A Market, a Pagoda, and a Museum

The first place I visited today was the Benh Tanh Market, one of the largest and most famous markets in Ho Chi Minh City. Although I had already visited the market at night once before, this was the first time I have gone during the day (and there are actually differences in the environment between the two times). The first time I visited I had a Vietnamese student with me to help me barter, but I attempted to be more independent today. Although I am happy with the prices I paid for things, I definitely could have brought the price down more had I been more strategic with my bartering. One difficulty I had was not knowing the actual value of some of the things I wanted to purchase, so I had to inquire about this to the Vietnamese students quite often so I could know what price I should have been negotiating around.

In the U.S., bartering is almost never an option. The prices of products are set by market supply and demand, and little can be done to change anything about them; however, in the U.S., the prices are often reasonable and theoretically equal among homogeneous products. In Vietnam, sellers mark extraordinarily high prices for their goods with the assumption that buyers will barter down.

Vietnamese business culture relies on face-to-face communication, and this principle might be seen in the bartering practice. It requires people to have a conversation when making transactions, rather than just seeing a price and paying it. Although some interactions might end with either party having negative attitudes towards the other, the social relationship that constitutes the root of Vietnamese business practices is present in the process.

If I am able to save money with this method of shopping, I prefer it to the method used in the U.S. When making purchases, the largest factor that goes into my decision is the finances. I would be happy to spend a small amount of time negotiating a reasonable price for something, since then I would have some input in the way of what I believe the product is worth.

After my trip to the market, I attended a Theory of Buddhism class at UEF. Buddhism is one of the philosophies that constitutes the “Vietnamese folk religion,” the other two being Confucianism and Taoism. This “folk religion” is the most-practiced religion in Vietnam, and other major religions include strict Buddhism and Catholicism. Vietnam’s government has some rules regarding the practice of religion. Any unrecognized religion that may potentially gain a large following is not allowed to be practiced. After this class, I visited a pagoda and practiced the Buddhist ceremony of offering prayer and incense. There were many local people in the pagoda doing the same.

After my visit to the pagoda, I went to the War Remnants museum and learned more about the U.S.’s involvement in the war from a Vietnamese prospective. While some of the imagery was grotesque, it was also real. In order to have legitimate discussions about international conflicts, we must consider them from a global perspective. The U.S. describes a Vietnam War where the Americans tried to assist with the installation of capitalism and independence in Vietnam. Vietnam describes an American War where the Americans invaded Vietnam and slaughtered many of its people. Both of these sentiments are true, but both states are able to discuss the war in completely different ways. It is important to know both of the perspectives in order to have a strong dialogue about the war and about the future of international policy.

Despite the U.S.’s horrid actions towards the Vietnamese people in the past, relations have obviously improved greatly. The great majority of the Vietnamese like Americans, and most recognize that the actions of the war were committed by the American government and military, rather than by the general population. Since Ho Chi Minh City was the capital of South Vietnam during the war, it makes sense that its inhabitants are more sympathetic towards the U.S. than the Vietnamese government itself is. The people I have met in Vietnam have treated me amazingly, and it is clear that there is no bad blood on a personal level between us.

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