First on today’s agenda was a visit to the indoor Ben Tanh Market to practice our Vietnamese language skills through bartering with the stall owner’s. Though I had done most of my shopping already, I was able to pick up a few more things and barter down from the original price successfully! The interaction always starts out the same : you ask the seller how much. From there, they tell you and you should offer a counter price in return and they will then start dropping the price until you both agree upon it.
The key to bartering, I’ve learned, is this : want the item enough to initiate the bartering conversation, but not so much that you won’t walk away if they won’t drop the price to what you feel is reasonable. If you are bartering and a shop owner won’t lower the price of an item, saying you don’t want it anymore and starting to walk away is a very effective strategy. I got one item today for half the original asking price, and it was definitely satisfying to know I had argued my way to a good price. I wish more places in the U.S. were not fixed price, because I feel like even small barters over buying a fan or a scarf do help to build negotiation and compromise skills, not to mention there’s the potential to score a great deal every time you shop! Also, its just really satisfying. Sadly, however, barter shopping really is much more rare in the U.S. (with the exception of thrift stores).
After the market, we bussed over to UEF for today’s classes – our last language class and a culture class on Buddhism in Vietnam. Learning about Buddhism is fascinating to me, because it’s so different from Western religions. But learning about Buddhism in Vietnam in particular is very interesting, since the country is a one party Communist system. Buddhism is the main religion of Vietnam, although they have many many religions present in the country. Since Buddhism is the main religion in the country, the communist government does not really regulate / restrict its practice. However, other tribal religions or religions with smaller following could be subject to repression by the government. Religious freedom, as it exists in the U.S., does not exist in Vietnam.
After learning about Buddhism, we travelled to one of the oldest Pagodas, a Buddhist place of worship, in the country to have a look around. Fun Fact for you: when Obama was in Vietnam, he visited this Pagoda to pay respect! Visiting the Pagoda was truly amazing. To me, a Catholic, it was a very odd blend of plain and elaborate. It seemed to be in a converted normal house / structure, but in each different room, perhaps across from some stacked boxes or a normal looking cabinet, sat a splendid altar. These altars had sculptures and wall-hangings behind them that looked as if they were made out of pure gold, so elegantly carved and shaped into whichever god or goddess. On each altar, there were several items that differed, but always a plate of pastry things (think glazed munchkins), and a large pot filled with sand where burning incense could be placed. This place was beautiful and peaceful, and many people came in to pray that weren’t with our tour group, so I got to see some people kneeling and bowing to the floor to pray. Overall, it was beautiful to see a form of faith that I’m not so familiar with, though the core beliefs of Buddhism are similar to core Catholic beliefs (don’t kill, don’t steal, etc. etc.).
After the Pagoda, our long day ended on a rather somber note with a visit to the War Remnants museum. It was hard, but necessary, to stomach the atrocities committed by the U.S. in Vietnam during the war. The museum was incredibly put together, starting with an ironically placed quote from the Declaration of Independence that asserted that all men are created equal and hold inalienable rights. ‘Why, if we believed that, did the war even happen,’ the quote seemed to ask. Following the quote, our tour guide led us through photos and relics of different massacres of Vietnamese people and the many people, even generations after the initial contact, affected by the toxic Agent Orange. The museum, at least to me, was never outright unfair to American in its portrayal. Yes, they left out half of the story of the suffering and death the war caused, but they did not openly say negative and brutal things. Simply, the museum gave dates, names of victims and towns, and facts that were meant to lean a visitor’s thinking one way, but never directly force it to any destination. For example, although walls of Agent Orange affects were dedicated to photos of inflicted Vietnamese citizens, there were at least 8 photos of American soldiers or their descendants affected.
Maybe the hardest part of the museum for me, was the use of another ironic quote, meant to give thought and expose hypocrisy that the Vietnamese people saw in American actions during the war. It was a quote from the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi War criminals that said, “To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evils of the whole.” Wow. It’s hard to take that one in stride.
My family and I, as I’ve mentioned earlier, love to visit historical sites and museums while traveling. I’m sure if I was visiting this museum with my parents and sister, we would’ve spent a whole day there, not just an hour. Someday, I hope to make it back and read every plaque and photo caption from start to finish; I think we all owe it to the future to learn from the past, and American schools don’t like to teach this other side often.