Day 4 – 5/10 – “Eye-Opening” Doesn’t Even Come Close

Our fourth day played out quite differently from our first few despite starting similarly. We took our daily trip to UEF where we observed a presentation about Vietnamese history. The presentation was very broad and mainly highlighted history that we covered before we departed for the trip. After the history portion of the lecture, we got to experience a personal taste of the culture through a fashion show. Vietnamese students from UEF were dressed in traditional ceremonial clothing and described the purpose to us. The colorful, extravagant costumes were quite eye-catching.

As per usual, we had our fourth of six Vietnamese language lessons following the lecture, and we began to learn the number system and how to ask for the price of goods. This lesson felt more comfortable to me than the previous ones, but I believe this is purely because we were learning words and not as many phrases.

Without a doubt, the announcement of our lunch location sparked the largest excitement of the day. We went to McDonald’s. Unlike in America, McDonald’s is a high-end restaurant in Vietnam which offers brownies, cheesecakes, and tiramisu among other unique dishes. Mickey D’s did not disappoint. Unfortunately, we were unable to order our own food, so we did not sample the untraditional McDonald’s desserts; but, we were presented with a massive meal that was sure to clog arteries. A large fry, Big Mac, and “McWings” were given to each of us. For a simple breakdown: the fries were exactly like home, I ate my first ever Big Mac in Vietnam, and the wings were legitimate wings (meaning I think it was actually real chicken?). Although it was great to taste a classic American meal after the last few days, I feel like this meal might be the one that ends up making me sick.

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After lunch, we walked a block to VinaCapital – the location of our third site visit. We were welcomed into their conference room and offered yet another phenomenal sky-view of the city. Oddly though, the company executive who we were supposed to speak with had apparently experienced a miscommunication and was not in the office. Although this threw a wrench in our initial plans, we rescheduled the visit for next Tuesday, and moved next Tuesday’s activity to this afternoon. We visited the War Remnants Museum.

Wow.

There are no words that do justice to the suffering, despair, anguish, and horror that took place during the Vietnam War. As we were warned prior to arriving, the museum was extremely hard-hitting and aggressive toward Americans. In American schools students rarely, if ever, learn many of the true repercussions of the War, but here, viewed from the opposing perspective, every tragedy is portrayed clearly and gruesomely. Various exhibits within the museum showed the destruction of land and leftover bombs from the end of the war. Horrifying images showed children and their mothers massacred just for the sake of killing. All of these images were tough to take in, but few of them compared to the Agent Orange exhibit.

For anyone who is unfamiliar – as I was before I entered – Agent Orange is composed of a chemical called dioxin which is toxic to humans. Bombs filled with this substance were unleashed upon Vietnamese villages during the War, killing countless people. However, one could argue that it’s the survivors who were worse off. Those who were not mutated still unknowingly possessed the chemical in their blood, and this made it transmittable to children. Parents who did not know that they had the poison in their system frequently gave birth to children with multitudes of diseases and deformities. Each feature pictured clearly demonstrated that these individuals could not live regular lives. Faces missing one or multiple facial features altogether, abnormally shaped limbs and appendages, and mutated, bubbly skin created some of the most heart-wrenching pictures I have ever looked at. Sickeningly, these diseases and mutations are still passed on to this day. The roughest part of the entire museum was the room directly connected to the exhibit where Agent Orange descendants sat, attempting to carry out normal activities. A man with sealed eye lids sat playing a piano while another man and woman – no more than a couple feet tall and with severely deformed limbs – worked on making bracelets. I cannot express how difficult it was to see this awful outcome, and I had to take a step back to realize how very lucky I am, and how I really have no right to complain about anything in my life. While painful, I am extremely glad that we had this experience, and I truly appreciated our trip to the museum. I’m sorry for the rather depressing nature of the second half of this post, but it was a fantastic educational experience that I believe all Americans need, and tomorrow the positivity will return!

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