Today was a very busy one, and we were able to engage in many different activities all day long. In the morning, we had a lecture about Buddhism, surrounding the philosophy and the spread of the religion throughout Vietnam. I found the lecture very interesting, and something I learned was that although many different countries in Asia practice Buddhism, there are actually two different types practiced in Asia due to the way the religion spread and split. I found this interesting because even though I knew in general the practices of Buddhism, I did not know specifically how the religion was practiced in Vietnam. My understanding of Buddhism in Vietnam was later enhanced as we were able to visit a pagoda, which was more decorated than usual due to the celebration of the birth of Buddha this Sunday, and we visited a memorial. The memorial was for a monk, who in 1963 burned himself to death to protest the lack of Vietnamese religious freedom. The memorial was located right at the intersection where this event occurred, and it was fascinating to think of the environment and time when this happened. Being able to interact with this part of history made me appreciate the religious freedom that Vietnam now has, and I realized that it was definitely not easy to make it to this point. Vietnam tolerates many different religions like Buddhism, Christianity, and Taoism, and due to devout people like that monk, many Vietnamese are able to enjoy this freedom today. After the memorial was the pagoda, and it was both beautiful and elaborate. Upon walking into the pagoda, we took our shoes off, and approached a large gold Buddha statue. In front, there were incense and offerings of food. Although I do not practice Buddhism, it was fascinating to be a place of worship that differs from my own religion, and see how other religions worship.
After our visit to the pagoda, we went to the War Remnants Museum. Visiting the museum was rough for a few parts, and I did feel like I was going to throw up at some points due to the intensity of information and graphics. Nonetheless, I am glad that I went, and have developed another perspective on the Vietnam War that would not exist without visiting this museum. The first floor of the museum was a huge exhibit about protesting in other countries. I found this exhibit to be very interesting, because when learning about the Vietnam War, in terms of protests and the general feeling regarding the United States presence in Vietnam, we mostly learn about riots specifically in the United States. However, this exhibit had pictures and information on riots all over the world, from Japan, to Argentina, to Egypt. It was interesting to see other countries protesting the United States’ presence in Vietnam, and it enhanced my understanding of how the people really influenced the government’s actions to remove troops during that time. I also found it interesting how international pressure works to determine the outcomes of situations, and it made me wonder how the decision to remove troops would have been swayed differently if so many other countries were not putting as much international pressure.
The second floor was more difficult than the first. The second floor had two main exhibits, the first one being a description of the war crimes committed by the United States, and the second being the effects of Agent Orange. The first exhibit was very difficult to get through, and began with an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, and then proceeded to display disturbing pictures of United States soldiers torturing and killing Vietnamese civilians. Some of the pictures were very gruesome, and difficult to look at. Something that shook me was a photo with the quote underneath it: “If it isn’t dead its Viet Cong.” While I understand that this museum is coming from the Vietnamese perspective of the war, this quote disturbed me, because it reflects how merciless some instances of death were to the civilians by soldiers. Many of the other pictures in this exhibit displayed United States soldiers brutally killing Vietnamese civilians, or pictures of Vietnamese civilians bloody, dead, or with a fear in their eyes in which they know they only have moments left to live. Upon looking at many of the photos, I felt disturbed to have seen such terror in many of these people’s eyes, and in an instant, the Vietnam War became more than just a topic I learned in my history class; it was life and death, and there was a huge toll on both sides that will always leave a mark.
The second half of the second floor was about the victims of Agent Orange. This exhibit was also difficult to get through at times, mostly because many of the photos were of young children who would have to live a life of disability or didn’t make it past the early stages of life. Part of this exhibit was focused on art made by children during the Vietnam War, who were witnesses to the extreme bombing and death that occurred in their country. An art piece that struck me was a picture of an entirely dark sky, with two planes that both had USA written on the side in the bright red. From the plans, bombs were being dropped, and the land beneath the planes was engulfed in fire. The child who had created this piece was 11 years old. The fact that this child was so young, and experienced something so traumatizing made me upset that there were many children during the war who had no idea what to do. When you are that young, you rely on your parents or siblings to take care of you, but in a time of war, it is life or death, and many children were caught in the crossfire, or survived but would forever be haunted by what they lived through. I greatly appreciated the inclusion of the children’s art section of the exhibit, as the stark simplicity makes the trauma and fear that everybody at the time felt apparent.
For the final part of the museum, they had an outdoor exhibit that outlined how prisoners were treated, and then a bunch of war planes and other machinery used during the war. Overall, visiting the War Remnants Museum was difficult, but necessary. Something more amazing than this, was the small talk given to us by our lecturer on Buddhism, as he came with us to the museum. Before going into the museum, he stated that despite the past relationship between the United States and Vietnam, they forgive us for everything. He stated that 2/3 of Vietnam’s history is about war, and that the current peace they have is why this museum is built. Not only to forgive, but also to make sure that we do not forget, and that we use this museum to avoid ever getting into a conflict to this extremity again. Visiting the museum made me realize that there were losses on both sides fighting, and that it comes down to life and death; as such, we must honor both the living and the dead in remembrance and guidance into a peaceful future.
Our last activity of the day was visiting the Ben Tanh Market. Visiting the market was super cool, and as it was so big, I definitely did not expect it. The market’s outer circle is all fixed prices, but the inside is all based on your ability to barter. I think I did decent with the bartering, and since most of the shopkeepers knew English, I did not have to rely on my UEF partner too much. However, I was glad to have her there, because she made sure that I was not getting scammed by telling me a reasonable price to pay whenever I was looking at something. This type of shopping is interesting, but I am not sure I would prefer this style as opposed to the fixed price style of shopping in the United States, as they are very different. Since I do not know the true quality of each product, it was difficult to barter because I wanted to negotiate the price down, but the shopkeeper would keep insisting that their product was only the best quality. Despite their insisting, I had no way of knowing if this was true, and had nothing to compare it to. Even though that aspect made it slightly difficult, it was still fun to barter a bit and work with the shopkeeper to get the price you want. Overall, even though today was heavy in some aspects, it also had its fun parts, and today marks another successful day in Vietnam.