieve shocked me and still continues to intimidate me day by day.




Like I said; the hard way.


Thankfully my travel buddy Phi-Lac has a solid grasp of the Vietnamese language and culture, which has been my lifeline during these initial two weeks. Despite these massive personal revelations, within an hour of checking in we threw ourselves in to the Saigon nightlife; with beers, backpackers, fresh fruits and of course – Phi-Lac’s favourite – shots.


The following days saw us slow the pace a little to explore our surroundings properly. Some new friends introduced us to some great food available from local street vendors (Phở soup and Banh Mi being standout favourites), took us to pray at a Buddhist temple and later introduced us to some of the shopping surrounding Saigon. We later met the parents of Phi-Lac’s friend William, who were very generous in taking us to some hidden local restaurants for amazing food and drinks. Their local knowledge certainly helped me feel a little more settled.


Towards the end of our first week out here, we spent a couple of days working from Saigon Hub. The co-working space is a perfect environment to settle down and work – which we wasted no time in doing. After completing design work on the Grindware Circadia app, I was then happy to watch Phi-Lac successfully push NIFTIT’s work on the Gazprom International project on to their production server. It was great to share this major milestone with the NY team via Skype, after the many hundreds of man-hours we’ve all put in to it.




With two days left in Saigon before heading to the island of Phu Quoc, an inner-city rendezvous with La Rochelle natives William and Raf was arranged. Armed with fluent Vietnamese, extensive local knowledge and mopeds, we again experienced another taste of the city that proved just how extensive and dynamic the experiences can be here.


The contrast of experiences is hard to keep track of a lot of the times; one minute you can bare witness to incomprehensible and saddening poverty, whilst the very next minute you’re experiencing unimaginable luxury and excessive consumption on a mass scale. There definitely appears to be a distinctive gap between those who have and those who have not. What is really humbling to see is that even in the realms of poverty, the attitude is never one of desolation – there still exists a spirit of workmanship, commitment and community that I don’t see in the UK or US. This is definitely something that I appreciate and will try to internalize and carry with me.


I’m now four nights in to my Phu Quoc adventure, which I will be writing up over the coming week. Comments and questions on my first two weeks in Saigon are welcome.