Buddha, Battlefields, and Bargaining

Today was an extremely busy day as we had many different things planned. We started our day by going to UEF and hearing a presentation about Buddhism, its origin, and how it spread throughout Asia. I have only heard of Buddhism before but had no idea of it’s principles and history. The most interesting thing of the lesson is that Buddha is not a god, however was a man who dedicated his life to finding the purpose of life and eventually reached a complete state of wanting nothing called Nirvana. I am very intrigued by Asian religions so I was excited to learn this morning. We followed up our lesson with a trip to a memorial for Thich Quang Duc or more usually remembered as the monk who burned himself alive as a sign of protest against the oppressive Vietnamese government in 1963. We even walked across the street that he performed this on, giving me an eerie feeling. I was very impressed by his self confidence however because although his final decision was very extreme, he stood up for what he believed in and made his stance very clear to the government.

Statue of Thich Quang Duc being burned alive

We continued our journey of Buddhism and went to Xa Loi pagoda which is a Buddhist temple in Ho Chi Minh city. I have never visited a pagoda before, but its sheer size and design was enough to impress me. When we walked in the first thing we saw was a huge golden Buddha statue surrounded by all kinds of beautiful flowers and decorations. We toured around and walked through a small garden area that was filled with small Buddha statues and beautiful plants. The smell of incense filled the air as they are used in the Buddhist religion to represent the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven.

Statue that held incense in front of the Pagoda

After the tour of the pagoda, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant by our hotel where I got banh mi, or in more understandable terms, an italian hoagie featuring pork and vegetables. We finished lunch and went to a Vietnam War monuments museum. This museum was very interesting and was uncomfortable in a lot of parts to view and read what was displayed. Being in Vietnam, and knowing the history of the war and how the U.S. invaded, I did feel guilty seeing how my native country destroyed a lot of theirs, and seeing how many other countries were protesting this war along with citizens in the U.S. This museum however was in the point of view of the Vietnamese government and highlighted all things that were against the U.S. I felt uncomfortable reading about how our troops tortured civilians and seeing the horrific effects that agent orange had on the people it was dropped on. A lot of the tactics used by the U.S. in this war dealt with pure fire power including mass bombing, napalm, and agent orange in hopes to destroy the land and the morale of the Vietcong forces. Although I knew that the information in this museum may have been a little biased towards the Vietnamese, it was still undeniable what we did and I am glad that both nations have agreed to move on and can confidently say that we are allies in the modern day. Also, one simple yet impactful difference in how Americans are taught about the Vietnam War and students in Vietnam are taught is in the name of the war itself. We are taught to refer to it as the “Vietnam War,” however Vietnamese people refer to it as the “Aggression War against Vietnam.”

A picture titled “A demonstration against the U.S. war of aggression in Sam Neua, Laos”

We then went to Ben Tanh Market where we shopped around and used some bargaining to try and get a good price. A lot of the Vietnamese students with us told us that the items there are very overpriced and that we should try and get a lower price, but some of the sellers got upset with us when we tried to lower the price. I ended up getting a pair of chopsticks for less than a dollar, but this was after some friends and I were blatantly told to leave other people’s shop because we wouldn’t pay what they wanted. It was a really fun experience and I’m glad to know that the items are overpriced or else I could see myself paying WAY too much for some chopsticks. We finished up our shopping and went back to UEF for our final Vietnamese language lesson, except this time it had a twist to it. A couple UEF students gave us a performance including two playing the flute, and another singing to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” I always find these performances very special as it shows these students dedication and passion in giving us an authentic and enjoyable experience. I found them very heartfelt and it made me feel very special to be a part of this program. Today was extremely packed but it brought with it a set of unforgettable experiences that I will be forever grateful for.

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