Hoan Kiem Lake: A Social Experiment

Caitlin Adventure, Asia, Exploration, Featured, Places, Vietnam

The usual attitude at Hoan Kiem Lake, the “centre” of Hanoi, involves the following:

  • Avoid eye contact
  • Speak to noone
  • Pretend you don’t understand English
  • Change direction if someone is coming towards you

If you’ve been, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement. I know we’re all doing this. Vietnam has a bad name when it comes to tourist scams. We all think that the woman trying to get our attention wants to sell us something at an inflated price, or the man waving in our direction just wants to get us on the cyclo and charge through the roof for the ride.

Out of interest, I decided to ignore this typical tourist response. Instead, I placed myself on a bench (as close to the tourist action as I was willing to get) and agreed to speak to every single person who began a conversation with me.

Commence Hoan Kiem Lake: A Social Experiment.

3:00 – 3:20

Meet Thu and Trang.

Thu and Trang

They came up to me with a request to practice their English. We had an interesting conversation tackling subjects ranging from kangaroos and study (we all study / studied accounting) to insurance in our respective countries.

3:30 – 3:35

After a short break (where I seriously started wondering if I’d have anyone else come and speak with me), along came Minh. Like Thu and Trang, she wanted to practice some English. She was actually required to do this by a teacher, and so had a standard line of questioning regarding daily life and a happy memory from home. I even had to sign something as “proof” she’d spoken with me.


3:35 – 3:45

Straight after Minh, four girls converged on me. This was probably my favourite interaction, because these girls had a proposition for me – they got to practice their English, and I’d learn some Vietnamese! There was a twist though – I had to learn the Vietnamese phrase in the time it took for a match to burn. The pressure was on.

The result:

“Xin chào. Tôi yêu Việt Nam!” or for the English speakers – “Hello. I love Vietnam!”.

Four Girls

3:55 – 4:20

Next came a big group – I was literally surrounded by the Vietnamese and couldn’t keep track of who was speaking to me, let alone all the things we discussed. It was a little overwhelming, but I think (?) everyone had the opportunity to practice their English…

Here’s a photo of a few of them (some had already left before I got to take it):

Large Group 1

Side note: I’m pretty sure the guy on the left wants an Aussie wife if anyone’s interested? Actually, both guys on the left seemed pretty keen…

4:20 – 4:45

After an hour and a half of non-stop English practice and telling a lot of people about life in Australia, I was starting to get tired. When the last group left, I was looking forward to a short break, but one guy stuck around to keep practicing.

His language skills were limited (still significantly better than my Vietnamese), so it was a fairly stilted conversation.

It ended pretty quickly as Large Group No. 2 converged and the stronger English speakers took over the conversation.

Unfortunately, not everyone from this group stuck around to get in a photo with me…

Large Group 2

4:45 – 4:55

By this time, a line was slowly growing with groups of people waiting for me to speak with them! It was like I was famous!

That’s when Trinh and Dat sat down beside me for a conversation. Like my earlier friend, they were relatively new to the language, and so we only touched on the basics – covering a lot of my favourite things.

Trinh and Dat

4:55 – 5:05

Time was running out, but as I was chatting to Trinh and Dat, Nhan came along with two of his students who were brand new to learning English. I had a few minutes spare before I needed to disappear, and so spoke to them very briefly.

Nhan had the best grasp of English of everyone I’d spoken with, so it was disappointing to not be able to chat longer. He’s now my newest Facebook friend, and expressed concern over my lack of cold weather clothes given the temperature in Hanoi has dropped to the mid-20s… That’s not something I’m too worried about.


Experiment Result: No support for current opinions of the Vietnamese.

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