How to up your game at your next anime con

I can’t claim to be a convention connoisseur. There are people who convention-hop, traveling from con to con in their area. There are those who rent hotels with their friends, hanging out with all the anime geeks night and day. There are those who go hard, hitting up one of the local clubs when the convention closes each night.

I’m not one of those people. I went to my first con five years ago, an itty-bitty one called Zenkaikon. Two years later, I moved up to Boston, where I have conveniently attended Anime Boston for the last three years. Each night, I can go home and snuggle up in my own bed.

While I’m no expert, there are some things I wish I knew before attending my first convention way back when. So I wish to impart this knowledge on whoever is interested– because nothing’s wrong with making your anime con more awesome!

Preregister.

Some events like PAX sell out within hours. Luckily, other cons will allow registration up until the day itself. During my first convention, I decided last-minute to attend. When I arrived at the convention center, though, I was faced with this:

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The lines at Anime Boston can get even larger. Additionally, registering beforehand can be cheaper than buying it the day of. If you’re going to be attending for sure, save time and money– register beforehand!

Resist the Dealer’s Room.

Most conventions will have a dealer’s room, full of shiny sparkling merchandise from your favorite shows and games.

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I was a broke high school student during my first convention. Although I wanted to buy everything, I simply didn’t have the money.

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And it’s certainly possible to stay on a budget! Some people only bring a limited amount of cash with them. I tend to shop around first, choosing the items I want the most and prioritizing what to buy. At my first convention, I only bought one thing.

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Don’t resist the Dealer’s Room.

On the other hand, if you do have some money to spare, shopping around the Dealer’s Room can be the greatest thing ever.

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For example, take my friend who attended Anime Boston for the first time this year. I watched as she navigated the Dealer’s Room on the first day of the con.

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My friend and I walked to a Lolita stall, where a Lolita girl invited us to come in and look at the dresses.

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My friend agreed to try it on. Soon, what was supposed to be a quick look turned into an entire shopping trip.

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That dress turned what would have been a fun weekend into an awesome weekend. People approached and asked her for photos. She talked to people about the adorableness that is Lolita fashion. And sometimes, you just want to dress up in a sickeningly frilly dress, you know?

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Whether you buy anything or not, shopping is fun!

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Don’t lose your way.

Kill la Kill fans, please don’t slap me. I mean it! Depending on the size of the convention, the convention hall can be large and confusing. Dozens of rooms, multiple floors, hallways that all look the same. During my first Anime Boston, I had no idea where I was at any given time.

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This also makes it hard to stick with your friends.

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My best advice? If your event uses the Guidebook app, download it! For Anime Boston, the app included maps of the entire convention center. The app also included all the panels and performances for the entire weekend, allowing you to create and customize your own convention schedule. This made it a whole lot easier to find my way!

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Be prepared to go to panels early.

During my first Anime Boston, I would arrive at panels right when they were about to start. As a result, I heard this sentence a lot:

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If the panel is covering a popular topic (such as Pokemon or Studio Ghibli, for instance) a lot of people will be interested– and a lot of people will show up. The lines at the Penny Arcade Expos can get so bad that there’s a whole Twitter devoted to them.

Be prepared to go to concerts and other main events REALLY early.

Panels fill fast. Main events, like a concert by a popular artist or a Q&A with a famous actor, can be even worse. One of the most popular events at Anime Boston is the cosplay masquerade. I remember talking to some of the people who were waiting in line.

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Therefore, be ready to hang around.

If you do have to absolutely see the Video Game Orchestra, or the JAM Project, or whoever else is presenting/performing that year, you might have to wait in line. For a while. When I attended PAX East last year, people knew this and came prepared.

Seriously, this happened! I'm stealing this image from a post I wrote last year.

This really happened! I’m stealing this image from a post I wrote last year.

The long wait becomes much more tolerable when you spend it playing Cards Against Humanity or Spaceteam with your friends. Or, in this case, with complete strangers who happen to love the same things you do.

Dress it up.

If you weren’t able to tell, I’m a big fan of cosplay. Why wouldn’t I be? There are so many reasons to like cosplay.

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And while anime conventions are certainly enjoyable in normal clothes, I find that cosplaying makes it so much more fun. When I’m in costume, and when others are in costume, it becomes a conversation starter.

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It’s easy to find people who love the same things that you do.

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An anime convention is kind of like a big dance for geeks: everyone comes looking their best, except instead of formal wear everyone’s in their finest costume. These geek conventions are the only times where dressing up as Naruto or Monkey D. Luffy is socially acceptable, after all. Not to mention it’s a nice ego boost.

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Speaking of photos…

Bring your camera.

Maybe this is just me. My urge to take photos runs stronger than most people. Photos are a great way to preserve your memories, though, and a great way to share all the cool cosplay you’ll see.

