Today, our group journeyed to three very different sites that were central to the Vietnamese way of life.
First, we started our day at the Ben Tanh Market. The Ben Tanh Market is comparable to an oversized flea market in the US. There shops full of colorful scarves, knockoff brand purses and typical souvenirs. What makes the market such an experience is not the products sold, but the technique of bartering with the salespeople.
Bartering is an art. The seller will give a price that almost always overpriced and it is your job to barter and haggle for a more reasonable price. This task was very daunting to our group of American students who are used to fixed prices. I was a bit nervous. I did not know if I would be able to handle my way around the sellers or not. This feeling actually made me very exciting to experience such a new way of shopping.
The market during the day was calmer than I expected. The UEF students explained that the day time market is more welcoming to foreigners than at night. One of the UEF students, Amanda, led me around and helped communicate to the sellers. Many sellers know English, but it helps to have a local person in your corner. I had gotten excited as the thrill of bartering came over me. This method of buying goods is much more stressful than simply being given a price. Although it is fun to have the experience of bartering, there is no consistency. There is a chance that the buyer may receive enough money if the two parties cannot agree. That’s why I don’t think that this could be implemented in US society because we focus on the contentment of the customer and want both parties to be satisfied with the price of the product. I bought more things than I thought I would. I visited numerous shops and started talking to many of the sellers. Many sellers thought that I was Vietnamese or part Vietnamese. I explained to them that I was a Latino American. Many were surprised and began asking me questions. They asked me about speaking Spanish and even if I had a girlfriend. They really wanted to get in my business! These interactions with the sellers exposed how the development of Vietnam is even affecting traditional market places like Ben Tanh. Sellers discussed the new metro being built in the city and the larger amounts of tourists visiting the city. These growing aspects are possibilities to increase the customer pool meaning more money for the sellers. I was excited to see how the rapid development of Vietnam is even helping these local vendors. Overall, our market run was a success. I thought I might leave with a small bag, but instead I left with a very large that was filled two smaller bags.
After our morning shopping spree, we returned to UEF to have a few classes. We started with our very last Vietnamese language class. We reviewed the previous topics and discussed some more important vocabulary words. I was saddened to say goodbye to our amazing teacher Danny. He ended the class with a dance with all the students. Then we had a short lunch and regrouped for a class focused on Buddhism culture in Vietnam. Our lecturer recounted the history of Buddhism from the very beginning. From Prince Siddhartha to the modern day Buddha, the religion of Buddhism has had a significant influence on Vietnam. Lots of Vietnamese ideals like harmony and peace with oneself are directly from Buddhism. The government allows for any religion to be practiced including Buddhism. After the lecture, we had the opportunity to visit Xa Loi Pagoda, a Buddhist temple located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.
The temple was ornate and beautiful designed. Once we entered, we were welcomed by two fierce white tiger statues. Incense smoke filled the temple as we walked right into the temple foyer. The experience in the temple was a little uncomfortable for me. I grew up in a strong christian home and I myself am a Christian so walking throughout the temple made me feel strange. Ultimately, it is good to be put out of my comfort zone and I appreciated the new perspective of beliefs that were shown to me. This sentiment of looking into other perspectives is relevant when we went to our next site, the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.
The Vietnam War Remnants Museum was not very far from the temple. The exterior was filled with international tourists and local people. We entered the building and were led to the second floor to see the main exhibits.
The first was centered on the war crimes of the US on the Vietnamese people. I knew that this exhibit was gonna be heavy. The exhibit presented some of the most horrible moments of the war with photos and relics. It was surreal to see the things that the US had done on the Vietnamese people. I began to understand why I had never really been taught about the Vietnam War. It was not one of America’s most glorious moments. We had bombed numerous towns and linked millions of Vietnamese people. The photos just emphasized the horrors. There were images of war victims right before they lost their lives. I got emotional looking at the images in this room.
The next exhibit specifically focused on the victims of the toxic Agent Orange that was used during the war. Agent Orange was a harmful chemical weapon that the US specifically used to target areas like the forests in Vietnam. It was very effective during the war as it would completely decimate the environment. The US did not know about the long term effects of Agent Orange. The chemical contamination of the people and the environment can still be seen today. The children of those that were contaminated from Agent Orange experienced birth defects like missing limbs and rare health condition. The birth effects of the chemical have passed from generation to generation as there are still children that are being born with health issues. Theses kinds of tragedies expose how devastating war is.
The final exhibit we saw at the the museum was outside and it focused on the war prison camps These camps housed political prisoners and Northern Vietnamese soldiers. The camps were torture camps. There were what seemed like countless methods of torture used on the prisoners. Ranging from ripping off nails to forcing prisoners to roll on burning grill, the methods were shocking. We walked on a small replica of what one of the camps might have looked like. These information we were receiving was no easy to digest, but it was very important to receive.
There is no way that this side of the US would ever be shown or taught in the US. We are not a perfect country. We have committed horrible crimes and it is important for, us, students to understand that. At the museum, I did have the feeling that the overall image of the US might have been exaggerated. The government of Vietnam still has immense control over what is shown to its people. In the same way that we hadn’t been shown the actions of the US, the Vietnamese people probably haven’t been shown all the horrible that they had done to us. War is a two sided struggle. Both sides lose lives. Both sides suffer.
Our trip to the museum had impacted me. I guess that I could not hide my feelings as numerous UEF students had asked me if I was alright. I said that I was fine and that I was contemplating the things that I head learned. I told them that I had never seen that side of the war before. They said that they understood, but told me to not let it get to my head. They told me that it is good to remember the past for what it was, but to look at where our countries have come. They love the relationship that the country now has with the US. They love spending with us, American students. These words just reminded me how forgiving the Vietnamese people are as a whole. The US now has a 94% approval rating in Vietnam. Locals rush to our group to shake our hands and take selfies. Vietnam and the US have had their disputes, but today our countries are in harmony.
Overall, today was an eventful day. A very eventful day.