Following a relatively calm day yesterday, today brought a very diverse list of activities for our group, and it kept us very busy the whole day. We began by exploring the famous Ben Thanh Market, the largest sales gathering in Ho Chi Minh City. It was here that we got to put our bartering skills to the test, while also picking up some valuable souvenirs in the process. Over the course of an hour and a half, I managed to buy two items: a Saigon t-shirt, and a scroll with a beautiful painting on it. The shirt was located in the fixed price section so there was no bartering to be done there, but I did have an interesting experience trying to buy the scroll.
After consulting with my UEF friend, Sam, he told me that there was no way I should pay more than 100,000 dong. The vendor was asking for 190,000, and after I told him I would pay no more than 100,000, he shook his head no, so I walked away. This seemed to be the perfect strategy, however, as shortly after he chased me down and agreed to sell the scroll for 100,000 dong. I was very happy to have made at least one successful bargain on the day. While this method of shopping can be a bit intense and stressful at times, it was honestly a lot of fun, and I would not mind if this became a more common practice in the U.S. After a successful trip today, I feel as though it would ultimately save me money.
After the market, we traveled to UEF to have lunch and then a class on Buddhism, in which we learned about how this religion is deeply rooted in the culture of Vietnam, and influences people’s actions even on a day to day basis. Even in a Communist government that can at times be oppressive towards religious practices, Buddhism flourishes here in Vietnam, and many members of the Communist Party are even Buddhists themselves. This class served as a perfect preface to our next major activity, a visit to the Phuoc Hai Pagoda, one of the oldest and most famous pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. This one is so well known, in fact, that it had the distinction of being the one pagoda President Obama visited during his stay in Ho Chi Minh City. Walking through the pagoda, I was amazed at how ornate all of the various rooms were. Each was filled with many beautifully crafted statues, each Buddha symbolizing something different. It was so vastly unlike the Catholic churches I am accustomed to, and it was really a sight to see.
Lastly, we rounded out the day by visiting the War Remnants Museum, which was a truly difficult and yet moving experience. Our tour throughout the inside of the museum consisted of story after story of various atrocities committed by our U.S. military on the Vietnamese people (often times civilians), as well as horrifying photos of the results. It was a history of the war we have never been taught, and was quite shocking to hear. Additionally we were told about the extent to which chemical toxins, mainly agent orange, were used and their disturbing ramifications. Not only were there dozens of pictures that made my stomach turn over, but there were even a few people actually at the museum who were suffering from disabilities caused by agent orange. It was very difficult to see, but yet I felt the need to force myself to do just that, to make sure that I accepted what the realities of this war really were.
Upon reflection, it has absolutely altered my perspective on the Vietnam War as a whole. While I understand there were horrifying acts performed by both sides, the fact that our own wrong doings are often swept under the rug is simply not right. I feel as though, difficult as it may be, this is an experience all Americans should have.