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At first glance Ho Chi Minh City appears to be a filthy, chaotic, sprawling mass of traffic and street sellers. On closer inspection, although there is certainly a casual attitude towards waste disposal, it becomes clear that there is a knack to navigating safely through an ocean of mopeds moving to their own set of rules. The sticky heat and ceaseless activity of this tropical city of over five million people was certainly a contrast to our home city of Sheffield, affectionately dubbed “England’s biggest village”. After four years of studying in this cold and hilly city we had packed our bags and traveled to Vietnam for our seven week elective placement. The “elective” has emerged over the last two decades as a rite of passage for most British medical students who usually take the opportunity to travel abroad and see medicine from a different perspective; you can go anywhere and do anything within the medical field, from the Emergency Room in Chicago to a remote clinic in Uganda. A setting very different, culturally and economically, to a British NHS hospital is what led us to Vietnam.
Vietnam has a population of 84 million. Recently even the twin threats of SARS and bird flu have failed to hold back the country’s vibrant economy, which has flourished since the turn of the century. Growth is currently more than 7% a year, largely fuelled by the export industry which is dominated by rice, coffee, clothing, petroleum, and fish. But unfortunately the improved standard of living has resulted in marked pollution and overcrowding in the cities.
This is a country where the foreigner still holds some curiosity. Reactions to us were usually overwhelmingly friendly and generous, but a shrewd business sense is soon revealed. As a general rule the foreigner is expected to …
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