Asking cosplayers for photos is normal at a convention, so don’t be shy! People even enjoy being asked for photos. It’s flattering, you know? So I didn’t hold back, and asked tons and tons of people for their photo.

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If you’re me, you bring your giant Nikon DSLR, extra batteries, your battery charger, and some extra SD cards in case. If you’re a normal person, you bring your phone and snap photos from there. Either one works– just be sure to bring a charger for when your camera runs out of juice.

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Talk it out.

One of my friends, a newbie to Anime Boston, asked me this question near the end of the con:

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Another friend– the one who had gone Lolita that weekend– chimed in.

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I nodded. That sounded about right.

But then I paused. Everything I’ve described here were reasons to come to Anime Boston. Going to panels. Shopping. Cosplaying. Yet there was something else to it. There was something about these nerd conventions that ran deeper than just buying wall scrolls and watching Attack on Titan characters walk by.

I thought back to my first Anime Boston.

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I ended up hanging out with those complete strangers for the entire day, a friendship based purely on a mutual love for Final Fantasy VIII.

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Well, the guy in red is from Final Fantasy X.

I thought about a guy we had met in the subway that day.

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I thought about all the people I had talked to over the weekend.

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With a female Kakashi from Naruto!

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With Uncle Iroh from Avatar!

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With Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka from Ouran High School Host Club!

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I thought about it, and realized: While the panels and performances and picture-taking is fun, it’s really the people that make the whole experience for me. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie at Anime Boston. Everyone is accepted, whether it be the tall guy in a Lolita dress or the girl wearing bunny ears and a fox tail. People become incredibly friendly, eager to talk to you about their favorite anime or manga or video game.

I was shy at my first few conventions, hesitating to ask anyone for even a photo. Now, I love approaching people at conventions. Chances are, they’ll have a good story to tell– or at least a decent anime recommendation.

It’s that openness– that sense of community– that I find to be the core of Anime Boston. It’s not often that you’ll be surrounded by thousands of people who have the same interests that you do, eager to fangirl over Avatar or debate over the Legend of Zelda timeline. Approach people about their costume. Ask them about their favorite series. Geek out– because here, it’s okay!

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With Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon!

And that, I find, is my favorite way to enjoy a convention.

Don’t just listen to me, though. Go to a convention yourself! Chances are, you’ll find your own ways to enjoy it. And when you do, let me know– I’d love to know how to make a great time even more awesome.

Even better, let me know how to deal with that post-con depression.

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I’m already planning my next cosplay.

 

 

 

For those who don’t know, I went to Anime Boston this year dressed as Yuna in her Final Fantasy X-2 outfit! I’ve compiled a little gallery of my favorite Anime Boston photos from this year. Check it out if you’d like!

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How I landed an internship on the other side of the world

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Those were my thoughts as my semester in Australia neared its end. It’s a pretty common sentiment among college students, especially those reaching the end of their college career. Which includes me.

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I couldn’t graduate yet. I wasn’t mentally ready.

Yet, at the same time, I didn’t want to just take extra classes and drag out my degree. That would just be delaying the inevitable and creating an extra financial burden on my parents. No, if I was to delay graduation, I would do it by doing something worthwhile.

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For those who don’t know, my school– Northeastern University– has a program where students work full-time for 6 months in between taking classes. It’s a great program, one that I really believe in. After all, kids get real-life experience in the field that they’re studying, bolstering their resume, helping their personal development, and allowing them to discover what they really want to do. I completed a co-op last spring and was keen to get another one.

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Though Northeastern has a lot of connections with local companies in Boston, students still have to go through the job-seeking process. We write resumes, contact employers, and go to interviews. Sending off my resume and applying for jobs was no problem– but I had one little bump to get over:

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I e-mailed my co-op advisor in concern, who believed that it wouldn’t be a problem. We live in an age with internet and video calling. Any employer should be willing to interview via Skype, right?

Wrong.

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Since I have a good bit of work experience, I was contacted by many companies. All of whom reached the same conclusion:

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Soon, no fewer than five companies had asked me to interview with them– only to retract their interview soon after. I was starting to lose hope.

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I was reaching the end of my semester in Sydney, so finding a job was becoming urgent. My friends and I were leaving Sydney after exams were over. Soon, I’d be on the road, traveling through the Australian boonies. Who knows if I’d even have internet?

My co-op advisor was really on-the-ball for this one. Stunned that so many employers were unwilling to give me a chance, she went the extra mile to help me out.

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And then, as my semester came to a close, a ray of hope appeared.

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Could it be?! Someone was actually willing to Skype me! My co-op advisor even arranged the time and webcam for the interview to happen.

Thus, from my bedroom in Sydney, I went through my first Skype interview.

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I was nervous, of course, but I thought the interview went well regardless. A few days later, I was even contacted for a second interview!

