This still isn’t normal, and I hope it never is!
They look like little molars. 

Traveling to a new country, into a new (albeit temporary) job/career, has entailed a lot of major changes for me, but none has been more surprising than discovering the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Sooner or later, you find yourself becoming a part of your environment, and your environment makes up an integral piece of your reality.

It was in the past few months that I’ve noticed that my version of normal has been undergoing some serious behind-the-scenes upgrades. New motifs have been trotted out, old relics have been (temporarily?) retired, and a new synthesis is being created between my outer and inner worlds.

So today, I thought I’d draw up a quick illustrated guide to my new “normal” – the elements that have slipped so far into the background that they can only be identified by scanning the negative spaces around them, the supporting pieces that hold each in place. The moments when, for just an instant, I forget to marvel at the world around me, when the wondrous and bizarre become mundane and nothing more than background static.

Without further ado: Things That Are Now Somehow Normal

There’s regular normal, and then there’s amazing normal. The ability to buy fresh fruit within 30 paces of any particular spot in the city is perhaps one of the greatest of the amazing new normal. I have never eaten so much fresh fruit and produce.

A normal trip to market. Count on it – the gold finish is everywhere.

…And the misappropriation of trademarked logos! Apple and Facebook are popular. This clock is the height of trendy right now in some circles. Blech.

This is more than normal, it’s desirable. Who DOESN’T want to know where their meat is being prepared? Better right across the alley from the pop-up restaurant than an out-of-sight kitchen… (it’s pork, btw, and it’s pretty good).

Step right up, folks! Stores that sell one thing, but sell the hell out of it – we got y’r safes right here! Normal, but usually frustrating for this foreigner to find.

Unless I want crystal light fixtures. I know where those are.

Bugs. Not really that normal. But it’s lost the double-take value. (These are crickets with their insides removed and replaced with a peanut, then fried. Very tasty!)

That’s no water! It’s rice alcohol. Serving it in a water bottle is both normal and sustainable… and dangerous should you forget about some in the fridge!


Bizarre swizzle stick: normal. Pressed watermelon juice: normal (still magical, though).

Almost inconceivably exotic beauty… also disturbingly normal. Although maybe not normal enough! This is a restaurant that I haven’t eaten at yet… who wants to come??

Because Vietnam is the personification of contradictions, sights like this are normal: barbed wire over flowers in a public park.

And these are almost WAY too normal… the amount of outdoor photo shoots in any reasonably green area (or literally anywhere in D1) is too damn high!


Window displays at the mall have ceased to be shocking or funny. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be considered both of those things.

Going to see a local rock show at the Hard Rock Cafe Saigon? Unfortunately, totally normal. The prices are outrageous, but the venue’s pretty good!

Extremely time-sensitive fashion trends

…And the seemingly timeless beauty of neon magenta crocodile bags.

Gimmick art:” I guess there’s a market for this? There must be, or it wouldn’t be so frequently observed. Disappointing, but normal.

The revelation that Saigon has a big band that plays at the D7 mall is both weird and normal at the same time. Of COURSE there’s a big band that plays at the D7 mall. Of course there is.

But by far my most favorite normal thing is the traveling scale woman. I’ve seen people with these instruments four times now. As they come down the alley, they almost always play smooth jazz. When a person gets weighed, the machine brings down that little ceiling until it bonks their head, speaks their height and weight OUT LOUD, and then provides a printout. But it makes more sense than taking up valuable income or household space for a scale! Totally normal.

But seriously, check out this short video I got of it. It’s really crazy.
HOWEVER – a keytar? This is not normal. Alex, I sincerely you’re wrong about these making a comeback.

It will be interesting to follow this further, and then sit back with popcorn as I travel back to America for a couple weeks this fall. Will I have time to go through reverse culture shock? Should be interesting!

Have you spent time abroad? What were the weirdest things that became normal to you?