Buddhism, Bloodshed, & Bartering

Day 9: 5.14.19

I had learned about Buddhism in history class before, but today’s lesson was much more engaging. I was most surprised to learn that it’s okay to be another religion and still follow the Buddhist philosophy because all the other religions I’ve had experience with lean more towards all or nothing. Mr. Ted taught us the four noble truths in the simplest and most memorable terms possible: 1. Life sucks 2. Life sucks because you want stuff 3. If you don’t want life to suck, stop wanting stuff 4. The Eightfold Path is the way to stop wanting stuff. One of the main points is that life is an endless cycle of sorrow, and I don’t necessarily agree with that belief but I understand the reasoning behind it. We also visited the Xa Loi Pagoda, which was beautiful and had special decorations because of the celebration that will take place this Sunday, Buddha’s birthday. It was more similar to a church than I was expecting, a Buddha statue was where the alter would be, there were stained glass windows, and worshippers prayed on their knees.

All the students I had talked to before coming on this trip had warned me that visiting the War Remembrance Museum was hard, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw today. Walking through the exhibits, reading about the various torture methods and seeing the uncensored photos of raw suffering was physically sickening. Americans are known for being proud of their country but that’s hard to do when you see the effects of some of the decisions our government made that are still hurting children to this very day. However, I was also aware of the bias, as I didn’t see anything condeming the Vietnamese actions, but then again, the US doesn’t paint themselves as a villain in history class either so seeing the other side of the story was humbling.

On a lighter note, we went to Ben Thanh Market this afternoon to put our bartering skills to the test. I was pretty anxious for this part because I like to avoid confrontations and since everything is already much cheaper in Vietnam, I wouldn’t mind paying more to avoid the hassle of arguing over a price. However, it’s a part of the culture that I wanted to experience, so with the help of a Vietnamese student, I bartered for a magnet, originally 50,000 dong down to 40,000 dont. Maybe not the most impressive bargain but I got a better deal which means I was at least partially successful. The rest of the souvenirs I bought were from the “fixed price” sections, which made it a lot less stressful. Anyways, I went back to Ben Thanh Market in the evening and had much better success in bartering. The vendor would say a price, I would say no that’s too much, and then they would hand me a calculator asking how much I would pay, and the cycle would repeat until we settled on a fairer price. Even though I did better the second time around, I still prefer the US method of paying whatever is listed on the price tag. And even then, I rarely pay full price anyways because there are other ways of getting a better deal: sales, coupons, special discounts, etc. As our trip is more than halfway over, I know I’m going to miss Vietnam wholeheartedly, but I will be okay with leaving bartering behind.

P.S. I ate dinner at Ben Thanh Street Food Market and it was great! I also had some dark chocolate and Oreo ice cream, which is always a good choice.

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