Today was quite a long day. We bartered, had our language and culture lessons, visited a Buddhist Pagoda, and went to the War Remnants Museum. It was a very emotional ending to our day, but I’ll get around to that at the end of my blog.
We went to the Ben Tanh Market to practice our bargaining skills. It was a really interesting and funny experience. I was told to try to cut down the asking price by 50% and if they didn’t agree, to walk away. It was amusing knowing that they would chase after you as soon as you turned your back to walk away! I felt like I had a pretty successful haul. I got gifts for everyone that I had in mind, and at around 50% of the asking price too. I honestly couldn’t have done it without the help of my Vietnamese friends though, because they did most of the talking. It’s a great feeling getting what you want at the price you want, which most definitely does not happen in the U.S. I can’t imagine walking into the King of Prussia Mall and try to bargain down a Gucci purse or Ray Ban sunglasses. I wish that was the case though, because bargaining is so fun and saves a LOT of money. That would be helpful in the stores I shop at, considering most of it is ridiculously overpriced (Like $50 for a plain white T-Shirt? Come on). I visit China a lot, and bartering is very common there too. I would go to the markets with my dad and buy all this stuff at super low prices. He is honestly the best bargainer I’ve ever seen, and that is where I got some tips and tricks.
In the afternoon, we visited the Chua Phuoc Hai Pagoda after our Theory of Buddhism lesson. We got to light incense and pray. It was a really valuable experience being immersed into another religion and culture, especially the largest one in Vietnam. The government is relatively relaxed on religious freedom, as they officially recognize Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and more as religious organizations. The government doesn’t force one specific religion upon it’s people. Let’s also address the fact that there was a Coconut Religion for 12 years before it was abolished by Vietnamese authorities in 1975. So the government wasn’t that strict on religion. I gained an appreciation for the Buddhist religion and even though I don’t practice it, I felt really connected to my spiritual side.
This part of the day will be a little hard to talk about. We went to the War Remnants Museum, which detailed the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese. It was really interesting to experience because we don’t hear about all the gruesome details from the U.S side and the carnage we caused. I knew it was going to be graphic, but I was not prepared at all for the photographs I saw. It left me shaking and on the brink of tears. I didn’t know much at all about the war before I got to Vietnam. We barely talked about it in school because it’s definitely not one of our proudest moments in U.S history. And after going through the museum, I could see why we try to cover up this topic. The aftermath of Agent Orange, the bombs, executions, massacres, and torture is straight out of nightmares. History is so subjective and can be told from any point of view to make one side look like heroes and one side look like villains. Obviously, America was portrayed as the villain in this museum, but I could see why. While we were walking through the museum, I looked over at all the Vietnamese students that we have gotten so close with so fast. They smiled at me and hugged me, and that hit me hardest. They foster no bad feelings towards us, even after what our nation did. I know our group doesn’t represent 1970s America, so they have no reason to personally hate us for the war, but I don’t know how they could look at us the same. I could barely look at us the same. History is just a strange concept because it all depends on the people who are recounting it and they can lean it one way or another.
This Vietnam trip has literally made me question my life and existence so many times, and it’s only been a week and a half. I don’t know how much more my brain can handle!