Today was quite the journey, filled with many visits, classes, and some quality cuisine. The day began with a class on Buddhism, and I felt very enlightening by the knowledge we obtained. It was interesting to draw comparisons between it and other religions, as the basic tenents of losing selfish desires in order to be at peace. Although Vietnam is an athiest state, there are many Chrisitans, Buddhists, and other religious people, while most people also adhere to Vietnamese folk religion, in that they practice ancestor worship. It was great to have the experiential learning that came with seeing the Xa Loi pagoda, and I was able to internalize the peaceful vibes that the temple gave off. Near the temple was the spot where a Buddhist monk set himself on fire to protest the Vietnam war. It’s tragic to think how disruptive the war was to many peaceful civilians in the country, and how it adversely affect those who had no desire to fight others. This monument served as a great segue for the horrific things we we’re going to witness in our next visit.
Our afternoon trip to the War Remnants Museum was filled with tragic sights, and guilt for all those who suffered at the hands of misguided governments. The picture I saw were horrific, and really showed an alternate perspective of the war than what is shown in American history books. From victims of Agent Orange, to the demonstrations against US involvement that were pictured from throughout the western world, it ultimately led me to the conclusion that war is evil, and no side is just when killing is done for the pursuit of power. Although many of the statistics in the museum may seem like blatant propaganda, it makes me wonder if asserting that is due to the propaganda we as Americans have instilled upon us at such a young age. Everything is about perspective, and those who may seem evil are only following what they believe is the correct moral path. It is apparent to me that Vietnam and it’s citizens have drawn a similar conclusion, as Vietnam and the United States have forged close ties since the war, and the Vietnamese students love Americans and don’t blame them for the mistakes of the government in the past.
Following the somber tone I felt while in the museum, we got to unwind a little bit, spending time at the Benh Than market. Although I spoke maybe a word of Vietnamese, I was quite the negotiator today, as I was able to save hundreds of thousands of VND on several souvenir items for me and my family. I had prior experience bargaining, as I went to a similar market in the Dominican market, so my expertise was too much for the poor, unsuspecting Vietnamese merchant. If this type of bargaining was more prevalent in the United States, I would participate quite often, possibly too often, as I find the whole process to be very fun. I was able to observe many western brands and knockoffs present at the market, such as the fake Supreme shirt I regrettably purchased, which is evidence of the globalization and foreign investment that is happening so rapidly in Vietnam. Also, there likely will be someone in this group who claims to be a better bargainer than me, so please just realize that this person is absolutely misguided in this assertion (I was the best).
Today was a very busy day, that made me feel many different things. Luckily, I was able to cap it off with some surprisingly good Mexican cuisine, and was able to hang out with the Vietnamese students again. I think it’s incredible to realize just how similar we are to them, and it shows that there is hope for enduring peace and unity in this world, despite all the brokenness we always hear about on the news. As I continue to write these blogs, I hope to provide an unbiased perspective of Vietnam, free from all the divisive propaganda.