Today was maybe our busiest day of the trip. It started off with a trip to the Ben Tanh Market where we bartered for goods. I shopped around and bought a couple t-shirts and a watch. Personally, I thought I was a pretty good negotiator. The two t-shirts were cheap from the start so I didn’t do much there, but as for the watch, I was able to bring it down from 1.3 million dong ($57-ish) to .5 million dong ($22-ish). Although, I did go to a different market the other night and get ripped off, so I guess practice makes perfect.
Negotiating for goods is something I thoroughly enjoyed. If I saw something I liked, I was able to bring it to my terms rather than seeing a big number, frowning, and moving on. Part of me wishes that we bartered in the US since I could save some money, but another part feels like that would get exhausting. It’s sort of nice when you can turn to a number and generally trust that it shows the good’s worth.
Bartering is interesting in that it is a form of negotiation going back millennia. It is only recently that goods have a price written in stone, which is seen at most modern stores in Vietnam. This shows the contrast between the old and the new: the old ways of doing business and the modern way that we’ve been studying this whole trip.
After lunch, we had our final Vietnamese class, where I realized just how little of this language I’ve actually retained. Following that was a class on the theory of Buddhism. Our lecturer taught u about the story of the Buddha and the five precepts, both of which I’d learned before but it was still nice to have a different perspective. Religion is a very major part of Vietnamese society, but you wouldn’t realize it at first. Yin-Yang symbology, from Taoism, is prominent in Vietnamese weddings, superstitions, and even architecture. Buddhist temples, like the Pagoda we saw later in the day, are seen around the city and are more prominent. Confucianism, especially in the north, has laid the foundation for values such as filial piety and living with a nuclear family. Furthermore, new and newly introduced religions are popping up, such as Catholicism, Caodaism, and the Coconut Religion. I find this extremely interesting since Communism traditionally isn’t crazy about allowing religious practices. Then again, Communism isn’t crazy about foreign capitalists, either, but here we are.
The Xa Loi Pagoda was very cool to visit. It took my education in Asian religions from the textbook to reality. The statues I liked the most were of the 12 mothers, who determine how a mother’s child ends up (good or bad, beautiful or ugly, etc.). So, pregnant or new mothers often visit them and pray for their children.
Lastly, we visited the War Remnants museum, which made for a truly shocking experience. I knew crimes were committed during the war, but I didn’t know the extent. There were massacres of hundreds of innocent people, inhumane prison conditions, and torture methods. Worst of all, though, was Agent Orange, a chemical weapon that still creates birth defects and limits environmental growth to this day. The pictures they showed were extremely graphic and real, and made me feel really bad about the war. Both sides did such barbaric things, it’s truly a shame that it happened. However, the fact that it exists in Vietnam, with donations from US veterans, makes me happy about how far we’ve come.
Something that surprised me was that I didn’t feel any disconnect between what the museum showed and the opinions of the people of Ho Chi Minh City. There’s disconnect when the government portrays the north as good and the US as evil, but that wasn’t the main topic of the museum. The main topic was the atrocities committed by the US military, which leaves very little room for argument.
This day had a lot of stuff. It started off with bartering, took a detour through studying religion, and ended with another reminder of the Vietnam War. All three of these are subjects I’ll come away from Vietnam knowing much more about.