THIS JUST IN

Winner of the 2007 Blog-Off Contest

Steve Jackson, a.k.a. "Our Man in Hanoi," submitted the following essay to our blog's writing contest. We picked his piece as one of the four best out of 80 submitted. Readers then voted it as the best of the bunch.

It's true. On every level from beautiful beaches to amazing cities. From boiled dog to bangers and mash. From street food to the Sheraton. How much you submerge yourself in Vietnam is up to you. Eat at street stalls if you enjoy the experience but you don't have to. Don't feel guilty if you only eat in top restaurants. Your dollars will still pay for a wage here. Likewise don't think you understand Vietnam and its people just because you've sat on plastic stools and eaten noodle soup.

And there is a seedy underside, and there are drugs, and there is corruption and prostitution. But where doesn't have these?

There is no where else like Vietnam. People who have been here longer than me, have told me that only five years ago it was all bicycles on the road. Now it's mostly motorbikes but more and more cars are starting to appear. Vietnam is changing. And although I wish I had seen it then, now is also fascinating. The change is here but McDonalds and Starbucks haven't arrived yet. Nothing is ruined. Not yet.

You should realize that people either love or hate Vietnam. It is that type of place. But if you at least try to love it then it is more likely to work for you. Come here already smiling and with an open mind and it will be ok. Start to lose your temper over the traffic, the service, the roads or the food and it will only get worse. Nothing works here if you stop smiling.

My final piece of advice is: play the idiot.

Play the big western lump. Catch their eye when they're laughing at you (you are funny) and laugh with them. Pull a face at the kids.

Leave your ego and impatience behind and it'll work out just fine.

Author Steve Jackson, who ran the blog Our Man in Hanoi, now lives in Granada, Nicaragua, where he blogs at Our Man in Granada.

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