I’m sitting down to write this after a very busy day. Starting at 8:30 and ending at 7:00, here’s what we did:
Buddhism lecture, pagoda visit, lunch, War Remnants museum, open market, language class, suit refitting.
To start, I’ll discuss Buddhism and the War Remnants museum. The most popular religion is Vietnamese traditional religion, which entails a connection to nature, worship of ancestors, and belief in various spirits. Unlike in the west, the communist government of Vietnam has a firm grasp on religion. It has significant control over religious practices. In the early 1960s, South Vietnam harshly suppressed religious groups, such as Buddhists. This escalated until a Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức immolated himself as protest. I took a picture of where this happened:
Visiting this place was exciting for me, since it was the location of a pivotal point in America’s joint history with Vietnam. The monk’s protest began the process of dethroning the corrupt South Vietnamese leader at the time.
Later, we visited the War Remnants museum, which contained many of the horrors of the Vietnam war. I saw horrible images of death, mutilation, and torture committed by Americans on Vietnamese citizens. One panel held a list of companies involved with Agent Orange along with 12 U.S. crimes it claims were broken. What affected me most was seeing several pictures of Agent Orange victims. Many of them were children of war veterans. It was hard to get through that.
I took the rest of the day to reflect when I had the chance, yet I am still at a loss for words. One one hand, I feel deep sorrow for the many victims of the war. On the other hand, I feel disappointed and ashamed of my country, something I have rarely felt in the past. We had no business in Vietnam.
On a lighter note, my favorite part of the day was a visit to the Ben Tanh Market, where bargaining for products is common practice. It was organized in a tight grid with hundreds of vendors. I bargained for two sets of chopsticks, and a small gift. The process worked best when I acted stubborn and stuck with a low price. The sweet spot, according to the Vietnamese students, was to bargain down between one third and one half the vendor’s original asking price. If I walked away from a deal, I’d often hear the vendor yelling lower and lower prices at me.
I felt like I did a pretty good job, and I had a lot of help at first from the Vietnamese students. There is still room for improvement, however; I could have bargained lower for some of the things I bought.
Shopping here was so much different than going to a market in America. The process of selecting something and purchasing it is a lot longer due to bargaining. I have been groomed by my own culture to prefer quick, easy, hassle-free transactions when shopping. Therefore, it would take some effort for me to thrive in an environment like Ben Tanh. In addition, bargaining in the market is a reflection of general business practices in Vietnam. Face to face interactions and understanding your business partner is vital in Vietnamese negotiations. The market is a perfect way for vendors to work directly with their customers, face to face.
We got our suits back! I’m getting my waist lengthened a bit, just in case I eat too much pho.
Tomorrow, I will be mistaken as a ghost because I will wear tons of sunscreen.