This morning we visited Ben Tanh Market to finish up some souvenir shopping (that my lovely family members are sure to enjoy). I think I did a decent job bartering with the vendors, though I would not have done half as well if not for my Vietnamese friend, Olivia. Shopping in a marketplace like Ben Tanh is very different than shopping in the United States; there is an energy in the air resulting from all the noise of vendors, the smells of freshly cooked foods, and the array of different colored products lining the booths and hallways. It is nice to be able to negotiate the price of what you’re buying, it puts into perspective how often us Americans are willing to pay too much for something.
In the afternoon, we spent an hour at UEF learning about Buddhist traditions and customs, and afterward visited a pagoda here in Ho Chi Minh City. The pagoda was absolutely breathtaking; it was miraculously quiet and tranquil amidst the bustle of the city outside. We participated in a traditional prayer offering within the temple, placing incense at the base of three separate Buddha statues. The Buddhist religion may not make up a majority of the Vietnamese’s beliefs, but its values definitely align with those that are culturally ingrained within the country. Vietnam’s communist government does not interfere with the practice of religion, as citizens are free to practice and express any religion that they desire to.
Finally, we visited the War Remnants Museum just a few blocks from the Victory Hotel. There they display the tragic toll taken on the civilian people of Vietnam as a result of the war with the United States, including exhibits on Agent Orange victims and “tiger cage” prisons.
I have never been ashamed to be an American. Some of the rhetoric in the museum’s displays accuse my country as being evil, and though it is commonly understood that this sentiment is mostly propaganda, there’s still something about seeing those words there that can’t help but make my blood boil. It is frustrating to see some of the unforgivable atrocities committed by members of the U.S. military juxtaposed next to the Declaration of Independence, while there is no mention of many of the same crimes committed by the Viet Cong.
By the end of the experience, I had reminded myself that the important thing to take away from those exhibits isn’t the seemingly gloating and condescending nature of the way their history is written, but to respect and be mournful toward to very sobering truth of what went on here half a century ago. The despicable acts of torture, the loss of life, and the inane forgetfulness of two nations that they are both inhabitants of the same Earth. I reminded myself that those men fought for a cause they believed to be as just as we thought ours, and that their patriotism, bravery, and sacrifice warrants my respect despite the outcome of the war. It is not easy to remind myself of these facts, but my experiences here the last two days have helped me make it just a little easier.