Vietnam Time

5/2/2018 1:43:31 PM

Vietnam’s outdoor exercise culture in an American expat's eyes

Vietnamese people's exercise culture is distinctive, it's what Rachel Tanzer, an alumnus of Lewis & Clark College, (Portland, Oregon) American observed during her stay in HCM.City to complete an assignment required by the bachelor programme she was studying.

"As an avid runner, exercise culture in Vietnam was one of the first things I observed upon arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. Wearing my bright neon running shoes and being one of the only women on the track, I felt incredibly out of place on my first morning run. Martial Arts classes dominated the center of the track while the track itself was used mostly for morning walkers and badminton players. I was one of a few runners, none of which appeared to also be long distance runners.

Man Stretching alone at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi (photo: Rachel Tanzer)

Not being accustomed to the oppressive heat, I was not used to waking up early to complete my runs and workouts. People in Ho Chi Minh City also exercise in the evening when it cools down a bit, but my schedule often gets in the way. I decided to look into joining a gym hoping to avoid the mid day heat. My roommate took me to three gyms—two of which were in hotels and resembled the types of gyms I would find back in America, and one of which was more a traditional Vietnamese gym. At the Vietnamese gym people must take off their shoes before entering. I noticed that no women were working out and there was no air conditioning. Still adjusting to a completely different environment, I decided to join a more westernized gym for my first month in Ho Chi Minh City.

Elderly women joins a morning excercise by Hoan Kiem lake (photo: Rachel Tanzer) 

This second month we have spent the majority of our time traveling—so far to Hue and Hanoi. Hue is not as densely packed as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, allowing more room to run on the sidewalks and along the river. I did notice a few large groups of dancers concentrated in certain areas in the morning, but other than that and a few other western runners and some walkers I did not notice a huge exercise culture. Yet it is important to note that I did only spend a few days there and I did not wake up early to run each morning.

Hanoi, on the other hand, demonstrates a city with a unique exercise culture. Over the past week I have observed exercise culture in the early morning and in the evening, particularly focusing on the Hoan Kiem Lake area. Exercise culture in Hanoi is booming—even more so than I noticed in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City. I have noticed a lot of similarities particularly among exercise habits in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. For example, the times of day (morning and evening) that people tend to work out, and similar groups of people work out together. However, Hanoi I have noticed certain patterns in Hanoi that I have not observed in Ho Chi Minh City. Around Hoan Kiem Lake during exercise hour, you will find every inch of the surrounding park and sidewalks filled with people from all walks of life partaking in their exercise of choice.

I have split my observations into two main groups: solo exercisers and group exercise. First, I will discuss the solo exercisers. Runners line the outer perimeter of the lake while walkers tend to stay more on the inner perimeter of the sidewalk. I have noticed more distance runners and female runners (though still a higher overall presence of male runners) in Hanoi than in Ho Chi Minh City or Hue. A good proportion of the runners appeared to be non-Vietnamese, however, many were also Vietnamese. Walkers represented the majority of solo-exercisers during my observation periods. Some walkers walked in small groups or with a partner. Another form of solo-exercise that seemed widely popular was doing stretches or exercises (often unclassifiable). What surprised me the most about this was the lack of care people had for how they looked in public. People would get creative, using benches as props in various moves—many of which I had never seen before. Men and women alike participated in these individual moves, though it did appear to be mostly people of older generations.

Elderly women joins a morning excercise by Hoan Kiem lake (photo: Rachel Tanzer)

Group exercises ranged from modern dance, martial arts, stretching, classic dance, etc. Exercise groups generally represented different age groups. Different and different exercise groups met at different times of day. For example, the younger generation tended to exercise most early in the morning, while later on in the morning exercise groups appeared to be the oldest generation. Perhaps this is due to the fact that many of the younger age groups are still in school or have jobs where they must arrive in the morning. Another notable point about exercise groups is certain groups were gender specific while others were coed. For example, some of the dance groups and stretching groups were only women, while the barbell and dumbbell fitness groups were only men.

Exercise commences again in the evening, into the dark hours. This is mostly runners and walkers, with modern and Latin dance groups at night and men doing weight lifting. Trying to run can be difficult in busy hours because it is impossible to dodge people and bikes and cars., yet locals are not phased by this and display a great sense of commitment to their daily exercise./."

  ( VNF/Racher Tanzer's DS site )
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