A Roller Coaster from Beginning to End

What a day. We’ve been going non-stop since nine a.m., but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

This morning we kicked off the day with a super insightful lesson on Buddhism. I learned so much! Buddhism is a religion, but it is also separately a philosophy. You can follow any religion and still practice Buddhism without violating any beliefs, making it 100% secular. Something that really caught me off guard though, is that the premise of Buddhism is essentially that life sucks. Life sucks and the only way to be happy is to not care about anything. I have always assumed that Buddhism was based on happiness, but I never realized it was achieved through the realization of how much sorrow is in life. The eight-fold path, however, that leads to this state of happiness, is much more positive and what one usually associates with Buddhism.

We also learned that the majority of the country is not religious, besides the ancestral beliefs that are signature of the culture. Remembering ancestors is really important to the people of Vietnam, and they dedicate a lot of time and energy into doing so.

I love expanding my worldview and breaking down any preconceived notions. Classes like that one really help to understand the world around you. Knowledge really is priceless.

After the lecture, we boarded the bus to visit Xa Loi Pagoda, a Buddhist temple here in Ho Chi Minh City. I really appreciated the intricate, beautiful details and adornments. It seemed like an incredible place for those who utilize it to remember Buddha and pray.

Our morning adventure was rather relaxing. After lunch, however, the day took a slight turn with a visit to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. The purpose of the facility is to remind everyone of the atrocities of war so as to cherish the value of peace even more. I’m not sure that’s really how it worked for me, though.

After entering, I knew this was something I needed to do alone. I walked through the exhibits, carefully reading and taking everything in. It was hard to read all of the propaganda calling our country evil and aggressive over and over again…

Of course there was some truth to it, politically. However, I believe there was quite a bit of material that was conveniently left out, which was expected, but still didn’t make it any easier to read and see.

I have a much different view of the Vietnam War than most other people my age, so I think the museum impacted me a little differently. I admit that I cannot look at the entire subject objectively, as it is deeply personal to me. My grandpap was on the front lines. He, like so many other soldiers, were not at all evil people! Instead, they patriotically answered their call to serve our country when they were drafted by the US government. Our country is not perfect, I will be the first to admit that, however, the blame should NOT be put on those who were called to serve. Again, I understand the point of view the information was coming from, but it was presented as absolute fact which is something I just could not accept.

So needless to say, it was a strange few hours for me. Not necessarily distressing, but definitely unsettling. I feel for all victims of the Vietnam War.

I’m not quite sure I correctly articulated exactly what I felt today. I’m not even sure I know exactly what I felt today. All I know is what I saw did not sit right with me for many, many, many reasons.

Changing pace once again, the Ben Tanh Market was next on our list. To say I was overwhelmed and intimidated would not be enough. I have never seen such mass quantities of counterfeit goods, nor have I ever been so aggressively bullied by shop owners. People were coming at me from every direction, flashing so many products in my face. I had no idea where to even start.

Looking back, I should have been more confident and bargained for better prices. I was nervous that I was going to offend the vendors because ever since I was selected to come to Vietnam we have been being reminded about the culture of respect. After today though, I’m convinced I can draw a harder line.

In US dollars, I scored some pretty good deals. For Vietnam, however, I did not do as well. The shop owners are far more intense than you think. You know when you walk into a store and the workers try to help you find something? Well, imagine that, except ten times more pushy, with no ac, maneuvering aisles so tight you can barely pass through, with a bunch of items you are unfamiliar with and don’t have any interest in. That’s the Ben Tanh Market in a nutshell. I was with two Vietnamese students, but i think that ended up reducing my bargaining leverage, as they were much more shy about offending the workers.

The girls I was with explained to me that they do not like going to markets themselves. They are mainly tourist traps nowadays, serving as another excellent example of development and globalization. People care more now about shopping in brand-name stores, hence all of the counterfeit in the market, and are less comfortable with traditional bargaining.

All in all, it was a fun experience, and I am ready to go back and try again now that I have my bearings and know what to expect.

Đất quả! Giảm giá!

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