Today schedule was packed with activities from visiting a religious site to trying not to get lost in a giant indoor market. The different visits of the day really was a rollercoaster of emotion, so bear with me. The day began with a lecture (from my favorite lecturer of the trip) about Buddhism and its origins. The lecturer explained the four noble truths in the most iconic way: life sucks, life sucks because you want things, stop wanting stuff if you don’t want life to suck, the Eightfold Path is the way to stop wanting stuff. The Buddhist philosophy is a lot more complex than this obviously, but as a quick look, it is essentially what the ideas are about. What I really respect about this religion is that they don’t worship a god, but pray to the Buddha in order to remember his existence and the work he did in his lifetime. This religion is centralized around being a good person in order to realize life for yourself rather than a collective as most other religions do. The first religious stop of the day was a memorial for the monk that burned himself alive in protest of the Vietnamese lack of religious freedoms in 1963. The monument itself told a story of the events that occurred that day but after later watching a video of it, the impact was even greater. I can’t imagine witnessing such an event, let alone sacrificing my own life. This demonstration, in my opinion, needs to be something that is known by everyone in the world and never forgotten because of how much sacrifice and impact it brought. Soon after, we were able to go inside a nearby pagoda, the place of meditation and remembrance for Buddhists. As we walked on to the pagoda grounds, a man and a women leaving said to the group “may Buddha bless you all,” which perfectly exemplifies the religions ideals and gave a warm welcome to us even though we don’t share the same beliefs. The pagoda itself was absolutely stunning with a giant golden meditating Buddha statue at its far end and pictures of family’s ancestors throughout. The story of Buddha and the philosophy’s origins were painted on the pagoda walls as well. One thing I noticed when we walked in was that all the students that joined us today stopped and meditated immediately upon entering. Being able to go inside the pagoda and witnessing the students meditating as they normally would really added to the entire experience.
After leaving the pagoda, all emotions were flipped at the Vietnam War Remnants museum. I did not mentally prepare myself for what was in that museum and I personally had a really difficult time seeing the photos and reading the descriptions. The museum, like the video at the Cu Chi tunnels, represented the Vietnamese government’s anti American view of the war. The museum does not call the war the Vietnam War or a civil war, but the War of American Aggression. And American aggression was all that was depicted. I had never realized how much protest against the United States there was from countries all over the world, involved or not. Knowing this was a war we never should have been a part of, seeing the photography of the death and destruction was more than heartbreaking. The second floor of the museum had me nauseous. I could barely read through the quotes of witnesses and the descriptions of photos without holding back tears. A quote from our Declaration of Independence about how all men are equal and all life is valued wasn’t even ten feet away from a photo with the description saying “body count was the US’s yardstick for success in the war.” Success?? Mass genocide is success? (I am literally holding back tears thinking about this). The amount of damage caused by the United States in this war, with the very little support from both the US citizens and the soldiers themselves, is shaking. Our tour guide for the day made it a point to tell us before entering the museum that the Vietnamese citizens have forgiven the US people for everything from the war. This was repeated several times along with their wish to forget the past to move to a better future. Although the Vietnamese government’s view of the war is very anti American (I understand why), the students as well as other Vietnamese people we have interacted with treat us with love. It’s amazing how after only about 40 years, an entire country can forgive such terrible acts. The fact that I was never taught how awful this war was almost angers me because this type of behavior is something that absolutely cannot be forgotten or repeated.
The roller coaster of emotions for today did end on some higher notes. It was hard to leave that museum and find a way to enjoy the rest of the day, but with the visit to the Ben Tanh market, it was easier to get back into things. The market itself was extremely overwhelming because there were more little shops owned by the locals in the building than should’ve fit in there. So many of the shops sold relatively quality branded clothing like Adidas, Nike, polo, and many more high quality brands. I personally had an agenda when walking in to find a small handmade statue for my house. I was quickly successful which left for a lot of time to explore and see what else these shops had to offer. It was kind of scary trying to barter with the sellers because I know very little Vietnamese and many of them were stubborn on pricing. Sometimes when the students would help us barter, the vendors wouldn’t even try to sell to us or shoe the students away so they could charge us more. After realizing this and almost getting scammed myself, I stayed close to one of the students so they could make sure I was getting good prices. Personally, although it was possible to get really discounted clothing and other items, I did not like this way of shopping because it was so much more stressful and overwhelming. I am not one to go shopping often at home because I get overwhelmed, so I’m sure you can imagine what it was like for me to walk into this market. Luckily, our fixed price tailored suits were delivered for us to try on for alterations today too. New clothes is always exciting, but having a tailored suit of a fabric and color of my own choosing felt like luxury. And it very much made me feel luxurious when I tried it on as well. I can’t wait for the opportunity to wear it to an interview because I know I’ll feel amazing in it. Although this day ended up having some high highs and some low lows, it was a packed day of culture and I enjoyed it for the most part.