Open to Interpretation

Good news and bad news. The good news is that I have not seen the gecko since it scurried across the wall and hid behind the painting. The bad news is that I have not seen the gecko since that moment. Let’s just hope (for everyone’s sake) that he’s gone for good!

Day 5 was a pretty low key day. We got to sleep in a tad bit later than usual, so it was a great way to ease into our last day of class this week.

We started off with a visit to the American Center, which is part of the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. It used to be the embassy, but after the city fell in the war, it was relocated to Hanoi, the new capital. An embassy and a consulate essentially serve the same purpose. The difference is precisely where they are located. Embassies are always in the capital whereas consulates are located in other major cities.

Embassies and consulates provide many different services. Basically, they are the place where Americans can go when they are having just about any issue abroad. This ranges from losing a passport to cultural workshops to legal issues while investing, which is recently becoming a more prevalent problem.

Two foreign service officers gave us a presentation. The woman specializes in economics and the male presenter works in public relations. They provided a brief economic overview of Vietnam in comparison to the US. While it is developing at an incredibly rapid pace, Vietnam still has eons to go before reaching the same level as the US. The officers also commented on the political-economic relationship between the countries and what that might look like moving forward. Interestingly enough, they explained that despite the big bold headlines and seemingly major policy changes, the day-to-day of diplomatic relations work does not change very much.

As with every presenter we have had the opportunity to listen to on this trip, the foreign service officers had unique perspectives to share. Both have spent the majority of their lives in the US, yet now they are living in Vietnam without all of the luxuries, and even simple necessities of home. Did you know that Vietnam doesn’t have public emergency health resources? There is no ambulance to call for you or anyone else. In Ho Chi Minh City there is one private service, but the people don’t clear the streets for them as they are not familiar with ambulances at all. It is truly eye-opening when you realize how much you take for granted living in an established, developed, first-world country.

There was another group of people visiting the American Center at the same time, and it turns out they are from a university in Montana, and they are staying the the same hotel as us. It’s crazy, such a small world!

We then traveled back to UEF after lunch to finish the lecture we started the day before. It was quite enjoyable as the students put on a fashion show to model different types of traditional Vietnamese dress. Then they sang some more songs, and let me tell you, they are all so talented! Afterwards they presented us all with a gift. I’m still not entirely sure exactly what it was.. or how to describe it at all.. all I know is my mouth was very confused but also.. intrigued? A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll just leave one here.

This evening we caught a showing of the local water puppet show. Water puppetry is a tradition in Vietnam, and the show we watched is considered a popular one. Although I did not understand anything that was being said, it was still one of the coolest and most cultural things I have seen here so far! Since it was open to interpretation, I was able to make up little stories of my own, which added another layer of entertainment. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the performers are so eloquently able to move the puppets. I still have no idea but there has to be an extremely intricate set up, which is even more fascinating considering how long the tradition dates back. I am super glad that we made it to the show, it was certainly one for the books!

As I said earlier, today was pretty low key. We had a late start and an early night, as our adventure tomorrow starts bright and early. I would say at the crack of dawn, but the sun comes up at around five a.m. here, and we aren’t leaving until six. And with that reminder, I’m off to bed.

Can you believe it’s almost been a whole week already?

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