Day 9: Religion, War, & Money

Today was our busiest yet. Learning all about Buddhism. Touring a pagoda. Bartering at the Benh Tanh Market. Language class.

One remarkable thing I noticed about Buddhism was that they worship no god and try to eliminate suffering in life through their eight steps. This basic principle perfectly explained why Buddhism only makes up around 8% of the Vietnamese population. But also it’s a deeper reflection of Vietnamese history.

For thousands of years, the Vietnamese have been ruled by foreign powers, the Chinese, the French, and other tribes. They have been oppressed, suppressed, enslaved, tortured, killed beaten. The list goes on. To the Vietnamese, suffering has almost become commonplace. They’re accustomed to it. Sure, they may have a few decades of temporary peace, but Vietnamese history has proven time and time again that is doesn’t last. Suffering, to them, is inevitable. So why complain about the rain? Why try and stop it?

Buddhism’s main principle goes against what the Vietnamese culture has been/is built upon for the past centuries. It’s centralized on trying to stop the suffering and entering a state of no desire, no want, and no suffering. Thus, the Vietnamese have realized this, and turned away. From my experience and time here thus far, they have shown me that they want to use their suffering as an opportunity to grow, and to say to the world, “Hey, life may be awful, but we’ll get through this, we can, we will, and we have.” This is perfectly exemplified by the Ben Tanh markets.

You may think the overcrowded markets discourage sellers, but it’s quite the contrary. Every single one is ready to strike a deal with you to make another doller. I even had one tugging on my shirt begging me to buy a fake Gucci wallet!

The large majority of these workers, as informed by the Vietnamese students, and by clear deduction, are low-skilled and uneducated workers. They weren’t given the same wonderful opportunities we were given as children. They suffered. A lot. But look where they are now. They may not be living in grand mansions. But their current place of residence must certainly be better than where they lived 40 or 50 years ago, which for most of them was unfortunately likely nowhere because we decimated the countryside. Anyways, they could have just as easily complained about their situation, become homeless, and done nothing with their lives. But they declined that option whole heartedly. They became ruthless, hardworking, and determined salespeople dedicated to earning every single Dong they make. They want nothing handed to them. They may be suffering in their overcrowded mini market, but they deal with it and make the best out of the situation. Just like the rest of this country seemingly has thus far.

Additionally, the War Remnants Museum was interesting, but raised lots of questions for me. I will admit: the American military did atrocious things that cannot be forgiven, but the Vietnamese also did bad things to us too (maybe not to the same extent we did, but still did). For example, on a big plaque of many describing captured American forces, the museum conveyed how their prisons were happy, “serene,” and a place where you created “unforgettable memories,” where that’s simply untrue. When remembering a time of history. We always must acknowledge both sides of the story. We cannot turn a blind eye to one little detail, for that can distort the knowledge of one individual, and lead that person down a terrible path, and as history shows: one very upset person feeling passionately about their country can be a horrifying sight.

If you zoom in on the text, never does it once explicitly say John McCain was a POW. In fact, if you hadn’t have known that about him, reading this wouldn’t have informed you of that! In actuality, he was brutally tortured and beaten for six years to the extent that he had an issue speaking with his jaw post Vietnam war. However, this plaque portrays him, along with his enslavers as friendly people with a great relationship inside of a prison in which he had many freedoms that he regularly exercised (doctor, calling family back home, engagin with the other guards, etc.)

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