Day 9: Exploring the Culture of Vietnam

Today was one of the longest days of the trip so far. We started the day at the Ben Tanh market. This was an incredibly interesting yet overwhelming experience. I went in without a set plan for what to buy, and honestly not expecting to buy very much. However, the moment we stepped off the bus I could tell that it was going to exceed my expectations. The stands went on and on, selling everything from fake rolex watched to rolls of golden embroidered fabric, buddha trinkets, and pig hearts. As I walked through the rows and rows of sellers, I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the atmosphere. It is a bartering market for the most part, so the price that the seller gives you is highly augmented and they expect you to bargain for a better price. I found this pretty stressful because I don’t know what things are worth in Vietnam, and also the vendors are quite pushy and will physically grab you or follow you for a bit to get you to come back and buy their goods. I did successfully manage to barter some; for example, I got chopsticks for 200,000 dong when they were originally 550,000 dong. Although I don’t know how good a deal this actually was, I am proud of myself for staying stubborn. I don’t prefer the bartering method of shopping because there is much more responsibility on the shopper to be prudent and knowledgeable about the value of their purchase.

After more than an hour of intense shopping, I only had 200 dong left in my wallet, or the equivalent to .88 cents. We had our final Vietnamese language class, which ended with latin dance and the teacher singing karaoke Michael Buble for us. Then we had lunch and an introductory class on Buddhism. This gave a good beginning for our next outing, to one of the largest Buddhist pagodas in Ho Chi Minh city. The Vietnamese students told be that Obama, or as they call him, Mr. B. visited this pagoda when he came to Vietnam during his presidency. Religion seems to be a fairly central part of the Vietnamese culture, but in a loose fashion. Buddhism is the largest religion practiced, but is only practiced by around 18% of the population. The rest of the population practices a wide range of religions including Catholicism, Taoism, Caodoism, Coconut religion, etc.

After the pagoda visit, we headed to the War Remnants Museum near our hotel. This was a very intense experience, and the visit included many graphic photos and descriptions about the causalities of the Vietnam War, or as the Vietnam call it, the US War of Aggression. In all the history classes I have taken, we never learned about all of what the US did to Vietnam, and it made me pretty uncomfortable. However, I got the feeling that some parts of the museum were propaganda-esque. The descriptions on the photos always called the North Vietnamese soldiers “patriots” and our tour guide went into great depth on the various methods the US military used to torture Vietnamese soldiers. The graphic details seemed a little excessive and unnecessary, like the tour guide was trying to prove a point. It just seemed slightly at odds to the insistence of the majority of Vietnamese people, that they hold no grudge against Americans for the war.

Today was a very tiring but thought-provoking day. It changed the way I see America in relation to the rest of the world. Although I know that we learn a biased story of world history, I didn’t realize the extent to which some things aren’t talked about. I hope that after today I will look for other perspectives and go looking for the whole story, without just accepting what is told to me. It is hard to question your place in the world, but it is important to keep yourself centered and self-aware.

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