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Additionally,

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And…

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So. Two weeks from then, in some hostel or campground, I would have to interview for two hours in the middle of the night. I was a little freaked out by this. What if the hostel we were staying at didn’t have internet?! What if it was a loud, rambunctious party hostel?! My friends offered up their smartphones if I needed them.

But I lucked out. The night of my interview, we were staying in a campground. The family running the camp had an area of their house set up for guests with wi-fi. The owner was kind enough to keep the area open for me that night.

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And thus, the interview began. I would be talking to 5 different people over a course of 2 hours.

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It wasn’t the greatest interview. As I discovered, I barely knew anything about the equipment I worked with the previous year. I was also falling asleep by the end of it. The interview concluded and I finally went to bed…

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…only to wake up 4 hours later.

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All during that tour, I tried not to think about my interview. I was convinced it went horribly. I obviously didn’t have that much technical knowledge, and I was half-asleep the whole time. Plus, they had other candidates that they could interview in person! How could I make an impression over that?

But I still held on hope.

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I got the job.

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No way. 

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For some reason, the people had decided that I was the best fit for the job. I have no idea why they thought this.

Seriously, though. I was about to fall asleep during my interview.

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But I’ll take it.

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Now I’m happily employed until the end of June, working for a pharmaceutical research company in Boston. I still can’t believe I managed to land such a good position after that insane Skype interview.

And that’s how I netted an internship while on the other side of the world. Life is crazy sometimes, you know?

The tourist trap

Vietnam likes tourists. Tourism boosts the economy and creates jobs, after all. Apparently over 7 million people visited Vietnam in 2013 alone, a number that has been growing each year.

People have been trying to capitalize on that tourism. All sorts of hotels, entertainment centers, and luxury shops seem to be popping up around the country. As foreign travelers in Vietnam, my family and I got to experience the full force of the Vietnamese tourist traps.

You see, back in December, I met up with my family in Vietnam for the trip-of-a-lifetime: a three-week journey in Vietnam. My parents have been planning this trip for years, but expensive plane tickets– and a lack of school vacation time during the winter– hindered their efforts. Finally, since I was going to be on that side of the world anyway, my family decided that they might as well make our trip finally happen.

This wasn’t just going to be any family vacation, either. Oh no. My parents booked a massive tour through Saigon Tourist, starting from Ho Chi Minh City and going all the way up north to Hanoi. Hotels, meals, and destinations would all be arranged by our tour. It was a pretty unusual arrangement for my family, since we typically plan our vacations ourselves.

As a result, we got a different sort of trip from what we’re used to.

“Saigon Tourist,” as we should have expected, is, well, touristy. The company knows that the people using Saigon Tourist have money. They’d also like their tourists to spend that money. One of the first destinations on our tour, for instance, was this place.

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That place, we found out, was the “Rang Dong Wine Castle,” the first and only castle in Vietnam. Fashioned after the valleys of Napa, California, the castle was built and opened just a few years ago. Inside, we were treated to an informational video and a tour.

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We even took a tour of the wine cellar.

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fire

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It was clear that the place was only built for show. Even the small vineyard outside was struggling in the hot Vietnamese climate. In the castle, finely dressed employees carried signs advertising the various luxury Californian wines we could buy.

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That was the beginning of a series of luxury shopping sessions. During our tour, we visited a silk shop…

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…a sculpture store…

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…a sand art store…

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…an embroidery store…

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…and even this one that sold weaver bird’s nest. The store claimed that the birds’ nests (made from the bird’s own saliva) had medicinal properties, and sold them at an extremely high price.

That converts to about $300 per pound. No joke!

That converts to about $300 per pound. No joke!

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But I didn’t mind all the shopping. While the stores we visited were certainly touristy, each one carried something unique and new to me. I actually enjoyed visiting each one despite the premium tourist prices.

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Made from bamboo roots!

Shopping isn’t the only way that the Vietnamese locals have capitalized on tourism. Resorts have sprung up around coastal areas, serving tourists who need a trip to the beach. Some resorts have been successful, but many others have long since been abandoned.

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My favorite places, though, were the amusement parks. 

That’s the best term I have for them, anyway. I don’t mean the sort of amusement park you’d find in the States, like Six Flags, Disney World, or Cedar Point. No, these places were a an odd assortment of random entertainment. I’m not sure how to describe it. The best I can do is show what I mean. For instance…

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In Đà Lạt, Vietnam, one of the most popular tourist spots is a place called Thung Lũng Tình Yêu, or the Valley of Love. For a admission fee, you can come in and enjoy the attractions (all which cost extra, by the way.)

For instance, with your loved one, you could

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Another park in Đà Lạt is Thung Lũng Vàng, or the Golden Valley. Here, you could

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There was one park that was particularly memorable, though.

