From Souvenirs to Chemical Warfare

This morning we visited Ben Tanh Market in order to buy various souvenirs and put our bartering skills to the test. Previously a group of us had traveled to the market at night, which is much smaller and outdoors based. That night, I relied heavily on one of the UEF students to help me bargain with the sellers. Today however, I was only with one Pittsburgh student for the majority of the time at the market, so I had no help from a local student. While I probably did slightly overpay compared to someone who could speak fluent Vietnamese, I still managed to get around a 50-60 percent discount on the asking price of most items, which I am happy with. The fact that it is completely necessary to bargain is the polar opposite of shopping in the United States, where bargaining is not done at all (aside from one to one sales). While I did enjoy the process of bargaining, it is too stressful for me, and I am always worried that I payed too much for a product. The inside of the market itself was incredible, rows after rows of shops and restaurants selling everything from tailored suits to animal brains made it very easy to get turned around.

Later in the day we had a class on Buddhism as well as visited a famous pagoda in Ho Chi Minh city. During the class we learned some of the intricacies of the religion, as well as its establishment by Prince Siddhartha. When the professor mentioned that name, I suddenly remembered that I had read a book of the same name while in high school, and was able to make several connections throughout the lecture. We also learned about how Buddhism fits within Vietnam as a whole, being one of the religions that is meshed together in one of Vietnam’s larger religion, as well as being one of the highest followed religions in the country. This is good for the followers, as Vietnam does not allow much religious freedoms. Officially recognized religions (which include Buddhism, Catholicism, and Caodaism) are free to practice, however if a group is not recognized it is possible that the government will intervene if it gains enough traction. This is done in an effort to stop large non-monitored gatherings of people that could threaten stability.

The war remnants museum was a rough visit for me. The content of the displays were graphic and sometimes simply disturbing, however that is not what got to me the most. What did it was our guide as well as all of the captions on the photos. The captions were worded in ways to cast as much blame on the Americans as possible. The guide just piled on to this, showing us pictures and commenting how our country had done this to innocent people. I do not believe that the guide actually mentioned the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong troops a single time during the visit in any context whatsoever. While this was extremely difficult to get through, I am glad that I did go. While it was certainty over the top and  dramatically exaggerated, the United States did do some things that we are not proud of during the war. The hyperbolized  stories were just another view on the war, one from a government attempting to stir nationalistic unity and thus remain in control of a stable country. There did however seem to be some disconnect between this view and the populous of Ho Chi Minh. I did not ask any students about the war. However, the massive amount of atrocities that the museum accused America of, if completely believed, would make it harder for the students to be so kind and welcoming to us only a few decades later.

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