Day 9: Remembering both Ancestors and those Affected by War – 5/14/19

Today started out with my classic breakfast before we headed to UEF for a history of Buddhism lecture. The lecture was really interesting because I think learning about other religions is really cool. The lecturer told us that Buddhism is both a philosophy and a religion, which I think is really interesting because it allows people of other religions to take on that lifestyle. Buddhism’s main point is the Four Noble Truths, which our lecturer summarized as “life sucks because we want things, so in order to make life not suck, we need to stop wanting things”. I found this summarization very amusing. It’s very interesting that Buddhists feel that all of life is sorrow and you are trying to escape that. I understand the benefits of meditation and grounding yourself, but I like to try to look at the positive things in life and how wonderful this world can be. I also found it interesting that one of the parts of the 8 paths to escape this sorrow is not killing anything because, in Vietnam, meat is a very large part of their diet. However, later on, the lecturer explained that there are two branches of Buddhism, and Vietnam used the original one at first, but after China invaded, the Chinese forced their version of Buddhism upon the Vietnamese. After class, we went to a pagoda. On one of the corners of the street that it was on, there was a monument for the monk that burned himself to protest the Vietnam War. This made me think of the similarities between each of our society’s views of the war. Many civilians on both sides disapproved of the war and wanted it to stop. People in the US even burned themselves as well, which shows common sentiments towards the war. It really shows that people feel strongly towards living in peace and sacrifice their own lives to do so. When we went into the pagoda grounds, I immediately felt peaceful. There was a garden of bonsai trees with beautiful flowers, majestic statues, and of course, the beautiful place of worship/remembrance. Some of the Vietnamese students began to practice the remembrance of their ancestors. It was very interesting to watch other people practice their religion, although I felt like an intruder. I wanted to respect them and allow them to practice their religion in a sacred manner. After visiting the pagoda, we went to lunch at a restaurant near the hotel. I got beef and chicken pho, and it was delicious. After lunch, we walked back to the hotel to catch a break from the heat before we went to the War Remnants Museum. This trip was really tough. It was hard to see the first floor, which had picture after picture of people protesting American interference in Vietnam. Some of the pictures were actually Americans. This part wasn’t as hard because I knew that many Americans were against the war. Quotes harshly criticizing and demonizing the US filled the walls, which was very difficult to see but also struck me as interesting because Vietnam and the US are friends now. The quote that stood out to me the most was “the first front against US imperialism is in Vietnam. The second one is right inside the United States”. This interested me because it acknowledges that both Vietnamese and Americans were against the war. Then, upstairs was where it got really difficult. They had a section of war crimes and the effects of Agent Orange. The pictures disturbed me and as I looked at the different pictures, tears welled up in my eyes because no one should have to suffer like that. No one should have their lives ripped away from them because of war. They put Americans in a bad light, but the most disturbing thing was the results and that Americans had caused so much pain and sorrow. However, I know that the US didn’t know that Agent Orange would cause so many problems and that even Americans were hurt by it. They had preserved and displayed fetuses that were not able to live because of the deformities. At first, I didn’t know what it was, but once I got a glimpse I couldn’t bring myself to look. After that, we saw a re-education camp that the US had created. I had never learned about these, so I’m unsure if all of the horrible things it said were true, but if it was, I am ashamed that we inflicted such torture on those captured. I feel that the government may have exaggerated some things, but they had pictures to support most things. Seeing all of the horrendous actions made me angry. I didn’t know who to be angry at, but it made me angry that any human would inflict such pain on others. However, the anger did not overtake my sadness, and I felt that the whole experience humbled me. After visiting the museum, we lightened things up by taking a trip to Ben Tanh Market. I attempted to bargain, and I think I got a decent deal on the magnets that I bought (~$1.50 per magnet) but I got totally gipped on the chopsticks (~$13 for 5). It was really hard to bargain because the vendors were so persistent. Originally, the price for the chopsticks was 1,000,000 Dong but I got it down to 300,000 Dong. I tried to walk away twice, but the woman grabbed my arm and kept lowering the price just a tiny bit. At the time, I was satisfied with 300,000 Dong, but the students told me that was outrageous, and then I realized that it kind of was. At first, i was eager to bargain, but after the experience, I’m not sure I’d like to shop like that all the time. I love a good deal, but people grabbing my arms insisting that I buy it didn’t sit too well with me. I feel like if we bargained in the US, there wouldn’t be arm grabbing, but who’s to say? Despite my regrets (I guess wanting stuff really does bring you sorrow), I am content since I got souvenirs for everyone I wanted to. After going to the market, we had our last language class at UEF. I have concluded that I still don’t understand Vietnamese because I tried to translate an introduction that my partner said out loud, and I understood the first two sentences, and that was it. It was a good time attempting to learn Vietnamese, and I even learned how to pronounce my friend’s last name. We even got to try mangosteen, and it was amazing!! After language class, we had our fitting for our suits. Then, we headed back to the hotel to get dinner. Mexican tonight! Finally, it might be in a foreign language I can understand! This should be interesting though since Vietnam is nowhere near Mexico. Today was a long day, but it was a very important day, and I’m ready to take on the next.

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