We drove into the amusement park intending to just have lunch there. We had some time, though, so our group insisted on seeing the rest of the sights at the park. Pushing past the people at the entrance…

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…we walked down the deserted path. Huts of tables and chairs lined the road, obviously unused.

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First, we encountered a ball pit that I probably wouldn’t let my kids play in.

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A lovely, but somewhat random, garden followed.

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All sorts of statues and swings added to the decor.

Like this super cool dragon!

Like this super cool dragon!

For a fee, you could try the shooting gallery to win a pack of gum.

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There was a crocodile pond where you could pay to feed the crocodiles. It made me rather uncomfortable– after what I had seen in Australia, it was obvious that these crocs were overcrowded and unhealthy.

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The weirdest part, though, was the foot spa.

For a dollar, visitors could opt to have their feet “massaged” for a half hour. Amazingly cheap, right?! Probably because these little guys were going to be our masseuses.

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You see that right.

Fish. 

I’ve heard of these “Doctor Fish” before. They exist in the States, although they’ve been banned in many states for health and humanitarian reasons. Vietnam, it seems, doesn’t care much for strict regulations. Here, we paid our dollars and stuck our feet straight in.

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Having fish nip at your feet tickles like no other, man. We soon started a contest of who could attract the most fish to their feet– the fish swam away if you moved, so to accumulate a lot, you have to stay completely still. That’s no small task if you’re tickle-sensitive.

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I eventually got the hang of it, though.

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We left the amusement park entertained, but a little confused.

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Indeed, a lot of the places we saw in Vietnam felt a little like that. Children’s rides rusted and broken down by the street. Entire shores full of crumbling, vacated resorts. Other spots of eccentric, disjointed entertainment clearly targeting your wallet.

No matter where we went, though, it was always intriguing. Behind every shooting gallery, every rusted children’s ride, was a person trying to make ends meet. And where else could you get a $10 horseback ride? The amusement parks really were, well, amusing. 

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Tourist traps usually have a negative connotation. They lack authenticity. They’re designed to take your money. All of this is true. Yet sometimes, they become an experience all their own. When I think about it, I sure wouldn’t be able to find any of that stuff in America.

Yes, I’ll admit it: I was ensnared in the Vietnamese tourist trap. And I’d gladly be caught in it again.

Grocery shopping in Vietnam is a little different from the States.

I love open-air markets. Boston’s Haymarket, for instance, is one of my favorite places in the whole city. Where else can I get (sometimes) fresh produce at ridiculously low prices?

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As much as I go to markets, though, I hadn’t yet seen them all.

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Cần Thơ, a city in southern Vietnam, is located on a bank of the Mekong River. There, my parents told me, was a famous floating market. Apparently early each morning, hundreds of Vietnamese venture out on boats in order to buy or sell produce.

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Boats seem to be the thing around Cần Thơ. Or, at least, Cần Thơ tourism. Tons of tiny, natural canals branch off the river there. Tourists can hire small boats to traverse these canals, boats that are often propelled by hand.

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We took a larger boat out to the floating market, however. It would be more comfortable, the tour guide told us. I was okay with that– since we had to wake up before dawn in order to make it to the market, a little more comfort was a-ok.

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The sky was barely beginning to light up as we sailed down the river.

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We reached the main marketplace just as the sun showed its face.

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If we had arrived too late, I would have never known. The place was organized chaos. Dozens and dozens of boats putted along, covered in people and produce alike.

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I’m sure there was a system to the madness. In addition to the numerous homes set up by the shore…

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…it was clear that some had made themselves at home right in their boat.

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Much of the produce was being sold wholesale to locals. Yet there were also many smaller boats catering to the large flow of tourists visiting the market. Several vessels approached our tour boat, yelling in Vietnamese about their fresh mangoes, delicious steamed buns, or excellent bananas. Some came equipped with hooks to latch onto the railings.

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Often the boats were a family affair.

This boat had a lady, her husband, and her adorable child.

This boat had a lady, her husband, and her adorable child.

Heck, people had full-on floating kitchens set up.

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So basically? It was

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I love marketplaces on a normal day, and this was taking it to a whole new level. First of all, we were on a boat. Secondly, both food and produce were totally fresh. Thirdly, you didn’t have to shop– people came and brought their stuff to you, leaving you to just sit back and barter.

Well, sit back isn’t really the right way to put it.

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My family has never been one to sit back, anyway.

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So we might have went a little crazy on that boat. But why not? The whole place was a little crazy. Tanned men, sleeping in a hammock on a boat that is both their storefront and their home. Floating huts where fishermen’s wives beckon you to come and take a look at the day’s catch. Your favorite foods delivered to you fresh. All this as the sun is rising over the Mekong delta.

Thus, at the conclusion of our trip, my family ended up like this:

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And we carried that bag halfway up Vietnam.