After taking a long walk in the hot sun this morning over to the currency exchange, we went to UEF for a lesson on Buddhism. I found it interesting that Buddhism originally started as a philosophy and as it continued to take on more religious aspects eventually became a philosophical religion. The Four Noble Truths are the main aspect of Buddhism and relate to life’s endless suffering. The Eight-Fold Path are a part of these truths and can help relieve someone of their suffering as they try to achieve Nirvana. The Eight-Fold Path would be a really difficult process for me to adhere to as I often do a lot of things that are forbidden such as complain, look ahead to the future, and wish I could have things I currently don’t. Buddhism is also the most popular religion in Vietnam but is only followed by about 8% of the population. On the other hand, 82% of the population say they have no official religion, but most people do follow some sort of Vietnamese traditional religion. This is very different from the US where religious freedom is very important and is shown by the large amount of different religions that are prevalent in the country. After the lesson we walked over to a pagoda and got to look around. There is a celebration for the 2600th birthday of the Buddha this Sunday so it was really cool to see all of the decorations that were put up around the building. I was also amazed by the large statues inside the pagoda and the intricate detail that was put into so many parts of the building. There was also a courtyard type area with a lot of different types of trees and garden areas that were well kept and pretty to look at.
When we visited the war remnants museum after lunch, I was extremely surprised with was written and displayed around the building. The official government position on the war is rightfully anti-America, but I still found some of the writings and captions a little bit intense. Almost, the entire first floor of the museum was dedicated to showing how countries and people from every part of the world, including the US, were with the North Vietnamese, and were not happy with the United States, or the “aggressors”, as it was often written in the museum throughout the course of the war. The parts of the museum that shocked me the most were the sections dedicated to describing the differences between the US prisons and the Vietnamese prisons. The museum described the Vietnamese prisons as if they were pleasant places for Americans to be. The exhibit detailed how prisoners were able to write home and communicate with their families, play sports in the prison yard, and receive education about Vietnamese culture and the country itself. It also described how Vietnamese soldiers saved many Americans from the battlefield even as the Americans were tearing their country apart. While, I’m sure there were some truths behind what was written, I really don’t believe a lot of it is entirely true. Being a prisoner of war anywhere cannot possibly be a pleasant experience, and there are multiple articles and videos that also disprove some of what was said in the museum. The exhibit in the museum went as far as saying many Americans have returned to the location of their prisons in order to reminisce and “cherish the memories” that were made there. The small exhibit detailing the lives of US prisoners was overshadowed by the model prison that was outside describing what the Americans did to the Vietnamese. It was tough to look at the pictures relating to how the Vietnamese were tortured in the prisons, and the methods that were used. There were pictures of cages that Vietnamese soldiers were put in and quotes describing how they would go days at a time without food. It was sad to see, but also extremely interesting that everything inside this exhibit reads exactly opposite to what life was supposedly like in the Vietnamese prisons. The Vietnamese students were also with us on this trip, and the museum seemed to have little effect on their opinion of America or us as Americans. The majority of people inside the museum did not seem to be from Vietnam, and it further demonstrated the point that while everything relating to the war described by the government is anti-America, Vietnamese citizens do not hold a grudge or have any issue with the US.
After the museum we went to the market and had the chance to try to bargain and barter for goods at the Ben Thanh Market. I had no idea the market was so large and busy as I was just expecting a small outside fruit and vegetable market. It was a lot of fun to try to bargain with the people in their shops, but I am happy this style of shopping is not common in the US. I’m not sure if being American had anything to do with it, but the people working seemed to really try to upcharge us. It also didn’t make them happy if you would try a return offer of about 20% of what they originally asked which led some of the salespeople to say some things that were pretty uncalled for. I was eventually able to get some of the people to drop their prices to something that I saw as fair, but the whole process is tiring and difficult. I find it easier to look for discount items online rather than try to pry it from a salesperson who is not willing to budge.
Today was a packed day, but a lot of fun and I can’t wait to try on our custom Vietnamese clothes tomorrow.